The classes of officers in the synagogue as reported in the NT are three in number, namely, “rulers of the synagogue,” “elders,” and “attendants.” The offices as related in the Mishnah include these three, but also others.
The Gospels mention two men who are identified as “ruler of the synagogue” (archisunagogos): Jairus (Mark 5:22, 35, 36, 38; Luke 8:49) and an unnamed individual who rebuked Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Mark calls Jairus archisunagogos four times, while Luke does so once; Matthew in his parallel account does not do so at all. When first introducing Jairus, Luke does use the virtually identical term “ruler of the synagogue” (archon tes sunagoges, 8:41) which is simply the same Greek elements not combined into a compound word. Matthew refers to him simply as “ruler” (archon, Matthew 9:19, 23), making no specific mention of any connection to the synagogue. It is of note that Mark identifies Jairus as “one of the rulers of the synagogue” (Mark 5:22), which suggests or at least allows for a plurality of such rulers within a single congregation.
For most of us, voting is a common experience. Many vote for our government representatives and, if we are involved in civic groups, we may vote in them as well. Voting is a means by which we express self-determination. “We the people” have the privilege and duty to help choose our future directions.
Voting is also how most congregations make their most important decisions. In Episcopal-style churches, the congregation votes on large purchases and on who will serve in various leadership positions. In “representational” churches, such as Presbyterian and American Lutheran, the congregation vote on leadership appointments, large purchases, and other membership matters. Independent churches such as Congregational, Baptist, or Bible churches vote on budgets, leadership appointments, large purchases, committee appointments, doctrinal changes, and membership matters. Voting is a common practice in most congregations, granting members a voice in the church’s affairs and decision making.1
The ecclesiology of the gathered church centers upon the notion of covenant. Gathered churches are also known as “free churches.” They are distinguished by the fact that their membership is voluntary. Gathered-church ecclesiology contrasts with the parish system, in which an established “community” church includes all the people within a particular geographical area. Traditionally, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed churches have operated according to the parish system. Anabaptists, Congregationalists, Baptists, and their spiritual kin have insisted upon gathered churches.
The parish system normally relies upon civil authority to enforce the requirements of church membership. In the most extreme cases (Zwingli’s Zurich, for example), the distinction between church and state dwindles to the point of imperceptibility. In the modern world, most countries have separated church from state. This has forced most parish churches to adapt in ways that make them more similar to gathered churches.
Gathered churches cannot rely upon civil authority to enforce church matters, and they would not use it if they could. On the contrary, each gathered church relies upon its covenant to distinguish it from the surrounding community. It is the covenant that sets a church apart from other institutions and makes it a church.