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A Guide to Christian Theology - Lesson 32

Church (Part 3)

An overview of church polity, or simply how things get done in the church.

Gerry Breshears
A Guide to Christian Theology
Lesson 32
Watching Now
Church (Part 3)

I. Purpose

II. Leadership Offices of a Church

A. Elder

B. Deacon

C. Member


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  • There are two approaches to systematic theology: the deductive approach and the inductive approach. Find out how these two approaches differ and you need to understand each one.

  • We serve a personal God who speaks, telling us about himself and ourselves and the world around us. There are two types of ways that God reveals himself: general revelation and special revelation. In this lecture, you'lll discover what God says about himself through creation and your conscience.

  • Special revelation is a combination of the life of God revealed in his works and the words of God that tells us the significance and meaning of those acts. Discover how God reveals himself through special revelation and what we can know about him.

  • Know why the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is foundational to an overall understanding of the Bible.

  • Learn how to deal with ambiguous passages in the Bible, why the Bible is silent on many issues, and whether God still speaks today.

  • Discover the names of God, their meanings, and their significance. 

  • Learn about the characteristics of God, including his compassion, grace, patience, love, faithfulness, forgiveness, justice, jealousy, and holiness.

  • Learn about the characteristics of God, including his constancy, his omniscience, and his omnipotence.

  • Understand what it means that God is three persons, but still one God.

  • Learn about some key terms in systematic theology, including freedom, sovereignty, and election. 

  • Understand both Armenian and Calvinist perspectives on the doctrine of election.

  • Understand the difference between naturalism and creationism, and know the four approaches to Genesis. At this time, there is no sound after 20:30. 

  • Discussion on the three views of providence.

  • A continued discussion on providence, emphasizing that God is faithful to his promises.

  • An overview of the doctrine of humankind, including their origin, the biblical definition of spirit and soul, and the relationship between body and spirit.

  • A biblical definition of image of God.

  • An overview of sin, including its origin and essence.

  • A continued discussion on sin, including its consequences and degrees.

  • An overview of the deity and humanity of Christ.

  • A continued overview of the deity and humanity of Christ.

  • An overview of the life of Christ.

  • An overview of the Holy Spirit, including the role of the Holy Spirit.

  • A continued overview of the Holy Spirit, including what it means to be filled with Holy Spirit.

  • An overview of spiritual gifts, with emphasis on prophecy and tongues.

  • An overview of salvation and how people come into a relationship with God.

  • An overview of grace.

  • An overview of conversion, regeneration, and justification.

  • An overview of sanctification.

  • An overview of perseverance and security.

  • An overview of the church, including its definition, the priesthood of all believers, and the role of church in culture.

  • A continued overview of the church, including denominations and church government.

  • An overview of church polity, or simply how things get done in the church.

  • An overview of baptism.

  • An overview of communion, including the three views on the elements and various church traditions surrounding its administration.

  • An overview of death, including what happens after death and the prospect of future rewards.

  • An overview of God’s kingdom, including its present and future state.

  • An overview of the views on the Tribulation and the Millennium.

  • An overview of the eternal state, including the final judgment, hell, and the new heaven and earth.

  • A brief encouragement to church leaders.

  • A further discussion on the Bible, including translations, its authority, prophecy, and canon.

Understand the core topics of systematic theology, from what we know about God to the future state of humankind. Special emphasis is given to such topics as Christ, salvation, the church, and the future.

Course: A Guide to Christian Theology

Lecture 32: Gerry’s Principles of Polity

This is the 32th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.

(Any slides, photos, study guides or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded separately. If they are not available, you may be able to find something similar using the Google© search engine.)

I. Introduction

In regards to principles of polity, I want to make it clear that what the Bible prescribes, you need to do and what the Bible describes, you should follow closely as possible and what the Bible is silent about leaves us to be free and wise and Spirit led. Now churches takes different approaches on polity but the question is how does it help in getting the Gospel out to our communities and also in unity and in focus for what God wants in our lives. So polity is simply how things are done in church. This lecture is an accumulation of my own ideas based on Scripture.

