Looking at the early church in the book of Acts, we see a group of people, dedicated to certain things. Acts 2:42-47 describes the early church succinctly: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”.
They were concerned with what Christ was concerned with. They seemed to govern themselves as such: The apostles/disciples were the leaders of the church; they preached and taught the other believers. The rest of the early church pitched in where needed and as directed by the disciples. Soon the church grew very large and the disciples put in place deacons to serve the people, so they could continue preaching and teaching (Acts 6:1-17).
They not only were the teachers of the church, but they were also evangelists, telling the Gospel to all who would listen.
Soon the church was scattered and spread throughout different provinces and areas. Paul, once converted began preaching the Gospel all around Rome and Greece as well as Israel. This is where church governance changed, because there was no longer a small group of local church members, but this God ordained “Church” was all over, spread across countries. Each pocket needed to develop order and leadership.
Throughout church history, there have been numerous governing outlines. Erickson in Biblical Doctrine calls the forms: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational and Nongovernmental. He goes on to describe each one in turn, but all are soundly rooted from the Scriptures. Some of the best Scriptures on church leadership and authority are found in Paul’s letters to his young pastors: Timothy and Titus. Before we delve into the different forms and describe which one best fits the Christian and Missionary Alliance, I think it would be right to see what Paul laid down for his young pastors in way of church governance.
In all three letters (2 to Timothy and 1 to Titus), Paul describes them as the leader and shepherd of the particular churches they are in. In today’s governance terms, Paul was calling these men the Senior Pastors of the church. He then instructed these men on how to choose among the congregation leaders who could help them lead their church. He lays down specific attributes these men must have in order to fill this type of church office. Paul however, never in these two books gives a description of what they would be doing within this area of leadership (the “what they do” is found within the books of Acts, which we will explore in a different post).
They are called by Paul overseers (also known as Bishops) and deacons; we’ve seen some roles filled out by the early church in Acts with those who would be considered overseers or deacons.
One role, which was laid down BY the Elders was the distribution of food to the widows, in which the Apostles elected members to handle this important work. Again, even the election of these men was a mystery. How were these men chosen or by whom? We know they had to have these qualities, so one would assume they were recommended from within the body. We in the American church have taken to this in a democratic fashion and have elections of officials; all who have been proven to have the qualities laid down in 1 Timothy and Titus.