And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. 

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.  

If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. (Exodus 18:17-23)

In this passage, we are introduced to what I think is the first instance of Presbyterian church government in the Bible. Notice the context. Moses is being worn out by the fact that all disputes and all teaching of the law is coming to him from the people. His father-in-law, a priest of Midian, named Jethro, tells Moses this is not good. He then gives him instruction. But notice: he doesn’t just give him instruction to him as though it were “good advice.” He says “God command thee so”.

Church government is ordained of God.

Here, we see the plurality of elders leading, teaching, guiding, governing the church as the biblical model for church government.  These men were to judge amongst the people and rule them toward an orderly end. Note that the kind of man Jethro told Moses to call to this task was a man who:

  1. Feared God
  2. Were honest
  3. Hated covetousness.

Compare this with the qualifications given in Titus 1:7-9:

 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Men who are chaste, honest, and not greedy. We see a continuity not only in the tasks given to elders – to govern and to teach – but also the qualifications required for such a task.

God gives us this kind of church government for our good so that no one man becomes a tyrant and so that there is accountability on the part of leaders. Praise God for His wisdom and grace in giving us shepherds for his flock.

A great book on this subject is James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ.

I am a Reformed Presbyterian. I offer all content as my own personal reflections. I am not a licensed minister.