Church Polity

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There are many different systems and ideals that make up the Christian church today. One may find it hard to filter through the various church polities to discover which one best fulfills the principles laid out in the Bible.

The four most common models of church polities are: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, and Non-government. While all understand and attribute Christ as their ultimate authority, they also vary from each other quite a bit foundationally.

Episcopal

According to Erickson in his book; Introducing Christian Doctrine, “In the episcopal form of church government, authority resides in a particular office, that of the bishop.”[1] There may be various levels of authority depending on the specific branch of the episcopal practices. (Deacon, Bishop, Pope, etc.) This form of church polity is practiced by the Methodist, Catholic, and Anglican church.

Presbyterian

The next model of church polity is Presbyterian. According to Erickson, “the presbyterian system differs from the episcopal in that there is only one level of clergy.”[2] Authority lies only with the pastor or deacon, there is no bishop or pope with a higher authoritative position than that. With the presbyterian model, “authority is exercised in a series of governing assemblies.”[3] All the churches around one area are governed by one office, called the “Reformed”.

Congregational

The third model of church polity is congregational. The congregational system allows the local congregation to act as and exercise authority for the church. All decisions regarding finances, leadership, doctrine, etc. are directed to the congregation as a whole with no authority going outside influences. This model focuses on a more democratic approach to decisions and authority.

Non-government

The final model of church polity is non-government. According to Erickson, non-government models of church polity, “deny that the church has a need for a concrete or visible form of government.”[4] Those practicing this model do not believe in functional religious systems or authority but rather focuses on each individual’s connection with the Holy Spirit. Certain groups such as the Quakers and the Plymouth Brethren practice this polity.

Which One?

Personally, I believe that the congregational model of church polity is the most biblically faithful when comparing the four. First of all, I was raised in a Baptist church. I recall feeling like every individual had a voice (which I believe is very important) and remember the church voting on various decisions frequently.  I believe that true believers and followers of Christ are spiritually competent enough to weigh in on what their church is doing and why. We are all equipped with the Holy Spirit, enabling us to make informed, spiritually guided decisions. The individuals are what make up the church, it should be the individuals who exercise its authority.


[1]  Millard, Erickson. Introducing Christian Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academia, 2015),406

[2] Ibid., 407

[3] Ibid., 407

[4] Ibid.,408

3 comments

    • I thought so too, thank you. It was a very interesting lesson! Each of the various polities are comprised from the perspective of sound, biblical doctrine. I suppose that it all boils down to how the individual Christian/church chooses to conduct themselves and how it best suits them as an individuals. Still, as long as we understand that God is the ultimate authority, how we choose to govern our churches is just politics.
      God Bless John, Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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