The Spiritual Republic

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The Spiritual Republic

Local Church Government

By Robert E. Patenaude, Th.D.

© Copyrighted 2000, 2006, by Robert Edgar Patenaude, as per United States Code, Title 17,

Chapter 2, §201(a), §401(a-d) and H.R. 2589.EH, H.R. 2589.RFS



Elder Rule






Are any of the above species applicable to New Testament local church government?  Let's first get basic definitions of words.

[1]CONGREGATIONAL, a. Pertaining to a congregation; appropriately used of such Christians as hold to a church government by consent and election, maintaining that each congregation is independent of others, and has the right to choose its own pastor and govern itself; as a congregational church, or mode of worship.

[2]CONGREGATIONAL SYSTEM OF CHURCH ORGANIZATION.  Where the local organization is the governing body and is sufficient unto itself.  Doughy v. Herr, 97 Ind.App. 427, 185 N.E. 657, 658.

Usually involved in churches which employ the congregational form of government in our day is the concept of democracy.  Congregationalist and other churches which use open business meetings to decide church matters often describe their process as, democratic.

[3]DEMOCRACY, n. Government by the people; a form of government, in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of the people collectively, or in which the people exercise the powers of legislation.  Such was the government of Athens.

[4]According to the theory of a pure democracy, every citizen should participate directly in the business of governing, and the legislative assembly should comprise the whole people.  But the ultimate lodgment of the sovereignty being the distinguishing feature, the introduction of the representative system does not remove a government from this type.  However a government of the latter kind is sometimes specifically described as a "representative democracy."

ELDER RULE, n. phrase.  The government of a church by a board of ruling elders, sometimes elected by the membership, but sometimes appointed by a denominational hierarchy.  Some churches make a distinction between teaching elders, who labor in word and doctrine, from ruling elders, who may not necessarily be ordained ministers.  Sometimes the latter are prominent business, social or political persons who are chosen merely because of their perceived leadership skills, or because of their financial resources.

[5]In the first Christian churches, elders were persons who enjoyed offices, or ecclesiastical functions, and the word includes apostles, pastors, teachers, presbyters, bishops or overseers.  Peter and John call themselves elders.  The first councils of christians were called presbyterian, councils of elders.

        In the modern presbyterian churches, elders are officers who, with the pastors or ministers and deacons, compose the consistories or kirk-sessions, with authority to inspect and regulate matters of religion and discipline.

The following was sent to me from one Ben Palmer of the Australian Presbyterian and Reformed Church.

Here is an outline of the government of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, which is easily the largest Presbyterian denomination here. I will start with the local congregation level. Each congregation is governed by the elders of the church, collectively called a Church or Kirk Session.  This session is made up of usually the minister (sometimes called a "teaching elder") and two or more other elders (often called ruling elders). In our church only men are eligible to be elders, which we believe to be the requirement of scripture. The existing elders from time to time decide to add new elders from the congregation to the session-there is usually an "election" as a part of this process, but the votes of the congregation are not binding on the elders.

Above the congregation and its session are two more levels of government. Immediately above congregation level is the Presbytery. Each congregation usually sends as its delegates to Presbytery its minister and one elder. The Presbytery has authority within a defined geographical area, over all the congregations within that area, all of which are, as I said, represented on Presbytery by two delegates each. Presbyteries usually meet once a month, or once every two months.

Above that is the level of the denomination's General Assembly-the supreme governing body. This has authority over several Presbyteries, usually all of those contained in a State or Nation (in our system there is a General Assembly for Victoria, and one each for the other states in Australia, as well as a National General Assembly every 3 years, reflecting Australia's Federal system of secular government). Usually each congregation sends its minister and an elder to this Assembly as well - so each congregation is represented both at Presbytery and at General Assembly level. The General Assembly meets twice a year, usually.

Some virtues of this system are that it allows, in the best case, for discipline within the denomination (e.g. theoretically a heretic would be stopped from teaching by either the Presbytery or Assembly in authority over him), without the individual power that episcopacy tends to grant to some people. Christ is of course the Head of the Church, and the Presbyterian system ensures that below that there is government, but that it is a government of equals over each other (a "moderator" is elected to preside over each Presbytery, and over the General Assembly, but these do not have any of the powers of bishops in the Episcopal system).

Further in support of the system, I would suggest that Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus to select appropriate leaders for churches under their oversight, and the example of the authority of the first Jerusalem council in Acts, give us principles for church government that the congregational model does not follow as closely as the Presbyterian one.

It may also be worth noting that traditionally Presbyterian church government has worked hand-in-hand with a detailed "confession of faith" - in our case the Westminster Confession. Ministers and elders have to affirm that their doctrine is in accordance with this confession, which gives the organs of government something to hold them to.

The system of government in Reformed Churches (that is those with their origins in European, especially Dutch Reformed Churches) is very similar, though they often call the Presbytery a "Classis", and their General Assembly is called a "Synod".

(End Ben Palmer's letter)


[6]EPISCOPACY, n.  Government of the church by bishops; that form of ecclesiastical government, in which diocesan bishops [a possession of a diocese, and having the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over it] are established, as distinct from and superior to priests or presbyters.

[7]OLIGARCHY,  n.  A form of government in which the supreme power is placed in a few hands; a species of aristocracy.

