WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD?
by Dick Wiedneheft
[The following article was originally published by ACD in 1974 when this topic became a concern to many. A certain church organization was then in the habit of equating its oppressive version of "church government" to the "Government of God"—with disastrous results. Such church groups still persist and there yet remains much confusion on the subject of "church organization" and use of "authority" within the Body of Christ. Because of its timeless and foundational truth, we here reprint Dick’s fine work for our cyber friends. –K. Westby]
Does the government of God exist on earth today? Can it be found in the national governments whose monarchs rule by "divine right?" Is it the authority within one or more religious organizations? Has God chosen a particular man to be His representative on earth in our time? Does any man or group of men have the authority to administer the Government of God?
The word government can be defined as the use of administrative powers or the exercise of power or authority in controlling others.
God’s government is simply the administration, the rule, the control that God exercises over others. It is the administration through which God created the universe and everything in it. And when God created spirit beings, cherubim, seraphim, archangels, and angels, they came under his rulership—they came under his government.
Except for the rebellion of Lucifer and one third of the angels (Ez 28; Is 14; Lk 10:18), the government of God has been peacefully administered in heaven from the time the angels were created to this day. Even the "Lord’s Prayer" includes the statement, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God’s will is done in heaven. God is the ruler or beneficent monarch. The angels and spirit beings are his subjects, and wherever they go in the universe they obey the will of God.
God’s Government on Earth
As recorded in Genesis 2, God made provision for his government to be extended to human beings. He created Adam and Eve and gave them an opportunity to voluntarily become his subjects—to come under his government. God told Adam, "... You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen 2:16-17).
Adam was a free moral agent: he could have chosen to obey or to disobey God. He could have voluntarily submitted to God’s government and accepted God’s rule. But Adam chose to sin. He rejected the government of God in his life.
However, some of Adam’s descendants did accept God’s rule. Able, Enoch, Noah, and, later, Abraham, were such men. In Genesis 26:5, God said of Abraham that he "obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees, and my laws." Throughout many years of trial and tests Abraham consistently obeyed God, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
God spoke personally to Abraham and revealed his will to him directly. Through obedience Abraham accepted God’s rulership and willingly became subject to his government.
God Deals With a Nation
About 400 years later, God gave the nation of Israel the opportunity to come under his government. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and at Mount Sinai offered them a covenant: if they would obey him, he would bless them; if they would accept his government, he would make them a great nation. The Israelites agreed to the covenant. They promised to accept God as their ruler and to obey his laws and commandments (Ex 19:5-8).
At that time they did not know in detail what God expected of them as a nation. They did not yet know his will. God had to reveal it to them, and he chose to do this through Moses. (See Dt 5:1-5, 23-33; 6:1-2.)
There was no Bible, no Old Testament. The only way they could know God’s will—the only way they could come under God’s government—was through Moses. Moses was the mediator between God and the nation.
Notice what God told Moses about Aaron: "He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him" (Ex 4:16). Later God told Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh: and your brother Aaron will be your prophet" (Ex 7:1).
God made Moses a ruler over the people. He made Moses the lawgiver, the mediator of the Old Covenant. Moses was the administrator of the Government of God on earth at that time.
Stephen recounted in Acts 7:34-35, "I (God) have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you (Moses) back to Egypt. This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, "Who made you ruler and judge?" He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush."
Rejecting God’s Government
When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against Moses, they were rebelling against the only source they had of knowing God’s will—because God was revealing his will through Moses.
They said to Moses and Aaron, "... You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?" (Nu 16:3).
What they said was simply not true. Moses and Aaron had taken nothing to themselves that God hadn’t given them. And it was only through Moses that the people were given the knowledge of God’s laws, statutes and ordinances. They had access to God at that time only through Moses as the mediator of the covenant.
After the law was given through Moses, God continued to raise up judges to administer it. But the Israelites repeatedly rejected both those judges and God’s law. They were simply not willing to be subject to his government. And when the time of Samuel came, they demanded a king (1Sa 8:4-5). Samuel was told to comply: "And the Lord told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king" (1Sa 8:7).
And indeed they had rejected God’s reign! They had been rejecting it, in fact, for several hundred years (Jdg 21:25; Jer 7:22-28; Eze 20).
