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Biblical Eldership - Lesson 1

Principles of Local Church Governance (Part 1)

The purpose of the local church is to function as the body of Christ to advance God's kingdom in the world by displaying God's glory, God's wisdom and the authority and power of Christ. All New Testament churches had elders. We can apply scriptural principles and practical considerations to train, choose and establish a framework for the ministry of elders so they can encourage and lead individuals and the church as whole to live out their faith in the community.

John Piper
Biblical Eldership
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Principles of Local Church Governance (Part 1)

Principles of Local Church Governance

1. The Importance and Preciousness and Purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ in the World

The Bride of Christ

Ephesians 5:25-29

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.

The Body of Christ (Universal)

Colossians 1:18-24

He is also head of the body, the church. . . . Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.

The Body of Christ (Local)

1 Corinthians 12:21-27

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable. . . . But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

The Household and Dwelling of God

Ephesians 2:19-22

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

The Pillar and Support of the Truth

1 Timothy 3:15

[I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

To Display His Glory

1 Peter 2:9

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

To Display the Manifold Wisdom of God to the Spiritual Powers of Heaven

Ephesians 3:6-10

The Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. . . . To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

To Show the Authority and Power of Christ

Matthew 16:18

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

4. All New Testament Churches Had Elders Elders in All the Churches that Paul Founded

Acts 14:23

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.

Elders in the Church at Jerusalem

Acts 15:2

And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Elders in Ephesus

Acts 20:17

From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.

Elders in All the Churches of Crete

Titus 1:5

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.

Elders in All the Churches of the Dispersion of the Roman Empire

James 1:1; 5:14

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. . . . Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Elders in All the Churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia

1 Peter 1:1; 5:1

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen. . . . 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.

5. Eleven Biblical Principles of Local Church Governance

Principle One

The Local Church is governed by Christ (Matthew 16:18). This governance was mediated through the authority of the apostles and their close associates (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:17; 14:37-38; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Today Christ still rules through the words of his apostles as they are preserved for us in the inspired writings of the New Testament. Therefore, every effort will be made to conform the structure and procedures and spirit of church governance as closely as possible to New Testament guidelines, with a constant eye to promoting the glory of God and the advancement of faith (1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:25).

Matthew 16:18

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Ephesians 2:19-20

So then you are . . . the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.

1 Corinthians 2:12-13

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 7:17

Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

1 Corinthians 14:37-38

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

2 Thessalonians 3:14

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Philippians 1:25

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.

Principle Two

The ministry of the church is primarily the work of the members in the activity of worship toward God, nurture toward each other and witness toward the world. Internal structures for church governance are not the main ministry of the church, but are the necessary equipping and mobilizing of the saints for the work of ministry.

Ephesians 4:11-12

And [Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.

Principle Three

Governance structures should be lean and efficient to this end, not aiming to include as many people as possible in office-holding, but to free and fit as many people as possible for ministry (implied in the preceding principle).

Principle Four

Christ is the head of the church and, spiritually, all his disciples are on a level ground before him, each having direct access to him and responsibility to intercede for the good of all as a community of priests.

Ephesians 4:15

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.

Matthew 23:8-11

But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant.

1 Timothy 2:5

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Revelation 1:6

[Christ] has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father –to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.


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  • The purpose of the local church is to function as the body of Christ to advance God's kingdom in the world by displaying God's glory, God's wisdom and the authority and power of Christ. All New Testament churches had elders. We can apply scriptural principles and practical considerations to train, choose and establish a framework for the ministry of elders so they can encourage and lead individuals and the church as whole to live out their faith in the community.

  • God has ordained the existence of officers in the church, some of whom are charged under Christ with the leadership of the church. The leaders of the church should be people who are spiritually mature and exemplary, gifted for the ministry given to them, have a sense of divine urging, and are in harmony with the duly established leadership of the church.

  • Spiritual qualifications are more important than business qualifications. Terms of service should balance the need to have the most qualified leaders and the concern of burnout and stagnation. In the New Testament, other terms translated into English that also refer to the office of elder are bishop, overseer and pastor.

  • Qualifcations for elders are listed in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

This class is an engagement with the relevant New Testament texts concerning biblical eldership and church governance, and a God-glorifying pursuit of their contextual, Biblical meaning. The outcome is not merely doctrinaire abstraction, not merely culture-confronting complementarianism, not merely a re-thinking of the inherited, historical norms and traditions, but a practical, non-cumbersome outworking of church governance which aligns with Scripture and aims at meeting the myriad needs of the local expression of the body of Christ.

We are thankful for John Piper's willingness to share these lectures with us. Copyright 2014 by Desiring God Ministries. Used with Permission. For more information, please visit www.DesiringGod.org.

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Biblical Eldership

Dr. John Piper

ld225-01

Principles of Local Church Governance (Part 1)

Lesson Transcript

 

The following message is by Pastor John Piper. More information from Desiring God is available at W WW dot desiring God dot org. This is the TBI, the Bethlehem Institute Seminar on Biblical elder ship as part of the larger fulfillment, of course, here called Issues and Spiritual Leadership that has two tracks to it. A track one is for lay folks who simply want a certificate that they took it. And we're really encouraging our men in Bethlehem especially to do this if they're dreaming or moving towards elder ship some day or some decade. Then there's a track too, for the few guys here that are taking this for seminary credit. I want to begin by reading a verse from X Chapter 20. You all know that in x 20 pole symbols, the elders from Miletus or from emphasis at my leaders and gives them one of these moving final sermons of his and says in verse 28, something that I'd like to say and then pray with you for tonight. It says, Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to care for the Church of God, which he obtained with the blood of his own son or other versions with his own blood. So the church belongs to God. He obtained the church at the price of his own blood, and therefore the role of the elders to take heed to all the flock is made to have extraordinary significance because of how precious the church is to God. So let's pray, Father in Heaven, we. Swallow hard. The word that need to obtain the church. Was so costly that it required the death of your son. The sins of your people were enormous. And we have been purchased at great price and we are not our own.

