New Testament Church Government: Fidelity And Flexibility -- By: A. Boyd Luter, Jr.

Journal: Michigan Theological Journal
Volume: MTJ 02:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: New Testament Church Government: Fidelity And Flexibility
Author: A. Boyd Luter, Jr.


New Testament Church Government: Fidelity And Flexibility

A. Boyd Luter, Jr.

In spite of disagreement over what constitutes the biblicalform of local church government, it is still normally assumed that all churches should have the same governmental structure and that the qualifications for a particular leadership position should be the same. Such an approach pours all the major structure and qualification passages into the same mold, ignoring significant evidencefor ‘flexibility” in regard to churches at different stages of growth. Particularly suggestive are variations between the supposed “twin” passages: 1 Timothy 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9. Careful consideration of the similarities and differences leads to the conclusion that it is preferable to allowfor a moderate level of sensitive structural flexibility while still maintaining proper scriptural fidelity.

Mushrooming interest in church growth has prompted many evangelicals to rethink their positions on a number of previously “untouchable” subjects, including local church government. The resulting thoughts may not all be good since the pendulum easily can swing too far, especially in the rapidly changing culture around us. However, Gordon MacDonald has detected a necessary relationship between flexibility (especially in church organization) and church growth:

Many churches are based on a constitutional and programmatic structure put together when they were one-fifth their present size. They wonder why growth is not taking place … Today a church should be willing to change anything except its doctrinal distinctives.1

Now MacDonald is not a lone evangelical “voice crying in the wilderness.” In his epochal work, The Problem of Wineskins, Howard Snyder wrote, “Structure must be flexible.” Then, after a plea for “biblical fidelity,” he goes on to say that such flexibility is desirable in “most aspects of church government.”2

More recently, the late distinguished missiologist George Peters observed that if the church is indeed a spiritual organism, ever-growing and ever-changing,

The structure must be flexible and adaptable, never fixed or restrictive … The form of the church must be granted considerable latitude and freedom, limited only by the precepts and precedents of the Scriptures. History and tradition, no matter how sacred they may seem, must not be decisive.3

The common ...

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