Sunday, October 23, 2011

Local Church government: How does scripture tell us to organize it?

This blog is going to be a little different for me. First, it is a huge step out of the norm for me. I was raised in, and later born again in, a church system that had a certain structure to it. You had Sunday School teachers, a Sunday School superintendent, a Choir/music director, a Deacon board (that in many cases, unbiblically, controlled the church), maybe an outreach director and team, a youth leader/pastor, and other departments with other appointed leaders over them, etc. Sitting on top of all of this structure was "THE pastor", who sometimes had an assistant pastor.

Does God work in all of this? Yes! I, and many like me, were born again within this structure- not because the structure was necessary, or even necessarily correct, but because the doctrine was right and God honors his word and responds to the prayers and praise of his people. Can God continue to work in this structure? Yes, he can.

Some say that this single pastor system is the biblical structure and that anything else is wrong. Others say that our present system is the "doctrine of the Nicolaitanes" spoken of by Jesus in Rev. 2:6 as being a doctrine that he hates. Is this so? I'm not sure on either point.

The word, Nicolaitanes, comes from the Greek word, "Nikolaites", and means, "adherent of Nicolaus", or someone or group that followed his teachings. What did he teach? I'm not sure, as he is not mentioned again in scripture. The word itself comes from another Greek word, "Nikolaos", which means, "victorious over the people". This word comes from two other words:

1) Nikos, which means, "conquest or victory".
2) Laos, which means, "a people". Interestingly, this word is not referring to a persons OWN people, but people in general.

The proponents of the "single pastor system is the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes" theory say that these definitions (which seem to be our only Biblical clue) mean that the one pastor "in charge" of the local assembly is what Jesus was referring to in Revelations. Is this true? Possibly. I'm not convinced as of yet.

What I'm about to say, from here, may need a little background.

I was raised trinitarian. I was raised to believe that all we need to do to be saved is to believe in our hearts, repent, and confess with our mouths that Jesus was Lord. This was done, for the most part in repentant prayer. Don't get me wrong, repentance toward God is a wonderful thing wherever a person may be.

Yet, through much searching and much prayer later in life, I discovered that some of the theology of how I was raised was wrong.

There is no such thing as a trinity taught anywhere in God's word. There is, in fact only one God, who made a son (the man Christ Jesus,) indwelt that son from in the womb, lived among us, taught us, performed miracles, died for us, resurrected himself, and sent the indwelt and now glorified body to the throne where he now sits as king of kings and Lord of lords! I could take a very Long time explaining this concept, but that's not the purpose of this blog post. If interested, 1 Timothy 3:16 is a great place to start.

I found out that John 3: 16 is NOT the plan of salvation- and even if it were, it says SHOULD be saved, not SHALL be saved. That's a HUGE difference! Shall is a guarantee. It's a done deal- end of story. SHOULD is NOT a done deal. There's more to the story yet- and there is. Our journey to God begins with faith and belief, but there's more yet to the story.

2 Thessalonians 1: 8 says that when Jesus returns, he will take vengeance on those who have "OBEY(ED) NOT the Gospel". I once thought that all we had to do was believe the Gospel. When I asked those leaders I grew up under what the gospel is they all said, "the good news". In their defense, that IS what the word Gospel means in the Greek. But that does not tell me, and millions like me what that Good news is, specifically. What does the Bible mean when the word "gospel" is written there on the page? What is the good news?

According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is specific. This is real information that a person can sink their teeth into. But, it begs the question, in light of 1 Thessalonians, How do we obey the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? Are we to do, as I've heard of some in South America do, and have ourselves literally crucified?

NO. The next step after belief is repentance. In repentance, we turn from our sins and turn to God. It is spiritually a DYING to ourselves and our old ways of life.

