What type of church government is biblical? Where does the pastor "fit in"?
I. What types of church government is out there and why
Let's start out by briefly reviewing the different types of church government, why they came about, and what is wrong with them.
A. Catholicism: Nicolaitan Government
I don't have the time, desire, no space to review the origin and perversion of the Catholic church (and it is extensive), but in the present discussion it is very important to come to grips with our past. Very simply, the Catholic church is what the true church became a couple of hundred years after the Apostles. Even in the time of the Apostles, we find most all of the epistles to the churches were to straighten out doctrinal error, and conduct that was incorrect.
The church grew, and as it spread, pastors of churches became greedy. They not only managed to arrange things such that they had dictatorial powers over their own church, they wanted this same power and control over other churches. This is when the concept of bishop was changed from its biblical meaning of overseer of a single flock or church, to mean something else. The early precursors of Catholicism extended the power of a single bishop to include control and power over many churches. At that point there was a crucial shift in the biblical structure of churches.
Instead of a capable man of God that could defend the church against error and make sure the work of God gets done the way God wanted it, these power brokers sought to place puppets in the administrative and working (preaching) positions of these churches. These puppets had one real requirement, "tow the line". That means do what the bishop over their area told them to do. Instead of dealing with real spiritual problems of the people, these puppets dealt with the problems that the bishops had, maintaining their control, influence, power, and always a strong undercurrent of financial benefit for the bishops.
This thing has morphed a thousand ways and always is the same.
Today we have denominations which seek to do the same thing. Christian Universities, church fellowships, church Christian camp fellowship, ministry related fellowships, everything you can think of, but the idea is the same: keep others under our control, influence, and power. Everything also revolves around money. Universities get students (think $10,000 income/student/year). Camps get income from monthly support as a "missionary" (which is not missions). Other ministries get financial support, workers, etc.
Revelation 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
We (Bible scholars) have no idea who the Nicolaitans are. There is no record of any group existing with this name. There were some Nicolas' but none that really would warrant a group or following after him. The etymology (linguistic composition) of the word comes from two words, to dominate + people. Many Bible scholars think this greatly hated group is not a specific group but a doctrinal view or position or practice. These are the dictators who dominate God's people.
First of all let's just say that this strong arm dictator type is not the concept that the Bible presents of what should be a pastor. The Bible presents our present situation is that we are brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is a concept whereby one is equal with another, but at the same time there is friendly fellowship, moral and spiritual support, and if needed exhortation and rebuke. We find nowhere in the Bible where one brother can dominate over his brothers and sisters.
Having said that, let me clarify this a little more. Many people have had very bad experiences under a dictator-pastor, and therefore they had totally refused anything looking like, smelling like, or even close to a "pastor". Sorry, that position is not biblical either. The word "pastor" (spiritual caretaker) and "bishop" (overseer) is clearly used in the Bible for a man over the government of the local church.
The problems we have to contend with has to be resolved without breaking the Bible commands and precedents (examples).
The point here is not that the concept of pastor over a local church is wrong, but rather that the understanding of both the church membership and the pastor is wrong. Hence this is at the root of most every church split, church fight, and antagonism within a church. Many a pastor has left the church and some the ministry because they never got this right, they never got this down.
Let me use the above illustration to clarify. God has left us in a situation like a large family of 10 kids where the parents had to go tend to Aunt Sue for a week. The parents already have a long history of established rules, do's an don'ts. These rules are not set aside because mom and dad are gone. Moreover all the kids pretty much know what will make mom and dad get made at them, and what is accepted, and what they are individually and collectively supposed to do. But in addition there are some special rules written out on a piece of paper and placed on the table before they leave. Normally parents in such a situation will pick one of the eldest (but always most mature and responsible) to be "in charge." This son or daughter will be given the money to buy groceries, responsible to answer for the family if somebody calls and asks something, if one of the kids get in trouble at school, etc.
Ephesians 3:14-15 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
Galatians 6:10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
Ephesians 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
But all are brothers and sisters. The point here is that he that is in charge has very limited freedom. He can do a lot perhaps, but he cannot make up new rules, and he cannot break established rules (on the paper on the kitchen table) nor can he ignore the general make up of the parents and family rules. Moreover he or she absolutely has to get the essential things done. There has to be food on the table for the meals, bed times have to be observed, kids get to school and back home, and you always have to ride somebody who just will not get with the general direction and makeup of the family. Always one who bucks the authority of the parents and takes advance to do his own will (staying up too late, sleeping in, not doing his chores, not fulfilling his duties like going to school).