God went on to say, "As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you " (1Sa 8:8).
They had been rejecting God since the time they came out of Egypt (Eze 20:5-9). They had already rejected the government of God. Now they were merely rejecting Samuel as his spokesman.
The Old Testament is a history of individuals and nations rejecting God. Some few did choose to obey his ways (David, King Hezekiah, the prophets, etc.), but the nations of Israel and Judah as a whole did not. They rejected God’s government.
The New Testament
But God’s plan went far beyond the Old Covenant made with the physical nation of Israel. He prophesied that one day he would raise up a Prophet like unto Moses and make a New Covenant (Dt 18:15-19; Jer 31:31-34). When the time came, he sent Jesus Christ to provide a new opportunity for human beings to come in contact with the government of God. "But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises " (Heb 8:6).
Hebrews 8:10 is quoted from the prophecy of Jeremiah 31, "...I will put my laws in their mind, and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." Through the New Covenant, individuals have an opportunity to become part of God’s Kingdom—to become subjects of his government. Through the Holy Spirit, the laws of God can be written in our hearts—etched in our very thinking. His ways can be made part of our being by Christ living in us. Ultimately, through God’s plan we can become spirit beings in God’s Family and live forever under the benign, loving government of the Father.
Christ the Central Figure
The central figure of God’s New Testament plan is Jesus Christ. His position in the government of God is of paramount importance, especially in comparison to the positions of Old Testament national leaders and prophets.
Notice Hebrews 1:1-2: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.…" In the Old Testament God worked through different individuals (the most notable of whom was Moses) in administering his government to the nation of Israel.
But how does God speak to us today? How is his will revealed today? How is the government of God administered now?
In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted what Moses stated in Deuteronomy 18:15 regarding One to be raised up who would be like Moses—One who should be obeyed, respected, and accepted in the way Moses was. "... The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you" (Acts 3:22).
That prophet was Jesus Christ. He is the Lawgiver.
He alone is the One who now administers the government of God on earth.
Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb 12:24) through which we as individuals have the opportunity to come under God’s government.
Jesus Christ is the One we as Christians must not rebel against as did Korah against Moses. Christ is the One we should not reject. He reveals the law of God to us. He enables us to come under God’s government today.
The true Master of all Christians, the Lord of all who want to be part of the government of God today, is Jesus Christ (Acts 2:36).
In Colossians 4:1, the Apostle Paul exhorted, "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven." Paul asked the Romans, "Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (Ro 14:4).
Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God" (1Co 11:3). In the marriage relationship the man is the head of the wife. And Christ, not some other human being, is the Head of the man. Christ is the Lord and Master of true Christians. And Jesus taught that "No one can serve two masters" (Mt 6:24).
The whole New Testament shows that true Christians are bond servants of Christ. We have been bought and paid for by him. We belong to him. By obeying him, as he reveals himself in his Word, we are responding to the government of God. God’s government is our voluntary acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master.
Mediator, High Priest, Shepherd
Jesus Christ is also the Mediator of the New Covenant. "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Ti 2:5). There is no need for any other mediator between God and Christians. No human being is authorized to mediate this covenant or administer the government of God.
Christ is the High Priest—the only High Priest. "Therefore, since we have a great high priest, who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess" (Heb 4:14).
Those of us who have received God’s Holy Spirit and are the children of God have direct access to our Father through our High Priest Jesus Christ. No other priest stands between us. Indeed, Peter said of true Christians, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1Pe 2:9). Every Christian is part of a chosen generation, a holy nation, and a royal priesthood with direst access to God through one High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is also the Good Shepherd. He said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (Jn 10:27). Christians hear his voice through his Word, the Bible—the revelation of God to man.
They also hear the voice of men who speak the words of the Shepherd, but it is the Shepherd’s voice they hear, not the voice of the men. Men are men. They are physical and fallible. But the sheep look to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Christ Is the Head of the Church
Christ told Peter he would build his Church and the gates of hades (death) would not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). And he promised, "... and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mt 28:20). So right now, Christ is with his Church. He is the Head of it.
"And he is the head of the body, the church..." (Col 1:18). How many heads does a body have?
