A series of essays exploring what the church, considering its ongoing reformation begun 500 years ago, will look like in the next decade and beyond: A futurist’s snapshot of the Christian Church.
This is the way I imagined church governance and offices becoming necessary. With the advent of the Christian Pentecost, things were chaotic. After all, in a single hour, the early church added, unexpectedly, 3,000 believers (Acts 2:41). And those who were at the center of it were falsely perceived as being drunk (Acts 2:13). How to order the chaos that resulted among the early believers whose hearts were stirred by the Holy Spirit? Soon afterward, the early church leaders began to define the parameters of belief and practice (Acts 15). Very early, the leaders apprehended a need for an office of service. Deacons were appointed exactly for this purpose (Acts 6:2-6). Also, very early, the leaders apprehended a need for an office to govern, what I call, the purity of belief (what is to be the limit of Christian theology). As a result, a teaching office was developed. But it was also apparent that teaching by itself was not adequate. And a governing office was necessitated. And then, in addition to the office of deacon, there were the offices of teacher and elder.
Leaping decades and centuries, at the time, the model of leadership was autocratic, with all power in the person of a bishop, and what evolved was a hierarchal form of church governance which embraced these early offices. Over the ensuing centuries, as it evolved, there emerged a holy order -a priestly class – which required special preparation and recognition – the rite of Holy Orders including ordination. By the time of the Reformation, it seemed to the reformers that all Christian service was limited to the priestly class. The reformers pushed back against this practice, saying the practice of faith belonged to all believers and called for a priesthood of all believers. Embracing this concept, out of the Reformation there emerged among the churches of the Reformation two distinct forms of governance: a congregational form in which all the decisions of governance are made by all believers together; and a representative form in which all believers elect representatives who govern in councils. Together with the episcopal form of governance, with all the power of governance in the office of a bishop, there are now these three offices.
In the Reforming Church, the form of governance is not so important as the limits of governance, and the conduct of those who govern. Loosely defined, here are the basic rules of governance in the Reforming Church.
- Church offices are offices of service. There are four offices: Deacons who serve the pastoral needs of a congregation; Teachers who equip the Followers of the Way in the congregation to witness and service in the community, and also service to the congregation of the Followers of the Way ; Evangelists who lead the Followers of the Way in service to the community; and Elders who, in council seek the mind of God and represent God’s will to their congregation; provide for the worship of the congregation; provide for the support and oversight of those who serve in and for the congregation; and provide the practices that stirs the Followers of the Way to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).
- Those who serve in church offices, their lives witness the character of faith and also they practice the discipline of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26), and they have a compelling sense of personal calling which is confirmed by the Followers of the Way of a congregation by a democratic vote.
- The extent of power granted to those who hold office is limited by the power of persuasion, exercising humility before the mind of God.
- The church offices serve together enabling all Followers of the Way to discern God’s call and to serve as they are called by God.
For the next four weeks, I will address the responsibilities of those who serve in these four offices.