[8]MONARCHY, n.  A state or government in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a single person.  Such a state is usually called an empire or a kingdom; and we usually give this denomination to a large state only.  But the same name is sometimes given to a kingdom or state in which the power of the king or supreme magistrate is limited by a constitution, or by fundamental laws.  Such is the British monarchy.  Hence we speak of absolute or despotic monarchies.

[9]REPUBLIC, n.  A Commonwealth; a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people.  In modern usage, it differs from a democracy or democratic state, in which the people exercise the powers of sovereignty in person.  Yet the democracies of Greece are often called republics.

[10]THEOCRACY, n.  Government of a state by the immediate direction of God; or the state thus governed.  Of this species the Israelites furnish an illustrious example.  The theocracy lasted until the time of Saul.

Both interesting and important to this discussion are the distinctions made between a democracy and a republic by the United States War Department (now called the Department of Defense) in 1928, in Training Manual No. 2000-25.  This manual was "Prepared under the direction of the Chief of Staff" for military officers on the subject of citizenship.  We reproduce the pertinent portion of  [11]Training Manual 2000-25 here.


: A government of the masses.

: Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of direct expression results in mobocracy.

: Attitude toward property is communistic, negating property rights.

: Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.

        : Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.


        : Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.

        : Attitude toward [governance] is respect for laws and individual rights, and a sensible economic procedure.

        : Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences.

        : A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.

        : Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy.

        : Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress.

                Helping us to more clearly understand the results of democracy, Professor Alexander Tytler penned the following words in America over 230 years ago, when the American colonies where still under the British Crown.

     A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

        The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years.  These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back again to bondage.




Let's go back now to examine each specie of government and determine which ones, if any, have concepts consistent with the clear wording of the New Testament in the King James Bible.  Are any species consistent with the New Testament's teaching on local church order?

The Congregational system of church organization has one characteristic that is, at least, not inconsistent with the New Testament record.  I remember one pastor under whom I sat in two different churches, who often spoke of Baptist churches being "congregational," meaning that the local congregation decides its own matters without any dependence upon any supra-church hierarchy, conference of churches or any denominational structure of churches.   When you see on a Baptist church sign or tract, or in a Baptist church advertisement, the word e1"independent," you may usually determine that there is no denominational connection.  There is no supervision over that church by any other church or religious organization.  We use another word to describe such independence, and that word is autonomy.

Local church autonomy, generally speaking, is a historical distinctive of Christian churches known as Baptist.  J. T. Christian, in his text, A History of the Baptists (page 5 of the preface), quotes historian Edward Gibbon:

[12]In the New Testament sense of the church, there can be no such an organization as a National or General church, covering a large district or country, composed of a number of local organizations.  The church, in the scriptural sense, is always an independent, local organization.  Sister churches were "united only by the ties of faith and charity.  Independence and equality formed the basis of their internal constitution" (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I, pg. 554).  Gibbon, always artistic in the use of material, continues: "Such was the mild and equal constitution by which the Christians were governed for more than a hundred years after the death of the apostles.  Every society formed within itself a separate and independent republic; and although the most distant of these little states maintained a mutual, as well as friendly, intercourse of letters and deputations, the Christian world was not connected by any supreme or legislative assembly." (Ibid., pg. 558)

Autonomy is not absolutely a homogeneous trait among "Baptists," however, as shown by the fact that Baptist churches all over Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Albania, the Slavic republics and the former Soviet Central Asian republics and Eastern Europe, in the main, are tightly connected with hierarchies which control the local assemblies to a greater or lesser extent.  While serving in Pacific Maritime Russia we learned that representatives from a hierarchy based in Moscow could even administrate the discipline of members or their ministers in local assemblies as far away as Vladivostok-and these were unregistered Baptists-not a part of the government-sanctioned Baptist Union. It seems that, in history, Baptists and Anabaptists who went westward from the Alps (Waldenses and Albigenses, for example) generally held to the distinctive of the autonomy of the local church.  But Baptists who turned back eastward from the Alps, perhaps, did not hold on tightly to this characteristic.  Perhaps Baptists in the East have been unduly influenced by the communalism in eastern societies.

The extremity of supra-church control or leadership found in the New Testament is that of Apostolic Authority as illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles.  The Apostles used authority according to their gifts to order disciplinary and other leadership functions in the local churches that were founded under their ministries.  See 1 Corinthians chapter 5 and Titus 1:5 for examples.

But there are no examples at all in the New Testament of any supra-church councils.  And although there is an example of multi-church cooperation in the matter of a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (Romans ch. 16; 1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians chs. 8 & 9), the final decisions were made within local congregations. The meeting of the Apostles in Acts chapter 15 was not an example of various local churches sending delegates to a supra-church council. This was a meeting of the Apostles, themselves.

With no apologies to any Pentecostalists, there are no such apostles living today, and no ministers with the apostolic gifts, such as that of knowledge, as Paul used in the discipline of the man who had his father's wife (1 Corinthians chapter 5).  The very closest we can come to apostolic authority might be the fatherly-like authority of missionary-evangelists who have multiple churches being planted under their ministries, and no more.  Missionaries who presume too much authority from this are in for a world of disappointment and grief, and are setting their churches up for a fall.

So, coming back to the main point of congregationalism we believe that the precept of the New Testament allows for the full autonomy and independence of each local congregation.  No church or council of churches may put any other church, or its ministers, under bondage, discipline or obligation.  A local church may choose to cooperate with one or more other local congregations, or a church may choose not to cooperate.  The spiritual nature of such choices will be discussed later in this work.

