The Simplicity of Gods Organization and the Complexity of False Associations
When a person reads through the New Covenant writings (the New Testament) without wearing sectarian or cultic glasses, he is impressed with Gods arrangement for His family, the body of Christ. Instead of the Jewish model of organization found in the Law of Moses, the Lord Jesus planned for the orderly functioning of the community or assembly of God on earth today.
Many scriptures could be noticed here, but we basically see small individual groups of believers in Christ living with each other, meeting together regularly, having fellowship with other members, and working in a unified manner for the accomplishment of Gods will.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian assembly, he said, To each one [each Christian] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). When God was active in giving the various gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:4), we have the arrangement mentioned by Paul in the First Corinthian letter. He wrote, One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). There was a unity as well as a diversity within the individual assemblies: Even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ (v. 12).
The apostle wrote something similar to the Roman assembly: Just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Romans 12:4-5). So what God planned for the infant body of Christ was that each member would have one or more spiritual gifts and these would equip him to serve other believers and build others up in the assembly.
When we turn to the letter to the Ephesians, again we find the purpose in Gods providing different works to different men, for the blessing of the whole body. Christ is the Head . . . from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (4:16). As part of this self-edification, this is what God did: He [God] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (v. 11).
Some would point out that apostles where confined to the first generation of believers and when the twelve apostles passed away, no replacements were found for them (Acts 1). An apostle (apostolos) is literally one sent forth (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). These twelve sent ones served an important and essential purpose in the foundation of the household of God but after their work was completed, apostles were no longer needed. The prophets also had an important function in the early assembly, that of conveying foundational truths to establish the body.
For instance, Judas and Silas were prophets (Acts 15:32), and Philips four virgin daughters were prophetesses (21:9). The household was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone (Ephesians 2:20). Here we see that both apostles and prophets served in the early days of the body, to give foundational truth, but after the first generation, the personal presence of these key men was no longer needed.
If this is so, what about the other functionaries or workers mentioned by the apostle Paul? Besides giving the apostles and prophets, God gave evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It would appear that these three workers continued to function in the primitive body and are operative today as well.
· The Evangelist (euangelistes) is, literally, a messenger of good or a preacher of the gospel (Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). We read of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8) and Paul instructed Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). We continue to need men who will proclaim the good news of salvation to sinners in need of rescue.
· The Shepherd (poimen), often translated as pastor (KJV), literally is a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks (Ibid.). The shepherd refers to the same men or work as the overseer or elder (compare Acts 20:17, 24; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Titus 1:5, 7). Specific qualifications for the overseer (or the shepherd/elder) are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The shepherd feeds, tends, and protects the flock of Godthe local congregation. The elder is a qualified older man who has the maturity to lead, guide, and teach the people of God. The overseer has the maturity and knowledge to be a good example for the flock and supervise the work of the local congregation.
· The Teacher (didaskalos) refers to one who teaches truth or the Word of God in the local assembly. For instance, there were five prophets and teachers in Antioch of Syria (Acts 13:1). Paul and Barnabas taught considerable numbers while at Antioch (11:24). The Hebrew writer lamented that more of his readers had not matured to the point that they would become teachers (5:12), whereas James warns, Let not many of you become teachers (3:1).
In addition to overseers (shepherds or elders), teachers, and proclaimers (preachers), we also read of the work of the deacon (diakonos), meaning a servant. For instance, we read of the overseers and deacons at Philippi (Philippians 1:1). Paul gives detailed qualifications for the servant (deacon), just as he did for the overseer (see 1 Timothy 3:8-13).
It is obvious that in the primitive assembly of the Lord, only men (males) occupied leadership roles. Only a man could be an apostle, only a man could be an overseer, or shepherd, or elder. Only a man could speak in a public way or teach over the assembly. This is not to minimize the work of the women in the community of Christ, but to point out that they had a non-leadership and non-public role to play. (See our The Discipleship of Devoted Women.)
