The New Testament Church Its Organization
Connie W. Adams
While the word "organization" is not in the Bible, there are passages, which set forth the idea expressed by that word. Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines the word as:
"1. The act of organizing; the act or process of arranging and getting into proper working order: as, the organization of an expedition. 2. The state of being organized; that which is organized; an organized body.3. Organic structure; the disposition or arrangement of the organs for the performance of vital functions. 4. The arrangement of the parts of an aggregate or body for work or action; systematic preparation for action."
I maintain that the New Testament authorizes the arrangement of the parts of the body for work or action. Paul left Titus in Crete to "set in order the things that are wanting" (Titus 1:5). "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). The word "order" of this passage denotes suitable arrangement or order. God has given the church work to do. It is to preach the gospel to the lost, edify the saved and relieve its needy (Eph. 4:12). Not only did God ordain that this work be done, but he has also ordained the arrangement of the parts of the body for its accomplishment.
The church revealed in the New Testament is neither a democracy nor a republic, but a monarchy. The governmental feature of the church is indicated in the figure of a kingdom, ruled by a king and regulated by the law of that king. Whatever arrangement of the parts of the body for kingdom service must be appointed by the law of the king, else such arrangement or organization is iniquitous (Mt. 7: 21-23).
Unscriptural Church Organizations
The term "church" is used in the New Testament to denote (I) all the saved of earth (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 5:25); (2) the saved in a certain locality (1 Cor. 1:2), hence a local arrangement or organization; and (3) several congregations in a given area such as "the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2). A study of the New Testament reveals that there is no functional unit appointed by God through which the universal church operates. Nor is there any arrangement of the parts of several congregations in an area through which kingdom business may be done. The New Testament is clear in pointing out that the arrangement of parts within the church for the discharge of divine work is on the local level. Divine wisdom made no other organization in this field. For this reason organizations larger or smaller than the local church are without authority.
1. Denominational organizations. Roman Catholicism has a hierarchy consisting of a pope, cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops bishops and priests. This structure is designed for the universal church, hence is without divine approval. The organization of the Greek Catholic Church is under patriarchs of four cities. This is a arrangement larger than one local assembly. The Church of England is governed by three orders of ecclesiastics: bishops, priests and deacons. The Methodist Church has a General Conference, which meets every four years and issues legislation, which concerns every congregation. Other churches have "general assemblies," "synods," "conventions" and other forms of government larger than the function of a local assembly of members. Missionary societies formed for the purpose of creating central agencies through which many churches function in a given work are wrong for the same reason other organizations larger than the local church are wrong.
2. Unscriptural congregational organizations. Any congregation having qualified men for the office of elders and deacons but which refuses to appoint these men, is unscriptural. A congregation with unqualified elders or deacons serving is an unscriptural organization. Congregations, which operate through committee systems, under "leaders," or upon the principle of majority vote are also unscripturally organized. This is not the arrangement of the parts, which God ordained. The creation of ladies aid societies, guilds, youth leagues, and Bible classes organized with elected officers and a treasury to spend on various projects constitute organizations smaller than the local church and they are just as unscriptural as those larger than the local church.
The Divine Arrangement of the Parts
Local churches were established throughout the Roman Empire in New Testament times. These bodies were self-sufficient and self-governing under the authority of Christ. The spoken and written word of the apostles constituted a pattern of action for these local churches. Paul gave "order unto the churches of Galatia" and said the church in Corinth was to obey the same order (1 Cor. 16:1-3). "Those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9). What the apostles taught was the will of God bound in heaven and there was no higher appeal than that (Mt.. 16:19). "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11). Divine wisdom made provision for everything the church needed. This verse comprehends the foundation work, the extension, and the edifying of the church.
Under inspired instruction two classes of functionaries were appointed in each congregation. These were elders and deacons. Consider these passages:
"And when they had ordained them elders in every church . . ." (Acts 14:23).
"And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and of the apostles and elders . . ." (Acts 15:4).
"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church" (Acts 20: 17).
". . . to all saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Phil. 1:1 ).
"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" (Tit. 1:5).
