IV. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH
We have seen that God has His government in the universe. We have to see that there is government also in the church. The New Testament revelation shows us that the government of the church is very simple and practical: All the government of a church is entrusted to the elders. The elders are the government of the church. According to their spiritual stature, the elders are those who are mature and older. According to the affairs they handle, they are the overseers, which speaks of government and administration. Many times, we consider the elders to be the leading ones, the shepherds, and those who take care of others. Seldom do we consider them to be the ones responsible for government. Please remember that shepherding, exercising care, and leading are all for government. The Bible has not called the elders teachers or shepherds. Although 1 Peter says that the elders should shepherd the flock, it does not call them shepherds. However, the Bible clearly calls the elders overseers (Phil. 1:1). Teacher is not a title ascribed to the elders, nor is shepherd a title ascribed to the elders. Only overseer is a title ascribed to the elders. The reason for this is that the elders are those responsible for government and administration. God set up elders in the church in order that they would manage and govern the church.
I would like the brothers and sisters to know that if the elders are truly managing and governing the church, the church will surely be strong. If the elders only shepherd and teach without managing, or if they are incapable of managing, the church will be weak. Even if it is strong and living for a while, the situation is not reliable and will not last long. In order for a local church to be strong, living, reliable, and stable, the elders must be able to govern and administer.
Perhaps the brothers would ask where in the Bible can we find the elders managing the church. In the New Testament, not only do we have examples, but we have the definite teaching as well. First Corinthians talks about the matter of excommunication. This is a matter of administration. First Timothy chapter three says clearly that the elders are those who take care of, or manage the church. First Corinthians chapter twelve says that God appoints in the church apostles, prophets, and other kinds of people, including one kind that is for administration. Romans chapter twelve says that those who lead should do so in diligence. The management and administration here speak of government.
In a locality where saints begin to meet, under normal circumstances, elders should be set up as soon as possible. This is the example of Acts chapter fourteen. Not long after Paul had preached in Asia, he appointed elders in those churches. Without the elders, there will be no government in the church, and there will be no administration. The church will then be in confusion and will not be strong.
(The Elders' Management of the Church, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)