SPEAK AS THE ORACLES RADIO Program #1224
THE ORGANIZATION
& GOVERNMENT

OF THE CHURCH
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Fundamentals of Faith

Salvation in Christ

The church of Christ
Adapted from Ira Y. Rice

INTRODUCTION: In the previous lesson we were able to discover, from a careful study of God’s Word, that a
clearly defined WORK and WORSHIP is set forth for the CHURCH described therein. SEVERAL DIFFERENCES
were noted between the WORK AND WORSHIP OF THE CHURCH as it was IN THE BEGINNING of Christianity
and what has gradually come about in the so-called “CHURCHES” of TODAY. We asked WHY, WHY these
differences exist. Also we demonstrated from the Scriptures that it was CONTRARY TO GOD’S WILL for them to
continue.


In our present lesson, we turn next to consider the ORGANIZATION and GOVERNMENT of the church.
Let us SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES DILIGENTLY to determine just what the church should be in these further
respects:


I. THE ORGANIZATION OF THE CHURCH.


A. WORLD-WIDE. A careful examination of the New Testament reveals NO ORGANIZATION of the church as
OVER or BETWEEN the congregations of Christ ON EARTH.


1. In the general sense of the word, Jesus Christ is the HEAD.


a. “And gave him to be the HEAD over ALL THINGS to the CHURCH, which is his BODY” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
b. “Christ is the HEAD of the CHURCH…” (Ephesians 5:23).


NOTE: Other than Jesus as the HEAD, the New Testament authorizes NO OTHER OFFICIALS over the
congregations IN THE AGGREGATE. Neither is there any GOVERNMENT or ORGANIZATION for a GROUP of
churches, or churches in a certain VICINITY or COUNTRY. Any other arrangement is strictly of HUMAN ORIGIN
have NO STANDING WHATEVER in the Word of the Lord.


2. Under the HEADSHIP of JESUS CHRIST, the CHURCH UNIVERSAL, is styled as:


a. His BODY (Read Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18-24).
b. His WIFE (Read Ephesians 5:22-32; Romans 7:4).
c. His KINGDOM (Read Colossians 1:13; Reverse  1:9).
d. A PRIESTHOOD. Under JESUS as “HIGH PRIEST” (Hebrews 5:6; 6:20) those who make up His church in the
aggregate are “an holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5), “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Being ROYAL, this priesthood
comprises PRIESTS who are also KINGS (Revelation 1:6). Rather than a particular class WITHIN the church
having this distinction, ALL its members are not only KINGS, but PRIESTS, also.
e. A SPIRITUAL HOUSE. 1 Peter 2:5-6 shows believers “as lively STONES... built up a spiritual house,” Jesus as
the “CHIEF CORNER STONE” in the house. Verse 7 describes Him as “HEAD” of the corner.


B. LOCALLY.


1. In a CITY, PROVINCE, NATION or VACINITY. Although no organizational arrangements are given in the
Scriptures as concerning more than one local assembly or congregation, yet, all the people of God in a given
city, province, nation or vicinity are called the “church” in this or that area.


EXAMPLES: “Church” in a city — 1 Corinthians 1:2; in a province — Acts 9:31; in a nation — Galatians 1:2; etc.
2. As a CONGREGATION. The only organizational arrangement for the church as authorized by the New
Testament is for locally autonomous congregations or assemblies.


a. These local congregations (churches) could (and did) exist without being organized with officers of any kind
for a time. As such they were merely groups of baptized believers maintaining together the work and worship of
God according to His revealed will — groups of Christians banded together to carry out the will of God on earth.
b. Later on, when brethren grew enough in the grace and knowledge of Christ to qualify, two classes of “office”
were authorized within the local congregations:
1) ELDERS, also called BISHOPS, PRESBYTERS, PASTORS, OVER SEERS, and
2) DEACONS.
c. Thus, when a local congregation was fully organized, as at Philippi, Paul could address his letter “to all the
saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the BISHOPS (i.e., elders) and DEACONS” (Philippians 1:1).
II. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH.


NOTE: It should be noted and emphasized that the local congregations, as presented in the New Testament,
were ALL on an EQUALITY before God; that they were ORGANICALLY SEP ARATE; that they were ALIKE IN
ORGANIZATION; that they were INDEPENDENT of each other; and that they all had the SAME WORK AND
MISSION.


A. THREE THEORIES have been devised by man for the government of religious people in the congregational
capacity, giving rise to THREE DIFFERENT FORMS OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT. Let us dispose of these first
that the NEW TESTAMENT teaching of church government may stand out the more emphatic:


1. EPISCOPAL. This form of government recognizes three orders of the clergy —namely, deacons, who are
generally young men serving a kind of apprenticeship; priests, who have charge of parishes and exercise large
powers; and bishops, who have the oversight of a number of parishes. The entire district over which the bishop
presides is known as a diocese. The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Anglican churches are examples of
this form of church government. The Methodist Episcopal churches have a modified form of this kind.


2. PRESBYTERIAL. This form is an attempt to reproduce the practice of the New Testament churches in which
there was a plurality of elders. This form of government makes a distinction between the teaching elder, who is
ordained as a minister and preacher, and the ruling elders, who are laymen selected for their ability in
leadership. They together form the session and decide matters of ecclesiastical business. The Presbyterian
Church is one example of this form of government.


3. CONGREGATIONAL. This form of church government is based on the theory that each local church is a self-
governing institution. All matters are settled by the vote of the members. The churches are loosely organized into
associations, conventions, and congresses, but they retain complete independence. The Congregationalist and
Baptist Churches are examples of this form of church government.


NOTE: The churches, as authorized by the New Testament, are governed by NONE of these forms.


B. All the authority for governing the church that Jesus left on earth has been vested in the ELDERSHIP of the
church.


1. When Paul “called the ELDERS of the church” to Miletus from Ephesus (Acts 20:17), he told them to take heed
unto themselves “and to all the FLOCK, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you OVERSEERS” (verse 28).


2. Paul instructed Timothy, “Let the ELDERS that RULE well be counted worthy of double honor, especially
those who labor in the word and in teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).


3. Paul besought the Thessalonian brethren to “know them that labor among you, and are OVER YOU IN THE
LORD, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thessalonians 5:
12).


4. Again: “Remember them which have the RULE over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose
faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7).


5. Again: “OBEY them that have the RULE over you, and SUBMIT yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as
they that must give account that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you”
(Hebrews 13:17).


6. And again: “The ELDERS which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder,...FEED the flock of God which
is among you, taking the OVERSIGHT thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready
mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock .... Likewise, ye younger,
SUBMIT yourselves unto the ELDER” (1 Peter 5:1-5).


C. In the infancy of the church in the New Testament, Paul declares Jesus “gave some, APOSTLES; and some,
PROPHETS; and some, EVANGELISTS; and some, PASTORS and TEACHERS” (Ephesians 4:11).


1. In order to be an APOSTLE it was necessary that he be especially chosen from among those who companied
with Christ’s disciples “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of
John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, ... to be a witness ... of his resurrection” (Acts 1:15-26).  
Note especially verses 21 and 22. It must be evident that since all such qualified “witnesses” of Jesus’ resurrection
are DEAD, there can be no LIVING apostles in either the organization or the government of the church today. Of
course, they are still with us through “the apostles’ doctrine — Acts 2:42 — i.e., the New Testament, which they
wrote as inspired from on high.


2. PROPHECY was a special “gift,” not given to all, but to those whom the Holy Spirit chose. (Read 1 Corinthians
12:1-11). However, prophecies were not to continue forever. As Paul said, “Charity never faileth: but whether
there be PROPHECIES, they SHALL FAIL; ... we PROPHESY IN PART. But when that which is PERFECT is
come, then that which is in PART shall be DONE AWAY” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). As to what is “perfect,” David
prophesied that “The law of THE LORD is perfect” (Psalm 19:7). This did not refer to the OLD TESTAMENT law,
for, referring to THAT law, Hebrews 7:19 declares “the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better
hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.” Well, what law is it by which we obtain a better hope. James
calls it “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25).


This almost has to refer to the New Testament Scriptures, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that “All scripture is given by
inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That
the man of God may be PERFECT, throughly furnished unto all good works.” At the time Paul wrote that
prophecy, being “in part,” should be “done away,” when “that which is perfect is come,” the New Testament was
the COMING — but not fully revealed.


It was not until John laid down the pen of inspiration in a.d. 96, forbidding more to be added (Revelation 22:18)
that the words “IS COME” could be applied to that which “is perfect” — the perfect law of liberty, the New
Testament. Prophecy thereupon being “done away,” there were no longer LIVING prophets in the church. Of
course, we still have them insofar as their prophecies are recorded in the New Testament.


3. EVANGELISTS were in the church from the start, but not as rulers. Evangelists, preachers, ministers and such
like were all one and the same. For instance, the young preacher Timothy was told to “PREACH the word” (hence
a PREACHER) ... “do the work of an EVANGELIST” ... and to “make full proof of thy ministry” (hence a minister)
(Read 2 Timothy 4:1-5). The word “evangelist” means one who tells glad tidings or a preacher of the gospel.
Since this work was to go on “always even unto the end of the world,” it follows we still have evangelists,
preachers or ministers. However, since God gave them no part in church government IN THE NEW TESTAMENT,
it would be WRONG TO INCLUDE THEM IN IT NOW.


4. PASTORS (i.e., elders, bishops, presbyters, overseers) we still have. They alone are authorized to “rule” in the
churches. However, in order to be ordained to this high office, brethren must first prove themselves qualified,
which qualifications are given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus


a. These brethren are members of the congregation of which they are a part. Their authority does not go beyond
the boundary or membership of their own congregation. No elder (pastor) has any authority over more than one
congregation. As Acts 14:23 shows Paul and Barnabas ordaining elders (pastors) “IN” every church (NOT OVER
SEVERAL CHURCHES). Any system of church government that extends the authority of elders beyond the
confines of their own local congregation is contrary to the New Testament teaching and perverts God’s order for
the government of His people. If one elder or all the elders of a congregation had authority over other
congregations, then the congregation of which that elder or elders are members would be superior to the church
over which this elder or elders rule. This would destroy the independence and equality of the churches; it would
nullify the autonomy of the local congregation.


