As we approach the church elections, it is a good time for us to understand the system of governance in Tabernacle BPC. This is a critical issue, for church governance is at the heart of the running of a church. A good and biblical understanding of church governance will help everyone relate better with church leaders. This in turn will lead to a more spiritually vibrant and fruitful witness for Christ Jesus in the church. On the other hand, ignorance or a wrong understanding can lead to much murmuring and divisions between members and the leadership, or even within the leadership itself. This is most saddening especially when most of us are seeking to do our best for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Thus, it is imperative that we should understand the system of governance in the Bible-Presbyterian Church.

The name “Bible-Presbyterian” tells us that the system of governance in Tabernacle BPC and like-minded BPCs are founded upon the principles of the Bible. We are Presbyterians because of it is the system which the Bible teaches concerning church governance.

The Presbyterian system of governance stands in contrast with two major systems of church governance, namely the Episcopalian and Congregational system of governance.

In the Episcopalian church government, the rule of government is vested in one man. This man is usually called the Archbishop (or in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope) who makes all the executive decisions and delegates duties to the lower-ranked clergy. Denominations who hold to this form of church government includes the Anglicans, the Methodists and the Roman Catholics. The strength of this system is its efficiency, since all the decision-making is vested in one-man. However, if this man is not spiritual, it can result in tragedy.

In the Congregational church government, the rule of government is manifested in the entire congregation. The final authority of any decisions on practice or doctrine is vested in the people. While some of these churches may have elders, they function more like advisers rather than overseers of the congregation. The congregation have the power to accept or reject any advice that is given to them by the elders. Churches who follow this form of government include the Brethren churches. This system of governance tends to be popular today because of the popularisation of “democracy”. However, it is inefficient as much data have to be presented to the whole congregation before any decision can be made. Moreover, some of the congregation may be new believers who are still learning the fundamentals of the faith. It will be more unfair and irresponsible to thrust them with the duty of making a church-level spiritual decision for which they have to be accountable to God. Moreover, right is never determined by the majority but by the Bible. The Bible is the church’s sole and supreme authority in faith and practice.

We must understand that the church is not under “the people’s rule” but “God’s rule”. The Bible must be the basis of all decisions in the church. The major failing during the time of Judges was that every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Finally, the people decided to reject God’s rule (i.e. theocracy), and appoint a king after their own liking (i.e. a self-determined monarchy). It eventually led to the disastrous appointment of Saul, who was a man after his own heart.

Lastly, we have the Presbyterian system of governance. In this system, the rule of the church is vested in some men who are called elders or presbyters. The name “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek Word presbuteros, which refers to one who is aged. In the context of church polity, a presbuteros is one who is spiritually matured and qualified to govern the church (Tit. 1:5).
As we study the use of the term presbuteros in the Bible in relation to church governance, we observe the following:

1. The term presbuteros (elder) and episokopos (overseer/bishop) is used interchangeably (c.f. Tit 1:5, 7; Acts 20:17, 28). The term episkopos focuses more on the duties and responsibilities of the elder in the oversight of the congregation, whereas the term presbuteros focuses on the honour and graveness that is attached to the office.

2. There is a plurality of elders governing the church. (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6; 20:17; Phi. 1:1; Tit. 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1-2)

3. The term presbuteros is always in the masculine. The elder is a man and not a woman.

Following the biblical principle of governance above, all the elders in the church (i.e. the pastor and all other elders) will form the Board of Elders (BOE). The duty of the BOE is to look after the spiritual and doctrinal welfare of the church. As such, they must be spiritually matured men who are knowledgeable in the Scriptures and are able to teach others the Word of Everlasting Life, while setting a good example of what it means to follow Christ. They will be responsible for deciding which spiritual programmes are to be planned for the feeding of God’s people. They will also decide how the tithes and offerings are to be used for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. All these decisions are to be made with much prayer. Those who form the BOE must understand that the church belongs to God, and they will be held accountable for every decision they make before the Lord. Thus, it is important that we pray that God will raise up godly men, who will be genuinely called by the Lord to bear this burden. May more join in the labour of the BOE in Tabernacle BPC in due time!

The following are the duties of the Board of Elders as stated in the Constitution of Tabernacle Bible-Presbyterian Church.

“Subject to Article 11 of this Constitution, the Board of Elders shall:

17.1 be responsible for the spiritual welfare and ministry of the Church.

17.2 supervise all public worship and preaching services, the ministration of the Sacraments, Bible Classes, Prayer Meetings, Special Meetings, and all similar efforts aimed at reaching the lost for Christ and at building up Christians in the faith.

17.3 receive members into the Church by confession and reaffirmation of faith and by transfer from other churches.

17.4 appoint Staff Workers and other office staff as it deems necessary.

17.5 exercise discipline in the church according to the Word of God and the Bible-Presbyterian Book of

17.6 enquire into the knowledge and Christian conduct of the members of the Church.

17.7 call before them offenders with witness or witnesses from within or without their congregation.

17.8 admonish and rebuke those who are found to deserve censure, suspend or exclude offenders from the Holy Sacrament.

17.9 determine by itself or when it deems necessary, in consultation with the Deacons and Deaconesses all matters concerning the religious services and spiritual life of the Church and the suitability of candidates for election to the Church Session.”

The BOE acts by consensus. This is to ensure that there is unity of heart and spirit when decisions are made in the church. The pastor serves as the moderator of the BOE. As the moderator, he is not higher than the other elders. Rather, as one who is the teaching elder among the ruling elders, he serves to present the spiritual direction for the BOE to follow. The BOE acts as a team and serves to take care of the flock of God. Each one is accountable to the other. When the BOE consists of God-fearing men who love the Scriptures, the Lord can lead the church to thrive in her witness for Christ. This is divine blueprint of governance for the church.

(Next: Deacons and the Church Session)
Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew