We hold that governance within the Church of God is a primary issue. The Kingdom of God is ruled solely by the government of God and has a direct bearing on the developing Plan of Salvation for mankind. Due to the rejection of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, man took to himself the right to decide what was right and what was wrong. This has led to the development of erroneous perspectives on government and the use of authority, along with many other aspects of life. Human nature does not want to submit to God’s authority, so wrong concepts of government develop easily in the human realm.
God’s Church understands that authority in God’s government originates from and ultimately rests with the Father. How that is understood and practiced at the human level has often led to viewing government from known human experiences. Since God’s government is clearly hierarchical, other known hierarchical forms of government administration have sometimes been adopted in an effort to model the government of God within the Church. Hierarchy of itself is not necessarily Godly. Samuel warned Israel that a king would use his hierarchical position to their hurt (1 Samuel 8:10-18, Deuteronomy 17:15-20). Jesus Christ instructed the disciples about the abusive use of hierarchy in the governments of this world (Luke 22:24-27). The influence of military service, which was so endemic throughout society during the re-formative years of the Church in the 20th century clearly had a negative impact, even if with the best of intentions. Society rebelled against this model in the 60’s and 70’s to a more laissez-faire approach in which people sought to correct an authoritarian model by substituting self-determination – every man doing what was right in his own eyes.
In this paper, we would like to examine a Biblical model for government. It does not do away with hierarchy, but rather focuses on why the nature of the government our loving Heavenly Father has given to us is hierarchical.
THE FOUNDATION OF GOD’S GOVERNMENT
The government of God is important to those called by God and placed into the Body of Christ. It is not, for us, a peripheral doctrine. The Church, as the bride of Christ, marries Christ upon His return. This spiritual transformation places those resurrected into the Kingdom of God, and they will become priests of Christ and reign with Him for a thousand years. They will become administrators of the government of God over this earth. As Daniel clearly states, “Then the Kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:27). It is inconceivable that the Church today is to operate by any different standard of government than those standards which will be in place in the future under Christ’s rule. Therefore God’s government should function in the Church today as the role model for our training in governance now and in God’s Kingdom.
The history of God’s government in His Church begins before mankind was created. The relationship between the two Beings that made up the Godhead was a government relationship. In John 1:1 we are informed that the Word was God and that He was with God. The phrase “and the Word was with God” is very important. It illustrates the concept that the Word was eternally in a very close face-to-face relationship with God. This word “with” is translated from a strong preposition in the Greek. Its usage of “pros” in this verse conveys the sense of direction and orientation more than a word of association and location. It denotes motion towards something or someone. The Word was always oriented towards the One who became the Father. We shall see that this is the purpose for Church government – God’s government in His Church.
The Word became God’s Son through being begotten by the Father, to be born of the virgin Mary. When Christ was born as a human, the relationship that existed in the heavenly realm was extended to the human realm as indicated by a prophecy in Isaiah chapter 7, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). As the Christ, His orientation was always towards the Father. No matter what the Father is doing, Christ always looks to Him. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:3-4). Just as Christ is in the presence of the Father in a face-to-face relationship with Him, the day will come when we will all be looking directly at our Father. All eyes will be upon Him. One of the essential aspects of Christ’s first coming was to reveal the Father (Matthew 11:27). In so revealing Him, Christ also helped us understand more fully the entire nature and purpose of Godly government.
THE GOD FAMILY RELATIONSHIP
As the government of God extends from the God family to the human family, we are surely led to focus on aspects of family relationships. God is revealed to us as a Father and Christ as His Son – a Father-Son divine family relationship. To perpetuate this relationship in the created physical environment, man was created after the God kind. In order to appreciate what God was working out, they were created male and female in a family relationship. This is a representation of the heavenly family relationship. The sexual union in marriage has two important elements to it. Firstly, it is a creative process which produces potential children for God’s family. Secondly, it binds a man and a woman together as one flesh – a type of the unity that the Father and Son have. The human family relationship is a window into the heavenly family realm. It provides a tangible example of the family relationship between man and his Creators.
The family is also a template for understanding government in the Church. In a lengthy section of his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul covered the aspect of government between a man and a woman by addressing hair length. A woman is to express her submission by wearing longer hair and the man is to express his submission by his shorter hair length. The subject is not hair length but government. Paul laid out the template in stating: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). This hierarchically-structured government connects the human realm to the heavenly realm through the marriage relationship. This is the government of God.
CHRIST’S INSTRUCTION TO THE CHURCH
If we superimpose this template onto Ephesians chapter 5, we can begin to understand how this hierarchical structure is meant to function. Using this model, Paul explains the nature of governance in the Church. Beginning with the attitude of submitting one to another (v21), he typifies a wife’s submission to her husband and the sacrificial responsibility of her husband as her head to demonstrate how Christ serves as the head of the church (v22-24). The husband’s love for his wife expresses how he is to use the authority given to him – as a reflection of Christ’s loving authority over His church. A husband’s efforts should help his wife to develop a stronger relationship with Christ (v 28-29), just as Christ’s efforts help the Church develop a stronger relationship with the Father. Paul references the sexual union and the two becoming one flesh to illustrate the unity that not only the Father and Son have, but that a man and his wife are also to have along with them (v31-32). The government of God exists in the Church to facilitate, support and strengthen the relationship of members to the Father through Christ. The marriage/family relationship is a working model of God’s government in action. Daniel made this connection when, after stating that dominion would be given to the saints of the Most High, he continued by saying, “And all dominions shall serve and obey Him” (Daniel 7:27). As sons of God, our administration of God’s government in the future will serve to facilitate a relationship between the Father and humanity, just as the Church should do so today. Other spiritual qualities such as unity and peace flow from this connection and cannot exist without it.
