New Covenant Church – Restoring Organic Church Leadership and Practice to its Rightful Place in the Church

Greetings! This is a rough draft of a book I started to write about 30 years ago but then put on a shelf for a couple of decades. At some point I may publish this book through Amazon and charge a small fee.

But for now…

Any constructive criticism you can provide at would be appreciated.

And of course, any sale of this work would violate international copyright laws…














When Jesus was about to leave his 12 apostles by way of being crucified he was prepping them to take over the leadership of his church. Given the abilities, propensities, and personalities of his apostles that was a very dicey proposition. But turned it over he did, while at the same time, in some way, he would still be the Head of his church, as stated in Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 5:23.

That was written by a man who would be instrumental in planting and organizing new churches in a way that would maintain Jesus as the Head. This man, the apostle Paul, would be the last one anyone would expect to do that.  As the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus before his conversion, he was more like a Jewish terrorist out to destroy the church than he was a servant of Christ planting churches and building them up.

Jesus left the church, saying, essentially: “You fellows lead, nourish, and oversee my church, and even discipline when necessary, but I will still be the Head of the church.”

How is this leadership to be done, 2000 years later, so that Jesus still has an active and vital headship and we humans don’t get in his way? And worse yet, think we are doing Jesus a favor while we are getting in his way?

In this paper, I will explain how Jesus’ successors did just that, as recorded in our New Testaments.

Many churches have read into the words of the New Testament something which I will show is not there: top-down hierarchical rulership. I will demonstrate that Paul and the rest nourished an organism, not an institution and that doing the same is the best way to ensure God’s purposes are accomplished by His church.

Part of the answer is a form of Collegiate Leadership known as Equal Eldership which stands in stark contrast to the Monarchial Rulership of a singular pastor or a Senior Pastor who has veto powers over the decisions of the other pastors and elders or is otherwise the dominant leader in his church.

Some will wonder how Equal Eldership can work.  Others, based on their experience, will say that it just plain doesn’t work.  I can sympathize with their sentiments, however, if we base our doctrine on speculation or on our limited experience rather than on the Word then our approach to this topic should be challenged. The question we need to be asking ourselves is this: if equal eldership worked in the first century, why not now?  Shouldn’t we raise our experience to the level of the inspired Word rather than lower our theology to the level of our own experience?

Many have agonized in their spirits asking God, “Where are the miracles, the power, the love, the unity, and the holiness of the early church?  Perhaps the Holy Spirit is answering that question with another – where is the early church?

Many who have spent some time studying church government in the scriptures say that the bible is rather vague and does not prescribe any particular form of government, therefore we are free to improvise as we see fit.  Some say churches have generally gotten their inspiration from simply copying forms of civil government rather than from studying the Word and these forms are sufficient for our day and age.  I contend; however, that the modern church has not improved upon what the apostles established under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, especially considering modern churches have by and large reverted to Old Testament hierarchical and monarchial church government.

This is more than just a Bible study or an intellectual enterprise.  As Christ’s body we are to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God and the issues raised in this book have implications as to how we do that.  It also has implications concerning the spiritual condition of the church and whether we are going to advance or hinder the spread of the Gospel throughout the earth, and what kind of “Gospel” we are spreading.

It’s not hard to see that churches typically revolve around their pastors yet we find nowhere to turn in the New Testament to support the status quo of our modern churches.  The fact that pastor-centered churches are the norm makes a critical analysis of such a system difficult for many.  It would be far easier if what we were talking about was something found in only a few churches, preferably someone else’s church.  But analysis we must do, even if it’s uncomfortable.  To quote Roy Hershberger in A Religion of Irrelevance:

Problems result when we do not allow our theories to undergo critical analysis. It is extremely important to avoid our own protectionist attitude.  We must be willing to face the possibility that our ideas about reality will not stand under debate. If we are unable to face such an outcome then we are not interested in truth, but only keeping our own little world intact. This is a very difficult step to take for a Christianity that is plagued with insecurities . . .

If we ask the right questions and look for the answers in the right place we will be led into more truth.  God is faithful to guide his believers. That includes ministers, sometimes more bound by churchianity and religiosity than anyone else.

Since I have an interest in missions I wanted to not only write a book to guide my own future church planting activities but also make it a useful manual for other church planters as well.  I pray that others will find the dynamics of Organic Church Government to be as exciting as I have and seek to restore the New Testament pattern to its rightful place in our churches today.

As you read you will discover that once a church planter has laid a foundation for his young church to follow, and if he is going to be consistent with the New Testament, he will leave it up to that church to decide to what extent that foundation is going to be followed.  When it comes to who has the final word in a church the buck should stop with the local eldership.  My hat is off to those elders that God is going to raise up to make a stand to not compromise with tradition but seek to embrace the principles contained in God’s word.

For ministers-in-training who have not yet succeeded in landing a job as a church’s pastor this study will be liberating as you realize you don’t have to fit the mold modern churchianity has squeezed its pastors into.  Those of you who have given up on the idea that God has called you to the ministry will find yourselves revitalized rather than marginalized as God’s perfect order begins to unfold before you.  You may find yourself the asset to Christ’s body that you always believed you could be but were prevented by wrong doctrine expressing itself in non-biblical church structures and concepts of ministry.

If you are a church reformer you probably are of one of two “classes,” those who have the power and authority to be able to act on your convictions and those who don’t.  If you have the ability to single-handedly change the course of your church you may find the proposition of giving up that authority unpalatable.  But then if you end up sharing that authority with a few other godly men you may be surprised at what God will do in your church.

Benjamin Franklin once said:

He who shall introduce into public affairs the principle of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.

That is certainly true, yet while our founding fathers leavened the lump of the dough of the civil world with the principles of primitive Christianity the church finds itself in a pocket of resistance to bringing about reformation according to the same principles.  As for me, I have always sided with Martin Luther, saying, “The Reformation must continue!”


