Principles of Church Government

I recently finished reading two different books on church government, one from a Baptist (congregationalist) perspective and one from a Presbyterian. I know there are many views on church government besides these two. But while there are differing views on the big issues, in my opinion a lot of the differences arise because of how we define a "church"; i.e. is it in a city, or a one meeting location, or a district, or what?

If "church" is just a meeting location under one roof then it's government will clearly look different than if "church" is understood as all the believers in one city. If the former is your understanding then I can understand the Baptist system of government, and if the latter, then the Presbyterian conclusions make sense to me as well. What frustrated me about both of the books I read is that they both basically address the issue, then state that the Bible doesn't tell us specifically how to understand the local church, though it says a lot about the Church universal; but then both seemed to just ignore the ambiguity and draw the conclusions that make most sense to their understanding.

My opinion is that both are acceptable understandings if you understand how the conclusions are reached. Both sides truly believe they are being faithful to the word which is about as much as we can ask. Obviously at the end of the day you end up going with one method or the other. But in my opinion the more important thing is not attempting to find the perfect method (because there isn't a perfect method as long as there is fallible man), but rather, demonstrating love for others with differing views.

To introduce yourself saying, "Hi, I'm Bob and I'm a Presbyterian," is basically inherently divisive. It's a bit like saying, "Hi, I'm Bob and I thinking spanking children is unacceptable." Just by stating this viewpoint out the gate you're more saying what you disagree with rather than what you agree with. Identifying as a presby or a congregationalist is not a bad thing, in the same way having an opinion about disciple is necessary. When people ask you about how you discipline your children you absolutely have freedom to share, in the same way when people ask you about your view of government is appropriate to answer. But I think as believers we could be a lot more careful in how we look down our noses in our self identification.

That said, I think there are some principles which both views can (and in my opinion all views should) agree upon.

1) There should be multiple elders. A single person in leadership has much too much potential to go bad; if man were not sinful one leader would be fine. (Notice the plural nature of the word elders in Acts 14:23 and Acts 15).

2) Leadership is not be a lording-over-others leadership, but servant leadership. (Ezekiel 34:1-10, and Matthew 20:26 amongst others).

3) Leaders must be passionate lovers of Christ, His church (people), and the Word. (How can they lead if they don't obey the Great Commandment? Matthew 22:36-40)

4) Leaders must meet the Biblical requirements of character. (See the Timothys and Titus)


Notice this does not list education requirements for leaders or those in church government.

As an aside I'd state, Jesus didn't have an MDiv. You may argue he had a great education, but many people with great educations are not allowed in church leadership because they don't have a paper with those 4 letters hanging on the wall. If Jesus himself couldn't walk in to your church and be qualified for leadership I'd suggest you have some issues.