When Jesus founded our Church — God's Church — did He permit us to decide how the church should be run? Who heads the Church and directs its work — the congregation, Mr. Armstrong, or Jesus Christ? Are we free to establish any kind of church government — or no government at all, if it pleases us? Let's learn the TRUTH on this vital question!
JESUS gave his disciples the true form of GOVERNMENT for His church — our Church. The true gospel is the good news of the kingdom — the government of God. God is Supreme Ruler. From Him proceeds ALL authority and power. The true church — our Church — is SUBJECT to God. The authority of God must be carried out in our Church to which the gospel of the kingdom or GOVERNMENT of God is committed.
What Kind of Government?
This world's society is organized in hundreds of forms of HUMAN government — man ruling man. Even the churches are organized with different types of human government — the congregational, the presbyterian, or the episcopal forms. Some are controlled by boards of men, others are run by one-man dictatorships. Naturally, some have ASSUMED that if they are to come out of the world and be separated from it, as Jesus commanded, they must reject ALL authority or rule. It seems many take for granted that there should be no government in the Church. What some have failed to grasp is not that ALL government is wrong, but that HUMAN government — of man ruling man is wrong. When we repented of breaking God's laws and surrendered to obey Him, WE WERE PUTTING OURSELVES UNDER GOD'S GOVERNMENT, His power and authority, whether or not we realized it! The whole issue confronting the world at this very crucial moment in history is whether it will obey God's government or man's government. The very fact that there is human government in the churches proves that there is also DIVINE government — theocracy. If there were no DIVINE authority, there would have been no need for numerous forms of counterfeit human administrations. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of God's government. The Church is composed of the ADVANCE AGENTS, the emissaries, of that government. To inherit and rule in that kingdom we must come under the authority of the rule of God now, in this lifetime.
Source of Common Error
It has become the accepted teaching that authority is established to be flaunted and disobeyed. Children are allowed to disobey their parents. We probably grew up seeing our friends and neighbors laugh and joke about anyone bearing authority — from the President or the Prime Minister to the teachers in grade schools. To do as we please and to despise authority have become the accepted philosophy. Even after conversion, some have carried this same philosophy into the Church. That's why we sometimes misunderstand the teachings of Jesus on Church government. It's time we expelled this false philosophy from our thinking! Notice Jesus' own words in Luke 22:25-26. He is contrasting the government in the Church with the WRONG kind of human administration. "And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors." Isn't this a perfect description of Gentile dictatorships today? Dictators exercising lordship, claiming to be benefactors! "But you shall NOT be so," said Jesus to the disciples. Here Jesus is giving the principle of DIVINE GOVERNMENT — God's government for our Church. Notice it! There is to be no exercising of lordship by HUMAN will and HUMAN desire. But does Jesus say there is to be no government, no difference in authority? Let's read what He continues to say — what most people have overlooked!
Right Principle of Government
"But HE THAT IS GREATEST AMONG YOU, let him be as the younger; and HE THAT IS CHIEF, as he that doth serve. For," said Jesus, "I am among you as he that serveth" — yet he was their Lord and Master! So there ARE differences in authority in God's government; some are GREATER than others; some are CHIEF. But they act as SERVANTS OF GOD, not as lords over God's heritage. Do we grasp the all-important significance of this teaching? Do we really understand the great meaning of it? Among God's people, in His Church — our Church — there are some who carry greater responsibility and authority. But they exercise their power as the servants of God for the other members of the Church. Far from prohibiting all authority, Jesus sanctioned the right kind of government — God's rule, theocracy — for our Church!
WHY Church Government?
God's government in His Church is merely His rule over our lives. It is the means by which HE guides the work of the Church and perfects its members. Notice how clearly Paul explained the need of God's authority in the Church. What is the purpose of the ministry? "For the perfecting of the saints" — to make us complete in understanding the will of God; "for the work of the ministry" — to carry out the gospel to the whole world; "for the edifying of the body of Christ" — to correct, to instruct and to improve the whole Church "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man." God's rule in our Church is to direct the work of the gospel, to keep us from being "carried about with every wind of doctrine" through the craftiness of cunning men who are already trying to enter in among us to deceive the unstable (Eph. 4:12-14). Now let's understand exactly what kind of authority Jesus established for our Church today.