A further example of how God’s government should function is in the ministry of Christ. Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Christ responded by telling them that the kingdom was in their midst (Luke 17:21). His presence in the human realm was an extension of God’s government/kingdom from the spiritual realm. Christ was the government of God on earth during His physical lifetime. John the Baptist understood this when he declared, He who comes from above is above all and what He has seen and heard, that He testifies … he who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God sent speaks the words of God … the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand (John 3:31-35).
Christ represented the Father, thus establishing the government of the Father-Son family relationship among mankind. Christ constantly reiterated that He of Himself could do nothing but that it was the Father working through Him. In this, He drew the attention of mankind to the Father. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:19-23). “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:7) Christ’s ministry proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God along with laying the foundation for God’s government to continue in the Church into the future.
MISSION OF THE CHURCH
Christ’s final prayer before the events leading up to His crucifixion tells the story very clearly. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:25-26). Christ, as the government of God on earth, directed the attention of mankind to the Father. The good news of the coming kingdom of God is the good news of God’s government ruling over this earth. The church has the mission of continuing Christ’s work until the time that the kingdom is established. At that time, as resurrected saints, their mission will be to assist in administering that government – with the same goal of pointing all of humanity to the Father.
The prophet Isaiah spelled out the mission of the Church in undeniably clear terms. In a section that references Christ and the Church, Isaiah says, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison …” (Isaiah 42:6-8). Christ’s role transfers to the Church. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). This theme continues throughout chapter 43: “You are My witnesses says the LORD … (v10). Therefore you are My witnesses says the LORD that I am God… This people I have formed for Myself, they shall declare My praise” (v12, 21). As Christ came to draw mankind’s attention to the Father, so the church has been raised up to be a living witness of the Father. The government of God is set within the Church to achieve this purpose. It is a major aspect of the church’s ministry just as it was with Christ’s ministry.
THE ACTS 15 CONFERENCE
The apostles exemplified the “submitting one to another” nature of governance when they addressed a serious difference that existed between them regarding circumcision and salvation for the Gentiles. A conference was convened in Jerusalem to discuss these issues. There is no indication of a chief apostle controlling the discussion and rendering a verdict. James listened to Peter, Paul and Barnabas present their evidence before he addressed the group.
What is important in James’ decision is that it wasn’t his ruling. James recognized that the testimony of firstly Peter, then of Paul and Barnabas, agreed with the Scripture. All three were in agreement with Scripture, so there were at least three witnesses as to the Father’s intention. Their authority for making the decision, and the decision itself, was provided by the Father. The Father provided fruits to indicate His will for the Church. Was James simply the first to realize that there were three witnesses? Or was it because James appeared to have some standing among the group assembled? Regardless, everyone responded to James because he had recognized and identified the Godly solution. From this example, we realize that the focus needs to be on the solution rather than on the human instrument who identifies it.
GODLY USE OF AUTHORITY
To properly understand and exercise the government of God, we must have a proper understanding of authority. The structure our Father has given us for His government is hierarchical as we see in both the Old and New Testaments. Moses readily accepted and adopted the direction of his father-in-law, Jethro, to structure his administration of Israel hierarchically (Exodus 18). The apostle Paul supported this structure within the church when writing to the Churches in Ephesus and Corinth (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28). As we have already seen, the marriage/family model is also hierarchical. An essential element of this structure is the role that authority plays. There is authority in the church as there is authority within a marriage. But once again, authority exists to nurture the family. Authority does not exist for the benefit of the one possessing that authority as is so frequently observed in human affairs. It does not need “checks and balances” to control it as humans have sought to impose. Proper authority begins with self-governance – self control. The husband is to love his wife – the one under his authority – as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:28). This love, and by extension his authority, serves to nourish and cherish (v29).
Consider the basis of the word authority. “Natural authority is a positive, dynamic force ordered to growth. Authority’s essential dynamic character is obvious from its roots, shared with ‘“author”’ and ‘“augment,”’ in the Latin augere: ‘to create, to enlarge, to make able to grow.’ Authority generates life. It is a living substance that frees possibilities of other persons as, for example, in parents who ‘“author”’ the growth of their children” (Authority, Eugene Kennedy, Sara C. Charles, page 2). The apostle Paul taught this organic approach to the use of authority when he wrote to the church in Colossae. “ … holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God” (Colossians 2:19).
The authority exercised by the government of God within the church should serve to facilitate, support and strengthen the relationship of the members with their Father – through Christ – enabling sons to be created for His kingdom/family relationship (Malachi 2:15).
As a result, we can appreciate why the government of God is hierarchical. It is to point all who submit to that government to the Father, who is the ultimate source of life and character. The goal is to become like Him. Authority does not exist to serve its own ends, to control or to wield power. Authority is given, by God, to lead people into the loving relationship the Father desires to have with His children.
THE GOD FAMILY GOVERNMENT
The family of God at this time is composed of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and those who have the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit – children of God who form the Body of whom Christ is the Head. The Church is a part of the God family and as such, the governance within the church is based on the God family model. Those entrusted with authority within the structure of the Church are to exercise that authority in an attitude of submission and service. They are to serve those for whom they are responsible – as a husband should nurture his wife and family. Godly governance requires that those who are given authority use that authority in humility and godly service to connect those they serve to Christ and to the Father, thereby producing a unity within the church family that reflects the same unity that Christ and the Father have. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Also available as Word document.