By Karl Diestelkamp
If the founders are wrong, can the followers be right (Matt. 15:13, 14)`! If the foundations are unsound, can the building be sound (Matt. 7:26, 27)`! If the doctrines are false, can the beliefs be true (Gal. 1:6, 7; 2 Tim. 4:3, 4)`! If the belief is error, can the practice be true (Matt. 15:7-9)`! If the practice is unacceptable, will the worshiper be accepted (2 Thess. 2:7-12)?
These are crucial questions challenging every thinking person regarding personal faith, practice and religious affiliation. However, most of the denominational world long ago decided that these are unimportant and unnecessary questions. Many have been convinced that real religious unity is impossible and, thereby, deny the knowledge, wisdom and revelation of God. Multitudes have been led to believe that simplicity means inadequacy so everything from worship, to work, to organization is compounded and complicated in an effort to please men and to implement humanly devised programs and practices.
Perhaps the most clear-cut identifying mark of any modern denomination is its organizational structure. From the simple “presiding elder” to the complex “vicar of Christ” papacy, the word “departure” screams out at those who know the New Testament pattern for the Lord’s church. Remember, denominationalism could not exist without there first being a departure from the authority of the Scriptures. When anyone decides that the Bible is not the absolute, unerring authority for personal faith and obedience, such a person will not follow, or be concerned about, authority for the establishment and organization of the church.
That denominationalism is a departure from the New Testament pattern is clearly seen when it is contrasted and compared with the simple organization of the church which Jesus established. Please consider the absolute simplicity of the organization of Christ’s church.
(1) Christ has all authority (Matt. 28:18). He is “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:14, 15). He now reigns and rules at the right hand of God, over His kingdom, the church, as an absolute monarch (Heb. 1:1-3, 5, 13; 8:1; 10:12, 13; 1 Cor. 15:25; Col. 3:1; 1 Pet. 3:22; Eph. 1:20-22). Having all authority in heaven and on earth, He built His church as He had promised (Matt. 16:18). He is the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11) and the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6).
(2) Christ is head of His church (Eph. 1:22, 23). All things are under His feet (authority) and He has preeminence in all things (Col. 1:18). Under Christ, the apostles and prophets functioned in keeping with His will (Eph. 2:20). We hasten to point out that there is no provision in the New Testament for any “succession” of apostles to this day and none today can meet the divine qualifications (Acts 1:15-26). First century prophets revealed the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their work was temporary and has been completed (1 Cor. 13:8-13; Zech. 13:1, 2); since there are no living apostles to impart the gifts (Acts 8:14-19), there can be no true “latter day” prophets today.
(3) As head of His body (church), Christ has authorized the only organization for the church meeting in any given place. The church in such a place consists of “all the saints . . . with the bishops and deacons” (Phil 1:1). Saints are “set apart ones” who have been added to the church (Acts 2:47) by the Lord. It is the will of Christ that each church have elders (bishops) when a plurality of qualified men are found (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5). The qualifications are set forth in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Tit. 1:5-9. The Lord has decreed that elders be “overseers” (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2), that they “rule” (1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:24) and that they “feed” and “tend” the flock (1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:18, 28). This is not to be construed as giving elders any legislative (law-making) authority. They serve under Christ, shepherding the flock according to His will alone. Deacons are specially appointed “servants” in the church who meet the qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:8-13. However, deacons do not “oversee” or “rule” in the body of Christ. Elders are to “take heed . . . to all the flock” over which they are overseers (Acts 20:28), and are to “feed the flock . . . which is among you” (I Pet. 5:2). There is a complete absence of New Testament authority for any organization larger or smaller than the local church. Intercongregational combines, cooperatives, associations and institutions are without Biblical sanction.
Now note some visible departures in organization found in modern denominations that argue against any of them being the New Testament church:
Roman Catholicism — A diocesan arrangement is used, including unmarried Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals and Pope. They have a highly centralized form of government and organization with offices unheard of in the New Testament.
Lutherans — There are three major denominations by this name. All have earthly headquarters with synodical (ecclesiastical council) forms of government and organization not seen in the New Testament.
Baptists — They are divided into various “Conventions” and “Associations,” having local offices and organizations not authorized by the New Testament.
Methodists — There are fifteen-plus different denominations by this name. Many are part of the World Methodist Council and have a local form of organization and offices foreign to the New Testament.
Presbyterians — They are organized into Presbyteries (a division of synods and councils) with several Boards and Assemblies unheard of in the Scriptures.
Disciples (Christian Church) — Abandoning the New Testament pattern, this group reorganized in 1968 and clearly identified itself as a denomination. The reorganization was admittedly not in the direction of Biblical authority.
Christian Science — They are organized under the Board of the Mother Church in Boston, Massachusetts about which the New Testament says nothing.
Jehovah’s Witnesses — They are organized under the direction and control of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, N.Y., an organization unknown to the pages of the New Testament.
Mormons — They are organized under a 38-man body called the General Authorities consisting of a President and two counselors, the Council of Twelve Apostles and their Assistants, the church Patriarch, a 7 man First Council of the Seventy and three member Presiding Bishopric with headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, all of which are without New Testament basis.
Space forbids that we should list even most of the departures in the area of organization found in modern denominations. However, those sincerely seeking to identify the true church can quickly determine if any organization is correctly organized by comparing every facet of it with the New Testament pattern. Without scriptural organization, no “body of believers” can be truly the Lord’s body. Also, it should be pointed out that “organizational departures” are not the only departures that can cause a religious body to be false!
Any organization that includes offices and appointments unheard of in the New Testament has departures from the pattern of the New Testament Church. To illustrate, all of the following are unheard of in the New Testament: Sunday School Superintendent, Presiding Elder, Presiding Bishop, Board of Elders, Board of Deacons, President, latter-day Apostles, Headquarters, Councils, Elected Representatives, Evangelistic Oversight, Conventions, Associations, Sponsoring Churches, Intercongregational Cooperatives, Overseeing Elderships (with control of more than the local church), Statewide Nationwide and/or International Conventions (Workshops, Campaigns, etc.) which constitute functions beyond the realm of the local church.
Denominationalism is not of God! It is the invention of Satan who has, in turn, influenced men to accept his inferior, ineffective and soul-condemning substitutes. Since denominationalism is not from God, it can only be a departure from the divine plan and pattern. Brethren everywhere need to be ever alert to any and all such departures from the faith (Jude 3) and increase determination to “abide in the doctrine of Christ” (2 Jn. 9-11). Remember truth has nothing to fear in open, honest investigation!
- Discuss the simplicity of the organization of Christ’s church.
- What are some departures in organization found in modern denominations that argue against any of them being the New Testament church?
- Assign each member of the class to find out how the major denominations of the community are organized.
- Can all authority reside in Christ (Matt. 28:18) if there is another man or group of men claiming to be the head of the church?
- Is the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15; Gal. 2:1-10) justification for church councils to legislate doctrine? Explain and defend your answer.
- How has the office of elders been perverted by denominationalists and liberal brethren?
- If there is no pattern for the organization of the church, would any form of church organization be sinful?
- If God has revealed a pattern for the organization of the New Testament church, what is it and what is our obligation to it?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 4, pp. 71-43
January 24, 1980