How are we buried then? We are "BURIED WITH HIM", Romans 6:3-4 boldly declares, when we are baptized in water in Jesus name. After all, how can we be buried with HIM if HIS name is not used when we are lowered into that water? Also, this is the only way the Apostles EVER baptized in scripture. Check it out for yourselves. Read Acts- Revelations. There's not one baptism performed or referred to that was NOT done in Jesus name. Acts 4:12 says that his is the only name given among men, WHEREBY we must be saved. Must be pretty important, you think?

The biblical plan of salvation is simply this: "Repent, and be baptized EVERY one of you in the NAME of Jesus Christ FOR (in order to, not because of) the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38) It really is that simple and straight forward.

Having been raised in a religious doctrine that some of which (not all of which) turned out to be false has a unique effect on a person. I'm no longer willing to simply accept what a preacher says is the word of God. I question almost everything. I don't question who God is. I don't question the plan of salvation. I've got a good handle on those things, now. But, if I were taught those things wrongly, what else was I taught wrong?

Without getting into a lot of detail here, again not the reason for this particular post, but:

Do we run our homes the right way? Read Titus 2.

Is FORCED or legislated tithing (as apposed to freewill offerings) really God's plan in the NT church? Read Hebrews 7 and Matthew 23:23

The more immediate one for me recently is this one, "How exactly is the five fold ministry, specifically the pastoral side of the house, played out in the scriptures?"

Before I get into this too deeply, I want my brethren in the five fold ministry to know and understand that this is not a personal attack. This is also not a man trying to tear down the church. I am doing this as one who feels a pastoral calling on his life and, as such, am trying to truly understand, biblically, what it is I am really called into. Part of this is understanding the biblical structure of the office itself. I do not now, nor will I ever, claim to know everything. Any comments, advice, help, etc that any of you wish to give will be welcomed and prayed about and studied.

I need to know this! I pastored once for 6 months and feel that I failed miserably! I always felt handicapped by not having the help of another preacher. This also has led, I admit, into this study. Before I ever "pastor" again, I wish to truly understand how the Apostles did it in scripture. If they did things a certain way, and had great success (which they did), then I believe it behooves us to follow their example. Hence, this study.

I'm still praying and studying on this one. I don't claim to know it all, but here are a few things I've found interesting along the way, so far. I do not have a "fully developed theology" on this one. These are simply a collection of facts. Anyone who cares to chime in, please do! I have much to learn.

1) The word pastor only appears ONCE in the entire New Testament. It means, in the Greek, "a shepherd". Yet, in the verse itself, Ephesians 4:11, it is plural ("pastors"). Is this because the verses here are speaking of the local structures themselves, or because the reference is to the body of Christ as a whole, which would require many more than one. Or could it be, BOTH? I don't know yet.

1a) One other thought: Why do we put so much emphasis on a word/title that is only mentioned once in the whole of the N.T.? It is used 8 times in the O.T. All of them in Jeremiah (2:8, 3:15, 10:21, 12:10, 22:22, 23:1-2). The OT word for pastor is "ra'ah" and it means, "to tend a flock, i.e. pasture it, intransitive to graze, (literally or figuratively), generally, to rule, by extension to associate with (as a friend)." So, by the word meaning itself, it means that the pastor's job is to TEND the flock of God's people (care for them- mend their wounds, protect them from predators, provide them with food and water, lead them, punish them for their own good when necessary, provide them safe pasture and safe housing to protect them from the elements, etc). We are also to give them a place to feed and graze.

Further, while positionally we are over them, we are also to be their FRIEND. This is not the traditional teaching. Many preachers are taught that they are never to become too friendly with the flock- that the flock will lose respect for them if they do. This is not biblical! We are to teach and practice the biblical pastoral authority. Yet, it is also biblical for us to be their friends. It's all about relationship! Jesus calls us HIS friend. Look at how he pastored the disciples. He got into the nitty gritty of their daily lives with them. He didn't stand aloof from a distance. They fell in love with him because of his love for them, not because of who he is! They followed him both because of who he is AND because of their relationship with him. We are to follow Jesus for the same reasons and we are to pastor in the same way he did.