 

Now we belong to Christ and we belong to you, Father. And you have ordained, as we will see, that there be shepherds, overseers, pastors, elders. To care for this great purchase. And Lord, it is a weighty and awesome thing to be called by the living Christ to shepherd the Church of God. And so I prayed that there would be an appropriate earnestness about our work tonight and tomorrow, and that there would be a sense of glory about this calling and not burden. I pray that pastors here and elders here and those aspiring and those who are here to just learn what the kind of leadership is appointed in the New Testament that we all know God would understand and then live out the kinds of relationships in the church that would magnify Jesus Christ in the world. These are glorious things we're about here. And I pray that you would help us give us energy. It's been a long day for many, and I pray that there would be in this room a kind of supernatural enabling that would give us ears to hear and a heart to feel, minds to understand. And I ask you, in Jesus name, Amen. I think the first thing I'd like to do is just point you to some books. The text is this one by Strauch Alexander Strauch Biblical elder shit. There are some of these in the bookstore and I would send you around the corner there to get them. If you want to buy them and then some that are not text, but that I have consulted over the years and it helped me. Hezekiah Harvey, the Church. This is an old 19th century Baptist. Hezekiah Harvey, he also wrote one on the pastor. Hezekiah Harvey his qualifications and duties, you all know this one.

 

The reformed pastor by Richard Baxter can't get much more discouraging than that book because it's so good and the stakes are so high. And the and the the pattern that he sets for us is just so awesome in the story of his own life is so inimitable. You know, he's one of those SPURGEON like people that when you read them, you just feel like quitting. And but that's all right. The ruling elder by Samuel Miller Presbyterian background from the 19th century or actually 18th and 19th and then first book I read, I think after I came to Bethlehem on the Christian ministry. Charles Bridges And I thought it was great, still think it's great. And and then this one, which I've only dipped into the Elders handbook by Berghoff de Costa from the CRC, Christian Reformed Church of America. So there's just some more for more books besides Strauch that you might might be interested in consulting as you study these things. And then I'm assuming that a lot of you are in process about this. If you're coming from other churches, it may be that you're in flux as to how your church will be governed. And I think I will talk to you about a little history of this at Bethlehem. Before I jump into this, though, just let me see if there's any questions about mechanics or logistics, anything like that. Okay, if there is, But be sure to grab me just some introductory words about the history of Bethlehem here and my tenure here. I grew up as a Southern Baptist in Greenville, South Carolina, and never heard of elders. And had I heard about them, I'm sure I would have thought they were Presbyterian and then went to seminary and I skipped all the politics courses because I thought I was going to be a teacher, which I was for about six years.

 

And and I'm glad I did that, frankly, because these things can be learned on the job probably just as effectively and as in seminary. And there you need to do exegesis and theology and church history, which you won't do if you don't do it there. Probably you have to do this. Your church has to be run and so you will get this done or you'll lose your job. You will figure out a way to lead the church. Speaking of you, the pastor came here in 1980 and inherited a system of government which was Deacon governed. There was a council of deacons, it was called, and there were 24 of them and 11 standing committees. So every year there was a ballot. And it was such that there had to be two choices for every office. So we needed about 200 people on this ballot. And the church in those days when I first came, had about 300 people in the church. Now, this is the sort of thing you get into if you lock yourself into a rigid, structured constitution with many boards, many committees and many offices, it's a dreadful mistake. One of the mistakes is that you got to have losers. You got to have half losers every time you have an election. And if the church doesn't have the size to warrant that many candidates, it is a prescription for carnal leadership. And there are churches being governed by fleshly people with no spiritual life all over the country because of constitutions that mandate certain levels of leadership. And there aren't there aren't the people to fill them. And so it's a popularity contest. The least unfit get called. And that's not a way to call anybody into spiritual leadership at any level the committees or your more ruling type organizations.

 

So I didn't touch. This at all for five years or so. I simply, when I got to a text in my preaching, would talk about the elders when when the deacons were praying and we were talking about what our mission was. I would simply point out, you know, I think this group of guys and they were men and they were mandated to be men, interestingly enough. We'll talk a little bit about that later. I said, you know, you are a hybrid. You are doing duties that belong to elders versus 1 to 7 of first a ministry. And you're doing duties that belong to deacons versus 7 to 13 of first Timothy three. And so this is a hybrid board. And they began to adapt to that, that we're a hybrid, that that's what we are. And then over over the years, we began to just feel a little bit uneasy with that, that that probably there should be a clearer identity of who the governors of this church are. Where is the authority vested and how do they relate to others? And what about all these committees? Is that a good thing? I forget what the year was, but sometime in the in the late mid-to-late eighties, I preached a series of sermons on X 20 on the elder ship, basically, and thus lay before the whole church that we maybe should do some study here. And then the deacons undertook about four years of work on this. And just to make a very, very long and arduous story short, we installed our first elders. June 2nd, 1992. So if you're in a church and you inherited a governance structure that you think may not be as biblical as you'd like it, it took me 12 years to see come to pass what I think is at this church now, a very biblical structure, whether we carry it through as effectively as we should and whether we implement all that's there in place.

