The general distrust of institutions and authority within society affects the church and its government. So does an individualism that sees nothing in it of personal benefit for us. It’s not hard to see why church government is out of fashion and treated with contempt. Many see it as something barely necessary for what’s really important. But church government is not about some kind of detached institutionalism, it’s all about the authority and the ministry of Christ. And its purpose is, in fact, our edification and growth in the Christian life. In another article we can look at how it edifies us, but here we want to focus on how church government is truly Christ-centred.
In this updated extract, some of the members of the Westminster Assembly explain from Scripture how church government is indeed all about Christ as Mediator. People can abuse it and get it wrong, but if we treat the whole matter with contempt because of that we are in danger of mistreating Christ’s own authority in His Church. When we fail to see this there is a danger that mere men get the place and authority that is reserved for Christ alone.
As Scripture is the rule of church government, so Christ is the sole root and fountain from which it originally flows. Jesus Christ our Mediator has all authority and power in heaven and in earth for the government of His church committed unto him from God the Father. This is clearly evident from the following.
1. Christ Has Been Given the Government of His Church
Plain testimonies of Scripture declare that the government of the church is laid upon His shoulder, to which end the Father has invested Him with all authority and power. “The government shall be upon his shoulder,” etc. (Isaiah 9:6-7). “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” etc. (Matthew 28:18–19). “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32–33). All things, including all authority and judgment is given to the Son (John 5:22, 27; John 3:35). He has the key of David to open and no man can shut (Revelation 3:7). “God raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come”. He has put all things under his feet, and given Him to be “the head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:20–23).
2. Christ Has Been Given the Titles of Government of His Church
Eminent princely titles are attributed to Jesus Christ our Mediator with authority, power, rule, and government in reference to His church. A Governor which “shall feed” (or rule) “my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6). “That great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). “That Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25). “One is your Master, Christ (Matthew 23:8, 10); “Christ as a son over his own house” (Hebrews 3:6). “The head of the body, the church” (Colossians. 1:18; Ephesians 5:23). “Head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). “To us…but one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:6), “made of God both Lord and Christ” (Acts 23:6); “Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36); God’s king set on His “holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6); “David their king” (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24; Hosea 3:5); “King of kings” (Revelation 19:16).
3. Christ Fulfils the Work of Government of His Church
Certain fundamental acts of power and supreme authority in the government of the Church are especially ascribed to Jesus Christ our Mediator, as appropriate to Him alone above all creatures. These include the following.
(a) Giving laws to His Church
“The law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2); gave commandments to the apostles (Acts 1:2); “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12); “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver” (or statute maker), “the Lord is our king” (Isaiah 33:22).
(b) Instituting ordinances for His Church to be edified
- preaching the Word (Matthew 10:7; 1 Cor. 1:17; Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15);
- administering the sacraments: Baptism (John 1:33 with Matthew 3:13 and
28:18–19) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20, 23, etc.; Matthew 26:26, etc.; Mark 14:22,
etc.; Luke 22:19–20);
- administering censures (Matthew 16:19 with 18:15–18, etc.).
(c) Ordaining and appointing those officers who are to administer His ordinances in His Church
“He gave gifts to men … and he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:7–11. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Acts 20:28).
(d) Administering Christ’s Ordinances in Christ’s Name
Christ’s ordinances are not administered in the name of civil governors, ministers, churches, councils, etc., but in Christ’s own name. The apostles spoke and taught “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:17–18); “Whatsoever you ask in my name” (John 14:13–14; 16:23); “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son” (Matthew 28:18–19); “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5); “In the name … with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:4[–5]). Assemblies of the church are to be in Christ’s name. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name” (Matthew 18:20).
This has been extracted from a pastoral book on church government called Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici: The Divine Right of Church Government which has recently been republished.
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