Christ established the church (Matthew 16:18). That church is made up of the called out, the world over (Colossians 1:13-14). It consists of the saved (Acts 2:47). It is His spiritual body (Colossians 1:18), and there is but one (Ephesians 4:4).
While the church is universal in nature, it is made up of hundreds and thousands of individual congregations, and each congregation is made up of many individual members. This means that the government of the church is local and not national or international. In other words, the Lord’s church does not have an earthly head or earthly headquarters.
The Scriptures teach that Christ is the head of the church. Let us observe the following verses: “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18). Now what do these verses teach? As already stated, that Christ is the head of the body, which is the church. How many heads are there? Just one, and Christ is that one, sharing that position with no other.
With the church being made up of many local congregations, since Christ is the head of the church, then that means he is the head of each local congregation or local church, as well as being the head of each member of the church. In keeping with this, Paul said, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Next, each local congregation is to have its own organization. With Christ as the head, from among the members, elders and deacons are to be appointed to see after the spiritual and physical needs of the church. The elders are to watch for the souls of the members (Hebrews 13:17); the deacons look after the physical side of things (Acts 6). Notice too that the Scriptures always speak of a plurality of elders and deacons over each congregation instead of one elder and one deacon ruling over them. Neither do you ever have the elders and deacons of one congregation taking control of another, or of a group of congregations. Congregations are to fellowship one another but do not exercise control over each other.
The words “elder,” “pastor,” “bishop,” “shepherd,” and “presbyter” all refer to the same office. Thus, an elder is a pastor, a bishop, etc. In Titus 1:5-9, Paul listed a number of qualifications: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you — if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” These qualifications are also stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. So not everyone in the church could be an elder. Only the qualified ones could be appointed, and even then, there must always be a plurality of such men. In congregations where no members are qualified to be elders, the men of the church must take care of the business matters until they grow and develop enough for elders to be appointed.
Deacons are also to be appointed to serve with the elders. They are known as servants and work under the direction of the local elders. Paul lists their qualifications: “Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:8-13).
Now this is the divine organization of the church. Christ is the head, with each congregation having its own elders and deacons. Under their authority would be the preachers and teachers and members. In the Lord’s way, if one congregation drifts into error, the others may continue faithful. Or if all of the congregations depart from the truth but one, then it is possible for that one to be faithful. In the Lord’s plan of organization each congregation is autonomous or independent from the others. They are not tied together by man-made laws, but by love. They have fellowship with one another, and work together, being one in Christ. The Lord’s way cannot be improved on.
Nowhere in the Scriptures do you read of Peter or any other man being the head of the church. Nowhere do you read of a bishop ruling over a number of congregations, or a “pastor” (preacher) being head over a congregation. Nowhere do you read of a “clergy” or “laity.” The majority of the religious world has departed from God’s organization of the church and that is one reason why there is so much division in the world. Let us therefore determine to return to the Bible for the true scriptural pattern for church organization.
Please give correct answers to the following:
1. Who established the church?
2. Of what is the church made up?
3. Is the body of Christ physical or spiritual?
4. How many churches are there?
5. The church is ___________________ in nature.
6. The church is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals
7. Is the government of the church local, national, or international?
8. Does the Lord’s church have an earthly head or earthly headquarters?
9. Who is the head of the church?
10. What are the leaders of the local church called?
11. What is the work of the elders and deacons?
12. How many elders and deacons are to be over each congregation?
13. By what other names are elders called?
14. Where are the qualifications of elders listed?
15. Where are the qualifications of deacons listed?
16. Can a congregation have elders and deacons if there are no members qualified to be appointed?
17. In this case, who would lead the church?
18. How are the congregations bound together?
19. Can God’s pattern of organization be improved on?
20. Is Peter the head of the church, according to the Scriptures?
21. Do we read of offices in the church in which one man called a bishop is over a number of congregation?
22. Do we read of a Pastor being over one church?
23. Do we read in the Bible of the clergy or laity?
24. Why is there so much division in the world?
25. Where should we go for the pattern for church organization?
Edited 5/15/06 — Smith Bibens
This article is from “The Church of the Bible” by J.C. Choate Publications
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