I first started thinking about church government while attending a bible college administered by a church whose pastor was very authoritarian.  In my naivete as a young Christian, I admired him for being such a strong leader.  He was so plugged into God and had the chutzpah to lead his congregation into places that seemed to put us on the cutting edge of what God was doing in the world.  It was as if he were the very epitome of a man of God being used to lead God’s people on the higher road, a path of glory in God’s presence yet rife with dangers and a fair share of detractors as well.  To us, he was Moses.

Greg, my roommate at the bible college, took the pastor’s slogan, “Our doctrinal statement is the bible,” more seriously than most and was prone to frequently ask the question, “Where do you see THAT in the Bible?”  He had to be careful where and when he asked that question because he would occasionally receive a lecture for undermining the authority of the pastor and sowing discord among the brethren.  There was one question in particular he had to be very careful about asking but asked me knowing that I believed that the bible, not a pastor, should be our final authority on matters of faith and practice.  That question was, “Where in the bible do we see any pastor or any one person as the head of a local assembly?”  This question seemed to undermine the very foundation of our pastor’s authority but it was a question that nevertheless needed to be asked.

We were a church that prided itself on its strict adherence to the scriptures, yet I found it curious that a person could go through five years of our bible college and never once take a course on church government.  It wasn’t even offered.  In retrospect, I realize the pastor had a reason for that.  If we spent too much time in the scriptures on this topic we would more than likely come to conclusions that would indeed erode his authority at that church, especially considering his authority was based on his very position as pastor.  To question the legitimacy of his office was to put his whole ministry in doubt and his very livelihood at stake.

My immediate response to Greg’s question was, “Moses was the head of a local assembly.”  He then asked, “No, New Testament.  Where do we see pastors in the New Testament?”  After a little bit of head scratching I came up with Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastor/ teachers.”  My roommate explained to me that Ephesians 4:11 made no mention of whether each local assembly was to have one pastor/teacher or several pastor/teachers and challenged me to find monarchial church government in the New Testament. “If God wanted monarchial government for the New Testament church then it should be either found or taught in the New Testament,” he said. That made perfect sense to me so I accepted his challenge and this book is the result of that challenge.

In this book I have gone beyond that original question to provide a comprehensive view of New Covenant Church Government, answering questions such as: What is the biblical pattern for church government?  What do those leaders look like?  How much authority do they have and how is it exercised?  Why are the other forms of church government not only inadequate but unscriptural?  What is the purpose of the church and what type of service best suits its purpose?  How should the church be arranged to best facilitate its mission to spread the Gospel throughout the earth and transform people into the image of Christ?


Some time when I have nothing better to do I would like to take a survey of the churches in my community of Kennewick, Washington – walk in and ask the usher or the secretary, “Who is the head of this church?  Who is in charge?”  The answers I would get would no doubt be interesting.  If they say Pastor So-and-So I would then ask, “Isn’t Jesus the head of this church?” to which they might reply, “Well, of course, Jesus is the head.  That was kind of a trick question.”

No not really.  It is highly unlikely that Jesus will in practice be the head of a church if his headship is not firmly ingrained in that church’s collective psyche.  If the members of the church have the mindset that Jesus is the head, rather than their pastor, then they are going to answer that question accordingly.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that all churches proclaim that Jesus is their head.  That would lead us to a very important question: What kind of church government best facilitates the working out of that headship in actual practice?  How would that church make Jesus their head in deed as well as in word?  Would they have a democracy where each member is given the responsibility to seek God’s face, search the Word, and then vote on all the issues that come before the congregation?  How about a republic where a few individuals are given the responsibility to make decisions on everyone’s behalf in accordance with how they discern the will of God?  Possibly a monarchy where one man hears from God and leads the congregation in the way God has given?  As we survey the landscape of churches we see all of these forms, including many variations on these three themes, but if you boil them all down they would all fall into one of these three categories.

In the churches they are given different category names for these forms of government than what we use for secular governments.  Instead of a democracy, it is considered a congregational form of church polity, a republic is called presbyterian, and a monarchy is called episcopalian.  Naturally, the denominations by those names have that form of government.  The word presbyterian comes from the Greek word for elder or old man and the word episcopalian comes from the Greek word for overseer, which is often translated as bishop.

Which of these is the best avenue for a body of believers to manifest the headship of Jesus Christ?  To answer this question we need only to go to the scriptures to see how the apostles established the very first Christian churches.  But before we do that we need to first look at…

The Church Under Jesus

When the scriptures were written some time after the ascension of Jesus he was given the titles of:


To put it in modern vernacular, he is our Senior Pastor; Pioneer and Finisher of our Faith; and Pastor and Overseer of our Souls, just as he was to the twelve apostles and earliest disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

When Jesus was about to depart the earth he said, “All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. Therefore, go forth into all the world, making disciples of all nations.”  He would return via the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and lead the church into this ministry.  He did not appoint a “senior pastor,” a “chief elder,” or a “first apostle” to lead the church at Jerusalem. HE was to be the head of His body, after his ascension just as he was before. (Eph. 1:22, 4:15, 5:23, Col. 1:18, 2:19)

When he ascended into heaven he didn’t leave his church in the hands of Peter or any other “Vicar,” a title the Catholic Church has given to Peter and all the popes, which is a short form of “vicarious substitute for Christ.”  Neither did he leave it entirely in the hands of the twelve apostles. He continued to be and still is the head of the church and maintains that headship through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit enables him to do everything from the throne room of God that he was able to do while on earth, but much more effectively since he is now able to be everywhere at once.

The Church at Jerusalem

Every summer at The Amphitheater in Puyallup, Washington, a huge passion play is presented complete with goats, sheep, and Roman Centurions on galloping horses.  I always appreciate the way the apostles are portrayed in this play – all too human.

