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Chapter 1 The Source of Authority in the Local Church
Whenever you study you should start with the source. It's the same way when we study church government. We should go to the source. When some people want to start a church, they run around to see how this church is set up, or how that church is set up. But we should go to the Word of God to find out how God wants His church to be established.
People who have awakened to the authority of God's Word today realize that God's Word works for healing just like it works for salvation. However, there is one thing you have to realize when you read the Word of God on any particular subject and that is that God gives us guidelines and principles in His Word, but He leaves the responsibility of how to apply those guidelines and principles to us.
Let's look at the area of healing. The Word of God tells us that Jesus took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses, but it doesn't tell us exactly how to receive that healing. I've heard of people who learned that you have to "stand" on the Word to be healed. They believed exactly what they heard, threw their Bibles on the ground, stood on them and got healed. But that doesn't mean that you will get healed if you go home and put your Bible on the floor and stand on it
I've heard of other people who have shouted at their disease or sickness and gotten healed. On the other hand, I've heard of people who have prayed silently to the Lord and have received their healing. The principle to receiving healing is to release your faith and to believe the truth of God's Word. The principle isn't to do what somebody else has done. Not everyone has to dip in the Jordan seven times to be healed. In the ministry of Jesus, we see that not every case was handled the same. If they had been, we all might have to get mud or spit rubbed in our eyes to get healed.
What is it then that we want to look for in God's Word? The example or the principle? It's the principle.
Let me give you an illustration that shows the danger of following someone else's example. I heard of an evangelist in Texas to whom God spoke very specifically out of the scriptures. He read how Jesus spat on the ground to make mud for the man's eye, and the Lord told him to spit on people and they would be healed. Well, if you run around spitting on people, you had better be sure you've heard from God.
We need to learn that the Holy Spirit speaks to us individually about His Word. We have to seek the principles by which the Word works. That is what we're going to be looking at concerning the subject of local church government. What are the principles God has set forth for the purpose of establishing and running His church? First, let's start with the most basic question: What is the church?
There are many scriptures that refer to the church. I want to begin with I Corinthians 12:27,28.
Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular And God hath set some in the church....
We are going to see this scripture several tunes for different reasons, but lees limit our interest right now to the word church. Today we use the word church loosely. Most people think of a building when they hear the word. But a building is nothing more than brick and mortar. In fact, you could walk out of the building after holding a church service, turn it into a disco, and you wouldn’t change the building. We often say, "I'm going over to the church." No, the accurate way to say it would be, "I'm going over to the building that houses the church."
Then what is the church? We are. The universal church is made up of every born again believer on the face of the earth. Every group of believers who worships together is a segment of the universal church. Those segments that meet together are local churches.
But you might ask, what does the word church really mean? In I Corinthians 12:28, "church" comes from the Greek word ekklesia. Ekkksia comes from another Greek word ekkaleo. Ekkaleo is a compound word. It is made from two words, ek- and kaleo. Ek-means out, and kaleo means to call. Thus, what the word church really means is the called out ones. Another way to say it is the chosen ones, and it was translated that way in Ephesians 1:4. When Paul says we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, the same word is used (Ekkaleo).
What we want to keep in our hearts is that we study the Word of God to learn of Him and to be made more like Him. I believe that God has shown me some important things about Himself, about the Lord Jesus Christ, and about our relationships with Him and each other. If you will really open your inner ears and listen to what the Holy Spirit wants to say, it will change your life. It all starts and ends with this one word, the church. the called out ones, the chosen ones.
The Caller and the Called I want you to get a point deep down inside you, so follow my reasoning carefully. The church is called out, right? The called out ones means two things. First, there is someone doing the calling. Second, there is someone receiving the call. Notice that to receive the call is to respond and not just to hear. If the church is the "called out" or "chosen" ones, there has to be someone calling or choosing. I Corinthians 12:28 says, God hath set some in the church, Who is doing the calling? God is. Let's look at another scripture that deals with the same subject. Ephesians 4:11 says, "And he gave some..." To understand who he is, we have to go back a few verses. If we start in verse 8 we see a quote from Psalm 68:18: Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Who ascended up on high? Who gave gifts to men? The Lord Jesus Christ. Let's see what it goes on to say: (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) Notice that verses 9 and 10 are in parentheses; this means that verse 8 takes up again in verse 11. Jesus ascended, and then He gave gifts to men. Verse 11 tells us what the gifts are: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Here in Ephesians 4:11 the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who sets ministry gifts in the church. In I Corinthians 12:28, God the Father is the one who sets the ministry gifts in the church.