It is important to observe that while the New Testament does mention and illustrate certain works or functions by certain men, it is notably silent about certain other positions or offices that we commonly see in the religious world today. We find it amazing that church people devise, invent, designate, or create offices and titles entirely unknown in the body of Christ of the first century. Notice a few titles that come to mind:
· Pope John
· Bishop Smith
· Pastor Jones
· Reverend Peterson
· Very Reverend Kennedy
· Very Reverend Father Smith
· Monsignor OLeary
· Father Bradley
· Mother Maria
· Doctor Knowitall
· Cardinal Spellman
· His Emminence, Archbishop Dmitri
And notice a few positions that various churches have devised:
· General Overseer
· Senior Pastor
· Assistant Pastor
· Associate Pastor
· Senior Associate Pastor
· Assistant President
· Vice President
· Worship Leader
· Administrative Pastor
· Choir Director
· Worship Pastor
· Director of Music
· Minister of Music
· Assisting Minister
· Usher Captain
· Lead Shepherd
· Parochial Administrator
· Director of Religious Education
· Youth Minister
· Youth Pastor
· Family Pastor
· Student Pastor
· Presiding Bishop
· Administration Assistant
This kind of list could go on and on, but the point is that religious people have devised a wide range of unscriptural titles and positions unknown in the early assembly at the time of the apostles. Who gives us the right to change Gods plan? Who was given the authority to alter the organization and pattern of Gods will? God warned Moses, See that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain (Hebrews 8:5). While we dont have the Mosaic system in our day since it was fulfilled in Christ, we do have Christs commands and instructions given to us through the specially-chosen apostles and New Testament writers. How dare we change this pattern?
Organization of the Assemblies
If man has changed the functionaries or positions from what God wanted in the community of Christ, what has been done in the religious world of today? Consider this background. In the New Testament period of the primitive assembly, God chose Jerusalem to be the first place where the gospel was proclaimed (Acts 2:1, 22-41). Amazingly, some 3,000 people came to Christ in the beginning (2:41), then the men alone numbered 5,000 (4:4), then even more were converted (5:14). Apparently this number began meeting in homes, breaking bread from house to house (2:46; 12:12), but the administration of this local work was in the hands of the twelve apostles (4:37; 5:12; etc.).
As the preaching of Christ reached out into Judea, Samaria, and further into Gentile areas (Acts 1:8; 11:19), assemblies that didnt have apostles chose specially-qualified men to serve as overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). These elders shepherded the flock of disciples among them (1 Peter 5:1-3), but didnt reach into adjoining cities or provinces. They were local men and were responsible for local saints, not saints from afar. As Paul says, the Holy Spirit had made certain Ephesian men overseers who watched over the flock: . . . the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Acts 20:28). These overseers were among certain local believers in Thessalonica, for example (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). They were not located at a distance. After all, shepherds need to be well-acquainted with the flock they are feeding, protecting, and teaching.
Today, this pattern is often changed. Certain church officials may live far away from those they supervise. Generally, the men (or women!) chosen fail to be qualified according to New Testament standards. For instance, some men in the Vatican in Rome may oversee 1.2 billion people around the world–Roman Catholicism. (How different from local overseers or shepherds.) An Orthodox Patriarch may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from those under him. The Lutheran President may be thousands of miles away from Lutheran parishioners, and the same is true of a Methodist Bishop or an Episcopalian President or Bishop. Furthermore, congregations may be arranged into synods by geographical regions. No longer do we see the simplicity of local overseers over local saints.
Besides the mainline denominations, both liberal and Evangelical, there are also the sects or aberrant groups.
The Watchtower Witnesses (known as Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Consider the Watchtower Witnesses. Not long ago, a leader in the local Kingdom Hall sat at my dining room table and I pointed out that the only way we could discuss the Scriptures would be if he would be willing to take Gods Word as final authority rather than that of the dictates of the Governing Board in Brooklyn. He was unwilling to abide by such a plea and chose to stand up, walk out, and never came back! Just several weeks ago, two other Witnesses stood at my door and I made the same plea. They said that they would return to discuss the issue, but for three weeks they have not returned. In this case, we see that some groups are willing to take the unscriptural opinions of unscriptural leadership over the inspired and authoritative Word of God. Just what is the Governing Board or the Witness organization?
Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized hierarchically, and are led by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. The Governing Body, along with other “helpers”, are organized into six committees responsible for various administrative functions within the global Witness community, including publication, assembly programs and evangelizing activity.
The Governing Body and its committees supervise operations of nearly one hundred branch offices worldwide. Each branch office oversees the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a particular country or region, and may include facilities for the publication and distribution of Watch Tower Society literature. Directly appointed by the Governing Body, branch committees supervise administrative functions for congregations in their jurisdiction. Congregations are further organized into circuits of about twenty congregations each. The Governing Body directly appoints circuit overseers as its representatives to supervise activities within circuits. Headquarters representatives visit groups of branch offices to provide instruction and report the branch’s activities to the Governing Body.
Each congregation is served by a group of locally recommended male elders and ministerial servants, appointed by the circuit overseer. Elders take responsibility for congregational governance, pastoral work, setting meeting times, selecting speakers, conducting meetings, directing the public preaching work, and forming judicial committees to investigate and decide disciplinary action in cases where members are believed to have committed serious sins. Ministerial servants fulfill clerical and attendant duties, but may also teach and conduct meetings. (en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Organizational _structure_of_Jehovah %27s_Witnesses).
We can see that the organization of the Witness body is far removed from New Testament instruction.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church
What about the Seventh Day Adventists? The following describes this well:
The governance (polity) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is based on democratic representation, and therefore resembles the Presbyterian system of church organization. The organizational structure of the church consists of the following levels:
· The global church is called the “General Conference”, composed operatively of 13 “Divisions”.
· Each division is composed of “Union Conferences” and/or “Union Missions” (112 total). Union Conferences are self-supporting financially, while Union Missions are not.
· Each union conference is composed of [local] “Conferences” and/or “Missions” (572 total). Local Conferences are self-supporting financially, while Local Missions are not. Certain unions are composed of local congregations. They do not have local conferences/missions.
· Each local conference/mission is composed of local churches (congregations). Often a number of local congregations are grouped operatively as a district, led by one senior pastor. In the United States, these numbers tend to be smaller (2-4 churches per district, perhaps), while in most of the worldwide church, the numbers tend to be larger (5+ per district and per pastor, sometimes as many as 15 or more).
Each level of organization holds a “general session” at certain intervals, when elected representatives gather to vote on general decisions and church business. The president of the General Conference, for instance, is elected at the General Conference Session every five years.
At the local churches, decisions are made by elected committees through vote of members. The day-to-day running of churches is governed by a church board formed by members of that church, together with the pastor of that congregation.
In contrast to congregational polity, the conference corporation owns church property, employs and pays ministers, and receives tithes from members. In contrast to episcopal polity, the ministers or pastors are a single level of ordained clergy and there are no bishops; elders and deacons are lay ministries. Moreover, it incorporates a hierarchical polity. (en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Polity_of _the_Seventh-day_ Adventist_Church).
As we read of this kind of highly-involved and complex system, we wonder how anyone could find this on the pages of Scripture!
The Episcopal Church
Lets now consider the Episcopal Church in the United States:
In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Presiding Bishop is the chief pastor and primate of the national church and its nine ecclesiastical provinces. The Presiding Bishop is charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating, developing, and articulating policy and strategy, overseeing the administration of the national church staff, and speaking for the church on issues of concern and interest. He or she is the president of the House of Bishops and is elected by the church’s General Convention to serve a single nine-year term. The correct clerical style for the Presiding Bishop is “The Most Reverend.”
The role and importance of the office has grown over time. Originally, the Presiding Bishop was simply the senior diocesan bishop who presided over the House of Bishops. In 1919, the office was transformed into an elected one, and in the 1940s the decision was made that the Presiding Bishop should resign any other jurisdictions for which he or she might have pastoral responsibility. In this respect, the office is different from that of many archbishops found in other churches in the Anglican Communion which have diocesan responsibilities in addition to overseeing a national church. In the 1970s, the Presiding Bishop was given authority to enter dioceses for sacramental and preaching ministry, consulting with bishops, and related purposes. The Presiding Bishop was given the title of primate in 1982.
