“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in heaven.
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
Closely related to our living the new and godly life is the whole subject of “church government.” The third and final question to be answered by those publicly confessing their faith in the Savior is: “Will you submit to church government, and in case you should become delinquent (which may God graciously forbid) to church discipline?” The significance of this question is becoming more and more apparent in our day. We will understand that significance when we understand the point of this question. The question does not deal with cases of church discipline only. Rather it covers the whole matter of living in obedience to the authority of God, which is conferred upon Christ the King of the Church and exercised by Christ through the officebearers He ordains in His Church. It ought to be perfectly obvious that in our day of a so-called “crisis in authority” this matter takes on added significance. Not only is it true in the world, but also in the church, that there is a general lack of respect for God-ordained authority becoming more and more apparent. It just is not what it used to be. This writer remembers the day when catechumens had a profound respect for the minister of the gospel. A respect that was manifest in their behavior in the catechism room was in the past generally the case on the part of pupils. Today the minister has a constant battle to fight on this score. Perhaps the fault must be laid at the pastor’s door for his failure to maintain the dignity of his office; but certainly it is also true that the world’s rebellious stance has “rubbed off” on us more than we care to admit. It is well, then, that we take the time and effort to examine this question in the light of the Scriptures and our confessions.
What is church government? Very simply put, it is the rule of Christ exercised by and in the church as instituted in the world. It is the rule that Christ exercises through the offices He has instituted in the church; namely, that of pastor, elder, and deacon. The Scriptures speak very clearly on this in many passages. We find an especially beautiful passage in Hebrews 13:7, 17. There the Bible says: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” These texts speak volumes.
Notice the Scripture admonishes us to obey “them that have the rule” over us. We are to obey them for no other reason. We do not obey them because they are older or wiser or stronger. We do not obey them because of any kind of outward restraints or punishments they are able to enforce or inflict. We obey them simply because they have the rule over us. And they have that rule over us because God in Jesus Christ gave them that position. They are not in office because they received the majority vote at a congregational meeting. They do not rule by the “consent of the governed.” The Church of Jesus Christ is NOT a democracy; it is a theocracy. The Bible makes that very plain in I Corinthians 12:28: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after the miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” Understand that! God has set them in the church. God has appointed them to their office and laid the holy charge upon them to “watch for your souls, as they that must give an account.” God may do that (and He does) through the means of a congregational meeting and the rest, but it is God, nonetheless, Who places His servants in office. Ephesians 4:11 teaches the same truth. Here we learn that the ascended Christ: “. . . gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” This text teaches not only that God ordains officebearers in the church, but that these officebearers are gifts of God to the church. In verses 12 and following of this chapter Paul teaches us of the rich blessings the church receives through these officebearers, when he writes that they are given by Christ: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God; unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. . . .” Other Scriptures teach the same. The elders are to “feed the flock of God and take the oversight thereof” (I Peter 5); and deacons as well as elders are to “take care of the church of God.” (I Timothy 3)
Thus we are to obey them, and that is for our own profit and blessing. Turning back to the passages cited above out of Hebrews 13, we find that these elders who have the rule over us speak to us the Word of God. Their faith is for us to follow. And in all of this they watch for our souls. They continually watch out for us. And, they do that not to catch us in some wrongdoing, but to protect us from the wiles of the devil and the host of other dangers that threaten the child of God in this life.
Will you then submit to church government? Will you yield yourself to the rule of Jesus Christ? That must be our resolve, if we are to confess our faith in Jesus Christ. By so doing we are saying, “Christ is Lord of my life!” “He bought me with His own precious blood; in Him I am blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places; His Word I love and my pledge now is to submit myself to His gracious rule.”
That means that we submit to the Word of Christ as preached by His ambassadors from the pulpit. It means we recognized Christ as He speaks to us in the catechism room. We receive Christ into our homes when the pastor and elder come on family visiting. When we are sick Christ visits us, when in sorrow He comforts us, and when we are in need of correction He admonishes us. Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves. In so doing we live in obedience to Christ. And that is for our profit. When officebearers must give account to God Who calls them with grief because of the stubborn disobedience of those over whom they rule, it is unprofitable not for the officebearers but for the disobedient!
Still more, when we confess our faith we promise to submit to church discipline in case we become delinquent. Sad to say, in many cases this vow is broken. When one falls into sin and has to be visited and censured, more often than not he will “ask for his papers” and leave the church entirely, or go to a church which fails to manifest that mark of the church known as church discipline. Such a person must understand that he severs himself from the church of Christ by refusing to bow under the authority of Christ. And God is not mocked.
Finally, the relation between this third question and the previous two is evident. Only by submitting to the authority of God in Christ and thus living in obedience to His Word are we able to live that new and godly life, which expresses the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments as contained in the articles of the Christian Faith.
At the risk of redundancy we repeat that it is only through the diligent use of the means of grace; the preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments that God is pleased to save us. The Word of God to covenant youth then is this; confess your faith in Christ; hold on to sound doctrine, live that new and godly life; and do that by the grace of God which is yours through the offices which God has ordained in His church. Submit then to the government of the Church of Jesus Christ. Yield to the authority of Christ. The way is narrow, and few find it. It is the way to everlasting life. And that is joy beyond compare.