International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. APPROACH TO SUBJECT
1. The General Sense
2. The Local Sense
II. INTERNAL ORDER
1. Subjects of Admission
2. Definite Organizations
4. Ecclesiastical Functions
(1) Control of Membership
(2) Selection of Officers, etc.
(3) Observations of Ordinances
5. Independent (Autonomous) Organizations
III. EXTERNAL AUTHORITY
IV. COOPERATIVE RELATIONS
The object here sought is to discover what kind of church government is mirrored in the New Testament. To do this with perfect definiteness is, no doubt, quite impossible. Certain general features, however, may clearly be seen.
I. Approach to the Subject.
The subject is best approached through the Greek word ekklesia, translated "church." Passing by the history of this word, and its connection with the Hebrew words `edhah and qahal (which the Septuagint sometimes renders by ekklesia), we come at once to the New Testament usage. Two perfectly distinct senses are found, namely, a general and a local.
1. The General Sense:
Christ is "head over all things to the church, which is his body." (Ephesians 1:22); "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:23). Here we have "church" in the broadest sense, including all the redeemed in earth and heaven, and in all ages (see also Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 5:22-27 Colossians 1:24 Hebrews 12:23).
2. The Local Sense:
Here the Scripture passages are very numerous. In some cases, the word is used in the singular, and in others the plural; in some it is used with reference to a specified church, and in others without such specification. In all cases the sense is local.
In Acts 11:26, it is said that Paul and Barnabas were "gathered together with the church," where the church at Antioch is meant. In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas are said to have "appointed elders in every church," that is, churches which they had planted. In Revelation 2 and Revelation 3 the seven churches of Asia Minor are addressed. In Acts 16:5 we are told that the churches "were strengthened in the faith." On the local sense see, further, Acts 8:1; Acts 15:4; Acts 16:5; 20:17 Romans 16:4 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Corinthians 6:4; 1 Corinthians 11:16; Galatians 1:2, 22, and many other places.
There are a few passages that do not seem exactly to fit into either of the above categories. Such, for example, are Matthew 18:17 and 1 Corinthians 12:28, where it seems best to understand a generic sense. Such, also, are passages like Acts 9:31, and 1 Corinthians 10:32, where a collective sense best suits the cases.
Church government in the New Testament applies only to the local bodies.
II. Internal Order.
With respect to the constitution and life of these New Testament churches, several points may be made out beyond reasonable doubt.
1. Subjects of Admission:
They were composed of persons who professed faith in Christ, and who were believed to have been regenerated, and who had been baptized. See Acts 2:41, 44, 47 (the Revised Version (British and American) "added to them"); Acts 8:12 Romans 1:8; Romans 6:4; Romans 10:9, 10 1 Corinthians 1:2; Colossians 1:2, 4 1 Timothy 6:12, and others, where they are called "saints," "sons of God," "faithful brethren," "sanctified in Christ Jesus."
2. Definite Organizations:
They are definitely and permanently organized bodies, and not temporary and loose aggregations of individuals. It is quite impossible, for example, to regard the church at Antioch as a loose aggregation of people for a passing purpose. The letters of Paul to the churches at Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, cannot be regarded as addressed to other than permanent and definitely organized bodies.
They were served by two classes of ministers-one general, the other local.
At the head of these is the "apostle" (1 Corinthians 12:28 Ephesians 4:11). His official relation to the churches was general. He did not necessarily belong to the group of the original Eleven. Besides Matthias (Acts 1:26), Paul and Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:5, 6), James, the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7) are reckoned as "apostles." The one invariable and necessary qualification of an apostle was that he should have seen the Lord after the Resurrection (Acts 1:22 1 Corinthians 9:1). Another qualification was to have wrought "the signs of an apostle" (2 Corinthians 12:12; compare 1 Corinthians 9:2). He was to bear witness to what he had seen and heard, to preach the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 1:8 1 Corinthians 1:17), to found churches and have a general care of them (2 Corinthians 11:28). From the nature of his chief qualification, his office was temporary.