(1) Elders are also called shepherds, bishops, pastors and overseers. An elder is an older, experienced and matured brother. He must be a man of good report both in and out of the church, one who has shown his ability to guide by properly directing his own- family. He is not to be a new convert, and is to have to a high and recognizable degree the traits, which belong to Christians. He must be able to teach and to defend the truth against false teachers (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11). The eldership is a work (1 Tim. 3:1). Elders are charged to "feed the flock of God" (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). They have rule over the flock (Heb. 13:5). They are to "watch for souls" (Heb. 13:17). Their rule is not an arbitrary fording over the flock (1 Pet. 5:3), but is rule carried out under the authority of Christ in directing the flock in the work God intends the flock to do. When brethren look out among them for qualified men who are then ordained (appointed, set apart) to the work, they are made elders by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). This is the only way they are made.
(2) Deacons are special servants of the church. They must be men of special qualities, though these are not as stringent for them as for the elders (1 Tim. 3:8-13). The implication of the qualifications' is that the deacons may be younger men. For example, one of the qualifications for elders is that they have "believing children" which means children who are Christians. Of deacons it is only said that they must "rule their children and their houses well" (1 Tim. 3:12). The seven men chosen in Acts 6:1-6 were special functionaries for the church in Jerusalem. They were to administer the needs of the Grecian widows. This passage gives us the only insight we have as to the selection of men for special obligations in the church. They were to "look ye out among you seven men" full of the Spirit and of good report. The apostles did not choose them. The congregation did. Then the apostles appointed them to the business for which they were selected.
(3) Evangelists have specific work to do in the kingdom. God did not place them over congregations. Their work is to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4: 2), put the brethren "in remembrance" of their duties (1 Tim. 4:6), study the word of God to know what to preach (1 Tim. 4: 13-15) and to be an example of the believer (1 Tim. 4:12, 16). They should teach publicly and from house to house (Acts 20: 20).
(4) Other members of the church have responsibilities also. All are required to assemble (Heb. 10:25) where we may worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Some may be effective teachers of the word. All Christians are to visit the sick, help the distressed, and know how to answer every man concerning our hope. Members are to be subject to the elders in everything that is right (Heb. 13:17). All are to work together in love for the building up of the body of Christ. We are to edify and admonish each other.
This is the simple, but God-given organization of the church. It is too simple for those who despise the day of small things. Any man who thinks he can provide a better arrangement for the parts than the Lord did needs to study what humility means.
Limitations in Church Organization
Elders are instructed to "tend the flock of God among you" (1 Pet. 5:2). This is the only flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them bishops (Acts 20:28). Elders of one local flock cannot exercise oversight over another without violating the limitations placed upon their work. Elders of a flock oversee the worship arrangements, the discipline of members, and the work and the expenditure of the Lord's treasury. For them to relinquish any part of that responsibility to another eldership, or to another agency set up to do what the local church ought to do, is to act without a shred of scriptural authority. The voice of history should be respected here.
"These churches, whenever formed, became separate and independent bodies, competent to appoint their own officers, and to administer their own government without reference to subordination to any central authority or foreign power. No fact connected with the history of these primitive churches is more fully established or more generally conceded, so that the discussion of it need not be renewed at this place." Ancient Christianity Exemplified, Lyman Coleman, page 95.
"All the churches, in those primitive times, were independent bodies; or none of them subject to the jurisdiction of any other. For though the churches, which were founded by the apostles themselves frequently had the honor shown them to be consulted in difficult
and doubtful cases, yet they had no judicial authority, no control, no power of giving laws. On the contrary, it is as clear as the noon-day, that all Christian churches had equal rights, and were in all respects on a footing of equality. Nor does there appear in this first century any vestige of that consolation of the churches of the same provinces, which gave rise to ecclesiastical councils, and to metropolitans." Ecclesiastical History, Mosheim, Vol. 1, page 72.
When God's order for the functional parts of the church is respected, then everything that may be done scripturally can be carried out. Any religious society, which loses confidence in God's organization and seeks to supplant it with another, or change the form of the one he gave, must of necessity forfeit any claim to being the New Testament church.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XI: 1, pp. 15-17