Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 7, 1971
NUMBER 34, PAGE 7b-8a

Thoughts On Church Government

Edward Fudge

In our democratic society, it is somewhat out of style to think in terms of authority. The sociologists and pundits can probably explain why, but whatever the reason, we see it on ever hand. Children supposedly resent parental authority. Students claim the right to run schools. Citizens are offended when the policeman gives them a ticket. Even criminals on trial feel they, not the judge, should run the court. (For an inspired comment on the type attitude demonstrated in the "Chicago trial," see Jude 7-18).

In spite of all this, God's Word enjoins on believers submission to every proper authority. Children are to obey their parents, not only because it is right, but because of their relationship to the Lord (Col. 3:20). Husbands are to rule the home, in love not force (Eph. 5:23-25). Christians should obey civil officers, in keeping with the will of God (Rom. 13:1-7). This is not difficult for the one truly born again, for his whole life is governed now by humility, not pride, and it is pride which lies behind all rebellion (I Pet. 5:5, 6; Phil. 2:3).

In The Church

God has also ordained a government for His people as the church locally. Qualified men are to be recognized as elders (indicating maturity). These elders are then to be overseers ("bishop" comes from the Greek word here). The church is to recognize their rule and submit to it (Heb. 13:17). God has also specified the exercise of this rule. It is not "as lords over" but "examples to" (I Pet. 5:3). It is a rule based on respect for character and experience — not that domineering authority sometimes exercised by secular "overseers" (Heb. 13:7; Matt. 20:25-28). God illustrated the rule He had in mind by calling these men pastors (shepherds). They are to lead and feed the church as shepherds of a flock (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:2; read Ezek. 34:1ff and Jno. 10:11-14 for more details about shepherding).

God has assigned to local elders a definite work as overseers and shepherds of the brethren "among them." They are to accept this responsibility "not by constraint, but willingly." Their appointment indicates the church's willingness to follow as they lead the way. They state their intention to take the lead as shepherds who watch for souls, as those who must give account (Heb. 13:17). God expects each member of the body to respect their work, accept their guidance and follow their leadership (Heb. 13:17; I Tim. 5:17; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13). This guidance is properly exercised on an elder-member basis as well as that of elders-church, a point not always made clear.

Not A Game

This is not some game we are playing. It is a matter of obeying Almighty God and being disciples of Christ. Sometimes churches and elders have failed to take these responsibilities as seriously as they ought. That failure has always resulted in members that were spiritually weak, constantly straying, and finally lost. Congregations of saints have lacked the internal spirit of oneness and love that should characterize those who are brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of God's people have held to a form of godliness, but have denied its power. That is strong language, but it is inspired (2 Tim. 3:5).

Let each one of us determine now to take this whole business more seriously. Let each individual make up his mind to pray more, say more, and do more for the benefit of the church of which he is a part (I Pet. 4:10). When we commit ourselves totally to Christ, He will supply life, health and growth (Eph. 4:15, 16; Col. 1:9-11). A "confessing" faith is not enough — we must practice what we preach (James 2:19-20).

— 944 S. Geyer, Kirkwood, Mo., 63122