In 7 of the 8 OT references the pastors are doing wrong. All of us should take the Lord's stern warning to heart:      
          " Woe be unto the pastors that destroy (to lose oneself, to wander away, to perish) and scatter [can we say divide and conquer] the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord."      - Jeremiah 23:1

And all of us should long to be a part of God's work:
              "And I will give you pastors (again plural) according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding."                              - Jeremiah 3:15

2) Jesus sent workers out in the Gospels. The disciples are given instructions for when they would go out to preach in Matthew 10. They are told to go into the cities they are sent to, preaching the kingdom of heaven is at hand, perform whatever miracles God uses them to perform, and not to worry about money, clothes, etc, because the "workman is worthy of his meat". In other words, God will take care of our needs through his people (doesn't say how here, though freewill giving is implied).

Question: I've heard of pastors who will not go pastor in an area because the income for their needs isn't there at the time. Is this right? I understand that we have families to care for, but is our modern system the way Jesus told us to go about doing these things? Also, note that Jesus was preparing the disciples to be sent out, but the scripture doesn't say that he actually did so at this time.

In Luke 10:1, Jesus sent out "the seventy" into the countryside ahead of him: two by two, he gives them the same instructions he gave the Apostles in Matthew 10. In Luke 10: 17, when the seventy return to him, they are exuberant at all the results God has given them in their ministries. Jesus doesn't downplay their excitement, but tells them to keep their focus on the prize: "their names written in the lamb's book of life."

2 Questions: 1) Did Jesus send them out by two's because these weren't the disciples, or because he was beginning to establish the order he would later use in "the church"? 2) How many preachers get glorified by the masses because of the miracles, when it is not to be the true focus of our ministries? Some, not all, have even gotten a little haughty because of "their anointing". We are to rejoice in our relationship with God, not the wonderful ministry he gives us. Our ministries should come as an outgrowth of our relationship with Jesus, who is our true focus.

3)At the healing of the lame man in Acts 3, there were two Apostles there, not just one. Meaning? Not sure at this point.

4)It was Peter AND John that were captured and dragged before the counsel in Acts 4. Were they the core of leadership in the early church in Jerusalem? Were they grabbed because they were a pastoral team? Not sure yet.

5)In Acts 5, ALL the Apostles were captured, released by God, and recaptured, dragged before the counsel, beaten and set free. Why? their ministry was making great headway in the local population and the counsel were afraid of the people. Many were healed, delivered, and saved under their ministry, yet they rejoiced in their being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus, rather than the miracles. No mention of a specific leader here.

6)In chapter 6, the church had grown so large that it was no longer feasable for the Apostles (who at this point seem to all be joint pastors?) to oversee and perform all the benevolence ministries of the church, so 7 deacons were chosen to oversee these ministries.

Note: There is no record in the scriptures of deacon boards running a church, with the pastor as a sort of hired hand working for the board. The deacons oversaw the church benevolence and worked under the authority of the church leadership. In fact, this is, as far as I can find, the only office in the church that is open to election by the people. Just some thoughts.

7)Philip (now an evangelist?) (chapter 8:4-13) went and preached in Samaria, but didn't establish a "church" there. He had great results and God performed great miracles, yet, the people were not completely born again. Then, when news of this got back to the Apostles, they sent Peter and John to go and finish the job that Phillip had begun. Why 2? Why not just one of them? Why not just Peter, the man who "had the keys". Are we beginning to see a pattern here? Verse 25 even said, THEY (John and Peter)... preached the Gospel in many villages of the Samaritans." Again, plural.

8) Philip is sent by God to the Ethiopian Eunuch, alone. Is it because his visit was Evangelistic, more so than Pastoral? Are Evangelists allowed to go it alone, but Elder's are not? I don't know? Still trying to gather facts.

9)Chapter 9- Paul's heavenly conversion. Ananias (an Elder? a congregate? an Evangelist? We don't know, we're not told) is sent alone to pray for him and baptize him. Why? Could be that the Apostles were afraid and didn't believe that God was telling them to do this. After all, if they followed the wrong voice on this, they could die.

