Church Government

“He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;  for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”

Eph. 4:11,12




Regulative Principle of Church Government
Views of Church Government
Offices of the Church
Ruling of the Church
Church Membership
Whether Ladies have the Right to Vote for Church Officers
Extraordinary Acts of Church Government under Necessity



Order of Contents

Articles  10+
Books  7

Importance of  1
The Power is Wholly Spiritual  2





Ames, William – The Marrow of Theology  tr. John D. Eusden  (1623; Baker, 1997), bk. 1

ch. 32, ‘The Church Instituted’, pp. 178-82
ch. 37, ‘Ecclesiastical Discipline’, pp. 199-202

Ames (1576-1633) was an English, puritan, congregationalist, minister, philosopher and controversialist.  He spent much time in the Netherlands, and is noted for his involvement in the controversy between the reformed and the Arminians.  Voet highly commended Ames’s Marrow for learning theology.

Synopsis of a Purer Theology: Latin Text & English Translation  Buy  (1625; Brill, 2016), vol. 3

48. ‘On Church Discipline’, pp. 372-410
49. ‘On Ecclesiastical Councils or Meetings’, pp. 410-62

Rutherford, Samuel – A Defense of the Government of the Church of Scotland  20 pp.  being ch. 20 of his A Peaceable & Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland  (1642)

Rutherford describes and defends from scripture the church government of the Church of Scotland in his day.  It is an excellent, brief, overview and defense of a four office view of church government, the calling and ordination of office bearers, and the Scottish practice of the administration of the Lord’s Supper.  It also has helpful articulations of Biblical views of days of fasting, marriage, offering, church censures, private and family worship and spiritual conferencing.

Cappell, Louis – ‘On Ecclesiastical Power & Government’, theses 1-10, 11-20  in Syntagma Thesium Theologicarum in Academia Salmuriensi… Pars Prima  (Saumur, 1664), pp. 5-7  tr. Michael Lynch

Heidegger, Johann H. – 27. ‘On the Government of the Church’  in The Concise Marrow of Theology  tr. Casey Carmichael  in Classic Reformed Theology, vol. 4  (1697; RHB, 2019), pp. 191-201



à Brakel, Wilhelmus – The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2  ed. Joel Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout  Buy  (1700; RHB, 1992/1999)

ch. 27, ‘The Government of the Church, & Particularly the Commissioning of Ministers’, pp. 107-31

ch. 28, ‘The Offices of Minister, Elder & Deacon’, pp. 131-57

ch. 29, ‘Ecclesiastical Authority & the Use of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven’, pp. 157-91

a Brakel (1635-1711) was a contemporary of Voet and Witsius and a major representative of the Dutch Further Reformation.



Alexander, Archibald

‘The Faithful Elder’, HTML, no date or source info, 6 paragraphs

‘A Dialogue Between a Presbyterian & a ‘Friend”  (1792)  40 pp.

Miller, Samuel – ‘On Ecclesiastical Polity’  (1833), p. 171 ff., 42 pp.

Dabney, Robert – ‘A Speech against the Ecclesiastical Equality of Negro Preachers in our Church and their Right to Rule over White Christians’  (1867)  16 pp.

For the other side of the argument, from a southern white pastor of black slaves, urging their capacity to rule as elders, see John L. Girardeau’s ‘Our Ecclesiastical Relations to Freedmen’ (1867).  Girardeau’s position came to prevail and was enacted within a few years.

Girardeau, John – ‘Our Ecclesiastical Relations to Freedmen’  (1867) 18 pp.

Girardeau, a southern white pastor of black slaves, argues that blacks may be elders (governors) in church courts.  For an exposition of what Girardeau is arguing against, see Robert Dabney’s ‘A Speech against the Ecclesiastical Equality of Negro Preachers in our Church and their Right to Rule over White Christians’  (1867)  16 pp.  Girardeau’s position came to prevail and was enacted in the southern church a few years later.

Hodge, Charles – What is Presbyterianism?  An Address, Re-typeset PDF  (1855)  80 pp.



Berkhof, Louis – ‘The Power of the Church’  (1950)  21 paragraphs  in Systematic Theology



Isbell, Sherman – ‘The Church in Relation to its Constitution’  (April, 2006)  12 pp.  in Master’s Trumpet, vol. 3

Isbell describes the European understanding of a constitution and argues that a church’s constitution is inviolable and cannot be changed.





Cunningham, William – Discussions on Church Principles: Popish, Erastian & Presbyterian  Buy  (1863)  565 pp.