 

I'm very pleased with the Constitution that now exists. There are no standing committees in this church anymore. There's only one council of elders. It has a flexible size. Right now there are 18 of us. All of the ordained pastors serve on the Council of Elders, by definition, and there has to be twice as many lay elders as vocational elders, we call them. That's not in the Bible. We just thought that was prudence. And whenever you're doing church government, it'll always be a balancing out of what's clear in the Bible, which is a very small amount, and what is seemingly the work of wisdom, given the culture and the kind of church that you have and where you are in history. And so I'm very delighted. In fact, in fact, I've always been delighted with with the leadership group of this church as a body of men. It has been the sweetest thing. I have had the Lord has treated me with such unbelievable tenderness in these years of 18 half years or so now I've been here and I have never had a council of elders that I felt was in an adversarial relation to me or a council of deacons, or which is more amazing trustees or what we call now financial and property administrators. There has always been, in my 18 years here, a kind of collegiality and camaraderie that is simply amazing given the horror stories that I know happen in other churches. And I think that's partly owing to the Lord's tenderness towards me in knowing what I can and cannot handle, probably. And owing to probably 10,000 prayers for this church and 126 year history of faithfulness to the Word of God. And then I think there there are some other practical means that the Lord has used to preserve that kind of unity that we'll we'll talk to over over these next hours.

 

So since 1992, then we've had a council of elders here and we don't have a a a body of deacons as deacons are needed for various things. They can be chosen. We don't have any standing committees that the elders create whatever bodies seem to be helpful. So they've created a children's committee and they've created a missions committee and they've created building committee and they've created a desiring God board and they've created a TBI board and they've created financial and property administrators. And they can abolish these tomorrow if they want to. So the elders govern the church by creating all these things, and they are totally flexible. It feels so. Good. Now, to have the flexibility to respond to ministry is one of the principles we're going to get to in a minute. And I shouldn't jump ahead here, but I'll say it here is that I think when you have 11 standing committees, the mindset that you create in the church is that ministry consists in serving on a board or a committee that is deadly in a church that is not ministry. Those boards are yeomen who have to bear the gutsy stuff that nobody should want to do to free people, to do the ministry. Ministry ought not to be thought of of board work. Ministries in People's homes Ministry. Is it at the hospitals? Ministries in on the streets? Ministry is where needs are, not making decisions at a board level that should be streamlined as fast as you can get it streamlined in order to maximize and mobilize people for mission and ministry all over the city, in the neighborhoods, in the nations. And yet all over the country, churches think ministry, Oh, I'd serve on that committee or I'll serve on that board or I'll serve on that.

 

And so everybody's sitting around going to board meetings all week long. And what kind of ministry is that? That doesn't get anybody saved and it doesn't heal marriages and it doesn't bring kids up in the Lord. And so enough on our history. You can ask questions as we go along. I'll save him for later. Okay. The outline that you have there, you can turn to that on the second page is what I'm going to try to follow now. I'm not sure how many of these we can get through tonight, but I was thinking maybe three of them. And I'm going to reverse the order of the first two. I, I, I sent this off by email today and then realized, oops, I got it wrong. So I'm going to start with the importance, preciousness and purpose of the church, because I just want to begin by making sure we feel the weightiness of what we're about here and who we're serving. You can't talk about Biblical elder ship without laying the foundation of the church. What is the church? Why is the church? What's the goal of the church? How precious is the church? So I just want to highlight some of the names of the church and some of the the ways the New Testament sees it so that you can feel the the wonder of it. The Bride of Christ. Of course, husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her, so he might sanctify her of having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she would be holy and blameless.

 

So husbands are also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He, who loves his own wife, loves himself for no one ever hate his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it just as Christ also loves and cherishes the church, which is his body. Because she met him, she married him and he married her. So one picture that elders should have in their minds as they go about their work is I am serving the Bride of Christ. I am laboring to remove spots and wrinkles. I am laboring to enhance this glory, this splendor here. And every time it seems to be small and low and nitty gritty, pause and close your eyes and pray and say, Lord, remind me that this body of people I'm serving is more important than the US Navy. Or the Pentagon or the Senate or the entire House. This is the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, universal in the body of Christ. Local Colossians one. He is the head of the body, the church. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, for your sake and in my flesh. I do share on behalf of his body, which is the church filling up with his lacking Christ's afflictions. So the body of Christ is the church universal. It's his own body, and it's the church local as well. First Corinthians 12. The I cannot say to the hand I have no need of you, nor again can the head say to the feet, I have no need of you. On the contrary, all the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable. And then verse 27, Now you are the body of Christ. Now, what's remarkable here in First Corinthians is that the head is not Christ.

