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Understanding the Church – Part 3

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Understanding the Church – Part 3
Posted on October 18, 2020  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

In this post, we turn our attention to the topic of church government. Here, we ask how the church should be run.

As the church was established, a number of traditions formed. Some early traditions included taking offerings for the poor, having church leaders solve problems, and an emphasis on Christ as the focal point of the faith. When we ask how the modern church should be run, we take these early teachings and practices into consideration. 

This begins with membership. People who are members of the church should be believers and they should be baptised. Churches have kept records of their members since the first century (Acts 2:41-44).

In the early church, church discipline was carried out on members who practised heretical teachings or immoral behaviours. The church had regular days of meeting (usually on Sunday because of the focus on the day of Christ’s resurrection). Members of the church were to use their spiritual gifts for the service of the congregation. The New Testament even provides guidelines for public worship such as prayer and teaching (1 Timothy 2 and Titus 2).

When we ask how the modern church should be run, we take early teachings and practices into consideration

Governance and congregations 

In the New Testament, Christ and Paul both give instructions for local churches to deal with problems in their churches. This leads to the idea of autonomy where churches have the right and privilege to make their own decisions, rather than be commanded on such matters by a broader governing body. This also allows each church to do their part to keep doctrine pure and without error.

This does not make each church infallible. People can fall into sin and cause problems in any church. People in the church can also be led astray. This is why we must keep our focus on the message of Christ in Scripture and allow the text to keep us from drifting into false teachings.

In this form of governance, pastors and deacons do not make decisions on their own (at least, not all decisions) and the rest of the congregation has a voice in serious matters. These matters include ministry endeavours and spiritual issues in the congregation.

Many congregational churches have a single pastor, but some have a plurality of pastors. Even in the New Testament, many churches had more than one pastor.

However a church is governed, there should be oversight and always more than one person making the decisions. This allows for multiple people to have the opportunity to hear the Spirit’s convictions as the church grows spiritually and impacts its community.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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