TRADITIONAL FORMS OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT
Bob Yandian

HIS GLORY REIGNS
B. Childress
Aug 23, 2007


If you want a supernatural church, you must have biblical authority for your church government. Signs and wonders will
become commonplace when your house is in order.

There are four main types of church government in the body of Christ today:  episcopalian, presbyterian,
congregational, and independent - the title tells us who is in authority.

Episcopalian Church Government

The episcopalian form of church government is found in many types of churches:  The Roman Catholic, the Anglican,
the Episcopalian, the Methodist, the Lutheran, and the Churches of God.  The title points out who has authority:  the
bishops.  When you see the word
bishop in Scripture, it means the overseer.  Another word to use might be
superintendent.

In the episcopalian form of church government, the bishop has the authority, and the pastor is under him. The
question is does this form of church government conform to the biblical standard?  No, it is unscriptural; it is wrong.

The Roman Catholic Church employs the episcopalian form.  It's line of authority begins with the highest-ranking
bishop, the pope.  Under him is the cardinal (cardinal bishop).  Under the cardinal bishop is the archbishop.  Under the
archbishop is the bishop.  Under the bishop is the local bishop.  Under the local bishop is the priest or pastor.  The
pastor (priest, who, by biblical authority, is directly under the Lord Jesus Christ), is under the authority of five bishops
above him, who are chosen by men.

Remember, God's Word tells us that the office of a bishop is something to which a man aspires.  Accordingly, we have
five offices chosen by man above the office chosen by God.  It comes from a misunderstanding of the term bishop.  
Bishops are in the Word of God and are ordained by God, but they do not rank with the ministry office of the pastor.  
We must let God's Word be the guide and judge of correct church government.

Presbyterian Church Government

The Greek word from which we derive the word presbyterian is presbuteros; this is also where we get the word elder.

In this form of church government, the authority for the local church rests in a group of elders.  This type of
government is found in the Presbyterian Church, the Pentecostal Holiness, the Friends, and many non-denominational
churches.  The church is governed by a group of elders.  Traditionally they number seven, ten, or twelve.

In this form of government, the elders are over the pastor, or the elders and the pastor have equal authority.  But in
God's Word, who chooses pastors? The Lord Jesus.  Who should choose elders?  The pastor.  Does it sound right
that the ones the pastor chooses should exert authority over him?  Should the ones chosen by men rule the one
chosen by God?

The Word shows that God chooses a pastor as head of the local church.  Whenever there is a multiplicity of people in
authority in a church, they usually have to vote to find God's will.  Elders are necessary for counsel to the pastor, but
not to make his decisions for (or with) him.
 "In the multitude of counselors there is safety" Proverbs 11:14.

Congregational Church Government

By this title, we can see that the congregation has the authority.  Voting is the means by which most all decisions are
made.  The major denominations that have congregational church government include the Baptists, the Assemblies of
God, the Churches of Christ, and the Congregationalists.

The congregational forms of church government is that they arose about the time the United States became a nation,
two hundred years ago.  Apparently it was presumed that if we have a nation run by the will of the people, then we
should run churches by the will of the people.  The authority rests with the congregation.  This is not a proper form of
church government according to the Word of God.  Democracy does not make the church possible; the church makes
democracy possible.  The church is not a natural institution, but supernatural.  It must be run supernaturally from the
standards of God's Word, not history books.

If we want to cite precedent, we ought to look at God's Word and see how He established the nation of Israel.  He
established one head over all.  Then He divided the nation into smaller groups (tribes) with overseers under the
authority of the head (Moses, or a king).  For example, Moses, as the head, led the nation of Israel directly under
God's authority.  Then there were men responsible for tens, hundreds, and thousands under him.  But they still came
under Moses and submitted to his authority (Exodus 18).

The reason some of these forms of church government came into being was out of an abuse of authority
by the pastor.  The presbyterian form of church government arose because a pastor was not fulfilling his
office properly.  A group of men (elders) arose and exercised authority over him to protect the
congregation.  When the elders began to abuse authority, the congregation as a whole decided to take
the authority away from them.  But even the congregational type of government is also subject to being
swayed by one man's opinions or influence.  No matter how we look at these attempts by men to prevent
abuses, they still occur.  God's Word is still our guide.  His choice is to have one man who hears Him rule
over the church.  He is not a dictator, but a shepherd who leads his flock with sound counsel.

Independent Church Government

The independent form of church government is the closest to the precedent set in God's Word.  In this form of church
government, the church is governed much like a corporate business.  The pastor is like a president and the elders are
like vice-presidents.  Nevertheless, there is only one head to the organization, the pastor (president) of the church.

James 5:14 says:
"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church."  Notice that "elders" is plural, and
"church" is singular.  In the local church, there can be a number of elders (Acts 14:23) and the pastor does the
choosing.  Who has authority over them?  The pastor does.  We are not talking about authority in a natural sense of
understanding.  We are talking about divine authority, which comes from the throne of God to the people through a
ministry gift chosen and equipped by the Lord Jesus Christ.  This must always be kept in mind whenever there is a
discussion of scriptural church authority.  Remember that God says in Romans 8:7 that the carnal mind is an enemy to
God.  If we want God present in our lives, then we have to live in line with His Word.  And if we want God present in our
churches, then we have to get our churches in line with His Word.

Church Boards

The authority of the pastor is not unlimited authority.  There must be a system of checks and balances in a church just
like a business, marriage, or other institutions.

Because pastors can become hardhearted and leave the lifestyle and doctrinal principles of the Word, protection must
be built in for the people. Church boards have been known to dominate churches, choke the creativity out of pastors,
and stop the move of the Spirit - but we still need them in the church.

A pastor with unlimited authority and a church dominated by a board are both playgrounds for satan.  There must be
balance.

  • The "advisory" board should create a process for acquiring a pastor and a process to remove him.

  • Once the pastor has taken office, he or she should be free to run the church as they see fit.  When there was
    no pastor, the board was the authority.  Now that a pastor is in his scriptural office, the board should switch to a
    limited position.  As long as the pastor's life and teaching remain in line with God's Word, the board's primary
    function is to advise.  The board becomes a buffer between the pastor and the congregation.  Its members can
    advise him as to people's attitudes and feeling on particular  subjects.  They also can give him business
    information that he or his staff do not know.  The board is advisory only.  The pastor still makes the final
    decision.

  • The "advisory" board should have power over the pastor's salary.

  • The advisory board should be considered elders.  They do not stand in the office of an elder (those who rule
    and teach), but they should be mature in the Word, in love, in care for the congregation, and in respect for the
    pastor's office.

  • Elders are chosen by the pastor (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5).  Therefore, a new pastor may want to change them
    after he has become familiar with the church operations.  He is the authority and this is his prerogative.

  • If the pastor abuses his authority established by the standards of God's Word, the advisory board should take
    authority to protect the congregation: these include moral and/or doctrinal abuse.


Neither the universal Church nor the home is run by a  board.  The local church
is compared to both.  The home is the training ground for handling the local
church, the family of God,
"For if a man know not how to rule his own house,
how shall he take care of the church of God?"
 1 Timothy 3:5


Source:

Decently and In Order,  Bob Yandian,Copyright 1983,1983 by Whitaker House.
2010 - HIS GLORY REIGNS
LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES