No matter what church you attend, you will find that each has a different way of doing things. Some have a church government that conforms strictly to an outside organizational authority. Others have a church government that is based on their own or little authority. However, when it comes to church government, the Bible gives us guidance. Therefore, we will look to see what does the Bible say about church government.
What is church government?
The word church comes from the Greek word Ecclesia meaning a “called out company” or assembly which we render to mean church. With this meaning of the word ecclesia, it is used to reference groups of people. In the Bible, ecclesia is used to reference a mob (Acts 19:30-41); the children of Israel  (Acts 7:38); and the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 5:25, 32).
For the purposes of this study, we will look at the church primarily as a local assembly of believers as an organization. However, before we do, we must understand that there are three groups of people that God recognizes before we can even begin to talk about the organization. They are Jews, Gentiles, and the Church (1 Corinthians 10:32). The Church is made up spiritually of former Jews and Gentiles that have trusted Christ as their savior.
There are differing opinions on how church government (AKA church polity) should be organized and structured. This has led to three commonly recognized types of church government today: episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational. Examples of the episcopal type are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and Lutheran churches. Examples of the presbyterian type are the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Congregational types of churches are generally made up of local congregations that are independent from the authority and control of other religious bodies.
The word government in its purest form has as its basis the freedom to make choices as long as those choices do not go beyond the limits of what is decided to be good and right and does not harm others. Like a governor on a motor, it only becomes activated when conditions exceed what has been determined to be safe for the motor. When government exceeds this principle and intercedes in the freedom to make decisions for one’s self or in agreement with one another, government no longer is government, it has become management. Church government then provides the environment by which believers can make decisions for themselves or in agreement with one another for the administration and management of the local church.
What is God’s perspective on church government?
God has provided for the oversight and operation of the local church through church government. This includes not only the roles that God has provided, but also the guidance on what local churches should be doing. In most cases, God has left the details of how to do things up to the believers to decide given their reliance upon the discernment and wisdom that God has given them through the Holy Spirit. However, God did give specific instructions in some cases (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 6:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:20-34).
This Biblical principle was what the founders of the United States had in mind when creating the federal government. There was a framework of government, but the details of how things were to be done were left up to people to decide. They proposed that if the hearts of the people were ruled by the Holy Spirit , laws were not required to control behaviors or dictate how things were to be done (1).
It is the same in the local church. The less reliance upon the Holy Spirit to guide and lead, the more policies or church “laws” have to be passed. Therefore, because we do not see explicit instructions in Scripture for how every aspect of church oversight and operation is to be completed, we can understand that God wants the body of believers to use the Spiritual gifts and roles He has provided to govern the church.
What are the Spiritual gifts and roles that God has provided for the local church?
God gave gifts and roles to the local church so that there would be no divisions in the church body and so that the members should have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:13-31). God also ordered the priority of these roles and gifts as follows:
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28).
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11)
In the passage in Corinthians above we see a larger number of roles and gifts listed than in Ephesians. Ephesians was written about 10 years after 1 Corinthians and was during a time when some roles were coming into need and others were fading away as the Scriptures were being completed and the churches were maturing.
What is the goal of church government?
In Ephesians 4:12-16, we are told that church government has three goals as follows:
- For the perfecting of the saints (Ephesians 4:12). This goal is to help the individual believer grow to be more like Christ and confident in their faith (John 8:28-32; Romans 8:9-30; Ephesians 4:13; 2 Peter 3:18). We see this in practice in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:22-26) and in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-42).
- For the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). This goal is to help to prepare the local church members to carry out the tasks that the local body has decided would be part of the overall mission and ministry of the church. We also see this in practice in the Antioch and Jerusalem churches (Acts 11:27-30; Acts 2:44-46).
- For the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). This goal is to help the body of believers grow and become stronger in their size and influence for Christ. We see this in practice in several places (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47; Acts 5:24; Acts 6:7; Acts 11:24; Acts 16:5; 2 Corinthians 10:12-18).
Finally, we are told that these goals of church government will continue until all believers can stand before the Lord in a perfected state as Christ is perfect. In the meantime, they enable us to work together in peace, love, and harmony (Acts 2:46-47; Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 3:12-17).
Church government provides the environment by which believers can make decisions for themselves or in agreement with one another for the administration and management of the local church. God has provided for the oversight and operation of the local church through church government. God gave gifts and roles to the believers in the local church so that they can accomplish to goals of church government. The goals of the local church government will continue until the day that all believers stand before the Lord in a perfected state as Christ is perfect.
Read more about the local church here: What Does the Bible Say About Church Membership and Attendance 
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. Williams, Michael, (2013). Bible Doctrines: Ecclesiology. Albuquerque, NM: Selah Mountain Bible Institute. (1) Williams, Michael L. (2008). Silenced in the schoolhouse. Albuquerque, NM: Wisdom4Today.