It amazes me that Jesus would hand-pick such an unlikely crew to be the founders of the Christian church, but then God is given more glory that way.  Given man’s propensity toward being prideful and self-interested, it would have seemed logical for Jesus to pick the best of the twelve apostles to lead the rest in their mission and keep them in line, but instead, he left them to work things out together.  The future of the Christian church rested on their success.

Those who say Jesus must have a single person to lead each local assembly fail to consider the very first local assembly, which was at Jerusalem.  Let’s take a look at the Mother of all Churches (pun intended) and see by what principles the apostles operated.

Equality of the Apostles

At the church at Jerusalem, all twelve apostles were considered equal and made their decisions together by coming to a mutual consensus. Notice who pastored the church in these scriptures in Acts:

  • The disciples devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles (plural) (2:42)
  • The 12 called the multitude together. (6:2)
  • The 12 appointed 7 to administer the widows’ fund and laid hands on them. (6:3)
  • The apostles (plural) dispatched Peter and John to Samaria when they heard they had accepted the word of God. (8:14)

Nineteen years after Christ’s ascension the church was forced to deal with Judaizers who taught that obeying the Law of Moses, particularly the law of circumcision, was necessary for salvation. This issue came to a head in Syria as some of the Jewish Christians came down from Judea and contended with Paul and Barnabus who taught that the Gentiles were not bound by the distinctly Jewish laws.  Paul and Barnabus allowed themselves to be sent to Jerusalem by the Judaizers to have the brethren there decide on the matter.  They were not sent to the “head pastor” or Peter, nor any “vicar.” They were sent to the apostles and elders.

Notice who made the decisions in the following passages from Acts 15:

  • The Judeans who contended with Paul and Barnabus over circumcision arranged for them and others to go to the apostles and elders. (vs. 2)
  • They were received by the apostles, the elders, and the congregation. (vs. 4)
  • The apostles and elders gathered together to hear of the matter. (vs. 6)
  • The apostles and elders and the whole congregation favored sending men with Paul and Barnabus with a letter to the churches in Syria. (vs. 22)
  • The letter said, “The apostles and elders to the brothers in Antioch and Syria. . . (vs. 23)

If there was a head pastor at Jerusalem, then where is he? If Peter was to be the pope or even the pastor at Jerusalem then why isn’t he calling the shots?

First Among Equals

Acknowledging the equality of the apostles does not explain the prominence that some of them seemed to have.  Peter, for example, was the one to whom Jesus said would be the Rock upon which he would build his church.  The Catholic Church uses this scripture in Matthew 16:18 to justify making Peter the first pope.  He was also the one who stood up on the Day of Pentecost and preached the sermon that increased the church from 120 people to 3000 and was quite often the one who was the spokesman for the band of apostles.  This can be explained easily with the important yet often misunderstood principle of a leader being “first among equals,” but first let’s establish that Peter was equal to the other apostles.

Paul calls Peter, James, and John men who were “of reputation” and those who “seemed to be pillars.” (Gal. 2:2,6,9)  If Peter had a position of authority above the other two or if any of the three had a position of authority above anyone else, Paul certainly would not have used this kind of language to describe them.  Also, Paul, who was not even one of the twelve, considered himself equal to Peter by saying he “withstood Peter to the face,” (Gal. 2:11) and that he was “in no respect inferior to the most eminent apostles (“super-apostles” in the NIV), even though I am a nobody.” (2 Cor. 12:11)  Peter, for his part, did not consider himself to be any different than the others.  In 1 Pet. 5:1 he calls himself a “fellow-elder” (sumpresbuterous).

If Jesus’ pronouncement of Peter as the Rock on which he would build his church meant that he would be Jesus’ vicar, or fill in as the head of the body in his absence, then that interpretation was lost on Peter and Paul.  Neither do we see any evidence anywhere else in the scriptures that that is what he meant.  Rather, we should look at Jesus’ pronouncement to mean that Peter would be a vessel whose influence would surpass that of the other apostles, especially in the earliest days beginning at the Day of Pentecost and immediately following.  That influence came from his anointing, not his appointing.

Many Protestants will go into complicated Greek word studies to try to prove, as I tried to do in an earlier version of this book, that Jesus used two different words for rock, one for Peter and the other for the rock upon which he would build his church.  By this, they imply that he would build his church on a different rock than Peter, such as Peter’s revelation that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  This view does not hold water in my opinion and misses the understanding of how Peter was used as the rock upon which Jesus built his church.  The correct view, of Peter being the rock, doesn’t validate the Catholic doctrine of the “primacy of Peter,” but does preserve a more natural reading of Matthew 16:18.  It also gives recognition to what kind of a change can come over a man when he is filled with the Holy Spirit.  With God’s anointing, he was no longer the rash and unstable man who did things such as deny his lord or cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.  When he was “converted” on the Day of Pentecost, like a solid rock he became a strength to God’s people. (Lk. 22:32)

Another minister that was very prominent in the early church was James, one of the men of reputation in Galatians 2, and also the Lord’s brother (or cousin, for those insisting on the Catholic position), not to be confused with James, the brother of John, who had been killed earlier.  Some see in James a Biblical precedent for our modern-day monarchial pastors, yet any authority he had was not because of any official position he had, but rather it was because of his spiritual stature.  Having grown up with Jesus, he had spent more time with him than any of the other disciples. Having walked with Jesus was important for the church and was even a requirement for the one who replaced Judas as one of the twelve apostles (Acts 1:21).  James stood out not because of any position he had in his church but because of who he was.

