CONCERN FOR CHURCH POLITY (GOVERNMENT)
IN OUR POST MODERN CULTURE
(Development of Church Leadership and Growth of the Church)
Context of Concerns: Unity of Disciples (John 17) and Unity of The Church (Ephesians 4.1-16); Concern for Church Order in our Post Modern Culture--What and Why?
We must face the rejection of Objectivity and True Truth by Post Modern minds which influence Media and Education. The authoritative structure of any organization, including The Church, is judged as biased, prejudiced, and limits individual freedom to construct one’s own reality. Therefore, any appeal to Scripture as a normative guide for resolving the conflict within our cafeteria view of polity is totally rejected as an expression of prejudice of illiterate persons who are locked in the prison of The Enlightenment Mentality.
Church polity is not Church politics. Granted that Church History (eg. Constantine’s edict that all citizens become Christian) presents too many situations that have reeked of politics. The sins of Church leaders have eroded confidence in the value of Church Polity.
Our brief journey down the long road to changing Church Polity will make constant efforts to focus on God’s design for His Church and not the sins of many (too many) of Church leaders. Our emphasis will not be on how things have been done, but rather, on how things ought to be done, according to Scripture, especially The Book of Acts.
(eg. with the Church government structure--Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostalism, Boston Church of Christ, Christian Church/Church of Christ, Cults/Occult groups (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists, all marginal groups), Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jewish)
1. Based in the God of Creation: Genesis 1.1, Psalms 22.28, 47.2, 103.19. The creator of the universe, the Sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth, is the ground for our concern for Church Polity.
2. After Christ’s Triumph over Sin and Satan on the Cross of Calvary, God put everything under His feet (Joshua 10.24, Eph. 1.22).
3. After the Resurrection - “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28.18). Note how the resurrected Christ “rules over all things,” secular governments and authorities but also His Church. Jesus Christ is “Head of the Church, which is His body (Eph. 1.20-23; Col. 1.18).
4. Since He is head over all things, it follows that in the Church of Jesus Christ things are to be done Christ’s way. Therefore the Church must be governed according to His will. Any Church that confesses Christ as Lord, but does not honor Christ’s sovereignty in the concrete deeds of the Church government, is not faithful to the only Master.
How Does The Christ Rule His Church?
Christ rules immediately by His Word (no mean) i.e., no particular tools. Christ’s leaders are to produce Disciples and to empower them to “grow in grace and knowledge” (esp. Heb. 12.7ff.) God’s tools are His disciples! How?
On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on “all”, not merely the twelve (I Pet. 2.9; I Cor 3.16; 6.19). With the gift of the Holy Spirit, all Christians have been anointed to the office of “all believers.” We are all Prophets, Priests and Kings. In the capacity of the office of all believers, we all may be tools in the Savior’s hands through which He cares for His Church.
(Esp. Eph. 4.11-13; Acts 20.28)
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. . .” (Eph. 4.11-13) Paul also says to the elders of Ephesus: “Therefore, take heed to yourselves and all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with His blood.” (Acts 20.28)
Church polity does not concern itself with Christ’s “immediate” governing of His Church. Church Polity does not concern itself with how individuals carry out the “office” of all believers. The focus of Church Polity is instead the special office. Church Polity must pay attention first to underlying principles.
For our Post Modern culture, office bearers have only local jurisdiction.
1. The Authority of the Apostles (Matt. 16) Jesus declared that He built His Church on The Rock of Peter’s confession of the Lordship of Christ, not the Roman Catholic Papacy. Jesus went on to say “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (vss. 17-19).
2. Other Disciples became office bearers; this becomes evident from Jesus’ further words in Matt. 18 where Discipline is a power given to the Church (Jn 20.22-23). The twelve (minus Judas Iscariot) were entrusted with the function of overseeing the entrance into heaven. The disciples and the apostles received Christ’s authority. Through the Holy Spirit the Apostles preached the Gospel. Equally, they spoke candid words of admonition when necessary (eg. Gal. 2.11-14 when Paul rebuked Peter).
In I Corinthians 5, Paul exhorts The Church at Corinth to exercise Church discipline against a brother guilty of sexual immorality. Through preaching and exercising of Church discipline we find the apostles busy with opening and closing the kingdom of heaven.
