1 Corinthians 12:27-31
October 22, 2017
Have you ever thought about why we govern our church in the way we govern our church? I mean, there are lots of different approaches to church governments out there.
For example, if you grew up in a Baptist church, you pretty much grew up in a context where the church was governed much like a confederacy. They don’t even call themselves a denomination, but “convention” is the term that they use. It is a context where each local church is almost entirely autonomous, like states are in a confederate system of government. Each church sets its own standards, chooses its own qualifications for calling and ordaining their pastors, and about the only thing that unites them that is beyond question is their commitment to immersion baptism.
Personally, I grew up in a methodist church where there is more of a federal system of government. Instead of being a bottom-up government like the baptists, it is more top-down, with the denomination setting the standards for the church government and their pastors — even assigning pastors to churches as the church leaders see fit.
In the PCA, in which I was ordained, and with whom we share a lot of events, there is a kind of middle approach between these two systems of government. They hold to a grass-roots system, where the individual churches control the denomination in principle, but whose form of government and standards for a pastoral call are set by the denomination and presbyteries, though the churches call their own pastors.
This, by the way, is very similar to how the old German Evangelical Protestant and German Evangelical Reformed churches practiced church government…the movements, of course, which Pastor Winter (our founding pastor) was a part of.
Some of you grew up in a Lutheran context where, not unlike the Methodist church, there is more of a federal system of government, or top-down rule. This, by the way, in terms of Church government is called an “episcopal” form of government (not to be confused with the Episcopal church).
I suppose that the ultimate form of the top-down rule can be found in the Roman Catholic model, that acts much like a Monarchy, with the Pope as its king. Yet, even the Pope is elected by a College of Cardinals, so it is still technically a form of an Episcopacy, but when you see the Bishops and other officials bowing and kissing the ring of the Pope, a practice tied toward showing fealty to a king, the monarchial system is visible.
So, why do we govern the way we do and not like some of the others? Does it even matter?
Ultimately, it might surprise some of you to hear me say that Biblically, the church is to be governed as a monarchy…but not a monarchy with the Pope or another human on the throne, a Monarchy with Christ on the throne — a Theocracy.
Check out Hebrews 1:8 or 1 Timothy 6:15 to see the language of Christ’ reigning not only over the world, but most specifically over his church.
And, since King Jesus has given us his instructions in the Scriptures, we do not need a hierarchy of human advisors (like a human King or the Pope has) to get access to Christ our King. He also hears our prayers (1 John 5:14-15) and lives to make intercession for us with the Father (Hebrews 7:25), meaning that he responds to our prayers.
This creates a context where there is a sovereign king (Jesus) and lots of little states (churches or denominations) under his direct kingly rule. So, in the ultimate sense, there is a monarchy in the life of the church…and just as a King’s word must be obeyed by the people or bad things happen, so too, the people of the church must be in submission to the Word of the King…the Word of Jesus found in the Bible.
That still leaves open the question of how the human leaders govern over the local church. Now, there is some room for debate here; there are lots of forms of local church government, some good and some not so. Yet, we know some things about church government that are absolutely true:
1) Having Elders and Deacons is a non-negotiable.
The scriptures give clear qualifications for these two offices. We can find them in 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9; and Acts 6:1-7. Also, Paul instructs Titus to appoint Elders in every town (implying that every church and community should have Elders within for good government). Further, the word that Paul uses for “appoint” implies an election by the people of the church, not a direct appointment by Titus himself. Finally, the Deacons are present to focus on the pastoral care of the church so that the Elders can focus on the ministry of Word and Prayer.
2) We also know that the Bible speaks in terms of other offices in the life of the church.
Ephesians 4:11 speaks of Evangelists (we would call these missionaries today) and the passage we read this morning speaks of Apostles and Prophets (which are special or extraordinary offices through whom God gave us his Word and with the Canon closed, those offices have ceased.
In addition, it also speaks of teachers, helpers, and administrators — or at least of those with these spiritual gifts.
In the context of our passage this morning, Paul is writing of the gifts that the Spirit gives to the church, which included (in Paul’s day) miracles, healing, tongues, and prophesy. Yet again, as these were to testify to the authority of the Apostles’ message, they too have ceased to be normative with the close of Canon. Look to the book of Acts. While the miraculous is dominant in the early chapters, by the time we get to the Council of Jerusalem and beyond (Acts 15 onward), and we see the Elders taking the leadership role in the church, the miraculous is dominantly replaced with the ordinary preaching of the Word and the testimony of the believer.