New Testament Instruction
Our knowledge of church government must come from the New Testament; for, after the historic book of Acts closes, there is a gap of more than fifty years after which we find changed doctrines, changed customs and a changed form of government — human rule instead of divine — in the churches of this world. In the New Testament there are two sources through which we learn the form of God's administration: 1) instruction, and 2) example. Let us notice first the INSTRUCTION from Jesus Christ about CHURCH OFFICERS and administration as found in I Corinthians 12:28. "And God" — not man, but GOD — "has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." The most complete list of the gifts of spiritual administration, however, is found in Ephesians 4:11. "And He [Jesus] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." Again, we observe that Paul, under inspiration, mentions bishops [elders] and deacons as church officers in I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. Before we examine these offices and gifts in detail, let us also notice the EXAMPLE of the New Testament not only in Acts, but also in Paul's epistles.
New Testament Example
In the historic record of the early Church, we find that God ruled the Church by Jesus Christ, its Head (Eph. 5:23). JESUS IS THE HEAD OF OUR CHURCH TODAY! Christ directed the Church through the apostles who were chosen directly by Him (Luke 6:13). The apostles were His DIRECT representatives, His DELEGATES, sent into the world as ambassadors BEARING AUTHORITY. The word APOSTLE means "one sent bearing authority." The apostles were instruments in Jesus' hands, through which He could spread the gospel, correct, reprove and lead the Church. Among the twelve apostles, Peter was pre-eminent, although they all held EQUALITY OF OFFICE. Peter had no one-man dictatorial authority over the other eleven. Peter was never a pope. The same authority vested in Peter was also vested by Jesus in the other apostles (Mat. 16:19; 18:18 and John 20:23). Yet Peter was their LEADER because he was born with special leadership qualities and ability to make decisions. Jesus gives spiritual talents according to the natural talents with which a person is born. Paul, himself, said that Jesus entrusted Peter with the direction of the gospel to Israel AS Jesus had entrusted Paul with the direction of the gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7 and 8). But in another place we find that the apostles SENT Peter and John to Samaria, though Peter may have suggested this (Acts 8:14). His gifts carried the greatest weight in the Church and would have been especially helpful to the newly converted Samaritans. Among the twelve there must have been such a spirit of peace and love that they had perfect harmony without jealousy in equality of rank and office. They did not quarrel among themselves by trying to build on one another's foundation (Rom. 15:20); they did not compete with one another or take disciples from another. However, it is in the experiences of Paul that we find the detailed operation of God's government, since little is recorded with regard to the work of the twelve apostles in Judea and nothing of their ministry to the ten tribes of Israel.
