Church Government
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Topical Bible Verses
1 Timothy 3:8-13
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

1 Timothy 5:17
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.

1 Timothy 3:1-16
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.

Romans 13:4
For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on him that does evil.

Acts 14:23
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Acts 15:4
And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

Philippians 1:1
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Titus 1:5
For this cause left I you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you:

Acts 15:2
When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Church Government




1. The General Sense

2. The Local Sense


1. Subjects of Admission

2. Definite Organizations

3. Ministers

(1) General

(2) Local

4. Ecclesiastical Functions

(1) Control of Membership

(2) Selection of Officers, etc.

(3) Observations of Ordinances

5. Independent (Autonomous) Organizations




The object here sought is to discover what kind of church government is mirrored in the New Testament. To do this with perfect definiteness is, no doubt, quite impossible. Certain general features, however, may clearly be seen.

I. Approach to the Subject.

The subject is best approached through the Greek word ekklesia, translated "church." Passing by the history of this word, and its connection with the Hebrew words `edhah and qahal (which the Septuagint sometimes renders by ekklesia), we come at once to the New Testament usage. Two perfectly distinct senses are found, namely, a general and a local.

1. The General Sense:

Christ is "head over all things to the church, which is his body." (Ephesians 1:22); "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:23). Here we have "church" in the broadest sense, including all the redeemed in earth and heaven, and in all ages (see also Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 5:22-27 Colossians 1:24 Hebrews 12:23).

2. The Local Sense:

Here the Scripture passages are very numerous. In some cases, the word is used in the singular, and in others the plural; in some it is used with reference to a specified church, and in others without such specification. In all cases the sense is local.

In Acts 11:26, it is said that Paul and Barnabas were "gathered together with the church," where the church at Antioch is meant. In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas are said to have "appointed elders in every church," that is, churches which they had planted. In Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 the seven churches of Asia Minor are addressed. In Acts 16:5 we are told that the churches "were strengthened in the faith." On the local sense see, further, Acts 8:1; Acts 15:4; Acts 16:5; 20:17 Romans 16:4 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Corinthians 6:4; 1 Corinthians 11:16; Galatians 1:2, 22, and many other places.

There are a few passages that do not seem exactly to fit into either of the above categories. Such, for example, are Matthew 18:17 and 1 Corinthians 12:28, where it seems best to understand a generic sense. Such, also, are passages like Acts 9:31, and 1 Corinthians 10:32, where a collective sense best suits the cases.

Church government in the New Testament applies only to the local bodies.

II. Internal Order.

With respect to the constitution and life of these New Testament churches, several points may be made out beyond reasonable doubt.

1. Subjects of Admission:

They were composed of persons who professed faith in Christ, and who were believed to have been regenerated, and who had been baptized. See Acts 2:41, 44, 47 (the Revised Version (British and American) "added to them"); Acts 8:12 Romans 1:8; Romans 6:4; Romans 10:9, 10 1 Corinthians 1:2; Colossians 1:2, 4 1 Timothy 6:12, and others, where they are called "saints," "sons of God," "faithful brethren," "sanctified in Christ Jesus."

2. Definite Organizations:

They are definitely and permanently organized bodies, and not temporary and loose aggregations of individuals. It is quite impossible, for example, to regard the church at Antioch as a loose aggregation of people for a passing purpose. The letters of Paul to the churches at Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, cannot be regarded as addressed to other than permanent and definitely organized bodies.

3. Ministers:

They were served by two classes of ministers-one general, the other local.

(1) General.

At the head of these is the "apostle" (1 Corinthians 12:28 Ephesians 4:11). His official relation to the churches was general. He did not necessarily belong to the group of the original Eleven. Besides Matthias (Acts 1:26), Paul and Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:5, 6), James, the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7) are reckoned as "apostles." The one invariable and necessary qualification of an apostle was that he should have seen the Lord after the Resurrection (Acts 1:22 1 Corinthians 9:1). Another qualification was to have wrought "the signs of an apostle" (2 Corinthians 12:12; compare 1 Corinthians 9:2). He was to bear witness to what he had seen and heard, to preach the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 1:8 1 Corinthians 1:17), to found churches and have a general care of them (2 Corinthians 11:28). From the nature of his chief qualification, his office was temporary.

