How is the Church governed? – April 7, 2024

Acts 6:1-7

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

 How is the Church governed? We have already seen in recent weeks how Christians gather in local churches where they are committed to a group of believers to do life, ministry, and all that God has commanded the Church to do together. How are those local churches governed? First, it is important to understand that church government is biblical. Local churches had structure, leaders, etc. Next, it is important to understand three spiritual realities that church government must uphold and reflect. First, Christ is the head of the Church and is therefore the One in charge of every local church (Colossians 1:18). Every local church is directly accountable to Christ and not to a hierarchy, institution, or individual. Second, the body of Christ is One (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Every local church is called to come together to act together in unity. Third, believers are priests unto God (1 Peter 2:9). Every believer has a person relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The biblical model of church government that honors these spiritual truths is congregational government, or government by the congregation.

What is congregational government? Acts 6:1-7 brings us to a critical point in the early Church as the Church continued to grow. With that growth came new challenges that required adaptation. In this passage, we see pastoral leadership from the apostles and we see a congregation coming together to make decisions to solve problems and fulfill their ministry responsibilities. Congregational government is that the individual members of the local church come together to make decisions and appoint people who will carry out various tasks and ministries as needs arise under the leadership and direction of a pastor or group of pastors. The voting of every member demonstrates the spiritual reality of the priesthood of all believers in that local church. The coming together of the individual members demonstrates the unity of the body of Christ. The submission to follow pastoral leadership and apostolic teaching found in Scripture demonstrates the headship of Christ. God has given church government, not as a burden to be served, but as a tool to be used for protecting certain things in the life of the body. There are three things protected by healthy church government that are found in Acts 6:1-7.

First, in church government, God protects the unity of the body. The issue that arises in verse one is described as a “murmuring” which means to complain, whisper, or complain in private. The Greek word is the same one used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) to describe the grumbling and complaining of the Israelites against God in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2, 26-27). The issue that was complained about was that Hellenistic (Greek speaking Jews) widows were being neglected in the distribution of help from the apostles. The issue that is raised is a legitimate one, but was not handled by the members of the Hellenistic crowd in a God-honoring way. The complaints should have been taken straight to the apostles rather than other members of the church. This type of complaining, done behind the scenes and not to leadership, is murmuring and Philippians 2:14 tells us, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” When the apostles became aware of the issue, they called the church together, because the unity of the body was under attack. Church government is given by God to protect that unity and that is exactly what is accomplished here in the verses to follow.

Second, in church government, God protects the ministry of the body. The issue the church faced was that they had grown to the point of over extending the apostles in their responsibilities. Up until this point, the apostles had handled the distribution of benevolence offerings that were brought to them. The church had grown from 120 in Acts 1 to over 3,000 in Acts 2. Then, an additional 5,000 in Acts 3-4 are added alongside the ongoing growth of the church. Some estimate that the church in Jerusalem had grown to over 20,000 people by this point and the twelve apostles were no longer able to manage all of the needs and give adequate time to their primary ministry of studying to preach and teach the Word. The apostles bring the church together to instruct them to appoint “seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” and the church chose the first seven deacons. It is important to note that the men who were chosen already fit the qualities given. The consistent forms of the word diakonos (servant) lead us to believe that this passage gives us the calling of the first deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). They were not made deacons, they were already “deaconing.” The ministry, which was a necessary one in the care of widows, was protected.

Lastly, we see that church government protects the testimony of the church. The seven men are chosen and put forward. Based upon their names, they are all Hellenistic Jews because they had Greek names. This means that the church decided that those who had the complaint and the need would meet the need and solve the issue. The need was met, the division was dealt with, and the testimony of the church was protected. Through this, the Word of God was faithfully preached by the apostles and the church continued to grow.

Church government is given as a valuable help in God’s plan for the local church so that the church may preserve its unity, ministries, and testimony. The ultimate test of whether church government is a help or hindrance is if it serves to guard these three things and serves to make visible the three spiritual realities mentioned earlier. The key to it all is a mutual submission in love and humility under the Lordship of Christ (Philippians 2:1-4).  We must ask ourself concerning our part: “Am I surrendered to God’s will?” “Am I submitted to Christ as a member of His body?”