10) Paul spent time with the disciples (verse 9:19), the meaning of which here is NOT the Apostles, but must be the believers in that area, after his conversion. Then he begins to preach in Damascus and blows peoples minds! Here Paul seems to be, like every new preacher, spreading his preaching wings and learning under the church leadership's authority. 

11)In verse 9: 27, Barnabas takes Paul under his wings and leads him to the Apostles, where he tells of what Paul has done since his conversion. They then sent him home to Tarsus. Why? Don't know.

12) 9:32 Peter is going through Lydda and Sharon ?(verse 35), alone, and the Lord used him to heal a man with palsy. Is this a planned ministry? Doesn't seem to be. It seems to have been something he stumbled upon while traveling.

13) 9:36-43 Again, Peter is traveling alone, happens upon a dead woman who has been used mightily by God in meeting peoples needs. God raises her from the dead. Since he is out traveling, away from Jerusalem, runs into believers at this (and the previous place). Is this a trip planned for Peter to go and check on established works? If so, do these works have established Elders that lead them for Peter to check with? We're not told.

14) Chapter 10 Peter is sent for by Cornelius in answer to Cornelius' prayers and Angelic visitation. We know the story. But Peter definitely went by himself (as far as church leadership representation. He did have others with him, but-as far as we can tell- they were not preachers), at the behest of God. Question, did Peter establish a church? Or was Peter, like Philip, acting in the role of an Evangelist?

15) 11: 1-18 Peter is raked over the coals for daring to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. The leadership in Jerusalem call him on the carpet. Does this mean that the Apostles operated from a standpoint that there was not a single, or even a duo set of leaders that hold authority over the others?

16) 11:19-30 Stephen evangelizes alone to the Jews only in several cities. An unspecified number of men (more than 1) from Cyprus and Cyrene started a church among the Grecians in Antioch. Word gets back to Jerusalem and they send Barnabas to check things out, He arrives, checks on things, leaves to go get Paul, and brings him back to Antioch with him, where they lead the church for a year. Here the disciples (apparently a generic name for believers before this time) are first called Christians. What happened to to the men from Cyprus and Cyrene? Still 2 men led the local assembly (Paul and Barnabus), not 1.

17) 13: 1-3 Paul and Barnabas are sent out by God as a ministry team. 13: 4-52 They work as an evangelism team.

18) 14:1-7 THEY start a group of believers in Iconium, but are forced to leave under threat of their lives. Still working together (apparently, neither one above the other), they go to Lystra, and other cities of the region.

19) 14: 8-20 They preach TOGETHER, are mistaken as false gods, rebuke this and Paul is stoned to death. Yet, God raises him up and they go to Antioch again.

20) 14: 21-28 They go back to areas where they have had converts, confirm they are still in the faith (and, I assume help to build up that faith), they then ORDAIN ELDERS in EVERY CHURCH. Does this mean they leave only one Elder/pastor in each group? Or does it mean that they leave ELDERS (plural) in each church? It could be taken either way. They then return to Antioch, testify of God's revivals, and stay there with that group of believers for a long time. It doesn't say that they take over the local assembly. Apparantly, the Elders they had left here were doing just fine. No need for Paul and Barnabas to take over.

21) 15:1-2 Huge dissension breaks out in the Antioch church, as Jewish Christians try to tell the Gentiles they must follow the law to be saved (see also verses 5&24 for the rest of the argument being made by the Jewish Christians). This uproar is so great, Paul and Barnabus leave for Jerusalem to get an answer from the Apostles.

22) 15: 3-12 They arrive in Jerusalem. Both sides make their case before the assembled Apostles and Elders. Again, this is a gathering of all of the Apostles and Elders. This is not a "local assembly".

23) 15: 13-32 James, the brother of Jesus (who wrote the book of James), seems to take charge of the meeting. There is no record of a brief recess for the counsel to deliberate or pray. He just seems to stand under the unction of the Holy Ghost and begins to speak. There still seems to be no real "pecking order", other than some are Apostles and some are Elders. Yet, even in this, all opinions seem to carry equal weight. Though the Apostles are definitely the "church leadership", they don't seem to "throw their weight" around unless it is necessary to keep the peace among the people.

24) 15: 36-41 Paul and Barnabas split in a disagreement over whether to take John Mark with them on their next missionary Journey. They each chose another partner (Barnabus takes John Mark. Paul takes Silas.) and leave to different parts to further the kingdom. Again, they go out in twos. This is becoming a clear and definite pattern, I think?

25) 16: 4-5 They carried the decree of Jerusalem about not having to follow the laws of Moses as Christians with them. Was this because Jerusalem was the "headquarters of the church" and had that much authority over the rest of the church? Was it because of the spiritual weight carried with the Apostles words? If so, why designate that the decree was "ordained of the apostles AND elders"? It seems to me that the decree carried so much weight because it came from GOD. The Apostles and elders being his mouth pieces. But, Paul, Silas, and Timothy used this as part of the foundation to begin more churches.

26) 16: 6-40 The new ministry team (Paul, Silas, Timothy) establish a church in Phillippi through much turmoil. Does this somehow tie back to the words of Jesus  Matthew 18:20
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them"? 

27)17: 1-3 Paul preaches alone in the local Jewish synagogue that Jesus IS the Christ (Note: "Christ" is NOT-as some would say- Jesus' last name. It is a title that applies to Jesus that means "Messiah".). Now, did Paul actually go in alone and preach- as an evangelist would? did Silas and Timothy go in with him, as well? After all, Silas is mentioned as helping establish the converts in verse 4. Verse 2 states that Paul went in. So, I assume that he went in alone, leaving the rest of the team behind. 

28) 17:4 Yet, when it came time to establish and shepherd these new converts, Silas enters back into the picture. Again, two Elders seem to co-pastor a new work. 

29) 17: 10-12 Paul AND Silas establish another church in Berea. Again, together. Note: Though Paul seems to have become the principal speaker by now, yet, when it comes time for the converts to be pastored, Paul seems to work with and accept Silas as an equal, not a subordinate.  

30) 17: 14 Paul, whose life was in danger, was sent away, but Silas and Timothy were left behind- apparently to guide the newly founded church in Berea.

31) 17: 15 Paul sends for Silas and Timothy to join him. Did they leave behind elders to continue the work, or did they leave "the brethren" to fend for themselves? We're not told here. One would assume that they would not have left if God had not raised up capable men within the fellowship who could continue the work of the Lord there. 

32) 17: 16-34 Paul's famous dispute at Mars Hill. Interesting to me that he speaks about "the prince of peace" on a hill named after the Greek god of war! He was stirred in his spirit because of the surrounding ungodly culture. He went to proclaiming Jesus because of this. Several people became born again, as a result. They, apparently left Athens with Paul. No church was established there. Paul evidently acted as an evangelist here.

33) 18:1-4 Paul begins to evangelize in Corinth. 

34) 18: 5 Silas and Timothy catch up with him. It is then that he feels PRESSED in the spirit to really get to the nitty gritty of Jesus to those Jews that he's been trying to evangelize. This is when the outcry truly happens. He's been teaching and preaching for weeks without incident. Yet, his ministry partners arrive and all of a sudden, there's chaos. What changed? Could it be that the anointing and unction of the Holy Ghost increases exponentially when "two or three are gathered" in ministry? Is this another sign that a local church would be much better served by an "Eldership team", as opposed to the modern single pastor system? 

35) 18: 7-11 Paul (it doesn't say that any went with him) left dealing with the Jews, and apparently in the same city, took up in Justus' house and began to teach and preach to all who would listen. He had many converts, including Crispus, the "chief ruler" of the synagogue that butted up against Justus' house. He winds up staying there for another year and a half. Is this the first recorded incidence in scripture of a "single pastor" church? Possibly. We're not
told that he sent the new converts to Silas and Timothy's work to be pastored. In fact, it says that HE taught the word of God among them for a year and a half (verse 11). 