Next comes the "prophet." His relation to the churches, also, was general. It was not necessary that he should have seen the Lord, but it appertained to his spiritual function that he should have revelations (Ephesians 3:5). There is no indication that his office was in any sense administrative.

After the "prophet" come the "evangelist" and "teacher," the first, a traveling preacher, the second, one who had special aptitude for giving instruction.

After the "teacher" and "evangelist" follow a group of special gifts of "healing," "helps," "governments," "tongues." It may be that "helps" and "governments" are to be identified with "deacons" and "bishops," to be spoken of later. The other items in this part of Paul's list seem to refer to special charismata.

(2) Local.

There were two clearly distinct offices of a local and permanent kind in the New Testament churches. Paul (Philippians 1:1) addresses "all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons."


The most common designation of the first of these officers is "elder" (presbuteros). In one passage (Ephesians 4:11) he is called "pastor" (poimen). In Acts 20:17-28, it becomes clear that the office of elder, bishop, and pastor was one; for there the apostle charges the elders of the church at Ephesus to feed (pastor) the church in which the Holy Spirit has made them bishops (compare Titus 1:5, 7 1 Peter 5:1, 2).

The function of the elders was, in general, spiritual, but involved an oversight of all the affairs of the church (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:17).

As to the second of the local church officers, it has to be said that little is given us in the New Testament. That the office of deacon originated with the appointment of the Seven in Acts 6 is not certain. If we compare the qualifications there given by the apostles with those given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, it seems quite probable that the necessity which arose at Jerusalem, and which led to the appointment of the Seven was really the occasion for originating the office of deacon in the churches. The work assigned the Seven was secular, that is to say, the "service of tables." They were to relieve the apostles of that part of the work. A similar relation to the work of the elders seems to have been borne by that of the deacons.

Again, they exercised the highest ecclesiastical functions.

4. Ecclesiastical Functions:

(1) Control of Membership.

In Matthew 18:17, our Lord, by anticipation, lodges final action, in the sphere of church discipline, with the church. When the church has taken action, the matter is ended. There is no direction to take it to a higher court. In the church at Corinth, there was a man who was guilty of an infamous offense against purity. With regard to the case, Paul urged the most summary discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5). If the church should act upon the judgment which he communicated to them, they would act when "gathered together"; that is to say, action would be taken in conference of the church. In 2 Corinthians 2, a reference to the case shows that they had acted upon his advice, and that the action was taken by the majority ("the many," the more, 2 Corinthians 2:6). In 2 Corinthians 2 he counsels restoration of this excluded member now repentant. Exclusion and restoration of members were to be effected by a church. This, of course, carried with it the reception of members in the first instance.

(2) Selection of Officers, etc.

This was true in case of the Seven (Acts 6:3-13; see other cases in Acts 15:22 1 Corinthians 16:3 2 Corinthians 8:1 Philippians 2:25). Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 seem, at first, to offset the passages just given. In one of these, Paul and Barnabas are said to have "appointed" (cheirotonesantes) elders in the churches which they had planted. But scholars of first quality, though themselves adhering to Presbyterial or Episcopal forms of church government, maintain that Paul and Barnabas ordained the elders whom the churches selected-that they "appointed" them in the usual way, by the suffrages of the members of the churches concerned. The word rendered "appoint" in Titus 1:5 (katasteses) is more easily understood as referring to ordination instead of selection.

(3) Observation of Ordinances.

Paul gives direction (1 Corinthians 11:20-34) to the church at Corinth about the observance of the Lord's Supper. These directions are given, not to any officer or set of officers, but to the church. Ecclesiastically, of course, the two ordinances are on the same level; and, if one of them had been committed to the custody, so to say, of the churches, so must the other.

5. Independent (Autonomous) Organizations:

The management of their business was in their own hands. Paul wrote the church at Corinth: "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). In that comprehensive injunction, given to a church, is implied control of its affairs by the church.

III. External Authority.

The investigation up to this point places us in position to see that there is in the New Testament no warrant for ecclesiastical grades in the ministry of the churches, by which there may be created an ascending series of rulers who shall govern the churches merged into one vast ecclesiastical organization called "the church." So, also, we are in position to see that there is no warrant for an ascending series of courts which may review any "case" that originates in a local church. We may see, on the contrary, that to each local church has been committed by Christ the management of its own affairs; and that He had endowed every such church with ecclesiastical competency to perform every function that any ecclesiastical body has a right to perform.

