The Organization of the Church
Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Anything Jesus promised is important, anything Jesus built is important and anything He has anything to do with must be impregnable. Nothing above or beneath this earth life will prevail against Christ’s great project, the building of His church. In our study so far, we have seen its nature, and what being a member of it involves. Today, our study turns to the organic form Jesus gave His church. With the numerous and varied organic structures one sees through the entire religious spectrum, you will truly be surprised to find that the organization of Christ’s church is the paragon of simplicity.
Just think for a moment of the different forms of church government you either know about directly, or have read about, or heard about. Consider the highly intricate organic form of Catholicism. From a book entitled, “The Visible Church,” by John F. Sullivan, which is called “A Text-book for Catholic Schools,” consider the following description of the organic form of that religious institution.
“The Catholic Church is a society instituted by Jesus Christ to teach God’s truth to men. Like other societies, it has a government. This is known as the hierarchy, from the Greek, meaning priestly rule.
“All the grades of the hierarchy form the clergy, meaning ‘the chosen ones.’
“Through the sacrament of Holy Orders the hierarchy receives its power of offering public worship, of administering most of the sacraments, and of instructing the faithful; and it is therefore known as the Hierarchy of Order . It possesses also the power of making laws and of ruling the faithful; and it is therefore known as the Hierarchy of Jurisdiction.
“Two parts of the Church’s government were instituted by our Lord -- the papacy (the office of Pope) and the episcopacy (the office of bishop). A bishop is one who has received all the powers of the priesthood. A priest is one who has received these powers incompletely; for some religious acts, such as ordination, can be performed only by a bishop.” (page 1).
Reading further, the book tells us more of the office of the Pope. “The Pope. The supreme ruler of the Church on earth is the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter in that see. He has authority over all Catholics. None of his power is derived from anyone but God, and he is responsible to no human being.
“The Pope’s Powers. 1. He may make laws for the whole Church and for any part of it. 2. He can inflict censures (such as excommunication) on any one. 3. He can reserve to himself the power of absolving from sins. 4. He alone can make, suppress and divide dioceses, and approve new religious orders. 5. He can dispense from any vow.
“His Infallibility. The Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals; that is, when he defines a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he speaks without error or the possibility of error.” (Ibid., page 2). This book has the official Nihil Obstat by Arthurus J. Scanlan, and the Imprimatur: by Patritius J. Hayes, both formerly part of the official Catholic board of censors.
The form of government just described is based on two fallacious assumptions, namely, that Jesus made Peter the first in a long line of Popes, and that those who became “Bishops of Rome” were selected to succeed Peter. Neither assumption can possibly be proved. The simple fact that Jesus called the church His own, and that it would rest on the deity of Christ, not the person of Peter, is ample proof that the Catholic assumption is totally unwarranted. No, dear friends, Jesus didn’t build that kind of organization for His church.
Another form of church government very popular is called “The General Conference” form. The Methodist Church is organized under this kind of church government. And the General Conference has the power of administration in that denominational body. Baptist Churches, though divided into different kinds, generally follow the Convention kind of church government, where delegates from the various local Baptist churches are chosen and authorized to vote in the Convention, the wishes of the local or district group they represent. And our question must be at this point, is this the kind of government Jesus gave His church? If so, we ought to be able to find some semblance of this in the Bible.
But first, please note that if the Catholic form of government is really that which Christ gave His church, The Conference Method, The Convention Method, or any other form that does not recognize the Catholic Hierarchy cannot be right. On the other hand, if the Convention and Conference methods are right, the Hierarchical form is wrong. Surely, we would not imagine that Jesus would have build His own church, and allowed those who would claim to be His followers, to form it into whatever form of Church government and administration that suited their fancies. No, dear friends, Jesus settled the organized form of His church through His apostles, and through no other body of men.
In a previous study, the fact that the term church is used both in a wide and comprehensive sense as well as a local sense was established. In the widest sense, the church may be considered a universal body, without any organic form at all. There are no officers over it, no work for it to perform, and no organic form through which it may function. It is a relationship that exists between every saved person on earth and Christ Jesus, the Savior.
The church in the more common sense is a local group of baptized believers who function together as a single unit. The Bible speaks of numerous of these local groups. One reads of “the church at Jerusalem” (Acts 11:22) or “the church of God at Corinth” (I Corinthians 1:1) or sometimes of “the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2). Paul wrote the church at Rome and sent greetings from “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16) from other churches of Christ. And these local groups were all alike. Whatever would identify one of them would identify any or all of them. Paul established the majority of these groups through preaching the gospel of Christ. He could say to the Corinthians, “I planted ...” (I Corinthians 3:6) and mean that he started that group. And then to the same group later, as he gave specific instructions to them say, “And so ordain I in all churches” (I Corinthians 7:17). If all churches received the same divine mandates from Paul, they would all be organized alike. “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (I Corinthians 14:33).
What then was this form of government ordained in all the churches? Paul, and his faithful companion Barnabas, went through the region of southern Asia, preaching Christ and Him crucified. Those who became believers through being baptized into Christ and into His body, remained together. We are clearly informed that Paul and Barnabas confirmed “the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith...and when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (Acts 14:22-23). The elders were ordained in each local church as those who would supervise, or superintend the work and activity of the group.
To the Philippians, Paul wrote: “to all the saints in Christ Jesus, which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). The term bishop is applied to one who has the responsibility of oversight. It comes from a Greek term, episkopos, made up of epi, (a preposition meaning over or upon), and skopos, (a verb meaning to look). The word means one who looks on, and is applied in the sense of tending to or overseeing. That this is the same office known as under the term elder is seen from Acts chapter 20. In verse 20 of that chapter, Luke tells us that Paul, from Miletus, “sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church.” In verse 28, he addressed them as the overseers or bishops of the church. Bishop and elder refer to one and the very same office.
Then there were “deacons” as part of the organic form of the local church. The term means simply, “minister,” or “one who serves others.” They were those who served, under the oversight of the elders and within the confines of apostolic authority. They were not given oversight of anything, nor were they put in charge of something not under the elders’ oversight. Elders were to “tend the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof” (I Peter 5:2). This not only gives elders complete oversight of all that has to do with the local church, it also limits their oversight to the congregation where they serve as elders. The Bible knows nothing of universal elders, brotherhood wide bishops, or any such designation.
There is a very simple maxim with which we bring this study to a conclusion. The only organic form found in the New Testament which was given the church Christ built is the local church under elders and deacons, with members and evangelists to serve. Anything larger, smaller, or other than that falls outside the realm of what is divinely sanctioned and authorized. Today, we strive to be that New Testament church, apart from the intricate and complex organic structures men have devised. We seek to be nothing larger, smaller, or other than the church Jesus built.
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