Summary: A look at the three primary church government structures.

- There are a number of ways that we could handle the passage this evening. We could talk about qualifications for pastors or for deacons (this would be especially helpful for a church entering into a pastor search process). We could talk about whether it’s necessary to be “called into ministry” to be a pastor (hint: it’s not, according to our passage).

- What I want to do instead is use this passage as a chance to talk about models of church government. This is something that I didn’t feel I knew enough about and I want to have a better understanding of the Biblical arguments that various denominations use. So I’m using this passage tonight as an opportunity to dig into that. I hope it’ll be helpful for you as well.

Opening Thoughts:

- There is not a single passage that lays out the divinely-ordained church structure, which is the main reason why we have multiple options before us this evening.

- In the Epistles, there is not a clear unitary structure that can be discerned that every church used.

- So the church pieces together ideas to try to discern what the best structure is.


NAME: Bishop (a.k.a. Episcopal).

BASIC STRUCTURE/IDEA: Authority resides in the bishop.

- The bishop has great authority to make decisions within the life of the church. The bishop is the key to the church government.

- The pastors are appointed by the bishop. A church (pretty much) has to take who they are sent by the bishop.

- The property is not owned by the local congregation, but by the larger group. (In Methodist circles, the “conference.”)

- Along with this, there are different levels of ordination. Being a local pastor would be the first level. Depending on how many levels there are, things could progress from there.

- Also important here is that the bishops are “chosen from above.” It’s the archbishop or a council of bishops that makes the choice, as opposed to “from below” with congregational or laity voting.

MAIN ARGUMENT: Christ put the apostles in charge.

- Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8.

- Christ is the founder of the church and He put the apostles in charge.

BIGGEST STRENGTH: The places in the Bible where it talks about church leaders being “appointed.”

- Acts 14:23.

- The fact that we have numerous places where elders or rulers are “appointed” indicates an authority to rule the church.

BIGGEST WEAKNESS: A. Lots of power with individuals. B. Little clear history of apostolic succession.

a. Lots of power with individuals.

- This structure obviously puts a lot of power in the hands of a few people. As in the case of a political government by a “wise, benevolent dictator” being one with good possibilities, so too here a “wise, benevolent bishop” could do great things. But the opportunity for abuse is rife in the structure and we have seen obvious examples of that happening down through the years.

b. Little clear history of apostolic succession.

- Matthew 16:18.

- While those with this view argue for apostolic succession (the idea that the leader of the church has come down to us from Peter all the way until now), there is little historic evidence that suggests that has been a reality over the last two millennia.

- A secondary argument there is that it doesn’t sufficiently appreciate Christ’s direct lordship over the church. An example of this is the appointment of Paul, which was not done by any of the existing apostles (Galatians 1:15-17).

DENOMINATIONS: A. Methodist (fewer levels). B. Roman Catholic (more levels).

- Obviously, the Roman Catholic system is the most “developed” in terms of levels of authority.


NAME: Board (a.k.a. Presbyterian).

BASIC STRUCTURE/IDEA: Series of governing boards, made up of clergy and laity.

- The focus is on a series of governing bodies that exercise authority rather than having individual bishops exercising that authority.

- There are usually multiple levels. For instance the churches in a geographic area will all send representatives to a regional board, who will in turn send representatives to a state board, who will in turn send representatives to a national board, who will in turn send representatives to a global board. Of course, the exact make-up of the levels varies from denomination to denomination.

MAIN ARGUMENT: Governing elders is an idea present in the Old Testament, first-century synagogues, and the early church.

- Matthew 16:19; John 20:22-23; Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-12.

- It’s a common idea throughout Biblical history to have a group of governing elders who would be in charge. It flows from that to think that it would make sense for that to be the church’s ruling structure.

- Adherents to this model argue that the elders are actually chosen by God and it’s the church’s job to confirm what He’s already done.

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