So, we can conclude that there are other roles that can be considered offices in the Christian church as necessity arises.
Now, this leads to a debate within Reformed circles. The Scottish Reformed church (Presbyterians) argued that because God only provides qualifications for the Elder and the Deacon, these then are the only two offices formally to be in the church. They further argue that those with the gifts of teaching, helping, or administrating are specialized forms of the Elder or of the Deacon.
The Continental Reformed church (whether Dutch, Hungarian, German, Swiss, or Huguenot) disagreed. They argued that while the Elder and Deacon are normative, other offices could be recognized based on the language of scripture.
Thus, Calvin’s church, in Geneva, recognized four offices: Pastor, Elder, Deacon, Evangelist.
Ursinus in Heidelberg, argued for a 5-office view: Elders, Teachers, Governors (we would call them Trustees), Deacons, and Evangelist.
The German Reformed church in America recognized 4 offices, Pastor, Teacher (we would call a Seminary Professor), Elder, and Deacon.
In the end, the debate persists. I began my ministry in the PCA, which articulates a 2-office view, though in practice it distinguishes between a Ruling Elder and a Teaching Elder…some call this a 2½ office view… But now I serve in a Continental model with a 4-office view (Pastor, Elder, Deacon, Trustee). Both models have their strengths and weaknesses, but I think I can make a scriptural argument for both.
Over the past two weeks we have talked about the Elder and the Deacon. That leaves us with the offices of the Pastor and the Trustee left for our consideration.
The word “pastor” simply means “shepherd” in Latin. So, a pastor is one who shepherds or guides people. So, whether you see the Pastor as a specialized Elder as the presbyterians do or as a separate office as the continentals do, my focus in this series is the Elected Church Council…and as pastor, while I am an advisory member of Council, I am not a voting member, so this morning, I want to focus on the office of Trustee, which I would argue is an outworking of the gift of Administration that Paul mentions in our text.
The Greek word in question that we translate as “administration” is actually a nautical term (Paul spent enough time on boats that this should not be surprising to us). The word refers to the man who steered the ship. Notice, this is not a reference to the captain of the ship, but to the pilot — the one who is under the Captain’s orders but whose responsibility it is to keep the ship afloat amidst the rocks and storms of the sea. In the New Testament, when used apart from this passage, it is translated as “pilot” or “helmsman.”
It should be noted that even the Greek philosopher, Plato, writing about 400 years before Paul, used this term in his classic, The Republic, to describe the group of people who kept unity and accord within the government and society.
The term also is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament 3 times…Proverbs 1:5; 11:14; 24:6…and in each case it refers to someone who offers thoughtful counsel about earthly matters…but not counsel on a personal level so much as it is counsel for organizations or governments. Thus, the guidance given should be seen as institutional — as one commentator put it, “statesmanship” more so than “leadership.”
As you move then, into the early first century church, this term began to be applied to people who provided structural support for the institution of the church.
Hence, many years later, when churches in American were being established and having to handle real property (unlike in Europe where most of the property was owned by the state and maintained through taxes), the church established the office of the Trustee based on this idea of the Administrator or Helmsman from 1 Corinthians.
And thus, the primary charge to the Trustee is twofold.
1) Caring for, maintaining, and developing the church’s property in such a way that it can be used for its commissioned purpose.
2) Administrating this institution in such a way the the organization of the church runs smoothly — paying the bills, handling relationships between the church and government, preserving minutes of official activities and actions taken, and otherwise laboring for the peace and purity of the church in this world while developing strategies to use our property in a way consistent with our mission.
In a practical sense, it is the Trustees doing their job well that permits…
— The Pastor to focus on preaching, teaching, and caring for the sick and dying
— the Elder to focus on the spiritual oversight, discipline, and discipleship of the congregation
— and the Deacon to focus on the mercy ministries of the church
Or, to use Paul’s analogy of the body of Christ, where Christ is the head…
—with the pastor serving as its mouth
— the Elders as its eyes (in oversight)
— the Deacons as hands and feet, engaging in ministry
— the Trustees then function like the skeletal structure, providing form so that movement and work is possible in the body
Bodies, too have many systems and organs, these being reflected in committees and specific ministries of the church…and the Holy Spirit as the nervous system keeping the body in communication with the head.
And there you have the government of our church, laboring to keep our church (the whole and the individuals) in conformity with the will of our King…King Jesus.