REPORT OF COMMITTEE TO STUDY AN ALTERNATE FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT
[1965 Yearbook, pages 36 - 47]
I. WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT CHURCH GOVERNMENT
A. CHRIST IS THE HEAD
"And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church," Eph. 1:22
"And he is the head of the body, the church:" Col. 1:18
B. AS HEAD, CHRIST GIVES GIFTS TO THE CHURCH
"But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.... And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;" Eph. 4:7, 8, 11
"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." I Cor. 12:27-28
"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth on teaching: Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity: he that ruleth, with diligence: he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness." Rom. 12:3-8
C. SOME OF THESE GIFTS HAVE TO DO WITH THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE CHURCH
"And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these;" Mart. 10:1-2a (cf. also Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; 9:1-6)
"And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles." Acts 2:42-43 (cf. also Acts 1:2-8; 2:37; 5:12;etc.)
"And laid them down at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" Acts 5:35
"Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word. Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them." Acts 6:3, 4, 7
"Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:" Acts 8:14
"But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles..." Acts 9:27a
"When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch...
And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia;" Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23
"And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." Acts 16:4
"For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office;" Rom. 11:13 (cf.Ga1.12:8)
"Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord." I Cor. 9:1-2 (cf. II Cor.12:12)
"and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." Eph. 2:20
"And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." Rev. 21:14
"which, when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul..." Acts 14:14
"Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles... Rom. 16:7
"After that he was seen of James: then of all the apostles." I Cor. 15:7
''Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers (apostles) of the churches, and the glory of Christ." II Cor. 8:23
"But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother" Gal. 1:19
2. APOSTOLIC DELEGATES
"Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do." I Cor. 16:10
"I charge thee. ...Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine," II Tim. 4:1-2
"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:" Titus 1:5
"To send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" Acts 11:29b-30
"And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." Acts 14:23
"And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter" Acts 15:6 (cf. Acts 15:2, 4, 22, 23; 16:4)
". ... and called the elders of the church. ... and when they were come to him, he said unto them, ....Take heed therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood." Acts 20:17, 18, 28 (cf. I Peter 5:2-3)
"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." 1 Tim. 5:17
"A bishop then must be... apt to teach.., one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God") I Tim. 3:2a, 4, 5, (cf. Titus 1:7-9)
"... the laying on of the hands of the presbytery" I Tim. 4:14b
"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing with oil in the name of the Lord;" James 5:14
"Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree...." I Tim. 3:12-13a
"I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant (deaconess) of the church which is at Cenchrea:" Rom. 16:1
D. THE LOCAL CHURCH
"But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. That there should be no schism in the body but that the members should have the same care one for another." I Cor. 12:18, 25
"But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another etc, ... But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" I Cor. 12:7-11
"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, ...etc. I Cor. 12:27-28
"Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose...'' Acts 6:3, 5a
"... the brother. ...who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord and declaration of your ready mind." II Cor. 8:18, 19
"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 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. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Mart. 18:15-18 (cf. I Cor. 5)
E. THE CHURCHES IN FELLOWSHIP
"When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church.... And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church...." Acts 15:2, 3, 4
"Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch. . ." Acts 15:22
"For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things." Acts 15:28
"And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily," Acts 16:4, 5
"And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea." Col. 4:16
II. GENERAL APPLICATION OF THESE FACTS
A. CHRIST IS THE HEAD
The headship of Christ over the Church is not a question in dispute, but rather the dispute is as to how His government is exercised in the visible church.
B. AS HEAD, CHRIST GIVES GIFTS TO THE CHURCH
Christ as the Head of the Church calls, enables and commissions His ministers through the administration of the Holy Spirit. It is the responsibility of the local church to select those whom Christ has ordained to the various ministries of the church.
C. SOME OF THESE GIFTS HAVE TO DO WITH THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE CHURCH
In the first days after Pentecost, the disciples of Christ had no thought of separating themselves from the religious life of Israel. The temple worship was still adhered to (Acts 2:46; 3:1) though it was supplemented by Apostolic teaching, by prayer and fellowship, and by the breaking of the Bread (Acts 2:42, 46). Organization was a thing of gradual growth suggested by emerging needs. The differentiation of functions among those who were drawn into the service of the church was due to the difference in the gifts bestowed by God upon the church members, (I Cor. 12:28)
At first the twelve themselves, as those personally called by Christ and as witnesses of the resurrection, were the natural leaders and teachers of the Church. While they exercised leadership in the early church, their main function was the preaching of the gospel to every creature. In the time of the church's infancy, they held a unique position for the purpose of establishing new groups of believers and building them up in the faith.
