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
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
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.