by Norman S. Edwards
Second Edition, August 1998
The following table shows the many differences between what people commonly believe and what the Bible actually states. Some of these things may surprise you, but we doubt very much that you can find any scripture to support any of the statements made in the left-hand column. We doubt that any leader in a church organization can do it either. But if you honestly finish reading this paper, you will see scriptures that prove the statements made in the right-hand column.
It is hard to overcome mistakes that have been with us for hundreds of years. This paper will also show you how even Bible translators were misled by "traditional Christian doctrine", and sometimes put words into our English Bibles to support common church teaching, even though they realized that they were changing the message of the original languages. (You do not need to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to understand these problems, you can see them yourself with English-language Bible helps.)
If the above statements appear unreasonable or impossible, please keep reading this paper! We readily admit that many good works have been done by people who were operating under the false assumptions of some of the doctrines mentioned in the left-hand column. This writer and nearly every believer he knows learned much Bible Truth from Bible teachers who had made some of these mistakes. But if we really want to obey and understand the close relationship that Christ promises to have with every member of His Church, then we need to read and learn what the Bible actually says.
We begin our study of church government by quoting Scriptures that are clearly about government. This makes much more sense than assuming our own ideas of government and then trying to justify them in Scripture. This writer encourages you to read every one of these verses even if you are already familiar with them. There are many good points here that most people have overlooked.
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan (Prv 29:2).
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1Cor 11:3)
...Submitting to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church (Eph 5:21-29).
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Eph 6:1).
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble" (1Pet 5:5).
You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another (John 15:14-17).
…But there was also rivalry among them [the apostles], as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary; he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves" (Luke 22:23-26).
So the Lord said to Moses: "Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. "Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone (Num 11:16-17).
Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business (Acts 6:3).
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1).
After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go….Heal the sick there, and say to them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (Luke 10:1,9).
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.… 4There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:… 12For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 18But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased…. 21And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary…. 25that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another (1Cor 12:1,4-7,12-13,18,21-22,25).
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us [everyone with the Holy Spirit, not just the "leaders"] kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (Rev 1:6).
Not that we [church leaders] have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand (2Cor 1:24).
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His (Rom 8:9).
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
1. It is good to have the righteous in authority, whether they are spirit beings, fathers, dictators, elected officials, congregational leaders, employers, military generals or any other position. The form of government matters far less than the righteousness of those who govern.
2. The strongest biblical line of authority is from the Father, to the Son, to a man, to his wife, to his children. Other governments are given almost no rights to interfere here.
3. Husbands and wives have much stronger authority over their families than the religious leaders have over the brethren. Just as our Savior only directs His People to do that which is good for His Church, a husband is responsible to direct his wife and family only in ways that benefit his wife and family.
4. All authority is to be used to serve others, not to elevate oneself. All the saints are to submit to each other as the need arises. Christ, who was far superior to His apostles, treated them as friends, telling them everything. How much more should righteous human leaders treat members as friends? All must be done in love.
5. We are all in training to exercise authority over others so we can help people who need it. All those who "endure until the end" will become kings and priests. The Eternal is not training one group ("ministers") to exercise authority, and another group ("laymen") to be only obedient followers.
6. The Eternal sometime chooses people directly, sometimes has men appoint people, and sometimes asks the group to pick people who are already exhibiting the fruit.
7. The Eternal gives spiritual gifts and power to people to do what needs to be done.
8. People are not considered members of the Church based on recognition by a church leader, but based on the Holy Spirit in them and the outward manifestation of love shown.
There are other scriptures and principles that could be mentioned. But the above points seem to be the foundation—repeated many times, and shown by many other examples in Scripture.
You have probably never heard a sermon or read an article that explained the doctrine of "ordination" from the Bible. (If you have, this writer would very much like a copy of it.) To know what "ordain" or "ordination" means, we must go to a dictionary—or the literature of a church organization. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition) states:
1: To invest officially (as by the laying on of hands) with ministerial or priestly authority.
2 a: to establish or order by appointment, decree, or law, enact.
2 b: destine, foreordain: to issue an order.
The second definition is usually used for the Eternal or those in high office. (e.g.: "The Eternal ordained that the Earth should orbit the Sun"; "Ford management ordained new safety regulations to be adopted by all factories.") This second definition does not find too much controversy in day-to-day religious practice. Few people will argue about whether the Eternal "ordained" that the Earth orbit the Sun, decreed that it would, or simply did it. It is only a matter of semantics.
Definition one, however, is often very important to Church government. It is such a vital part of most church organizations, that most people take it for granted and feel no need to try to establish the doctrine from the Bible. In the minds of many people, "ordination" includes even more than the definition above. Most people believe (and most churches teach) that an ordained person is qualified to do things that an un-ordained person is not—such as perform marriages, baptisms, counseling, and other ordinations. They believe that this ordination is retained for life, unless the same church organization revokes it. Also, many have the idea that there is an unbroken line of ordinations from the apostles to the founder of their church organization to the minister in their local congregation. Many people would say that "ordination" is a spiritual event recognizing those who are chosen in Heaven, and men just carry out the ceremony here on Earth. The combination of the two definitions for ordination make it a very powerful concept: If the Eternal "ordains" the sky to be blue and "ordains" a man to lead your congregation, how can anyone possibly speak against either one?
But is it really the Eternal who actually performs "ordinations" or is it merely human church organizations?
We will cover the scriptures on this in the next few pages, but first, it is important to see the contradictory manner in which organizations actually treat "ordained people". While church organizations "ordain" men as "ministers of Christ", in reality they are largely ministers in that organization. Why? The following reasons show why "ordination" is an organizational practice, not something only "from God":
1) Organizations usually "ordain" men after some training or because of a need for an "ordained" person in a certain place. They rarely ever "ordain" people based on recognition of spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture.
2) Organizations, in general, will not accept a minister from another group to serve in their own organization—even though they believe that members in other organizations are part of the "true Church". They will accept members from other groups—along with their baptisms and weddings—even though ministers of another group performed them. However, organizations will not accept ministers from other groups without some kind of additional training, approval, or sometimes "re-ordination".
3) Most organizations have no official process for ensuring that the scriptural qualifications for leaders in the congregation are met (1Tim 3; Titus 1). If an organization needs ministers, they will "ordain" young, unmarried men right out of college, or they will ordain long-time men in the congregation without asking people who know them whether they live as described in these chapters.
4) Organizations sometimes revoke "ordinations" of ministers who leave a group to start their own congregation. But how do they know whether or not the Eternal wants the man to start a new group? Furthermore, if people are baptized or married by a "minister gone independent", but then decide to join the original organization—the organization will often accept that baptism and marriage—even though it was done by someone from whom they "revoked" their ordination.
5) Organizations that do recognize ministers in other groups still often have internal rules that allow them to hire only ministers ordained by their own group. Some groups even pay their ministers (or lay them off when necessary) based on how long they have been "ordained", their type of "ordination" or both. Indeed, some have multiple levels of "ordinations" through which aspiring ministers can hope to advance their career—like positions in the corporate ladder or government civil-service jobs. The bearing of spiritual fruit or works often has little part in such decisions. Yes, "ordination" is more often a job placement than it is an appointment from the Eternal.
The actual implementation of "ordination" varies among church organizations, but nearly all of them rely upon some form of "ordination" for their organizational structure. If "ordinations" really were from the Eternal, one would think that people would want to know if there were any miracles or signs that accompanied them. If "ordinations" were "of God", it seems that all organizations would recognize other groups’ "ordinations", just as they recognize other group’s members—as long as the people were actually bearing spiritual fruit. But this is not the way it is. "Ordinations" are most often a tool of organizations used to control their ministry and membership.
Organizations that claim to be the one and only "true Church" do not have some of the above logical inconsistencies because they claim that their "ordained ministers" are the only true ministers in the world, and all other "ordinations" are false. However, they have an even bigger problem with which to deal: If they believe they are the "one Church" because all of their doctrines are correct, ask them to historically document the group that held their same doctrines for the last 1000 years. If they believe they are the "one Church" because their leader was ordained in a succession of ordinations since the early apostles, ask them if they have a historical list of these hierarchical leaders. This writer has never seen any group (except the Roman Catholic Church) attempt to answer either one of the above questions. They can neither prove that their current leadership nor their list of doctrines are the ones that have been "in Christ’s church" for hundreds of years. In essence, you must simply take the word of the group that they are the "one true church".
Yes, there are leaders in the Bible. There are biblical leaders who appoint other leaders. We can recognize these leaders by their fruits (Matt 7:15-20), not by their ordination certificate. What does the Bible says about ordination? If you have not studied this before, you will probably be surprised!
“Ordination” Forced Into the King James Version of the Bible
Is there a word in the original Hebrew and Greek languages that has the modern concept of "ordain"? This writer knows of no other concept that has suffered so much in the process of Bible translation. The King James Bible contains the word "ordain" and variants 23 times in the Old Testament and 20 in the New. The New International Version (NIV) uses it 28 times in the old and only once in the New Testament. If we compare the KJV and the NIV, they almost never agree on where "ordain" should be used! The only verse where both translations contain "ordain" is Psalm 8:2. Young’s Literal Translation, uses "ordain" only 3 times. The New English Bible (NEB) does not use "ordain" at all! A new translation due in 1999, The Original Bible (intended to convey the meaning of the original Bible) will not contain the word "ordain" either.
Explanation of Tables: We have included the extensive tables on pages * and * so that you may see the "shotgun" approach to the use of "ordain" in seven significant translations. The first five translations are some of the most widely used translations today. Young’s and Green’s literal translations were included because their translation philosophy placed a greater emphasis on correct word-for-word renderings rather than on easy-to-read English phrases.
These tables contain all uses of the words "ordain", "ordained", and "ordination" in all seven translations. The tables are grouped by the Hebrew and Greek words so that their definition did not need to be repeated. The word definitions were summarized to fit the available space from Strong’s Concordance as a general guide to meaning. Consult a Hebrew or Greek lexicon for a better definition. The Hebrew and Greek words appear in the order of the first scripture that uses them in the table. This provides a general sense of going through the Bible.
These tables do not show cases where these same Hebrew and Greek words are not translated as "ordain". If they did, the tables would be larger than this entire paper. Nearly every Hebrew and Greek word in these tables is used in dozens or hundreds of verses where it is not translated "ordain". You can use The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance and The Englishman’s Greek Concordance, or a computer Bible program to find those thousands of occurrences. Simply look up the Strong’s number of each word in the concordance or computer Bible.
The only places where any translations exhibit any degree of consistency is with the Hebrew millu (Strong’s 4393). It occurs 15 times in the Old Testament, and is rendered "ordination" 11 times by the NIV, NRSV and NASB translations (see table). These usages are all related to installing or consecrating the high priest. The other four times, millu is rendered "mounting", "set," or "inlaid" because it refers to stones being installed in something (Ex 25:7; 35:9,27; 1Chr 29:2). A high priest was "installed" in his position much like a stone might be "installed" in its setting. This is the only case where any single Hebrew or Greek word was translated "ordain" more than half the time. This Old Testament usage gives no credence to the common understanding of "Church ordination". The high priest of Israel was an inherited office chosen by the Eternal. There are no scriptures that say that the Old Testament priests were replaced by the New Testament ministry or leadership—the Bible teaches that all believers are priests (1Pet 2:5,9).
There are two Greek words which are translated "ordain" half the time. The Greek diatage (Strong’s #1296) appears twice in the New Testament. In Acts 7:53 it refers to the law given by "angels", so the NRSV and NASB use "ordain". But the same word is also used in Rom 13:2 where it refers to the Eternal’s choosing of secular rulers. Most Bible-believers agree that the Eternal determines our world leaders, but they would certainly not say he "ordains" them. Hence, diatage (Strong’s #1296) cannot be a Greek word representing the modern concept of ordination.
Another Greek word, cheirotoneo (Strong’s 5500) is also used twice in the New Testament. The KJV translates it "ordain" in Acts 14:23 where elders are being chosen for the various congregations. The Greek grammar indicates that Paul and Barnabas are doing the choosing, but it is unclear whether they were picking people by their own understanding or if they were conducting an election (more about that later). Nevertheless, cheirotoneo is also used in 2 Corinthians 8:19 when a congregation chose a person to accompany a donation to see that it was used properly. The fact that a group chose the person and that it was a temporary job is very much different than today’s concept of ordination.
Young’s Literal Translation deserves some credit for consistency—the word "ordain" only appears three times in the whole version, each occurrence being translated from the Greek horizo (#3724). However, horizo also appears in five other places where it is translated "define", "determine", or "declare". Apparently, the translators simply decided to write "ordain" in some verses where the Eternal was the One doing the "determining".
With the exception of the cases noted in the above paragraphs, nearly every other use of the word "ordain" in nearly every translation is a decision made based on the translators’ perception of Christian doctrine. If the Eternal was doing something important, or if church responsibilities were being handed out, they sometimes wrote the word "ordain" instead of the more normal meaning of the Hebrew or Greek. This writer could not find any lexicon or commentary that claimed that any rendering of the word "ordain" came about due to idiom (combination of words with a special meaning) or other linguistic reason. There is no combination of words or particular tense or case of Greek or Hebrew words that are uniformly rendered "ordain".
The translators felt a need to use it because it was such a big part of "Christian doctrine"—they fit it in the best that they could. The KJV is by far the worst example of forcing this word into the text. The translators used 12 different Hebrew words and 14 different Greek words to translate into "ordain"—the majority of those words are translated "ordain" only once in Scripture. Other translations have followed the King James practice, but to a much more limited degree. You can easily see this by looking at the number of black boxes on the charts. There is not one verse where all seven of these translations agree. In fact, there are only four verses where a majority (4 out of 7) of the translations agree to use "ordain" (Num 28:6; Psalm 8:2; Acts 10:42; Gal 3:19). This complete disagreement among translators about when to use the word does not make sense for a doctrine that is so specific. This writer once attended a conference of a church group that was re-forming after having departed from a larger church group. They asked every "minister" there if and exactly when he was "ordained". They were not interested in people who had been "chosen", "appointed", "asked", "determined", "called", or even "inspired" to lead a congregation in the past. They wanted to know when they had been "ordained" and who "did it". They did not necessarily accept "ordinations" from people who were not closely related to their former group. One shudders to think how the questions and answers during this part of the conference could have progressed if the English language had a dozen words, all of which could sometimes mean "ordain", but usually did not.
From all of this, we must conclude that the modern concept of ordination is not taught in the Bible. There are no Hebrew or Greek words used in the Bible that express the concept understood by today’s meaning of "ordain". The Bible mentions people who receive the laying on of hands, who serve as leaders of congregations, and who command and teach others. But the idea that "there are a class of ordained men who are the only ones authorized for certain spiritual functions, and that only this class of men are allowed to approve others for positions of service in the congregation" is not in the Bible.
Look over the two tables. If you could speak Greek or Hebrew, were transported back to the first century, and decided to tell the apostles about the people who were "ordained" in our century, what Hebrew or Greek word would you use? Would you have to use a word that is not in the Bible? If you were going to use a biblical word, could you use any from the two tables without being unambiguous? You could use the Hebrew millu which was used for the consecration of the High Priest, but neither it nor a Greek equivalent is even used for "ordaining" New Testament leaders. The Greek hagiazo translates "to set apart for a holy purpose"—that sounds closer to the modern concept of "ordination". But this word is usually translated "sanctify" and is often used to apply to all who are believers. It is not the Greek equivalent of today’s meaning of "ordain". However, this writer knows of no other biblical Greek word, phrase or idiom, that is closer in meaning. If there is no way to talk to a first century believer about the "doctrine of ordination" by using biblical languages, can anyone believe that this doctrine existed when the Bible was written?
The Bible certainly mentions spiritual gifts of leadership given to some brethren, and public recognition of authority. But we must realize that the concept of "ordination" as generally understood today is not in the Bible. There simply is no word or group of words with this meaning. When we see the rules given the King James Bible translators, it seems evident that the sporadic inclusions of "ordain" in the translation was part of Rule 3, to retain the "old ecclesiastical words"—whether or not they were a good translation of the Hebrew and Greek! Today, if you were to study church government using the New English Bible, you could not explain "ordination" to anyone. The word is not there, nor will you find any similar word with that concept. (This Bible was not produced by some radical anti-organization group, but by many church groups of the United Kingdom. Its translators just happened to be honest in this particular area.) You would fair little better trying to explain "ordination" from the NIV New Testament—it appears only once—simply stating that the Eternal has "ordained" young people to praise Him (Matt 21:16).
In a later section, this paper will examine most of the scriptures that discuss the various leadership positions within the Church—the spiritual body of believers. This paper will cite translations that attempt to accurately translate the meaning of the original Greek, rather than insert "old ecclesiastical words". Hopefully, the reader will try to drop the "old ecclesiastical ideas" for this study and take a fresh look at what the Scriptures actually say.