Ministry gifts are chosen by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in combined authority. They work together in authority, not independently.
To make this point very clear, look at Galatians 1:1: Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead) Paul declared that he was an apostle, and he makes us understand who is responsible for making apostles. Notice that he says that men (plural) weren't responsible for his becoming an apostle, neither was it by man (singular). So, no group of men or no individual man can choose and create an apostle. Only the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father can choose and create a minister. Again, let's read what those ministry gifts are. Ephesians 4:11. And he gave some, apostles, and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.
Jesus is the one who calls and appoints the ministry gifts, and I want to emphatically point out that there is no mention of the words bishop, elder or deacon in this list of ministry gifts. The Word of God does talk about bishops, elders and deacons, but they are never listed with the ministry gifts, which are called by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The most important point I want you to see from these scriptures is this: The one who does the calling has authority over the one He calls. Whoever chooses the ministry gift has authority over the one who is chosen. Who is the head of the church? Look at Ephesians 1:22,23. And hath put all things under his feet and gave him to be head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the head of the church. He was given that position by God the Father. He has authority over all the ministry gifts He chooses. He was given the authority over the church by God the Father.
Well, if the Lord Jesus Christ doesn't choose bishops, elders or deacons, because they aren't listed with the ministry gifts chosen by Him, who does? This is the gray area of church government today and the subject of this book. We will discuss the pastor's office first, then the church offices of elders, bishops and deacons.
The Pastor - Shepherd The Greek word for pastor is poimen. It is the same word translated shepherd. "Shepherd" and "pastor" are the same word in the Greek. So what is the implication? Do shepherds have more than one flock that they watch at the same time? No. A shepherd or a pastor can watch only one flock at a time. A pastor is the only ministry gift given to the local congregation. He is called and chosen by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ for a local congregation. He, the pastor, is responsible to the Lord Jesus Christ, directly, because the one who calls has authority over the ones He calls.
What about the other ministry gifts? Where do they function? From scriptural examples we see that apostles can come from a local church like Antioch (Acts 13:1-3, 1 Cor. 12:28), but they travel, establish churches and minister to the entire body of Christ. Prophets can also come from a local church (Acts 11:27, 13:1), but they are for the entire body, not just the local church. They go many places in their ministry. The evangelist also travels many places preaching the gospel. Evangelists and pastors traditionally have been well known ministries, but today the teacher is widely known in the body of Christ. The teacher is also for the body as a whole. Thank God for the teachers we have today. However, let me re-emphasize that none of these four gifts is for a local group of people in particular.
In my own case, I moved from the ministry gift of a teacher to the office of a pastor. I don't consider that a step down, I consider that a step up. Every time you move in the ministry, you never go down, you are always promoted for your faithfulness. When you prove yourself in one office, God promotes you to another.
I began as a Sunday school teacher, but I didn't stand in the office of the teacher. That's important. Not all teachers stand in the office of a teacher. When God moves you into a ministry office, He accompanies it with spiritual gifts. Supernatural signs accompany each ministry office.
I taught in the Sunday school on Sunday evenings for five or six years, and a good sized group began to develop. The more I taught, the more I began to see in God's Word. I moved closer and closer to the time when God put me in the office of teacher. It wasn't something I asked for, God just gave it to me. I knew down on the inside of me that I was called to the office of a teacher, though no one ever said it to me. There are some things it is good to keep to yourself and let God prove to others.