5. TEACHERS, too, continue in the Divine plan. Teaching was to continue to the end of the world (Matthew 28:
19-20). It was a self-continuing arrangement (Read 2 Timothy 2:2). However, the New Testament nowhere
authorizes teachers to RULE but only to TEACH. Therefore, teachers are no part of the GOVERNMENT of the
church.


D. DEACONS and DEACONESSES:


1. Although their office carried no authority to govern, yet as we have already noticed, there was a certain class
of officials in the New Testament church known as “DEACONS.”


a. The word diakonos translated “deacon” means ministrant, i.e., servant. Thus deacons were brethren specially
designated to serve in the church. Qualifications for their appointment are found in 1 Timothy 3.
b. Since the Scriptures make no provision for deacons to rule, they have no part in the church government.
c. Since the bishops (elders) ruled, deacons evidently served under their over sight, as directed by them.
d. The seven brethren who were looked out to look after the Grecian widows (Acts 6:1-6) are commonly referred to
as deacons. They MAY have been deacons; but if so, the Bible is silent about it. e. There were no differing
ORDERS of deacons, arch-deacons, etc. As far as revealed Scripture is concerned, deacons were all of equal
rank.


2. Phebe (in Romans 16:1) is described as “a servant of the church” at Cenchrea.



b. Qualifications for deaconesses are not given in the New Testament.
c. Nothing is said in the Scriptures giving deaconesses authority to rule.
d. Because of her good work, Paul commended Phebe, asked the brethren to RECEIVE her in whatever business
she had need. However, no indication is given that she had authority to enforce this request.


E. STEWARDS


1. Although the words “steward” and “stewardship” appear in God’s Word, they are not used to designate an office
in the church.


2. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul and Sosthenes (who wrote the book together) described themselves as MINISTERS
of Christ and STEWARDS of God.


a. Paul was an apostle — and a steward.
b. Sosthenes was not an apostle — but he was a steward.


3. Bishops also are stewards (Titus 1:7).


4. In fact, ALL of God’s people are stewards. Peter teaches, “As EVERY MAN hath received the gift, even so
minister the same one to another, as good STEWARDS of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
NOTE: Since “EVERY MAN” — INCLUDING APOSTLES, BISHOPS, AND ALL — is a STEWARD, it should be
apparent to all that THIS WORD CANNOT REFER TO CHURCH GOVERNMENT. By definition, it simply means
MANAGER. God holds ALL CHRISTIANS RESPONSIBLE for GOOD MANAGEMENT of resources and
opportunities, the idea of “steward” or “stewardship” is in THIS SENSE ONLY in New Testament Scriptures,
NEVER in the sense of an OFFICE.


CONCLUSION: Contrary to modern custom, the organization and government of the church, as taught in the New
Testament, is a simple, uncomplicated arrangement.
With Christ as its only HEAD, the church universal has no hierarchy or superstructure of any kind over the
congregations. Rather, as His body, wife, kingdom, priesthood and spiritual house, the church comprises locally
autonomous congregations or assemblies, each responsible solely to Him and not to any human agency in
between.


Locally, these congregations can exist in an unorganized state until they can qualify a plurality of men to be
appointed as BISHOPS (elders) to oversee the work and other men as DEACONS serving under the bishops.
Bishops and deacons are to be appointed IN each church, not OVER a plurality of churches. The bishops rule;
deacons do not. Not only the deacons … , but also the evangelists, teachers, and any and all other members of a
local church are under the “oversight” of the bishops.


ALL are stewards. Church organization and government, as described in the New Testament, applies to the
PEOPLE involved therein, not to the TERRITORY where they live. The “parish” or “diocesan” idea, as under an
episcopal form of government, nowhere is to be found in the New Testament. Within a congregation, there is no
such distinction as TEACHING elders and RULING elders, as all are required to be “apt to teach” and all are
equally authorized to rule.


Likewise, decisions are not made by majority vote of the congregations where elders have been ordained; neither
by a majority vote of the elders and deacons jointly. Such would destroy completely the rulership of elders. And,
as we have seen, God has given the RULE to ELDERS.


No distinction is made in the New Testament as to “clergy” and “laity.” Since all Christians are referred to as
stewards, priests, and kings, without discrimination as to CLASSES of same, it follows that the whole clergy-laity
concept is contrary to the Word of God.


When Christians follow the New Testament pattern, all of these artificial forms of church organization and
government, invented by man, will be put aside. In their stead, all local congregations will be independent from
each other, equally autonomous under God, yet interdependent as in the same body of Christ. The elders of
each congregation will rule over it, and it alone. All other members in each congregation will submit to that rule.
Order and peace, according to God’s Word, will prevail; and denominations will all end.