The laying on of hands was used simply as a manner of blessing (Matt 19:13-15, Rev 1:17), to request granting of the Holy Spirit at baptism (Acts 8:17-19; 9:17; 19:6; Heb 6:2), for healing (Matt 9:18; Mark 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 8:23,25; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; Acts 9:12,17; 28:8) and to request the imparting of spiritual gifts (1Tim 4:14; 2Tim 1:6). While the subject is not specifically mentioned in James 5:14-16, these verses on healing say that elders should anoint the sick, a process that requires placing one’s hands on another’s head.
Also, the laying on of hands was used to pray for people being given a special function in the church—a public recognition of their responsibilities. In Acts 6:6, seven men, who were already full of the Holy Spirit, were chosen to serve tables, and the apostles laid their hands on them. But in the next two chapters, two of the seven (Stephen and Philip) were preaching on a massive scale. Hands were laid on Barnabas and Paul for a preaching mission in Acts 13:2-3, but that was not their "ordination into the ministry"—they had both preached extensively in previous chapters. There is no indication that it was any kind of new "title" or "rising" in "ministerial rank". Finally, Paul cautioned Timothy to "not lay hands on anyone hastily" (1Tim 5:22). While the reason is not specifically given, the context is dealing with leaders and problems in the congregation.
The first two paragraphs in this section contain all of the references to the laying on of hands that are in the New Testament (except as noted in the box). There are references to the "laying on of hands" in the Old Testament, but most of them are about placing one’s hands on a sacrifice to confess sin (Lev 1:4; 4:15; etc.). There is at least one example of conferring a blessing (Gen 48:13-20) and commissioning a person with a new responsibility (Num 27:23). Kings and prophets were frequently commissioned by a command from the Eternal to anoint—a sort of "oily laying on of hands". However, it is important to realize, that there was no organizational system in the Old Testament were leadership was passed from one man to the next by a continual line of laying on hands or anointing. Unless the Eternal specifically interfered:
1) Kings were succeeded by their sons or the person who killed them.
2) Priests were succeeded by their sons.
3) Judges and Officers were appointed by the people in each city—the same people who gave offerings (Deut 16:16-18).
4) Prophets were chosen directly by the Eternal.
There is no mention of church leaders being succeeded by their sons anywhere in the New Testament. So if we want to assume that any methods of choosing leaders were borrowed from the Old, it would be method #3 or #4, above. We can probably learn much more by looking at the New Testament scriptures. The exhaustive list of New Testament scriptures, at the beginning of this section, shows that the greatest mention of "laying on of hands" is for healing. Receiving the Holy Spirit is second and recognition of responsibilities in the congregation is third. Let us notice some things that the Scriptures do not say about the "laying on of hands":
1) That it is a part of "ordination".
2) That it imparts a permanent position or gift. (Are healings or blessings permanent? John 5:14).
3) That it separates the "ministry" from the "laity".
4) That it is required for a person to be any kind of church leader.
It is interesting to note that the Scripture says little about who should lay hands on others. While most of the scriptures show that Christ, the Apostles, and Timothy laid hands on others, there are exceptions. James 5:14-16 indicates that "elders" did it. Prophets did it in Acts 13:1-3. A "disciple" named Ananias laid hands on Paul in Acts 9:10-17. Finally, Mark 16:17-18 indicates that it is one of the things that "believers" will do. Some theologians teach that Philip baptized, but was not a "high enough rank" to lay on hands, therefore the apostles had to come and do it for him (Acts 8:12-23). However, this Scripture does not say that Philip could not do it or anything about why he did not, but simply that "the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them" (v 16). It is this writer’s opinion that the Eternal wanted a face to face meeting of Simon the Sorcerer and Peter. Also, if we read the rest of Chapter 8, we see that Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, and preached in all of the cities of 70 miles of coastline (v 40). It makes little sense that Philip would be used to preach to all these people, perform great miracles and signs (v 13), but not be able to lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit. If Philip could not lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit, does that mean that only apostles can perform that function? This possibility is disproved when Ananias was chosen by the Eternal to lay hands on Paul, after which he was healed and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:10-17). It does not say that Ananias was an apostle or some other "high rank", nor that he was "over Paul".
Lacking a clear command from the Scriptures, how can anyone set up rules to limit who can lay hands on whom? If the Eternal gave some kind of rules where only apostles or other "high-ranking" leaders could lay hands on others, why would He have bypassed these rules and taken a message directly to Ananias? The explanation is: "All these [spiritual gifts] are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses" (1Cor 12:11). If we see the laying on of hands as a means of power and control, then it is indeed important to try to restrict who can do it. But if we see it as a means of confirming our desire for the Eternal’s blessing on a person—knowing that the laying on of hands means nothing unless the Eternal actually does bless, then the question, "who can lay on hands?" does not really matter much. The biblical practice of laying on hands is a physical event which sometimes accompanies the spiritual activity of prayer.
If anyone can lay on hands, what will stop people from laying hands on each other for unscriptural or silly reasons? What stops people from praying for unscriptural or silly reasons? Nothing! Both prayer and the laying on of hands are only meaningful when the Eternal takes action. Neither should be done insincerely or contrary to scripture. But this writer can see no scripture restricting any believer from laying hands on another individual to request a special blessing, a healing, or the imparting of the Holy Spirit after baptism. After all James 5:15 states "And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up." If the person has true faith, the Eternal will do what He has promised.
When the word "minister" appears in the KJV, it is usually translated from the Greek diakonos (noun meaning "servant" or "minister") or the diakoneo (verb meaning "to serve" or "to minister"). All occurrences of "deacon" and "deaconess" are translated from these same Greek words. There are no associated adjectives or other linguistic elements to signify a "spiritual" diakonos (minister) or a "physical" diakonos (deacon). The word is also used to describe servants who do physical work. Separate "offices" of "deacon and "minister" could not possibly have existed in minds of the New Testament writers if they used an identical word for both of them! Can you imagine Paul "raising someone in rank" from a diakonos to a diakonos? The concept of church organizations separately "ordaining" people for spiritual service (ministers) or physical service (deacons) is nowhere in the New Testament.
Even though many Bibles contain both the word "deacon" and "minister", you can see yourself from a concordance and a Greek Interlinear that they are writing something into the Bible that was not originally there. First, let us find out exactly what diakonos (and related words) really mean. In some cases, it is "a real working servant" and is so translated many times. One example: "but the servants who had drawn the water knew" (John 2:9). Most New Testament Historians agree that the Gospels were written later in the first century, probably after most of Paul’s letters. If diakonos had come to be an important religious title, the Gospel writers would not have used it so much for describing working people—they would have used doulos or some other Greek word for "servant". Also realize that diakonos is also used to describe women. Martha "served" Jesus (John 12:2) and Phebe was a "servant of the Church" (Rom 16:1).
All Uses of 3 New Testament Greek Words
diakonos #1249, should be "servant"
diakonia #1248 should be "service"
diakoneo #1247 should be "serve"
Matt 4:11; 8:15; 20:26,28; 22:13; 23:11; 25:44; 27:55; Mark 1:13,31; 9:35; 10:43,45; 15:41; Luke 4:39; 8:3; 10:40; 12:37; 17:8; 22:26,27; John 2:5,9; 12:2,26; Acts 1:17,25; 6:1,2,4; 11:29; 12:25; 19:22; 20:24; 21:19; Rom 11:13; 12:7; 13:4; 15:8,25,31; 16:1,27; 1Cor 3:5; 12:5; 16:15; 2Cor 3:3,6,7,8,9; 4:1; 5:18; 6:3,4; 8:4,19,20; 9:1,12,13; 11:8,15,23; Gal 2:17; Eph 3:7; 4:12; 6:21; Phi 1:1; Col 1:7,23,25; 4:7,17; 1Thess 3:2; 1Tim 1:12; 3:8,10,12,13; 2Tim 1:18; 4:5,11; Phm 1:13; Heb 1:14; 6:10; 1Pet 1:12; 4:10,11; Rev 2:19.
This writer believes that the Bibles would be much better understood if the three Greek words in the box, above, were consistently translated as "servant", "service", and "serve". If you have any doubt, please read them all and see. While the actual usage of these three Greek words do vary a little, it would still be better understood in English if we had to determine the meaning by the usage, rather than by allowing Bible translators to make the decision for us—choosing different English words for the same Greek word and losing the underlying connection. All of the above verses make sense if "servant/service/serve" are used, provided that we understand service can be spiritual as well as physical.
Sometimes, using "servant" will shed new light on a scripture. For example, 2 Corinthians 3:6,8,9 (KJV) speaks of "ministers of the new covenant", and the "ministration of the spirit" being more glorious than the "ministration of condemnation". Because Paul is showing his leadership in the first three verses of the chapter, some have taken this chapter to be an explanation of the glory of being a "minister" (usually an "ordained minister") of the New Covenant. However, if we compare these verses to the Romans 6:16 which uses the Greek doulos for "servant", the meaning is clear: "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" The verses in 2 Corinthians 3 are talking about everyone serving (or being servants) of a "covenant of the Spirit", rather than being servants under the Old Covenant. Verse 18 confirms that this section is about all believers, not just Paul and Timothy or "the ministry": "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."
There are some verses where the word diakonos ("servant") clearly represents people who were specially designated as having a service function within the Church. Paul greets the "saints", the "overseers" ("bishops"), and the "servants" (diakonos) (Phil 1:1). Also, 1 Timothy 3 gives qualifications for a "servant". If there were never any kind of recognition of a person as a diakonos ("servant"), then what need would there be for qualifications? But the position is not one of authority or spiritual capability as most church organizations use it. It is one of service to others (possibly a paid position in some cases, but there is no biblical example or proof of it.) The main emphasis of the word is "doing work for the brethren". Paul calls himself a diakonos and backs it up with evidence (2Cor 6:4-10; 11:22-28). His evidence is not an "ordination", the "laying on of hands", the number of people "under him", or any such thing. His evidence is the number of things he suffered serving the brethren and preaching the Gospel. Indeed, there is no scripture—even a mistranslation—that ever shows where anyone was "ordained" or had hands laid on them to become a diakonos (minister/ deacon/ servant).
The Eternal could have inspired the New Testament church to choose or make any word that He wanted to for this function. He could have chosen: "ruler", "boss", "captain", "sergeant", "know-it-all", "Christ’s representative", "holy person", etc. But, He inspired "servant". The "offices" used in modern church organizations are indeed much closer to Catholic practice than they are to biblical directives. How many church organizations today would be interested in dropping their titles of "minister" and "deacon" and calling these men "servants"? The word may sound too demeaning for the position—which probably indicates our concept of the position is different than that found in the Scripture. We will discuss more about the type of leadership the Bible describes in a later section.
Self-appointed "Minister" (Servant): "...ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted [appointed] themselves to the ministry [service] of the saints" (1Cor 16:15, KJV). The Greek tasso everywhere else in the New Testament is translated as "appointed", "determined" or some other decision-making word that fits its Greek meaning. This writer checked numerous translations and nearly every one had a different English word in this verse. Apparently, the translators knew what tasso meant, but did not want to write something against the doctrines of so many churches—so they had to "come up with something". Green’s Literal Translation has it right: "and they appointed themselves to ministry to the saints." If Christ really governs his Church, is it unreasonable that He either allowed or inspired the household of Stephanas to serve the brethren? What is important, that men approve Stephanas’ service, or that the Eternal approve it?
Obviously, many "servants" of the Church were selected by the recommendation of the brethren and/or the appointing by already established leaders. But that was not an excuse for translators to obscure this clear case of self-appointing. There are other cases where important functions in the church were initiated by an individual deciding to do it. Apollos began teaching on his own, but was later accepted by Paul and the brethren (Acts 18:24-28; 1Cor 3:6). Also, notice that Paul tells Timothy: "This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop [overseer], he desires a good work" (1Tim 3:1).
Selective Translation Bolsters "Bishop": The various spiritual gifts listed in the Bible were usually described by plain, everyday words in Greek. The KJV translators should have used plain, everyday English words to translate them. But because King James instructed them to use old church terminology, they inserted the old Catholic words for church offices. This practice leaves the English reader to believe that the Scriptures actually support church offices rather than the various spiritual gifts mentioned.
The Greek episkopos is translated "bishop" in four places in the KJV (Phil 1:1, 1Tim 3:2, Tit 1:7, 1Pet 2:25), where it apparently applies to only a few men—matching the authoritarian Catholic Church concept of a "boss over many congregations." It is translated "overseer" (its true meaning) in Acts 20:28 where Paul was addressing many elders of Ephesus (vv. 17-18). The KJV translators would have a hard time if they wrote "bishop" here, because the Catholic concept of "bishop" usually involved only one per city. (The American Standard Version, produced much later, is at least consistent and contains "bishop" here). However, "overseer" would be a much better translation for episkopos if we understand it as "someone who looks out for the welfare of others", not "someone who bosses others". (See the latter section on "Elders, Overseers, Pastors").
Other Religious "Titles" Enhanced: The Greek poimen is translated "shepherd" 16 out of 17 times in the KJV. In Ephesians 4:11, it is translated "Pastor" where there is a list of spiritual gifts that Christ gives to His body. That is the only verse where "pastor" (or any variant) occurs in any major Bible translation. The YLT and Darby say "shepherd" here. There are no other modifying words or other linguistic features that indicate that this is some kind of title or church office. Even when the word is used to refer to Christ (John 10:2,11,12,14,16; Heb 13:20; 1Pet 2:25), it is always translated "shepherd" by nearly every translation. Why? Probably because poimen ("shepherd") is mentioned with "sheep" in the immediately adjoining verses in nearly every case but Ephesians 4:11. Since there is no church office corresponding to "sheep", the translators had to keep the obvious meaning and write "shepherd". Certainly, there is a spiritual gift of "shepherd"—one who leads and guides brethren as a shepherd guides sheep. This is the task of "overseers" or "elders". But we should not take a modern day definition of "pastor" from a dictionary or church doctrine book and read it back into the Bible. Much of what people expect of a pastor in a typical church organization should be accomplished through spiritual gifts shared among many brethren.
Some church organizations use the term "evangelist" as an ecclesiastic "rank" or title. The Greek word is euaggelistes and appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2Tim 4:5). But unless you use some kind of Greek Bible help, most translations do not clearly show that euaggelistes is from euaggelion which is almost always translated "gospel". The word euaggelistes should be translated "gospel-preacher"—clearly connecting the relationship between the two words. In two out of three places, the YLT accurately has "proclaimer of good news". One thing that can be said in favor of the KJV translators: they did not try to put the church terms of "layman" or "lay member" and "clergy" into the Bible. Of course, there are no words in the Greek texts that have the meaning of those English words. However, they have crept into modern translations in one or two places.
Creative Insertion of the Word "Office": In their efforts to bolster "church offices", the King James translators inserted the word "office" into a few verses for no apparent linguistic reason. In Romans 11:13, "office" was used for the Greek diakonia, elsewhere translated "service" or "ministry". In Romans 12:4, "office" is inserted for the Greek praxis, instead of "function, deed or work". The phrase "use the office of deacon" appears in 1 Timothy 3:10,13 where "be servants" (same as "ministers" or "deacons") would be better. These errors were so blatant and obvious that nearly every modern translation has corrected them: the word "office" does not appear in these passages.
"All Authority" Inserted into Titus 2:15: The KJV reads: "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee". In English, it sounds like Paul is telling Titus that he has "all authority" over the brethren—as a king or dictator might. The Greek words for "all authority" are pas and epitage. The latter word is used five other times in the New Testament (Rom 16:26; 1Cor 7:6,24; 2Cor 8:8, 1Tim 1:1, Tit 1:3) In all of these cases epitage is translated "commandment" and refers to a commandment of God. The incorrect use of "authority" makes it sound like Titus was the rebuking authority, not the Eternal’s commandments. Also, the Greek pas is translated "every" 117 out of 1243 times. When pas is used with a word that represents a "class of items", pas refers to "every item in the class." This verse would be much more consistently translated if it said "rebuke with every commandment". Titus was to correct the brethren using every commandment of the Father and Christ.
Matthew 16:18-19 Mistranslated: The first part of this translation error is known to many. "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [petros—small stone], and upon this rock [petra—large massive rock] will I build my church." The Greek shows the Church is not built on Peter but on Christ. The KJV, with no distinction between the size of rocks, leads us to believe that the Church was built upon Peter and, by deduction, his successors. (Most top "church leaders" in big organizations claim to have Peter’s authority in some way.)
Verse 19 is also mistranslated. The Greek here is difficult, but any interlinear will show that there are words in the Greek text which do not appear in most English versions. The KJV says "whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This sounds as though the Eternal will bind whatever Peter says to bind—whether it agrees with the Eternal’s word or not. However, Young’s literal translation is more clear: "whatever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be, having been bound in the heavens, and whatever thou mayest loose upon the earth shall be, having been loosed in the heavens." This version gives Peter permission to bind and loose things on Earth, as long as they are bound or loosed in heaven. This exact same wording is given in Matthew 18:18 where the same power is given to all of the disciples (many more people than the 12 apostles).
Probable Voting References Suppressed: The Greek cheirotoneo literally means "stretching forth the hand". In Greek literature of about 100 B.C., it certainly meant "selecting by show of hands"—voting. This author could not find an applicable reference work that disagreed with this fact. However, some references concluded that the word had changed meaning over the years to simply "appointed". One cited Josephus’ Antiquities XIII 2:2 which contains a letter from Alexander, son of Antiochus Epiphanes, where he, of his own decision "appoints" (cheirotoneo) Jonathan as high priest. But does this example prove that cheirotoneo had changed in meaning, or is Alexander simply misusing the word to make his unlawful action look lawful? The new high priest was supposed to be the son of the last high priest—if no son existed a vote was often taken to decide the next priest. Would not Alexander write a nice word that meant "selected by show of hands" so that Jonathan could at least pretend to be a legitimate elected high priest, rather than a puppet? (Some present-day countries still hold mock elections and refer to some officials as elected, even though they are all appointed by a dictator.)
The two verses that use cheirotoneo are: "And when they had ordained [selected by show of hands] them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts 14:23). "And not that only, but who was also chosen [selected by show of hands] of the churches to travel with us with this grace..." (2Cor 8:19). Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech (By Richard Francis Weymouth, Harper & Row), does use the expression "selected by show of hands" in both of these verses. Adam Clarke’s and other commentaries agree with this translation. The Greek grammar indicates that Paul and Barnabas did the "selection by show of hands" in Acts, but it is possible that they simply conducted the election. However, in 2Corinthians, it is clear that the congregation selected the person.
From a historical perspective, we must realize that most Jews of that day accepted the idea of voting—in the synagogues and in the Sanhedrin. This is not to say that the Early church was a "democracy", and that people voted for every position—but it was apparently used some times. If Christ taught the apostles that voting was wrong, we would expect that they would have had to teach that idea to all the congregations. Why, then, would Luke and Paul have used the word cheirotoneo, a word that was clearly meant "to vote" in Greek literature that was written only 100 years earlier?
Ekklesia Translated "Church" Instead of "Congregation" or "Assembly": This is yet another case of choosing old theological terms to keep the people in line, rather than choosing the best translation. The Greek ekklesia simply meant assembly; it did not imply a specific "church building" or "church organization" like the word "church" does today. Of interest, ekklesia is translated "assembly" three times in Acts 19:32,39,41, once for a "lawful assembly", and twice for a rather unruly mob. "And some cried one thing and some another, for the assembly [ekklesia] was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together" (v 39). It is also used in Hebrews 2:12, a quotation from Psalm 22:22 to translate from the Hebrew qahal, which is usually translated "congregation" in the Old Testament. "Congregation" or "assembly" would have been a much better translation to use in all cases as the Darby Bible, and YLT, and Geneva Bible (1500’s) have done.
King James was still the head of the Church of England, and was well aware of the "wild things" that were happening on the continent, such as people assembling in houses (Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:9; Col 4:15; Phm 1:2), without a Catholic priest—or any clergymen at all. King James did not want to be under the Pope, but neither did he want his subjects to think they could simply assemble together on their own to worship. He did not want to get away from the historical idea of "the church" as an official building with an "ordained clergy".
(Note: For clarity in this paper, we use the term "congregation" to represent a local assembly of brethren, and "Church" for the entire body of Christ. In English, the word "congregation" simply does not mean many scattered groups of people, but "church" does. If the KJV translators had consistently translated the Greek ekklesia as either "congregation" or "assembly", one of those words would be used by Protestants instead of "church" today.)
Kingdom Conflict: Luke 17:21 was translated "the kingdom of God is within you" to perpetuate the teaching that the church was the kingdom of God on earth. It was easy to push this deception on people who could not read the Bible for themselves and see the many parables about the Kingdom coming in the future, or read the context and see the Savior was not talking to his disciples but to antagonistic Pharisees. The Greek entos is also used in Matthew 23:26 where it describes things contained by a plate and cup but not embedded inside the material of the plate and cup. Luke was referring to our Savior, standing among the Pharisees, not to something inside each one of the Pharisees. The NRSV correctly states: "…the kingdom of God is among you."
In Reference to "Arguments from Silence": Many readers will have noted multiple uses, above, of statements like: "no scripture mentions ‘ordination’ to become a ‘minister’", "the ‘office of pastor’ is not found in the Scriptures", etc. Some will say that these are "arguments from silence"—just because the Bible does not say something does not mean it is untrue. For example, the Bible does not say that the Earth is the third planet from the Sun, but it is. Also, much of what we know about the Roman empire is not from the Bible. There are many other examples. However, when it comes to understanding how the Eternal governs, it is very important to know what the Bible does not say!
Once a person comes to realize that most modern-day church offices and organizations are not based on biblical instruction, then two good things happen: 1) It quickly becomes evident that most modern day "church offices" and "church governments" are creations of the Catholic Church and her successors. 2) It is much easier to look into the Bible and read what it does say about how Christ governs His people. If you are willing to accept a church government because you are used to it being done a certain way, and because the Bible does not specifically condemn that way, then this paper may not change you mind much. However, if your desire is to let Christ lead His Body the way He said He would lead it in the Bible, then you will probably realize that the traditional "church organization" is not what He commanded.
Did the New Testament Writers add New Concepts to Old Greek Words? Some church leaders defend their organizations by claiming that there were no Greek words capable of expressing the new "church" concepts, so the apostles had to appropriate existing Greek words and give them new meanings. Some will even go as far as claiming that these "new meanings" have been faithfully preserved by the Catholic and other large churches, and that we can "read them into the Bible" on that basis. This idea is wrong. The Scripture does not tell us about words that are given new meanings—turned into titles of "church offices". Furthermore, secular church history shows that local "bishops" gradually concentrated their power over nearby congregations and that the "Bishop of Rome" gradually gained power over the other bishops. The earliest writings of the "church fathers" do not claim that they were filling hierarchical offices that Christ or the Apostle set up.
Every Greek-speaking person whom this writer has asked has confirmed that the Greek language is particularly suited to combining words to make new words. You can look in a concordance’s dictionary or in a lexicon and see that a high percentage of the Greek words are a combination of two or more other Greek words. One example is archisunagogos, the Greek word meaning "ruler of the synagogue" (Mark 5:22,35,36,38; Luke 8:49; 13:14,15; Acts 13:15; 18:8,17). This is undoubtedly a word coined by Jews who had learned to speak Greek—they did not simply want to use the Greek word for "king" or "ruler," "priest," etc.—they wanted a word that adequately described the position. However, the New Testament does not contain any "new" Greek words invented for "church offices". We do not have a "ruler of the congregation", "head of the congregation", "spiritual-leader" or even a "spiritual servant". Those Scriptures that describe leadership in the Church simply describe what the leaders did in every-day terms, they do not set up "leadership positions to be filled".
We cannot possibly reach a biblical conclusion on church government unless we know what "The Church" is. We have already explained that the Greek word translated "church" is ekklesia and that it simply means assembly. It was not an exclusively religious term. Unmodified, the Greek ekklesia or "church" refers to the entire body of believers as in Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church [ekklesia] and gave Himself for it." Other times it refers to a local congregation in a certain area: "To the church [ekklesia] which is at Corinth" (1Cor 1:2). The plural form is used to refer to multiple congregations: "so that we ourselves boast to you among the churches [ekklesia] of God" (2Thes 1:4).
Colossians 1:13-18 makes it clear that the "Church" is the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 shows there is one body with many members. "…Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Rom 8:9). We must have His Spirit to be part of His Body. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 provides some interesting insights: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries [services to others—diakonia], but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all." To summarize, it is the spirit inside a person that makes him or her a part of the Body of Christ—the Church, but members of the church may be involved in a great diversity of activities.
So how, then, do we relate this definition of "the Church" to the hundreds of "church organizations" that exist today? Is there one organization that is the "true Church"? Or, do multiple organizations make up the "true Church"? The truth of the matter is that the Bible says nothing about the formation of church organizations. If a church organization refuses to recognize brethren as equals who are "outside the organization", then it is creating division contrary to Scripture. When the brethren in Corinth began to recognize one Bible teacher as preeminent over the others, Paul told them to stop it (1Cor 1:10-13; 3:1-23). Paul did not tell the Corinthians that they were "not in the church" because they were looking to individual leaders, but he told them they were "babes in Christ" and "carnal" (1Cor 3:1,3).
Today, we find that most people who claim to be Christians are members of some church organization. Some feel their group is the "only true church" or that it is at least somehow better than the others. Making this mistake does not mean that they are not a part of the True Church, but neither does church organization membership assure anyone that they are a part of the True Church. We are not given the job of determining who is and who is not a part of the True Church (James 4:11-12). If others hold doctrines we believe are wrong, or if their life is a poor example, we may decide not to fellowship with them. But no person is given the authority to determine who is and who is not a member of Christ’s True Church. When the sinning member in 1 Corinthians 5:2-7 was put out by the congregation, it was done so his spirit might be saved. He was put out of the local congregation, but the Scripture does not say that the Spirit of Christ was taken away from him or that he was severed from Christ’s body. Later, he repented and returned to the congregation (2Cor 2:5-8).
Someone may say, "I agree with your definition of the Church from the Bible, but we are commanded to assemble with brethren (Heb 10:25) and the only place I can do that is at a service sponsored by a church organization. Is it a sin to go?" The answer is "No"! The apostle Paul attended numerous synagogues. He prayed and sang with them, listened to them speak and they listened to him speak. Some gladly received his preaching of Jesus, others beat him up or threw him out. Similarly, a believer today who understands that church organizations are unbiblical may be able to happily fellowship with some of them, but others may ask about his or her different beliefs and then "put him (or her) out".
For those who decide to attend services sponsored by an organization, please note that we are not saying that one organization is as good as another. Some church organizations have a high respect for the Bible and will consider the presentation of ideas based strictly on the Bible. Other church organizations teach only their established doctrine—some count their own traditions as equal in authority to the Bible. It is difficult to learn or even speak about much truth in the latter types of organizations. If you have to choose between several organizations for fellowship, you will need to pray about it, and then choose the group where you can learn and serve the most. It is possible that there are church organizations where most of the people have the Spirit of Christ. It is also possible that there are organizations where nobody has that Spirit.
Some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of scattered brethren—that there is no "church membership role" anywhere in the world identifying the true members of the Church. But note how the Eternal answered Elijah when he thought he was the only one left who was faithful to the Eternal (1Kngs 19:14): "Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him" (1Kngs 19:18). Elijah was a great prophet, yet he did not know about these righteous people, nor did the Eternal even tell him where they were. We can rest assured that our Father in heaven is carefully maintaining that information in the Book of Life (Phil 4:1-3). This book will be used to make sure that everyone is judged fairly (Rev 20:12,15).
Also some people may be uncomfortable with the idea that members of the true Church are scattered among groups and do not all hold the same doctrines. However, letters to the seven different congregations (Rev 1:11; chapters 2-3) show beyond any doubt that members and congregations can have different doctrines and still be part of the True Church. This is the only view that seems historically possible. There is no known church organization that has existed from the first century until now that has had the same doctrines the entire time. There is not even a historically-verifiable set of doctrines that have always been held by some people (regardless of organizational affiliation) for 1900 years. Every organization and every "movement of thought" varied to some degree in their doctrine—depending on whether they were learning more or sliding into error. We will simply have to trust Christ to straighten it all out in the end. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27).
When people learn of a church group, one of the first questions they ask is, "Who is the head of it?" The answer should come from the Bible: "...Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior" (Eph 5:23, KJV). But when people are asking this question about a specific church organization, the question they want answered is: "Who is the human head of the organization?" But, if our success or very salvation depends upon how well we follow the human head of a church organization, is it not amazing that the New Testament never contains a single statement about a "human head of the Church"? Would the Eternal really let our salvation hang on a concept not explained in the New Testament? It is much more difficult to believe in a leader whom we cannot see (John 20:29). But if we have a close relationship with our Savior and really believe that He lives in us and leads us, we should be able to follow Him whether we have a human to teach us or not:
The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:26-27). But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. or it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Heb 2:9-10). But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (1Jn 2:27).
It should be clear from these verses that Christ is the Head, and that He works with each person in His Body, the Church.
Let us examine the main scriptures that indicate there is leadership in the Church.
[The household of God] having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:20-22).
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the headChrist... (Eph 4:11-15). And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations ["governments" in KJV], varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts... (1Cor 12:28-31).
These verses leave no doubt that Christ is the Head, and the apostles and prophets are the principal leaders of the Church. In addition, we see many other spiritual gifts given to the brethren, not just to the apostles or "ministry" (see also Rom 12:3-8 and 1Cor 12:1-11). Paul told everyone to desire these gifts. He gave some relative order to three of these gifts in the last passage—listing apostles first as they were taught directly by Christ, prophets second as they speak for the Eternal, and teachers third because they have the critical task of teaching the brethren. Since all of these lists of gifts differ, it is difficult to believe Christ had ever given a specific "list of Church offices in hierarchical order". If so, why were not evangelists and pastors listed before teachers in the last passage? Also, are we to assume that miracle workers are in charge of the healers, the helpers in charge of the administrators, etc? Obviously not!
The Scriptures do not say that we must "lay hands on" men before they can do any of the jobs in these lists. However, there are several examples of the laying on of hands for some of these jobs (serving widows in Acts 6:6, Barnabas as an apostle in Acts 13:3; 14:14, and Timothy as an Evangelist in 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 4:5). We can find no Scriptures against the modern day practice of laying hands on men for specific duties in our congregations, as long as we realize that this is not a permanent "rank"—that situations do change. The purpose of all these gifts is highlighted in boldface in the second passage, above. They are not to control the believers, but to equip the saints (members) for the work of the service, so they attain the "fullness of Christ" and so they will not be fooled when tricky men come with false doctrines. Unfortunately, too many organizations have taken the opposite approach; they try to "shelter the flock" so they never hear or see any wolves, and make them completely dependent upon the "shepherds" for everything. Our Savior said He wanted all of us to be like Him (Matt 5:48; John 17:20-23). Human shepherds sometimes die, become transferred, lose their job, or turn into wolves. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to train all the brethren to be able to be like their Elder Brother, so they can stand both now and in the Kingdom.
The Greek word used for "apostle" in the New Testament is apostolos. It means "one sent". "Emissary" or "envoy" are acceptable translations. (The JNT translation uses "emissary" instead of "apostle".) Its most common usage in the Bible is to designate those whom Christ specifically called to be witnesses to His work: "He [Jesus] called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles" (Luke 6:13). Also: "Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1). In these verses, "apostle" is used as a title—an official appointment by Christ. But it is essential to realize that the Greek apostolos is also used to describe other "sent" individuals—who are not apostles in the above sense. "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent [apostolos] greater than he who sent him" (John 13:16). In this verse, apostolos is used as a general term for anyone who is sent. Also: "…if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers [apostolos] of the churches, the glory of Christ" (2Cor 8:23). Here, all the brethren are referred to as "apostles of the churches". In a sense, every member represents his or her congregation. Please note that the term "apostle of Christ" is not used here.
There is one more case where apostolos is used for someone who was not a direct witness of Jesus. "Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need" (Phil 2:25). The text clearly states that Epaphroditus was "one sent" by the Philippians, he was not "one sent of Christ".
Most of the uses of the Greek apostolos require no guesswork as to who is the one doing the sending. Paul explicitly states he is "Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)." All of these other references to apostles also specifically indicate that they "were sent" and specifically chosen "of Christ" (John 15:16; 1Cor 1:1; 2Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1Thes 2:6; 1Tim 1:1; 2Tim 1:1; 2Tim 1:10-11; Tit 1:1; 1Pet 1:1; 2Pet 1:1; 3:2; Jude 17). There is no chance that Christ’s apostles were appointed or elected by other men. When the scriptures tell us the Church is founded on the "apostles and prophets" (Eph 2:20) it must be referring to divinely appointed apostles and prophets, not those who are self-appointed or appointed of other men.
The original twelve were chosen directly by Christ after an all-night prayer (Luke 6:12-13). "And He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons" (Mark 3:14-15). It is important to realize that these apostles were never told that they were the human heads of church government or that they were to begin a "church organization". They were called to witness Christ’s work and then demonstrate His power and truth to others. Christ repeated this purpose to the apostles shortly before His death. "And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning" (John 15:27).
After Christ’s death, the disciples realized they should replace Judas. They remembered what Christ said about the purpose of an apostle. "Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22). Peter spoke this purpose, but "they," the 120 disciples (Acts 1:15,23) recognized it and found two men that met the qualifications: Barsabas and Matthias. Yet, they did not take it upon themselves, nor did Peter take it upon himself, to "appoint" a new apostle. They prayed for the Father’s decision and they cast lots (see page * for more detail).
The original twelve apostles were sent to Israel. Later, it seems that "James, the Lord’s brother" was considered an apostle (Gal 1:19). (He should not be confused with James the son of Zebedee or James the son of Alpheus.) James, being from Christ’s own family certainly could bear witness to Christ in a way that most others could not.
