The Scriptural Government

13 08 2008

[Excerpt from The Government of the Kingdom of Christ, by James Moir Porteous]

The Scriptures of the New Testament have presented us with the fact that the Monarch of this spiritual kingdom has provided a form of government. They further reveal what is that form. The constitution of the Church of Christ, as settled by the assembly at Jerusalem, is to continue unaltered to the end of the world. It is to be ever the one Church of Christ. Jews and Gentiles are to compose one holy people in the Lord. The ceremonial law, abrogated by the death of Christ, was to be abandoned by all professing Christians and Churches. That organized society is to be governed according to the law of Christ, by officers of His appointment after apostolic example. The administration of every Church is through its associated elders, elected and ordained. Churches closely united are regulated by a common council of representative officers; and administration in more difficult cases is carried out by assemblies of representative elders from widely-separated Churches — this common administration being the grand external bond of unity of those holding the same essential principles.

Remove from the apostles all that was peculiar to them as inspired, and from their practice all that was clearly of a temporary or local nature — what is the example left? As elders they administered the government of the Church, not separately, but wherever practicable, by association. Their united counsel and action is everywhere conspicuous. It is only otherwise when circumstances absolutely prevent. When it was possible to act in concert, they never acted singly. That association was not merely with apostolic elders — the ordinary elders are constantly taken into their counsels, and are admitted to equal authority. Here is the Scriptural government of the kingdom of Christ. It is exercised by the hand of church officers having the authority of the King. In each congregation or church — in churches of a city or district united — in assemblies from churches widely scattered over the earth, — the body of associated representative elders act for the good and with the concurrence of the members of the Church.

This may appear more clearly by presenting in detail those essential principles that have been deduced from our examination of Scripture. Let us gather together and combine those thus recognised.


1. The only King and Head of the Church is the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The visible Church is the organized society of those professedly believing in and bearing testimony unto Christ.

3. The Scriptures are the only ultimate standard of law to the Church.

4. Apostolic scriptural practice is of universal and perpetual obligation.

5. The office of elder is essential and permanent in the visible Church.

6. The office of the ministry is divinely authoritative and permanent.

7. The office of elder or bishop is identical.

8. Every congregation should have a plurality of elders, among whom the duties of teaching and ruling are distributed.

9. The highest position is that of elder or bishop, whose rule is wholly ministerial.

10. Every Church should have a plurality of deacons, conjoined with the elders, specially entrusted with temporal affairs.

11. The election of all officers is an inherent right of the members of the Church.

12. Admission to office must be by prayer, and the imposition of the hands of the body of elders.

13. The course of administration in every congregation is by representative associated elders.

14. The congregations of a locality form one Church, which is governed by their associated elders.

15. Administration in difficult cases of doctrine, discipline, worship, and government, is authoritatively effected by assemblies of representative elders.

Let these principles be gathered as far as possible into one, and it is found that — THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS GOVERNED, ACCORDING TO HIS LAW, BY REPRESENTATIVE ELDERS, APPOINTED AND ASSOCIATED BY HIS AUTHORITY.

Or, in one word of Scripture, by ‘THE PRESBYTERY.’

Presbyters are the permanent ministers of the Word; their office is the office of a bishop; a plurality engage in teaching and ruling, according to capacity; their rule is ministerial, without superiority of office; they charge and assist deacons with the special care of temporalities; and being the chosen representatives of the people, they associate in the solemn act of ordination; they administer the government in each congregation in the Church of a locality, and by reviewing or receiving appeals in special assemblies. Associated representative elders, or the Presbytery, is thus the one grand pervading feature of the government of the kingdom of Christ, as presented in the Scriptures.

Whatever is essential is therein declared, and is thus (jure divino) of divine right. Everything circumstantial, common, minute, is left to the wise and prudent regulation of the Presbytery. ‘There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.’ In all these great essential principles the government is the permanent institution of Christ. Every minute detail must be regulated in harmony with these, according to the general rule: ‘Let all things be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor. 14:40).

Selecting the royal authority of Christ, His visible kingdom, His standard of law, with the practice of His apostles, here is a foundation of God that standeth sure. The structure of essential principles built thereon cannot but be stable, having for their authority, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ The result is manifest. The King Himself having shown ‘the form of the house,’ attests that the fashion thereof is essentially presbyterial. If the questions, whether there is a form of government? and what that is? are not settled by the testimony of the Divine Word, then none other of similar importance can. If grand leading principles are provided both by statement and apostolic example, such principles are given with authority by Zion’s King. They are thus rightful; more than that — they are divine. By the divine right of the King, these essential principles are binding, universally and permanently, upon His subjects. Government is not left to them in the aggregate. The administration of affairs is not left to any person who chooses to assume a postition of authority. The Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted this to special ordinary officers of His own appointment; they, by associated wise and energetic action, are, as far as practicable, to ‘take the oversight,’ as well as to’feed the flock;’ not by constraint of men, not from motives of worldly ease and wealth, not from desire of position and power as lords; but they are to enter the Presbytery willingly, and of a ready mind, and are to carry on their labours, public and private, as examples to the flock. By doing the work of the Lord heartily and faithfully, in the fear of God, ‘when the Chief Shepherd shall appear,’ they ‘shall receive a crown of glory’ (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

Rejoicing in this divine appointment, the entire Church must declare, ‘Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of Zion’ (Psa 87:3). The children of Zion, rejoicing in Christ their King, must therefore stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, bewaring lest they be entangled by a new yoke of bondage, through submitting their consciences to any species of human authority in religion. It is only the commands of that One which we are to obey, respecting whom God the Father has declared, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him’ (Matt 17:5).