Mar 16

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How Did Jesus Organize His Church?

This question certainly cannot be answered by looking at the denominations today. They are organized in so many different ways (presidents, pastor systems, popes, synods, general assemblies, presbyteries, councils, conferences, etc.) we would find no definite answer. Thus, we must look to God and His Word to find out what He has said.
The HEAD of the church is Jesus. “And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Again, “And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Eph. 1:22-23). Who is it that is the head of the church? It is Jesus. How many heads does one body have? One. Then, is there any room for any one (or any one group) to exist and function as a head on earth? No. Both verses also mention that this headship extends to what extent? All things. Is there, then, need for another head? No.
Serving under the head, and leading over each local congregation of the church, God ordained ELDERS. On Paul’s missionary trip, as he and Barnabus established churches in various cities “they had ordained them elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Titus, while on the island of Crete, was to “ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). When a major relief effort was sent from the western churches to the churches in Jerusalem and all Judea, they “sent it to the elders” (Acts 11:30). When a crucial problem arose posing a serious doctrinal threat to the church “the apostles and elders came together for to consider this matter” (Acts 15:6; see also verses 2,4,22,23). 1 Timothy 5:17 makes clear that elders were men who ruled. Thus, in the preceding verses, we learn there is a position in the church which is referred to as “elders;” that there is always to be a plurality of men who serve as elders of a congregation [Note the “s” in the verses]; that the elders do have a ruling authority; and that the elders of a local congregation ruled only over that congregation and had no authority over any other congregation.
It is also important to understand that these elders were called by other terms. When Paul “sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church” he also called them “overseers” [or “bishop”] (Acts 20:17,28). Furthermore, in verse 28, he told these elders/overseers “to shepherd the church of God.” Thus, they were to be “shepherds” or “pastors.” Thus, just as Christians may also be referred to as “saints,” “children of God” and “disciples,” the elders are also referred to in the Bible as those who are “overseers/bishops,” “shepherds/pastors” or “presbyters” (which is another English word for elders). Thus, from Acts 20, the careful student learns that God, by means of the three pairs of words, did not establish three different positions; rather He ordained one position but calls them by three (six in English) different terms.
At this point, it must be made very clear that “pastor” is not another term for “preacher.” First, as has been shown, “pastor” is a term for the eldership of a congregation–not the preacher(s). Second, pastors are listed separate from the evangelists (Eph. 4:11) which means that they are not the same. Third, Paul was a preacher (1 Tim. 2:7), but he was not a pastor because the qualifications of a pastor/bishop/elder is to have a wife and children (1 Tim. 3:2,4; Titus 1:5-6) of which Paul had neither. Thus, with but a little study, anyone can see that the “pastor system” (in which the preacher is in charge of the church) is not how Jesus organizes His church.
Then serving the church under the oversight of the elders are the DEACONS. Paul wrote to the church “in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). The qualifications of these men are listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-12. As the elders make decisions regarding the work of the church, the deacons are to serve and help the members of the church fulfill these projects (compare Acts 6:1-6).
Tell us plainly, how did Jesus organize the church? Jesus is the sole head; then within each congregation are elders and deacons.

Gary Henson
Series on: “Tell Us Plainly” (John 10:24)

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