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Lesson 2 How the New Testament Church is Governed


Devotional Reading:   Psalm 89:7–18


Memory Verse:           Colossians 1:18


And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.




1 Corinthians 12:28 God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.


Ephesians 4:11–12 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.


Romans 12:6–8 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.


1 Peter 5:1–3 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.


1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.


Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.




1 Corinthians 12:28. Here are named some of the officer that God has placed in the church and some of the means used in its government.

Ephesians 4:11–12. Another list is here given. These all work in the ministry for the benefit of the church.

Romans 12:6–8. This list adds others. “He that ruleth” probably corresponds to governments in the first text.

1 Peter 5:1–3. Peter, though an apostle, classes himself with the elders. 2. The elders are to take the oversight of the flock so are overseers or bishops. 3. The rule of the elders is not to be with force but by example and instruction.

1 Timothy 5:17. Some elders labor in the word, which implies that some do not. Not all elders are successful preachers.

Hebrews 13:17. The responsibility of the elders, and of the people to heed them, is here emphasized. Eternal issues are at stake.






1. The divine aspect.


A) Christ is the head. No one else is ever recognized as head of the church. Isaiah ascribes the governing power to Christ (Isaiah 9:6). B) Divinely appointed officers. The twelve were chosen by Christ personally, and later elders were called by the Holy Ghost (Acts 20:28). Each officer receives his place through divine choice.


2. The human aspect.


A) In governing the church the Holy Spirit operates through men whom God has appointed. Such work as setting the church in order, ordaining elders, rejecting heretics, etc., is done by men. B). A local church exercises discipline (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:13). It may function otherwise as in the choice of a pastor. C) It is not the exercise of human choice.

The place of humanity in church government is not properly in the exercise of the human will but of the understanding. The Spirit will and directs—it is for us to interpret and apply His leadings.




1. Classified as to their work.


A) Apostles. The original apostles were eye-witnesses of Christ’s labors and of His resurrection. To them was committed the task of planting the truth and the church. They completed their task, and since the death of that generation no man can qualify for the office (Acts 1:21–26). They have no successors. Others were called apostles in a secondary sense as planters of the truth in new places. There are such apostles now. B) Prophets. There were men in the church who foretold events and were called prophets (Acts 11:29; 21:10–11). But a prophet is not necessarily a foreteller; he is one who proclaims God’s message with a special unction. There can be such prophets in the present time. C) Evangelists. The common idea of an evangelist is quite correct. He is a traveling minister whose work is to encourage the churches and to make new converts. D) Pastors and teachers. These are settled ministers whose work is in a congregation. A man may be an efficient pastor and a good teacher. These different works may be done by the same man if he possesses the needed qualifications.


2. Classified as to grade.


A) Only two grades of ministers are recognized in the church—elders and deacons. Apostles were sometimes regarded as a higher grade, but the office in its primary sense no longer exists. B) Pastors, presbyters, overseers, and bishops are all of the same grade: elders. The office of bishop as distinct from elder is unknown in the Bible. Presbyter and elder are from the same Greek word hence are the same. So are overseer and bishop from the same original term. That elders and overseers or bishops are the same is proved by comparing the following texts: Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Timothy 3:1–13 with Titus 1:5–9. Even the apostles called themselves elders. C) A lower grade called deacons is recognized (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8). These are helpers or assistants whose work is chiefly spiritual. They are new frequently called gospel workers.




1. The scope of authority.


A) It is not in temporal affairs. A minister has no rule over the temporal affairs of other nor should he dictate the temporal course of a congregation. B) It is spiritual and relates to all spiritual or moral questions. The minister is to preach the word and to execute its spiritual judgments. C) His spiritual authority is not localized. As a messenger for Christ he holds a commission which is good everywhere. All men professing to be Christians must heed and obey his message. D) The exercise of this authority is limited by the rights of others. He must respect the right of a fellow minister and of the people of God.


2. Degrees of authority.


A) Not gradations by which men are placed in different classes and given positional authority. Authority is not conferred in this way. B) It is due to degrees of gifts and of spiritual power. Some men are divinely endowed to a greater extent than others and hence are used more of God. Such men have a greater spiritual authority. C) It is due to influence. The more one’s gift and power are known the wider the sphere of his influence and hence of his authority. This is the natural result and yet recognized and used of God. D) It is affected by character. Paul says a minister “must be” of certain character. Any deviation from right will ruin a minister’s influence and authority.




1. In temporal affairs.


A) The church is self-governing. It may conduct its business in such a manner as it deems best. It should see that all legal matters are done according to law. B) It may determine who shall vote. Rules may well be made to determine who may have a voice in business matters. These rules may exclude some Christians, because of youth or other reasons, but cannot bar such from the church. C) All business should be conducted according with the principles of the gospel.


2. In receiving members.


A) Membership is based in conversion. A saved man is a member of the universal church.