A Print Ready Copy
By David L. Antion
Faulty church government is as dangerous to God's Church as is false
doctrine. In fact, wrong government may be the means for false doctrine
entering the church.
Today there is a major controversy in churches and among many brethren
over governance. What does the Bible itself have to say about this subject?
Let's take a look at what the Bible says about rule, authority and government.
In the beginning God told Adam and mankind to rule over the creation.
He told us to subdue the creation. He said nothing about subduing our
fellow man. But after the flood, Nimrod rose up to subdue fellow humans
and became "a mighty hunter "before the Lord." He put
himself between the people and God. He wanted the people to look to
him as their protector instead of God. In that time a leader was the
one who was physically the most powerful. He or she was the one who
could defeat opposing forces, conquer enemies, and kill the wild animals.
The Elders of Israel
God sent Moses to the elders of Israel. Even while they were slaves
in Egypt the Israelites were organized within their tribes and had elders
representing them. Exodus 24 mentions 70 elders of Israel who saw God.
Hundreds of years later, in Ezekiel 14 & 20, Israel still had elders
Those who teach one-man rule or government from the top-down often cite
the example of Moses and how he appointed rulers of thousands, hundreds,
fifties and tens.
They quote from Exodus 18:24 "Moses listened to his father- in-law
and carried out all he had suggested; he chose able men from all Israel
and made them chiefs of the people -- leaders of thousands, of hundreds,
of fifties and of tens...."
But they either don't know about Deut. 1:12-16 or they conveniently
ignore it. "But how can I alone handle your troubles, your burdens
and your court cases? Select from your tribes men of wisdom
and understanding, men of experience, and I will appoint them to be
your rulers." (Modern Language Version). Note that
the people had a say in the selection of these men. They selected the
men. Moses then appointed their selections. This is the same selection
process that was used in Acts 6 which we shall discuss later.
How could Moses know who were the best men to be the leaders for the
people? He couldn't. He needed recommendations. That's why we read what
we did in Deut. 1:12-16.
Misunderstanding the "rebellion of Korah"
When we look at the rebellion of Korah, the rebellion was not against
the government of Moses, but it was certain Levites questioning why
God had given Aaron a position above them, that of High Priest.
Notice Moses' comments in Numbers 16:9-10, "Is it a small thing
to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation
of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the
tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation
to serve them; and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and
all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you
seeking the priesthood also?" (NKJ)
Aaron did not choose to be a priest. God chose Aaron. It was evident
what they wanted. Moses was saying: "Are you not happy that God
set all Levites apart, must you have the priesthood also."
God destroyed Korah and his followers because--(see Jude v.11) they
went the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for
reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core (Korah).
They had the wrong motives. God wasn't upset because they questioned
a regulation. Questioning regulations could be done.
Remember the daughters who complained that they were losing their father's
inheritance because there were no sons. They complained to Moses who
took their case to God.
Result: they won their case.
Power of the Elders
In I Sam 8 the elders of Israel went to Samuel asking for a king. Even
though God was not pleased with the request He continued to work with
Israel through their kings.
2 Samuel, chapters 3-5, explains how David ascended to the throne, showing
that the elders of Israel decided to make David their king. God had
anointed him years beforehand, but the elders of the people actually
put him on the throne. Read it for yourself.
Politics was also alive and well at this time in history. In 2 Samuel
15 Absalom conspired to take the throne of David. He won over the people
by standing at the gate, telling those with disputes how he would do
them justice if he were made judge. In verse 6 we are told he "stole
the hearts of the men of Israel." He won the hearts of the elders
of Israel. They backed Absalom against David. It was only when God worked
a miracle that let Absalom listen to bad advice that David regained
Later we learn of Rehoboam, who also listened to bad advice and lost
most of the kingdom. At first he had the elders of Israel with him as
advisors. Then he rejected their advice because his vanity got in the
way and he couldn't recognize wisdom when he heard it.
Rehoboam made a mistake by telling his friends what he thought before
asking for counsel. In a one man rulership there are always those who
will tell the leader what he wants to hear. So Rehoboam's friends just
gave him "confirmation" for what he wanted to do. In effect,
"tell them that your little finger: will be thicker than your father's
waist." So he rejected the advice of the elders and lost ten tribes.
