Church polity is as defined by Chad Owen Brand and R. Stanton Norman’s in their Perspectives on Church Government is “how churches organize and administrate themselves.” Church polity is something that I believe is often overlooked by your typical church member. If it is even a concern to them at all once entering into fellowship with a church. Our understanding of how a church is governed is vital in the health of the believer as well as the health of the body of believers. These days it may not seem to be the case. The role of church government is either far too traditional and outdated. Or Christians are unaware of its biblical purpose. Some may see it as a hindrance or that it would be too divisive. But these questions need to be asked: who handles church discipline? who holds the pastor accountable? who oversees the health of the church? More importantly, how has God instructed us to structure our church? Since He has are we doing everything we can going to His Word seeking to honor Him with how we “organize and administrate” the local church?
When I was in high school I joined my first church. I was baptized in as a member after I went forward to the altars. I didn’t know what joining meant. All I knew was that it was important and it signified that I was a committed person to the church.(Partly because my dad and mom were members at a church across the street) As I have grown up my understanding of what it means to be a church member has increased as I’ve study the Scriptures. There are a lot of duties as a 16-year old kid that I took for granted. I was one of the few youth who showed up to the business meetings, but never followed through with my role. It wasn’t until I started reading through Timothy, and Titus that I realized that the business of the church was of great concern to God. About my sophomore year in college I started reading more about church polity. After an internship in Baltimore, reading through some 9marks books, and recalling my time at the Reformed Presbyterian church, and talking with some likeminded brothers. I decided that the church I had joined when I was 16 wasn’t (in small ways) the church that I saw as a fully New Testament instructed church. It was a gospel-minded, Christ crucified preaching, evangelical church, but deacons acted as elders. Therefore I didn’t see how church discipline and regenerative membership could be handled appropriately. (To this day some of my greatest friends and friends of my family serve there and because of that body of believers I have grown in my faith through their encouragement, support, and love.)
You’ve heard the saying that there is no perfect church. This saying is correct. One day when God calls His church back to Himself then we will be His perfect Bride, but until that day comes we are sinners needing daily grace. And He gives that to us. But this gives us no excuse to be relaxed when it comes to studying the Scriptures and studying our churches to see if both line up. I haven’t really been in ministry as some would call being in ministry, but I have been a faithful active member of my church for 3 years. I work a full-time job, married to a gracious wife, hopefully an honorable son to my parents, and part-time seminary student. But I don’t think these things or really anything gives me any excuse or reason that you or I shouldn’t care about the state of our church. Usually discussions about the health of the church are only supposed to be brought up in committee meetings by the churches staff. Or these types of talks are for those headed into ministry. I would disagree and say that the health of the church is for the congregation. God didn’t give instructions secretly for the elders, pastors, or deacons only. No, He included it in the Bible for us to read and obey too!
The hardest thing today about caring for the way the church ought to be organized is that it is not some type of church growth tool or gimmick. It won’t attract people. It is not something that will probably increase your attendance on Sunday and make your budget bigger for next year so you can get a new banner for Easter. Church polity should be established and is important because Gods people are important. More so God desires it and we ought to be about glorifying Him. How do we do that? We seek to honor Him in how we function as a church. We look into His word and see what leadership positions He has specifically ordained for the church. We look at what types of leaders He desires, and why He excludes certain people from leadership roles. We then look to His Son our Savior and see how He has taught us to manage the church.
If you do not not have concerns about your church you might need to ask yourself if you know your church at all. Why do they function they way they do? Why is the leadership setup the way it is? Who makes the decisions? Who handles the finances? Who has God given to your church to oversee the health of you and your family? Why has He designed it this way? Would your church be considered healthy according to what God says in His word?
These are questions worth considering as you look at churches or as you examine your own. College students are pouring in to Arkansas Tech University already and the ones who claim to be Christians; some are not able to know what to look for in a healthy church. Most Christians in America probably won’t be in church when they head for their college campus because they were taught how to handle relationships with the opposite sex, how to stay away from drinking, a silly game, or why they needed to stay around Christians instead of how to defend their faith, or the importance of the local church. That is why college ministry is setup so they have a place of their own to go to instead of finding refuge in God who tells them to find a fellowship of believers who He has designed to take care of His sheep. As a child we had sheep. We raised about 15 ewes and 1 ram. The sheep would try to get out into the cow pasture and it was mine and my dads job to watch after them. As sheep do sheep things they would try to get into the cow pasture with the cows. Cows can handle coyotes or stray dogs without the help of my dad or I. But sheep are frail animals. They have skinny legs. They can’t run fast and lack endurance. They are dumb. I think that is why Jesus used this imagery when talking with His disciples and others about Him being the Good Shepherd. He knows we need leaders to look after us. He has designed sheep to stay in the sheepfold. I am not against allowing sheep to be in the cow pasture. Actually I remember having the responsibility to close the gate that separated the sheep pen from the cow pasture in the evenings before dark. This was to keep the sheep safe. We also had watch dogs who kept the sheep in line.
I am not saying that if your church doesn’t have a plurality of elders it is going to die. But I would ask you to consider the New Testament church. Since the Word of God is inerrant and the truth that lies within is timeless that should give us enough reason to consider the church it describes. I challenge you to take a look at your churches statement of faith, church covenant, the history of your churches denomination, and being asking your church leadership questions as you study what God desires of His church in the Bible. You may be surprised on what really matters when it comes to the local church. It may not be how many musicians are on stage, how many graduate degrees does the pastor have, doe this church have a stellar nursery or youth program. But is this a healthy functioning church? If it is their Christians are most likely healthy too.
Some Scriptures to lookup: Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 1:8, 2 Timothy 4:3, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Acts 20:17-38, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 1 Peter 5:1-4 and Titus 1:5-9.