Chapter 24: The Government And Power Of The Church

Christ is the Head of the Church and source of all its authority. (Matthew 23:10; John 13:13; 1 Corinthians 12:5; Ephesians 1:20-23; 4:11-12; 5:23-24)  He rules the Church, not by force, but by His Word and Spirit. All human officers in the Church are clothed with the authority of Christ and must submit to the control of His Word.

1. THE OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH.  The officers of the Church mentioned in the New Testament are of two kinds:

a. EXTRAORDINARY OFFICERS. The most important of these were the apostles. In the strictest sense this name applies only to the Twelve chosen by Jesus and Paul, but it is also given to some apostolic men. (Acts 14:4, 14; 1 Corinthians 9:5-6; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Galatians 1:19)  The apostles had certain special qualifications. They were directly called by Christ (Galatians 1:1), saw Christ after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1), were conscious of being inspired (1 Corinthians 2:13), performed miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12), and were richly blessed in their labors (1 Corinthians 9:1.  The New Testament also speaks of prophets, men specially gifted to speak for the edification of the Church and occasionally predicting future things. (Acts 11:28; 13:1-2; 15:32; Ephesians 4:11)  And, finally, it also mentions evangelists, who assisted apostles in their work. (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5)

b. ORDINARY OFFICERS. Frequent mention is made of elders, especially in the Acts of the Apostles. (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 6, 22; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18)

Alongside of it the name bishop was used to designate the same kind of officers. (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Timothy 3:1; 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5,7; 1 Peter 5:1-2)  While both names were applied to the same class of officers, the name “elder” stressed their age, and the name “bishop” their work as overseers. The elders were not originally teachers, but gradually the teaching function was connected with their office. (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:2)  From 1 Timothy 5:17, it appears that some elders simply ruled, while others also taught.  In addition to these the New Testament also speaks of deacons. (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12)  The prevailing opinion is that the institution of this office is recorded in Acts 6:1-6.

2. THE ECCLESIASTICAL ASSEMBLIES.  The Reformed Churches have a number of governing bodies.  Their relation to each other is marked by a careful graduation.  They are known as consistory, classis, and synod.  The consistory consists of the minister and the elders of the local church; the classis, of one minister and one elder of each local church within a certain district; and the synod, of an equal number of ministers and elders from each classis.

a. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE LOCAL CHURCH. The government of the local church is of a representative character. The minister and the elders, chosen by the people, form a council or consistory for the government of the church. (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Titus 1:5)  While the elders are chosen by the people, they do not receive their authority from the people, but directly from Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church. every local church is a complete church, fully equipped to rule its own affairs. But since it affiliates with other churches on the basis of a common agreement, it is not entirely independent. The Church Order serves to guard the rights and interests of the local church, but also the collective rights and interests of the affiliated churches.

b. THE MAJOR ASSEMBLIES. When local churches affiliate to give greater expression to the unity of the Church, major assemblies, such as classes and synods become necessary. The council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15, partook of the nature of a major assembly. The immediate representatives of the people, who form the consistories, are themselves represented by a limited number in classes, and these in turn are represented in synods. Ecclesiastical assemblies should naturally deal only with church matters, matters of doctrine and morals, of church government and discipline. But even so major assemblies must limit themselves to matters which as to their nature belong to the province of a minor assembly, but for some reason cannot be settled there; and matters which as to their nature belong to the province of a major assembly, because they pertain to the churches in general. The decisions on major assemblies are not merely advisory, but authoritative, unless they are explicitly declared to be only advisory.

