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Doctrine of Church Censures: Right Form of Church Government

July 16, 2023 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Topic: Doctrine of Church Censures Scripture: Acts 1:1–14


WCFaith: Chapter 30, Art. 1 / Acts 1.1-14

Basic Introduction of Acts

The gospel begins in Jerusalem

Acts 2, 3, 4, 5 → the gospel presented in Jerusalem 

Acts 6, 7→ there is persecution

Acts 8 → the gospel goes into Judea and Samaria

Acts 9 → Paul’s conversion

Acts 10 → Peter has a vision about the uttermost parts of the earth with the sheet coming down from heaven

  • the Lord says what I call clean, don't call unclean
  • he goes to Cornelius’ house, and the Holy Ghost falls upon them

Then the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth

  • Persecution arises in and around Jerusalem, some ministers settle in other places (Acts 11.19)

Acts 13.1 → those men are named as prophets

It's not just anyone going preaching without a call

  • Who are Philip and Steven as they preach?
    • officers in the Church of Jesus Christ

More Exhaustive Look

Acts 8

Philip goes to Samaria preaching the word of God.

  • people are coming to faith in Christ

The apostles hear about it and they send some folks from Jerusalem to Samaria to see what's going on.

Verse 12-17 -> this is an interesting passage

  • Philip is baptizing both men and women
  • Where is the command to baptize women?
    • o only males were circumcised in the OT
  • How did the apostles know to baptize women?

This is not treated as a big deal; it is mentioned simply as an incidental here in Acts 8

In keeping with our series, I believe Jesus taught His apostles about the things of the kingdom of God

  • they didn't just forge ahead
  • they didn’t pretend to be rulers over the house
  • they were servants in the house
  • they behaved according as Christ taught them

This is a good/ necessary consequence from scripture

  • Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God

What we see happening is because Jesus taught them

  • They learned to baptize women, as well as men

Acts 13 - Antioch Presbytery

How many prophets do we have in Antioch?

  • We have quite a few.

I believe there was more than 1 particular assembly

  • because of the many teaching elders in Antioch
  • because of the time Paul spent in Antioch

This may be a bit of an assumption

There was more than one particular visible church

  • perhaps there was a presbytery of churches
  • they were called Christians first at Antioch
    • maybe there was such a presence they got their own name

What we have here is a presbytery meeting in Antioch

  • an assembly of elders from different churches

Notice what is going on in verses 1-3

There is this meeting going on in Antioch

  • there are church officers there
  • there may be others there, as well

But notice who are chosen out for our notice.

  • officers -> prophets, teachers
  • these men are meeting together
  • they are praying and fasting

The Holy Ghost says to them, separate Barnabas and Paul unto me, for the work

  • perhaps one of the Prophets stood up and spoke in the name of the Lord

But one way or another, the Holy Ghost made it known to the presbytery, to that gathering of elders

  • a presbytery are elders from different churches

So, they prayed, fasted, and they lay on hands

  • the elders ordain them and sent them away

Notice, the text says “they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia “

  • When we think about that today, how would the Holy Ghost send someone out?
  • It would be In the same way

A presbytery would be raised up, the elders would lay their hands on a man, and they would send him out

  • That man might be right in thinking that he was sent forth by the Holy Ghost

We expect that the sending of the presbytery is tantamount to the sending of the Holy Ghost

  • Once again, how did they know to do that?
  • They were taught by Jesus for 40 days (Acts 1)

We can begin to see them using those instructions

  • as they set up the Church of Jesus Christ
  • according to the commands of a King
  • according to the Son who is over the house

So, Barnabas and Paul go out and preach

Acts 14 - Sending by the Presbytery

Barnabas and Paul make two trips

  • the first time out, they start in the synagogues
  • then they go out of the synagogue as people are gathered to them by the Holy Ghost

In whose authority are they setting up these churches?

  • Is it their own?

They believe they were sent forth by the presbytery

  • they believe they were sent by the Holy Ghost

They are setting up churces, as they are sent by the Holy Ghost, through the hands of the presbytery.

The hand of the Lord is working through His elders

  • as they meet as a presbytery
  • as they are sending those men out

Churches are being set up in Lystra, Derby, Lycaonia

  • all the way in that middle section of Asia Minor

On the 2nd tour they ordained elders in those cities

  • In other words, they oversaw the ordination of local elders over those churches

The Holy Ghost goes forward by the hand of that presbytery setting up those churches under authority

  • not by the people gathering themselves together in a type of planting their own flag
  • but through that ministerial church

Is it possible to have churches without elders? Sure.

Is it possible then for folks to gather themselves together apart from any authority and plant a church?

  • No, at least not under Christ's administration
  • This is the example He has set to us in His Word
verse 23-28

Notice the Apostle Paul is not acting overly apostolically, but humbly

  • He travels under the sending of the Holy Ghost
  • An inspired apostle waited for the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

Do you understand the importance of that?

  • he goes out under that authority
  • not under a bare apostolic authority
  • but under the authority of the presbytery

Why do you think he did this?

  • Maybe he is waiting for the command of his King

We are seeing Christ working through the hands of those men in the Presbytery

  • setting him apart
  • ordaining him to that office
  • so out he goes, planting churches, preaching the gospel, ordaining elders

Paul and Barnabas are acting as a commission of the presbytery to ordain elders.

And at the end of his journey, what does Paul do?

  • he comes back to the presbytery to give a report
  • he gives his report as a man under authority

Acts 15 - Dispute and Decree

When he begins to give that report, what happens?