Even though the apostle Paul was not with Christ during his early ministry, he was still called and taught directly by Christ. Parts of the story are related several places with varying details (Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:6-21; Gal 1:11-24). Paul was chosen and taught directly by revelation from Christ for three years—a substitute for not having been with Him on earth (Gal 1:1,12,18). Paul and Barnabas were sent to the Gentiles. When Paul had to show his qualifications compared to some other "most eminent apostles," he did not claim he was "head" of the Gentile converts and that "God’s government" was through him. He told them the "signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" (2Cor 12:12). This is consistent with the many miracles of the original apostles.
In Acts 14:14 Barnabas is referred to as an apostle. He appears to be an apostle of Christ in the same way as the others. He was chosen by a revelation of the Holy Spirit:
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:1-3).
While the Scripture does not specifically say that Barnabas was with Christ during his earthly teaching, there is a very strong indication. Right after Christ’s death, Barnabas sold his land and gave the money to the other apostles (Acts 4:36-37). He must have known them for some time in order to give such a large part of his wealth to them. Also, the apostles must have known him well as they gave him a new name. Finally, we find that Barnabas had the "signs of an Apostle"—he was used to work miracles and wonders (Acts 15:12).
The New Testament also speaks clearly of false apostles (2Cor 11:13, Rev 2:2). It appears that some were calling themselves "most eminent apostles" (2Cor 11:5; 12:11), but Paul gives them credit for nothing worthwhile. Since Paul states he was an apostle "not through men... but through Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:1), some must have claimed to have been made apostles by men in some way. There is nothing positive recorded about these other apostles in Scripture.
Of course, there have been many people in many religions throughout history claiming to be apostles—maybe you know of some. However, this writer has never heard or read of anyone who claimed to be taught directly by Christ, and performed the signs and wonders of the original apostles. Some modern "apostles" may claim a few meetings or visions with Christ; others claim great inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Some men claim to have been taught "directly by the written word of Christ, the Bible". These "taught by Christ" claims all fall apart when we see that these men failed to discern the errors in the King James or other translations. Nearly all of these "would-be apostles" teach that "ministers" are "ordained" for spiritual service and "deacons" are "ordained" for physical service. But the New Testament does not really teach that, not did Christ. How does "an apostle" who claims to be divinely taught, teach a major doctrine that is in opposition to the original New Testament teaching? The truth of the matter is that every human "apostle" alive today whom this writer has heard of, has been taught by the Bible, not by the Living Christ. Today, everyone reads a Bible with some textual and translation errors—errors which they are not always aware of. Being taught by the Bible is not the same as direct teaching through Christ.
This writer is not claiming to have a perfect understanding of the scriptures, either. This writer realizes that he could grow old and die before he will have a chance to thoroughly study every biblical issue, taking into account all of the significant Hebrew and Greek words, and all of the possibly related verses. The point of this section is that we do not appear to have any human apostles in our day—people who were trained directly by Christ and who are used to perform great miracles. If there were some, they would know from their training where our Bible translations differ from the teachings of Christ—without looking at the Hebrew and Greek! (We should be able to verify their teaching by study, of course.)
Even if the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were perfectly understood, they do not contain everything that Christ taught (John 20:30; 21:25). The apostles spent three years with Him. The New Testament can be read in three days or studied in three months. Now it is quite possible that somebody will be trained directly by Christ and sent in the future to witness and perform miracles. This person would be an apostle in the sense of the original apostles. "Elijah" is prophesied to come and restore all things (Mal 4:5-6, Mat 17:11). The original Elijah performed many miracles; John the Baptist, a type of Elijah, performed no miracles (Matt 11:13-14, John 10:41).
Before concluding this section on apostles, we will examine the authority of the apostles. We already quoted the verses showing they were authorized to witness about Christ and to perform miracles. Because of their time spent directly with Christ, the apostles (along with the prophets) were charged with teaching doctrine (Acts 2:42; Eph 2:20; 3:4-5; 2Pet 3:2). When the Eternal grants this kind of authority, men can ignore it, but they cannot stop it. In numerous instances, the apostles were threatened, beaten, or jailed because of their teaching but the Eternal simply delivered them.
Some people will claim that Peter had life and death power over the believers based upon the death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). However, these verses never say that it was Peter’s idea to put them to death. Peter said Ananias was lying to the Holy Spirit, and he simply died—the Eternal killed him. When Sapphira told the same lie, Peter told her she would die also. This was probably divinely revealed to him, but even if not, Peter was simply echoing a standard biblical principle of justice: identical punishments should be given for identical sins. We have already discussed Matthew 16:18-19 on page * in our section on mistranslations. Here Christ says he will give Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven". The context of these verses is Peter’s inspired understanding that Jesus was the Messiah. The "keys to the kingdom" were not human authority to decide who would be saved, but the understanding of the plan of how Christ would die to save Israel (one key) and later the Gentiles (the second key revealed to Peter in Acts 10-11). Notice the verses that follow: "Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day" (Matt 16:20-21). The "transfiguration" occurs in the next chapter. The binding and loosing authority given to Peter is no different from the authority given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:15-20. We have no indication that Peter had authority over other apostles or that his "office" transferred to another at his death.
The purpose for binding and loosing in these verses is nearly identical with the principles used by Moses in Exodus 18:15-16. When brethren have a dispute they cannot settle, they go to the designated leaders for a binding judgment. There is no dictatorial power over the congregation granted. The power was to make decisions on matters that people bring to the leader.
The New Testament records numerous instructions given to brethren and all leaders. However, it does not record the apostles threatening others with punishments for disobedience. We find Apollos making his own local decision apart from Paul’s command: "Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time" (1Cor 16:12). In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas agreed on a trip they both should take. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, Paul did not. They could not agree so they separated from each other. Paul did not proclaim Barnabas "insubordinate", or "put him out" of the Church.
The entire chapter of 2 Corinthians 11 is about the "most eminent apostles" who were misleading the Corinthians, yet claiming more authority over them than Paul had. If Christ had set up Paul as a kind of ruler over Gentile believers, that was the time for Paul to claim his apostolic authority. But what does Paul do? He shows them how much he suffered to preach the Gospel (2Cor 11:16-33). There are several other scriptures where apostles plead with others to listen. There are no scriptures where the apostles threaten others for disobeying them.
If the apostles did not have dictatorial authority over the members, does that mean His Church is disorganized? Of course not! Many brethren recognized the unique position of the Apostles and cooperated willingly! Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 show that the Body of Christ is organized and leadership is a gift to be exercised. The preaching of the gospel and Sabbath services were to be organized activities (Rom 15:19-20; 1Cor 14:33,40). People helped the "ministers" as they were able (Col 4:7-17), but when they were not strong enough to serve in a way that an apostle asked, the apostle prayed for them rather than "putting them out of the church" (2Tim 4:16). Apostles cannot bear fruit for us, it is up to each one of us how much fruit we will bear (Matt 25:14-30; 1Cor 3:13-15).
Before starting, we should first know the purpose of a prophet. Prophets speak directly-inspired messages about the Eternal’s way and what He is going to do (Deuteronomy 18:18-19; Dan 9:6; Amos 3:7). There are dozens of examples throughout the Bible. Women can be prophets, or more properly "prophetesses". Examples of prophetesses include Deborah (Jdgs 4:4), Miriam (Ex 15:20), Huldah (2Kgs 22:4), Anna (Luke 2:36) and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8-9).
The Eternal usually reveals His message to the Prophet in a dream or a vision (with a few notable exceptions such as Abraham and Moses, whom He spoke with face to faceGen 18:1; 20:7; Num 12:6-8; Matt 2:12-13). In the New Testament, some prophets apparently spoke through the power of the Holy Spirit—not seeing or hearing anything in a vision (Acts 13:1-4; 15:32; 1Cor 14:29). In either case, the prophet speaks the message, and people may or may not listen. Prophets may anoint leaders, but the anointed leader does not continue to take orders from the prophet. Prophets speak what they are told to—it is not the prophet’s purpose to interpret what the Eternal gives him or use his own best idea if the Eternal does not give him a message. The Eternal sometimes works continually through a specific prophet, allowing other men to "inquire of Him" through that prophet (1Sam 9:9; 1Kngs 22:7; 2Kngs 3:11). Other prophets seem to prophesy only once (Jdgs 6:7-10; 2Chr 15:1).
Prophets are still in control of themselves; they are free to disobey the Eternal, but it would be foolish to do that, just as it would be for you to disobey the Eternal (1Cor 14:32; Jonah 1:1-3). The Eternal has even temporarily put His spirit in prophets such as Balaam that knew they had to speak His message, but still did their best to defeat the Eternal’s purpose (Num 22-24; 2Pet 2:15-16; Rev 2:14). The Eternal has always warned that there would be false prophets (Deut 13:3; 1Jn 4:1; Rev 2:20). He commands us to hear the true prophets and put the false prophets to death—today, we remove them from our fellowship—we are not a civil government (Deut 18:19; 13:5).
In most church congregations today, prophets do not play a significant role. Some even joke that their church group "is a non-prophet organization". Many groups explain the scriptures about the church being founded on "the apostles and prophets" as meaning the Old Testament prophets (1Cor 12:28-29; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). This is impossible, as several of these scriptures clearly speak of prophets in the present tense.
The following Scriptures are also sometimes cited to falsely claim that there are no prophets today:
God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds...having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they (Heb 1:1-2,4).
The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail (Luke 16:16-17). But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men (1Cor 14:3).
The first passage does not declare the end of prophets, but simply shows the greatness and excellency of Christ compared to the knowledge revealed through the prophets and angels. Indeed, the Bible records many prophets after the death of our Savior as we will see. The second passage does not put an end to prophets any more than it puts an end to the law. There are many clear Scriptures that indicate the Eternal continued to speak through prophets after the resurrection of our Savior and will continue to do so through His return.
This last passage above shows the effect of prophecy, but does not define it. Most of the usage of the words "prophet" and "prophecy" (Greek prophetes and propheteuo) in the New Testament are references to the Old Testament prophets—real inspired prophets. Many more uses are found in the book of Revelation, a prophecy from Christ. Every place where we have the actual message of a New Testament prophet written, it is a miraculous revelation (John 11:48-52; Acts 11:27-30; 13:1-3; 21:10-11; Rev 1-22). Sermons are often wonderful examples of "teaching", but teaching is not prophecy! Teaching and prophecy are mentioned as separate gifts (Acts 13:1; 1Cor 12:8,9; Eph 4:11)
One of the reasons we do not have prophets in our congregations today is that we are not asking (James 4:2). Paul told the Corinthians: "Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order" (1Cor 14:39-40). At the other extreme, some people are continually asking for the gift of prophecy, but either never prophesy or else prophesy erroneous things. We cannot judge their hearts, but we should never heed someone who prophesies things that do not come to pass. Another reason that we do not receive from the Eternal is because we ask for selfish motives (James 4:3). The Eternal may not grant the gift of prophecy to someone who wants to be considered "spiritual" by others, or who already has other gifts, or who has significant sins to overcome first. Being a prophet is a difficult and sometimes dangerous job. These scriptures explain the extensive use of prophets in the New Testament:
And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28).
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:1-3). [It was not Peter that commissioned them.]
Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them (Acts 15:32). [Luke notes a less common occurrence: these men were teachers as well as "prophets also."]
And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’" And when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.... So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done" (Acts 21:10-12,14). [The prophet spoke for the Eternal, but Paul made his own decision what he would do with the information.]
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge [whether or not the message is from the Eternal (Deut 13:2; 18:22)]. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints (1Cor 14:29-33).
... as it has now [not 400 years ago] been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets... (Eph 3:5).
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.... And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth (Rev 11:3,10).
Now I, John,... fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, "See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God" (Rev 22:8-9).
Does this mean that we should allow anyone to stand up in our services and say whatever they want claiming it is a prophecy? No! First, people need to learn about the role of a prophet, and the penalty of being a false prophet (Deut 18:20-22; Jer 14:14-15; 23:32-40). If a man unintentionally teaches an error in a sermon, a simple correction will take care of the problem. If a prophet teaches error and claims it was from the Eternal, he is in danger of the penalties for being a false prophet. If the "prophet" speaks against the word of the Eternal and does not repent, the congregation should put him or her out (see following sections).
Nevertheless, we must encourage the members to seek the Eternal and "desire earnestly to prophesy" (1Cor 14:39). When someone believes he has a message from the Eternal, we should let him or her speak and judge the prophecy against the Bible (1Cor 14:29). It is important to note that some prophets may also be teachers or some other kind of servant, and some may not (Acts 15:32).
Will someone claiming to be a prophet someday speak error in your congregation some day? With so many warnings of false prophets in both Old and New Testaments, the answer is most probably "yes". However, if you will ask an honest person who has attended a church organization for a long time, he will probably agree that he has heard "ministers" in the group preach things that turned out to be in error. (Read Ezekiel 34 if you think ministers cannot go astray.) It is better to have a service where brethren are expected to hear prophecies and judge them from the Scripture than one where people accept everything anyone says or where no prophesying is allowed at all. Sometimes, the Eternal allows some error to be taught to find out who is studying (Deut 13:1-3; 1Cor 11:19; 2Pet 2:1). The only way members can be sure a teaching is right is studying the Bible themselves (2Tim 2:15). Paul could have given instructions to avoid all prophesying (and all teaching for that matter) lest any error be taught; but he did not. We should not either.
We have seen that apostles and prophets are appointed by the Eternal, not by men. Throughout the Scriptures we find five lists of spiritual gifts, or service jobs in the Body of believers:
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them; if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Rom 12:6-8).
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills (1Cor 12:7-11).
And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations ["governments" in KJV], varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal (1Cor 12:28-13:1).
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head¾Christ... (Eph 4:11-15).
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins." Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1Pet 4:8-11).
Since no two of these lists are the same, it seems unlikely that there was any divinely-inspired "government plan" given to the first century believers. The apostles seem to mention the gifts that are pertinent to the issues before them at the moment. There may be other spiritual gifts granted to brethren in our present age. The gifts mentioned in the Bible are listed, below, in alphabetical order with the number of lists in which they appear. We have combined some different words into the category where the meaning and function seems similar—if someone has a reason to show us why the categories should not be combined, this writer would be interested to hear about it.
Administrator, "One who Leads", Pastor (3). All of these words describe taking care of others and directing their work to some degree. These jobs appear to be essentially the same as elder and overseer, which are otherwise not mentioned in these gift lists. We know that elders work as shepherds (Greek means "pastors") because elders are told to "shepherd the flock of God" (1Pet 5:1-2). Other verses show that elders are overseers (Acts 10:17,28; Tit 1:5-9; 1Pet 1:1-2). Why are there so many names for essentially the same function? The reason is that these words all describe gifts and jobs, not some kind of office or spiritual title. Bible writers probably chose whatever word best described the function at the time—if they were emphasizing planning: "administrator" or "elder", if they were emphasizing guiding of other people: "shepherd" or "overseer". See the section on Elders, Overseers, Pastors below.
Apostle (2). Those sent by Christ as witnesses to His resurrection and teaching. These were covered extensively in the previous sections.
Discerner of Spirits (1). This gift is exceedingly valuable to a congregation, especially if Satan is attacking. Satan is very subtle and pretends to be a teacher of truth (2Cor 11:14). A person with the gift of "discernment of spirits" will usually know if a teacher, prophet, administrator, or tongue-speaker is full of the Holy Spirit or a clever counterfeit. This author has met a few people with this gift, but most congregations were ignorant of the gift, and the people found they could not mention the gift if they wanted to remain in the congregation.
Evangelist or Gospel Preacher (1). This word is mentioned only three times in Scripture: Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2Tim 4:5) were "doing the work" of an evangelist—they were preaching the gospel to others. They were not "holding the office" of evangelist. Any person who successfully and continually preaches the gospel to the world is an evangelist. A congregation or group of congregations can send a person to preach the gospel:
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom 10:14-15).
While a "gospel preacher" may also teach in some congregations, the two gifts are not the same. An exhaustive concordance will show 98 references to the word gospel and not one of them is about a message delivered only to a congregation (ekklesia). "The gospel" was always preached in public places and in synagogues containing unbelievers. Most references to gospel preaching are about Paul’s work and he states: "And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation" (Rom 15:20).
Exhorter (1). This is a person who encourages, strengthens, inspires, motivates to do good, etc. "Exhorting" can be accomplished either by speaking in services or in private conversations.
Faith-filled Person (1). Some people always seem to be filled with faith that their Father will take care of them and take care of His people. They are often so filled that it seems to be contagious—lifting the spirits of those whom they meet. The value of this gift, found among both men and women, should never be underestimated.
Giver (of money) (1). Many church groups encourage brethren to develop this gift over all others. While it is a gift, and it has allowed much good (and some evil) to be accomplished, it certainly has been overemphasized. A poor person who serves in other ways should not feel inferior because he gives little. A person who has little time to serve because he or she is working long hours to earn a lot of money should not neglect this gift.
Healer (2). We desperately need people with this gift. While life expectancy in Western societies is quite long, a greater and greater percentage of the population has one or more illnesses at any given moment. Those with this gift sometimes serve quietly in the Church, providing relief to the brethren. Others serve more visibly, helping to preach the gospel, showing the Eternal’s great power as a sign to unbelievers.
