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Uncommon Things We Believe #5 Autonomous Church Government Acts 14:19-23

15 Feb

Uncommon Things We Believe Series #3aThe church of our Lord is a wonderful institution, built according to a Divine pattern and purpose.

(Ephesians 3:10-11)  His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, {11} according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 As we look around the religious world, we find that there are a number of  kinds of church government.  One question that comes to mind in seeing this considerable diversity is, “Does the Bible have anything to say on the subject?”

In churches of Christ, we commonly believe that the Scriptures supply us with the form of church government that God desires. We believe that this biblical pattern includes: local autonomy, heavenly rather than earthly headquarters, qualifications and responsibilities for elders and deacons, and a style of leadership that is very different from that of the world.

The Local Autonomy Of The Church

(Acts 14:23)  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

 (Titus 1:5)  The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

The New Testament shows no government beyond that of the local congregation. Each congregation was to develop its own autonomous government overseen by a plurality of elders.

(Ephesians 4:11-12)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

The church of the New Testament is an absolute Monarchy (with Christ as the head) but is granted democratic self-government power, exercised indirectly through the elders who are the official representatives, rulers, and overseers of the people. It is limited to matters of opinion and expediency.

The wrong kind of leadership: (Luke 22:25)  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.

THE MEANING OF CONGREGATIONAL AUTONOMY

1. Congregational autonomy means equality before God. Each congregation stands before God on equal ground. No church can exercise authority over another church “in the name of” Christ or “ by faith.”

2. It means to be self-governing. Each congregation has equal authority to plan, manage and do its own work, to discipline its own members, within its divinely ordained framework, without interference, coercion, or dictation from regional presbyters, district superintendent, general overseer, pope, or any human authority.

3. It means proper respect for the jurisdiction of elders. The Bible teaching concerning the jurisdiction of elders helps to clarify how congregations are to function under their leadership.

(1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 (ESV) We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you…

“Over you in the Lord” (defines the realm and nature of their leadership) and admonish you,

It is spiritual (“in the Lord), not political or worldly.

Elders are over (not under) the entire congregation in which the Holy Spirit made them bishops.

Acts 20:28 (ESV)  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood..)

The nature of their authority is not legislative, but administrative. They cannot authorize what God has not, or forbid what he commands and allows.

It is not arbitrary authority, but loving leadership motivated, tempered and governed by the will and purpose of God.

It is not individual or a pyramid-like authority, but a collective, group, shared authority of equals who stand on the same ground.

It is not the absolute, high-handed rule of domineering commanders, but the work of loving pastors who follow the meek and lowly Son of Man in feeding, leading and living among the flock of God-men who rule well by example in a faithful and humble way that inspires imitation.

1 Peter 5:1-4 (ESV)

1  So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:
2  shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
3  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
4  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)

7  Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

It means to be independent but not isolationist. Each congregation is truly independent, without being isolationist. When a congregation adopts an unfeeling, unconcerned, isolationist attitude, it departs from the Lord’s teaching.

It means to be mutually free and mutually helpful. Each congregation is obligated to assist sister congregations. They must share the material and spiritual blessings of life with the needy. (Acts 11: 22-24; 11:27-30; Phil. 4: 15-17)

Leo Boles wrote in Feb., 1940: “The wisdom of God is seen in such an arrangement for His church. If one became corrupted in doctrine or affected by evil practices, the other churches would not be so affected. If dissension arose in one, it would not spread to the others; if one perished, the others would not be dragged down. If a window is made of one large pane, a break injures the entire pane; but if it can be made of several panes, it is not so bad to break one. The independence of the churches is a protection for each other.”

Even the Apostles worked within the context of local congregations (Acts 13:1-3).

(Acts 13:1-3)  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. {2} While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” {3} So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

The Apostles gave doctrine to the churches and settled matters of dispute:

(1 Corinthians 11:1.)  In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.

 The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 does not violate this principle of local independence. This was a miraculously endowed gathering (15:28), and thus the resolution adopted was clearly with the help of a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. No such revelation is available today.

The New Testament in its complete form is the standard that thoroughly furnishes us today. No council of men has any authority over groups of churches.

The Heavenly Headquarters Of The Church (Eph. 1:19-23).

(Ephesians 1:19-23)  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, {20} which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, {21} far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. {22} And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, {23} which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

The church Jesus built has no earthly headquarters, simply because the Head of the church is quartered in Heaven (Acts 2:33; Col. 3:1-3). Even Jerusalem in the early days of the church was not the headquarters for the church (Gal. 2:1-10).

Paul took his orders from Christ, not from Jerusalem (vv. 7-10).  Those in Jerusalem were not above others in the church (v. 6).  Again, we are reminded that the local congregation was the highest expression of earthly church government.

Extra Material–The Qualifications And Work Of Elders And Deacons (I Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).

As we might expect, if God gave offices for the local church (Phil. 1:1), then He gave qualifications for the offices. Elders or presbyters, overseers or bishops, pastors or shepherds (the KJV uses six English words to translate three Greek words) are designations all referring to the same office (Acts 20:17, 28; I Pet. 5:1-4).

Today, contrary to New Testament revelation, a “pastor” is commonly seen to be a preacher with nothing to do with work within an eldership. It is very uncommon to find the common New Testament pattern of local church government present today.

The work of elders was primarily that of shepherding and overseeing the local church in a mature manner—as the biblical designations for the work imply.

Deacons served under elders in the church of the New Testament (Phil. 1:1). The name “deacon” is but the common term for a servant or minister.  In the special work that also used this name, there were qualification relating both to character and life situation.

Unlike today, when the place of deacons often replaces that of elders, in New Testament times deacons were not congregational decision makers. Acts 6:1-6 demonstrates the role of deacons in relationship to church leadership (as the church was developing toward maturity, Apostles, at first, functioned somewhat as elders in a local congregation).

The leadership of the local congregation, though authoritative (Heb. 13:17), is not exercised as in secular institutions (Matt. 20:20-28). Serving, not lording over, is a distinctive feature of biblical leadership.

In fact, no one elder has any more authority than any other member of the church, that is why “elder(s)” were appointed in all the churches.  An elder’s authority is exercised in pursuing the decisions of an eldership, as these decisions reflect the will of Christ (Eph. 2:20).

There is no “one man” rule in the church, except as it is in the Man Jesus Christ. Elders, therefore, must be careful not to speak unilaterally for the eldership.

Shepherds are to know the congregation and be willing to serve the best interests of the brethren with their very lives (cf. Jn. 10:11-15). It might well be said of shepherds that they should “smell like sheep.”

Though “uncommon” in this world, the pattern for the church’s government is nevertheless easy to see. If God had wanted it another way, He would have given it another way.       We were promised all things in Christ (Jn. 14:26; 16:13; II Pet. 1:2-3).  Let us “contend earnestly” for what we were “once for all given” (Jude 3).

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in Article

 

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