Next comes the "prophet." His relation to the churches, also, was general. It was not necessary that he should have seen the Lord, but it appertained to his spiritual function that he should have revelations (Ephesians 3:5). There is no indication that his office was in any sense administrative.
After the "prophet" come the "evangelist" and "teacher," the first, a traveling preacher, the second, one who had special aptitude for giving instruction.
After the "teacher" and "evangelist" follow a group of special gifts of "healing," "helps," "governments," "tongues." It may be that "helps" and "governments" are to be identified with "deacons" and "bishops," to be spoken of later. The other items in this part of Paul's list seem to refer to special charismata.
There were two clearly distinct offices of a local and permanent kind in the New Testament churches. Paul (Philippians 1:1) addresses "all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons."
See BISHOP; DEACON.
The most common designation of the first of these officers is "elder" (presbuteros). In one passage (Ephesians 4:11) he is called "pastor" (poimen). In Acts 20:17-28, it becomes clear that the office of elder, bishop, and pastor was one; for there the apostle charges the elders of the church at Ephesus to feed (pastor) the church in which the Holy Spirit has made them bishops (compare Titus 1:5, 7 1 Peter 5:1, 2).
The function of the elders was, in general, spiritual, but involved an oversight of all the affairs of the church (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:17).
As to the second of the local church officers, it has to be said that little is given us in the New Testament. That the office of deacon originated with the appointment of the Seven in Acts 6 is not certain. If we compare the qualifications there given by the apostles with those given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, it seems quite probable that the necessity which arose at Jerusalem, and which led to the appointment of the Seven was really the occasion for originating the office of deacon in the churches. The work assigned the Seven was secular, that is to say, the "service of tables." They were to relieve the apostles of that part of the work. A similar relation to the work of the elders seems to have been borne by that of the deacons.
Again, they exercised the highest ecclesiastical functions.
4. Ecclesiastical Functions:
(1) Control of Membership.
In Matthew 18:17, our Lord, by anticipation, lodges final action, in the sphere of church discipline, with the church. When the church has taken action, the matter is ended. There is no direction to take it to a higher court. In the church at Corinth, there was a man who was guilty of an infamous offense against purity. With regard to the case, Paul urged the most summary discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5). If the church should act upon the judgment which he communicated to them, they would act when "gathered together"; that is to say, action would be taken in conference of the church. In 2 Corinthians 2, a reference to the case shows that they had acted upon his advice, and that the action was taken by the majority ("the many," the more, 2 Corinthians 2:6). In 2 Corinthians 2 he counsels restoration of this excluded member now repentant. Exclusion and restoration of members were to be effected by a church. This, of course, carried with it the reception of members in the first instance.
(2) Selection of Officers, etc.
This was true in case of the Seven (Acts 6:3-13; see other cases in Acts 15:22 1 Corinthians 16:3 2 Corinthians 8:1 Philippians 2:25). Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 seem, at first, to offset the passages just given. In one of these, Paul and Barnabas are said to have "appointed" (cheirotonesantes) elders in the churches which they had planted. But scholars of first quality, though themselves adhering to Presbyterial or Episcopal forms of church government, maintain that Paul and Barnabas ordained the elders whom the churches selected-that they "appointed" them in the usual way, by the suffrages of the members of the churches concerned. The word rendered "appoint" in Titus 1:5 (katasteses) is more easily understood as referring to ordination instead of selection.
(3) Observation of Ordinances.
Paul gives direction (1 Corinthians 11:20-34) to the church at Corinth about the observance of the Lord's Supper. These directions are given, not to any officer or set of officers, but to the church. Ecclesiastically, of course, the two ordinances are on the same level; and, if one of them had been committed to the custody, so to say, of the churches, so must the other.
5. Independent (Autonomous) Organizations:
The management of their business was in their own hands. Paul wrote the church at Corinth: "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). In that comprehensive injunction, given to a church, is implied control of its affairs by the church.