On Paul’s last trip to Jerusalem, he “went in unto James and the elders,” (Acts 21:17) which makes it sound like James could have been the pastor there but this would be pure conjecture.  Rather, James was the only one of the three “men of reputation” that was still in Jerusalem because Peter and John, as well as the rest of the 12, had gone off to the rest of the known world preaching the Gospel.  He was prominent in Jerusalem not because he was the pastor, but because he was James.  It was who he was, not what he was that set him apart from the others, making him first among equals.  Though James was a man of prominence and influence in Jerusalem, he still operated on an equal basis with the elders as can be seen from how he spoke of decisions they had come to, saying, “Do this which WE tell you . . .  As for the believers of the nations, WE have sent out, rendering OUR decision . . . “ (Acts 21:23,25)

Any time you have a group of men in collective leadership, acting jointly as a council and sharing equal authority and responsibility for the leadership of the church, you will have some who will naturally stand out in their giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, wisdom, and love and dedication to God and His people.  Acknowledging these men as first among equals, leaders among leaders, to quote Alexander Strauch, “allows for functional, gift-based diversity within the eldership team without creating an official, superior office over fellow elders.” [1]

Some churches, in their zeal to eliminate any vestige of hierarchy and prevent anyone from dominating the church have disallowed anyone among them to be a leader.  Hebrews 13:17, which says, “be yielding to those who take the lead among you,” [2] would not make much sense if no one was supposed to take the lead, if they don’t allow anyone who is a natural or gifted leader to actually do what God has put in his heart to do.

What if they had done that to Peter?  Quoting Alexander Strauch,

As the natural leader, the chief speaker, and the man of action, Peter challenged, energized, strengthened, and ignited the group.  Without Peter, the group would have been less effective.  When surrounded by eleven other apostles who were his equals, Peter became stronger, more balanced, and was protected from his impetuous nature and his fears.[3]

The beauty of group leadership is that no one person has to bear the responsibility for being the inspired leader of the church at all times.  When one elder’s passion for a particular message or direction has run its course he does not have to feel like he must maintain a high profile because God has other elders “in the bullpen,” to use a baseball analogy, ready to move ahead with what God has put on their hearts.  Typically, what happens is that one of the elders will greatly surpass the others in his teaching ability and therefore do most of the teaching.  He may even be on staff as a paid minister in accordance with Paul’s injunction to not “muzzle the ox that treads out the corn,” while the other elders serve on a volunteer basis.  But this should not be construed to mean that he should be called “the pastor” or even the “ruling elder,” but rather he should consider himself the teaching elder, or better, one of the teaching elders, to prevent the evolution of a clergy/laity distinction.  The ministry of the teaching elder has solid biblical support, while the office of pastor has none.

Paul – Team Player, Not a Monarch

Some view Paul as the quintessential strong, authoritarian, monarchial leader. A closer examination of Paul gives quite a different picture.  Paul did not elevate himself above anyone nor did he allow others to put him or his fellow ministers on pedestals, saying, “Let no man glory in men.”  He did not even consider himself to be “over” those in the churches he planted.  He followed the spirit of the teaching of Jesus who said:

Be ye not called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.  And call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven.  Neither be ye called masters, for one is your Master, even Christ.  But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.  (Mt. 23:8-12)

Though he was no doubt respected and admired by his colleagues, Paul considered Titus, Timothy, Philemon, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, Justus, Epaphras, and Tychicus to be his “fellow-helpers,” “fellow-workers,” “fellow-soldiers,” and “fellow-servants.”  (Rom. 16:3,9, 21, 2 Cor. 8:23, Php. 2:25, 4:3, Col. 1:7, 4:7,11, Phm 1:1, 2, 24) Though he was able to direct their affairs at times and use them to help him in his church planting activities, he considered himself to be alongside them, not over them.  He purposefully leveled the playing field, eliminating the clergy/laity distinctions that were present in the synagogue at that time.

When Paul wrote to the churches, he wrote to the whole church, not to the leaders.  Only in two letters did he even mention the leaders, and never was it one leader.  The leadership was always addressed as a collegium.

Also, when Paul wrote to the churches, he did not write as one who might be called “the apostle,” or “the bishop,” but wrote as an equal member of an apostolic team.  1 Corinthians was a message from Paul and Sosthenes; 2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Colossians were from Paul and Timothy; 1 and 2 Thessalonians were from Paul, Timothy, and Silas; and Galatians was from Paul and all of the brethren that were with him.   Romans and Ephesians were the only letters attributed to Paul that were written by him alone.

Paul was free to move and minister on his own initiative and allowed those whom he mentored the same liberty.  He teamed up with others when he could find others willing to team up with him and did not set himself in any sort of hierarchy over his colleagues or those in the churches he planted.  Contrast this with Diotrephes, one minister who took “oversight” to mean “being over.”

Diotrephes – Monarch, Not a Team Player

After searching in vain to find anyone in the Bible who served as the “bishop” or “the pastor” of a local assembly we might come across this character Diotrephes.  If he is the only clear example of monarchial leadership in the New Testament then he does more harm than good to the cause of those who promote that kind of leadership.

The apostle John wrote a letter, 3 John, to his friend Gaius who apparently was a member of a church pastored by this one man named Diotrephes.  John complained to Gaius that he had written a letter to that congregation but it was not accepted by Diotrephes.  Apparently, Diotrephes had something against John and was “chattering about him with wicked words.”  Not only did he not receive John or his letters, he would not receive John’s friends or co-laborers and even kicked out of his church those members who tried to receive them.

How do we know Diotrephes was the head pastor or the only pastor at his church?  Because John described him as one “who loves to have the preeminence.”  This phrase comes from the Greek word “philoproteuo” which comes from phileo, to have affection for, and protos, first in place or rank.  In other words, he loved to be THE pastor.  If Diotrephes were not at the head of his church he would not have had the authority to forbid fellowship with John’s friends or kick those out of the church who did.

If he were part of a collegiate leadership team that team would be making those kinds of decisions as a body, with Christ as the head.   If they had an equal eldership one of the elders would have been able to stop the discrimination against John and his friends by saying, “Hold it, brothers, we can’t allow this personal thing Diotrephes has against our beloved John to keep us from receiving these good brethren.”  With a “multitude of counselors,” common sense would have prevailed and Diotrephes’ attitude problem could have been kept in check.  With monarchial leadership, on the other hand, there is little to hinder the propagation of error coming from the leader, whether that error is in doctrine or in spirit.

