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Definitions of Doctrine
by C. D. Cole
Volume III- THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
CHAPTER 4-The Government of the Church
There is a Divine model of church polity. The Government of the churches of Christ is too important to be left to chance or human opinion. Whatever is left to human discretion in religion pertains to matters of minor importance, such as the building of meeting houses, the hours of public worship, the manner and order of divine service. Specific legislation on these points would not be practicable. To be sure there are divine principles to be adhered to in all things, but there are some things for which we have neither divine pattern nor explicit teaching. That there is a divine model of church government may be argued.
1. From Scriptural Analogy.
Moses was commanded to make the Tabernacle after the pattern shown him in the mount. “And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount,” (Ex. 25:40); “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount,” (Heb. 8:5). When the temple was erected, Solomon followed the plan given to him by his father David: “Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the LORD, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things: Also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the LORD, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the LORD. He gave of gold by weight for things of gold, for all instruments of all manner of service; silver also for all instruments of silver by weight, for all instruments of every kind of service: Even the weight for the candlesticks of gold, and for their lamps of gold, by weight for every candlestick, and for the lamps thereof: and for the candlesticks of silver by weight, both for the candlestick, and also for the lamps thereof, according to the use of every candlestick. And by weight he gave gold for the tables of shewbread, for every table; and likewise silver for the tables of silver: Also pure gold for the fleshhooks, and the bowls, and the cups: and for the golden basons he gave gold by weight for every bason; and likewise silver by weight for every bason of silver: And for the altar of incense refined gold by weight; and gold for the pattern of the chariot of the cherubims, that spread out their wings, and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD. All this, said David, the LORD made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern,” (1 Chron. 28:11-19). If it were necessary to make the Tabernacle and Temple according to a divine pattern, then it would seem that the church, which is a habitation of God through the Spirit, should be after a divine pattern.
2. From New Testament Examples.
The first New Testament church was the one founded by Christ at Jerusalem. The second was the church at Antioch. Other churches sprang up here and there under missionary endeavor, and all of them were patterned after the church at Jerusalem. These churches had common faith, a common baptism, and a common Lord or Head. Whatever was ordained for one of them was ordained for all. “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches,” (1 Cor. 7:17); “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints,” (1 Cor. 14:33); “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God,” (1 Cor. 11:16). These churches are to serve as patterns for the churches of all time. The faith or body of divinity has been once delivered, and whatever was ordained for the churches of the first century was likewise meant for the churches of the twentieth century. Otherwise the churches of the twentieth century would either be without a Bible, as a rule of faith and practice, or else would have a new Bible. Since God has not and will not give a new Bible the churches of this century must use the Bible long ago given.
THREE FORMS OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT
There are three forms of church government in existence today among the professed followers of Christ. All groups of professing Christians, that is, all denominations may be, generally speaking, classed under these three forms. They are Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational.
1. The Episcopal form is a graded ministry; a system of big “I, s” and little “U, s.” Episcopacy recognizes three orders or ranks of ministers, namely, deacons, priests, and bishops.
The Roman Catholic Church is a world church, recognizing the bishop of Rome as supreme head. The Romanist view is based upon the idea that Christ gave to Peter such authority and that the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) is the successor of Peter.
The Episcopal form is also represented in national and provincial churches. This means that the members of the church in any province or nation are bound together in national or provincial organizations, and that this organization has authority over the local groups. This is the form held by: the Episcopal and Methodist denominations.
2. The Presbyterian form recognizes two classes of elders—preaching elders and ruling elders. The authority in this form of government is in the “Session” which is composed of the pastor and ruling elders of the local congregation. They transact the business of the church, receiving and dismissing members, etc. An appeal, however, can be made to the Presbytery and from the Presbytery to the Synod, and from the Synod to the General Assembly.
3. The Congregational or Democratic form of church government is the Scriptural form. This means that each local congregation or assembly is a little democracy under the rule of Christ. “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing,” (Eph. 5:24). It is independent of every other congregation. From the divine side, the church of Christ is a monarchy with Christ as its Lord and Head, (Eph. 5:24); from its human side it is a democracy, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren...Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ,” (Matt. 23:8,10). An absolute monarchy on its Divine side requires for its complement on the human side and absolute democracy.
THE DEMOCRATIC FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT PROVED
1. It may be argued from the very word ekklesia, which was chosen by Christ to designate His churches. The word designates something that can assemble. A world church or a national or a provincial church could not assemble under present conditions. Like the Greek cities, each assembly is independent and therefore complete in itself as to government of itself.
2. The whole matter of discipline, formative and corrective, was committed by Christ through the apostles to each individual church, and not to church officers or to a higher body, (1 Cor. 5:1-13); “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations,” (Rom. 14:1); “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them,” (Rom. 16:17); “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us,” (2 Thess. 3:6); “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican,” (Matt. 18:17).
3. It is the duty of the whole church to maintain unity in its faith and practice. “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits,” (Rom. 12:16); “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” (1 Cor. 1:10); “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Eph. 4:3); “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,” (Phil. 1:27). A. H. Strong says: “A quiet and peaceful unity is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of Christians. New Testament church government proceeds upon the supposition that Christ dwells in all believers. Baptist polity is the best polity for good people. Christ has made no provision for an unregenerate church membership, and for Satanic possession of Christians. It is best that a church in which Christ does not dwell should by dissension, reveals its weakness, and fall to pieces; and any outward organization that conceals inward disintegration, and compels a merely formal union after He has departed, is a hindrance instead of a help to true religion.” These are plain words and our hearts should be exercised by them. There is much outward union today, where there is no unity of the Spirit in the faith.
OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH
There are only two commissioned officers in a New Testament Church, namely, pastor and deacon. The pastor is also known as bishop, and elder. Bishop, meaning overseer, denotes the duties, and elder, the rank of office. Bishop and elder are equivalent terms. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre,” (Titus 1:5-7). When the church is looked at as a flock of sheep, the bishop is called pastor or feeder of the sheep.
The deacons are to be helpers to the pastor. Their official duties consist primarily, if not exclusively, of looking after temporal and material needs of the body, such as feeding the poor, financing the church, etc. The pastor is to be free from temporal and secular matters that he may give himself to that which is exclusively spiritual, prayer and the ministry of the word. He is to teach and, therefore, must give himself to study. He must be “apt to teach.” “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach,” (1 Tim. 3:2); “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,” (2 Tim. 2:24). In order to have something to teach he must study. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” (2 Tim. 2:15). The members must support him with their carnal things. “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things,” (Gal. 6:6); “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?...Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel,” (1 Cor. 9:11,14).
Deacons ought to be men of spiritual power, for they are to handle the money of the church: “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre,” (1 Tim. 3:8). They are to be sound in the faith, for they are to support the pastor when he preaches the truth. Much criticism of the pastor could be silenced, when he preaches on unpopular doctrines, if the deacons, “holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience,” (1 Tim. 3:9) would give their support. Next to the pastor the deacon need to be learned men in the once delivered faith.
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