Many people are aware of Bannerman’s Church of Christ, which positively expounds the doctrine of the Church from scripture.  Cunningham’s work is more polemical, against the errors of alternative views.  Both are needed.  This is his main work on Church writings, a subject too often neglected in our day.

Hodge, Charles – Discussions in Church Polity  Buy  (1878)  560 pp.

This and his Essays and Reviews are the main source for Hodge’s important and influential writings in church theory and practice, especially in the context of the 1800′s debates between the northern and southern presbyterians.  In it you will find him defending the historic reformed view that the Roman Catholic Church is part of the Visible church, that her baptism is valid, and that baptized infants are under the discipline of the church.  On the other hand he argues against the historic reformed view of the Establishment Principle for a Voluntary position with regard to Church and State, and for an Americanized three office view of church government.  In his day the new issue came up of church boards, which he defends, as opposed to the more rigorously Biblical view of Thornwell against them.  Many other interesting points of polity are also discussed.

Miller, Samuel

Letters Concerning the Constitution & Order of the Christian Ministry… with a Prefatory Letter on the Episcopal Controversy  (1830)  558 pp.  The Letters are systematically laid out in the table of contents starting with the testimony of scripture concerning church government, then the testimony of the history of the church, followed by the rise and progress of prelacy and its practical problems.

Miller became heavily involved in public debates about prelacy (top-down church government by bishops) due to the rise of the influence of Episcopalians in his area.  This is must reading for a defense of presbyterianism from scripture and history, and for showing the Biblical and historical errors of episcopalian government.

Letters to Presbyterians, on the Present Crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the United States  (1833)  340 pp.

Presbyterianism, the Truly Primitive & Apostolic Constitution of the Church of Christ: or a View of the History, Doctrine, Government & Worship of the Presbyterian Church  (1848)  308 pp.

The Primitive & Apostolical Order of the Church of Christ Vindicated  (1840)  398 pp.

The Ruling Elder: respecting the Warrant, Nature & Duties of the Office, HTML  Buy  (1840)  335 pp.

The best American book on the subject preserving the historic reformed view that the Ruling Elder is a distinct office from the Minister and that the Ruling Elder is also a “presbyter” (“elder” in the English) along with the Minister.  Thornwell would come along and claim that the Ruling Elder holds the same office as the Minister.  Hodge in the North then rightly distinguished the Ruling Elder as a separate office, but excluded the Ruling Elder from the category of “presbyter” (“elder” in English), as do the Episcopalians.



On the Importance of Church Government

Around Westminster


Kirsteen M. MacKenzie, The Solemn League & Covenant of the Three Kingdoms & the Cromwellian Union, 1643-1663  (Routledge, 2018), ch. 1

p. 45

“In August 1645, the Independents withdrew from the Assembly, and English members who were well disposed towards Presbyterian Church government accepted Scottish advice to continue to set up Presbyteries and synods, despite the lack of support from the [civil] Houses of Parliament.  By December 1645…  the drafting of the Confession was delayed due to days of thanksgivings and debates over church government…

Indeed, Baillie commented that without a system of church government, the catechism would be of little use.”


p. 46

“London Presbyterians took a positive approach [in 1645], arguing for the existence of a well-ordered, structured and inclusive national church as outlined in Jus Divinum Regiminis Regiminis Ecclesiastici, or the Divine Right of Church Government.

This weighty book argued that toleration was but human decree and not divinely sanctioned.  No one can claim exemption from divinely appointed church government, as it applies to everyone.  Therefore, from this perspective, separate, self-governing congregations [such as the Independents advocated for] look elitist.  A national church must have an orderly and fully accountable structure; otherwise, confusion and chaos will reign.”



The Power of Church Government is Wholly Spiritual



Davenant, John – ‘The Power of the Priesthood is Wholly Spiritual’  in The Determinations, or Resolutions of Certain Theological Questions, Publicly Discussed in the University of Cambridge  trans. Josiah Allport  (1634; 1846), pp. 294-301  bound at the end of John Davenant, A Treatise on Justification, or the Disputatio de Justitia...  trans. Josiah Allport  (1631; London, 1846), vol. 2  Davenant’s chief antagonist is Romanism.




Dante – The De Monarchia of Dante Alighieri  trans. Aurelia Henry  (Boston, 1904)

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), who eulogized Pope Boniface VIII as being cast into the 8th circle of Hell, also wrote a treatise against papal usurpation of civil power. This is on the long list of banned books by the Papal church.

Dante defended the reign of a single monarch ruling over a universal empire. He believed that peace was only achievable when a single monarch replaced divisive and squabbling princes and kings. However, he also believed in a separation of powers in that the Emperor has jurisdiction over temporal matters, whilst the Pope administered over things spiritual.




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