We left off our last study by pointing out that one of the privileges of being a member of a church is that members are able to vote upon church matters of authority (Acts 6:5). The government of a true church is 'members only.' There are different views of church authority today, but as seems to be always true-only one Biblical. Some believe in episcopal authority where authority is in a man, bishop, or pope. Some believe in Presbyterian authority where the authority is in a council or presbytery. Then there are Baptist.
Some believe in a headquarters in Nashville or Springfield. Others believe the authority is totally in a pastor who is led of God and all are to blindly follow. Some believe in a board within the church making decisions (deacons, trustees, staff). There are many views and books and philosophies, but WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
First, a true church inwardly is a Theocracy. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. God is the Final Authority. Each individual should recognize the sovereignty of God. How does God reveal His will to the church? Through His Word! God's Word is truly the mind of Christ. (John 1:1) As a church, we are to be of one mind in unity (1 Peter 3:8; Eph. 4). A Pastor's responsibility is the teach Truth (Word of God) so that members can perfect (mature) and have the mind of Christ. Consider the following in Ephesians 4:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
When a church is taught Truth, it will have the mind of Christ. The church having the mind of Christ can pray concerning any matter and will be led of the Lord through His Word to make decisions. Truly, a church is a theocracy inwardly speaking.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Eph. 5:23
Outwardly, the church would be seen as a democracy. The form of government of a local church is congregational. It was upon visiting a Baptist church that Thomas Jefferson would state that its government was the only pure democracy that existed in the world at that time and that it would be the best form of government for the American colonies. The authority for governing a New Testament church rests in the congregation-the people. No one man has authority over a group of churches or several churches. No church as authority over another church. Though the pastor has authority as an under shepherd, this authority is to lead, feed, and heed the church. As written above, his responsibility is to teach the Mind of Christ (His Word) so that a church can make proper decisions.
This is taught throughout Scripture. For example, the nomination and election of Matthias was by the local church in Acts 1:15-26). The first deacons were chosen by the church (Acts 6:2-3). Paul and Barnabus were chosen and sent out by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3).
Each member is entitled to one vote as he feels God is leading him and the church abides by the opinion of the majority. If a pastor is fulfilling his ordained role as a perfector of the saints, this system of government works as God intended. Churches vote on matters of officers, elections, rolls, discipline, order, practices, finances, and service.
Even in Baptist churches, some will argue this by using Acts 4:35, 37, 5:2 where offerings were laid at the apostle's feet. This was not referring to a designation of authority, but rather to a geographic location. Offerings were laid there at the apostle's feet. Today at our church, offerings are laid in a plate that men pass. In other churches (more Scriptural?) offerings are laid in foyer in a box, in plate on platform, etc. The church has the authority! When we begin to put the authority in a man (even a good man) we head down a road the Catholics blazed centuries before us, and trust me we don't want to go down that road.
It is the church that has the authority to baptize, observe the supper, discipline, distribute monies, send missionaries, and add or release members. This is true church government.