As the churches are not to be dominated by any external ecclesiastical authority, so they are not to be interfered with, in their church life, by civil government. Jesus taught that Christians should be good citizens (Matthew 22:15-22); so did the apostles (Romans 13:1-7 1 Peter 2:13-16). Jesus also taught the spirituality of His Kingdom: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). It follows that only where the life of a church touched the civic life of the community has the civil authority any right to interfere.

IV. Cooperative Relations.

While each local church, according to the New Testament, is independent of every other in the sense that no other has jurisdiction over it, yet cooperative relations were entered into by New Testament churches. Examples and indications of that may be found in Romans 15:26, 27 2 Corinthians 8; 2 Corinthians 9; Galatians 2:10 Romans 15:1; Romans 3John 1:8. The principle of cooperation effective in those cases is susceptible of indefinite expansion. Churches may properly cooperate in matters of discipline, by seeking and giving counsel, and by respecting each other's disciplinary measures. In the great, paramount business of evangelizing and teaching the nations, they may cooperate in a multitude of ways. There is no sphere of general Christian activity in which the churches may not voluntarily and freely cooperate for the betterment of the world, the salvation of humanity.

For other standpoints see BISHOP; GOVERNMENT; MINISTRY, etc.


Hort, The Christian Ecclesia; Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches; Whitley, Church, Ministry and Sacraments in the New Testament; Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Cents.; French, Synonyms of New Testament; Vitringa, De Synagoga Vetere; Holzinger, ZAW; Schurer, Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, II; Driver, Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament; Thayer, New Testament Lexicon, and Cremer, Biblical Theol. Lexicon, under the word, "ekklesia" and "sunagoge"; Neumann, Rom. Staat und die all-gemeine Kirche; Ramsay, Church in the Roman Empire.; Lightfoot, "The Christian Ministry," in Commentary on Philippians; Harvey, The Church; Dagg, Church Order; Hovey, Religion and the State; Owen, Church Government; Ladd, Principles of Church Polity; Dexter, Congregationalism; Hodge, Discussions in Church Polity; Abbey, Ecclesiastical Constitutions; Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity; Jacob, Ecclesiastical Polity; Bore, The Church and Its Ministry; Dollinger, The Church and The Churches; Stanley, Lectures on the Eastern Church; Dargan, Ecclesiology.

E. J. Forrester

2941. kubernesis -- steering, government, administration
... government. From kubernao (of Latin origin, to steer); pilotage, ie (figuratively)
directorship (in the church) -- government. (kuberneseis) -- 1 Occurrence. ...
// - 7k

752. archisunagogos -- ruler of a synagogue
... [Note the parallel with government in the NT. Like the ancient Jewish , a local
NT church needs to be shepherded by a ("plurality") . See 4245 ("elder").]. ...
// - 8k


Church Government.
... CHURCH GOVERNMENT. There are three modes of church government, viz., the
Episcopalian, from the Latin word episcopus, signifying ...
// book of religions/church government.htm

The Government of the Church.
... Word and the administration of the sacraments belong not to the internal economy
of the Church, but to the external; and that church government serves almost ...
/.../kuyper/the work of the holy spirit/xxxix the government of the.htm

Church Government.
... PART I CHAPTER XVII: CHURCH GOVERNMENT. By this time the Gospel had not
only been firmly settled as the religion of the great Roman ...
/.../chapter xvii church government.htm

Branches of Church History.
... III. The history of Church Government and Discipline. The church is not
only an invisible communion of saints, but at the same time ...
/.../history of the christian church volume i/section 2 branches of church.htm

The Government of the Church and Its Offices...
... Article XXX The Government of the Church and its Offices´┐Ż The Government
of the Church and its Offices We believe that this true ...
/.../various/the belgic confession /article xxx the government of.htm

The Church Exulting in the Government of Jehovah.
... 314. " The Church exulting in the Government of Jehovah. 314. PM Pratt's Coll. The
Church exulting in the Government of Jehovah. 1 Ye subjects of the Lord! ...
/.../adams/hymns for christian devotion/314 the church exulting.htm