In God’s economy, it is allowed, even admirable, to desire to be an overseer in the church, but it is not admirable to desire to be preeminent, that is, in a position over others.  Jesus said those who would be great among you must be your servants.  Servants do not have preeminence.  Quite the opposite, they assume a position of humble servitude.

Team Leadership at Antioch, Ephesus, and Elsewhere

In my Psychology classes at the University of Washington, we learned that one of the best research methods is the longitudinal study, which is following target groups of children from childhood into adulthood to see how they mature under various conditions.  The book of Acts allows us to do a longitudinal study of sorts, observing three churches from their inception to their establishment as churches and on into later stages in their development.

As we have seen from the abundance of information that we have on the church at Jerusalem, it is clear that the preferred model of church government for Jesus and his apostles is shared or team leadership, otherwise known as collegiate leadership, plural leadership, or equal eldership, all terms I use synonymously in this book.  The book of Acts also gives us a wealth of information about the churches at Antioch and Ephesus that rarely finds its way into literature on the subject of church government.  Each of these two churches is unique in its inception, establishment, and maturing, but there is enough commonality that we can see that there is a definitive pattern of church government that confirms what we have seen elsewhere in the New Testament.

The Church at Antioch – The church at Antioch became Paul’s home church for most of his missionary journeys and was also the first place where the disciples of Christ were called Christians.  This church was not planted by an apostle or evangelist but by Christians who had moved to the area as part of a scattering of Christians during the persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen.  They probably did not intend to plant a church but simply preached the Lord Jesus to Greek-speaking Jews and many of them believed and turned to the Lord.  The news of this reached the church at Jerusalem who thought it would be good for them to have an experienced and gifted church planter to help establish them in the Lord, so they sent Barnabas down to help them organize into a church.  If Barnabas was not already an apostle he became one at this time since the word apostle means sent one.

Barnabas saw that the Lord was at work at Antioch and went to search for his old friend Paul to help him out in the ministry, preferring to work as a team rather than on his own.  Paul owed a lot to this man and was glad to help him.  It was Barnabas, one of the “founding members” of the church at Jerusalem, who stood up for Paul when the disciples were afraid of him and convinced them that Paul had indeed seen the Lord, been converted, and was courageously preaching the Gospel.

Paul stayed at Antioch for one year before the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas out on their first missionary journey to Judea.  During that year prophets had also come down from the church at Jerusalem and ministered at Antioch, one of which was Agabus who prophesied of a famine in Jerusalem and all of Judea.

After Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after taking a famine relief offering up to Judea, it says in Acts 13:1 that there was at the church at Antioch prophets and teachers.  Besides Paul and Barnabas three others were named, Agabus not being one of them.  The Holy Spirit then sent Paul and Barnabas out on another missionary journey during which time they appointed elders in all of the churches in the area in which they had been ministering or had planted churches and then returned to Antioch.  During this stay, it says that Paul and Barnabas were “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also,” (15:35) making it sound as if there were now more than the other three prophets and teachers they had left behind previously.

To summarize, this church was started by Christians sharing their faith, established by Barnabas with Paul’s help, and further nurtured by teachers and prophets, including Paul and Barnabas when they were in town.  This church was pastored by a team, whose membership was rather fluid and not fixed or ordered by anyone but the Holy Spirit.

The Church at Ephesus – It’s hard to say exactly when this church was planted.  The first activity there started on Paul’s second missionary journey.  He intended this journey to be a follow-up ministry to see how the brethren were doing that he and Barnabas had ministered to on their first journey from Antioch (Acts 15:36-40).  Paul initially spent very little time there but left behind his colleagues in his tent-making profession, Aquila and Priscilla.  While they were there the eloquent preacher Apollos came to town and then left for Corinth where Paul was at the time.  When Apollos came to Corinth Paul went back to Ephesus where it says in Acts 19:1 that he “found certain disciples,” which numbered twelve.  Paul stayed on for three months preaching in the synagogue as he and Apollos had done before, then he and the disciples retreated to the School of Tyrannus after some began bad-mouthing the Way of God.  During their two years there many people from all around what is today Turkey heard the Gospel and saw the miracles done at Paul’s hand.  After shrine makers who were losing business due to people turning to Christ stirred up a riot, Paul left for a few months to travel to Macedonia and Greece then sailed by Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem.  Before he left Ephesus there was no sign of a church there but at this time there was.  Quite possibly one formed of its own accord during Paul’s absence, or he had begun to move the disciples in that direction before he left.

When Paul sailed past Ephesus he “called over to him the elders of the church.”  Not only was there a church but in less than three years of Paul’s off-and-on ministry there God had raised up an eldership.  These elders had watched how Paul and his companions had been pastoring the disciples and now it was their turn to take on this responsibility.  Paul said to them:

I know that you all, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, shall see my face no more.  Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God. Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to pastor the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.  I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Wherefore watch, remembering that by the space of three years, I ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears.  And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified. (Acts 20:25-32)

To summarize, the Ephesians heard the Gospel preached by several different people over three years and toward the end of that time a church was formally established and elders recognized.  Paul did not appoint any one person to lead this church but simply put his faith in Jesus to be able to pastor them and lead them into their eternal inheritance through the agency of a plurality of elders.

The Churches of Pisidia and Lycaonia – Paul’s first efforts to formally organize churches were on his first missionary journey from Antioch in Syria during the time he and Barnabas retraced their steps after having gotten as far as Derbe in Lycaonia, in what is now Turkey.  As they retraced their steps they “appointed elders in every church and prayed for them with fasting, turning them over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had come to trust.” (Acts 14:23) The Greek words for “every city” are in the distributive use and would be better translated, “in each and every city.”  This shows clearly that the plurality was not in just the fact that there was more than one city and therefore more than one elder appointed, but that each one was to have more than one elder.

