Restoring The Government Of The Church

By Jim E. Waldron

In seeking to restore the church we must not overlook church government as found in the New Testament.

Churches in Bible times were over-seen by pastors, the word "pastor" comes from the Greek word poimen which is also translated "shepherd" in the English New Testament and these shepherds or pastors of the flock were also called "elders" (1 Peter 5:1-4). Elder comes from the Greek word presbuteros from which we also get the English word "presbyter" (1 Timothy 4:14). Again the pastors or elders were also called "bishops" (Titus 1:5-7), which in turn comes from the Greek word episkopos from which we also get "overseer" (Acts 20:28)

All these words--pastor, shepherd, elder, presbyter,bishop and overseer--are used in the Bible interchangeable with reference to the same office in a local congregation without any distinction among them.

Local churches in the New Testament times always had a plurality of elders, bishops or pastors. As it is written, "when they had appointed them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed" (Acts 14:23,cf. Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:17).

These men had to meet the requirements for the office as designated by the Holy Spirit; they had to be godly men with godly families, who were able to exhort and to convict gainsayers (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). They were to be counted as labourers worthy; of their hire if they worked as full-time gospel preachers with the church (1 Timothy 5:17- 18).

The scriptures did not allow one of them to be so presumptuous as to call himself "the pastor" of a local church. There were no such things as "she-elders" nor did they have "one-man rule". There were always two or more to tend the flock. Nor was any one of them, nor any group of them responsible for more than one local church. The scriptures exhort elders to "tend the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:2).

The local churches were to obey their elders or shepherds as these men were to give account to the chief shepherd at his appearance for the kind of pastoral care they had given to the flock during his absence (1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28).

Another office in the early church which must also be restored to its proper function in the churches today is that of the deacon. Deacons had to meet certain qualifications just as the elders did (1 Timothy 3:8-9). At no time in the New Testament were deacons appointed to rule over the churches or to rule in any capacity as elders. Their work was that of service as the Greek word for deacon, diakonos, primarily denotes a servant. Their work was that of service to the local church in whatever its need were.

Other servants in the local churches were those who laboured primarily in heralding the good news, such as evangelist and teachers as ministers of the word.

Local churches cooperating one with another in their labour of love independently of organic chains and anchors of human invention such as conferences, conventions, or missionary societies are fully capable of advancing the orders of Messiah's Kingdom upon this earth.