Anti-Romanistic Attitude.
... The Henkels must be regarded as champions also of the basic truth of all normal
church-government, viz., that no one is to govern the Christian Church, save ...
/...// lutheranism/anti-romanistic attitude.htm

American Congregational Creeds.
... have from time to time adopted the Westminster standards of doctrine, with the
exception of the sections relating to synodical Church government. ...
/.../ 103 american congregational creeds.htm

Methodist Creeds.
... in doctrine from the Westminster Confession, Methodism holds to them; while this
Confession rather expresses their views on Presbyterian Church government. ...
/.../ 110 methodist creeds.htm

Human Government.
... Obj.9. It has been said by some persons, that church government is sufficient to
meet the necessities of the world, without secular or state governments. Ans. ...
/.../finney/systematic theology/lecture xx human government.htm



Church and State

Church and State: Artaxerxes, in Exempting Priests, Levites, and Other Temple Functionaries from Taxes

Church and State: Attempted Usurpation of Ecclesiastical Functions by Civil Authorities, Reproved

Church and State: David

Church and State: Ecclesiastical Power Superior to Civil: Appoints Kings

Church and State: Ecclesiastical Power Superior to Civil: Directs Administration

Church and State: Ecclesiastical Power Superior to Civil: Reproves Rulers

Church and State: Ecclesiastical Power Superior to Civil: Withdraws Support and Anoints a Successor

Church and State: Manasseh, in Subverting, and Afterward Restoring, the True Religion

Church and State: Solomon

Church and State: State Favorable to Religion: Cyrus, in his Proclamation to Restore the Temple at Jerusalem

Church and State: State Favorable to Religion: Darius, in his Edict Furthering the Restoration of the Temple

Church and State: State Superior to Religion: Ahaz, in Transforming the Altars

Church and State: State Superior to Religion: Hezekiah, in Reorganizing Temple Service

Church and State: State Superior to Religion: Jehoash, in Supervising the Repairs of the Temple

Church and State: State Superior to Religion: Jeroboam, in Subverting the Jewish Religion

Church and State: State Superior to Religion: Josiah, in Exercising the Function of the Priests in the Temple

Church and State: State Superior to Religion: Solomon, in Thrusting Abiathar out of the High Priest's office

Church Attendance

Church Building

Church Conflict

Church Discipline

Church Fellowship

Church Finances

Church Government

Church Growth

Church Hopping

Church is Clothed in Righteousness

Church is Edified by the Word

Church is Glorious

Church is Prayed For

Church Leadership

Church Life

Church Members

Church Mothers

Church of Israel in Covenant With God

Church of Israel was Relatively Holy

Church of Israel: A Type of the Church of Christ

Church of Israel: Admission Into, by Circumcision

Church of Israel: All Israelites Members of

Church of Israel: Attachment of the Jews To

Church of Israel: Called The: Congregation of Israel

Church of Israel: Called The: Congregation of the Lord

Church of Israel: Established by God

Church of Israel: Had: A Spiritual Church Within It

Church of Israel: Had: An Appointed Place of Worship

Church of Israel: Had: An Ordained Ministry

Church of Israel: Had: Appointed Feasts

Church of Israel: Had: Appointed Ordinances

Church of Israel: Had: The Divine Presence Manifested in It

Church of Israel: Members of Excommunicated for Heavy Offenses

Church of Israel: Members of Required to Attend Its Worship

Church of Israel: Members of Required to Keeps Its Statutes

Church of Israel: Members of Required to Know Its Statutes

Church of Israel: Members of Separated From, While Unclean

Church of Israel: Persons Excluded From

Church of Israel: Privileges of

Church of Israel: Proselytes Admitted Into

Church of Israel: Supported by the People

Church of Israel: The Depository of Holy Writ

Church of Israel: Worship of, Consisted in Praise

Church of Israel: Worship of, Consisted in Prayer

Church of Israel: Worship of, Consisted in Preaching

Church of Israel: Worship of, Consisted in Reading God's Word

Church of Israel: Worship of, Consisted in Sacrifice

Church Order

Church Ordinances

Church Participation

Church Planting

Church: Assembly of the Saints

Church: Assembly of the Upright

Church: Backslidden

Church: Baptized (Immersed) Into by One Spirit

Church: Believers Continually Added To, by the Lord

Church: Body of Christ

Church: Branch of God's Planting

Church: Bride of Christ

Church: Called Courts

Church: Called the Congregation in the O. T. (K. J. V. And Others)

