Who runs the church of Christ? Is it one man at the top, or is it the whole congregation? Here at Providence, we agree with those who say that Christ alone is the head of the church. (Eph. 5:23) How exactly, though, does the Lord Jesus govern his church as he is now at the Father's right hand in heaven? As you might have guessed, we believe that the Bible answers this question.
Years ago a pastor named Thomas Witherow (1824-1890) wrote a piece on this very subject. In his work is entitled, 'The Apostolic Church, Which Is It?' he notes that some form of church government is inevitable, and that through the ages, there have been three recurring forms: Prelacy, Independency, and Presbyterian. One need not look for long in Cumming to find Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches, all of which fall into one of these forms of government. To Witherow's point, even non-denominational churches have some sort of structure.
'Prelacy' refers to rule through a line of individuals such as archbishops, bishops, deacons, archdeacons. Historically these have been Roman Catholicism, the Church of England, and Methodists, to name a few. Churches that have followed the independent model include congregationalists and Baptists, although our Reformed Baptist brethren often are elder rule and sometimes are members of associations that are similar to Presbyterian governments. The Presbyterian form of government is one ruled locally by its elders (a session), regionally by its presbytery (the elders who assemble regionally), and nationally by its general assembly (the elders who assemble nationally.) Obviously, Presbyterians hold to this form, as well as other Reformed churches.
Witherow explains that there are six principles found in Scripture concerning the government of the church, and then argues that the presbyterian form best meets those principles. (What did you expect?)
Here are those principles:
1. The office bearers were chosen by the people. (Acts 1:13-26; 6:1-6; 14:23. 'Appointed in Acts 14:23 refers to a vote by stretching out the hand.)
2. The offices of bishop and elder are identical. (Titus 1:5-7 'elders/overseer' are the Greek words 'presbyter' and 'episkopos.' Acts 20:17, 28-32; Philip. 1:1. It's been pointed out that the different terms describe the character of the man fulfilling the office, and the function of the office, namely that he is to be a 'mature' man, and that the function is 'rule.' The practical result is that of parity between all the men who hold this office.)
3. Each NT church had a plurality of elders. (Titus 1:5; 14:23; Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:17)
4. The act of ordination was performed by the presbytery. (I Tim. 4:14; Acts 13:1-3)
5. The privilege of appeal was to the assembly of elders, and the right of government was exercised by them in their corporate character. (Acts 15:1-23; Acts 16:4)
6. Christ is the King and Head of the church. (Ephesians 1:20-23; Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18; Mk. 12:17)
Hopefully this will give some rationale as to why we are 'Presbyterian' in government. In a later post, I hope to demonstrate some of the practical benefits of such a government. Until then, the Lord Bless you! -Pastor Kevin