 

Here. The image is different. The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you. This is a there's a member of the church. This is part of the analogy. So here he's thinking of the body differently than it was thought of when he wrote collections. And here he's thinking of the local church as the local expression of that universal body. And he's thinking of every member as a part of that body relating properly so that none says, I don't need you. The church is the body of Christ, which is probably why. Paul was spoken to by the risen Lord on the Damascus Road with the words Why you persecute me? Why do you persecute me? When you. When you put my people in jail, you persecute me. The household and dwelling of God. Ephesians two. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and are God's household God's house having been built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets Christ, Jesus himself being the cornerstone in whom the whole building being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God. Now, that is amazing. Is that not amazing? This this household and this temple are being built. The people of God are being built into a temple or a dwelling of God. There is a way in which God inhabits the church that's different from the way he inhabits a soul and the way he inhabits nature. His omnipresence is focused and active in a different way in the church than anywhere else. That's why the expectations for the gathered church in worship and business can be so different.

 

Like when you are assembled, my spirit is with you. Hand him over to Satan. Something different seems to be going on there than just somebody off on their own claiming to be filled with the spirit and acting on behalf of God. A dwelling of God is what the elders serve. And then the pillar and bulwark of the truth are the pillar and support of the truth. First, Timothy 315. I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God. That could be written as a banner over this meeting tonight and tomorrow. I teach, hopefully biblically, so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. That is an amazing calling. That is an amazing calling. There is no other institution in society with this mission. It isn't the university. It's not Christian colleges and seminaries. It's the church. The church is the pillar and support of the truth. That means if we do our job well, the truth stands. And if we do our job poorly, it can crumble. Generations will suffer if we don't fulfill that mission. Is that church there? The the corporate church or the local church? The universal law? The question is, is, is the church here, the the corporate universal or local? And I think the answer would be it's the universal church coming to expression in local expressions. In other words, if if you say universal church and leave it out there unspecified in the air, it has no concrete place where anything happens. You get saints in heaven. You got saints yet unborn. You got saints scattered all over the world in various people.

 

So where and how is is truth being upheld? It's when it becomes concrete in local expressions. I think that this becomes a functional reality. But I wouldn't want to make a hard and fast distinction here. So that's a high calling and it's especially relevant for elders. Why? Because we're going to see that elders are charged and they're the only people that are charged in the New Testament church with teaching or Titus one nine with being those who correct according to right doctrine. They're the they're the guardians of right doctrine. The elders are. Nobody else is called to do that in the church except the elders, according to Titus one, nine and elsewhere. Now, why? Why the church? What's the goal of the church? Because if you say, what's the goal of the elders ship, the goal of the elders ship would surely be to do something so that the church becomes what it ought to be. And what is that? Here's a few of the things that the New Testament says about the goal of the church. First, Peter, to nine, You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. So there's the goal, so that you may proclaim the Excellencies of him, who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Elders should do their work so as to enable that to happen. Go ahead. How about this is good. Okay. I think probably then I did overstate the case in saying that the the. How did I say that? The only people can remember what I said now charge to be guardians of true doctrine are the elders.

 

And you're pointing out that there are others for sure, who are responsible in all of their teaching, like the older women in relation to the younger two to get it right. Okay, thank you. That's very helpful as an overstatement. When we get to those texts that I was referring to, Titus one nine and apt to teach in first Timothy three two will try to decide now, do the elders have a unique role in equipping people like that so that there's kind of a ripple effect or a trickle down effect in the church? But absolutely everybody in the church then who is a small group leader or Sunday school teacher or adult Sunday school class leader, if you're not an elder, surely you are responsible to help be a part of the upholding of the truth and being part of that bulwark. Good. Keep me, keep me. Careful here when we do our work right. This is going to happen. Lord willing, the church is going to shine and declare and proclaim the excellences of the one who called the people out of darkness, or to display the manifold wisdom of God to the spiritual powers of heaven. The Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery, which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things so that here's the goal of the church, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

 

That's one must breathtaking statements about why the church exists that I know of, whether this is demons, rulers and authorities, principalities and powers, or whether it is angels or both. It is big and that the church God has designed and is guiding and equipping and supplying in the world so that as angels look on and as the devil looks on, the manifold wisdom of God will be seen and praised and known, or at least recognized if he has evil spirits in mind. Here, I remember when I first came here, I preached a sermon called The Cosmic Church, and we put it in those days we were carrying an ad in the newspaper, and I put Cosmic church in the newspaper, and boy, did I get scolded for that because it sounded so new agey. I mean, that was almost on the front end of the New Age back in the early eighties. But I said, Well, what I mean is this this? And then I preach the sermon from this text. One last observation of why the church and here you can see how the church as well, namely to show the authority and and power of Christ. I say to you that you are Peter, Jesus said. And upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will build my church. So when the church flourishes, it's the work of Christ that's flourishing through whatever leadership structures are in place. With regard to Peter here and the Rock, I don't want to go into a lot of detail, but here's my interpretation of that, is that Peter represents the apostles and Ephesians 220 says that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

 

And so inasmuch as Peter is the spokesman for the apostolic authority, and the apostolic authority is spoken through the Apostles and then codified in the New Testament. We are on that rock of apostolic authority. I don't think the rock he refers to Jesus. I think it is a play on this word Petrus, Petrus and Rock. And I think Peter here stands for the Apostles. I don't find in the New Testament a warrant either for the monarchical bishop, though there may be Episcopal among us who would differ with that, or the ongoing papal authority of the Catholic Church. I was talking to a Catholic Wednesday night about that and sharing texts back and forth to each other, questions on those few passages, just to highlight the importance and the preciousness and the purpose of the church. Okay, Let's talk about this word church a little bit. Where does it come from? What does it refer to? Besides the general statements we've seen? What does the word church refer to in the New Testament? The word church comes from the Anglo-Saxon circa. Kirk, which in turn comes from the Greek Carioca, one which means belonging to the Lord or the Lord's like the Lord's Day. It's this word here, the Lord's. We are the Lord's. So one could think of church, this Anglo-Saxon word based on this Greek word, the Lord's as the people or the building belonging to the Lord. But we shouldn't think of it as a building, because in the English New Testament, the word church translates the Greek ecclesia, which never refers to a building, but always to an assembly or a congregation. The called out ones act out placing a form of the word color on call and never refers to a building.

