4. The Form of Church Government
Baptists are backed by the Scriptures in their claim of a congregational or democratic form of church government, all the members having an equal voice in the administrations of the church’s affairs. This form of church government is proved by the following facts:
- A whole church voted in the election of an apostle to succeed Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26).
- 2. A whole church acted together in the election and ordination of the first deacons (Acts 6:2-6).
- A whole church acted together in sending forth missionaries (Acts 13:1, 2; 14:26, 27).
- A church as such is authorized to receive members (Romans 14:1).
- 5. A church as such is authorized to dismiss members for bad conduct (I Cor. 5:13; II Cor. 2:6; II Thess. 3:6).
The Corinthian church expelled from her membership an incestuous man by majority vote. “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment which was inflicted of many” (II Cor. 2:6). The word “many” comes from an original word meaning “majority.” This shows beyond any reasonable doubt the church maintained a democratic form of government.
- The congregational form of government is supported by the fact a church is complete within itself and is independent. Other congregations are not necessary for the being of a church, but they may contribute to its well-being. In Acts 16:5 we note that members of a church went abroad and established like churches: “And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.”
- The fact Christ recognizes a church as being the highest ecclesiastical tribunal on earth supports the congregational form of government, Matt. 18:17a, 18: “And if he shall neglect to hear them (the one or two witnesses) tell it unto the church…Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This authority was committed to a local congregation as a whole, thus showing that all the members should have a voice in any transaction
That is the Baptist system of church government – all members of a church being equals in a perfect democracy. They may not be equals in material possessions, or talents, or resourcefulness, but in authority under the Lord.
Other forms of church government, as taught by certain denominations, include the episcopal and presbyterial forms. By the episcopal is meant a church governed by bishops; and by presbyterial is meant a church is governed by presbyters or elders. These teachings arose after the close of the apostolic period, hence not taught in the Scriptures. They take away from the churches adopting such such systems their autonomous rights, whereas the congregational form of government necessarily implies three things: first, equality of the members touching their voice in the governing affairs of the congregation; second, independence of each church, as already mentioned; and third, each church is amenable only to the Lord in the conduct of its affairs.