III. External Authority.
The investigation up to this point places us in position to see that there is in the New Testament no warrant for ecclesiastical grades in the ministry of the churches, by which there may be created an ascending series of rulers who shall govern the churches merged into one vast ecclesiastical organization called "the church." So, also, we are in position to see that there is no warrant for an ascending series of courts which may review any "case" that originates in a local church. We may see, on the contrary, that to each local church has been committed by Christ the management of its own affairs; and that He had endowed every such church with ecclesiastical competency to perform every function that any ecclesiastical body has a right to perform.
As the churches are not to be dominated by any external ecclesiastical authority, so they are not to be interfered with, in their church life, by civil government. Jesus taught that Christians should be good citizens (Matthew 22:15-22); so did the apostles (Romans 13:1-7 1 Peter 2:13-16). Jesus also taught the spirituality of His Kingdom: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). It follows that only where the life of a church touched the civic life of the community has the civil authority any right to interfere.
IV. Cooperative Relations.
While each local church, according to the New Testament, is independent of every other in the sense that no other has jurisdiction over it, yet cooperative relations were entered into by New Testament churches. Examples and indications of that may be found in Romans 15:26, 27 2 Corinthians 8; 2 Corinthians 9; Galatians 2:10 Romans 15:1; Romans 3John 1:8. The principle of cooperation effective in those cases is susceptible of indefinite expansion. Churches may properly cooperate in matters of discipline, by seeking and giving counsel, and by respecting each other's disciplinary measures. In the great, paramount business of evangelizing and teaching the nations, they may cooperate in a multitude of ways. There is no sphere of general Christian activity in which the churches may not voluntarily and freely cooperate for the betterment of the world, the salvation of humanity.
For other standpoints see BISHOP; GOVERNMENT; MINISTRY, etc.
Hort, The Christian Ecclesia; Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches; Whitley, Church, Ministry and Sacraments in the New Testament; Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Cents.; French, Synonyms of New Testament; Vitringa, De Synagoga Vetere; Holzinger, ZAW; Schurer, Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, II; Driver, Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament; Thayer, New Testament Lexicon, and Cremer, Biblical Theol. Lexicon, under the word, "ekklesia" and "sunagoge"; Neumann, Rom. Staat und die all-gemeine Kirche; Ramsay, Church in the Roman Empire.; Lightfoot, "The Christian Ministry," in Commentary on Philippians; Harvey, The Church; Dagg, Church Order; Hovey, Religion and the State; Owen, Church Government; Ladd, Principles of Church Polity; Dexter, Congregationalism; Hodge, Discussions in Church Polity; Abbey, Ecclesiastical Constitutions; Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity; Jacob, Ecclesiastical Polity; Bore, The Church and Its Ministry; Dollinger, The Church and The Churches; Stanley, Lectures on the Eastern Church; Dargan, Ecclesiology.
E. J. Forrester
guv'-ern-ment: The government of the Hebrews varied at different periods, of which we may distinguish seven:
(1) the nomadic period, from the Exodus to the entrance into Palestine;
(2) the period of transition from nomadic to civil life;
(3) the monarchy;
(4) the period of subjection to other oriental nations;
(5) the period from Ezra to the Greeks;
(6) Greek rule;
(7) Roman rule.
