As in other matters pertaining to faith and practice, the evangelical looks to Scripture when he defines the boundaries of acceptable church government. At first glance, however, Scripture seems disturbingly indecisive, for no specific government is legislated for the Church. The general principles of polity are clear, but not the details. This is one reason why questions of government have caused such deep and lasting divisions in the Church.
It seems that the Spirit of God has been pleased to allow a certain flexibility in matters of form and order. In any case, we have no right to boast, for no branch of Christendom has precisely the same kind of government as that which existed in the early church.
The Necessity of Government. According to the Apostles’ Creed, the Church is a communion of the saints. This view comports with Scripture. True believers are a fellowship in Christ. This fellowship is not an external society whose rights dissolve when the corporation dissolves; it can exist without any organization at all.
But if this be true, why should the Church be yoked with ecclesiastical rule? Why not let the fellowship carry itself? The answer is, government keeps the affairs of the Church decent and orderly, that the ministry of the Word might not be hindered.
Although the Church is not an external society, it is a vital society with a normative ground of existence. Christ is the head of the Church, and Christ is confronted in and through Scripture. This is why the ministry of the Word is so essential to the fellowship. Unless Scripture is studied and preached with diligence, Christians will not know what God requires of them.
But if the ministry of the Word is to prosper, it must be delivered from the distractions of secondary ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more