One characteristic of congregationalism, according to Noah Webster's definition, must be carefully weighed in the light of New Testament precept.  Noah describes a congregational church as one governed "by consent and election."  Does the New Testament teach decision making in the church by general election-general balloting or open voting?  Are there any examples of suffrage?  That question will lead us to the next form of government for consideration, Democracy.



"Democracy" is the great political e2drug of the masses in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries.  These are the "civil rights" and "human rights" centuries.  These are the years of "suffrage" by mass rallies and raised, clenched fists.  The churches of the last more than one-hundred years have been mixing the world's system in with the governing of God's churches because they feel they must placate the mind set of church members who were educated by socialism and socialist democracy in government-run educational regimes.  Nowadays church members, too, demand their rights in the assembly.

But is democracy consistent with New Testament principle and spirit?  Is the New Testament local Church a platform for either civil rights or suffrage?  Study and pray over the following passages of Scripture.

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

                                                                (1 Corinthians 1:10)

....that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife and vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

....made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant,....

....humbled himself, and became obedient....

                                                                    (Ephesians 2:2-8)

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

                                                                (Matthew 20:25-28)

Let us walk honestly....not in strife and envying.

                                                                       (Romans 13:13)

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.   .....

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted,....

                                                          (Ephesians 4:29, 31, 32)

Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

                                                                       (Colossians 1:6)

I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.

                                                                     (1 Timothy 5:21)

But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing....

                                                                (2 Timothy 2:23-25)

But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

                                                                                (Titus 3:9)

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness and wisdom.

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

(James 3:1, 13, 14)

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

(1 Peter 2:17)

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

(1 Peter 5:5)

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

(1 John 4:7)

Do these Scriptures sound like they promote democracy?  Democracy inherently uses debate, strife, wrangling, getting one's way either for self or for one's faction.  Democracy uses pride of party and division.  The spiritually immature Corinthian church was a democratic church. Note the following:

....there are contentions among you.

....everyone of you saith, I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

                                                                (1 Corinthians 1:12)

....there be divisions among you;....

For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

                                                        (1 Corinthians 11:18, 21)

The mother of Zebedee's children believed in the practice of democracy by campaigning and lobbying for position and office.

Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

                                                                      (Matthew 20:21)

Diotrephes believed in the practice of democracy.

I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

                                                                                (3 John 9)

He who fails to consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness often resorts to the practice of democracy as a substitute.

He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whether cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings.

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds,....

                                                                    (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

As we saw in Black's Law Dictionary, "every citizen should participate directly in the business of governing, and the legislative assembly should comprise the whole people."  But is this consistent with the clearly established Biblical order in the assembly of the Church?  Women are properly allowed as members of the Church if in Christ.  Are women to "participate directly?" Study the following:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

But I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

(1 Timothy 2:11-14)

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head (authority 'over' her by her husband or father, or authority surrendered to her husband or father) because of the angels.

(1 Corinthians 11:10 and see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

Very clearly, if women are directly participating in the business of the local church by suffrage or debate, the potential is always there for the woman to usurp authority over the man.  This removes divinely established means of protection from the woman as well as from the Church. This makes the woman more vulnerable to deception under satanic attack, which can effect not only her own home and family, but also the spiritual nature and testimony of the entire church.  Failure to understand the correct role of the woman and her subjection in the home and in the Church is also gross failure to understand the spiritual warfare that rages over God's work in the earth.



Let's now take a look at Elder Rule, which is basically the Presbyterian form of government.  According to Ben Palmer, local Presbyterian churches are governed by male elders only. That is, except when new elders are added to the Church or Kirk Session, which is done by a general congregational vote. Presumably, women participate in this voting process.  The congregational vote is not binding, however.  The minister is called a "teaching elder" while others are called "ruling elders."  The ruling elders are not ordained ministers.

I see the danger that the ruling elders might all turn out to be those of financial means and political-type influence.  I also see the danger of ruling elders controlling the teaching elder to an unreasonable degree.  These problems don't necessarily follow if the church has a high degree of Biblical sense and spirituality.

One real disagreement we would have is with the control over local church practice and polity by the Presbyteries and the General Assemblies.  Ben Palmer suggests some "virtues" of the Presbyterian form.  First he states that, within the denomination, "theoretically a heretic would be stopped from teaching by either the Presbytery or Assembly in authority over him."  The question would be: Who establishes and controls the education of ministers within the denomination to begin with?  The history of the last two hundred years illustrates that heresy doesn't generally spring up from within the local congregations, but from within the seminaries.  e3Most heretics, nowadays, are sent to the local churches from the schools controlled by the "presbyters" and "assemblymen," who claim to be protecting the denominations from heresy.

Secondly, Mr. Palmer suggests that a denominational structure of presbyteries and general assemblies is consistent with the New Testament, in that they have certain authority over local congregations and ministers.  I believe that he would be correct if, and only if, the presbyters and assemblymen were apostles.  We refute apostolic-type authority today because there are no apostles today (at least, not in the same sense), neither are there prophets such as those found in Ephesians chapter 4.  The only man-gifts found in Ephesians that are left to us today are evangelists and pastor-teachers.  All bishops, elders and presbyters today are found in local church order and offices.  No denomination without apostles could find any authority over local churches by reading Acts 15-the "first Jerusalem council."  The presbytery of 1 Timothy 4:14 consisted either of Apostles themselves or men who were directly under apostolic authority.  There is no such authority today.  Some men still want such ecclesiastical authority as if they are modern day apostles.  A man ought to consider the following before he presumes for himself any apostolic authority.