Is this the evolving, so to speak, of the church into another system? Or, is it an exception to the rule? Don't know. All we can do is keep going on and see what the rest of scripture says. 

36) 18:18-21 Paul, after tarrying there even longer, leaves Greece and sails to Syria- taking Priscilla and Aquilla with him. Were he and Aquilla going to be another team? Apparently not. He leaves them behind and goes to Ephesus- alone. He preaches, but he doesn't stay. His heart (spirit?) seemed to be guiding him back to Jerusalem. 

We know from later scripture that God was guiding him back to Jerusalem and, eventually, to Rome. He would be beaten, imprisoned, set free, and later, beheaded for the Gospel. Was this the reason he began to work more as an evangelist and less as a Elder- having no preacher/partner in the Gospel for most of the rest of his ministry? Was the apparent "single pastorship" we just found, simply the beginning of God calling him out and preparing him for the rest of what he had to suffer for the Gospel? 

18: 23 Paul, on his way back to Jerusalem, begins to make stops in areas where churches have already been established, preaching to them and strengthening them in the Lord. He seems to be becoming more and more evangelistic and less and less pastoral. 

19: 1-20 He establishes, again, the plan of salvation (verses 1-7). He preaches to the Jews in the synagogue for 3 months. Then, he stays at a local Jewish school and debates about Jesus for the next 2 years. All of this seems to be more evangelistic and less pastoral. 

19: 21-22 Paul sends two of his helpers to Macedonia for ministry. Again, two. 

20:17-32 Paul, in Ephesus, calls for the Elders (church leaders- plural). Is this due to many churches in the area, and/or because there are more than one elder/pastor per church? We're not told.

20:33 -35 Just a note off subject.Paul makes clear here that he deliberately worked to care for his own monetary and physical needs so that he wouldn't feel obligated to his listeners for his livelihood and possibly not say some needed things to them. He says the same thing in Corinthians. Though it is biblical for we "in the ministry" to live off the proceeds of the Gospel, Paul was careful to guard against his human nature and cared for his own needs. If we, as preachers, have a strong drawing towards money and this worlds goods, then perhaps we would be better servants of God and our hearers if we cared for our own needs. This way, we don't feel beholden to our hearers and leave out some of what the Lord wants them to hear.

21: 18 Paul returns to Jerusalem. Hear, he goes into a meeting of James AND the Elders. Is this distinction because James is now the unadulterated head of the church? Possibly. Does this mean that the church, by then, was more organized and had a more established order of leadership? Could be. Does this mean that we should organize ourselves in denominations with established hierarchies  Maybe. Can't really say from this small sampling. It is, however, evident from other scriptures that the "headquarters" had very little to do with the day to day operations of the local church bodies.

The rest of Acts is about Paul's trials before king's and rulers. During those times he wrote "the prison Epistles" that we so love and cherish today. But, no more seems to be hinted at in Acts about the organization of church leadership on either the Local or headquarters level. Based on what we've seen here (and, again, feel free to correct me or shed more light on this subject), I believe the following statements to be true and biblical. 

1) Pastor is another word for what the New Testament calls an Elder.

2) In the vast majority of cases, churches should be overseen and led by at least two (and in some cases, three) Elders, whenever possible. 

3) The modern single pastor system doesn't seem to have stemmed from scripture, but rather from some other source- many say Catholicism, but I've never studied that out.

4) Organizations are fine, but the actual running of the local church should be done by the local Elders, not by the organizational hierarchy. 

5) Though God can, and does, reach people in the "single pastor" system, it seems evident in the scriptures that God's preferred choice of local church government is joint Eldership.

Thank you all for your patience in reading this rather long treatise. Thank all of you for your prayers and- ahead of time- for any corrections and refinements you may feel led to offer here. May God bless you all in Jesus name!