Bless the Lord, O my soul,   
And all that is within me,   
bless His holy name.   
Bless the Lord, O my soul,   
And forget none of His benefits.   
- Psalms 103:1-2   
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God's Limit Of Government - "Among You"

         Ac. 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, AMONG WHICH the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” 1 Pe. 5:2 “Shepherd the flock of God AMONG YOU, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to {the will of} God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (NASB).

         The New King James Version is just like the NASB on the two capitalized phrases. The American Standard Version has “in which” and “among you.” The King James Version is “over the” and “among you.” The New Revised Standard Version is “of which” and “that is in your charge.” The New International Version is “of which” and “that is under your care.”

         Now, WHICH “flock” is “among you” or “in your charge”?  How would the elders to which Paul spoke (Acts 20) or Peter’s readers (1Pt. 5) understand it?

         Paul was speaking to the elders of the local church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17...28). Is there anything in the text to indicate they would think the flock “among them” was anything other than the local church in Ephesus?

         Peter writes to the “aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithinia” - regions, not cities. (1:1). In these very regions elders were appointed in each local church (Ac 14:23, “in every church”), and specifically mentioned are the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (v. 21). Would he now write telling the elders at Lystra (of the church in that city) to oversee “Galatia”? What about the elders at Iconium? Who’s supreme? The elders in Iconium might think Peter meant they were to oversee the region of “Galatia”! And the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:17) might want a say about that also! (Ephesus was in “Asia.”) The fact is elders do not exist except in a relationship to a local church, and Peter takes for granted they knew this. Knowing this, Peter’s charge would be readily understood to mean, “I exhort the elders among you (in the local churches where they were appointed), shepherd the flock of God among you (in the local church where they were appointed)...” This harmonizes with the rest of Scripture. Compare in a convention of mayors one exhorting them, “Govern the community among you.” WHICH “community”? They would readily understand the sphere of their jurisdiction. Likewise, the elders to which Peter wrote would readily understand the church “under your care” to be the one “among which” they had fellowship, the local church of which they were members.

         The independent “autonomy” (self-government) of local churches is a cornerstone of thinking and practice. Departure from it was gradual, but eventually led to wholesale apostasy. Its early history is seen in the bishop over a “diocese” (“the territorial jurisdiction of a bishop” Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1970) and culminated in the pope over the universal, or catholic, church. If the jurisdiction of elders, or bishops, is not limited to the flock “among them,” what does limit it? Where will the line be drawn, and by what standard? The Holy Spirit appointed bishops oversee the flock “among them” and no more.


- CL Bruner