So the pastor is the big brother who is placed in charge and simply is responsible. He must make sure the will of the parents is carried out as the parents would want it. In our case carry out God's will as God would want it. As "person in charge" you have very little freedoms, (no rights), and probably 100 to 1 responsibilities and obligations to privileges. You get to be responsible and blamed for everything everybody in the family does wrong, you are responsible for all fights, all accidents, everything. When everything goes right, they all take credit and think nothing of you. That's biblical leadership, all bad, no good. Why would anyone want it? Nobody really does. People take it because they are specifically called to it by God. They see the disaster of nobody in charge, and they make thing work right, smoothly, the way they should work under God's perfect will.
If you as a church look for a pastor who has any other concept or motivation other than the calling of God to do the job, then you will be cursed, as will all of those associated with your church, and you will leave a blemish, a blot on the testimony of God. Churches never take seriously enough the task before them of finding a man called of God.
Returning to the topic of church polity, some people think along the following lines:
"the pastor is responsible to God, so I will just submit no matter what, ignore anything that appears wrong, and if my pastor is wrong, God will chastise him, therefore I will do nothing but blindly follow."
The unfortunate reality is that this kind of attitude is exactly what the wolf in pastor's garb teaches his people. Yes God will judge those false prophets that destroy the work and people of God, but it is the responsibility of every Christian to make sure the pastor is doing his job, and to support him in that work. Nobody can shove his responsibilities off onto another.
Antagonism towards pastors
Here we need to recognize a very strong undercurrent in modern churches AGAINST PASTOR-DICTATORS. The thinking is that anybody who takes responsibility or control is evil, especially if they use the "pastor" word. Well, the truth of the matter is that ungodly men in leadership positions in a church will ruin that church. Let's examine some alternatives.
Board run churches
These churches have "solved" the problem of pastor-dictators by simply making a board over the pastor, and the board will keep the pastor "straight" or fire him. My first problem with this is that it is not biblical. 1 Timothy 3:5 requires the pastor of a church to be ruling well his own house, otherwise "how shall he take care of the church of God?" The parallel concept is between the pastor over the church is the same as the man over his house. The word is proistemi (4291) which means to set over, to superintend, preside over, be over. I do not know many men who promote board run churches that take a vote with their 6 year olds over what to eat for supper. Neither do they give an equal vote to teenagers, because then they would never be in church.
The board run church is unbiblical. That means it is NOT GOD'S PATTERN given to us in the NT.
WHERE IT GOES WRONG - Board run organizations always fail (including any Christian ministries), because simply put, if you can manipulate the selection of who is on the board, who goes off, you control the entire organization. For example, take a local ministry (church or otherwise). A CEO (leader) comes into a fundamental ministry, and decides that the organization is taking too strong a stand, and they should soften up their position and work with a lot of people previously they fought against. How does he do it? He simply is quiet, abides his time, and puts his people into the board until he has 50%, and then makes an announcement, and declares the organization is now charismatic, or whatever.
Deacon run churches
This is essentially the same as above but they call the board "deacons". Let me explain that the word for "deacon" is servant, slave, or employee. Never do we see any deacons in the NT as governing. They serve. The deacons are always the servants to carry out the desires and help the pastor, and never over the pastor as a governor.
The problem with confounding the role of deacon is that once you do this, then these men no longer will want to do typical deacon servant type things.
These churches are run by people outside of the local church. This comes about in several ways. Either a man is very gun-ho on the denomination and takes his church deep into it, or one church essentially builds a building and hands it over to another group of people at the price of spiritual slavery. Both of these have the distinct element of those who really make the decisions and have a final say are outside that local church.
All of these problem situations come about because people do not study their Bibles, nor do they go the long, hard route of doing thing the difficult way the Bible commands.
First of all, the pastor is an example to the flock of God. If he is not a good spiritual example ("I want to be like my pastor") then he needs to be destituted from the position.