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What is church government and
why is it necessary?

Government is sometimes viewed negatively, seen as something that inhibits one's freedom. However, government is a necessary element of human society which serves to establish and maintain order. Anyone that doubts the need for order should think back to their school days, and remember those times when the teacher stepped out the class for a few moments. In the absence of authority and organization, the human nature lends toward mischief and chaos.

Since God is the author of government, it's easy to realize that He also desires His church to be well ordered so there will be (1) organization, order and direction of ministry, and (2) authority for leadership and correction. These are the two main functions of church government.

It is commonly agreed that Jesus is the head of the church (Col. 1:8), and has delegated His authority to be exercised through the government of the church. However the method of church government is sometimes an object of debate, and is one of the primary differences between some denominations.

The New Testament provides the grounds for government through the authority of its offices, but is silent in the specific methods of implementation. Generally speaking, there are three prominent forms of church polity or government used in churches today. These are as follows:

(1) Episcopal — This system of church government considers the bishop as the principal officer. Decisions are made at levels higher than the local church, usually with prayerful contemplation toward God's will and nominal consideration of the member's opinions.

(2) Presbyterian — This form of government acknowledges that Christ alone is Head of the church, and that He rules His church by His Word and Spirit. Church officials have ministerial and declarative authority, but not legislative. They declare, explain, and apply Christ's will as the Spirit clarifies the scripture to their understanding. They do not seek to make new laws for the church. Presbyterians believe they find foundation for their form of church government in the Bible, but they readily admit that God can bless other forms as well.

(3) Congregational — This is an autonomous form of government by the church, generally by a democratic philosophy, which allows a local congregation the freedom to determine what it considers the will of Christ. The congregation governs its own affairs, however this does not suggest that it is self-governing apart from Christ's Lordship. Simply stated, the members of the congregation are given the right to determine what they consider to be Christ's will.

Many will make their case for what they believe is the preferred form of church government. However history shows that God has blessed churches who have used any of these forms.

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.