How God Operated Through Paul
Always Paul spoke of what GOD had wrought through his labors (Acts 15:12). Paul the apostle was subject to Christ, so yielded to God that Jesus could make His will known to Paul and could use him in DIRECTING the work of the Church and the preaching of the gospel. More than once Paul wanted to go one place or do one thing, but Jesus ordered otherwise (Acts 16:6). Thus we find the government of God operating through Jesus, who used THE APOSTLES AS DIRECT REPRESENTATIVES bearing His authority. Paul was not free to go and to act as he pleased. Next, in GOVERNMENT authority, we find the EVANGELISTS — Timothy, Titus, Demas, Silas and many others — who directly assisted the apostle Paul as he was directed by Christ. Paul had the AUTHORITY when necessary TO COMMAND Silas and Timothy to go wherever he designated (Acts 17:15); although in other instances when duties were NOT imperative, Paul sometimes left it to the convenience of the evangelists (I Cor. 16:12). Paul was not a dictator. Even though evangelists were next IN AUTHORITY under the apostles, next in spiritual order and above the evangelists are listed the prophets (I Cor. 12:28). Often in the Bible, "prophet" means "preacher" or "poet." But in the New Testament history there are several instances mentioned in which prophets — BOTH MEN AND WOMEN — were used to foretell by special and personal revelation from God (Acts 11:27-30, 21:9-10). They spoke and exhorted the brethren and, if men, sometimes preached, although not usually evangelistic for the purpose of raising up churches. Those who evangelized had authority over local churches, whereas THE PROPHETS HAD NO GOVERNMENT OFFICE or authority. Even in the Old Testament, where both men and women were used as prophets, none of the prophets had government authority unless they were ALSO judges. In the New Testament, the only prophets with government authority were ALSO apostles, evangelists, or elders (Acts 15:32: I Tim. 4:14). The evangelists, under the direction of Paul the apostle, preached — EVANGELIST means an announcer of good news — made converts, established local churches and appointed elders and deacons (Titus 1:5), and visited established churches (Phil. 2:19-20) WITH AUTHORITY OVER LOCAL OFFICERS (I Tim. 5:19-20). The evangelists ministered to the brethren, corrected them and encouraged them whenever and wherever it was impossible for the apostle Paul to do so personally.
Government in Local Congregations
Jesus commissioned THE APOSTLES to preach the gospel TO THE WORLD and gave them the assistance of evangelists. But He also told Peter to "feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). Peter called himself a FELLOW-ELDER (I Peter 5:1) even though he was also an apostle. Paul designated himself as a TEACHER of the Gentiles (I Tim. 2:7) though he was also an apostle. The term elder or teacher is used to designate the general office of authority IN THE LOCAL CONGREGATIONS, in which the apostles and evangelists spent part of their time. Acts 20:7 and 28 plainly prove that there were often several elders (called also "bishops" or "overseers") in a local church. It was their duty to preach, teach and rule by example, as shepherds and not lords, not for "filthy lucre" but out of love. In I Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 we find only the mention of pastors and teachers rather than bishops, elders, presbyters or overseers, BUT THEY REPRESENT THE SAME GENERAL OFFICE of authority in the local churches.
Duties of Elders
The word PASTOR means a "shepherd." He is one who tends the flock. Jesus not only is the Chief Apostle and High Priest (Hebrews 3:1), He is also the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of the Church of God (I Peter 5:4; 2:25). Peter is not the bishop of bishops. There is today — as always — only One Supreme Pastor or Shepherd over the entire Church — Jesus Christ (John 10:16). But over the local church congregations there is also a local pastor directly under the apostles and evangelists. He is the presiding elder or bishop over other elders in a local congregation. Notice that in the gathering at Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, there were MANY ELDERS in Jerusalem together with the apostles. Yet it was James — NOT one of the original twelve apostles, but the brother of Jesus — who, in the capacity of apostle AND PASTOR OF THE HEADQUARTERS CHURCH in authority over the other elders, voiced his decision (Acts 15:14). All elders must be apt to teach (I Tim. 3:2), hence they are called teachers in I Cor. 12:28 and Eph. 4:11. Elders who rule well are to be highly respected FOR THEIR works' sake, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching (I Tim. 5:17). Hence today we, too, distinguish between teaching and preaching elders. The congregations are admonished to SUBMIT to the elders (I Peter 5:5). The members do not elect and dismiss elders, nor do they vote on doctrines which the elders are to preach. Rather, elders are chosen by the apostle, or, as he directs and authorizes, by an evangelist, according to the qualifications given in the letters to Timothy and Titus. ELDERS MUST FIRST BE PROVEN before they are to be ordained by the laying on of hands with prayer and fasting (I Tim. 5:22). Thus there may be in local congregations those who are able to teach, but who must first be proven sound in the faith, even though they might "desire the office of a bishop." Here, then, is the spiritual government of God in the early Church plainly stated: The Father manifested His will to Jesus, the living Head of our Church, Who in turn manifested His will to the apostles. They in turn instructed the evangelists in carrying out the gospel. The evangelists, together with the apostles, taught the elders who presided over the local congregations. In each congregation was a presiding pastor, usually with other elders, who taught the members. There was no membership politics, no voting on church offices or doctrines. The elders RULED the local church, but WERE NOT RULED BY the congregation or lay boards.