1. The Nomadic Period:
The government of the primitive period is that proper to nomadic tribes composed of families and clans, in no wise peculiar to the Hebrews, but shared in its essential features by the most diverse peoples at a corresponding stage of civilization. Though we might draw illustrations from many sources, the government of the Bedouins, Semitic nomads inhabiting the steppes of Arabia, affords the most instructive parallel. In the patriarchal state the family is the household (including slaves and concubines) of the father, who is its head, having power of life and death over his children (Genesis 22 Judges 11:31). A clan is a collection of families under a common chieftain, chosen for his personal qualifications, such as prowess and generous hospitality. The composition of the clan was essentially shifting, subject, according to circumstances, to the loss or accession of individuals and families. Although the possession of the same grazing-grounds doubtless played a large part in determining the complexion of the clan, the fiction of descent from a common ancestor was maintained, even when kinship was established by the blood covenant. In all probability community of worship, which cemented the tribe, served as the most effective bond of union also in the clan. Vestiges of such clan cults are still to be detected (1 Samuel 20:5 Judges 18:19). The familiar tradition of the twelve tribes must not be allowed to blind us to the evidence that the tribe also was not constant. Mention of the Kenites (Judges 1:16) and the list of tribes in the So of Deborah (Judges 5) remind us that such organizations vanished. In the readjustment incident to the change from the pastoral life of the nomad to that of the settled agricultural population of Palestine, many units were doubtless shifted from one tribe to another, and the same result may be assumed as following from the endless strife between the tribes before and during the period of the kings. The large and powerful tribe of Judah seems to have originated comparatively late. The union of the tribes under the leadership of Moses was essentially similar to the formation of a new tribe out of a group of clans actuated by a desire to accomplish a common end. Many such temporary aggregations must have originated, only to succumb to the centrifugal forces of jealousy and conflicting interests. Even after the entrance of the Hebrews into Palestine, their history for long is that of kindred tribes, rather than that of a nation. The leadership of Moses rested on personal, not on constitutional, authority, and was rendered precarious by the claims of family and of clan, as in the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). The authority of Moses naturally extended to the administration of justice, as well as to matters pertaining to war and religion. He appointed officers to assist him in this judicial function (Exodus 18:21), but the laws according to which they rendered judgment were those of custom and usage, not those of a written code. As among the tribal chieftains, important matters were referred to the leader, who, in cases of doubt or in default of recognized custom, resorted to the lot or to the oracle.
2. The Period of Transition:
When the nomad tribes settled in Palestine to become an agricultural people, there ensued a period of unrest due to the necessity for read-justment to changed conditions. The old tribal organization, admirably adapted to the former, ill suited the new requirements. These may be summed up in the demand for the substitution of local organization, based on the rights of individuals, for the tribal government, which had regard solely to the interests of family, clan and tribe. Such readjustment did not, of course, at once ensue, but came piecemeal in answer to the gradually realized wants of the community. Nor was the development entirely from within, but was unquestionably in large measure influenced by the institutions existing among the Canaanite population, only a part of which had been expelled by the invaders. Although the tribes still clung to the fiction of descent from a common ancestor, which was embodied in the accepted genealogies with their filiation of clans into tribes and of tribes into a nation, that which henceforth passed as a "tribe" was less an aggregation of kindred units than a geographical unit or group of units. The times were turbulent, disturbed by contending elements within and by foes without the tribes. Then it was that there arose a class of chieftains of strongly marked character, called by a new name. The "judge" (shophet) was not the ruler of a nation, but the chieftain of a tribe, winning and maintaining his authority by virtue of his personal prowess. The cases of Gideon and Abimelech (Judges 8, 9) show that the authority of the "judge" was not hereditary. Agreeably to the generally changed conditions, the "elders" (zeqenim), who were formerly heads of families or kindreds, now came, possibly under the influence of the Canaanites, to be constituted an aristocratic upper class, with certain functions as administrative officers and councilors. Cities also grew and acquired importance, so that the adjacent hamlets were subordinated to them, probably even ruled from them as executive centers. In all this there is a certain similarity to the process by which, in the period just preceding the beginning of real history, Athens became the metropolis of Attica, and conventional tribes supplanted those based on kinship, while the rise of the purely local organization of the demos led speedily to the appearance of the "tyrants." The high places of clans and tribes continued to be frequented, and certain "seers" (1 Samuel 9:6) enjoyed considerable prestige by virtue of their peculiar relation to the tribal god.
3. The Monarchy:
While the succession of tribal chieftains and of the "judges" depended on personal qualifications, the principle of heredity is essential to the institution of monarchy, which originated in the desire to regulate the succession with a view to having an assured authoritative leadership. This principle could not, of course, be invoked in the appointment of Saul, the first king (melekh), who won this distinction in virtue of his personal prowess, supported by the powerful influence of the "seer," Samuel. His son Ishbosheth ruled two years over Israel, but lost his throne through the disaffection of his subjects (2 Samuel 2-4). The accession of David, king of Judah, to the throne of all Israel was likewise exceptional, owing as much to the character of the heir presumptive as to his own qualifications. Solomon, as the choice of his father David, succeeded by right of heredity with the support of the military and religious leaders. In the Southern Kingdom of Judah, heredity was henceforth observed because of its homogeneity and the consequent absence of internal discord; whereas the principle often failed in the turbulent Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was distracted by tribal jealousies. But even when not effectually operative, heredity was recognized as constituting a claim to the succession, although the popular voice, which had been supreme in the institution of the monarchy, was a power always to be reckoned with.
