Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 24, 1951

Church Government

C. D. Crouch, Trumann, Arkansas

In all groups of men, all societies, all corporations, and all governments, it is necessary that some recognized authorities exist in the same that the group or society may function orderly, and thereby serve the purpose for which it exists.

In democracies such authorities exist by the suffrage of the constituents; in monarchies by the appointment of the king. In an absolute monarchy the authority of government inheres in the monarch. In democracies the foundation principle is, that the right of government is derived from the consent of the governed—that is, the right of self-government inheres in the people.

The church of our Lord was founded on no such principle. On the contrary, the right of Christ to rule, absolutely, is asserted; he demands absolute submission, and any assertion of the right of self-government in his kingdom is treason against the King of heaven. In his kingdom human beings have no right to legislate. His will is law. And until a man is willing to deny himself (that is, acknowledge that he has no right to rule himself) and submit completely to the will of Christ, it is impossible for that man to enter into the kingdom or government of Christ.

The church of Christ is an absolute monarchy. This truth is acknowledged, theoretically, almost universally. Christ is King. He is "head over all things to the church." All authority in heaven and earth is vested in him. If this truth were recognized, actually and practically, instead of only theoretically, by all who claim to be followers of Christ, all ground for diversions, sects, and parties in religion, would be eliminated.

The first departure from Christ is the assumption of the right of self-government. The most of the ecclesiasticisms that exist today, acknowledge theoretically, that Christ has "all authority," and in operation, they are democracies. Hence we have the spectacle of "General Assemblies," "Synods," "Presbyteries" and "Councils," where men legislate, deliberate, and form rules and make laws to regulate and govern the lives of those who are, or would become members of the various ecclesiasticisms. Of course such things did not spring into existence, full-grown, overnight. They are the result of many small departures from Christ and from his authority, which have been growing through the years, in fact through centuries.

All such ecclesiasticisms are human institutions. They have no authority from heaven to exist. The authority they exercise is an assumed authority. And the foundation assumption upon which they have all grown is the right of self-government. In the remote past that assumption was asserted haltingly, and at first only in a limited way. But the magnitude of present day ecclesiasticisms is the outgrowth of the assumption of the right of self-rule. The very lives of members of all such institutions are thus regulated by human wisdom, and to that extent the wisdom of God has been supplanted with "the wisdom of men."

The church of our Lord is a divine institution. All its appointments are from him. "All authority in heaven and on earth hath been given unto" him. Any church therefore, in which the Christ is not the absolute ruler, is not a church of Christ.

He rules through his word. And as his appointments are honored and his word is respected and obeyed, the church honors him. He has ordained that elders be appointed in every church; that the elders should "rule," "tend the flock," "feed" the church of the Lord, "exercise the oversight according to the will of God." All these statements define the duties of the elders or overseers in the churches. The qualifications specified in the New Testament as prerequisites to the appointment clearly spell the ability to exercise the oversight of the "flock." It is also worthy of note that a plurality of overseers should be appointed in every church. It is also as clear as a sunbeam in mid-day that their authority as overseers extends not beyond the membership of the congregation where they are overseers. When a group of elders therefore assumes the "oversight" of something or somebody off in a distant state or a distant nation, they are not acting by the authority of Christ as overseers of the church where they were appointed to serve. And yet, we see quite frequently reports in the papers where "Elders of the church at Podunk" have assumed the oversight of the work in Maine or Michigan or somewhere else. Such statements are not only untrue, it would be utterly and physically impossible for such to be true—elders simply cannot "exercise the oversight" of a work at such long range. A church can send a preacher to a distant place and support him, but if he doesn't have Bible information and sense enough to do the work under Christ, then the church just made a mistake in sending him to do the work. The elders of a church hundreds of miles away can not possibly "oversee nor direct the work for him. It is physically impossible. Their authority to "oversee" simply does not extend beyond the church where they are appointed.

All the authority that elders have as overseers in the congregations is given them by the Lord himself, through his word. No authority inheres in them as men, or as Christians, and they are specifically forbidden to rule "as lords over the charge allotted" them. The duties imposed upon them are duties imposed by the Lord.

The authority of oversight in the churches does not inhere in the churches. The authority of the elders to oversee the flock is not therefore derived in any sense or to any degree from the church. All the authority they have is from the Lord. There is not the slightest hint in the Bible that the church is a democracy, and should therefore conduct its affairs on democratic principles. There is no authority in the Bible for a church to vote on receiving members, withdrawing from disorderly members, selecting elders, selecting a preacher, setting aside baptisms as a condition of pardon, authorizing the "elders" to become a board of overseers for something that is outside of the membership of the church where they are overseers, or anything else.

This all too prevalent practice of "kangaroo court" procedure in administering the affairs of the congregation, which God has put into the hands of the elders, is in fact a rejection of the wisdom of God. I have long been convinced that such procedure in the churches is encouraged and maintained by preachers who are politicians, and who use political methods and tricks to maintain a "majority" in their favor. It can exist only in churches that have no elders, or where the elders are merely figureheads. The practice is not only at variance with the New Testament in teaching that it sets aside the authority of the elders, delegated unto them by he Lord, and nullifies the divine injunction to "obey them that have the rule over you;" it substitutes the opinions of men for the wisdom of God. It is a splendid means of developing factions in the churches. And only where such conditions exist can the "one man pastor'' system flourish.

I know of nothing in the Bible that would prohibit the elders from conferring with any or all members of the congregation about any matter that is vital to the interests of the church. It seems to me that to do so is a splendid way to keep the members interested in the work of the Lord, to develop them, and to maintain unity in the church. And I think this can be done without destroying God's appointments and making the church a democracy.

We should all seriously consider the influence that was exerted on the church by the political concepts of Pagan Rome in the early departures from the simplicity of the truth. And be it remembered always that Papal Rome is but the culmination of that influence. Papal Rome is but the counterpart of Pagan Rome. The organization of both is after the same pattern. And Papal Rome is a far cry from the simple New Testament local congregation.