The leaders of Heritage Christian Fellowship are committed to the inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible. Thus, when we were determining how God would have us govern our church, we looked to the Scripture as our only guide. We found only one form of church government modeled in the New Testament – that of an elder-led church where the elders, in plurality, rule over congregated believers under the headship of Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Triune God. We at Heritage Christian Fellowship are participants in a Theocracy. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is the head of the Church. (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18) He purchased her with His saving blood.(Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:2, 25; Revelation 5:9) He rules over her as sovereign Lord. (Matthew 7:21-27; Luke 6:46) He governs her with God’s Word revealed in Scripture. (John 17:17)
After His ascension to Heaven, Christ’s sovereign authority over His church on earth was first administered by His chosen Apostles. (John 15:16) These men received specific instructions from Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-2, 4-5) and submitted themselves in obedience to His authority (Acts 1:15-26). When the Holy Spirit descended upon the assembled believers on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus Christ delegated a measure of His authority to His Apostles. Under Christ’s ultimate authority in the Theocracy of the church, these men were endowed with the privileged responsibility of teaching, leadership, direction, discipline, and general oversight. (Acts 2:1-43) Believers in Christ recognized and submitted themselves to the God-given authority of the Apostles. (Acts 4:32 – 5:16)
Escalating persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, which culminated in the death of Stephen, effectively scattered believers throughout the regions and Judea and Samaria where they “went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:1, 4) As new converts were made, groups of believers began to meet and function as local churches. Since the Apostles had remained in Jerusalem, these new local churches were in need of local leadership – a need which was met by the appointment of elders. Elders succeeded the Apostles as overseers of local churches within the realm of the Theocracy ruled by Jesus Christ. (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:6, 22-29) This progression of leadership authority from Christ to His Apostles to elders in local churches is the only biblical model of church government in the New Testament. Significantly, the only biblical model of church government in the New Testament is a Theocracy, not a democracy.
Jesus Christ, as the head of the Church, governs His Church by choosing and ordaining its leadership. The New Testament gives no evidence of Apostles and elders ever being elected by popular vote. They were always appointed after being recognized as those called and equipped by God for the task. To aid in this recognition process, the writers of Scripture were inspired to include lists of specific qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Those who reflect these qualities in their daily lives and who are, in effect, doing the work of the office without the title of the office, give evidence of God’s call to the office.
Words used synonymously with “elder” in the New Testament are overseer, presbyter, bishop, shepherd, and pastor. (Acts 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-5) Although these words may reflect some differences in areas of responsibility or individual giftedness, they are never used to suggest a hierarchy of power or authority. The New Testament model of church government depicts elders ruling in plurality, i.e., serving equally together under the authority of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to determine and implement God’s will for His church. (Acts 15:6-29, 20:28-31; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-5)
Those appointed as elders in Christ’s church bear the heavy responsibility and authority to manage, care for, rule, have charge over, instruct, exercise oversight, pastor, shepherd, equip, and watch over the souls entrusted to their care. They are solemnly charged to: (1) preach God’s Word accurately, knowledgably, winsomely, unashamedly, and completely; (2) be faithful to their calling “in season and out of season,” that is, when it is popular and when it is not; (3) reprove (correct by pointing out error), rebuke (admonish strongly with urgency and authority), and exhort (strongly encourage in a variety of ways); (4) be fully aware of and not succumb to the dangers of the times in which they live; (5) be sober, self-controlled, stable, dependable, and consistent in all things, (6) willingly endure hardship, (7) do the work of an evangelist, and (8) accomplish all that God gives them to do. (2 Timothy 4:1-5) Their work is all-consuming and focuses intensely on the spiritual needs of the church. If done well, it leaves little time or energy to attend to the practical needs of the church. Therefore, Scripture also describes and models the office of deacon. (1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12-13) Deacons probably originated in Acts 6:1-6 as flexible service-oriented assistants to the elders focused primarily on meeting the practical needs of the congregation. Deacons are also appointed (not popularly elected) to serve after being recognized as those called and equipped by God for the task. (Acts 6:5-6)
If you would like more information regarding the biblical model of church government, we recommend the following resources:
Biblical Eldership: Restoring the Eldership to its Rightful Place in the Church, by Alexander Strauch (48 page booklet)
Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, by Alexander Strauch (340 page book)
The Biblical Eldership Study Guide: Twelve Lessons for Mentoring Elders, by Alexander Strauch (194 pages)
The Biblical Eldership Mentor’s Guide: Leader’s Edition, by Alexander Strauch and Richard Swartley (194 pages)
Three sermon series on Church government by HCF Pastor-Elder Tim Maxwell
22 Part Series on Biblical Eldership by HCF Pastor-Elder Tim Maxwell