 

Therefore, the church is the people who belong to the Lord Jesus. The called out ones would be one way to say it. And you know, one even wonders should you have the English word church? Is it a helpful word? Well, that's a battle none of us ought to spend any time fighting. It's a given. And the church is the church. And we should just, wherever we are, try to fill it up with as much New Testament meaning as we can. So just let me show you the uses of the actual word church. This is a little bit overlap from what we've seen, but not much. There's the Universal Church of All believers, like in Ephesians 122, and he put all things in subjection under his feet and gave him his head over all things to or for the church. So there's the word church used for the entire assembly of believers everywhere. Then it's used for all the believers in an area. For example, x 931. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace being built up and going in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. It continued to increase. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee, the church not just churches, but the church throughout all Judea and Galilee. Then it's used of all the believers in a city one. And on that day, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, the church in Jerusalem. Then it's used for the believers gathered in household congregations in the New Testament, first created in 1619, Akila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord with the church that is in their house. So back to Phil's question here. When you read Church in the New Testament, you must simply attend to the context to see is there a local expression of it in view or district expression of it in view or area wide or city wide, or a universal wide expression of the church? The people of the Lord, the people, the Iglesia, the call that one, the Assembly conceived of it these different levels.

 

And I don't I would be hard put to say that there is an official expression at each of those levels, like there should be an official church of Minneapolis. I've related to a lot of guys in this city, and some of you may be there who think there should be on the leadership of Minneapolis, who are the elders in the Christian Church of Minneapolis. This is the teaching of Watch Manny and others that that every city should have a a body of Christ. And you could make a case for that. In the New Testament, there was a body of Christ in Corinth and a body of Christ in Athens and a body of Christ in Thessalonica. And then you'd have the elders. But to me, there's not enough to mandate that. Possibly. And maybe there should be some Minneapolis expression like that. Maybe. But I couldn't get dogmatic about that. I don't think, in fact, what you'll find, I hope, anyway, is that on some of these ecclesiastical governance issues, I don't want to be real dogmatic, period, because some of the things I'm going to be defending as far as structures go are, I don't think, as ironclad as some other doctrines are, which is probably why there there is the Episcopal structure and the Presbyterian structure and the. Artistic structure, those three big structures that we all learn about if we were studying these things in history. Well, this is a thicker pile and this is point number three on your outline and any observation or question you want to raise right there about the use of the word church in the New Testament. Yeah, they've. Well, there are about, I think, 200 different names of the church in the New Testament. So I've left out about 192.

 

Logically, I didn't even think of those in those terms. But the household of God is the father. But I wasn't trying to think they're going to make sure I find some names of the church relating to Christ, summoning the Spirit and some relating to Father. But you certainly could do that. We could do that. Now, let me tell you what you're looking at here. We produced a document in the late eighties through many long months and years of study. And this is an excerpt, plus a lot of changes that are made in it today in which we try to come up with principles that would guide our study goals, that would guide our study as we were thinking through biblical church governance. So there's 11 of these, I believe 11 of these principles of biblical local church governance. And they provide a backdrop against which we will look more carefully at the elder ship. And so these are very historically significant for me and for us here at Bethlehem. Biblical principles of Local church governance. Number one, So I've got a principle, and then I've got followed by text to try to support it. The local church is governed by Christ. Matthew 1618 I will build my church. This governance, as well as other texts on his headship over the church. This governance was mediated through the authority of the Apostles and their close associates. I'll come back to these texts today. Christ still rules through the words of his apostles as they are preserved for us in the inspired writings of the New Testament. Therefore, every effort will be made to conform the structure and procedures and spirit of church governance as closely as possible to New Testament guidelines, with a constant eye to promoting the glory of God and the advancement of faith.

 

Now, before we look at the text, let me just say that in my own words and applied to our church, Christ is the head of Bethlehem Baptist Church, the local expression of the universal body alongside millions of other local expressions. He rules over this church not by some esoteric, magical, secretive word spoken to elders, but through his apostles, who now are all dead. We don't have apostles here. I have good friends who lead denominations who do have apostles because they define them differently than this. But we don't have that office here. The Apostles are the book. There's my Bible. Okay. The New Testament here is the written expression of the Word of Christ and the Charter of the Church and the rule over the church. The elders then are responsible to be apt to teach and to correct people with good doctrine by knowing this book and effectively applying it to their people so that Christ mediates his authority and his power and his teaching and his love through his Word and the apostles teaching of it and the elders understanding of it preached and taught to that. Now, of course, I'm going to talk about these later principles. There's going to be the priesthood of the believers. But I wanted to lay that down first as Christ being the teacher and the leader and the governor of his church. Matthew 1618 I will build my church. Ephesians 219 built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. Now there's all kinds of disagreements as to just what an prophets refers to, whether there was another office there of prophets, or whether they were just charismatic prophets here and there, or whether this means apostles and prophets, meaning apostles, who are prophets, which is the position of Wayne Graham.