Since the Church is one body, it has one Head—Jesus Christ. He is quartered at the right hand of the Father’s throne in heaven, which is the only Headquarters of the Church. And from there Christ exercises the government of God in the lives of those who voluntarily accept him as their Savior, Lawgiver, Master, Mediator, High Priest, Shepherd, and Head.
The Word of God
When an individual voluntarily accepts Christ as his Head and becomes a subject of the government of God, he seeks to do the will of God, which is revealed in the pages of the Bible. The Holy Scriptures contain the laws of God’s government and give the requirements for one to become part of that government.
When, through hearing the Gospel preached and through the working of God’s Spirit, a person comes to repentance, accepts Jesus Christ as his Savior, and yields to obey God, he receives God’s Holy spirit and comes under the government of god.
Through that process of voluntary submission to God and his government, his laws are being written in our hearts. And as long as we accept the authority of his Word in our lives, we are under the government of God and are following the "Moses" of the New Testament.
In ancient Israel the will of God was primarily known through Moses. In the spiritual Israel of today, the will of God has been revealed through Jesus Christ and is available in the pages of the Bible. If a Christian rejects the latter-day Moses by rejecting Christ and his Word , he rejects the government of God just as Korah and all Israel rejected it. But we are loyal subjects of God’s government if we respect and obey Jesus Christ and follow his Word.
What About the Ministry?
For the most part, members of the Body of Christ have learned about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and God’s way of life from someone else.
Paul asked, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Ro 10:14).
God certainly did ordain that there would be a ministry to preach the Gospel to the world and to spiritually feed and strengthen his people (Mt 28:19-20; Eph 4:11-16; 1Pe 5:1-3; 2Ti 2:2). Those added to the Body of Christ are converted directly or indirectly by the preaching or example of someone who is already part of the Body.
And just as younger children tend to respect and learn from older brothers and sisters, so younger children in Christ would generally respect and follow those they recognize as spiritually older and more mature.
But what human father demands that his grown, adult children obey an older brother? Or what older brother requires younger, grown-up brothers and sisters to obey him in all things? How much less should those spiritually older demand obedience of others. Obedience belongs to the Father and to our Resurrected Eldest Brother, Jesus Christ (Ro 14:4, 10-13; 1Pe 5:3-4).
But a spiritually younger or less mature child of God would and should certainly respect, respond to, and voluntarily follow the lead of those who are more mature and perhaps more knowledgeable of God’s Word through education and experience. Paul exhorted the Corinthians to be followers of him as he was a follower of Christ (1Co 11:1).
But that relationship between two children of God is not the government of God.
Anyone who demands obedience or personal allegiance of those converted through his particular efforts is taking to himself authority he has not been given by God.
Did Paul demand obedience of those converted or strengthened through his teaching (as opposed to those converted or edified through the teaching of other ministers)? Apparently Paul, Peter, and Apollos all had converts at Corinth—or at least people they had influenced—and each one there regarded a particular man as his champion. "What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" (1Co 1:12-13).
Paul was saying that it was foolishness for them to maintain they were followers of the man through whom they were converted or taught. They belonged to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 3:5-6, he wrote, "What, after all , is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow."
Paul continued in verses 7-9, "So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building."
Paul didn’t even claim they should follow him over Apollos—he pointed them directly to Christ. "So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God" (1Co 3:21-23).
Christians belong to Christ alone, not to any man.
Paul certainly did write about the responsibilities of a minister—to guide, lead, encourage, and inspire the people of God. And with that responsibility obviously goes a certain amount of authority—the authority of God’s Word, the responsibility and authority to preach, rebuke, and exhort according to God’s Word (2Ti 4;2).
There is a definite need for order and coordination among the members of the Body of Christ who work, fellowship and assemble together. "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints." (1Co 14:33).
Christians can serve God, each other, and mankind much more effectively through being organized. "Organization" and "organizations" are not dirty words—they can proudly be used in connection with the Church, the Body of Christ. Sincere Christians will want their service for God to be efficient and effective, which usually requires careful thought, energy, planning and coordination, in short, organization. When a number of people are involved, good organization requires distributed responsibilities accompanied by the authority to coordinate and administer the particular tasks.
But that authority is not the government of God. And the coordination and organization of certain Christians who are working together toward common goals in no way limits or restricts the entire spiritual Body of Christ—the members of which are like salt, scattered throughout the earth.