Helps—means "one who helps out"—see "Minister".
Hospitable Person (1). This is mentioned in the context of gifts in 1 Peter 4:9 and appears to be a separate gift. Most congregations have encouraged this gift among their members. Since brethren, today, often live quite far from each other, over-night stays are common. It is usually easy for a traveler to recognize a host who has the gift of hospitality. Beside physically providing for shelter, food and other necessities, some people seem to be much more able to make visitors "feel at home".
Knowledgeable Person (1). This gift is related to teaching, but is not the same. A person with the gift of knowledge will be able to explain complex Bible subjects that might be difficult for others. This kind of person tends to learn and retain much valuable information. This person may or may not be a good teacher. If he or she is not a teacher, teachers should consult with them so that some of their knowledge may be shared with the congregations.
Love (2). This is not a specific gift because everyone is required to have it. We mention it for the same reason Peter and Paul did: Great spiritual gifts are meaningless if we do not have love for our brothers (1Cor 13:1-3).
Minister or Helps (service to others, physical or spiritual) (3). This is a large category of serving others. In Eph 4:11 we find that a number of gifts are "for the work of the ministry [service]". All manner of physical service falls into this category: giving food, water, shelter and clothing to people who need it; visiting the sick and imprisoned (Matt 25:35-36). It also includes spiritual service: "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Gal 6:1). The physical and spiritual tasks of preaching the gospel to others are also referred to as "service" or "ministry". As we stated at the beginning of this article, the Bible in its original languages does not support the concept of an "ordained ministry" or a separation between "physical" and "spiritual" servants. 1 Timothy 3:8-12 gives qualifications for all servants in the Church: "not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless... husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." Those who meet the qualifications, and have a gift of service should find a way to use it, working in harmony with the others of their congregation.
Miracle Worker (2). Most of the miracles in the Scriptures are healings, but some are not. Christ’s first miracle was turning water into wine. He also fed thousands of people from a few loaves and fishes, walked on water, withered a fig tree, retrieved money from a fish’s mouth, and other such wonders. In our modern money-based economy, we often rely too much on money rather than looking for the Eternal to provide. When some of the prophets lost a borrowed ax head in the water, Elisha asked for a miracle to find it (2Kngs 6:5-6). Philip, after teaching the Ethiopian eunuch, was given miraculous transportation from Gaza to Azotus (Acts 8:26,39-40). He would have had a 34-mile long hot walk without it. When the evil sorcerer, Elymas, tried to subvert Paul, he struck him with blindness for a season (Acts 13:8-11); we may well need protection from our enemies in the near future. Casting out of demons, not specifically mentioned in these lists, would also fit into this category. Christ said His servants would do it (Mark 16:17).
Pastor or Shepherd—see Administrator.
Prophet (4). It is interesting that prophets (or prophecy) occur in more lists than any other gift. See the previous sections for details on Prophets.
Merciful Person (1). These are people who council others who have problems and difficulties. Romans 12:8 encourages cheerfulness among people doing this job. Of course, all counsel given must be according to Scripture.
Teacher or Speaker (3). Most church groups typically do this. (Some groups, both historically and even today, do this a lot—subjecting members to speaking sessions that are multiple hours in length.) Teaching can be an exposition of Scripture or a discourse on some particular subject. Acts 18:18-28 gives the story of how Apollos, of his own accord, began to teach the Truth. Aquila, Priscilla and others had to correct some of his mistakes, but he continued on in his role as a teacher (1Cor 4:6; 16:12). Hebrews 5:12 clearly shows that men who have attended for a long time should be teachers. There is no scripture that states a teacher must be an elder, overseer, pastor, minister, etc. Teaching is always treated as a separate gift from administration and other gifts. The synagogues that Jesus and the apostles frequented would allow people to teach based on their ability to teach—they did not reserve this job for only their own elders. Of interest, the word "sermon" (which most people think must be "preached by a minister") never appears in the Bible.
What should be done if a teacher departs from sound doctrine? Titus 3:9-10 tells us to "avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition." The Greek Paraiteomai ("reject") means "refuse"—the same word is used in 1 Timothy 5:11 where women were not allowed to join the special service. As these women who were not accepted were not "put out" of the congregation, so those who speak error are not to be "put out" but rejected as speakers after two warnings. While every teacher should strive to avoid teaching any error, congregations are responsible for learning to distinguish truth from error (Deut 13:3; 1Cor 11:19).
Tongues Speaking and Interpretation (2). Numerous Bible references explain that speaking in tongues was a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; 1Cor 12:10). Much information about this gift is contained in 1 Corinthians 12 & 14. Not all believers speak in tongues (1Cor 12:30). Today, most church groups go to one extreme or the other with this gift. The majority do not seek the gift—they may even automatically "put out" anyone who claims to have the gift. The opposite extreme are groups who seek this gift nearly above all others and may have services where dozens of people are excitedly "speaking in tongues" all at the same time (in opposition to Paul’s instruction). It is important to recognize that the scriptures mention three different types of "speaking in tongues." In Acts 2:1-11, people spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and others heard them all in their own language. This is a miracle that few claim today, but if it does happen, we would hope that church leaders of any sort would have the wisdom not to try to stop it. Another kind of "speaking in tongues" is done privately, as an encouragement to the believer: "For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries" (1Cor 14:1). This spiritual gift should not be much of an issue among believes as long as it is done privately. In regard to "tongue speaking" in services, Paul says: "If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God" (1Cor 14:27-28). There may be some need to allow people to speak in tongues in a service to see if there is someone who can interpret, but the process should be only a small part of the service as Paul shows above. How do we know if someone is just "faking" this gift? We might not be able to tell initially—Christ said there would be "tares among the wheat". But if a certain tongue-speaker never has an interpreter or if the interpretation is never edifying, then brethren or an overseer should go to him and ask him to stop doing it. Also, if someone has the gift of "Discerning of Spirits," they will probably be able to tell if the speaking in tongues is from the Holy Spirit or not. No believer should ignore or vilify this gift. Paul says, "do not forbid to speak with tongues" (1Cor 14:39).
Wise Person (1). Wisdom is available from the Eternal to all who ask (James 1:5), though some have a special gift of it. Wisdom is knowing what to do to produce the desired results. Some people have wisdom in certain areas of life; others have a general wisdom covering many things. Those involved in administering, gospel preaching, healing, miracles, serving, teaching, etc. should take counsel of those with wisdom before making major decisions that affect many.
Words Not in the Spiritual Gift Lists (0). With five different lists of spiritual gifts, we can conclude that no gift of great importance was left out. We do not find any words in these lists meaning "absolute rulership" or "control" such as: kurios ("master" or "lord"), kuriotes ("one possessing dominion"), basilius ("king"), archon ("ruler" or "prince") or hegemon ("governor"). Other somewhat authoritative words found elsewhere in the New Testament are not found in these lists either: rhabbi ("rabbi" or "master teacher"), oikodespotes ("master of the house"), epistates ("master" or "superintendent"). There is not one word that means an administrator over many congregations or any other sort of multi-level type of government. We must reiterate that Christ is the leader of His people. Christ specifically taught his followers not to use the religious titles that the Jews were using! He said his followers were not to be called "rabbi" (rhabbi), "master" (kathegetes) or "father" (pater) (Matt 23:8-10). Are we to believe that Christ later instructed his disciples to create a bunch of "church" offices and titles? The ability to serve in the various capacities listed above is a Spiritual Gift to be exercised for the benefit of all. There is no need to speak with some kind of great respect for the human with the gift, because it is the Eternal that grants the gift. Let us all respect and praise Him!
These three functions appear to be very similar. The terms are used synonymously in the Bible (Acts 10:17,28; Tit 1:5-9; 1Pet 1:1-2, see quotes below). They all clearly involve helping, planning and directing other brethren.
We can understand much about the word "elder" as it is used frequently throughout the Old Testament, the Gospels and Acts. "Elder" is a general term and refers to older, respected leaders of the community and nation. An elder might have had a specific leadership position, such as "ruler of the synagogue" or the member of a council, or he may have been simply a well-respected person. Elders were typically over 40 years old, but a very capable man might be considered an elder at 30. People became recognized as elders in a variety of ways. In a town where nearly all the people are descendants of a few families, the oldest members of those families will almost certainly be considered elders, without any official recognition. At other times, elders may be appointed by other elders, or elected by the people they serve. The early Church certainly kept this traditional meaning and used it for similar leaders within their own congregations. It is hard to believe that they could have assigned a new meaning to this word as they would have continued to use the old meaning in Scripture reading and in everyday life.
Please read the following scriptures about elders, overseers and pastors. They explain most of what the scriptures say about these people who serve the brethren in congregations.
So when they had appointed [selected by show of hands] elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed (Acts 14:23)
And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem (Acts 16:4).
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church…."Therefore take heed to yourselves and to 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 (Acts 20:17, 28).
Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership (1Tim 4:14).
Do not rebuke an older man [same Greek word as "elder"], but exhort him as a father, the younger men as brothers, the older women [same word as "elder," feminine form] as mothers, the younger as sisters, with all purity (1Tim 5:1-2).
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine [teaching—same word as the gift]. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear (1Tim 5:17-20).
5For this reason I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—6if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7For a bishop [overseer] must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. 10For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain (Tit 1:5-11).
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14).
1The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 5Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." 6Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (1Pet 5:1-6).
The Greek word for "elder" (also "older men" and "older women") in the above scriptures is presbuteros. We can see that it has a variety of usage—some places referring to both older men and women (1Tim 5:1-2; 1Pet 5:5), other places appearing to be a position of leadership in the congregation. Of interest, there are no scriptures that specifically say "eldership is a spiritual gift", "here is how someone becomes an elder", or "here is how to remove an elder". Only if we conclude from the other scriptures that elders often function as overseers and shepherds (pastors) can we fit them into spiritual gift lists. Certainly, nearly all leaders in congregations were drawn from the pool of elders—older, wise people. However, it is possible someone could be considered an elder, but have other gifts such as prophecy, teaching, healings, etc. Such a person might not be involved much as an overseer.
Elders responsible for shepherding the flock of the Eternal and serving as overseers are to be examples, not "lords" over the others. They are to anoint and pray for those in need of help. They are to lay hands on others for special tasks. If leaders do sin, they should be corrected in front of the entire congregation—if they are corrected privately, others will assume that their sin was unpunished or not a sin at all.
Many Bible students debate whether Peter or James was the "head apostle" who made the decisions in the Acts 15 meeting on circumcision. The answer is found in Acts 16:4 where all the apostles and elders at Jerusalem were credited with the decision. Acts 15 verses 4 and 22 mention the entire congregation hearing the meeting, and agreeing with the decision, but the apostles and elders seem to be the chief speakers (Acts 15:6). Since we have no obviously recognizable apostles today, it would seem that elders would continue in any necessary decision-making role.
It is clear that elders/overseers were appointed by more than one method. Some were appointed by the Apostle Paul, some by Titus—a man Paul chose (Tit 1:5), and some were apparently "selected by show of hands". Even in the case where the men were selected by Paul and Titus, they undoubtedly followed the biblical precedent in Acts 6:3 and asked the people to "seek out from among you... men of good reputation". The Greek word used for appoint, kathistemi, is the same in both Titus 1:5 and Acts 6:3. It means "to set in place" or "to set in order"—it does not mean that Titus picked the person completely on his own. Paul gave Titus qualifications for an overseer (v 7)—these qualifications required intimate knowledge of what the men were like. How does one know if a man is "not quick-tempered", "not given to wine", "self-controlled", etc? Titus, not knowing everyone in every city, would certainly have asked the congregation what men were qualified (Acts 6:3).
A very similar list of qualifications is given in 1Tim 3:1-7. Paul said "...if a man desires the position of a bishop [overseer] he desires a good work" (v 1). There is nothing wrong with desiring to serve in this manner if it is indeed for service (not personal exaltation) and if a person is qualified. If leaders are selected by voting, persons desiring to serve must let the others know they are willing to serve. It would be wonderful if there was someone today whom all believers recognized as an apostle (like Paul) or an apostle’s assistant (like Titus). But nearly every well known "Christian Leader" today is attached to a specific organization and/or doctrinal statement. Nor do we have recognized leaders that can walk up to a crippled or AIDS-infected man on the street and heal them. (There are some Christian leaders who claim the gifts of healing, but most primarily make people fall over backwards in an auditorium—their "gifts" are highly disputed.) Therefore, today, elders, overseers, and pastors must be chosen either by vote of the people they serve, by appealing directly to the Eternal (see page), or chosen by some other Church leader(s) whom a congregation trusts.
Elders need to realize that they are always held to a higher standard of behavior than other members of the congregation, If they are sinning, Paul instructs that they be rebuked "before all" in the congregation (1 Tim 5:20). While the Bible does not talk about removing an elder, one who sins often and is rebuked often in front of everyone will certainly not have much of the brethren’s trust.
The Bible does not give us complete detail on what elders/overseers/pastors do. However, we can pick up a number of clues, and we can also borrow from the manner in which elders served in synagogues. Even in the book of James, brethren were still meeting in synagogues (Jms 2:2, YLT). They certainly borrowed some of their worship tradition and practice from them. Synagogues varied in operation, but nearly all of them were rather democratic in nature. Leaders were usually elected. Major decisions were made by "elders"—older men recognized as leaders. The only paid worker in a smaller synagogue was the one who took care of the building and furnishings. Most teachers and worship leaders had other jobs—only a large synagogue would have a full-time paid Rabbi. Members shared numerous responsibilities and volunteer effort was common. For example, if a synagogue needed new tables, rather than take up a collection, one well-off member might simply buy and donate them—maybe in memory of a deceased relative. Another poorer member might make the tablecloths. If two members both wanted to donate tables, the leadership would have to make a decision.
Early church congregations had many of the same issues to deal with. Major decisions might involve the whole group, but it is not practical or sensible to vote on every little issue—like which tablecloths will be used each week. Congregations do need individuals with some authority. Some duties of those in authority would include designating who will speak in services, determining the time and length of services, taking action if someone is disrupting the service, managing the meeting place, accounting for locally-collected money, arranging for the care of books and other assets, etc. In a small congregation, one person may do all of these things. In a larger group, one or more elders may do each of the jobs. This authority can exist without being dictatorial. Those in authority must consider the needs of those they are serving.
Please note that it is possible for elders to also be evangelists and/or prophets. However, the most common teaching of the Scripture is for the Eternal to spread out gifts among the congregation. If the Eternal gives someone many gifts, they should certainly use them. But there is no reason for someone with strong gifts to strive for more. Far too many congregations have suffered too much from the "one-man pastorate syndrome"—the idea that one ordained man will have all the gifts and that everyone else just prays and pays.
Since we just mentioned "paying", let us address the question of whether or not elders, overseers and/or pastors should be paid. The phrase "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor" (1Tim 5:17) could possibly be translated "double remuneration", though nearly every major translation says "honor" here. We should start with verses that are clear. Nobody should charge people who come to hear Gospel preaching. We quoted Titus 1:11, above, which says not to preach for dishonest gain. Also notice:
Freely you have received [the Gospel], freely give (Matt 10:8).
…useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself (1Tim 6:5).
And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you (Luke 10:7-8).
Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him [Christ] from their substance (Luke 8:3).
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God (2Cor 2:17, NIV).
These verses show that the preaching of the Gospel was always free to the individuals receiving it. If the Eternal is behind the preaching, He will inspire others with substance to provide a way for the work to be done. The following verse does show an established congregation should support those leaders who serve it:
If others are partakers of this right [to be financially supported] over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ (1Cor 9:12).
However, there is not one New Testament scripture where a leader demands or begs more money from believers. There is no evidence of any Gospel preaching that left undone due to a lack of money. It seemed that those who were commissioned to teach and preach just went forth and did it. The Eternal took care of their needs.
In the last part of this section, we ask exactly how much authority do elders, overseers and/or pastors have, and how do brethren determine whether they will cooperate with a leader or not? For example, does an overseer have the authority to tell specific members of the congregation that they must come in on a certain day and wash the floor and walls of their meeting hall? Does he have authority to have them wash his private automobile, also? From questions like these we can see why the Bible does not attempt to exactly define the authority of elders—there would be no end of questions that one could ask. Instead, we see the general principles that those with authority are responsible to use it for the good of all involved, and the others should follow that authority unless they believe it is contrary to Scripture. The following passages are helpful:
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Heb 13:7, NIV).
Obey [peitho] your leaders and submit [hupeiko] to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb 13:17, NIV).
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you [proistemi] in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves (1Thes 5:12-13).
Note that the Greek peitho ("obey") is usually translated "persuade" or "trust"—it contains the idea of becoming friends, cooperating. This word is not as strong as the Greek pietharcheo, used for obeying the Eternal or kings (Acts 5:29; Tit 3:1), which was not used here. The Greek hupeiko, ("submit") is not a term of absolute submission, but one of peaceful cooperation. Finally, the Greek Proistemi ("over you") is sometimes translated "manage" or "devote oneself" in modern translations. It is used for managing one’s family. (See Rom 12:8; 1 Timothy; 3:4,5,12,17; Tit 3:8,14 for all other uses).