Church: Christ, Head of

Church: Christian, Divinely Established

Church: Christ's Love For

Church: Church of God

Church: Church of the Firstborn

Church: Church of the Living God

Church: City of the Living God

Church: Congregation

Church: Congregation of Saints

Church: Congregation of the Lord's Poor

Church: Corruption In

Church: Dear to God

Church: Decrees of

Church: Defiling of, Will be Punished

Church: Design of

Church: Dissensions In

Church: Divisions In, to be Shunned

Church: Dove

Church: Duty of, to Ministers

Church: Extent of, Predicted

Church: Family in Heaven and Earth

Church: Flock of God

Church: Fold of Christ

Church: General Assembly of the Firstborn (People)

Church: God Defends

Church: God Provides Ministers For

Church: God's Building

Church: God's Heritage

Church: God's Husbandry (Farm)

Church: Golden Candlestick (Lampstand)

Church: Government of, Mosaic and Christian

Church: Habitation of God

Church: Harmonious Fellowship of

Church: Heavenly Jerusalem

Church: His Kingdom

Church: Holy

Church: Holy City

Church: Holy Hill

Church: Holy Mountain

Church: Holy Place

Church: Holy Temple

Church: House of Christ

Church: House of God

Church: House of Prayer

Church: House of the Lord

Church: Household of God

Church: Inheritance

Church: Israel of God

Church: Kingdom of God

Church: Kingdom of Heaven

Church: King's Daughter

Church: Lamb's Bride

Church: Lamb's Wife

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Antioch

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Asia

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Babylon

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Caesarea

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Cenchrea

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Cilicia

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Corinth

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Ephesus

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Galatia

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Galilee

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Jerusalem

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Joppa

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Judaea

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Laodicea

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Pergamos

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Philadelphia

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Samaria

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Sardis

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Smyrna

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Syria

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Thessalonica

Church: List of Congregations of Christians: Thyatira

Church: Lot of God's Inheritance

Church: Love For

Church: Loved by Believers

Church: Membership In

Church: Militant

Church: Ministers Commanded to Feed

Church: Mount Zion

Church: Mountain of the Lord's House

Church: My Father's House

Church: My Kingdom

Church: New Jerusalem

Church: Not to be Despised

Church: Pillar and Ground of the Truth

Church: Place of God's Throne

Church: Pleasant Portion

Church: Privileges of

Church: Prophecies Concerning Prosperity of

Church: Rules of Discipline In, Mosaic and Christian

Church: Safe Under his Care

Church: Salt and Light of the World

Church: Sanctuary

Church: Sanctuary of God

Church: Sister of Christ

Church: Sought Out, a City not Forsaken

Church: Spiritual House

Church: Spouse of Christ

Church: Strength and Glory of God

Church: Tabernacle

Church: Temple

Church: Temple of God

Church: Temple of the Living God

Church: The God of Jacob

Church: The Lord's Portion

Church: The Wicked Persecute

Church: Thy Kingdom

Church: Triumphant

Church: Unclassified Scriptures Relating To

Church: Unity of

Church: Vineyard

Church: Worship of, to be Attended

Church: Zion

Emergent Church

The Church is Edified by the Word

The Church: Believers Continually Added To, by the Lord

The Church: Belongs to God

The Church: Christ, the Foundation-Stone of

The Church: Christ, the Head of

The Church: Clothed in Righteousness

The Church: Defiling of, Will be Punished

The Church: Displays the Wisdom of God

The Church: Elect

The Church: Extent of, Predicted

The Church: Glorious

The Church: Glory to be Ascribed to God By

The Church: God Defends

The Church: God Provides Ministers For

The Church: Loved by Christ

The Church: Ministers Commanded to Feed

The Church: Not to be Despised

The Church: Purchased by the Blood of Christ

The Church: Saints Baptised Into, by One Spirit

The Church: Sanctified and Cleansed by Christ

The Church: Shows Forth the Praises of God

The Church: Subject to Christ

The Church: The Body of Christ

The Church: The Object of the Grace of God

The Church: The Wicked Persecute

The Church: Unity of

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