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There are many, even in the the body of Christ, who do not understand the organization of the church very well. Think about it for a minute. We are all part of the church that Jesus said He would establish, which began in Jerusalem, on Pentecost, with His apostles. They were the first leaders of the church (Acts 6:2-4). However, Jesus is no longer on this Earth and neither are His apostles. So then, who is the leader of the church, or the person who directs its operations today? Is Jerusalem the headquarters? Or, is there a specific manual that directs us? Can we identify a leadership model within the church? These are all very important questions because many people, with good intentions, have made serious mistakes in their attempt to answer these questions. In this and the next few articles, we will deal with the topic of church leadership and present the Biblical view.
Knowing that Christ, and only Christ, is the head of the church is a fundamental principle every Christian should clearly understand (Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:18). This is a key concept which directly addresses the organization of the church. It includes how the church is governed, what method is used to govern it, and who is involved.
It is important to distinguish Biblical truth from secular judgment because man has a natural tendency to place one person “in charge” of others (1 Samuel 8:19,20; Judges 11:6) and/or an insatiable desire to seize power of authority for themselves (2 Samuel 15:4; 1 Kings 1:5). Just a cursory look at man’s history reveals a long succession of kings, commanders, sultans, chiefs, dictators, presidents, and so forth. Even during the time of Jesus and the apostles, there existed a hierarchy of government to which all were subjected, the Roman Empire. When the church came out of persecution and was recognized by the government of the time – that of Roman Emperor, Constantine (313 AD) – it should not be surprising that the leadership model of the era was eventually imposed upon church, or crept into it in other ways. It was what the people were familiar with at the time. In fact, it is not uncommon to see our modern leadership methods creep into the church today! For example, I have witnessed some elderships operating in the same manner as a board of directors. This was simply because some of those elders were CEO’s or Presidents of businesses or other organizations. It is the leadership model with which they were familiar and knew.
This mentality is also what has led many religious institutions, who use the name “Christian,” to set up hierarchies within their own organizations. They will install a system of ranking, which usually includes a top leader, several levels of sub-leaders, and assistants. There will often be a central office, or headquarters with a primary document that outlines every aspect of government within the church. In fact, just enter “organization of the ___________ church” in your web browser and you will be amazed at all the variations of church government! Can all of this be right? Is this what Jesus intended for His church? Or, is there a specific, divinely inspired standard, or guide for how the church is to be organized and governed? Indeed there is!
First and foremost, recognize that the Bible presents a pattern for each congregation, that is, each assembly of the church of Christ as being autonomous (meaning: governed by itself, not influenced by any outside authority). This alone implies:
There is no headquarters or central office, nor an earthly organization that is authorized to govern the church. There is not a single verse, or example, that approves of such an arrangement.
There is no single human leader over the whole church, but only Christ (Colossians 1:18).
There is no example of a single human leader who governs, or “oversees” any one congregation, but instead, there is always a plurality of leaders (Hebrews 13:17).
There is no verse or example of a leader of one congregation having authority over another congregation (Acts 20:28).
The kingdom (the church) is not of this world (John 18:36), so its inter-workings are not the same as those of the world.
There is no other guide, creed, catechism or manual outside of the Bible which is authorized or contains instructions regarding the church. The Bible alone is completely sufficient! (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1: 3).
There is a divine leadership model for the church! We will look into each of these points in greater detail next week.