Church Government

Which form of church government appears to have the most warrant from a biblical perspective?

It is rather difficult to find clear support for one form of church government over another in the Bible, mostly because the authors and original readers were already in that government. A governmental system was assumed and did not need explaining. We only see glimpses of how it was done. On the other hand, we do see qualifications for elders and deacons. This does not clearly lay out the structure of either offce, but it does clearly tell us the type of people (or men) they should be. We also see the expected duties of the deacons in Acts when the selection of deacons was being made.

While some will disagree, Jesus did not appoint one leader over the Church—he set a plurality of leaders. His appointed twelve did have members that seemed more influential, but in the mater of the Church, they were equals. In Galatians, Paul is able to rebuke Peter, which would not seem reasonable if Peter was the single appointed archbishop of the Church. Collectively, these men were leaders lead by the Holy Spirit and were appointed for life; and it seems as if this group was able to be added to—accounting for Paul and James. First Timothy 4:14 shows that Paul was sent by a council of elders, suggesting a council rather than a single leader. We also see in James 5:14 that a sick person should call for the elders, plural; and it is unreasonable to think this meant the single pastor/elder in the local church and the single pastor/elder from the next town over.

It is also worth noting that in Acts 15, we see apostles and elders and the “whole church” making the decision to send Paul and Barnabas to Antioch. And regarding something as is seen in some churches where a bishop or archbishop is somehow more holy, we must remember Hebrews 4:16.

I am of the idea that because God did not clearly outline how a church is to be governed, there is no absolute right or wrong way so long as it is a church submitted under the authority of Christ as revealed in Scripture, and guided and led by the Holy Spirit. In this regard, Acts and the New Testament seems more descriptive; however, if I were to say which of the three models is the most “biblical” I lean, only slightly, more toward presbyterian than congregationalism and lastly episcopal (although in the early church went quickly to this model or always was this model which should be taken into consideration).

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.