Church Government; March 15, 2019

Acts 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

I fairly often comment that I don’t find democracy as such in the Bible, but neither do I find dictatorship as a good thing. Absolute monarchies were the order of the day, but Jesus was very specific that such were not to exist in the Church. (Matthew 20:25-28) What I do find is multiple leaders working in harmony (for the most part) because they were all submitted to the Holy Spirit. There wasn’t complete harmony, as evidenced by the split between Paul and Barnabas immediately after this, but neither was there rivalry. Technically that could be called a Presbyterian form of church government, but that’s not to say that the Presbyterian denomination is correct in every respect. The point is that everyone was submitted to the Holy Spirit and recognized that He could and did speak through and otherwise use each or all of them. Today we tend to have top-down church government, with consequent “rebellion in the ranks.” Congregational church government is an attempt to get around that, but all too many supposedly congregational churches are effectively dictatorships. Sometimes the pastor is the dictator, and sometimes it’s mob rule. Neither is pleasing to God. My Systematic Theology professor, Dr. John Kiwiet, was doing post-doctoral study with the famous theologian Emil Brunner, and they were discussing church government. After Dr. Brunner had expounded on the various pitfalls of different church government systems, Dr. Kiwiet (a strong Baptist) said, “So then the congregational system is best.” Dr. Brunner responded, “No, because then the Holy Spirit only gets one vote.” There needs to be unity that comes from agreement with the Spirit, but not all believers have equal maturity. Sometimes the less-mature members insist on their way, and sometimes we assume that age brings spiritual maturity, when that isn’t necessarily the case. The picture given by this verse is multiple people who were both submitted to the Holy Spirit and well versed in the Word, both the Old Testament and collections of Jesus’ sayings that were circulating by this time. Respecting one another, together they built up the Body of Christ.

Church government has always been something of an issue with me, because in a mission setting, mature believers who are well versed in the Word can be few and far between. I have sought to raise up such believers, but most have launched out in independent ministry as they have approached that point. That says to me that I have failed to give them room to exercise their gifts within our local church context, and I seek to grow in that area. I am not to abandon what the Lord has shown me clearly, because He holds me responsible for the flock, but I’ve got to grow in bringing people along with me, so that they understand it is the Holy Spirit who is in control, and not me. I have demonstrated clearly that when I operate in my own thoughts and ideas I make a mess of things, to no one’s benefit.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank you for these three weeks You’re giving the church without me. I pray that it would be a growing, maturing time for them and for me, so that together we may be more of what You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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