I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst bear them which are evil: and hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and has found them liars.

(Revelation 2:2)

In what circumstances do Baptists in our day use a "presbytery?"  It is common for a local church to call a council of previously ordained and proven ministers from other churches of like faith to examine candidates for ordination.  This council is sometimes called a presbytery because of the wording of 1 Timothy 4:14.  This council, acting as agent for the church, will examine a candidate as to his doctrine and positions on certain issues in order to make a recommendation to the church for or against ordination.  This presbytery does not make the decision in a Baptist church-the church itself is the ordaining authority.  This method cannot be located exactly in Scripture, but it is not a violation of the Bible either.  Some Baptist pastors will, on their own, issue an ordination to men working with them in the ministry.  Such issuance may or may not be formally ratified by the congregation.  A single pastor issuing an ordination to another in the same ministry is usually only tolerated when the ordaining pastor has a long-standing irreproachable testimony of fruitful and faithful ministry, including that of training younger men within the church.

Individual missionaries may have a limited unspoken spiritual authority over multiple churches which were founded under his ministry.  If considered to be "apostolic" in nature, it is very limited. It certainly is not presbyterian, by any denominational sense of the term.

But the most serious problem we have with the Presbyterian form, as enunciated by Ben Palmer, and as applied by the Australian Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, is the necessity of an extra-biblical "confession of faith" written by man, which is always changeable and amendable.  In the words of Mr. Palmer, and as found earlier in this publication:

It may also be worth noting that traditionally Presbyterian church government has worked hand-in-hand with a detailed "confession of faith" - in our case the Westminster Confession.  Ministers and elders have to affirm that their doctrine is in accordance with this confession, which gives the organs of government something to hold them to.

Presbyterianism, as described by Mr. Palmer, then, can not really function on the authority of the Scripture themselves.  Do "Ministers and elders have to confirm that their doctrine is in accordance with" the Bible itself?  This illustrates a major difference between the Presbyterians and us Baptists, who affirm that our sole and final authority is the Bible.  No church or hierarchy of ministers will hold us to a "confession of faith."  e4The Bible is our confession of faith.


Now under Episcopacy Noah Webster quotes the Encyclopedia: [13]"A diocese was originally a division of the Roman Empire for the purpose of civil government, a prefecture."  From the times of the Holy Roman Empire, it is easy to understand that there would have been a religious bishop overseeing the political and civil authorities in each prefecture.  The ecclesiastical jurisdiction directly corresponded to the civil jurisdiction with the Roman Church holding the reigns.  This is the system of the Roman Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, The Eastern and Greek Orthodox Churches, and to a lesser degree the Anglican and Episcopal churches. In the United States there are no civil jurisdictions controlled by ecclesiasticism, unless: (1.) it can be said that the Mormon church holds sway in the civil affairs and politics of certain cities and counties of Utah and Idaho, or (2.) it can be said that the Catholic church religiously and morally runs the political apparatus in certain northeastern and other cities, where the population is predominantly Roman Catholic.  It has never been a positive thing in the U.S.A. for Catholic bishops, for example, to be photographed behind political leaders as is seen in many other countries.  Even John F. Kennedy, America's only Roman Catholic president thus far, was generally careful not to be photographed doing anything official with a priest or bishop in the background. We don't need to say much more.  It is obvious that there is no biblical basis for this kind of Episcopacy.  The history of the past seventeen centuries will illustrate the wickedness of bishops having control within civil jurisdictions, as well as bishops controlling multiple local churches.  The episcopal form of government also pretends at some level of apostolic-type authority.  True Baptists have always properly resisted such power.



At times it will appear that a local church is governed by an oligarchy.  That is, it is governed by a few.  An oligarchy is a species of aristocracy.  The local church, however  is not to be governed by any on the basis of rank and wealth (cf. James 2:1-9; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). Generally speaking, it would appear that churches are governed by that minority of members that takes the greatest interest, and undertakes the most consistent involvement. But if other members are not restricted from participation, then it can not be said that a church is governed by any oligarchy. All members should participate in the spiritual ministries of the church.



Then it is also obvious that the local church in this dispensation cannot be a monarchy.  This is the case as long as our King (1 Timothy 6:15) remains in the heavenly places and we remain here on earth.



Theocracy?  Not hardly, for the simple reason that the local church is not a civil state or nation, nor is the Body of Christ.  Israel of the Old Testament was at the same time an ecclesiastical and civil government, and therefore was a theocracy. Israel will one day again be a theocracy (see 1 Peter 2:5,9,10).  The theocracy was in place properly until the days of Samuel, when Israel rejected God as their King and desired a king like the other nations.  Whenever you hear a professed Baptist pastor imply that the principles of Old Testament government are transferable to the local churches of the current dispensation, or use the term "theocracy" with reference to himself, you are listening to the Bible interpretation of a man who would be king.  This kind of pastor knows he could never win in a mayoral or congressional race.  He is power hungry, and the only way he can get any satisfaction is by kingly authority over church folks.

Let's make clear what a theocracy is not.  First, no theocracy exists in the New Testament dispensation of Grace.  Secondly, theocracy has no relationship to any local congregation of believers whatsoever. Thirdly, therefore, A theocracy is not the autocratic rule by a local church bishop, elder or pastor who claims that by virtue of his training, ordination, office and position, God speaks through him particularly (as a priest or Old Testament prophet) making him a demigod.