In addition to the original twelve and Matthias, Paul was directly called to the apostolate by the exalted Saviour. In this role he fulfilled the apostolic commission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. The term "apostles'' was applied to Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James, (Gal. 1:19), Andronicus and Junius, (Rom. 16:7) and, in the Didache, to a whole class of nameless missionaries.
The missionary function of the apostles has never ceased. (Eph. 4:9-11). This office is exercised today by missionaries at home and abroad when they are bringing men to Christ, establishing them in local churches and giving the initial aid required in these early stages. This initial aid includes appointment of officers; providing of moral, ethical and spiritual counsel; and teaching so as to establish indigenous churches.
2. APOSTOLIC DELEGATES
In the early stages, the apostle Paul supervised the various churches established under his ministry. With the wider spread of the gospel it became necessary to have help in this function. At this stage we find him delegating some trustworthy disciple to take up residence in a given city for a time, especially at critical seasons, to direct the affairs of the church there, He appointed elders, corrected error, preached the gospel and taught the Word. Most of these functions are carried out by the present day itinerant ministers.
The origin of the office of elder in the Christian church is not recorded in the New Testament, but it existed very early since elders were present at Jerusalem in Acts 11:30. The office was evidently suggested by the eldership among the Jews. They would supervise the affairs of the local church in the same way as Jewish elders looked after the synagogue. Until the 2nd century, the terms "elder" and "bishop" were interchangeable designations. Some believe the first has reference to the dignity of the office while the latter to its duties. Paul in his first missionary journey appointed elders in every church. (Acts 14:23). He also instructed Titus the same in churches under his care. (Tit. 1:5) They also offices in the churches not founded by Paul. (James 5:14; I Peter 5:1).
In the New Testament, we see them functioning in the following capacities:
a. Represent the local church at church council.(acts 15)
b. Oversee the flock in spiritual matters through the ministry of teaching, exhortation and correction. (Acts 20:28)
c. Ordain men called of God to the ministry. (I Tim. 4:14)
d. Anoint the sick. (James 5:14)
e. Receive and administer funds. (Acts 11:29-30)
It appears that there were several elders in each local church. (Acts 11:30)
Lightfoot says, "Though government was probably the first conception of the office, yet: the work of teaching must have fallen to the presbyters from the very first and have assumed greater prominence as time went on." [Lightfoot, J. B. Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, page 194, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1953] Schaff says, "The distinctions of 'teaching presbyters' or ministers proper, and 'ruling presbyters' or lay elders, is a convenient arrangement of Reformed churches, but can hardly claim apostolic sanction, since the one passage on which it rests only speaks of two functions in the same office. Whatever may have been the distribution and rotation of duties, Paul expressly mentions ability to teach among the regular requisites for the episcopal or presbyterial office.'' [Schaff, Philip; History of the Christian Church, Volume 1 page 496, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1893]
Suffice it to say that in the New Testament Church, the elders formed the principle local ministry. There appears to have been a number of elders who formed a kind of board or committee which was in charge of local church affairs.
In Acts 6, seven men were chosen by the congregation and approved by the apostles. Their purpose was to relieve the heavy burden that rested upon the apostles so that they could devote themselves exclusively to prayer and the ministry of the Word. While the seven are not specifically called deacons, their function was like that known to have been discharged by the deacons in the earliest times.
The early church cared for the widows and ministered to the needs of the poor. In caring for such ministries, the deacons, of necessity became involved in human problems which demanded sound character and spiritual maturity.
"Helps" in I Cor. 12:28 may refer to the varied ministries discharged by the diaconate. This would assist the elders to discharge their specific functions.
While the eldership was restricted to men, the diaconate was open to both sexes.
D. THE LOCAL CHURCH
There are certain matters that are spoken of with respect to the whole body as a priesthood of believers.
1. Recognition of Spiritual gifts
Every member has some gift of grace and, this being the case, each member is duty bound to exercise that gift for the benefit of the whole body. It is the congregation's responsibility to recognize these spiritual gifts and to profit by them.
2. Selection of Officers
The church does not create the local ministry; the commission is Christ's. Her responsibility is to recognize the commission and, by the same token, to submit. to the administration of those who bear it. (I Cor. 12)
3. Rejection of false teachers and teachings
Even as the church is responsible to recognize true ministers and to submit to their guidance, so they are responsible to discern false teachers and teaching and to reject the same. (Gal. 1:9)
Our Lord speaks of the church as a court which has authority to decide disputes and to exercise discipline. (Matt. 18:15-17) In I Cor. 5, the apostle Paul chides the church for not dealing with the case of adultery and incest implying that it was their duty to exercise discipline. He ordered them to discharge this function.
