church government

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 

which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22

We recognize that the New Testament doesn’t give a clear definitive statement of God’s preference for church government. In Scripture, we find three basic forms of church government. One of them is in the Old Testament and two of them are in the New Testament. The first form of church government was the rule by bishops, or overseers. The Greek word is ’episkopos’. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul wrote, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.” There is another form of leadership that utilized a group of gifted men called the ‘presbyteros’, or elders. Acts 14:23 tells us, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”

The New Testament clearly teaches the establishing of bishops, the episkopos, and the appointing of elders, the presbyteros. The question arises, “Is the church to be led by the bishop, or by the board of elders? Is it the episkopos or the presbyteros? The fact that they both exist shows that there isn’t a clear definitive teaching about the correct form of church government. However, the answer must be sought in the Scriptures alone, and there does seem to be ample implication regarding this issue. 

The Bible does teach a plurality of elders functioning together in the leadership of each local church as in Acts 20:17-38 and 1 Peter 5:1-4; but this is simply a description of there being several elders who work together as team members to accomplish their specific task of ministry. So, there should be multiple elders serving in the church.

The Bible also teaches the idea of a strong singular pastoral leadership for each local church as in 1 Timothy 3:1 and Titus 1:7. The “Bishop” or “Overseer” is always referred to in the singular form. As we look at the Scriptures overall, it would appear the pattern of God’s government to be related to a single authority. So the Pastor seems to be in the unique position of being the “Overseer” of the church, but at the same time as one who is to function as a member of the elders of the church. 

At Refuge SLO we believe that Jesus Christ is the Head over the body of the church. It’s His church. He’s the One in charge. Jesus being the “Shepherd” (John 10:11) the Lead Pastor is a “Under-Shepherd” ruled by the Lord and recognized by the congregation as God’s anointed instrument to lead the church, and aided by the Elders to discover the mind and will of Jesus Christ for His church.