The Spiritual Republic

[...for more than a hundred years after the death of the apostles...] Every society (church) formed within itself a separate and independent republic;...

Edward Gibbon, Historian

Having considered the other possibilities, we return to the concept of the republic for the local church.  When we use the word republic, we are not involving any particular constitutional arrangement.  For example, we are, in no way, teaching that a local church has some leaders who are executives, some who are legislative and some who are judicial as found in (just for example) America's federal Constitution.  We are not teaching the ideas of separation of powers, an independent judiciary, political checks and balances, or anything like that.

What we are doing is looking at:

  • 1. the Bible's description of believers themselves;
  • 2. their proper relationships one to another while on earth;
  • 3. restrictions which Scripture places on any Christians owing to sex, age or other status;
  • 4. clearly revealed authority structures;
  • 5. the Christian home in relationship to the church;
  • 6. and more.

Most of all, we want to examine the spiritual nature of the church and its commissions.  All other conditions must be subject to the whims of the Chief Executive of the Church-God the Holy Spirit.  This is what makes the republic of the local church a spiritual one, and not a political or natural one. We have no leave granted to us to exercise ourselves spiritually during formally scheduled "worship services" but to then act naturally and politically in other functions, even "business" functions of the church. Christ does not have two sides: spiritual and carnal.  Neither must His Body have two sides, nor should the local church have both a spiritual and a carnal side. Even physical things must be treated according to the needs and mandates of the spiritual nature. Any body that is not purely spiritual in nature has nothing to do with the worship of the God of the Bible and, if it is one of the Lord's churches, it is a disobedient church, as was the church at Corinth.  And at any time we set aside the spiritual things because we think of the business as being natural and worldly, we surely grieve and quench the Holy Spirit and we must not expect His leadership or His watch care.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

(John 4:24)

Baptists claim to believe in a regenerated church membership as a biblical distinctive.  Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit.

...he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior;

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

(Titus 5:5-7)

Verse 7 speaks of being "heirs."  That indicates sonship.  Sonship is described further in Romans 8:14-

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

If a local church functions in such a way as to bring glory to Jesus Christ in obedience to the Spirit of Christ, then men must be led and women must be led by the Spirit of God. Masters must be led and servants must be led by the Spirit of God.  Being led by the Spirit of God in the local church will mean that each believer accepts, without question or rebellion, what the Bible has to say about him or herself, and how the God of the Bibles means it for their good and not for their evil.  All thoughts of individual rights are to be set aside for the Rights of the Lord Jesus.  In this day of "civil rights" and "human rights" action, the churches of God ought to stand up and out for the Rights of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world.

In the spiritual republic, therefore, each Christian individual is keen, even excited, to take exactly the place given to him by God.  The participants in the spiritual republic of the local church will wait on God to see just how He will use each individual in their respective place to bring glory to Himself.  It matters not how lowly the world or unspiritual professing Christians view the matters at hand.

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

(1 Corinthians 12:18)

[Christ]From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

(Ephesians 4:16)

While on this earth each of us fits into one of the following relationships as given to us in Ephesians chapters 5 and 6: wife, husband, father, mother, master or servant.  These are properly the relationships within the home, which is the primary institution, having been established before the local church.  For the spiritual republic to function biblically and honorably toward Christ, each believer must learn, by the Lord's help, contentment within the relationship(s) he or she fits.  Further, the consequences of each relationship can not be limited to functions within the home, where nobody else sees, but must overflow in application in the assembly of the believers.  Nothing that takes place in the biblical assembly may violate the biblical order of the home.

  • 1. Wives are to submit to, and obey, their husbands in the home (Ephesians 5:22; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:6), as the Church to Christ. Wives must also therefore submit to, and obey, their own husbands in the assembly.
  • 2. Husbands must love their wives (Ephesians 5:22), as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it. It follows then that this watch care over the wife, and vicarious action of the husband for her must be illustrated in how they participate in the assembly.
  • 3. Children are to obey their parents, in the Lord, in the home (Ephesians 6:1), and that obedience can not be violated in the assembly either. Fathers and mothers (even before pastors) are to receive the honor of their children (6:2), and such would be the case in the assembly as well.
  • 4. Fathers are to bring up their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Such nurture and admonition, when biblical, is never to be contradicted or mocked, marginalized or belittled by any preaching, teaching, leadership or program in the church.
  • 5. Servants are to obey their masters as unto Christ (Ephesians 6:5), and their place in the local church, therefore, should also reflect that obedience.
  • 6. Masters are to forbear threatening toward their servants, remembering that they also have a Master in Heaven (Ephesians 6:9). The master therefore considers kindness toward his servants in the local assembly.

All right then, when taken as a whole, here is how the spiritual republic of the local church works:

Wives yield to their own husbands, eliminating the need for the suffrage of wives in the assembly.  Children yield to the nurturing father, eliminating the need for suffrage of children.  Servants yield to their masters. Masters recognize and show deference to the interests of any of their male servants who have families of their own.

Simply, you have for planning, decision making and leadership, the family heads, all adult men who demonstrate discipline and faithfulness, combined with the leadership of a bishop (pastor; presiding elder). This shields the weaker vessels-wives and daughters-from embarrassment, deception and spiritual harm (1 Corinthians 11:10; 1 Timothy 2:14; 1 Peter 3:7).  The husbands/fathers are the representatives in the assembly, not elected by popular vote, but made so by their God-given position in life.  This representative calling of God is one to be taken most seriously.  Further, this representative calling is one which must not be abrogated, even in (especially in!) cultures which are matriarchal (as some in Asia).