Presently, Katharine Jefferts Schori holds the position. She was elected in June 2006 and invested and seated as Presiding Bishop in a service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on November 4, 2006. She is the first woman to hold the position. Jefferts Schori’s term as Presiding Bishop will end on November 1, 2015. She will be succeeded by Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, who was elected on June 27, 2015, during the General Convention. He will be the first person of African Ancestry to hold the position. (en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Presiding_Bishop #Episcopal_ Church_in _the_United_States).
Again we see how a denomination can so twist Scripture that the organization is vastly different from that of the New Testament community of Christ.
The United Methodist Church
The final religious organization that well notice would be the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United Statesthe United Methodist Church. How is this religious body organized?
The church is decentralized with the General Conference being the official governing body. However, administratively the church has a governing structure that is similar to that of the United States government:
General ConferenceThe legislative branch that makes all decisions as to doctrine and polity.
Council of BishopsWhen taken into consideration along with the various general agencies of the church, takes on a role similar to an executive branch. The Council of Bishops consists of all active and retired bishops and meets twice a year. According to the Book of Discipline 2000, “The Church expects the Council of Bishops to speak to the Church and from the Church to the world, and to give leadership in the quest for Christian unity and interreligious relationships.” The council is presided over by a President who serves a two-year term. The President has no official authority beyond presiding. Administrative work is handled by the secretary of the council.
Judicial CouncilThe judicial branch consisting of nine persons elected by the General Conference to rule on questions of constitutionality in church law and practice.
The United Methodist Church is organized into conferences. The highest level is called the General Conference and is the only organization which may speak officially for the church. The General Conference meets every four years (quadrennium). Legislative changes are recorded in The Book of Discipline which is revised after each General Conference. Non-legislative resolutions are recorded in the Book of Resolutions, which is published after each General Conference, and expire after eight years unless passed again by a subsequent session of General Conference. The last General Conference was held in Tampa, Florida, in 2012. The event is currently rotated between the U.S. jurisdictions of the church. The 2016 General Conference will be in Portland, Oregon. Bishops, Councils, Committees, Boards, Elders, etc., are not permitted to speak on behalf of The United Methodist Church as this authority is reserved solely for the General Conference in accordance with the Book of Discipline.
The plenary session is presided over by an active bishop who has been selected by a committee of delegates to the Conference. It is not uncommon for different bishops to preside on different days. The presiding officer usually is accompanied by parliamentarians. (en.wikipedia. org/wiki/United _Methodist_Church #Governance).
Weve only examined four different groups that are very divergent from each other, but they all display a willingness to set up an organization that differs dramatically from the simple New Testament pattern and practice.
Scripture Does Matter
Some may be of the opinion that it is no major departure from the Bible, but indeed it is. We must not twist, distort or change the teachings of the apostles and New Testament writers. Why? Paul points out, If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lords commandment (1 Corinthians 14:37). He wrote, Retain the standard of sound words which you have heart from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13). He emphasizes that what he has written is not merely the word of men but actually is the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
We must not change or neglect this. Peter says that some who are untaught and unstable are willing to distort or twist the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16-17). Lets be content with what the Bible says about the organization of the community of Christ.
Years ago a sister in the Lord observed, Richard, it is amazing that some church people would not want to change the theology of Gods Word but then they are willing to change the ecclesiology of Gods Word! They wouldnt want to change the doctrine of God but they freely change the teaching about the church (ecclesiology).
What about you? Does Gods Word mean something to you? If so, make sure that you are not in a denomination or church that has perverted Gods plan for the body of Christ. Be willing to stand for the Holy Scriptures and refuse to deviate from it. Paul said that we are to learn not to exceed what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). If we value what God has revealed for our knowledge, realize that He wants us to believe it and obey it carefully. He not only wants us to apply His Word to our personal life, but He is interested in knowing how we apply the Word to our congregational life. Will you join me in this holy quest?