Sunday, July 26, 2009

Christ's Rule in His Church

"So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, 'These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day."
- I Samuel 8:10-18

The context is the change from the period of the Judges, about the first four hundred years of Israel, to the time of the kings, beginning with Saul. The sociological explanation is in verse 5, where the people plead, "Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the theological explanation is found in verse 7, where God Himself says, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them."

But it isn't just in the state that sinful man rebels against the Kingship of God. Jesus Christ, as King (Matthew 21:5) and Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22 and 5:23), established a government within her. In answer to the question #45, "How doth Christ execute the office of a King?" The Westminster Larger Catechism answers, in part, "Christ executeth the office of a King, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them..." In addition to the verses mentioned, there is the logical question: if Adam's fall consisted in his choosing to govern himself, how can that same holy God be expected to have left His people to govern themselves after their own sinful hearts?

Christ ordained the government of His Church through elders and deacons. These offices are defined in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Most telling is Titus 1:5, where the Apostle Paul instructs Titus, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you." Not an elder in every town, nor elders in all towns, but rather elders in each town. In other words, a plurality of elders, not a monarchical bishop, and especially no imperial Pope.

But, as in Israel in Samuel's day, sinful men rebel against God's government and seek a ruler like the nations have. Thus arose prelacy, government by monarchical bishops, in rebellion against the rule of Christ in His own church. Some faithful men have resisted the encroachment of pagan ecclesiology. Presbyterianism, rulership by elders, survives to this day. Humanly speaking, that survival was by the blood of martyrs, not for church government, but for the crown rights of Christ in His Church. The motherland of Presbyterianism, Scotland, was forced by the Stewart kings to accept bishops, but the Covenanters resisted, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. In the Solemn League and Covenant, subscribed to (then abandoned) by the Parliaments of Scotland and England, and Charles I, king of both, included this clause: "That we shall in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, (that is, church-government by Archbishops, Bishops, their Chancellors, and Commissaries, Deans, Deans and Chapters, Archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical Officers depending on that hierarchy,)..."

The sin today, even among Presbyterians, is that we have lost sight of who our King is. Everything is OK; nothing is a problem. This is the very sin of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:15-16. Let us have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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