Remember that we are talking about a spiritual republic.  Face it-if there is no desire on the part of professing Christians to develop a genuine Bible-based spirituality, then there can be no spiritual church under any form of polity.  I dare say that, in history, the Lord has used churches in which people were mistaken about forms of church government, where the Christians involved did have a heart toward the Lord and were exercised in prayer, had broken hearts for the lost and a desire to stand for Christ in this evil world.  The Lord has used churches under elder-rule, Brethren-style, and other setups in Europe, Britain and North America.  We are foolish and arrogant to deny this. And we should desire the biblical and the spiritual together.

In this spiritual republic, there is the biblical oversight of the bishop, and let no Christian underestimate all that, to God, the bishop is responsible.

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.  ...

For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God

(1 Timothy 3:1,5)

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly;....

(1 Peter 5:2)

The bishopric (pastorate; presiding eldership) is an office of the local church. It's rule is defined in 1 Timothy 3:5 as tak[ing] care of the church of God.  It is an oversight responsibility.  It would behoove you, reader, to take the time now to read the following passages in your King James Bible carefully:

Ephesians 4:7-16

1 Timothy 3:1-7

2 Timothy 2:2,24

Titus 1:5-9

1 Peter 5:1-4

It is clear that the rule and oversight of the bishop is, first and foremost, spiritual.   This is oversight by a presiding elder who is, as the Presbyterians might say, a "teaching elder" (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:9; Ephesians 4:11). The bishop oversees willingly, but is not self-willed (Titus 1:7).  The bishop in the spiritual republic doesn't have to insist upon, strive for, or politic for his authority (2 Timothy 2:24).  This is because his oversight includes "Feed[ing] the flock of God."  (1 Peter 5:2)

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

(Acts 20:28)

The leadership and authority of the bishop are exercised in the teaching and preaching of God's words.  The minds and hearts of people are, in deed, changed and molded, renewed and cleansed by the Word of Truth (John 15:3; 17:17; Romans 12:2).  There is a power in the word of God itself to perform all the will of God in the lives of His children.  This power is not political, nor does it employ the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2).  Whenever a bishop must resort to the elements of this world, vain philosophies and political style manipulations of men, he demonstrates his own weakness in the study of the Bible, and a lack of reliance upon its inherent character and power.

The bishop is both under the authority of the Scriptures and has the Scriptures as his authority in office.  Where, then, are the checks and balances for the authority of the bishop?  The checks and balances are in the hearts and hands of every child of God: the Holy Spirit and the written word of God.  The Bible itself is the Constitution for the spiritual republic of the church.

One test of a spiritual republic is how well it functions without humanly devised constitutions and by-laws.  One of the reasons I would never entangle a local church under the laws of civil government by incorporation is that no government would accept the submission of the New Testament itself as the "Constitution and By-Laws" of the church corporate.  In other words, if we were to apply for corporate status for our church with a civil government, and submit as our constitution and by-laws the actual text of the New Testament, it would be rejected by the civil authorities.  The governments of man would alter the offices, procedures and commissions of God's churches to conform the church to the pattern of man-made entities that can be brought under subjection to the civil power.  The Christian, who believes the Bible, has no authority to allow this or acquiesce to it.  The Christian has no authority to change the office of the bishop to that of a "president."  The Christian has no authority to add offices ("secretary," "treasurer," "trustee," etcetera) that are not specified in the New Testament.  By acquiescing to civil authorities, by incorporation the churches have lost their distinctive witness in this world as a body not of this world with one Head, even Christ.

So the Christian in the church has, first of all, a written Authority.  That written Authority in the final generations of the Church Age is none other than the King James Bible in English (English is obviously the world language of these generations).  That is why the called representatives of God's people in the spiritual republic of the church-husbands and fathers-must without hesitation or delay learn the Bible, the "Constitution for the Spiritual Republic."

Ephesians 6:4,10,14,15

1 Corinthians 14:35

1 Timothy 4:2

2 Timothy 2:15

1 Peter 3:7

2 Peter 1:2,3

Psalm 119

Any bishop who attempts to limit the Bible knowledge of Christians must be challenged as to his motives in the ministry.  It is his very calling and commission to advance the study of God's word, not just for a clergy class of men, but for all the people of God. Does not the bishop understand that this world often scatters families around, and sometimes to places where there are no Bible-believing churches or ministers?  The desire of a true bishop is to produce whole congregations of well-equipped missionary-evangelists.  Bible schools, speaking of the churches themselves, ought to train the common sheep of God's pasture as well as the God-called office holders.  Why should a bishop expect loyalty from those he underfeeds?  God's people will follow the under-shepherd who leads them to the rich green pastures of God's word and gives them much pure sweet water of life.

*The Authority of, learning of, and obedience to the Bible

*The saving faith of Christ in regeneration

*Prayer and communion with our Holy God

*Worship in the assembly of the True and Living God

*Being led of the Spirit

*Love, compassion and courtesy among the Brethren

*Broken hearts for the unsaved and condemned

These things comprise the characteristics of the spiritual republic, for these things require spirit and truth (John 4:24).  When the bishop is focused on these things and preaches from the Authority of the Bible, the constituents of the republic recognize, honor and follow.  When the bishop, on the other hand, can not line up his ministering to the plain words of the Bible, the called representatives of the spiritual republic-husbands and fathers-not only may, but must bring issues, questions and challenges to the table to be answered by the bishop.  The bishop is answerable, not first to man, but to the word of God.

