Friday, 13 May 2011

Church Government

Church Government

“…They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

In today’s Truth for the Journey we are going to continue right where we left off. We were discussing the significance and the role of “elders” in both the Old and New Testaments. Specifically in the New Testament we saw that there was an addition to their function which was that of “visiting the sick” (as seen James 5:14) we also saw confirmed through scripture, that elders appear to be the “chief representatives of the redeemed” and have a “…priestly function.”

However as we continue in light of the apostle, it was more in a “corporate capacity” by which he provided leadership for the primitive Church; and that leadership was effective both in mercy (Acts 2:42) and in judgement (Acts 5:1-11). They exercised a general authority over every congregation, sending two of their number to supervise new developments in Samaria (Acts 8:14) and deciding with the elders on a common policy for the admission of Gentiles (Acts 15). So in this degree we can see evidenced, the apostles and elders working together for the benefit of the whole.

In Acts when the pressure of work increased, they appointed seven assistants (Acts 6:1-6), elected by the people and ordained by the apostles. They were to administer the Churches charity; these seven have been regarded as deacons from the time of Irenaeus onwards, but Philip, the only one whose later history is clearly known to us, became an evangelist (Acts 21:8) with an unrestricted mission to preach the gospel. Church officers with a distinctive name are first found in the elders of Jerusalem, who received gifts (Acts 11:30) and took part in Council (Acts 15:6).

This office was probably copied from the elder-ship of the Jewish synagogue; the Church itself called a synagogue in James 2:2 and Jewish elders, who seem to have been ordained by imposition of hands, were responsible for maintaining discipline, with power to excommunicate breakers of the law.

But Christian Elder-ship, as a gospel ministry acquired added pastoral (James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-3) and preaching (1 Timothy 1:5); and although the disturbances at Corinth may suggest that a more complete democracy prevailed in that congregation (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26). The general pattern of Church government in the apostolic age would seem to be a board of elders or pastors, possibly augmented by prophets and teachers, ruling each of the local congregations, with deacons to help in administration and with a general superintendence of the entire Church provided by apostles (not bishops!)

The late Dr Bob Gordon once wrote,

There are two biblical qualifications for eldership; these are distinct from others… elders must not be novices and that they must be able to teach. The other qualifications are a check to make sure that those proposed for eldership are living an exemplary Christian life. Those who are to oversee the church need to be good ambassadors for it, for Christ (i.e. be models of Christlikeness), and for the truths they were teaching and not merely professional leaders.

Elders, therefore, need to be: men of prayer; true worshippers of God; men of the Word of God; Men of true spiritual authority and maturity; men of mature spiritual experience and understanding. Men who are spiritually ahead of those in the church, men of vision (which is sourced in God), who receive God’s guidance and revelation and who are sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit; and men of faith, because without faith it is impossible to please God. Elders are recognised by who they are and not what they do, and not by age or official title. They need to be men who have largely got their spiritual priorities right and their life in spiritual order.

The qualifications in the New Testament for an Elder (Overseer) are many:

1. Shepherds of God’s flock that is under their care, serving as overseers – not because they must, but because they are willing, as God wants them to be (1 Peter 5:2).
2. Not greedy for money nor a lover of money (1 Peter 5:2; 1 Timothy 3:3).
3. Eager to serve (of ready mind or willingly (1 Peter 5:2).
4. Examples to their flock, not lording it over those entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:3).
5. The husband of but one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). (Note divorce is allowable in Scripture in certain circumstances; therefore, this phrase refers to bigamy or polygamy, not divorce).
6. A man whose children (are faithful and not accused of riot or unruly) (Titus 1:6).
7. Blameless (Titus 1:6-7).
8. Not overbearing (not self-willed) (Titus 1:7).
9. Not quick tempered (not soon angry) (Titus 1:7).
10. Not given to much wine (1 Timothy 3:3: Titus 1:7).
11. Not violent (no striker or brawler) (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7).
12. Not pursuing dishonest gain (Titus 1:7).
13. Hospitable (a lover of and given to hospitality) (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2).
14. One who loves what is good (Titus 1:8)
15. Self-controlled (sober) (1 Timothy 3:2)
16. Upright (just) (Titus1:8).
17. Holy (Titus 1:8).
18. Disciplined (temperate) (Titus 1:8).
19. Able to hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that they can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).
20. Above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2).
21. Temperate (vigilant) (1 Timothy 3:2).
22. Respectable (of good behaviour) (1 Timothy 3:2).
23. Able (apt or skilled) to teach (1 Timothy 3:2).
24. Not quarrelsome (contentious or given to fighting) (1 Timothy 3:3).
25. Gentle (patient) (1 Timothy 3:3).
26. Not covetous (1 Timothy 3:3 AV).
27. Able to manage their own family well and see that their children obey them with proper respect… If anyone does not know how to manage (rule) their own family (house), how can they take care of God’s church (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
28. Not a recent convert (a novice), or they may become conceited (puffed up with pride) and fall under the same judgement as the devil (1 Timothy 3:6).
29. Of good reputation with outsiders (have a good testimony among those who are outside), so that they will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap (lest they fall into reproach and the snare of the devil) (1 Timothy 3:7).
30. Able to work with other men in mutual submission, because they are called to work as an eldership team and not as individuals (elders of a congregation are always mentioned in the plural).

Important Note: A true elder will tend the sheep whether recognised or not and will not want position or self-aggrandisement, but rather will simply want to serve the flock to which God has called him. A man who starts to do this, but gives up because he was not recognised or officially appointed, proves that he is selfishly motivated. Such a man is not serving because “he is called to the task by God” but is serving for his own gain rather than the Churches good.

Thank You Father for sound Church government. Perfect order exists within Your Kingdom. Nothing works more smoothly thank Your perfect will, IF it is willingly studied and implemented by men. Help us Father to submit to Your pattern of Church government as an act of worship and to signal of our trust in You. Amen.

Today I recognise that it is to my own advantage to follow and obey the pattern that God has laid out for His Church. Today it is my priority to find my place in God’s will and to walk in it by His Spirit.
I will make allowances for others to find their place also, as they grow and learn
Not just extend that privilege to myself alone!
I have a spirit of cooperation; I am not isolated. I am able to work with God and with others.

Motto: ‘God Chooses, then the Spirit Tests, but You Must Respond!’
Copyright 2011 © Alan Pateman Ministries


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