Office of Deacon
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that BESIDE the spiritual administration, there was also a PHYSICAL administration made up of helps or helpers, usually referred to in Scripture as deacons. They were physical or material helpers, who waited on tables, did janitor work and many other physical duties related directly to the work of the Church. Philip, originally ORDAINED AS ONE OF SEVEN DEACONS to serve at tables (Acts 6:6), was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he later became an evangelist (Acts 21:8). Those deacons who helped in material duties were sometimes called "ministers " in old English usage. The apostles Barnabas and Paul had Luke and John Mark to minister to them (Acts 13:5). Today, however, the term "minister" is used to designate a pastor. Elderly women also helped in physical needs. Paul wrote to the saints at Rome: "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant [the original word means HELPER or DEACONESS]... that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she has been a succorer of many, and of myself also" (Rom. 16:1).
Offices Are Gifts of Holy Spirit
All offices in God's Church are gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is God Who created us with our natural talents and Who adds to those talents, portions of His talents through the Holy Spirit. Many of the gifts are OFFICES WITH AUTHORITY, but others are purely Spiritual gifts which belong not only TO THE MINISTRY but to others also. There are the gifts of healing and speaking and interpreting foreign languages. There are the gifts of knowledge by which TRUTH hidden for centuries is revealed, and the gifts of wisdom and of faith. All these gifts are distributed throughout: the Church as God sees fit so that He may work through the Church and GOVERN it. God, not man, decides who shall be given the responsibilities in carrying out His work.
Government in Our Church Today
Down through the ages Jesus has chosen directly those who serve in the capacity of apostles — His direct representatives bearing His authority. The world does not use the title apostle for the highest office in the Church under Christ. Instead, it has invented other lofty titles — primate, archbishop, pope, all offices of men's devising. But in our Church, the Church of God, IN WHICH THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD EXISTS TODAY, Jesus has chosen Mr. Armstrong as His direct representative, as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God to the nations of this world, as a man through whom He can work in preaching and publishing the true gospel to the whole world. Mr. Armstrong's office carries with it divine authority, backed up by the POWER OF GOD. Jesus has sent him to speak in His name and by His authority, and has given testimony to it BY THE FRUITS WHICH ONLY GOD CAN PRODUCE. When Jesus was asked by John the Baptist if He were the One who should deliver the world from its headlong plunge to destruction, Jesus told John's disciples to LOOK TO THE FRUITS — the sick were being healed, the gospel of the kingdom was being preached (Luke 7:22). It is BY THE FRUITS that we recognize the office which God has invested His direct representative. In the work of carrying the gospel to the nations, Mr. Armstrong has had to choose young men, as did the apostle Paul; and as God has given proof by their fruits, they have been ordained as ministers, with authority, ministering to local churches and serving in various other fields in our complex ministry of today when we must also use the radio and the printing press. In our local congregations today, there are elders pastoring the local flocks, and deacons and deaconesses, who serve the congregations. In every way it is the government of God. THOSE WHO ARE THE GREATEST IN AUTHORITY SERVE THE MOST. It is not a rule by the will of man, but by the will of God. The critics who THINK God's government is man's government DO NOT KNOW THE POWER OF GOD. GOD'S ministers know only too well that God will DESTROY those who seek to devour the Church by leading away disciples after them. How plain it is that GOD rules our Church. The congregations are ruled by the elders, who are ruled by the evangelists, and they are ruled by the apostle who is ruled by Christ who is ruled by God! All offices are appointive, by a superior office. It is government from GOD down to each individual member in the Church.