 

And I'm inclined to think that may well be what it means, but I don't think we need to settle that one tonight either. The apostles and their authority, however it was shared by prophets, or whether they are the prophets here is the foundation of the church. Now I mentioned inspired writings. Here's one of the text I would go to to defend that first Corinthians 212 to 13. Now, we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this this wisdom. We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the spirit interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the spirit. So there is one kind of claim in Paul's writings for his own inspiration that he doesn't teach in words taught by human wisdom. And we could add here second, Peter three, where Peter says there are some things in Paul that are hard to understand, and men twist them to their own destruction as they do the other scriptures. So Peter, already aligning Paul's writings with Scripture. So Paul's writings being inspired are among the apostolic writings that govern the church. Here are some texts that show the kind of authoritative function the Apostles had in the church, which they still have through the writings of the New Testament. He says in first grade, in 717, only let everyone lead the life which the Lord has assigned to Him and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches, or this is my dictate. This is my. The word is dear Tarsem, I believe in Greek the order. And this is the way I order the life of the churches.

 

So Paul claims amazing authority. None of us should talk this way, but the apostles can talk this way. Here's a couple of more illustrations. First Corinthians 1437 and 38. If anyone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. Wow. So Paul at least had a self-consciousness about being the Lord's authoritative spokesman as an apostle, which he was to write in a way that was virtually the Lord's commandment. And anybody who didn't recognize it, he said, You're not recognized. Second Thessalonians 314 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person you don't associate with him so that he will be put to shame. So at least those three texts where the Apostle Paul says, I stand as an emissary of the risen Christ, called out by him and taught not in words of human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit. And therefore, what I say holds sway in the church as the governing word. And now we don't have Paul around to talk like that anymore. We only have what he wrote. And therefore, faithful elders will do their best to mediate that through being apt to teach to their congregations. And thankfully, the congregations have Bibles in their own laps at home where they can get it from the Apostles as well. And I said at the end of that principle that we have an eye to the glory of God in all of this. Based that on first canons. 1031 whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, including all your elder ship and all your church governance and all your constitutional design, do all to the glory of God.

 

Our mission statement here at Bethlehem is we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all people. So if you say, Why are you doing this seminar? I would say, I'm doing this seminar to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples. Because I think that if we get the elder ship right, if we get governance right, if we get the spirit right, if we get the word right, then God's glory and God's supremacy will be wonderfully and passionately honored more than if we don't get it right. And the joy of faith is the goal to convince to this. I know that I will remain and continue with you all. Here's what's Paul's life task for your progress and joy in the faith, the advancement and joy of your faith, the King James says. Paul wrote what he wrote, said what he said, structured the churches the way he structured them. Appointing elders in every church for the joy of your faith. The elders exist for the joy of the church. They should never forget that. If there's an unhappy church. Something's wrong with the elders. Comes wrong at the heart of the church. If it's not pumping joy out of the elders, something's wrong and needs to be adjusted because that's the goal of the Apostolic Ministry. So that's principle number one. Christ governs his church through the Apostles. His writings are now the New Testament and are taught by faithful elders. Principle number two The Ministry of the Church is primarily the work of the members in the activity of worship toward God, nurture towards each other, witness toward the world. Internal structures for church governance are not the main ministry of the church, but the necessary equipping and mobilizing of the saints for the work of the ministry.

 

O that every one of our churches would get this mindset, the ministry mindset, the ministry mindset that every saint is called to minister and the pastors, the elders exist to inspire them and equip them and encourage them and strengthen them. And yes, there has to be the whole hospital dimension of the wartime mentality. You got to have a good field hospital if you're going to do battle. Otherwise, the morale problem of the frontline troops that are being chewed up day after day is going to be very bad. So it's a multi-layered vision of mobilizing ministry. But all that our pastors and elders might think mobilize, mobilize, mobilize the people for the city and the nations and the neighborhoods, not just let's have committees and meetings that are nice. So here are some texts that support that. Ephesians four or one, text 11 and 12 Christ gave some. Here's the risen ascending Christ giving back to the church. Now what they need some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ. So you have this group here and then you have the equipping of the saints. That's everybody. That's not a select group for the work of ministry. Deacon near here to the building, up to the body of Christ. And then when the body of Christ is built up, it's effective in the world. Holler at me and wave at me if you want to stop on any of these. Yeah. Between pastors and preachers. No, there are. There are not. And the reason you can tell that is, is because you don't have as little word as there's a grouping here you get as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some.

 

And then you'll have this word, some as between pastors and teachers. These are taken as a a group. I think it means pastors slash teachers. And we'll see why, because I'm going to argue that pastor, elder, overseer and bishop are all synonymous in the New Testament and they must be apt to teach. That is their main task, governing and teaching, which is what we'll see later. Three governance structures should be lean and efficient to this end, as this end of equipping and mobilizing governance structures should be lean and efficient to this end, not aiming to include as many people as possible in office holding, but to free and fit as many people as possible for ministry. And I say, I'll have a text for this. I just say it's implied. You have to remember the history of these points. These were written before we had our new constitution. These were written as I was trying to work with 24 deacons as to how to rethink governance in Bethlehem. Okay. So we develop these principles not as conclusions, but as guidelines for how to get to where we presently are and how to correct where we presently are if we happen to have it right. So that's where these came from. So we started we started by saying, it seems to us that if this is true. Then this would be true. And as you're going through that process, how quickly were those 24 deacons turning over in leadership? Good, Good question. Let's see if I can remember that. I think they could do just like now. I think they could do two successive three year terms, if I'm not mistaken. Any history buffs here that remember back in the dark ages, That's what we have now with our elders.