Other Apostles could not be appointed in their place, since to be an apostle you had to be a witness of Jesus’ work and resurrection from the dead (eg. Paul’s conversion and arrest accounts are in Acts 9, 24, 25). The office of Apostle ceased upon their death, but their authority did not cease (Scriptures). Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the Gospel in Asia Minor, they visited the infant Churches and “appointed elders” in every Church” (Acts 14.23). In Titus 1.5, Paul tells Titus that he had been left in Crete “that he should set in order the things that were lacking and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.”
Leaders have only the authority of The Word of God. When they teach, then, or admonish, they must speak according to the Word of God. As soon as “leaders do otherwise, they step outside the God given authority (eg. decisions and authority outside the biblical mandate. Make list of negotiable and non-negotiable issues. “When the scriptures speak, we speak; when the scriptures are silent we are silent.” (??)
I Timothy 5.17 makes a distinction between elders who rule and elders who labor in Word and doctrine (note the historical distinction of preacher and elder, etc.) In the magisterial passage of Eph. 4.11ff, it declares that Christ Himself gave some to be Apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers (the Greek grammar fuses the two words pastors and teachers--not two separate categories (see my “Qualifications for All Believers” and compare our post modern Churches).
The Church and The Churches: The Principle of
Local Autonomy and Authority
The authority of Christ and His Apostles was universal. Therefore, Paul and John could with authority write letters in Rome, Corinth, to the Churches in Galatia, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica and John wrote to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor (the Gospel, Revelation, chps. 2 and 3 and I,II,III John.
The universal authority given to the Apostles died with the office. In Acts 14.23 we read that elders were appointed in every Church. None of the leaders were appointed to serve all the Churches. Likewise in Titus 1.5 Paul authorizes Titus to “appoint elders in every city.” Again in Revelation 2 and 3 we are introduced to seven local office bearers, each angels or messengers. It is also instructive that the Church in each local city is described in the New Testament as the “Body of Christ” (I Cor. 12.27). It is important to note that the Voice of the Shepherds is heard locally. By the preaching of the Gospel, through the Word and Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), the Church is locally gathered. There are no authority levels among office bearers. Jesus said, “One is your teacher (Christ) and you are all brethren (Matt. 23.8).
Toward a Bond of Churches: From One Church to Many (Acts)
More is related in Acts about the formation of local churches than any other place in the New Testament. In Acts 5.11 we read, “So great fear came upon all the Church.” The Church here is the congregation in Jerusalem. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost resulted in 3,000 converts (Acts 2.4). These isolated individuals “met together and had all things in common and continued with one accord in the Temple, breaking bread from house to house (vs. 46). In Acts 4.32 we read, “Now the multitudes of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” The believers in Jerusalem formed The Church of Christ in that city.
Growth Through Persecution (Acts 1.7,8; 9.31)
The Church is mentioned again in 8.1. Paul consented to Stephen’s death, one of the first leaders. At that time a great persecution arose against the Church at Jerusalem; and they were scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. Through persecution the saints at Jerusalem were scattered abroad, as far as Judea, Samaria, Galatia (Acts 9.31, Acts 1.7,8) and the two coastal cities of Phoenicia and Antioch and the island of Cyprus (Acts 11.19). Paul wrote the Galatians (1.13) “For you have heard of my former life, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Acts 8.1).
Did the scattered Church remain One Church? Does Acts suggests that a “single city church” becomes a “regional Church”? It appears not. There is no regional Church of Judea or Samaria or Galatia. Separate individual churches arose in the towns to which the Christians were scattered (note the singular - The Church in Jerusalem, Acts 9; Paul did not return to visit Peter, Gal. 1.15-20). It is striking how Paul describes himself as “unknown by sight to the Churches of Judea which were in Christ” (Gal 1.22). Note the change from singular “the Church” in Jerusalem to a plural, “the Churches of Judea.” As a result of persecution of the Church in Jerusalem the one Church became the Churches of Judea. The One Church becomes many Churches.
A. Acts 11.26 - Paul and Barnabas brought the whole Church--and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. The Church at Antioch is a complete body in itself, and not a part of a wider, regional Church.