E. CHURCHES IN FELLOWSHIP
The council at Jerusalem consisted of apostles, elders and brethren. The apostles framed and passed the decree not without, but with the elders and "with the whole church" and sent the circular letter not in their own name only but also in the name of all assembled as having been guided by the Spirit. The local churches recognized that the council was under the direction of the Holy Spirit and submitted to its judgment. (Acts 15:22-23; 16;4)
As we look at the church today with its fine sanctuaries, choir directors, paid professional ministers, educational buildings, Sunday Schools, etc., it must be obvious that this is not what existed in the Book of Acts. We believe that the evidence leads to the conclusion that present church order cannot, in detail, be read back into the New Testament.
Leon Morris, in the conclusion of his book, MINISTERS OF GOD states, "From all this it appears that none of the modern systems of church government can claim to have sole scriptural justification, There are elements in the New Testament which were later to give rise to each of the three. But none of the three is to be found exclusively within the pages of Scripture. Some feel this to be a great loss. They think that in the matter of the ministry we ought to have full scriptural justification for our whole system. Nothing ought to be enjoined but that which can be proved from the New Testament. Unfortunately, for this position, the New Testament evidence, as we have seen in earlier chapters, is not full enough for us to know exactly the position in the early Church. It is full enough for us to say that there were certain officers, such as presbyter-bishops and deacons. But it does not enable us to define their status or functions with precision, nor to understand their relation to other figures in the early Church. The New Testament simply does not give us the answers to all our questions." [Morris, Leon. Ministers of God, page 111, Inter-Varsity Fellowship, London, 1964]
In the same vein, Philip Schaff wrote, "Nearly all denominations appeal for their church polity to the New Testament, with about equal right and equal wrong; the Romanists to the primacy of Peter; the Irvingites to the apostles and prophets and evangelists, and the miraculous gifts; the Episcopalians to the bishops, the angels and James of Jerusalem; the Presbyterians to the presbyters and their identity with the bishops; the Congregationalists to the independence of the local congregations and the absence of centralization. The most that can be said is that the apostolic age contains fruitful germs for various ecclesiastical organizations subsequently developed but none of them can claim divine authority except for the gospel ministry, which is common to a11." [Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Volume 1, page 487, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1893]
We do know that a group of office bearers from among the local assembly did have vested in them the responsibility, under God, to administer the affairs of and to teach the local assembly. We do know that the rule of these elders had some limitation. For example, they did not select the officers of the Church nor have the final word in excommunication. (Acts 6:3; Matt. 18:15-18)
We do know that the congregation did share in the administration of the local church in some areas. For example, they chose officers and were the final voice in the act of excommunication. (Acts 6:5; Matt. 18:15-18)
We do know that ministers from without the local church exercised strong influence over the congregation by way of instruction and rebuke. (I Cor. 5:9-13)
We do know that the churches in fellowship did function in works of charity and settlement of doctrinal disputes. We know that the conclusion reached in Acts 15 carried authoritative direction to the local church. (Acts 15:22; 16:4)
Having observed that authority rested in some cases with the elders, in others with the congregation and in still other cases, with the churches in fellowship, we can only conclude that the nature of the point in question determines who is to make final decision.
SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS TO THE BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH
1. The affairs of the local church shall be administered by a group of men (Official Board) elected to this work by the congregation in recognition of their spiritual qualifications. The Pastor shall serve as chairman of the Official Board. This administration includes:
a. The church's program of worship, teaching and evangelism.
b. The discipline of members. In cases of excommunication, this discipline- shall be subject to the decision of the local church.
c. The responsibility for the financial structure of the church.
2. Deacons/deaconesses shall, within the scope of their spiritual qualifications, administer to the physical needs of the church under the direction of the Official Board.
3. The Local Church shall be responsible for:
a. Recognition of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
b. Election of officers of the local church.
c. Rejection of false teachers and teachings.
d. Decisions related to excommunication.
4. The Churches in Fellowship shall be responsible for:
a. The formulation of a Faith and Order on the basis of the Holy Scriptures.
b. Maintaining adherence to the Faith and Order on the part of both pastors and churches.
c. Joint efforts of the churches such as missions, education, evangelism, etc.
d. The selection of denominational officers. These officers shall include :
1. A chairman to preside at Annual Conference Sessions.
2. A man/men gifted of God to direct the ministries of Church Extension, education, and evangelism.
3. A man/men gifted of God to counsel both churches and pastors.
4. Any other officers or personnel needed for the efficient operation of denominational business.
WHEREAS, the 1964 Annual Conference referred the Petition of the Maple Glen Church to this Committee, (see pages 27 and 50)
THEREFORE, this Committee deems that the answer to this Petition embodied in the above Report.
John H. Riggall, Chairman
Richard H. Kline, Secretary
James A. Beil
Frank L. Herb, Jr.
Earl M. Hosler
Robert C. Reichenbach
Robert W. Smock