When I was ordained into the ministry in 1977, God confirmed the call through someone else. At that time I had hands laid on me, and a prophecy was given stating that I was called to the teaching ministry. The Lord said I had cried in the night because of the revelations God had given me in His Word, but I had no place to give them. That's exactly what I had done, but I didn't tell anyone. So you see, man doesn't make a ministry gift, God does. He may confirm it through prophetical gifts. You know inside that it's true, but it's reassuring to have the confirmation. Now I am a pastor and God is confirming it with the supernatural abilities of the Holy Spirit.
Let me make another point about the pastor and the congregation. God calls a pastor to the congregation He wants him to shepherd. Just as sheep are put under a shepherd by their owner, so God chooses the pastors for his flocks When a congregation votes on a pastor, they must realize that they are not choosing their pastor, they are signifying that the Holy Spirit bears witness to them that this is God's choice. They do not select; they acknowledge and accept God's selection.
Gifts to the Local Church The ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 are called the fivefold ministry gifts, and they are repeated in slightly different form in I Corinthians 12:28. 1 want to point out again that bishops, elders and deacons are not listed with those ministry gifts. The source for ministry gifts, according to the Word of God, is the Lord Jesus Christ Where then do bishops, elders and deacons originate in the church? Let’s examine several scriptures to find the answer. First, let's consider Acts 14:23:And when they (Paul and Barnabas) had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. Paul and Barnabas were the ones who ordained the elders. What office did they both stand in? They stood in the office of apostle. In Galatians 1, Paul declared that. Who chose Paul? There can be no controversy about Paul's direct call by the Lord Jesus Christ. Who had authority over Paul? Jesus, who called him, had authority over him. The principle should be clear. Those in ministry offices choose the elders; therefore, they have authority over them. It's a simple delegation of authority. Let's see another example.
Titus was a young minister. He had come up under the ministry of Paul. He was Paul's trouble-shooter. If Paul had any trouble in a church, he was able to send Titus in and know that things would get straightened out. Paul had sent Timothy to Corinth to try to bring order into the church, but he failed. Then Titus was sent. In Il Corinthians 8, we see that Titus then took the problems and began to work them out. The church straightened out. You remember that the Jews didn't like Titus because he was an uncircumcised gentile, a Greek (Gal. 2:14). But the ministry gift of God was in him, and the signs and wonders worked through him. This was God's seal of approval. Religious people have a hard time coming against the supernatural.
At another time Paul left him in Crete to pastor. He said this in Titus 1:5: For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.
I'm not going to define the office of the elder at this point. I want to show who chooses him and his relationship to that one. Where do they come from, and to whom are they responsible? Who has authority over them? Just as the pastor is chosen and called by Jesus and is under His direct authority, the elders are under the authority of the ones who choose them. Elders in this case were chosen by someone in a ministry office and were under his authority. It is a clear scriptural pattern. The pattern is a simple chain of command.
We see that elders are appointed by men in ministry offices and are under their authority. What is the source for the office of bishop? We'll define the office and function of the bishop later, but now let's look to the scripture to find where they originate. Look at Philippians 1:1. Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.
There is only one pastor (shepherd) for a congregation (flock) but a plurality of bishops. Furthermore they are separated from the offices of Paul and Timothy and mentioned with the congregation (saints) at Philippi and also the deacons. This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. (I Tim. 3:1)This office does not come as a divine call from God. It is something a man aspires to. It is something he desires to be. It is said to be a good work, but it is not something that. can be equated with the call of God to the full time ministry.
What about deacons? Where does their office originate? Who chooses them? Who exercises authority over them? Look at Acts 6:5,6: And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And they chose. "They" refers to the whole multitude or congregation of believers in Jerusalem. It is clear from these verses that the congregation chooses the deacons in the local church. Then the ministers confirm their choice through the laying on of hands. Who then has authority over the deacons? The congregation does. Notice that it doesn't say that the deacons were chosen by the apostles or the pastor. If that were true, the deacons would serve the pastor. The deacons are set in the congregation to serve the people. They are servants of the people. Another point to notice is that the way the deacons were chosen isn't specified; therefore, each congregation may choose as they think best.
The important aspect of deacon selection, which is equally true for the selection of elders, is that they meet the qualifications established by the Holy Spirit in God's Word.