A brief survey of the current scene
- The bishop rules
Certainly, the true Church has only one Bishop who is Head over all. This position is reserved for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is Creator and Redeemer for His people. His prophetic word governs all our actions. His atoning work reconciles us to the Holy Father. And since His resurrection, He sits exalted and enthroned, leading as King over all. Every knee will bow to Him. And every tongue will confess that He is Lord. He is the Chief Bishop of our souls.
The Greek word in the Bible for “bishop” is episcopos, also translated as overseer. Under Jesus Christ in the New Testament, there were strong bishops like Peter, James, Paul, and Titus. In the early church, through their pious examples and their command of the biblical tradition, bishops ruled in cities and even whole regions. The Roman Catholic Church elevated the Bishop in Rome to overseeing the universal Roman Church. Eventually, the Eastern Orthodox Church broke from the Roman papacy but retained Bishop authorities. You will observe strong bishop authority among Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and United Methodists. Pastors have bosses to whom they give an account. Each pastor will have their pastor overseeing them. Bishops will install local ministers in local congregations. As an aside, the members of local LDS wards do not pick and vote who will be the next Bishop of their ward for a seven year term. This comes through a higher LDS Authority delivering the message of that “calling” to the new Bishop.
- The elders rule
Throughout Jewish history in the Old Testament and New Testament, there existed a religious governing body of elders. You see this from the Pentateuch all the way to the start of the Church in the book of Acts. Elders were established in synagogues. In the book of Acts, elders would be appointed to minister in local congregations. Elders would be the guardians of biblical truth and warn against false doctrine. In the book of James, elders would gather to pray for the sick.
The Greek word for “elder” is presbyteros. The elders are the ruling body of faithful men who provide the spiritual oversight of the church. The elders vote among themselves for the spiritual direction of the local congregation. The elders self-perpetuate the ongoing existence and rule of future elders. This form of government can be seen in Presbyterian and certain community Bible churches.
- The congregation rules
When you place your faith in Jesus Christ, you become a son of God. The Holy Spirit indwells you. You are able to cry, “Abba, Father”. All members of Christ’s Church are priests, namely it is to be taught as the priesthood of all believers. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” I Peter 2:9. “And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” Revelation 1:6 (cf. 5:10).
So the beauty of congregationalism is that the whole church family moves together as one voice in glorifying God through evangelism and sending forth missionaries, in maintaining and guarding the faith, in receiving and disciplining fellow members, and in selecting the Lord’s servants.
- Hamstrings the pastor’s leadership
- Church splits
Spiritual authority is given to the congregation. There can be demonstrated from scripture a polity of congregational authority. Jesus is building His Church, and the gates of the hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). We can see congregations expressing spiritual authority through the following six ways:
- Congregational discipline
- “Morever if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses even to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” – Matthew 18:15-17.
- “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (verse 4)” – I Corinthians 5:1-5.
- “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” – I Timothy 5:20.
- Congregational control of ordinances
- I Corinthians 11
- Congregational choosing of servants
- “And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, who they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them (verse 5)” – Acts 6:1-7
- Congregational involvement with missionaries
- “Now in the church that was at Antioch there certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” – Acts 13:1-3.
- “Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” – Acts 14:27.
- Congregational involvement in doctrine
- “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question” – Acts 15:1-3.
- “Then in pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, name Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this, letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings” – Acts 15:22, 23.
- “As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” – Galatians 1:9.
- “exhorting you to earnestly contend for the faith” – Jude 3
- Congregational involvement in financial offerings
- “And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem” – I Corinthians 16:3.
- “And not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind” – 2 Corinthians 8:19. “If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ” (verses 23).