B. Acts 14.23 - Paul and Barnabas had preached the Gospel throughout Asia Minor (Greece/Macedonia, now Greek Orthodox Church). There they appointed elders in every Church and prayed with fasting. Here we read of a plurality of Churches.
C. Acts 15.41 - Paul went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the Churches. Here we read of a plurality of Churches.
D. Acts 16.5 - “So the Churches were strengthened in faith and increased in numbers daily.
E. Acts 10.27 - Paul sent to Ephesus and called to him the Elders of the Church. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (vs 28) The Church of Ephesus was complete in itself.
F. I Corinthians 12.27 - Paul describes “The Church of God which is at Corinth” (I Cor 1.2) as a “body of Christ.” The term Church does not conjure up the notion of a regional or national Church to which the local Church is a subject.
The New Testament suggests cooperation and interaction between independent “congregations.” Believers who had been scattered by the persecution in Jerusalem had passed on The Gospel not only to other Jews but also to Gentiles. Under God’s blessing, many Gentiles came to the faith. The Jerusalem Church heard that Gentiles in Antioch had been converted to Christ and their negative response is why Peter needed the vision of the clean and unclean animals (Acts 10). The Church at Jerusalem sent out Barnabas with the mandate “to go as far as Antioch” (Acts 11.22). The Church at Jerusalem did not consider themselves an island unattached and uninterested in other Churches but recognized a bond of faith between the various congregations.
Luke tells us of prophets from Jerusalem going out to Antioch. One of them, Agabus, prophesied a severe, extensive famine which caused a need for assistance in Judea. The believers in Antioch sent relief along with Barnabas and Saul to the elders in Judea. This expressed a shared bond of faith.
The same attitude was evident among the Churches in Macedonia and Achaia. “It pleased those of Macedonia and Achaia to make certain contributions for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.” (Romans 15.25-26) Paul gave the Macedonian Church as an example to the Church at Corinth. “Moreover, brethren, we made known to you the grace of God bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia; that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. . .that we should receive the gift and fellowship of the ministering saints.” Later on Paul encourages the Corinthians also to give for the benefit of the needy in churches outside of Corinth (II Cor 9.1-5). The same concern for other is expressed “toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia.” (I Thess 4.9-10).
Paul writes to the Saints in Rome--“I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church in Cenchrea (Rom 16.1f.) These letters were written concerning members traveling to another Church demonstrates a bond of faith tying the Churches together (II John 13, II Cor 16.19, eg. the underground railroad and slaves).
(“Where there is no vision the people go berserk” (Proverbs 11.14; 15.22) Scriptures compel us to view the Church as one--“One Body.” (Matt. 1.21; Acts 15.14; I Cor 10.17; Eph 4.4-6) My suggested unity of scripture via Theology of Promise: Jesus Christ (Die Mitti); read Ephesians and Thomas Campbell’s book, Declaration and Address in light of the failed Ecumenical Movement and Post Modern Tolerance/Diversity expressed in multicultural pluralism, eg. all religions express the same basic concerns.
A. Unity of the Church - Matt 16; esp. Eph 4.4-6.
B. The Church is Catholic (Universal, not Roman or Eastern), Jas 1.1 “Twelve Tribes”
C. The Church is Apostolic (Col 4.16) authentic Church (Acts 28.30 - “Without hinderance” -- this word in the Greek text is an adverb, authenticas, originating contra Reformation division into the visible and the invisible Church (tension between Justification and Sanctification).
D. The Church is Holy; I Cor 1.2 “Sanctified;” I Pet 1.1 - Pilgrims of the Dispersion (Elect/Foreknowledge); Jas 1.27 the Church is addressed as the 12 tribes scattered abroad.
E. Communion of The Saints - Phil 2.2-4, individuals need each other (relationship/fellowship - see my “One Another” study (I Cor 14.36). We must guard against the danger of “Independentism”; there are no “lone Christians!”
The bond of unity is grounded in grace and the Holy Spirit: commanded or voluntary? (I Cor 16.1-3; II Cor 8.8-10) What does Biblical Polity commit us to? As brothers and sisters in the Lord we should always be ready to come to each others’ aid!
(Dr. James Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL 62656)