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I. APPROACH TO SUBJECT
1. The General Sense
2. The Local Sense
II. INTERNAL ORDER
1. Subjects of Admission
2. Definite Organizations
4. Ecclesiastical Functions
(1) Control of Membership
(2) Selection of Officers, etc.
(3) Observations of Ordinances
5. Independent (Autonomous) Organizations
III. EXTERNAL AUTHORITY
IV. COOPERATIVE RELATIONS
The object here sought is to discover what kind of church government is mirrored in the. To do this with perfect definiteness is, no doubt, quite impossible. Certain general features, however, may clearly be seen.
I. Approach to the Subject.
The subject is best approached through the Greek word ekklesia, translated "church." Passing by the history of this word, and its connection with the Hebrew words `edhah and qahal (which the Septuagint sometimes renders by ekklesia), we come at once to the New Testament usage. Two perfectly distinct senses are found, namely, a general and a local.
1. The General Sense:
Christ is "head over all things to the church, which is his body ...." (
2. The Local Sense:
Here the Scripture passages are very numerous. In some cases, the word is used in the singular, and in others the plural; in some it is used with reference to a specified church, and in others without such specification. In all cases the sense is local.
There are a few passages that do not seem exactly to fit into either of the above categories. Such, for example, are
Church government in the New Testament applies only to the local bodies.
II. Internal Order.
With respect to the constitution and life of these New Testament churches, several points may be made out beyond reasonable doubt.
1. Subjects of Admission:
2. Definite Organizations:
They are definitely and permanently organized bodies, and not temporary and loose aggregations of individuals. It is quite impossible, for example, to regard the church at Antioch as a loose aggregation of people for a passing purpose. The letters of Paul to the churches at Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, cannot be regarded as addressed to other than permanent and definitely organized bodies.
They were served by two classes of ministers--one general, the other local.
Next comes the "prophet." His relation to the churches, also, was general. It was not necessary that he should have seen the Lord, but it appertained to his spiritual function that he should have revelations (
After the "prophet" come the "evangelist" and "teacher," the first, a traveling preacher, the second, one who had special aptitude for giving instruction.
After the "teacher" and "evangelist" follow a group of special gifts of "healing," "helps," "governments," "tongues." It may be that "helps" and "governments" are to be identified with "deacons" and "bishops," to be spoken of later. The other items in this part of Paul’s list seem to refer to special charismata.
There were two clearly distinct offices of a local and permanent kind in the New Testament churches. Paul (
The most common designation of the first of these officers is "elder" (presbuteros). In one passage (
The function of the elders was, in general, spiritual, but involved an oversight of all the affairs of the church (
As to the second of the local church officers, it has to be said that little is given us in the New Testament. That the office of deacon originated with the appointment of the Seven in
Again, they exercised the highest ecclesiastical functions.
4. Ecclesiastical Functions:
(1) Control of Membership.
(2) Selection of Officers, etc.
This was true in case of the Seven (
(3) Observation of Ordinances.
Paul gives direction (
5. Independent (Autonomous) Organizations:
The management of their business was in their own hands. Paul wrote the church at Corinth: "Let all things be done decently and in order" (
III. External Authority.
The investigation up to this point places us in position to see that there is in the New Testament no warrant for ecclesiastical grades in the ministry of the churches, by which there may be created an ascending series of rulers who shall govern the churches merged into one vast ecclesiastical organization called "the church." So, also, we are in position to see that there is no warrant for an ascending series of courts which may review any "case" that originates in a local church. We may see, on the contrary, that to each local church has been committed by Christ the management of its own affairs; and that He had endowed every such church with ecclesiastical competency to perform every function that any ecclesiastical body has a right to perform.
As the churches are not to be dominated by any external ecclesiastical authority, so they are not to be interfered with, in their church life, by civil government. Jesus taught that Christians should be good citizens (
IV. Cooperative Relations.
While each local church, according to the New Testament, is independent of every other in the sense that no other has jurisdiction over it, yet cooperative relations were entered into by New Testament churches. Examples and indications of that may be found in
Hort, The Christian Ecclesia; Hatch, Organization of the Early; Whitley, Church, Ministry and Sacraments in the New Testament; Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Cents.; French, Synonyms of New Testament; Vitringa, De Synagoga Vetere; Holzinger, ZAW; Schurer, Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of , II; Driver, Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the ; Thayer, New Testament Lexicon, and Cremer, Biblical Theol. Lexicon, under the word, "ekklesia" and "sunagoge"; Neumann, Rom. Staat und die all-gemeine Kirche; Ramsay, Church in the .; Lightfoot, "The Christian Ministry," in Commentary on Philippians; Harvey, The Church; Dagg, Church Order; Hovey, Religion and the State; Owen, ; Ladd, Principles of Church Polity; Dexter, Congregationalism; Hodge, Discussions in Church Polity; Abbey, Ecclesiastical Constitutions; Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity; Jacob, Ecclesiastical Polity; Bore, The Church and Its Ministry; Dollinger, The Church and The Churches; Stanley, Lectures on the Eastern Church; Dargan, Ecclesiology.