(1) Royal Prerogatives.
The history and functions of monarchy defined the prerogatives and duties of the king. Just as the head of the family, or the chieftain of a tribe, functioned as representative of those subject to him in matters of religion, war, and the administration of justice, so also was it with the king. In all these spheres he was supreme, exercising his authority either personally or through representatives who thus became part of the royal establishment. It is to be noted that the sacerdotal or sacral character of the king, which was merely an extension of his privileges as individual and head of a household, was not emphasized among the Hebrews to a like extent as among other oriental peoples; and the priests whom he appointed were perhaps in the first instance court chaplains, though in time they came to assume greater authority. The responsibility of the king for the public safety carried with it the obligation to guard the state treasures, to which the treasures of the temples were felt to belong; and it was his privilege to use them when necessary for defense. The levying of taxes, also, and the collection and use of revenues from various sources likewise fell of necessity to the king and his representatives.
In regard to the constitution of the king's court under Saul and David we learn comparatively little; even touching that of Solomon we are not fully informed, although we know that it must have been far removed from the original simplicity. We may classify the known officers as follows:
(a) religious: priests (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:23);
(b) household: cupbearer (1 Kings 10:5); master of the vestry (2 Kings 10:22); master of the household (1 Kings 4:6), who probably was a eunuch (1 Kings 22:9 2 Kings 8:6; 2 Kings 9:32);
(c) state: scribe or clerk (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25, etc.); recorder, or prompter (1 Kings 4:3); king's counselor (2 Samuel 15:12); and, perhaps, the king's friend (2 Samuel 15:37; 2 Samuel 16:16); overseer of taskwork (2 Samuel 20:24);
(d) military: commander-in-chief of the army (2 Samuel 8:16); commander of the king's guards (?) (2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 20:23).
(3) Fiscal Institutions.
The simplicity of Saul's rule was such as to make slight demands upon the resources of the people. He lived in the manner of a tribal chieftain on his ancestral estate, receiving from his subjects voluntary gifts (1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Samuel 16:20), and also, without doubt, his due share of the booty. Whether he instituted a regular tax (compare 1 Samuel 17:25) is not certain. With the growth and prosperity of the nation, David changed the character of the court, imitating in a measure the state of other oriental potentates. It is not clear whether he levied a regular tax, although it may be surmised that he had it in view, together with the regulation of taskwork, in ordaining the census taken in his time (2 Samuel 24:1). We know that he received his portion of the booty (2 Samuel 8:11; 2 Samuel 12:30). The increasing luxury of Solomon's court required the imposition of additional taxes. It is probable that some income was derived from the enforced cultivation of crown lands (1 Samuel 8:12), although the taskwork, which became extremely burdensome and subsequently provoked the secession of the Northern Kingdom, was chiefly applied to public works. The tribute of subject peoples (1 Kings 4:21) was considerable (1 Kings 10:14). We now for the first time hear of taxes upon caravans and merchants, although it was in all probability a source of income even in the time of the nomad chieftains; there was also revenue from the carrying trade of his merchant fleet (1 Kings 10:11, 22) and from the trade in horses and chariots carried on with Egypt (1 Kings 10:28). Solomon also divided his kingdom into twelve provinces commanded by prefects, who should provide victuals for the king and his household: each prefect had to make provision for a month in the year (1 Kings 4:7). It does not appear whether Judah, which is not included in the list of provinces, was as a mark of special favor exempted from this tax, or whether the omission is to be otherwise explained. The seizure of the vineyard of Naboth by Ahab (1 Kings 21) makes it seem not improbable that the property of persons condemned on certain charges was confiscate to the king.