  • some object to what the Apostle has done

There is a disagreement about preaching to the Gentiles and the need for circumcision

Not reaching resolution, they decide to go Jerusalem

  • the presbytery for the Church of Antioch and the presbytery for the church of Jerusalem meet

Today, we would call that a Synod, the church court

  • A meeting of two presbyteries

They meet together, in a synod, to hear the dispute

This is an especially important event:

  • There are Gentiles coming to faith in Christ

The Apostle Paul argues against tradition:

  • they don't need to be circumcised
  • they don't need to keep ceremonial laws

Notice what the Apostle Paul does not do

  • He does not say “I'm an inspired apostle.”

Why doesn’t he do this?

  • maybe there were instructions he had received…

Maybe there were instructions that his brothers had received from the Lord Jesus Christ, on how to build the church.

Rather than acting apostolically, he is Presbyterian-like

  • He says, “Yes, let's go to let's go to Jerusalem. Let's hash it out with the other elders”

So, there is an orderly proceeding with the dispute.

  • some are speaking in favor of circumcision
  • others are speaking against circumcision
  • then testimonies are given
    • Peter rises first and speaks about what happened in the situation of Cornelius
    • Paul stands up and speaks about being sent by the presbytery what God has done in the Gentile churches
    • James quotes Amos 9 about the Gentiles
  • James makes a suggestion:
    • don't trouble them with circumcision
    • don’t trouble them with the ceremonial law
    • give them 4 things (related to idol worship)
      • abstain from fornication and idols
      • and from things strangled and blood

These apostles and elders in the Synod of Jerusalem:

  • tell them not to do certain things
  • in order to keep peace and unity in the church

The Synod’s authority was such that they tell churches not to do things that may have been lawful before.

Acts 16 - Presbyterial Authority

Notice that nobody stood and ruled as an apostle

  • Peter stood, an apostle, and gave testimony
  • Paul stood, an apostle, and gave testimony
  • James stood, an apostle and even a moderator, - we believe he is the moderator, because he issues the decision/ decree

The moderator sort or makes a motion to the elders

  • and “it seemed good to the apostles and elders “

Nobody is elevating themselves above another

  • They are all working together as elders
  • They are equals with one another in that court

verse four → they delivered the decree in the cities

The decree from the apostles and elders was binding

  • It was a decree to be kept by the churches

Their authority was pressed rightly, to the churches

Acts 18.18-22 – Reporting to the Presbytery

This is the close of Paul's 2nd missionary journey

Why did he go to Antioch?

  • Paul said he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem.
  • So why did he stop at Antioch?
    • he went to give his report

Acts 19.1-5 – A Spontaneous Church

This is the only time we see anything close to a church springing up on its own, without a sending authority

  • These disciples seem to be on their own
  • He asks if they have received the Holy Ghost
  • Paul asks them how they were baptized
  • If they were baptized, as Christ commanded, they would have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
    • But they said, “We haven't heard of that.”

Paul, baptizes them in the name of Jesus Christ, which is by the authority of Jesus Christ, and what was Christ's authority? (Matthew 28.19)

  • All authority in heaven and earth has given unto me Go therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

There may have been a couple of places where something sprung up of its own

  • But the Lord sent His apostles there to rein them in and to pull them under authority

In every place we go, the Holy Ghost is received by the laying on of the hands of the apostles

  • because the spread of the church is going to be an organized spread in the kingdom of Christ


Use #1 – Church Growth is Orderly and Regulated

As we have taken a look through the book of Acts, what have we seen?

  • an orderly, organized spread of the church
  • a church under the authority of presbyteries
    • It is regulated by them
    • It is directed by them
    • It is founded by them

We don't see things springing up over here, and things springing up over there, all by themselves

Use #2 – Proper Church Government is Presbyterian

We have seen the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church, the Son over the House

  • He has instructed his apostles in a particular way
  • His apostles followed that way
  • We have seen this example set down for us in the writing of Dr. Luke by inspired fashion
  • We have seen this inspired history teach us
    • how churches are planted
    • how churches are built up
    • how churches are governed

Regrettably, Acts is often seen as simple history

  • we have divorced it from what it is intended by the Spirit of God to do
    • which is to teach us how to do these things

If we pay attention and pick up these things that are there in the book of Acts, we will see:

  • that we ought to have a form of church government that is Presbyterian by nature
  • this is the government God has set in the church

How did the Apostles know to set it up this way?

  • because we believe Jesus taught them to do it

He took 40 days to teach them of the kingdom of God

When Paul spent those three years alone

  • He was receiving revelations from the Lord
  • I believe he received that same information

We can see this evidenced when he wenthimself to the church in Jerusalem and they had a perfect agreement among them in how to operate

We believe that the Lord has set a plurality of elders to govern locally and in an extended fashion

We understand that simply being Presbyterian doesn’t mean that everything done in perfect

  • these aren't safeguards/ guarantees like that
  • the wickedness of men can twist even the best of doctrines and government

Then why do it if it doesn't provide a safeguard?

  • because Christ has commanded it.
  • because he set forth the example in His Word

Even if we don't understand every particular structure, every advantage, or every protection,

  • we must strive to be obedient

Who knows what small, incremental, psychological subtleties the Lord will bring to his people for their good based on obedience to this particular pattern of church government that He has shown in His Word?

We believe Presbyterianism is the government Christ, in His love and care for His church, has set over His people

And if we would be that healthy and whole church that we ought to be

  • then we should follow that pattern.

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