|SPEAK AS THE ORACLES RADIO Program #131
Adapted from Ira Y. Rice
XXVIII. THE ORGANIZATION AND GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH.
Just as in the case of the WORK and WORSHIP of the church — as well as for the EXISTENCE of the church
itself — the New Testament does NOT leave us free to ORGANIZE and GOVERN the church after the doctrines
and commandments of men. Both the ORGANIZATION as well as the GOVERNMENT of the church is clearly
TAUGHT in the WORD OF GOD.
A careful examination of the New Testament discloses NO ORGANIZATION of the church as OVER or BETWEEN
the congregations — worldwide — taken in the aggregate.
In the general sense of the word, Jesus Christ is the HEAD (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23). Under the HEADship of
Jesus Christ, the church UNIVERSAL is styled as His BODY (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18-24), His WIFE
(Ephesians 5:2232; Romans 7:4), His KINGDOM (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9), a PRIESTHOOD (1 Peter 2:5,
9), a SPIRITUAL HOUSE (1 Peter 2:5-6) and the like.
LOCALLY, the people of God in a given CITY, PROVINCE, NATION or VICINITY are referred to as the “church” in
this or that place or area. However NO ORGANIZATIONAL ARRANGEMENTS are given in the Scriptures either
OVER or BETWEEN MORE THAN ONE local assembly or congregation.
The LOCAL AUTONOMY of EACH INDIVIDUAL CONGREGATION, thus, is the Divine plan. These autonomous
local congregations (churches) COULD and DID exist for a time in the New Testament record without being
ORGANIZED with officers of any kind.
As such they were merely groups of baptized believers voluntarily doing the work and worship of God as revealed
in His Word.
Later on, when brethren increased enough in the grace and knowledge of Christ to PROVE themselves qualified,
two “offices” were authorized by the New Testament for the organization and government of the local
congregation: 1) BISHOPS (also called elders, presbyters, pastors, overseers) and 2) DEACONS. Thus, once a
local congregation was fully developed and organized, as at Philippi, Paul could address his letter “to all the
SAINTS in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the BISHOPS and DEACONS” (Philippians 1:1).
Rather than these “bishops and deacons” functioning as a “BOARD,” Jesus left the RULE of each local
congregation in charge of the BISHOPS, i.e., elders, presbyters, pastors, overseers. Paul did NOT call for the
“BOARD,” but for the “ELDERS” at Ephesus (Acts 20:17), admonishing THEM to take heed unto THEMselves “and
to all the FLOCK (i.e., congregation), over the which the Holy Ghost hath made YOU OVERSEERS” (verse 28).
This class of officers in the church is said to “RULE” (1 Timothy 5:17). Paul instructed the Thessalonians to
esteem them that are “OVER YOU IN THE LORD” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). Such are to be REMEMBERED,
FOLLOWED, CONSIDERED, OBEYED and SUBMITTED TO, “for they watch for your souls, as they that must give
account” (Hebrews 13:7, 17). They are to FEED the flock of God, take the OVERSIGHT thereof and be
EXAMPLES to it (1 Peter 5:1-5).
In order to be ordained to the office of bishop, a Christian man had first to PROVE himself. The qualifications for
a bishop are given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. (Any system of church government that extends the authority of
bishops BEYOND THE CONFINES of their OWN LOCAL CONGREGATION is going BEYOND THE AUTHORITY
OF NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING and PERVERTS God’s order for the government of His people. Likewise any
system, which DIVIDES the rule of a local congregation, as between its bishops and deacons, or which
SUBSTITUTES OTHER OFFICES for this purpose OTHER than the bishops, ALSO is CONTRARY TO GOD’S
Until such a time as congregations develop qualified men for BISHOPS, God evidently has left the line of
authority with the MEN as over the WOMEN, and the OLDER as over the YOUNGER (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1
Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 5:5). Hence, the MEN of a local congregation, in mutual humility, would have to decide
business matters for a local congregation until such a time as it could qualify and have ordained a plurality of
bishops and deacons. At which time, of course, all the deacons and all the other members of the congregation
would then become subject to the bishops, that the bishops might have the “rule” within the local congregation
as God has ordained.
As for DEACONS, although they have an “office” (1 Timothy 3:13), their office is not to RULE but to SERVE under
the rule of the bishops. In fact, the word translated “deacon” from the Greek (diakonos) means “servant.”
Their qualifications are found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. There are no differing ORDERS of deacons (or bishops either,
for that matter) in the New Testament, such as common deacons, arch-deacons (teaching bishops, ruling
bishops, arch-bishops) and the like. All deacons (as all bishops) are of equal rank before God.
The word for “servant” in Romans 16:1, describing Phebe, a woman, in some translations is translated
“deaconess.” No qualifications are given in the New Testament for deaconesses, neither is anything said giving
them authority. Because of her GOOD WORK, Paul commended Phebe, asked the brethren to RECEIVE her in
the Lord “as becometh saints,” and to ASSIST her in whatever business she had need. However, there is no
indication she had any authority to ENFORCE this request.
Some religious bodies affect a difference among their members, designating some members “stewards” or
“Stewards” as contrasted with other members who are NOT stewards. The New Testament authorizes no such
difference. Please read 1 Corinthians 4:1-2. Here we see that Paul, an apostle, was a STEWARD. Sosthenes was
NOT an apostle, but he WAS a STEWARD.
Bishops ALSO are STEWARDS (Titus 1:7). In fact, ALL of God’s people are STEWARDS (1 Peter 4:10).
It therefore is strictly a PERVERSION of scripture to affect a DISTINCTION where GOD has made NO
DIFFERENCE! Now of all the things, which we have written, foregoing, this is the sum.
Whereas God one time dealt with people differently by individuals and families —and later with the children of
Israel, as a nation — He has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Old
Testament law perfectly, taking it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.
After His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection, Jesus gave a Great Commission, which was to be binding on
every creature, among all nations, in all the world — even unto the end of the world.
The day of Pentecost in the year a.d. 33, when that commission was empowered, Jesus’ NEW testament likewise
became of force, resulting in His CHURCH or KINGDOM being established. Those people who HEARD the
gospel, BELIEVED in Jesus Christ with all their hearts, REPENTED of their sins, CONFESSED their faith in Christ
before men, and were BAPTIZED into Christ, were consequently SAVED from their past sins and ADDED by the
Lord to His CHURCH, the KINGDOM OF GOD.
Thus that church is made up of THE SAVED; and if a person is SAVED he is a member of that church, for God
adds daily to the church such as are being saved. In the church a member is instructed by the New Testament,
God’s Word, unto the EVANGELIZATION of the world, the EDIFICATION of Christians and the GLORIFICATION of
God. His WORSHIP of God involves not only being sincere (“in spirit”) but also being according to the teaching of
the New Testament (“in truth”).
He must continue steadfastly in the “apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread and in prayers.”
Also he must sing in praise to God and in admonition to his fellow Christians.
In organization, such Christians assemble in local “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). Each congregation is
locally autonomous, under the rule of its own bishops, served by its own deacons.
Such Christians and congregations are to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
If faithful “unto death” Jesus promises them “a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Over the centuries, since the church was first begun on Pentecost, a.d. 33, MEN have invented doctrines that
started churches not authorized by Jesus Christ. However, ALL authority in heaven and in earth is given unto Him
The only way men can get back under HIS authority and enjoy HIS blessings and promises, they must forsake
their OWN ways and RESTORE CHRISTIANITY AS IT WAS FROM THE BEGINNING.
[TO BE CONTINUED]