(4) Administration of Justice.
The king, like the tribal chieftain of the steppes, still sat in judgment, but chiefly in matters of moment; less important cases were decided by the prefects of provinces and other officers. Under the earlier kings there was no code except the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20 Exodus 22 Exodus 23), but judgment was rendered on the basis of the law of custom or usage, the function of the judge being essentially that of an arbiter. For the later code see DEUTERONOMY.
The king was regarded as the natural representative of his people before God; but while he did exercise certain sacerdotal functions in person, such offices were generally performed by the priest whom he had appointed.
(6) Secular Administration.
The authority of the king in matters of state was exercised partly by him in person, partly through his ministers, the "princes" (1 Kings 4:2). Among these functions are to be classed the communication with subject and foreign princes and the direction of the taskwork, which was employed for public improvements, partly military, as in the fortification of cities, partly religious, as in the building of the temple. Local affairs had always been left largely to the tribes and their subdivisions, but, with the gradual increase of royal authority, the king sought to exercise it more and more in the conduct of the village communities. Conversely, the "elders of the people," as the (albeit aristocratic) representatives of the communes, occasionally had a voice even in larger matters of state.
4. Israel under Oriental Potentates:
The principle of local autonomy; was widely observed in the oriental states, which concerned themselves chiefly about political and military organization and about the collection of revenues. Hence, there is no occasion for surprise on finding that the Jews enjoyed a large measure of autonomy during the period of their subjection to other oriental powers and that even during the exile they resorted, in matters of dispute, to their own representatives for judgment. Under Persian rule Palestine formed part of the satrapy lying West of the Euphrates and had, for a time, its own governor.
5. After the Restoration:
Ezra and Nehemiah endeavored to introduce a new code, which, after a period of perhaps two centuries, established a dual form of government subject to the supreme authority of the suzerain power. By the new code the secular officers were subordinated to the high priest, who thus virtually assumed the position of a constitutional prince, ruling under the Law. The "prince," however, as the representative of the tribes, and the "elders of the people," as the representatives of the communes, continued to exercise a certain limited authority.
6. The Greeks:
Under the Greek rulers of Egypt and Syria the Jews continued to enjoy a large measure of autonomy, still maintaining in general the type of internal government formulated under Ezra and Nehemiah. We now hear of a council of "elders" presided over by the high priest. The latter, appointed by the kings, was recognized as ethnarch by both Ptolemies and Seleucids and held accountable for the payment of the tribute, for the exaction of which he was, of course, empowered to levy taxes. The brief period of political independence under the Hasmoneans (see ASMONEANS) did not materially alter the character compare the government, except that the high who had long been a prince in everything but in name, now openly so styled himself. The council of the "elders" survived, although with slightly diminished authority. In other respects the influence of Greek institutions made itself felt.
7. The Romans:
When Pompey terminated the reign of the Hasmoneans, the government still continued with little essential change. Following the example of the Greek kings, the Romans at Romans first appointed the high priest to the "leadership of the nation." He was soon, however, shorn for a time of his political dignity, the country being divided into five districts, each governed by its "synod"; but Caesar once more elevated the high priest to the office of ethnarch. Under Herod, the high priest and the synedrium (Sanhedrin), appointed or deposed at will as his interests seemed to require, lost much of their former prestige and power. After the death of Herod the land was again divided, and a procurator, subordinate to the governor of Syria, ruled in Judea, having practical independence in his sphere. In their internal affairs the Jews now, as under former masters, enjoyed a large measure of freedom. The high priest no longer exercising any political authority, the synedrium, of which he was a member, now gained in influence, being in fact an aristocratic council in many respects not unlike the Roman senate. It combined judicial and administrative functions, limited in the exercises of its authority only by the provision that its decisions might be reviewed by the procurator. (SeeGOVERNOR.) Naturally the outlying jurisdictions were organized on the same model, each with its synedrium competent in local matters. The synedrium at Jerusalem served also as a governing board for the city.
William Arthur Heidel