The Churches of Crete – Paul sailed past the island of Crete as a prisoner being transported to Rome but did not spend any time there.  We do not have any record of how the churches there were started but in Paul’s letter to Titus, he expressed concern about the welfare of the churches there because of the island residents’ reputation for poor character.

Paul directed Titus to “set in order the things that are wanting” by appointing elders (plural), whom he also called overseers in the same letter (1:5-7), in each city on the island of Crete.  What was wanting was mature elders who could be leaders and serve as examples of Christian character.  In Paul’s letter to Titus, he stressed the character qualities an elder must have so there would be a clear distinction between the Christians and the rest of the Cretans whom Paul said were, quoting one of their own prophets, “liars, evil beasts, and gluttons.”

Since only God can change a man’s character, Titus’s job was not to make elders but to teach the congregations what character qualities they should expect to see in those who are going to assume leadership, those same qualities Paul reiterated in his letter to Titus.  Even in an area fraught with reprobate men, we can assume that there existed in the churches men who could pass the high standards set out by Paul and Titus.  Titus did not spend enough time there to see the Holy Spirit work these qualities into men who did not have them.   At the time of the writing of Paul’s letter, he was already urging Titus to come join him in Nicopolis where Paul was spending the winter. (3:12) This also shows that Titus was not there to set up a permanent pastorate for himself or become a bishop over these churches, even though some churches use Titus as an example of a bishop who presides over several congregations in an episcopal form of church government.  The priests of the Anglican Church who translated The King James Bible inserted at the end of Titus, “It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians, from Nicopolis of Macedonia,” even though this is not in any Greek manuscript.

The Church at Philippi – Paul and Silas started this church on Paul’s second missionary journey.  Their first converts and the core of the church, along with their families and possibly others, were Lydia, a seller of very expensive purple cloth, and the jailer who witnessed Paul and Silas freed by an earthquake.

About ten years later while Paul was a prisoner in Rome he wrote to the church at Philippi thanking them for their generous support of his ministry.  In his letter to them he addressed them as such, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and ministers.”(1:1)

This is the only reference to church leaders in the New Testament where the Greek term presbuteros (elder) is not used.  That is because presbuteros and episcopos (overseer) refer to the same ministry in the church, and it is those who have this ministry that are the ones who are charged with pastoring the flock.   This can be seen in the following passages:

Tit. 1:5-7 … make appointments of ELDERS in every city … for a BISHOP (Greek episkopos from epi (over) and skopos (to watch), hence OVERSEER) must be blameless…

Acts 20:17,28 – From Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the ELDERS of the church, saying to them, “Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you OVERSEERS (episkopos), to SHEPHERD the church of God.” “To shepherd” is the verb form of the noun “pastor.”

I Pet. 5:1,2 – The ELDERS which are among you I exhort, who am also an ELDER … SHEPHERD the flock of God which is among you, TAKING THE OVERSIGHT THEREOF (the verb form of episkopos).

As can be seen from these churches established by Jesus and his apostles, collegiate eldership is not only the preferred form of church government but given the absence of any others it is the only form of church government in the New Testament.


No form of church government could possibly be perfect unless those involved were perfect themselves.  As can be seen from how Jesus established group leadership to carry on in his physical absence and how the apostles established the first Christian churches, group or collegiate leadership is the form of government that best fulfills the headship of Jesus, given man’s imperfections.

Besides honoring Christ as the only head of every local assembly, there are many other advantages to collegiate church government:

Protection – Equal eldership provides built-in accountability in a way that monarchial government never can.   A bishop, apostle, or denominational headquarters in another town will not be listening to the sermons and teachings or sit in the staff meetings of any particular church that it is overseeing.  Things will have to get really bad before someone feels it is necessary to go over the pastor’s head to report him to those who are over him.  By that time much damage may have already been done that could have been avoided if the elders knew it was part of their responsibility to protect the flock from their own colleagues.

Rubbing shoulders with each other daily allows the elders to know each other in a way that no one in another city could possibly know.  An errant teacher will not be able to go very far before he is pulled back into the correct path by the other elders.  A church where one person outranks the others, on the other hand, does not provide much accountability for that man because the other pastors or elders will be reticent to bring correction.  They may even feel it is not their place to do anything about the situation.  An elder may have the title of pastor but not be able to function as one when the sheep really need his care, oversight, and protection.

Manifesting God -No single person other than Christ has ever fully manifested the nature of God, yet God has designed the church to manifest the manifold wisdom and grace of God. (Eph. 3:10, 1 Pet. 4:10) Besides providing the best form of protection for the sheep, one clear manifestation of the heart of the Great Shepherd, multiple elders also more fully manifest the nature of God in many other ways as well.

The Greek word translated as manifold in the KJV could also be translated many-faceted.  Picture a diamond with its many facets.  If you look at it real close, say with a magnifying glass, you can only see one facet at a time.  If we compare that to a church that has only one pastor he is like that one facet of a diamond in that he can only manifest the nature of God in his own limited way.  If all churches had only one pastor you would have to visit other churches to get a look at other facets on that diamond.

As you move a diamond away from your face the more facets you can see and you get a better idea of what that diamond actually looks like.  You no longer get a one faceted view.   Compare that with a church led by an eldership.  Each elder will manifest a side of God that only he can manifest and complement the other elders who can only manifest their side of God.  Together, you see the full diamond in all of its glory, in other words, a better picture of the nature of God.  Where one elder is strong in zeal for God’s people but weak in zeal for God’s word another will be strong in zeal for His word while weak in administrative abilities.   A third may be strong in administrative abilities but weak in another area, and so on.  With elders working together, God’s people do not have to settle for a one-sided view of the manifold grace of God manifesting itself through the church leadership.  With a plurality of equal leaders, to use another metaphor, the body gets a “full meal deal.”

