This is a summarization of the principles of church government from the best book on this subject: “The Keys Of The Kingdom – A Study On The Biblical Form Of Church Government” by B. S. Poh.
1 Autonomy: Each congregation is to be self-ruling. The power to rule itself has been communicated by Christ to the congregation. There is no individual, no body of individuals, and no institution (whether civil or ecclesiastical) outside the congregation that has the right or power to exert rule over that congregation.
2 The Headship of Christ: A church that recognizes the headship of Christ will accept: (I) His prophethood, by acknowledging the Scripture as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice. and the primacy of preaching in worship; (II) His priesthood, by engaging in pure and acceptable worship, in which the Regulative Principle is carefully and wisely applied; (III) His kingship, by governing itself in the way prescribed in the Scripture.
3 Rule by Elders: Biblically qualified men, duly recognized and appointed by the congregation, are to exercise rule over the congregation. The power of rule resides with the church. The authority to exercise rule lies with the elders. The authority comes from Christ through the church.
4 The Priority of the Ministry: The ministry of God’s word has the priority in the life of the church. Of the two sorts of elders, the teaching elders have the priority over the ruling elders. The teaching elders are the pastors, teachers, or ministers of the word. As far as possible, the pastor is to be supported full-time, to concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word.
5 The Validity of Ruling Elders: Scripture teaches that there are two sorts of elders – teaching elders and ruling elders. The pastors exercise two sorts of duties – teaching and ruling. The ruling elders exercise one sort of duty – namely, ruling. Ruling elders are needed not only to minimize the possibility of autocracy in the minister on the one hand and anarchy of the congregation on the other, but also to help the pastor in the work of pastoral oversight.
6 The Unity of the Eldership: All pastors are elders, but not all elders are pastors. All elders are equal only in the general sense that they occupy the same office of ruling. The eldership is quantitatively one in that all the elders, considered together, constitute one body that has the oversight of the church. The eldership is qualitatively one in that it should function as one body.
7 Popular Election: The appointment of office-bearers must involve the guidance of the existing elders and the consent of the congregation. The existing elders inform the church of the number of new office-bearers needed, the functions they are expected to perform, and the qualifications they must possess. The actual nomination and election of deacons are left to the congregation, under the oversight of existing elders. In the appointment of new elders, the existing elders nominate the candidates while the congregation elects from among them.
8 Ordination: New office-bearers are to be ordained by the elders laying hands on them, with prayer. Fasting is also required in the case of the ordination of elders. Ordination has the meaning of separation, dedication, or consecration of the person unto God. The purpose of ordination is to solemnly and publicly recognize, confirm, separate and dedicate the person in the office.
9 Rule with consent: This is the practice whereby the elders seek the consent of the congregation as they exercise rule over the church. The consent of the congregation is given implicitly in the case of preaching, teaching, and admonition. This is the “key of order”. It is given explicitly, often by a show of hands, in the decisions that affect the external circumstances of the whole church. This is the “key of jurisdiction”.
10 The Gathered Church: This principle requires that a visible (local) church consist of believers in Christ who are baptized on a credible profession of faith, and voluntarily associated under special covenant, for the maintenance of worship, the truths, the ordinances, and the discipline, of the gospel.
11 Communion of Churches: Fellowship between churches arises from their spiritual union with Christ. Abstractly considered, communion consists in the execution of gospel duties by the individual churches. Practically considered, it is the mutual interactions of the churches to advance the cause of Christ and edify the whole universal church. The Scripture shows that churches in a region should definitely associate together. Such an association has no power of jurisdiction over the member churches.
|2. Headship of Christ||No||?||Yes||Yes|
|3. Rule by Elders||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|4. Priority of Ministry||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|5. Validity of Ruling Elders||No||?||Yes||No|
|6. Unity of Eldership||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|7. Popular Election||No||Yes||Yes||?|
|9. Rule with Consent||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|10. Gathered Church||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|11. Communion of Churches||No||No||Yes||?|
The question marks in the table indicate that the principles are either inconsistently upheld or differently practiced in churches of the same system.
The Reformed Baptist churches are Independent. Some Reformed Baptist churches hold to the Absolute Equality view of the eldership, which would undermine the priority of the ministry. Ordination is treated as optional by some. Most are struggling with the idea of forming regional associations of churches.
There are churches around today that would continue to call themselves “Congregational” by virtue of the fact that their confession of faith is the Savoy Declaration of 1658, which was published under the title of “A Declaration of the Faith and Order Owned and Practiced in the Congregational Churches in England”. In view of the definite shift in the meaning of the word “Congregational” down the centuries, and its present connotation in many parts of the world, these churches would need to qualify their use of the name. Since the alternative name of “Independency” is available, which historically had been used interchangeably with “Congregationalism”, it would be better to adopt it instead.