“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1Corinthians 14:40, NKJ).
As our denomination prepares for the annual meetings of Synod next week, the difficult task of reading and digesting a mountain of reports and of organizing my schedule to accommodate being gone for the better part of a week is upon me. While I do enjoy visiting with friends whom I’ve not seen for many months, I must confess that church meetings are not something I look forward to with much anticipation. Sitting in one room for hours, parliamentary procedure, eating institutional food, sleeping in a dorm room, listening to seemingly endless debates and reports – none of it really appeals. After about a day and a half, I am ready to give up and go home. But this year I am heading to our annual meetings with an altered perspective and renewed appreciation for the blessings of ordered and faithful church government.
Having just returned from several weeks of teaching and ministry in East Asia, I’ve been able to see firsthand the challenges and difficulties that the church faces simply because it lacks a well-developed system of church government. And when I say that, I do not mean that there is no system on the books – there is. I mean that the system is not well understood and practiced – yet. It is clearly a work in progress. The problem is trying to teach men how the Presbyterian system of church government works without them ever having really seen it done. They have the manual that explains it, but they lack the historical precedent and the personal experience to know what it means.
I think the situation is similar to our experience when we read about the functioning of the tabernacle in the book of Leviticus. We have the description written for us in excruciating detail. But we have very little concept of HOW it actually looked to worship under the old dispensation. If we could see it done and experience it firsthand, then our understanding of the written instructions would increase dramatically. It is much the same for our brothers and sisters laboring for Christ in parts of the world that have been cut off from the gospel for a significant period of history. They really have not seen it done. And this not only impacts the structure and function of church government, it affects the way the Christian life is lived in the family, in the church, and in the community.
We often pray for the global church – that it would be preserved under persecution, that it would grow and prosper in Christ, and that it would be kept from the attacks of the evil one. But I don’t think we often pray that it would be governed faithfully according to Scripture. To put a fine point on it, I do not believe I have ever prayed that they would have good and orderly church meetings. But this is, in fact, an absolutely vital issue for the growing church in Asia and around the world. They need to be able to come together and work together efficiently and biblically. They need to be able to learn about each other and to support each other, but they also need to be able to rebuke each other and to correct each other at times.
As is often the case, you do not appreciate certain things until they are taken away. Being able to witness the challenges facing the growing church in various nations that lack well-established systems of church government has given me a renewed appreciation for the blessing of our church meetings back home. In the past I’ve seen tedium and inefficiency, but what I should be seeing is the Lord Jesus preserving and protecting His church through a blessed structure designed by Him to strengthen the work of the gospel.
Please do pray for God’s work in Asia and around the world. Pray that He would guide and protect His people and cause them to grow and prosper in Christ. But please also pray that He would bless them with well-ordered and productive church meetings. That He would raise up elders and pastors and would enable them to work together faithfully and biblically to plan, to work, to resolve conflicts, to correct errors, and to govern Christ’s church for the glory of God. And the next time you hear that your elders are going off to a church meeting here at home, remind them of the blessed gift of well-functioning, if yet imperfect, church government.