II. Leadership Offices of a Church

A. Eldership

As I have already stated, I believe authority resides in the congregation as a whole. Of course the primary authority is in Scripture. There are certain offices in the church which we don’t really understand; simply because we are too person centered and gifted centered to do so. An office is a responsibility, an authority and an empowerment given for a position and therefore people move into that position. Biblically, the two leadership offices of the church are elders and deacons. I think there is another office of what I would call ‘member’ and thus when a person comes into membership of the church; they enter an office with responsibility and authority associated with that. When I came to Grace Community Church, as an office, I was a Sunday school teacher, teaching an adult class. After that I was asked to join the preaching team which consisted of four people who preach at the moment. Then at a later date, I came on to the officer of Elder which gave me responsibilities within that team that I only have as long as I belong to that office. Of course all of these offices continue whether I am a member or not. So the Biblical term for elders as an office of the church is men who are responsible for pastoral care to oversee that and equip members for ministry. While the other responsibility is to guide the body of the church in terms of doctrine; so these two key responsibilities are to care for the people and their growth and to equip people to do ministry and to guide and guard the life and teaching of the church. There is an authority of office and a responsibility of character in gifting. Being who I am with the knowledge of the Bible that I have; I am an authority on the Bible and people come to me with particular questions. And someone within the office of eldership should have such a character. 1st Timothy 3 and Titus give us some background on this. Elders need to be perceived as leaders. And I think the role of elders is to lead the congregation wisely in decision making.

For example, a decision on the speaker system the church should use in the building; a problem which we just went through. This involves a lot of money with equipment, cables and installation. We appointed a leadership team which we called deacons. They met with people in the church who had ministry involvement and interest in this area. They ended up with a lot of detail ending up with a new speaker system. So the elders gave that responsibility to others as mentioned. It ended up with a wide group of people making the decision. This is not the only way but this is the way our church did it. So I would phrase this as elder led.

B. Deacons

Now for deacons, we see they first show up in Acts 6 where they are overseeing the serving of tables. We also see them described in 1st Timothy and other places such as Romans 16. These include men and women with responsibility to administer certain services or ministries. My understanding is that they never meet as a board as such. Some churches have a team of deacons that deal with specifics such as budgets, special projects or certain church departments. So you would do this in a wise and Spirit led way within your congregation.

C. Church Members

The third office that I would include would be that of member. We see this in Acts 2:42 where the people were devoted to the disciples and Jesus. As members of the church, we have the responsibility to engage in the ministry of our local church and to contribute our gifts, our vision, our opinions and our support and seek the unity and coherence of the ministry in order to do things effectively. There are responsibilities that come with being members of churches and I think people should become members of churches. Often membership is done in different ways and sometimes it is more official than at other times. Some churches let the individuals who attend take the responsibility to be members or not. Sometimes, membership is about having the ability to discipline a member, sadly to say. The point of membership is devoted to or committed to the fellowship.

You need to consider chapters like Acts 15 and others and consider these case studies comparing them to how your church is set up. In Acts 15 the circumcision party said that you had to be circumcised to be saved. We see this in Genesis and with Moses’ son and the other Hebrews. Paul and Barnabas are even arguing over this and they decide to return to Jerusalem and present this problem to the church, elders and the apostles, all of them. Believers of the party of Pharisees argued for circumcision quoting Genesis. After much discussion, Peter gave his ideas and ended up saying that the gentiles were saved by grace of the Lord Jesus and further developed New Covenant principles in his argument. James then had a turn defended the Word going forth to the gentiles citing Old Testament verses from Isaiah, Amos, Jeramiah, Daniel and Ezekiel. They are children of Abraham, not children of Moses as such, again stressing the now New Covenant that they were now under. So the whole assembly heard what was said. So we ended up with four different presentations: the Pharisees, Peter, Paul and Barnabas and James who spoke to the Apostles and Elders who are an authority that they recognized and also the whole church. This was not pure democracy as such. There were apostles, elders and even deacons and the congregation.

III. Holy Spirit Authority

Another interesting point is in verse 28, ‘for it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.’ In working together, the church has the authority of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit authority comes out of actions taken according to Biblical principles and Scripture.

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