 

They have to be off a year. Then they can come back on two successive three year terms reappointed by the church so they could be on six years and most of them would have been there for six years. And do you find, just in terms of governance as far as elders, how much difficulty is created by the gap? It's the gap between those who are just coming on and not up to speed yet. It would be terrible if it were huge. So you've got to stagger it out so you don't have everybody going off at once and you need to bring your best ones back on quickly. By best, I mean those who are called and gifted. See, I believe in the church. Our mindset shouldn't be we've got to pass this around so as many people can be an elder as possible. That mindset is just crazy. It would be like saying, John Piper, you get to preach once, once a Sunday. We need for 51 other guys to preach because we just need to pass it around. Well, I think I'm called and gifted to preach, and as long as the church believes that, they'll keep saying, okay, that's your job, that's your elder job mainly. There are other things, too, and then there are other jobs and guys are good at them. They're just tailor made at them. And you have to balance that with you don't want to institutionalize a man in a role that then might he might become unfit for and you can't ever get him out of it. But you need to have. You need to have solidity and long term. So, for example, we we will lay off, I think, what, three or four of our 18 at the end of this year.

 

We have brought back on to this year that we laid off last year when they took a year off. And so the gap feels right now like we will we will be having new blood over the years, but it won't be such that nobody remembers how this thing is done or what the ethos is. And if you stay in a place long enough, a pastor stays long enough and and builds leadership long enough, it sort of spreads like I'm sure as I look out in this group, there are be many men in this room right here who know the vision, this church know the heartbeat of this church, and they're not on the council. And when they came on, we had to take them any time to get up to speed just because they've been around long enough to breathe it. Then why? Permanents? Okay, now, that's an interesting question. The question is why term limits do they become a substitute for honest accountability? Sort of. Sort of. And here's what I mean when I say sort of suppose a man loved by everybody in the church and he serves as a deacon for yeah, many decades is becoming a little bit senile. He's he's saying off the wall things at the meeting. Still a precious man loves God, but he's not handling the Scripture so well anymore. And his comments just seem to be from left field. How do you not hurt a man like that? And the huge network of people that he has that love him and yet move him out because he's got to get out? He can't he's he's making the business hard and it's not helpful. You're appealing for honest accountability. Go to him. Talk to him. Yes. A man I want to be candid.

 

I believe in candor and honesty and getting in people's face and telling them like it is. But in reality, there needs to be gentle ways of doing some of that. Now, that's that's really honestly, that's in my mind for why we need to have an easy way every six years to not bring somebody back on. It's easier not to bring somebody back on than it is to fire somebody in the middle of their life. Devotion to the elder ship. But I feel the sting of what you're saying, that if if we just kind of talk of people behind their back and you have a problem, elder and you don't deal with him, you don't deal with the problem. Elder Go face to face with him. That's terrible. I mean, you you're going to lose your whole camaraderie if you do your business that way and. And those guys who are in this room right now know that's not the way we do it here. I mean, we when when we have tensions on our council, a lot of lunch meetings happen within two weeks to go face to face with those problems. And they're dealt with right up front. But it just seems like there's another reason for it, and that is that men need sabbaticals. We call it that after six years. Take a year off, breathe deep, get a perspective of this church from outside the council. If you're called and you're gifted, you'll be back here within a year or two and you'll come with something fresh. So I think there probably are reasons to warrant it. I mean, the fact that it's two three year terms is nothing biblical about that. Believe me, you are free to do it. You know, four year terms, no repetitions.

 

Go ahead. Sign it early on. Like you're saying that after two, three or four year terms, you're offered a three year term, then he's off forever. No, let me explain again, just to clarify what we do here. Right now with the Council of Elders, an elder is affirmed by the church for a three year term. He comes up for reaffirmation at the end of that term and can serve another one without taking any time off. That's almost a given. Unless he's committed adultery or done something really whacko in his doctrine. If he's a if he's a gifted and contributing member and is not exhausted at the end of three years of the church, in all likelihood will say, bless you, keep on serving. At the end of that three year term, automatically at least a year off. And then he can be nominated again, reaffirmed by the church and VECO. What does a small church do with you mean two or three people? Yeah. The question is what does a small church do? Doesn't have the luxury of this kind of roll over and well, the ones that I am aware of don't insist on it. In other words, they don't. You need here. We're getting ahead of ourselves. You need multiple elders. I believe that the New Testament teaching is not that there's just one elder, but that there should be several in every church. And so I would say think through something that works for the local, small, 50 person church, whatever. I don't I don't have a prescription. Don't take ours. Don't assume this is the way to do it. I mean, there are some biblical core values here, but those are not biblical. Three years a year off, two terms. That's just pure human wisdom through much prayer and fasting and study and thinking and our tradition, our history, all that you could do in a very different way than that.