The Christian also has indwelling him the very same Holy Spirit-Spirit of Christ-who also indwells the bishop (Romans 8:9,26-27; 1 John 2:27).  Husbands and fathers are commanded to come to the very same Throne of Grace as may be approached by the bishop.  It is very often the case that the most spiritual man in the church is not the bishop.  Any bishop who implies that he is always the most spiritual of any persons in the assembly proves by that implication that he is not very spiritual at all.

For as many (not only college trained ministers) as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

(Romans 8:14)

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

(Ephesians 5:18-21)

It is obvious that any believer can be filled with the Spirit-not only the bishops and elders.  The church can indeed be a spiritual republic.  Shame on the bishop who believes that his congregation cannot be truly spiritual.  And dangerous is the ground walked on by a bishop who willfully attempts to hinder God's children from being filled with the Spirit or being led by the Spirit.  I dare say that the Spirit is grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19) in any bishop who wants to maintain an air of spirituality and power for himself by denying fruitful spirituality to Christians in his ministry (Galatians 5:22-26).

Deacons In The Spiritual Republic

The qualifications for men serving in the office of the deacon are found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.  The only other reference in the New Testament where the word is found is Philippians 1:1.

Many who read the Epistles back into the early Acts period see the seven men chosen in Acts chapter 6 as deacons.  The word deacon is not found in that chapter.  I do not take the position that the seven men in Acts 6 were deacons in the sense of 1 Timothy chapter 3, because they were assigned only one task (Acts 6:3, "this business"), and it seems their service in that vain was temporary.  Nevertheless, if you examine the task assigned to those seven men, you may gain some idea of the purpose of the office of the deacon.

May a deacon preach?  Why not?  Why can't any Christian man preach the word of God, if God has called him and laid a message on him.  Being a servant to the church in temporal things in no way disqualifies a man from the ministry of the word of God.  Perhaps it rather enhances his qualification to minister the word.  If Stephen was a deacon, he also preached the word of God (Acts 6:5,8 through 7:60).  If Philip was a deacon, it is no doubt that he was also a Spirit-filled evangelist (Acts 5:5; 8:5-8,26-40; 21:8).

For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

(1 Timothy 3:13)

The deacon is a minister or servant.  The temporal and material service he is to render is of such an important nature that it requires the accompanying spiritual qualifications of 1 Timothy chapter 3.  This is an office of great trust, and it is not to be taken lightly.  Any office of such great trust in the assembly requires a spiritual man.

Deacons are individual servants or ministers to the church. Although they obviously may cooperate together to fulfill certain tasks, there is no instruction in the New Testament for these servants to form themselves into a "board of deacons."  There is no "chairman of deacons."  There is no "deacon rule."  The office of the deacon is not an office of authority (beyond what is delegated for the carrying out of assigned tasks), nor one of making decisions for the church.  The New Testament never once implies that deacons are to control or instruct the bishop.  We certainly see no justification whatsoever for deacons being included in "consistories or kirk-sessions, with authority to inspect and regulate matters of religion and discipline," as found in the Presbyterian form of government studied earlier.

The office of the deacon is an executorship.  When the called representatives of the assembly (husbands/fathers with the spiritual leadership of the bishop/elders) determine the need of some specified form of temporal and material service (feeding, clothing, housing, care-giving, etcetera) a deacon or deacons may be placed in trust with these matters.

Choosing deacons, when the need for this office arises, is a matter of searching out from among the assembly men who already meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy chapter 3, and men who already demonstrate the propensity to perform acts of charitable service.   To inform a man that he is being considered as a candidate for the office of the deacon and then to watch to see if he will develop the expected attributes from that point in time forward is in no way a spiritual means of placing a man in this office.  The man for the office will be a man commonly known to already possess the spirituality, qualifications and enjoyment of service demanded in Scripture.  A congregation well-instructed in the Scriptures, well-exercised in prayer, and desirous of a truly spiritual nature for God's church will recognize a qualified deacon, even before the need for a man in that office arises.  A man seeking authority is to be passed over.

Appendix No. 1

A Description of the Governance of the

Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LCMS)

By Gordon Nelson

(Note: The reason we are including this as an appendix is because it does not, in our minds, quite fit the description of the Episcopal specie of church government to which Lutherans claim to subscribe.  In many forums we find Lutherans and Episcopalians in league together (e.g. in cooperative training of ministers), and some Lutheran ministers claim that Lutheran denominations subscribe to the Episcopal form.  This is specifically descriptive of the Missouri Synod, which is generally thought of as being more conservative than other Lutheran synods. -R.E.P.)

The LCMS was formed to bring together those who subscribed to the Lutheran teachings and to provide a way to train new pastors to serve Lutheran congregations. As I am sure you know, the Lutherans had their roots in Germany. Doctrine has always been an integral element in our governance.

The Missouri Synod has traditionally emphasized its non-hierarchical nature by emphasizing that the congregations are autonomous. Congregations call whomever they want as a pastor, provided he is LCMS-trained and is on our clergy roster. A congregation in Maryland, for instance, can call a pastor from a congregation in New Mexico. If he accepts, that leaves the congregation in New Mexico with a vacancy, and the NM congregation must call someone. This is not very efficient, but we believe the Holy Spirit is at work in this.

