The Organization of the ONE TRUE CHURCH
This section will focus upon both realms of the church. The universal church and the local church. We will see that there is no organization on this earth greater than the universal church, and there is no organization on this earth smaller than the local church. And more importantly there is no organization between the two.
If you remember, the membership of the universal church is made up of those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. The ones who are in a covenant relationship with God. The ones who got there by obedience to the commands of God. Those who remain faithful are enrolled in the universal church. The members of the universal church subject themselves to Christ alone. No human government or oversight takes place in this relationship.
The local church is different in many respects. The fact that the membership is kept by human relationships makes it vunerable to less than perfect knowledge. There are many passages that discuss various local churches in the New Testament. There were many, and each one was comprised of Christians who had obeyed the gospel, and were added to the Lord's universal church. They also had a relationship with their brethren locally. Their common location caused them to seek fellowship together within each locality.
Even today, when Christians come or move to a new location, they are to seek Christians of like precious faith, and join with them in participating in the local church. Sometimes, it calls for the establishment of a new local work. The members establish and maintain the boundaries of fellowship. They agree to work together in doing those things that God has commanded each individual Christian to do. They are to be a complement for each other, not a replacement. Christians must be very careful not to abregate their responsibility to the local church. Christians must also be very careful that their membership does not become a crutch and seek to relieve themselves of individual responsibility.
The only relationship that these many different local congregations and bodies have with each other is their common bond of each member being a part of the universal church. Each congregation must recognize no other head than Christ. Each congregation must recognize no other government other than Christ and His doctrine as presented in the Holy Bible. Each local congregation can recognize other congregations as being of similar and like minded faith, but there is no relationship between the two in the earthly realm.
This arrangement is God's perfect plan. It establishes a pattern by which each congregation knows how to conduct themselves and how to govern themselves locally. No congregation has a right to oversee another congregation or to rule over another congregation.
Sometimes, a congregation that offers financial support to a preacher will try to oversee the work of that local evangelist. There is no scriptural support for such an action. Although congregations do have a responsibility to wisely distribute their monies, they do not have the right to intervene or demand certain actions on the part of the preacher they support or the congregation where he labors.
It would be wise of congregations to investigate those who seek financial support and verify their faithfulness by meeting them face to face and discussing doctrine, or by receiving references from other known faithful brethren. It is foolishness to just send money to someone for no other reason than they asked. Some congregations boast about supporting preachers or missionaries in many different areas. The keyword is "boast". That is not according to the pattern.
Each local congregation is self governing. As we said, no other congregation has the right to oversee them. Even if the other congregation has experienced elders and members who excell in the fields of management and finances.
Christians must work together to accomplish the work that God gave them to do. Each Christian has a responsiblity to worship God in a specific way. The local church is instrumental in providing a place for this worship to take place.
The local church may also serve as a sending agency. If a certain need arises somewhere else, they can send someone to preach in an area, or to just evangelize on a missionary trip. They can finance the whole trip, or they can finance part of it. If a church sees a need to start another congregation, it may select several members (or ask for volunteers) to start another local work.
This is all within God's pattern.
Self governing leadership.
God established in his pattern various levels of leadership. In the beginning the Holy Spirit directed the apostles and prophets and evangelist in building up the local church. Ephesians 4:11-16 describes this work of the Holy Spirit. As congregations matured and aged, they were to appoint elders in each church.
Elders were to be a leadership that is was highly respected, and were worthy of such respect. Depending upon which translation you are reading, you will find several descriptive terms applied to this office. Bishops, Elders, Shepherds, Pastors, Presbyters, Overseers. These men selected to serve in this capacity must meet certain qualifications. Although, every Christian must develop themselves to be of the same caliber of person, there are some distinctions made. Specifically, they must be older, married to one wife, father of (Christian) children, be able to teach, and serve as an example. They are to tend the flock of God which is among them. They are to shepherd the fold. They are to oversee. They are to lead, and they are to rule over the flock. [Read Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 for the qualifications.] They are to be examples of faithfulness and spiritual uprightness.
Acts 20:17 "And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church."
Acts 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 Peter 5:2-4 "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; nor yet as lording it over those alloted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory"
Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as thouse who will give and account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you."
Deacons also are included in the pattern of New Testament church government and leadership. Every member of the church should be able to help in some way to provide a service to the local church that would relieve a burden of some sort. Deacons are also called ministers and servants of the local church. Under the New Testament pattern, deacons are to support the elders and take care of the physical aspects of the local church. The elders are responsibile for the spiritual aspect of the congregation.
The qualifications for one who serves as a deacon are listed in 1 Timothy 3: 8-13. Notice that the qualifications are similar but not as strict in regards to age. Every Christian man should be willing to help in any way possible whether he has a title or not. A degree of maturity must be demonstrated, lest pride comes and envelops a man.
Some congregations do not have elders and deacons and that could be for various reasons. The scriptures teach that if there are men available who are qualified, they should be appointed as elders. A congregation that does have qualified men that does not appoint them is not following the pattern of the New Testament church. For these congregations that do not have elders and deacons appointed, they men of the congregation will form agreements as to the operation of the local church.
To meet the qualifications of these offices takes years of development. All Christians are commanded to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18) and should develop themselves to be qualified and they should be prepared to lead if so asked to do so. Christians who fail to develop themselves properly will have to answer to God for their lack of endeavor or discipline.
Though our study is designed to show what the ONE TRUE CHURCH is rather than what it is not, we will take a brief look to some practices by various religious bodies to make comparisons.
Some of them have their religious heirachys. Some go through various levels of leadership. i.e. Priest, Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal, Pope. You can search the scriptures daily, and will not find this arrangement there.
You can read of the various synods and human arrangements that serve has headquarters of various groups. There were no headquarters in the New Testament. The only Headquarters is seated at the right hand of God.
You can read of various conventions from time to time. There is a lot of politics at these and they usually end up voting on what they will teach and believe. I guess the Bible is not good enough for them. Usually a split develops between the factions shortly afterwards. [No wonder we have thousands of different groups today.]
You can read of mother churches feeding the sister churches and the baby churches. You can read of all sorts of things associated with religion, but you won't read it in the Bible.
One other thing to be mentioned is called evangelistic oversight. This is where the preacher or minister has the oversight over the congregation. This concept is foreign to the New Testament. Some call this the Pastoral system. It is not according to the pattern. Evangelists are to preach, they are not to oversee. Though some may serve in both capacities at the same time, they sometimes do so with great difficulty in separating the offices.
My friend, please examine your churches government with the New Testament pattern that we can read from God's word. If it is different, please consider making a change for the better. I know, it takes courage to challenge those of your own faith, but if you want to be right, it is your right and duty to do so.
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