No elder brother or sister has authorization from God to have dominion over a younger brother or sister. No minister is franchised by God to boss or dominate the Lord’s flock. In fact, Paul said, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm" (2Co 1:24). No human being should exercise dominion over another’s faith. "Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls" (Ro 14:4).
Government of an Organization
Throughout his writings, Paul spoke of the Body of Christ as one body with many members. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 he wrote, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men."
Some feel that although there are different gifts and administrations, they must all be part of the same human administration or operation under one human head.
There is simply no scriptural proof for equating the Body of Christ with one human organization. Since it is God, not men, who puts us into his Church by granting us his Holy Spirit (1Co 12:13), the Church of God is a spiritual organism that cannot be limited by men to one organization on earth.
Yet, it is right and good for members of the spiritual Body of Christ to be organized (1Co 12:14-27). Can the eye alone be effective? Can one finger alone do anything? Can any member of the body say to any other member, "I have no need of you?"
Every member of the Body has God’s spirit. Each Christian also has his own natural talents and abilities, and his own experience and background, to contribute in service to others. Through organization, coordination, and proper government those gifts, abilities, and experiences can be shared and utilized in an effective way—both within and outside of the Body.
What type of organization or government will bear the most fruit?
Many different types of organization and government, serving various purposes and functions, do work, have worked, and are working to a greater or lesser degree of effectiveness. And those governments have worked for unconverted, non-Christian men and women. How much more should Christians be able to produce Godly fruit through proper organization and teamwork!
A team—with each member contributing what he has to offer, what he can do best—can be much more effective than individual members alone. In a cooperative team effort, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The flock of God can be better nourished through a sharing of the gifts and abilities found within the body. The Gospel can be preached more effectively through a common effort. By sincere cooperation, a team—an organization of members of the Body of Christ—can bear much fruit to the glory of God (Jn 15:8; Mt 13:23).
Paul had a company of disciples that formed a team to preach the gospel to Gentiles. Titus performed secretarial duties (Ro 16:22). Others ministered to and labored with Paul (Php 4:3; Ac 20:4). Timothy and Titus pastored churches under Paul’s general direction.
There was organization and government within Paul’s team. And Paul had authority to properly coordinate the group. He delegated certain responsibilities and authorities to others, such as Timothy and Titus, who in turn delegated to others working with them (2Ti 2:2; Tit 1:5).
Yet Paul’s authority was not the government of God except as he spoke or wrote what Christ had directly said or revealed (compare 1Co 11:23 with 1Co 7:25).
Organization should be a servant to men—men shouldn’t be slaves to it. Organization is a means to an end. It is for the purpose of serving and giving to those within and without the group. Organization should increase the effectiveness of the gifts and abilities of the individual members to the glory of God.
But no organization should be allowed to lord it over the individual members of the Body of Christ. No human organization should be equated with the government of God. No organization should impede or stifle the abilities and talents we all have, or the gifts given to the members of the Body as God wills (1Co 12:11).
No organization or group of Christians should think that it alone has a corner on God’s Holy Spirit.
God is organized. The Apostle Paul had an organization. Each human family ought to be organized. Organization is good—if it is rightly used. But Christians must always keep their eyes on the Captain of their salvation, Jesus Christ. No human being, no group of human beings, no organization of human beings is authorized by God’s Word to have dominion over the individual Christian’s faith, his personal salvation, or his relationship with God.
Men are men. Even the Apostle Paul warned that after he had preached to others he could be a castaway (1Co 9:27). Any human being or group of human beings can err. We as Christians must individually look to our Head, Jesus Christ. We must realize that the government of an organization is not the government of God. It may be the government of converted men of God. It may be the government of men who are serving God and doing God’s will. But it is not the government of God.
This is a basic, foundational concept that is essential to a proper understanding of church organization and church government. It provides a framework within which we can cooperate and work together as an effective team in Christ’s service while avoiding a limiting, restrictive government and organization that could impede and interfere with the working of God’s Holy Spirit in our individual lives.
Let’s keep our eyes on Christ, voluntarily submitting to His government. And let’s work together to bring others to the knowledge of God and His way—and to the knowledge that he is the Supreme Ruler of the universe.