Maturity – A collegiate government will mature faster since they will not tend to let one man take on a lion’s share of the responsibilities. If there is one who is spiritually head and shoulders above the rest, he will work harder to train the rest if he sees collegiate government as being the scriptural pattern.

A pastor seeing his elders as his colleagues and not his subordinates will have a dramatic effect on how the elders mature.  The typical denominational practice of always searching for a replacement for a pastor rather than the elders sharing in that ministry is not found in scripture and keeps the eldership immature.

Unity – “Having the same mind,” and “speaking the same things” as we are admonished in the scriptures to do, will more likely be a healthy process of open-minded discussion rather than a subjugation of will, conscience and opinion.  That subjugation is what happens when one person is trying to get his church in unity with him by legislating that unity.   Legislated unity is not genuine unity and won’t stand tests and trials. Pastors who have an it’s-my-way-or-the-highway mentality may have what looks on the surface like unity in their churches, but may be doing more than they realize to bring about a church split.

A recent ad in an evangelical magazine, had the heading, “Not Every Question Gets Answered On Sunday Morning”. The fact is, in a church where unity is forced, probably no one’s questions are answered because no inquiries are allowed. The pulpit monologue precludes dialogue.  In the New Testament you will be hard pressed to find anyone preaching in the church.  Preaching was primarily done in the “marketplace” for evangelistic purposes whereas in the church you will find the ministers teaching and dialoguing.  Even in the instance of Eutychus falling asleep and falling out of the window because Paul spoke until midnight, an event celebrated by long-winded preachers, the Greek word for speaking was dialogizomai from which we get our English word “dialogue.”  Paul was leading a discussion, not preaching at them.

To have genuine unity, a church must be process oriented rather than goals oriented.  We don’t want to attain a goal of “unity” which would be superficial while in so doing bypass the process necessary to get to genuine unity.  Having a collegiate leadership where consensus is the stated goal will encourage the process necessary for genuine unity.  The process may get messy, but it’s just as important as the goal since it will give the Holy Spirit more opportunity to be involved and more iron will be sharpened (Pr. 27:17) as the people rub against each other.

At the Council of Jerusalem the apostles and elders achieved genuine unity without any person being ordained to a position guaranteeing him the right to make final decisions in questionable matters, as can be seen by their saying “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no further burden on you than these necessary things.” (Acts 15:28)  They all had the responsibility to search out each other’s viewpoint and be led of the Holy Spirit in their reasoning.

Balance – Instead of the church being led by one man’s vision that may exclude other manifestations of the heart of God, it will become more balanced with collegiate leadership. Instead of the one-faceted manifestation of Christ through one man the eldership will manifest the “many-faceted wisdom of God” (Eph 3:11) and the “many-faceted grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10) that the church is to manifest, even manifesting this grace to the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” No one person manifests from his personality, anointing, and giftings a balanced or complete representation of God’s nature, but several men can. Where one lacks mercy another can compensate. Where one may be a man pleaser another may preach the word without fear, yet the man pleaser may be more able to discern the needs of the congregation and win their hearts.  The Holy Spirit can also use the different biases at times to emphasize certain things, even during the same time period.  This will produce a more balanced, complete, and well-rounded ministry.

God could have used one man to write the Bible but manifest a fullness of his nature through a diversity of writers. He could have used just Peter to lead the church at Jerusalem, but he used the 12 together along with others God added to them, to be a manifestation of the nature of God.

Think of the different manifestations of God through a collegiate leadership as a symphony with Jesus as the heavenly conductor.  Now compare this with each of the musicians off in a separate room with each member of the audience only able to hear one instrument at a time.  In order to receive the “manifold grace of God” each member of the audience would have to scurry from church to church, so to speak, but would never be able to hear it all at the same time.  Why not bring all of God’s anointed together in the same room so the people could hear a symphony instead of a bunch of solos?  We always marvel at how a bunch of pastors can come together at a conference and their various messages harmonize because they all got them from the same Holy Spirit.  If we bring pastors together for more that just an annual conference or camp meeting but for church leadership as well we might be amazed at the symphony that would erupt and the glory given to our heavenly conductor.

Initiative – In the classic passage in Proverbs 6:6-11 on initiative which says, “Observe the ant, O thou sluggard.  Observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, no overseer, nor ruler, yet she prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest,” the Psalmist points to the ant and sets her up as our example.  She is our example of both having initiative and being self-governing, which go hand in hand.  Self-governing people have initiative.

Members of a collegiate leadership need to be and will tend to be self-governing rather than rely on someone to rule over them.  There are far too many potential ministers who have been emasculated and sidelined because the system they are in promotes dependency on the pastor rather than interdependency on their brethren and the freedom to be a co-leader in God’s house.

A self-governing eldership will not have to be prodded like cattle to labor in the church.  They won’t wait to be “promoted” to use their spiritual gifts, but will use their gifts, be responsible for themselves, be free to operate without waiting to be sanctioned by someone else, and will do what benefits the body, not just the pastor.

Independence – Being dependent on no one but God is what Jesus was referring to when he said, “Do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (Mt. 23:9)  Churches with dominant singular leaders tend to foster dependence on the pastor, even to the point in some churches of encouraging a father/son relationship between the pastor and the other leaders.   A healthy church environment will foster independence on the part of the leaders who will be dependent on no one but God yet with interdependence among each other.

Discernment – No one person can have complete discernment for an entire body, yet so often when one person is “the pastor,” then he is the only one who is taking oversight of the church.

Less Burnout of Leaders – An article in Men of Action (Nov. 1995, p. 4) stated:

Pastors are worn out, discouraged, and in need of affirmation.  In fact, poll after poll reveals that most pastors are battling isolation, depression, and loneliness. They are so beaten up by the ministry . . .

Is it any wonder this happens when people are forced to fill a job description that is found nowhere in the New Testament?

