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Who Runs the Church?: 4 Views on Church Government (Counterpoints)

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Churches have split and denominations have formed over the issue of church government. Yet while many Christians can explain their particular church’s form of rule and may staunchly uphold it, few have a truly biblical understanding of it. What model for governing the church does the Bible provide? Is there room for different methods? Or is just one way the right way? In Who Runs the Church? Four predominant approaches to church government are presented by respected proponents.

Resource Experts
  • Episcopalianism, Peter Toon
  • Presbyterianism, L. Roy Taylor
  • Single-Elder Congregationalism, Paige Patterson
  • Plural-Elder Congregationalism, Samuel E. Waldron

Top Highlights

“There is a familiar and traditional way that individual churches (and denominations) conduct their polity, but there is little or no theological reflection on that tradition. Things are done a certain way because that’s the way they have always been done.” (Page 7)

“To commend and defend the emerging polity of the early church, as classical Anglicans do, is not to claim an infallibility for the church in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries. Obviously, the church erred and was imperfect in many matters, as The Articles of Religion makes clear. Yet it is difficult to believe that Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, would have allowed the church in its formative years of growth and expansion in Europe, Africa, and Asia to go so seriously wrong as to make a major mistake in terms of its general polity and church government.” (Page 26)

“The second commonly held conviction is that the office of bishop in the church of God represents a partial (not total) continuation of the office of an apostle.” (Page 36)

“For one thing, the question is surely important historically. Disagreements over matters of ecclesiology, including forms of church government, have been the source of numerous schisms in church history. For example, in seventeenth-century England, ecclesiological debates led to the formation of three major Protestant traditions. The Presbyterians and Congregationalists separated from the Church of England and from each other in part over the nature of church government. Baptists parted ways with all of the above over disagreements involving either infant baptism or church government. So, the question of this book is clearly relevant to explaining the visible disunity of the body of Christ.” (Page 8)

Steven B. Cowan, M.Div., Ph.D., is associate professor of Philosophy and Apologetics at Southeastern Bible College in Birmingham, AL.


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  1. Bill Shewmaker