The Word for "Church"
Paul was the first writer in the New Testament to use the term ekklesia
to refer to the Christian congregation (his were the earliest manuscripts
even before the Gospels were written). To a person of that day, ekklesia
referred to the assembly of full citizens in their city. All Roman cities
had their ekklesia (political assembly). If a person were not a citizen
and wanted to bring a matter to the assembly, he would have to persuade
a citizen to take the issue to the ekklesia. It was a very great privilege
to be a Roman citizen and to be able to belong to the ekklesia.
Paul called converted Christians the Ekklesia of God. Paul knew his
political rights in being a Roman Citizen and used this analogy for
the brethren. Our citizenship is in heaven, we are fellow citizens with
Christ (See Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:19; and Gal. 3:27).
Other Greek Words
Some details in the Bible are difficult to understand because of the
way it was translated. Translating is sometimes difficult. Here is an
example: part of the original meaning has been lost in the Bible regarding
the word "leader" or "ruler."
Jesus said to His disciples, "And do not be called leaders (guides
or masters); for one is your Leader, that is Christ" (Matt.23:10
The word "leader" is the Greek word "kathegetes"
and it is only used here in Matt. 23:8, 10. In the KJV it is translated
"master." But in other translations it is translated "leader"
or "guide." But this Greek word is reserved ONLY for Christ
Another word translated "leader" or "those who have the
rule," is the Greek word "hegeomai" and it has a broad
range of meanings. Among the many words translated from "hegeomai"
are "chief," "suppose," "think," "count,"
and "esteem." This word implies that those "leaders"
who are "hegeomai" are ones who are esteemed so by the congregation
and are recognized leaders not only by God but by the people.
Hebrews 13:7 tells us, "Remember them which have the rule over
you (hegeomai)..." This word refers to a guide or leader and comes
from esteem. These people were recognized or esteemed by the people
There are two other interesting Greek words related to choosing leaders.
The first is "cheirontoneo" which means "voting in the
Athenian legislative assembly (ekklesia) and meaning to stretch forth
the hands." It is used in Acts 14:23 and in 2 Cor 8:18. The second
word, "psephos" means a stone or ballot. It was a casting
stone, which meant a type of vote. It is used in Acts 26:10.
Another word used in I Thes. 5:12, is translated in the NASV like this:
"But we request of you brethren, that you appreciate those who
diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and
give you instruction."
Some people assert, "God's Government is from the top-down!"
They argue that the top person is empowered to pick the people who are
ordained and that the people are to have no say. They quote passages
from the Bible, including the Book of Acts, where the Apostles ordained
the seven deacons.
They quote Acts 6 and place heavy emphasis on the words in verse 3,
"whom we shall appoint over this duty". However, they put
little or no emphasis on the words above, when the Apostle said, "therefore,
brothers, look around for seven men among you of good reputation and
full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint for this duty..."
How should our teachers/leaders teach or lead us? We see warnings to
the disciples that the government in the Church should not be like the
government of the Gentile nations -- i.e. dictatorships (Luke 22:25).
Jesus said that those who exercise authority over the people are called
benefactors but that it should not be that way among His disciples.
The greatest should be servant of all (v.26).
Paul asked the church in Rome to "send me on my way" to Spain
(Rom. 15). This Greek word meant to send him by financing his trip and
paying his way. Paul plainly said to the Corinthians that he had "robbed
other churches by taking wages from them," for the services he
gave to the church at Corinth. He implied that the Corinthian church
should have paid its own way for spiritual services.
Paul commanded the Corinthian congregation to avoid fellowship with
the man who was living with his father's wife (stepmother). Paul told
the Thessalonian congregation that they should get to work rather than
doing nothing except for idly talking about the end of the world. He
even wrote to that church, "He that does not work, neither shall
he eat." But to find out how Paul talked to an individual read
the book of Philemon. Paul is tactful, caring and artful in his words
Lording It Over the Flock
The New Testament warns that elders should not "lord it over the
flock" (I Pet. 5:3). It also warns that they must be "easy
to be entreated" or easy to approach and talk to and to be reasoned
2 Cor. 11:20 Paul chided the Corinthians, "For ye suffer, if a
man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you,
if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face."
A minister has no right to impose his will over you. How did the apostle
Paul exercise his rule (leadership)? By example, leadership, exhortation,
teaching, directing, showing and education. How much authority does
the church leadership need? Do we need someone to tell us what to do?
Are we not all brothers in the church? God works with each of us. An
elder was to be the bearer and deliverer of biblical truth. His authority
lies solely in the importance of what he says. Authority must lie in
the power of truth, not in title or person.