The synod consists of its members, and two classes of memberships are possible:

1. Each congregation is a member of the synod. When a congregation wishes to become a member of the synod, e5it must adopt a constitution which says that it binds itself to the LCMS constitution, as well as to the Bible, the three ecumenical creeds and certain confessional writings.

2. Each ordained pastor is a member of the synod. Although I am a member of a Missouri Synod congregation, I am not a member of the synod. (Our pastor is.)

For purposes which were originally administrative, synod was divided into districts. They were an adjunct to the Synod to facilitate the activities and programs of the Synod. The LCMS is not a federation of districts. However, as more and more responsibilities were turned over to the districts to administer, the nature of the districts changed. In the early days, district presidents were parish pastors. They understood what life was like on the front lines. Marrying, burying and baptizing were their daily fare. With the passage of time, and the increasing complexity of church programs, the job of district president took more and more time and they are now full time salaried positions. They are elected at conventions of districts.

I mentioned above the notion that congregations are autonomous. That is true until a congregation tries to go its own way doctrinally. Then the congregations are reminded that they bound themselves to the synod's doctrinal position when they became members of the synod.

The Synod conducts its business at conventions (currently every three years.) There are about 1500 delegates at a convention, about half laymen and half clergy. The synod convention elects a board of directors of both lay and clergy members and they more or less run the administrative end of synod between conventions.




[1] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, facsimile First Edition 1828, Foundation For American Christian Education, Chesapeake, Virginia.

[2] Henry Campbell Black, M.A., Blacks Law Dictionary, Fourth Edition, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1951.

[3]See 1

[4]See footnote #2

[5] See footnote #1

[6] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, facsimile First Edition 1828, Foundation For American Christian Education, Chesapeake, Virginia

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

[11] As published in The Political Subversion of our Constitutional Republic, John Rakus, Esq., National Justice Foundation, Sacramento, California, Date not given.

[12] As found in Baptist History, Robert J. Terrey, Trinity Baptist College, Jacksonville, Florida, USA, page 2.

[13] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, facsimile First Edition 1828, Foundation For American Christian Education, Chesapeake, Virginia



e1 In our day the term "independent" among those of us who claim to be independent Baptists is being confused and blurred.  There are large "fellowships" of professing independents that seem to betray the very concept. The Baptist Bible Fellowship International, Inc. (B.B.F.I., Springfield, Missouri), for example, has a mechanism in cooperation with the United States Treasury's Internal Revenue Service (the federal tax collecting bureaucracy) by which all fellowshipping churches and missionaries may use a single federal employee identification number.  This makes the B.B.F.I. a denomination in the eyes of the federal government, just the same as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., The Catholic Church or any other denomination.

We recently attended a meeting at a church in Manila where the pastor stated that they are in fact not independent, but are dependent on Christ.  While we give a hearty "Amen" to dependency upon Jesus Christ, we know that the description, "independent Baptist," does not refer to the relationship between the church and our Head in Heaven.  The term independent refers to a non-affiliation status of a local church to any denominational hierarchy or structure.  Of course, many churches are independent in their stated position while at the same time being morally or financially dependent on some group, fellowship, association or other organization.

e2 To get a current media illustration of the democracy drug, one may study the presidential election fiasco taking place in Florida, USA even as we write (December 12, 2000).  The Democrat Party and their propaganda arm-the mainstream news media-keep on describing the Nation as a democracy. The tell tale remains of the republic our Nation was designed to be can be seen through a glass darkly in the Florida legislature's potential act of selecting the state's electors to the Electoral College itself and bypassing all the nonsense of the activist courts.

e3 This is true even in supposedly independent Baptist churches.  The main source of spiritual decay and apostasy coming into the local churches is the Bible colleges and Christian liberal arts colleges and universities.  This is precisely the reason so many local church pastors are now returning to 2 Timothy 2:2 and training young men, either formally (e.g. in an institute setup) or informally (e.g. by personal teaching and training "on the job").

e4 We do not take a set (say, a dozen or so) of "fundamentals of the faith," extract them from the Bible, and then label ourselves as fundamentalists.  We believe this to be an error of many so-called fundamentalist colleges and universities in the United States.  We believe the entire Bible literally (except where the text itself tells us it is using a figure of speech-a parable, a figure, a sign, a metaphor, a simile, etcetera) and rightly divided.  We believe the whole Bible, not just some fundamentals extracted from it.  We believe that there are dispensational divisions in the Bible, and that the Bible itself is able to show us where these divisions are.  And we believe in only one Bible in the English language-the one preserved to the final generations of the Church Age-the King James Bible.

e5 Missouri Synod Lutheran congregations "must adopt a constitution which says that it binds itself to the LCMS constitution, as well as to the Bible, the three ecumenical creeds and certain confessional writings." Well, at least Mr. Nelson mentions the Bible.  Historic Baptists bind themselves to the Bible as the sole and final authority.  There is no such thing as a supra-church (denominational) constitution for genuine Baptists because there is no such thing as the Baptist Church.  There are only Baptist churches.  We reject ecumenical creeds, simply because we reject the very concept of ecumenical union on this earth in this age.  The only "confessional writings" we are interested in are preserved on the pages of the Bible itself in the very text of Holy Writ. I don't believe that any man can really "bind" himself to the Bible and still be bound to documents written by sinful man, which may change from synod to synod.

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