 

Yeah. There are no term limits for vocational elders. We do not. That is, those of us who are ordained do not have to take a year off. It's one of the either burdens or perks of being ordained, depending on how you look at it. David And yet periodic reaffirmation. We do have to be reaffirmed this 13% of the people in this church could call my job into question every three years. That's another thing I didn't mention. We ask for an 85% reaffirmation vote. Now, that doesn't mean that an 84% would unseat an elder. It means we'd go back to the drawing boards and say, Whoa, If 15% of the people in this church find a problem with this man. We need to find out why, and we might override that and put him back and say whatever. I forget what the actual demand is in the Constitution for what you get, but it's not happened yet. But it could. We want we want our people to really be excited about their leaders, because if they're not going anywhere, you know, as a church. Okay, number four, I'll I'll keep opening it for questions, but I can tell they're just going to keep coming. If we don't, we don't keep movement. That's good. That's really good. Please ask those clarifying questions, especially if I've said something that's not clear. Here's principle number four. Christ is the head of the church, and spiritually all his disciples are on a level ground. I said, Disciples. They're not just elders. That's Christians are on a level ground before him, each having direct access to him and responsibility to intercede for the good of all as a community of priests, men, women, old, young, all believers. Ah, priests. Sometimes this will be played off against elders or leaders.

 

But let's see if that's the New Testament thing to do. Let me just give you the text here that caused me to see this. The way I've said it. Ephesians 415 Speaking The Truth in Love. We are to grow up in all aspects into him who is in head, even Christ. That is, we are all to grow up into Christ, all the members growing up into Christ. This is a very famous Matthew 23, 1811 a Baptist text. Do not be called Rabbi for one is your teacher and you are all brothers. Let's give you a little, little anecdote here. When I came to this church, I don't know why it is with churches today, but churches like to have doctors for pastors. This is why you create the demon degree. Well, when I came to this church, they repainted the sign out front. Dr. John Piper. Dr. John Piper. I made them redo it immediately. Get that doctor off of there and put pastor. Not because I'm so literal that I. I get in everybody's face who calls me Dr. Piper. But because there's something meant here, and I just want to be careful. Do not be called Rabbi. Teacher. Dr.. Maybe for one is your teacher. And you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on Earth. Your father. For one, is your father. So you could overdo that, couldn't you? My son shouldn't call me father, you know. That's clearly not. I don't think what they mean. There's a there's a kind of this is a warning not to to overdo leadership and miss the priest to the believer. This is a warning text. There's a balancing text against all these texts we're going to be looking at tonight that endorse and describe leadership.

 

One is your father. He who is in heaven do not be called leaders, for one is your leader. That is Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. So surely the Spirit here, at least, is like in the Sermon on the Mount. Don't do your arms to be seen by men. Don't fast to be seen by men. Don't pray to be seen by men. That doesn't mean don't fast and don't give alms and don't pray. It means your motive shouldn't be that even when you do those in public, your aim is to get recognized for them. So this is a warning to the Council of Elders. It's a warning to pastors. It's a warning people like me who have a letter after my name, a degree after my name. And a lot of you do to be to want people to recognize that. I mean, I'll just show you how far I've taken this. I have a diploma from Wheaton College, a diploma from Fuller Seminary and a diploma from the University of Munich. They're all in a drawer. I've never hung them on any wall in my life. In fact, I have never taken my degree from Munich out of its tube. It came from Germany in a tube. That's not. I took it out to see that. I got it. I put it back in the tube. It's in the bottom file drawer where it's been for the last 25 years. Now, there's nothing to brag about that. And please don't feel guilty if you've got your all your diplomas hanging on your wall. I just. As I read this text, I feel and and, of course, you can be a lot humbler than I am. I mean, there are strategies to get the praise of men, right, besides hanging diplomas on your wall.

 

So I could be writing books because I love the praise the men write. So you don't hang your diplomas up. You just write books and sign them. So don't don't put me in any kind of st category here. Just know this text is a warning to all of us to beware of wanting to be stroked as a leader, but rather we are to be servants were to lower ourselves. Get down there. Work in the nursery. Say a man, David. Okay. Work in the nursery. Teach Sunday school classes. Do the things that the Saints do first. Timothy 254. There is one God, one mediator between God and man. The man Christ Jesus. We. We are not the mediators. One mediator and a saint. A priest of God can go through the one high priest to God. And here's an apprentice on manhood and womanhood. I had intended to do this, but this may be good. One of the reasons there's such a hubbub about whether women can be elders or not we don't have women elders here is because it feels too many depending on the church they're part of. Like you're excluding women from significant ministry. And I'm trying to develop the mindset that says just the opposite. Namely, these poor men have to meet hour after hour till 1112 at night trying to figure out parking problems and church discipline problems. And the women are out there saving souls and healing the sick. I hope. Because a woman is a priest to God, filled with the Holy Spirit, with immediate access to Almighty God. And when she puts her hand on a sick person and prays for that person, God Almighty can heal. And that's ministry. And why she would ever want to sit on the Council of Elders when she could be doing that.

 

Now, maybe she would, because she feels like I've got gifts of leadership and competency. So we have to deal with it at other levels, too. But I just want to get out of our heads that really exciting, explosive, supernatural people changing ministry is the province of a few guys. It's just crazy. We must get that out of our heads and mobilize women and mobilize men to avail themselves of the one mediator, Jesus Christ, to do mighty work in the city and in marriages. Revelation one six is explicit on the priesthood idea. Christ has made us to be a kingdom priests, priest to His God and the Father to him be the glory. So we are all priests. Thank you for listening to this lecture brought to you by Biblical training dot org. Your prayers and financial support enable us to provide a biblical and theological education that all people around the world can access. Blessings. As you continue to study and live out your faith and as you grow in your relationship with the Lord.