These three verses cited above show the manner of the relationship between brethren and leaders in the congregation. Notice that these verses do not name "elders", "overseers", "apostles" or any other specific job, but apply to all who might be in a leadership role. One is to cooperate with those who:
1) Spoke the word of God to you. Does a leader really expound the Bible, or does he use a few token scriptures and then just preach "nice sounding things"? Religious groups often start out with a preacher full of zeal, but when he dies or moves on, he is often replaced by a bureaucratic type people, who mostly encourage brethren to keep coming and keep contributing.
2) Have produced observable fruits when you "consider the outcome of their way of life". Does a leader have the fruits of the spirit? These fruits are not a "big office and organization", but "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and], self-control" (Gal 5:22-23). Some leaders are so dedicated to "doing the work" that nobody can stand to be around them. Christ taught that leaders should be known "by their fruits" (Matt 7:15-20). It is even necessary to "try apostles" (Rev 2:2).
3) Have faith worth imitating. A leader may preach the power of Christ to live righteously, but then not overcome major sins himself. A leaders may tell members they must have faith to give the very money that they plan to live on, but he exhibits no faith that God will continue his ministry through tough financial times. Another leader may tell members they must trust God for healing, but then he quietly uses extensive medical help.
4) Actually work, admonishing and watching out for the souls of the brethren as if they were going to give account for it someday. Good leaders will genuinely care for their brethren. You probably do not want to accept a leader who needlessly puts brethren out of the congregation (3Jn 3-10), nor do you want to accept a leader who is so busy that he does not know when brethren are missing from services for months.
These points are an excellent way for a person to determine which leader(s) he or she will work with. The last 2 scriptures indicate that when a member accepts a leader, it should be joyful and without difficulty. He should treat them with respect. Sometimes, when brethren learn that the Eternal does not require them to follow some man to be saved, they become uncooperative, even with leaders whom they acknowledge might be leaders sent from the Eternal. As Hebrews 13:17 says, this attitude is neither joyful for the leader, nor good for the member.
When people form a new church organization, one of the first things that they do is decide on their government. If the new organization is hierarchical, the debate centers on who will fill all of the various positions in the hierarchy—who will have authority and who will have influence on those in authority. If the new organization is more democratic (congregational), the debate will be over the wording of the constitution, bylaws, and other founding documents. Later, there will be a debate over who is elected to which office, and who will be hired as "ministers".
Do you realize that there is no section of the New Testament that deals with the government plan for a local congregation or a church organization. Yet from Acts onward, much of the New Testament is about the forming of congregations. The Romans had corporations and societies that were governed by detailed documents. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls show that detailed governing documents were written by some of these obscure Jewish sects. Yet the New Testament never once refers to a list of hierarchical leaders or the governing documents of a congregation. It never mentions a list of "ranks" or of someone being "raised in rank". No one is ever told to follow human orders "without question". It should be obvious that belief in Jesus as Messiah and Savior is an individual way of life. It is not just an excuse to build "church organizations".
The New Testament books that are letters to congregations are addressed to the whole congregation—they do not address or even name "the top leaders in the congregation". The Bible does not have a specific list of "positions" that each local congregation must have. We do not find a specific list of "headquarters" positions—we do not even find a term that means "church headquarters". (The Acts 15 meeting was in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was never called "the headquarters church" or "the primary church".) We find more than one method in use for putting people into various jobs. With the exception of teachers (Tit 3:10), we do not find any specific formula for putting people out of jobs. It does not say if an overseer keeps his job for a term or for his entire life. (Obviously, he can be removed for flagrant sin or teaching doctrinal error).
We can be sure that a detailed government plan was not in place by looking at how various problems were solved in the New Testament. The believers most often recognized the task at hand, and appointed someone to do it. When widows were being neglected, they did not make a budget request to the "local relief committee", but found seven men, full of the Holy Spirit, to take care of the problem (Acts 6:1-7).
When the poor brethren in Jerusalem needed help, three times groups of people simply volunteered to help on their own (Acts 11:28-30; Rom 15:26; 2Cor 9:1-15). One time, Paul asked people to collect (1Cor 16:1-3). All of these collections were taken directly from the givers to Jerusalem. We never read about a "middle man"—there is no appeal to "increase your giving to the poor fund because the situation in Jerusalem is draining its reserves".
We know that the brethren regularly assembled together, but we never read one word about the planning or construction of a building for services. Rather we read that brethren met in homes (Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:9; Col 4:15; Phlm 1:2) and in one place, a school (Acts 19:9).
What about Gospel preaching? Christ had given a very general plan in that Peter was clearly the main apostle to the Israelites, and Paul was the main apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7). But did the apostles design a detailed evangelism plan? Was the Acts 15 Jerusalem meeting a good place to finally "organize the Work"? Look what happened right after this meeting:
6Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:6-10).
Direct revelation from the Eternal seemed to be common for the apostles. We will not print the many other stories, but they are well worth reading (Acts 8:26,29,39-40; 10:1-20; 13:2-4; 18:9-11; 20:22-23; 23:11; 27:23-24; 1Tim 4:1). One cannot read all of the above scriptures and believe that first century evangelism was carried out by a humanly devised master plan.
We have mentioned that the Bible does not give any detailed plan for Church government and programs. However, the Bible has much to say about what Christ does and how we should have His attitude.
Christ told His followers that He was treating them as friends, not servants (John 15:14-17). All converted people are forbidden to "lord it over" others, but are to be servants (Matt 20:25). Our Savior treated so many people so kindly that He was known as "a friend of publicans and sinners" (Matt 11:19). (Would people say that about you or the leader of your group?) The Eternal referred to Abraham and Moses as "friends" (Ex 33:11; 2Chr 20:7; Isa 41:8). Notice our Savior’s example for us:
2fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil 2:2-8).
Everyone must be careful to avoid causing a new or weak person to stumble. "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt 18:6). 1 Corinthians 8 explains how a strong person with proper knowledge may eat meat offered to an idol because the idol is really nothing. Paul concludes the matter in verses 11 to 13: "And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."
When giving another person instructions, there is not one case where a converted leader used a "do it because I said so" approach. Either the purpose is obvious in light of Scripture or there is an explanation given. Also, there are no instructions to Church leaders about how to "maintain their authority". For example, some modern-day "ministers" have insisted they be addressed as "Mister" (even by people much older than they) to command respect. Matthew 23:10 (KJV) shows leaders should not insist on being called "master", which is essentially the same word as "mister". A leader who is genuinely serving will have the respect and cooperation of other converted people—he will not need to "maintain his authority".
While leaders should be humble, there are times for them to speak strongly—when someone is trying to deceive the brethren. "For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (Tit 1:10-13). Again, please notice, that these trouble-making men were not "cast out of the congregation", but corrected so they could be "sound in the faith".
When a modern-day religious leader dies, the first question people have is, "Who is going to succeed him—who will continue to run his ministry, pastor his congregation, etc.?" This is a perfectly reasonable question to one who believes that spiritual authority comes by human "ordination". Sometimes successors are named by the religious leaders before death, other times they are named by a group’s board of directors or other governing body. After the new leader is accepted, the next question often is: will he teach the same thing as the person he replaced, or will he make changes?
The hope of a successor is that he will carry on the practices of the original leader or organization. Indeed, even when the death of a specific individual is not at stake, the whole concept behind "ordination" is to authorize individuals to teach the same doctrines and practices as the people doing the "ordaining".
We do not have space to delve into the history of specific religious groups here, but it is worth examining what typically happens in religious groups over a long period of time. Our scenario could apply to something as big as the Protestant churches splitting off from the Roman Catholic church, to the breakup of a worldwide church organization, to the dividing of a local congregation where you live. The point is to demonstrate the logical difficulties associated with succession of church leaders. It is actually quite common for religious groups to change in doctrine over time. There are church organizations with doctrines and practices nearly opposite to the ones held when the group was founded. Sometimes these changes are good (toward Bible truth), but more often they are bad (false doctrine and corrupt practices). No matter how bad the changes, it seems that some ministers and members will always stay with the original organization (let us call it "Group A"), and others will leave to form a new church organization ("Group B"). We will use the term "minister" for the leader in each group, but the name could easily be changed to "priest", "pastor", "board member", or whatever a group uses.
All of the ministers in Group A were trained and ordained by other ministers in Group A. However, some of them do not like the doctrinal changes in Group A, so they leave to form Group B. Both Groups A & B say a lot of bad things about each other in an effort to draw more of the members to themselves, but that only serves to drive members away from both groups. In spite of all the disagreement, Group B’s official method of recognizing a minister is one "ordained" by Group A—they do not have their own training program yet. Group B tells its members that all of its ministers are "chosen by God", yet they were taught and "ordained" by the exact same process as all of the "apostate" ministers still in Group A. The leaders of Group B seem little concerned that some of their ministers did not join Group B because of doctrinal conviction, but did so when they realized that most of their members were joining Group B.
Even stranger, suppose that a minister stays in Group A for two years after the split, and then decides to accept Group B’s doctrines. He will probably be readily accepted as a minister in Group B. Why should a minister take two years longer to figure out the doctrinal problems than the members that he was supposed to be teaching?
What is even more unusual, is that the ratio of members to ministers in a group split often stays about the same in both groups. (For example, if 30% of the members go to group "A", then about 30% of the ministers will also.) If "ordained ministers" were somehow commissioned by the Eternal and more full of his spirit, would not we expect a high percentage of the "ordained ministers" to join Group B (the "good" group) and primarily the "unspiritual members" to stay in Group A? But in nearly every case, that does not happen. Someone might say "that statement doesn’t disprove succession of ordination because the Bible says there will be false ministers". Yes it does. If we regard all of the ministers in Group A to be false ministers, that means that the ordination process is no better at finding righteous leaders than simply picking them out of the congregation at random. If a large number of the "ordained ministers" turn out to be false, then "ordination" is of no value. It just means that brethren cannot rely on a man simply because he is ordained—he is still just as likely to go astray as the "un-ordained" man. With or without ordination, brethren are still left to look at the fruits of a minister before deciding to trust him. It would be much better to skip the false practices of naming successors and "ordination" and simply encourage brethren to work with leaders who are apparently gifted from the Eternal and bearing good fruit.
The Scripture says that the Eternal grants spiritual gifts as it pleases Him (1Cor 12:18). He never promised to grant spiritual gifts to "successors of leaders" or leader’s organizations. Nor does he tell leaders to name successors. Let us study this subject in the Bible. There are examples of "named successors" in the Old Testament, but they came about as the result of men’s specific requests. Nearly all the Israelite kings had successors—usually their own sons. However, these cannot be used as a good example because nearly every King was evaluated as "bad" (see books of Kings and Chronicles). The system of genealogical succession was never intended by the Eternal, the Israelite people demanded it (1Sam 8:6-7).
Moses asked the Eternal to appoint a successor to lead Israel, and Joshua was appointed. (Num 27:15-17). Of interest, when Joshua died, the Eternal did not appoint a successor, but left "the elders" in charge (Jdgs 2:7). The final example of a successor in the Bible is Elisha succeeding Elijah (2Kngs 2:9-14). Both Joshua’s and Elisha’s succession were confirmed by the word of the Eternal and great miracles. It was not a matter that their predecessors simply appointed somebody to replace them, it was a matter of the Eternal deciding He wanted someone to continue in the same role.
Matthias was chosen to replace Judas in Acts 1:15-26, but this was before the Holy Spirit came and before Judas ever really functioned as an apostle. Except for this incident, no successor of any apostle or any other leader is mentioned in the New Testament—even when the leaders are telling the brethren that they probably will not see them again.
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:29-32). Paul clearly told these Ephesian elders that they should be able to withstand the coming attacks themselves. He does not tell them that anyone will "take his place". Also, in 2 Timothy 4, Paul shows that he expected to die soon. He talks about numerous people and what they should do, but does not name a successor. How could he? Who else was trained by Christ in the same way as Paul? In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, Christ says nothing about following the apostles or their successors—He only commends the Ephesians for finding the "false apostles" to be liars—It looks like Paul’s teaching (above) was effective!
There are scriptures that tell us that the Eternal gives some people leadership gifts. There are scriptures that tell us the qualifications of leaders. There are scriptures that tell us to look for fruits in leaders. But there are no scriptures telling us to look to people occupying "church offices" or to people who were "ordained" by a previously gifted leader.
Entire books have been written about the good and bad points of various forms of Church government. We cannot go into that much detail here, nor can we prove that the best government is one where members seek to recognize spiritual gifts. This method will not succeed because it is a superior system—it will only succeed because Christ directs it. If He does not direct it, it will probably fail. We include the follow summary to show how it can be successful for those who submit to Christ.
This is not an easy matter. It is simply difficult to think about "religion" or "church" without "church buildings", "ordained ministers", outreach programs, non-profit corporations, boards of directors, and things like this. We are not saying that the Eternal has not or does not work through such things sometimes. We believe He has. But that is not the way He did His marvelous and miraculous work during the first century.
The first thing a person must realize is that it is his responsibility to decide between good and evil leaders:
You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut 13:3).
For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you (1Cor 11:18).
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them... (2Pet 2:1)
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars (Rev 2:2).
Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie¾indeed I will make them worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you (Rev 3:9).
From the last three scriptures, we can know that some men will conspire, lie and secretly bring false doctrines into the Church. Furthermore, we cannot simply assume that a man who was a righteous leader at one time will continue to be so in the future (Heb6:4-6; 10:26-27 ; 1Pet 2:20-22). Even the apostle Paul admitted that he could go astray if he did not keep himself in subjection (1Cor 9:27).
If the Eternal did command us to follow church leaders without question then either the leadership must be infallible, or we are commanded to follow what we know to be error! The Eternal does not ask us to obey any man without thinkingthat would be idolatry. Unquestioned obedience is only for the Eternal (Deut13:4 ; Acts 5:29). He gave us a number of scriptures to help us determine who are false teachers (1Jn 4:1-3; Jude 10-12,16-18; 2 Pet 2:1-4,19-22; 2Jn 7-11).
But even when people realize they need to change their lives, there is a tendency to look to some other "established church leader" to form a new congregation. Unfortunately, nearly every "established church leader" of today was "ordained" by older established church leaders. So if a few church leaders leave that endless process, form completely independent congregations, but then die without leaving a successor, will not the movement simply die out? If we were simply trying to create another human movement, the answer would be: "Yes!" But Christ promised that his Church would continue (Matt 16:18). He will see that it does continue! The question is, do we want to look to Christ, or do we want to insert an "ordained person" or "church organization" between ourselves and Christ?
The purpose of this paper is not to simply build a new "church organization" without "ordinations" and successors. The purpose is to help people understand what the Bible says about church government, to encourage people to study their Bible directly, to look to Christ for guidance, and then to do what the Bible and Christ say. He will build His Church!
Only after one is first committed to the above principles does it make sense to look for a place to fellowship with other believers, and to begin to try to help and teach others.
Where can you get started?
1) Ask Christ what you should do. Obviously, you have prayed before. But you will probably find that you have to make decisions for spiritual purposes that will have a great impact on your life. If you are seeking Christ’s will, He will show you. He is not afraid to answer in a miraculous way, if you will use this miracle as guidance, and not as a matter of spiritual pride. Gideon’s request for a sign is a good example (Judges 6:36-40). He asked for the dew on the ground and on a fleece to be opposite from each other. This miracle would completely dry up as the sun rose—it was not something he could show off or even prove to his friends. Of course, if the Eternal miraculously gives you His decision, you must be prepared to do it.
2) Seek wise counsel. Talk to other wise people whom you know—whether you think they will be in favor or against the ideas that you are thinking about (Proverbs 11:14; 12:15; 15:22).
3) Begin a regular program of personal Bible study. The best method is to read through the Bible in an organized plan: either straight through, New Testament first or some other manner. Using a Bible study course or a "study Bible" (the NIV Study Bible, Scofield Bible, the Companion Bible) will clear up some difficult scriptures, but may also give you a few interpretations of Scriptures that are not really in the Bible.
4) Find a group of similarly-minded believers to fellowship with. This could take days or years to achieve. If you are with a group, the Eternal might lead you to continue with them for now. You may want to share this knowledge with some of them—some of them may understand it and want to do it with you. On the other hand, you may be led to visit other congregations to see if there are other individuals interested in the Biblical way.
Do not be afraid to start your own service if Christ leads you in that direction. You do not need a building, any paperwork, or people with titles of any kind. You can sing praises, study the Bible, share experiences and encourage each other with a group of people in a home. That is closer to the services described in the Bible than most of the services run by Church organizations. The purpose of services is to learn and to build a community of believers to which the Eternal can grant spiritual gifts and use for his work.
This paper is not a call to "do-nothingness". It is a call to be ready for a big job in a very real way.