Members need to put those who call themselves "apostles" to
the test, like the Ephesus Church did in Rev. 2:2. And they need to
"prove all things," like the Bereans (Acts. 17:11). We need
knowledgeable brethren, who know the Bible. We need to recognize that
all members are responsible for the well being of their church organization.
Ministers need to yield to members who have more expertise than they
do in certain areas. For instance, if a member works in advertising,
he or she probably knows more than the minister how to purchase, formulate,
and design ads. In this case it would be wise for the minister to accept
It has been said that some men have been ordained who had little Bible
knowledge; who were not servant oriented; and who had little love for
the brethren. In many churches with "authority from the top-down,"
deacons and elders were selected who served and catered to those above
them. These men and women often were not selected because they served
the people "below" them. This is just backwards from the way
it should be!
In the New Testament times, did all ordinations take place in Jerusalem?
Were all monies sent to "headquarters" at Jerusalem? Did local
churches have their own funds?
Central Church Control?
Why did Paul take up a collection in the Gentile churches for the "poor
saints in Jerusalem?" If Jerusalem was the headquarters and had
all the money - why was a collection even needed?
We don't have evidence of central church control. When God started working
with Paul, he didn't go up to Jerusalem for three years. (Gal. 1:15-16)
Ordinations were not controlled through Jerusalem. In Acts 13 the prophets
and teachers at Antioch not Jerusalem, were told by the Holy Spirit
to separate Paul and Barnabas and send them away. Acts 14:23 shows Paul
and Barnabas ordaining elders in every church.
Why were the seven churches in the province of Asia so different? They
were contemporary and were just 20 to 30 miles from each other. Nevertheless,
the Ephesus church rejected the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, while Pergamos
members accepted it. One church was in the midst of fornication and
following a false prophetess, while others were willing to be martyred
for their faith. How could these local churches have been so different
if they had the same centralized government ruling over them?
Christ was upset that the Church at Pergamos put up with the Nicolaitans.
The word Nicolaitans is formed from two Greek words. The first, Nikos
is defined as a conquest, victory, triumph, the conquered. The second,
laos, can mean laity. The meaning could be that the bishops of the church
have gained victory or conquest over the laity.
We are all called to be a part of the Royal Priesthood, all members
are to be kings and priests, not just the ministry. See I Pet. 2:9 and
Rev. 5:10. We all may enter the Holy of Holies in prayer to God, (Heb.
10:19-22). Our bodies are the temple of God, (1 Cor. 3:17). There is
only one mediator between us and God, Jesus Christ, (I Tim. 2:5).
There is "leadership" in the Church through the respected
elders. We see another Greek word used for "those who have ruled
well" and it is from the word "proistemi." This word
merely means to "preside, or stand in front of as a leader."
There is a limit to any and all authority except that of God Himself.
An elder does not have the right or the authority to tell you to change
jobs, where to move, what kind of car to drive, clothes to wear, etc.
These are clearly OUTSIDE his capacity as an overseer of the flock.
Please, seek advice from those who know. If the minister has special
knowledge of cars, then ask his advice. If others in the congregation
are more knowledgeable in a particular field, seek their advice. But
make your own decision.
There is a tendency to go to extremes. Some have felt that since the
ministry has no absolute power, that there is no authority at all vested
in the ministry by New Testament Scripture. This is simply not so. If
this were the case why would Peter warn the elders not to lord it over
the flock (1 Peter 5)? Paul exercised great authority to protect the
Brethren of the congregation in Corinth (1Cor. 5). He rebuked them for
their conduct on the night of the Passover/Lord's Supper (1Cor. 11).
Today's church leadership should be determined by such things as knowledge
and the ability to work with, inspire and motivate people. Wisdom, the
ability to make appropriate decisions based on available information,
is another factor in leadership. These qualities of leadership were
present in the New Testament Church, along with the fruit of the Spirit.
Combine all of the above with the knowledge and reverence of Scripture,
love for and obedience to our Lord, Jesus Christ, a love for and desire
to serve the brethren, and you have the most essential qualities of
Church government should be there to promote love in the brethren, peace
in the congregation, and to keep evil and sins out of the congregation.
When it goes beyond and invades people's lives, shrivels people and
makes them smaller, rather than encourages people to grow bigger, then
it becomes destructive. Then it is not in accordance with the purposes
that we find in the New Testament.
Taken from Guardian Ministries