Who cares about Church governance? Everyone? Right? Not really! Most of us never woke up feeling an excited anticipation on the day our church was to hold its AGM! Does church governance really matter? Is it that important?
As a fellowship of churches, church governance has historically been given a high priority. Christian (Plymouth) Brethren churches began in the 1800's as a breakaway from the Dissenting and Official Anglican (Episcopalian) churches. People craved to be free from the seemingly dead, lifelessness of the formal official church. Too, they believed that the division between a priestly class and so called laity to be a false division.
These breakaway churches emphasized what they perceived to be basic New Testament church life principles. Using Acts 2:42 as their catch-cry, they modeled their churches on four main pillars: the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread [communion], and prayer. They accepted christians on the basis of faith not doctrine.
From their reading of Acts chapters 13-28, especially Acts 20:13-38, they believed that the local church should be elder led. This was reinforced by such bible passages as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and 1 Peter 5:1-4. They revolted against a 'one-man-ministry' and practiced a 'gifted ministry. They accepted that God had given to the church both gifted people and people with the spiritual gifts of teaching, exhorting, knowledge, wisdom and evangelism [Romans 12:1-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Peter 4:7-11].
Missions, evangelism and church planting were extremely important. Mission philosophy was based on Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 13:1-4, 14:26-28, and 15:40. Today, as a result of their evangelistic and missionary activity there are christian brethren churches in almost every country of the world. At the heart of their theology is a strong emphasis on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the writings of the apostle Paul. Sadly, many have lost sight of the original vision that gave birth to these churches.
Until recent years, their universal constitution has been the New Testament. Due to the increasing possibility of a local church and its members being sued, many churches have become incorporated. This was to give both the leadership and members possible legal protection against being sued. My home church in Ausatralia is an example of a local church becoming incorporated.
To become incorporated requires a constitution. A problem with a constitution may arise when it seeks to be very specific about how to do church. Why? Because this exalts the constitution above the Bible. The Bible states that 'the letter of the law kills but the Spirit gives life' 2 Corinthians 3:6.
Therefore constitutions need to be as general as possible so that it does not become an instrument of suppression. Things like a statement of faith, core values, method of governance may be spelt out in policy statements. This prevents a constitution from becoming a noose around our necks. The bible remains the main and final court of appeal. It enables us to move forward.
Dr Keith Graham