This Christ-centered Church government worked for the first-century congregations. It allowed local groups to continue functioning after the apostles were martyred and after Jerusalem was destroyed. Those who looked to the Scriptures and to the power of the Holy Spirit were able to recognize and leave groups that had been infiltrated and taken over by deceivers. The Eternal’s Church continued through the centuries, often persecuted by Rome and various civil governments. Its history is often difficult to trace, because there were few organizations or buildings to write about.
While the Eternal did raise up some great leaders at various times to further the preaching of the gospel, His Church was never dependent upon a single headquarters or man—these are things the enemy could easily destroy. We find no great dynasties of leaders succeeded by their sons or even great teachers succeeded by their able students. If we desire that kind of government, we must look to the Roman Catholic Church. The Christ-centered government has been in use throughout this century, and still works today.
Today, the fields are white for harvest (John 4:25). There are millions of people who are "turned off" to organized religion. They have seen corruption or error in organized churches and they will not go back. There are millions more who attend churches, but are not satisfied with their relationship there. Other millions have never heard an accurate presentation of the message of the Bible. There is so much work to be done.
In numerous places, the Scriptures teach that believers are called to a way of life, and that we should all be bearing fruit—being a "shining light". We should all be helping, serving and teaching others—as they are ready to hear. We should all bear fruit.
The scribes and Pharisees understood a lot of Biblical truth—so much so that Christ recommended that the Jews of his day do what they taught (Matt 23:2-3). But He also said that their personal practices were so bad, that those few people they converted were "twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matt 23:4,15). We live at a time when much of the population of the world could be destroyed in any number of ways—maybe even by accident. Jesus Christ said, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matt 24:14). We cannot expect a big, miraculous work of the Eternal to be done through "ordinations" and organizations that He never set up. We need to be ready for Him, no matter where He may take us.
There is much positive work for every person with the Holy Spirit to be doing now:
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find him so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, "My master is delaying his coming," and begins to beat his fellow servants [attack other church leaders or brethren?] and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 24:45-51).
I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever (John 14:12-16).
These promises are given to individuals, not to congregations or corporations. "You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen" (2Pet 3:17-18).
When they are honest, the leaders of most church organizations will admit that their group is far away from the New Testament church—which was full of great miracles, powerful messages and people who gave their lives for what they believed. They will admit that the members of their group have numerous sicknesses, family problems, and other difficulties. Some groups will make excuses and say that those early miracles have been replaced by the modern "miracles" of radio, television, printing and transportation. Indeed, church organizations and ministries everywhere tell their members that they could really "get the Gospel preached" if they just had more money.
But church organizations have literally spent billions of dollars on mass evangelism, and none of them believe the job is anywhere finished. If you can find the leader of a church organization in a thoughtful mood, ask him this: "Which would be more helpful to him to reach the world with the Gospel, another million dollars or the ability to completely heal paraplegics—or persons with AIDS?" If the leader is thinking, he will recognize the latter. A million dollars buys only so many hours of TV time or so much literature—which people may pay attention to, or may simply ignore. Those who witness miraculous healings never forget them—and these miracles could easily capture the attention of the world without costing a cent!
Since our Father in Heaven is serious about preaching the Gospel to the world, why does not He grant His people such miracle-working power? We can best answer this question with a couple of questions. Suppose such miracle working power were granted to people in the church groups that you are familiar with. Would these groups tell those who witnessed these miracles to repent and begin living by the Bible? Or would they tell them to join their church group because "God is working there"? Indeed, thousands, maybe millions of Christians would try to join the church group that had a person who was repeatedly used to perform miracles that are obvious to everyone. The need is for the miracle-worker to tell these people: "I have no organization to join. You need to repent and live by the teaching of the Bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in you. You can fellowship with other believers wherever you can get together. You can help teach others in whatever way Christ leads. But consider yourself a member of the One Church, a spiritual body of believers—never a member of some human church organization!" After nearly two thousand years of church organizations, a massive effort will be required to undo what so many people have come to accept. But if Jesus Christ is most concerned about people who want to be members of His flock and look directly to Him, it is not likely that He will pour out His powerful spiritual gifts to those who will use them for the glory of a particular church organization.
All of us need to overcome the past and "press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call" (Phil 3:14). We realize that we are responsible for far more than finding a church organization where we can "pay, pray, obey and stay." We are all going to be judged by what we say and do (Matt12:36 ; 2Cor 5:10). We all can read the Bible. Christ will ask us why we did or did not follow Him, not about which church leader we followed. We need to ask for spiritual gifts (1Cor 12:31); we need to use them (1Thes 5:19). "While day lasts, we must be busy with the work of him who sent me; night comes, when no one can do any work" (John 9:4, Moffatt). May the Eternal strengthen all of us as we seek to obey Him!
At this point, our exposition of government from the Scriptures is finished. We would be interested in prayers, comments, and corrections from our readers. We have, and hope to continue, to revise this article based on what we learn from others. The final sections deal with answering questions about specific teachings or scriptures that have been used to support the governments within various church organizations.
By Herbert W. Armstrong (1939)
WHICH is the one true Church? Here is amazing new light from the Bible, establishing the TRUTH of this important question of Church organization and government. Let us open our minds, and without prejudice, search the Scriptures, whether these things are so!
Just what is the true BIBLE form of organization and Church government? A startling truth now comes to light, thru God's precious Word!
Most of us have assumed one or two central points in this important question -- and taken them for granted without investigation. And this careless assumption has led most of us into error. It has left us open to be deceived! The Bible cautions us to prove all things! It is profitable for correction as well as for instruction in righteousness. The true Christian must be willing at all times to be corrected and chastened -- and must continually seek to GROW in knowledge as well as grace!
It is the true remnant people of God who keep the commandments that the Devil is wroth with today. It is US Satan is seeking to deceive. He will deceive even the very elect If Possible. And it is possible if we are careless, and assume things without careful study of all sides and ample PROOF from the Scriptures. We must be continually ON OUR GUARD, never trusting any man, or even a board or group of men, but God alone, thru his Holy Word!
So let us Search the Scriptures! Let us begin at the beginning. The Church, as we know, actually began at Mount Sinai, in the days of Moses (Acts 7:33). True, this was the Church under the Old Covenant, not the New. True there is a vast difference between the Old and the New -- and part of what constituted that difference is one of the important things we want now to investigate. We want ALL the facts on the subject.
The Church was Married to the Lord!
At Mt. Sinai, God set up an organization. Make no mistake about that! In our quest to learn whether God's people should join themselves together in an organization, having church government, let us begin by recognizing that in the beginning, at Sinai, God himself formed his people into an organization, having government.
At that time Gods' people -- the only people on earth who were the people of God -- were formed into a nation. As such, they had laws, and government. They were A Kingdom. First of all, they formed a civil government. But in this government, God also placed certain church governments, giving them the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices of the Law of Moses. Church and State were inseparable.
In any government, men are placed in authority, with power to govern and to rule. There never was a government without men in authority, ruling over others. And, perhaps without exception, there always is, and always was, some one man who was in actual fact, though not always in name or title, the real head or ruler. As God first organized his people, He was their HEAD -- their King. But soon the Israelites wanted a MAN to be their king, like the Gentile nations around them. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have organization, or government, without having a man as the actual or real head, even though we say Christ in heaven is the Head, and continue to try to believe it that way.
[Comment: God says, with Him ALL things are possible (Matt 9:26 and Mark 14:36). With the Church God says that Christ IS THE HEAD (Col 1:18 and Eph 5:23) – we ought to believe God!]
A fact that many of us have never mentioned is that THE OLD COVENANT WAS A MARRIAGE COMPACT!
When God first set up an organization on earth, the people who formed this organization were MARRIED to the Lord. It was this marriage that bound him and his people together!
[Comment: Under the New Covenant the marriage will not take place until after the first ascension – when the Saints will be spirit beings in the family of God!]
In Jeremiah 3:14, the Lord says:
"Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I AM MARRIED UNTO YOU."
The Lord DIVORCED His Wife!
The making of the Old Covenant, as recorded in the 24th chapter of Exodus, was the marriage ceremony. If anyone may doubt this, let us merely ask, WHEN, if not here, did the Lord ever enter into a marriage ceremony, joining Himself and his people together as husband and wife? Where else, in the entire Bible, can you find any account of a marriage ceremony? The marriage ceremony was the old covenant ceremony! They are one and the same. It was this marriage, then, that established organization and government among God's people!
[Comment: This was a physical nation – the Church is a SPIRITUAL nation!]
We want to repeat that! We want you to understand it -- for it is of great importance -- it is the key fact upon which the real truth, so long hidden, really hinges! It was the marriage that formed god's people into an organization having church government! That being so -- and it IS so, and none can deny it -- then it naturally follows that the organization and government of God's people, at least as ordained and sanctioned by the Lord, existed only as long as the marriage union which established it!
If the marriage was done away, the ORGANIZATION and the CHURCH GOVERNMENT was at the time done away! For it was only this marriage relationship which established the organization -- the kingdom -- the government, both civil and ecclesiastical! When God first proposed the Old Covenant marriage (Ex.19:5-6), he promised his people that IF -- notice the IF -- they would be obedient, as a wife should to her husband, they would become "a kingdom of PRIESTS, and an holy NATION." In other words, a GOVERNMENT of a religious character -- a Church Government! This is repeated in Leviticus 26. There the blessings to accrue for obedience were enumerated, together with the punishment for disobedience! And what was that punishment to be? Notice it!
“they that hate you shall REIGN OVER YOU ... SEVEN TIMES" -- or 2520 years! (Verses 14-28).
Look at it, in your own Bible! If Israel, the WIFE, married unto the Lord, proves disobedient, Israel is to LOSE her government! No longer to be an organization! Enemy nations shall Reign Over -- rule over -- the Israelites. Their own government no longer will rule them. No longer will they be an organization of their own. Thus God threatened to turn the government -- the organization, if you please, over to the gentiles for 2520 long years, taking organization and government away from his people!
Now let us see whether he did that! Israel, of course, disobeyed.
"And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I HAD PUT HER AWAY AND GIVEN HER A BILL OF DIVORCE" (Jer.3:8).
Surely that ought to settle the matter! Israel was divorced! This cut off the government, the organization, from among god's people, and turned it over to the gentiles for 2520 long years -- until the very present generation! still other scriptures prove it!
Government and Organization turned over to Gentiles
Let us follow the story thru the Scriptures. Let us see if the other Scriptures confirm this astounding truth!
Israel sinned first, and was taken captive to Assyria about 721 B.C. But the House of Judah remained, and as long as they did God's true bible form of organization and church government continued with them. But soon Judah was sinning even worse than Israel, and they, too, were taken captive. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured the Jews, destroyed Jerusalem, and moved the Jews to the land of the Chaldeans. Among them was Daniel, the prophet. Soon after this captivity, Nebuchadnezzar had the dream in which he saw the great metallic image. Of course, you are already familiar with this.
Only Daniel could tell the king his dream, and its meaning, as GOD had revealed it to him. But notice a point in its interpretation:
"This is the dream", Daniel said, after describing the image, "and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, are king of kings" -- in other words, a WORLD RULER -- "for the GOD OF HEAVEN HATH GIVEN THEE A KINGDOM". (Verses 36-37). Note it! God gave the kingdom over to him! How god never makes covenants with gentiles. God never did, and never will, marry a Gentile people as such, or establish them as HIS kingdom, HIS government. HIS organization, HIS Church!
Yet it plainly says, here, that God gave Nebuchadnezzar a Kingdom! How? And WHY? Since God could not have established or set up a kingdom in Babylon, among the Gentile Chaldeans, the only way God could have given Nebuchadnezzar a Kingdom was to have given over to him the Kingdom he already had set up -- the one set up AT Sinai!
Babylon never was the Kingdom, the Government, or the Church of God! But Nebuchadnezzar, under God's divine direction, took captive the people of God's kingdom and church. And so God gave over to him the Kingdom -- that it, the government -- the authority to rule -- which had been set up at Sinai!
Understand it! The authority to rule and to govern was now taken away from the people of God, because of disobedience, and this authority was transferred over to Nebuchadnezzar and his successors for 2520 years!
When the Kingdom is Restored
Now notice the truth revealed in this Gentile image a little further. The AUTHORITY TO RULE was not only turned over to Nebuchadnezzar -- not just temporarily -- but it was to continue in the power of his successors for 2520 years!
"And after thee shall arise another kingdom ... and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule OVER ALL THE EARTH." (Verse 39).
Note it! The RULE God had transferred over to Nechadnezzar was to continue in the Persian Empire, and the Grecian Empire -- they were to bear rule over all the earth! Yes, and by God's ordination!
Then followed the fourth kingdom of iron -- the ROMAN Empire. In the latter days -- at the end of the 2520 years -- NOW -- in OUR generation today -- this Roman Empire is once more to be restored by a union of ten European Dictators, as foretold in Revelation 17. And then what shall happen, at the END of this 2520-year Gentile reign? "A STONE (Christ) ... smote the image"
-- smashing this Gentile reign into pieces! Yes, CHRIST, at HIS SECOND COMING, is to SMITE it, and end it. What will happen then?
"The God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: ... but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and IT shall stand forever and ever." (Verses 34, 44).
Jesus' disciples understood that the KINGDOM, with all authority to GOVERN, whether civil or church government, had been taken away from His people, and turned over to Gentiles. You'll remember how they asked him,
"Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)
But he did NOT restore it, then. He did NOT bring the government, the organization, the authority to rule, back from the Gentiles to his people! Consequently he did NOT reorganize his people, or establish any government, ecclesiastical or civil, among them! This the New Testament Scriptures, also, abundantly prove!
God had proposed to demonstrate, thru his people what blessings and prosperity would naturally follow a civilisation based upon HIS laws. And ALL the laws hang on that great basic principle of LOVE -- love to God, and love to neighbour. The principle of "GIVE" and of "SERVE", not of "GET" and "ACCUMULATE". But when his people Israel would not continue governing themselves according to his laws, based on this great fundamental principle, God turned authority of government over to the Gentiles, and gave them 2520 years to DEMONSTRATE, by experience, the fruitage of the Gentile ways of lust.
The 2520 years is now up. The Times of the Gentiles have run their course. And just LOOK at the results of this Babylonish Gentile civilization! Governments are overthrown, and now arming to the teeth to destroy one another! Business and industry is bankrupt under the principle of competition and strife and self-gain, want and poverty stalk the land, and millions are in want in the midst of plenty! Society is rotten and immoral, crime, racketeering, vice, gambling, run rampant. Religion is in confusion, torn by strife and division, in the grip of the gentile system of injecting organization and government into the Church! Truly, in its every phase, our modern civilization is in BABYLON today!
Praise God, Jesus is soon coming! Yes, coming to restore the Kingdom-- -the government the organization, to the TRUE people of God! Coming to DESTROY all this "BABYLON" which has visited such unhappiness to the world! Coming to reign and RULE!
But, did not Jesus set the church in order? Did he not reorganize it again, at his first Coming? Did he not set up a definite "Bible form of organization", and establish a definite "church government"? We have always ASSUMED that he did! Yes, we have taken this carelessly for granted! But let us prove this point -- let us prove ALL THINGS! Let us search the Scriptures whether this assumption be so!
First, did Christ ever set up an organization, with its boards of head men, with authority to govern over the "spiritual affairs", or the "financial affairs" of the Church?
Let us see whether we can find such boards, or Scriptures giving them such authority. True, Jesus did call out TWELVE disciples, who afterward were called "apostles". But WHERE in the Scripture are they called "the Board of the Twelve" -- a term we hear freely used today, under claim of having "the Bible form of organization"? WHERE do we read of one of them being appointed as the "Chairman of the Twelve" or another as the "Secretary of the Twelve"? Is this Biblical and Scriptural? If so, where is the text?
When Jesus called them, and ordained them, did he give them AUTHORITY TO RULE? Just what did he give them POWER and AUTHORITY to do? Notice it, in Luke 9:1-2 :
"Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority"
-- for what? To govern? To rule the Church? Notice carefully! Let us have a BIBLE REASON for all we accept and do!
"...and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases, and he SENT THEM to"
-- sent them to WHAT? To rule and govern? To have supervision over the spiritual affairs of an organization? Notice it, IN THE BIBLE! ...
"He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick"
The word "apostle" means "one sent". The definition in Cruden's Concordance is
"One sent forth. Used as referring (1) chiefly to one of the 12 disciples of Christ; or (2) to any of various other followers of Christ who did evangelistic work."
An apostle does not mean one IN authority, but one UNDER authority -one SENT by the authority of another! The only power and authority Jesus ever gave even his original twelve was to heal the sick, and cast out demons. And he SENT them, not to rule, but to PREACH -- not to BEAR authority, but to MINISTER, to serve! Nowhere in the Scripture do we find the slightest hint that the twelve constituted a higher-up church board, and nowhere were they ever given power to rule, or govern, or decide what doctrines the other disciples must believe.
Were the 12 continued on?
