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




The Regulative Principle of Church Government

Church Government is determined by God’s Word

Theories of Church Government

Presbyterianism (the Biblical view)


Congregationalism and Independency 

 The Offices of the Church

Ministers, Teachers, Elders, Deacons and the Extraordinary Offices 

The Ruling of the Church

Church Membership





General Articles

Alexander, Archibald – The Faithful Elder, HTML, no date or source info, 6 paragraphs

Alexander, Archibald – A Dialogue Between a Presbyterian and a “Friend”1792, 40 pages

Berkhof, Louis – The Power of the Church, 1950, 21 paragraphs, from his Systematic Theology

Dabney, Robert – A Speech against the Ecclesiastical Equality of Negro Preachers in our Church and their Right to Rule over White Christians1867, 16 pages

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 Freedmen1867.  Girardeau’s position came to prevail and was enacted within a few years.

Girardeau, John – Our Ecclesiastical Relations to Freedmen, 1867, 18 pages

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 pages.  Girardeau’s position came to prevail and was enacted in the southern church a few years later.

Hodge, Charles – What is Presbyterianism?  An AddressRe-typeset PDF, 1855, 80 pages

Isbell, Sherman – The Church in Relation to its Constitution2006, 12 pages

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

Miller, Samuel – On Ecclesiastical Polity, 1833, p. 171, 42 pages

Rutherford, Samuel – A Defense of the Government of the Church of Scotland, PDF, 1642, 20 pages, being chapter 20 of his A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland

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.



Ladies Voting in the Church

Whether Ladies have the Right to Vote for Church Officers



General Books

Cunningham, William – Discussions on Church Principles: Popish, Erastian and Presbyterian,  Buy  1863, 565 pages

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 pages

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 and Order of the Christian Ministry… with a Prefatory Letter on the Episcopal Controversy1830, 558 pages.  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.

Miller, Samuel – Letters to Presbyterians, on the present crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the United States1833, 340 pages

Miller, Samuel – Presbyterianism, the Truly Primitive and Apostolic Constitution of the Church of Christ: or a View of the History, Doctrine, Government, and Worship of the Presbyterian Church,1848, 308 pages

Miller, Samuel – The Primitive and Apostolical Order of the Church of Christ Vindicated1840, 398 pages, by Samuel Miller

Miller, Samuel – The Ruling Elder: respecting the Warrant, Nature and Duties of the OfficeHTML,  Buy  1840, 335 pages

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.



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