3. THE POWER OF THE CHURCH. The power of the Church is spiritual, because it is given by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), is a manifestation of the power of the Spirit (John 20:22-23), pertains exclusively to believers (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), and can be exercised only in a spiritual way. (2 Corinthians 10:4)  It is also a purely ministerial power, which is derived from Christ and is exercised in His name. The power of the Church is threefold:

a. A DOGMATIC OR TEACHING POWER. The Church is commissioned to guard the truth, to hand it on faithfully from generation to generation, and to defend it against all forces of unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9-11)  It must preach the Word unceasingly among all the nations of the world (Isaiah 3:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:2; Titus 2:1-10), must draw up creeds and confessions, and must provide for the training of its future ministers. (2 Timothy 2:2)

b. A GOVERNING POWER. God is a God of order, who desire that all things in the Church be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40)  For that reason He made provision for the proper regulation of the affairs of the Church, and gave the Church power to carry the laws of Christ into effect. (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2)  This also includes the power of discipline. (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; John 20:23; 1 Corinthians 5:2, 7, 13; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3:10)  The purpose of discipline in the Church is twofold, namely, to carry into effect the law of Christ concerning the admission and exclusion of members, and to promote the spiritual edification of the members of the Church by securing their obedience to the laws of Christ. If there are diseased members, the Church will first seek to effect a cure, but if this fails will put away the diseased members. It deals with public sins even when there is no formal accusation, but in the case of private sins insists on the application of the rule laid down in Matthew 18:15-18.

c. A POWER OR MINISTRY OF MERCY. Christ sent out His disciples, not only to preach, but also to heal all manner of diseases. (Matthew 10;1,8; Luke 9:1-2; 10:9, 17)  And among the early Christians there were some who had the gift of healing. (1 Corinthians 12:9-10, 28, 30)  This special gift came to an end with the passing of the apostolic age.  From that time on the ministry of mercy was largely limited to the Church’s care for the poor. The Lord hinted at this task in Matthew 16:11; Mark 14:7.  The early Church practiced a sort of communion of goods, so then no one wanted the necessaries of life. (Acts 4:34)  Later on seven men were appointed to “serve the tables,” that is, to provide for a more equal distribution of what was brought for the poor. (Acts 6:1-6)  After that deacons are repeatedly mentioned. (Romans 16:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-12)  Great emphasis is placed on giving or collecting for the poor. (Acts 11:29; 20:35; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15; 9:1, 6-7; Galatians 2:10; 6:10; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:10, 16; James 1:27; 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17)


To Memorize:

Passages proving:

a. That Christ is the Head of the Church:

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:18)

b. The special marks of an apostle:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?  If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 9:1-2)

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:12)

c. The office of elder or bishop:

When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:23)

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires [to do.] (1 Timothy 3:1)

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, (Titus 1:5)

d. The teaching function of some elders:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)

e. The office of deacon:

These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. (1 Timothy 3:10)

f. The spiritual nature of the elders’ work:

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)

g. The power of discipline:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)


For Further Study:

a. What men besides the Twelve and Paul are called apostles?

But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. … But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out (Acts 14:4, 14)

Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?  Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? (1 Corinthians 9:5-6)

As for Titus, [he is] my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, [they are] messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ. (2 Corinthians 8:23)

But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19)

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; (Hebrews 3:1)

“Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us (Acts 1:21)

But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. (Acts 2:14)

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. (Romans 16:17)

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: (Jude 1:1)

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:16)

 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; (Philippians 2:25)

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. (1 Thessalonians 1:1)

…nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. (1 Thessalonians 2:6)


b. Who are called evangelists in the Bible?

On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. (Acts 21:8)

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5)


c. What is the course of discipline in connection with private sins indicated in Matthew 18:15-17?

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)


Questions for Review

1. Who is the Head of the Church and by what standard does He rule?
2. What extraordinary officers were there in the Church?
3. What were the characteristics of the apostles?
4. What did the prophets and the evangelists do?
5. Which were the ordinary officers?
6. What other name was used for elders?
7. When was the office of deacon instituted?
8. What ecclesiastical assemblies do we distinguish?
9. In how far is the local church independent?
10. Is there any Scripture warrant for major assemblies? Where?
11. How are they constituted, and with what matters can they deal?
12. Are their decisions merely advisory?
13. What different kinds of power has the Church? What does each include?
14. What is the purpose of Church discipline?
15. What do we understand by the ministry of mercy in the Church?


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