Is there any Scripture giving plain instruction that the TWELVE were to continue on perpetually as a Church board? There is none! Yet many have been led honestly to suppose that the apostles were to be continued exactly twelve in number, because a successor was ordained to replace Judas Iscariot. So let us SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES on this point, whether this is so.
What was Jesus' PURPOSE in ordaining twelve disciples? Let the Scripture say:
"And he ordained twelve, that they should BE WITH HIM, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils." (Mark 3:14). Not that they should rule the spiritual affairs of an organization. Jesus ordained the twelve in order "that they should BE WITH HIM!"
Now notice WHY he wanted them to be with him -- and WHY a successor was appointed for Judas! Judas' successor had to be a man possessing a certain qualification - because he was "ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection." (Acts 1:22).
Notice the necessary qualification. Not ability to govern, nor talent to discern and vote on right doctrine. Look at it in your Bible:
"Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained TO BE A WITNESS WITH US OF HIS RESURRECTION." (Acts 1:21-22).
Do you grasp it? Do you see plainly revealed here the PURPOSE of the twelve? First, Jesus ordained twelve "that they should be with him." Later, after his ascension, one of these was replaced. And it had to be ONE WHO HAD BEEN WITH HIM, along with the others, throughout his entire ministry, beginning with the baptism of John!
Why? "To be a witness with them of his resurrection!"
Search the Scriptures as we may, we cannot find any other purpose for the twelve apostles, except to go out and preach, and heal, and to be WITH Jesus throughout his ministry, in order that they might forever PROVE the TRUTH OF THE RESURRECTION! That was the only reason for the definite number of TWELVE! To suppose that this definite number of twelve was to be continued and perpetuated after their mission has fulfilled is absurd!
Is there any statement that others later called "apostles" -- ones SENT to preach -- merely evangelists -- such as Paul, Barnabas, etc., were "one of the twelve" ? There is no such statement in the Bible! [Comment: While not one of the 12, Paul was called to be an apostle, Rom 1:1 – “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God”]. Rather Paul and Barnabas, after they were called apostles, (as in Acts 14:14), went up to Jerusalem unto the apostles (Acts 15:2). And here, at this conference, the Holy Spirit revealed truth to be written as part of the Scriptures, which were not yet, at that time, complete. Surely no "12 apostles" are authorized by the Scriptures to receive such special instructions from the Holy Spirit, to be made part of the Holy Scriptures, TODAY! Such an implication is little short of blasphemous!
True, Paul and a few others are called "apostles". But an "apostle" is merely "ONE SENT". It we could find one single Scripture where Paul, or any other than the original twelve, ever were called "ONE OF THE TWELVE", as we freely hear men style themselves today, then we would know the twelve continued on. But there is no such scripture!
The words "the twelve" are NEVER used except to refer to the original twelve which companied with Jesus throughout his ministry, to be witnesses of his resurrection! There is no Scripture even hinting that the twelve were continued. On the other hand, every Scriptural indication is that they were NOT. Even the authors of A History of the True Church [Dugger and Dodd] were unable to find any continuance of the TWELVE in the TRUE Church! That ought to settle the matter. The Scriptures speak of FALSE apostles, and of
"them which SAY they are apostles, and are not, but hast found them LIARS" (2 Cor 11:13, Rev 2:2).
Let us beware being deceived. It is the commandment keepers whom the Devil seeks, in these latter days, to deceive! Let us be sure everything we accept is based on true Bible authority, and not falsely read INTO the Bible by imputing a meaning to various scattered texts contrary to plain, obvious intended meaning in its setting!
How about the Seventy?
Now let us look briefly at the "70". Did THEY constitute a Church Board? Was power given to govern, or rule, or act as an advisory board in matters of doctrine or church government? Was THAT the purpose for which Jesus appointed them? The only place in the New Testament where "the seventy" are mentioned is in the 10th chapter of Luke.
Beside the twelve, whom Jesus ordained that they "should be with him," for "a witness of his resurrection", and whom he sent forth to preach,
"the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two by two before his face into every city and place whither he himself would come" (Verse 1).
Did they ASSEMBLE -- as a board ? No, they WERE SENT, not together but two and two, on a special mission -- preparing for the personal visits of Jesus to these various towns and cities! Instead of assembling as a church board, they separated -- two and two!
What instruction did Jesus give them? Did he invest them with power to RULE, or set them up as an advisory board, or appoint them to be the LEADING elders? No, he said,
"Go your ways ... and HEAL THE SICK ... and say unto them, "The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you"' (Verses 3, 9). They were authorized only to heal, cast out demons, and preach! That is all! They returned from this special mission (Verse 17), and Jesus gave them power to tread on serpents and scorpions so nothing should hurt them. And that is the last ever heard of them! Their mission was ended!
Brethren, let us be honest! IF the Lord ever intended them to be a continuous church "Board of the Seventy", do you not honestly think we should find some further mention of "the seventy" in the Bible? Do you not think we should find, in the book of Acts, where some of the elders or evangelists were "of the seventy"? Do you not think we should read of this "board" in the history of "the TRUE Church" -- if they ever were such a board? No, the simple truth, when we come to "search the Scriptures WHETHER these things be so", is that they never were a church board, and they ENDED their work and mission before Jesus was crucified! The fact that in one or two instances Moses selected seventy elders for certain duties of that day, BEFORE God took the government away from Israel and turned it over to the Gentiles -- BEFORE he divorced Israel -- certainly has no connection with the seventy Jesus sent on this special mission.
Were the "Seven" a Financial Board?
And now a brief glimpse at "THE SEVEN". Were they set up as a FINANCIAL BOARD? Were they appointed to receive and handle the TITHES of the whole world-wide Church? Did they ever supervise the financial affairs of the ministry, hiring and firing ministers, and paying them their salaries, or "allowances"? Were they set over THAT business?
Let us not be deceived, but look at this as it is in the Bible, honestly!
In the early days of the New Testament Church, brethren sold their possessions, had all things common, and took care of the PHYSICAL needs of their own widows and orphans. In the 6th chapter of Acts, we notice in the first verse, the Grecians complained against the Hebrews, because their widows and orphans were being neglected in the daily ministration of material needs. Then the twelve -- the ORIGINAL and ONLY twelve of the Bible, ordained to be witnesses of Christ's resurrection -- called together the disciples and said,
"It is not reason that we should leave THE WORD OF GOD and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men ... whom we may appoint over THIS business" (Verses 2-3).
They were appointed over business -- but what business ? Note it in your Bible! The business of “WAITING ON TABLES” -- of feeding, serving, the material needs of the widows and orphans! And WHY were they appointed? So that the apostles might devote their time to the preaching of the gospel, and the witnessing to the resurrection, which they were sent to do, instead of this business of ministering to the physical needs of women! the business for which the seven were appointed had nothing whatsoever to do with receiving and disbursing tithes for the ministry and preaching the Word!
We should like to see any text in the New Testament showing that there ever was appointed any BOARD to act as a TREASURY for the tithes of the disciples, and to receive and to disburse the money for the whole Church! We say such a thing is UNSCRIPTURAL, and unless SCRIPTURE can be produced for it, such a practice ought to be discontinued! If there is ONE LINE of scripture for such procedure under the New Testament, the editor of the Good News agrees to print it in the next issue - if any can supply it! This is our challenge, and we await replies!
There is not single hint in the New Testament of any Church Board with authority to rule, to govern, to decide doctrine, or to handle tithes and church finances (the whole church). In a later number we shall devote an article to explaining Acts 15, which certainly sets no such example. Jesus never organized, or re-organized his Church! There is NO SCRIPTURE for it!
All authority and power to rule is limited solely to each LOCAL congregation.
But there is no Bible authority for any super-government, or organization with authority over the local congregations!
The plain teaching of Jesus is just the contrary! Listen! "Jesus called them unto him, and saith unto them,
"Ye know that they which are accounted to RULE over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise AUTHORITY upon them, but so shall it NOT be among you." (Mark 10:42)
The AUTHORITY -- the GOVERNMENT -- the RULERSHIP -- was turned over to the Gentiles for 2520 years -- until Christ RESTORES the kingdom at his Second Coming!
Where Church Government Originated
How, then, did organization, and the idea of Church Government get into the Church? It came out of BABYLON! Spiritual BABYLON -- that is, ROME! The same as nearly all the false doctrines of Satan.
In the early 4th Century, Constantine, the Emperor, who officially started SUNDAY observance in the Western world, saw his Empire in danger of disintegrating. At the same time a great controversy was raging among the leaders of Christianity over Dr. Arius' doctrine concerning the origin of Christ, as opposed to the Trinity doctrine. We quote from Encyclopaedia Britannica, (article, ARIUS) :
"This controversy over Arius' doctrine reached even the ears of Constantine. Now sole emperor, he saw in the one catholic church the best means of counteracting the movement in his vast empire toward disintegration, and he at once realized how dangerous dogmatic strife might be to its unity. Constantine had no understanding of the questions at issue. ... He summoned a general council (the Nicene Council). ... It was finally decided against Arius. ...Constantine accepted the decision of the council, and resolved to uphold it."
Thus it was that Constantine made doctrine, as decide by a higher-up BOARD, the basis of fellowship and unity in the Church!
Jesus never said "By this shall all men KNOW that ye are my disciples-- if ye all speak the same thing the Board of the Twelve vote on." That is the policy of some today -- but it is NOT BIBLE POLICY! Jesus said we should be known to be in the true Church if we have love one to another! And doctrine has only brought strife!
In the next century, came the papacy in full bloom, starting the idea that the Church is an organization having Church Government!
Listen to authentic history! In the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 7, p. 629, we read :
"The first pope, in the real sense of the word, was Leo I (440-461 A.D.)" To him the plan of government of the Roman Empire was an obsession. He applied and adopted that form of government to the church, forming the PAPACY. Myers' Ancient History, says :
The Church (under Leo I) set up, "within the Roman Empire, an ecclesiastical STATE (government) which, in its constitution and its administrative system, was shaping itself upon the IMPERIAL MODEL."
Truly, an image of the beast!
Thus was Church Government introduced into the Western world a century after Constantine (the "Beast") injected the idea of church Boards to decide what doctrines the rest of the church must believe. And thus the very principle of Church government becomes the image to the beast!
[Comment: By this indictment Herbert Armstrong appears to be saying that the Church of God, under his administration, became the "image of the beast"]
The whole thing is FALSE! It is not according to the Bible! It is part of Babylon! Those who are IN, and members of such an organized church government, submitting to doctrines declared by unscriptural boards as a fellowship test, are in Babylon, and actually worshippers of the image of the beast! and God is calling us, HIS people OUT of BABYLON today, before it is too late -- before the plagues fall!
Brethren, let us have the courage to accept the TRUTH, and to COME OUT!
The Purpose of the Church
Finally, what is the very purpose of the New Testament Church? Is it to build an organization? Let us, now, finally understand it.
The first kingdom and government was set up by Nimrod -- the first ancient Babylon (Genesis 10). The Devil is the god of this world, and since Nimrod the kingdoms have built civilizations based upon the Devil's ways of SELF and GET, contrary to God's ways of LOVE, and OBEDIENCE, and of GIVE, as defined in GOD'S LAW.
So God formed Abraham's children into a NATION, giving them HIS LAWS, to show how a nation would be blessed that would build its civilization according to his Commandments. At Mt. Sinai, Israel was united to the Lord in MARRIAGE, as HIS GOVERNMENT, both state and church.
When His nation went after the ways of other nations, breaking the Commandments, God DIVORCED Israel, and gave over the GOVERNMENT (which included CHURCH GOVERNMENT as well as state) to the Gentile kingdoms symbolized by Daniel's image and the four "beasts." He gave the GOVERNMENT into Gentile hands until the second coming of Christ, when the government, church and state shall be restored to Israel!
When Jesus comes with POWER and great glory -- power to RULE, and the SAINTS possess the kingdoms of this world -- he will make a NEW Covenant with Israel and Judah, which NEW Covenant will be the MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB!
As the Old Covenant MARRIAGE ceremony set up Israel as a NATION, so will the new. Now TO WHOM will Christ be married, at the marriage of the Lamb? Notice it, IN YOUR OWN BIBLE -- Revelation 19:7 -- he shall marry HIS WIFE! Note it!!! Yes, his WIFE whom he divorced. A wife who is divorced is not free to remarry until the death of her husband! And so Christ, Israel's husband, DIED to REDEEM ISRAEL! And now Israel is FREE to MARRY AGAIN! And who will the New Covenant be made with? Notice Hebrews 8:8 -- with the same wife he made the first covenant with but later divorced -- ISRAEL! Then he shall RESTORE the Kingdom to Israel -- both Church government and state, Christ will rule not only as King of kings, but also LORD OF LORDS -- Church government, as well as state!
Christ's FIRST coming was to REDEEM -- not to restore.
Jesus never set up an organization, nor did he establish any church government. He did not re-organize the Church!
Instead, he came calling INDIVIDUAL disciples out from among the church organizations, sects, and denominations -- out from among the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes -- out from among worldly Gentile organizations and contacts -- he called his saints to be SEPARATE - - to COME OUT! The very word "ekklesia" from which "church" is translated, means "called-out ones" as well as "assembly".
The New Testament Church is not a kingdom -- not a church government --but an assembly of individuals CALLED OUT -- Spirit-filled individuals, and therefore a SPIRITUAL ORGANISM, not an organization. The OBJECT of the Church is not to build up an organization, or a movement. Let us see this great purpose clearly. The CHURCH is Israelitish. Not a Gentile Church just called "Israel." It IS Israel. But those who do not come by faith, and who are disobedient, are CUT OFF, the Israelitish-born, while Gentile converts, thru Christ, are adopted into Israel. Thus, spiritually speaking, Israel IS the Church. And it is the Church who shall be married to Christ -- Israel redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God!
The Church is God's instrumentality thru which, and in which, he is selecting a people for his name -- gathering OUT of "Babylon" -- OUT of worldly ways, worldly organizations,, various individuals, -- one here, one there -- to repentance, faith in Christ, receiving of and being led by the Holy Spirit, thus having HIS LAWS written in their minds and hearts -living, individually, a life of trial and test, of overcoming, that they may be thus fitted and trained for positions as kings or priests in the Kingdom of God, after Christ's second coming! The Church of God shall then become the Kingdom of God. It is the CHURCH which shall be married to the Lamb, establishing God's government on earth -- restoring the Kingdom to Israel! So the Church is God's instrumentality for overcoming the fault of the Old Covenant. That fault was disobedience. The NEW will be made with those in whose minds and hearts GOD'S LAW has been written, by his Holy Spirit! (Heb 8:10). And this marriage will not be made with some organization! It is the individual Saints -- not some organization -- which shall possess the government, and rule (Dan 7:18; Rev 2:26-27, 3:21, etc.).
His WIFE shall have made herself READY! But how? By a "reorganization", or some "new movement"? What folly! Read Ephesians 5:25-27. The CHURCH is the collective body of individual saints who are sanctified and CLEANSED by Christ! Let us stop speaking of some organization as "the Church", or "our Church". Jesus said,
"Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be ROOTED UP."
Our heavenly Father never planted any super-organization, or established any church government, or set men in authority over either spiritual or financial affairs, in the New Testament Church.
Any such "plan" was never planted of God -- and therefore it shall be rooted up! Our fellowship is first with God, and with Christ -- then with each other, in LOVE! The saints, as far as they know one another are not to forsake assembling together for their mutual edification. For this purpose, - and that all things may be done decently and in order -- the Scriptures give us instructions for ordaining local elders and deacons, in every city --every local congregation, or Church. But there is no super-organization over and above local congregations in the New Testament! Any such "plant" is certain to be rooted up!
All such organizations and governments came out of BABYLON -- and are today a part of BABYLON!
Brethren, let us have the kind of co-operative FELLOWSHIP, based on LOVE, that was practiced by the early saints, as recorded in the book of Acts. Let us work together, in unselfish effort to GIVE of the Gospel truth to the world -- to GIVE of the "waters of life" to as many precious souls as we can reach -- to GIVE out the last warning message with great POWER!
But let us drop all effort to build up a movement or an organization. Let us quit working for organizations, and work FOR THE LORD -- and the salvation of souls! What has split and divided up the saints in the Church of God? Nothing but organization -- which has led to politics, ministers lusting for rule and for power -- striving against each other, lining up the brethren on THEIR side, against the other! It is such preachers who have split up and divided our brethren! God's Word commands us to come out from among them, and be separate. God's last warning is, "COME OUT OF BABYLON!!"
Organization and church government has brought us only strife, jealousies, divisions, bitterness! It is not of God, and it can bear no other fruit. The Church of God needs more of the power of GOD -- more of HIS LOVE -- of His Holy Spirit, that the work may now begin to go forth in mighty power! We ought to be ashamed of the pitiful, puny, weak, feeble work that has split up and divided brethren, reached but so very FEW with the message, with almost no real conversions! All this, while leaders desiring power to RULE send out misleading, exaggerated, deceiving statements designed to convince tithe- payers that "the Work is progressing". What a mockery! What a tragedy! What a pity!
We praise God that many of the more spiritual HAVE COME OUT! Let us obey GOD!