Monday, November 06, 2006

Church Government: I've Recently Changed Positions

There are and have been numerous forms of "church government" now and throughout history. But the "biblical" form of government, or so I have been taught in my circles, is the one known as "elder rule." Churches are independent from denominations or other outside influences, but within the church, the ordained elders rule within the congregation. The ideal of a plurality of elders (the term "elder" is interchangeable with "pastor", "overseer" and "bishop") is the guiding principle to prevent authoritarian dictatorship by one man.

But I'm now convinced of a different form of church government. I'll call it the "Christ rule/elder servant" model. Jesus told his disciples that whoever wants to be first among us shall be servant of all. I see from the bible that godly leaders lead by example, not by dictation, overlording, politics or the like. The pastor/elder position is a ministerial position, not a magisterial one. Followers witness a life of self-control in their leaders and then imitate that life. According to Galatians 5 it is self-government, and not church government, that is the fruit of the Spirit.

The problem I think lies in the common view (taught in the seminaries, unfortunately) that the church is not an organism but an institution. In an organism, which is what the body of Christ is, Jesus and the Apostles through Scripture delegate authority directly to individual believers over their own lives, the use of their own gifts, the working out of their own salvations, the carrying out of their own responsibilities to love one another, the very work of the ministry itself, and on we can go with this. So much authority is delegated directly to individuals that not much authority is left over for the pastors. Yes, they have the authority to preach, teach, exhort, admonish and rebuke, but it is the individual believer that must apply these things to their own lives. This is the sense that Scripture says to obey our leaders.

But in an institutional idea of church, those formally trained in theology see that the Scriptures say very little, if anything at all about government of an institution. They then take this lack of restriction as liberty to govern how they see fit. This would of course be true if the church were an institution, but it's not. The result is close to a totalitarian bureaucratic system run by the clergy with little decision making by individuals. This can lead to the individual believer feeling like he can do nothing without the approval (in triplicate form sometimes) from the leadership. When multiple generations have been taught and experienced this junk, then it is all the tougher to debunk. The pastor(s) is(are) the man(men) in charge, mainly because they completely miss the delegated authority to individuals.

Since all this authority comes directly from Christ ("all authority has been given to me....") it is a "Christ rule" model that the bible outlines.

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