A monarchial form of government or an eldership form where a pastor is hired by the elders to be the full-time pastor places an unrealistic burden on pastors. They must be super-human beings able to preach, teach, administer, counsel, have all wisdom, and still be a nice guy and be everyone’s best friend as well. They also get called on to give direction for everyone’s lives, sometimes usurping the lordship of Jesus in their parishioner’s lives.

This is a recipe for burnout.  With collegiate leadership, if one leader needs to pull back from his duties to be able to seek God more fully or concentrate on his duties at home, God has others to raise up to fill the void.

Less Manipulation – Collegiate leadership makes over-control or lording it over the flock more difficult since each pastor will feel more accountable to the other pastors who are watching for this. A bishop or denominational headquarters in another state is not listening to the sermons and will not be able to detect the subtle power of spiritual abuse. Those who are under an abusive leader may feel impotent or are actually made impotent to do anything about it. Other elders who consider themselves equal to the abusive leader will be hearing his messages and will be motivated and empowered to deal with it because the weight of the church falls on them as well. Equal eldership will not guarantee a lack of manipulation since it is possible for an entire eldership to be abusive, legalistic, or lording, but it will certainly be less likely to happen than when you have one-pastor rule.

Many parishioners in an authoritarian church will rightly complain that there is no avenue for correction of an errant pastor.  Who wants to go to the denominational headquarters or the “apostle” in some other city who has not been hearing the brainwash coming from the pastor?  But if one elder in a mutually submissive collegiate leadership should begin to abuse the people then they only have to find one of the elders who will lend them an ear, if that elder has the bravery to do something about the abuse.

No Personality Cults – A collegiate church government, if the elders are dedicated to be servants, will not likely develop a personality cult. It is not too difficult to see that so many in typical churches are dedicated to their pastor because they are enamored with his gifts, talents, vision, and anointing, rather than dedicated to serve God and His people and seeing the leaders as servants helping them to do the work of the ministry.

So many churches with strong charismatic one-man rule are clearly in violation of the spirit of 1 Corinthians 3:4-10, which says:

When one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?  Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.  According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it.

Church historians believe Corinth may have been the first church to have more than one church in a given city.   Everywhere else in the New Testament it seems evident that there was only one church per city.  Rome is also considered a likely candidate for the first multi-church city because of its cosmopolitan character that lends itself to this but at Corinth it appears there may have been separate churches with each one centered around the charisma and theology of one particular apostle.

The difference between the church Paul is rebuking here and modern churches with one-man leadership is that the later have already been completely split, so to speak, and the Christian community sanctions that split.  There isn’t enough togetherness to begin with to show the level of carnality in the form of latent “envy, strife, and divisions” that is resident in the ministers and the people.  Get them all together in one church like they had starting out in Corinth and you may see this latent carnality.  It could then be dealt with even as Paul dealt with it.

Doctrinal Purity – I can sympathize with those who come from organizations that seem to speak with a single voice because of their top down leadership structure such as the Catholic Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon Church.  Catholics look at us Protestants who don’t have a single authoritative human source to dictate our beliefs and think to themselves, “What a mess. All of you Protestants, left on your own, come up with different doctrines.  You can’t all be right.  It’s up to the church to uphold the truth and that would have to come from one man, namely the pope.”

Pyramid governments are set up to ensure doctrinal purity.  This is the first reason a Catholic will give for the need of a pope. The problem is, a pyramid system ensures the propagation of doctrinal error, namely the doctrine of whomever is at the top of the pyramid.

Collegiate leadership, on the other hand, has a built-in synod at the local church level, which is what is needed if the local church is going to have any autonomy, that is, be free to exercise discernment and be led of the Holy Spirit rather than be part of some “universal” system.

Efficiency – In small churches, administration can be divided among several so that there will be no need for a full-time pastor who wastes too much time doing the organizing and coordinating. Several volunteer elders can accomplish the same thing and there may be no need for someone to be on salary. This will free up funds for outreach and legitimate needs in the body and can take an oppressive burden off a small church.

A church with a collegiate leadership may be more likely to send out the best man for missions outreach if he is not carrying the lion’s share of the ministry at home. Why not send the best? The churches at Jerusalem and Antioch did.

On the other hand, it is sometimes (but not always) easier and faster, especially in a small church, for one person to be making the decisions.  I am sure elders in equal eldership churches, especially in fast-paced America, have found the decision making process excruciatingly slow at times and they wish they could just call the shots without having to develop a consensus.  That would sure make life easier but would also deny them the fruits of the process of consensus building.  The same can be said for when the whole church body gets in on the process; they are blessed with the fruits of that process. Those fruits can greatly outweigh the toil and trouble they went through to get to that point.

Godly character, after all, is central to the Christian faith and of great value.


So you have a body of believers who desire to follow the New Testament pattern of Jesus pastoring his church through the agency of a team of elders with no one person designated as the pastor.  You want to formally recognize a core group of leaders.  How do you know who those people should be?  Do you find a modern day apostle to ordain elders for your church or do you elect them yourselves?  After you have your designated elders, what should you expect from them?

Having a biblical leadership structure will not ensure that your church will thrive.  Just as with a church with one-man rule where the success of that church hinges on the quality of that one man, the success of a church with collegiate leadership has more to do with the quality of its leaders than anything else.

How Elders are Chosen

Some reform minded Christians, particularly among the House Church Movement, advocate not having any formally designated elders. They don’t see a need for them because all decisions are made by mutual consensus of the whole body of believers.  If someone is in need of correction, one or several who have the qualities of an elder will take on that role without having a need to carry that title.  That’s as far as they want to go with it, figuring if they have those who can function as elders then that is sufficient.

For smaller and younger fellowships not having designated elders could be the way to go, especially considering a lack of designated elders gives the younger up and coming elders more opportunity to step into that role.

In the scriptures we see the churches in a more advanced stage where who the eldership has been established.  In his letters to both Timothy and Titus, Paul sets out the qualifications of an elder.  It would not make any sense for him to do this if he did not have in view elders who were recognized as such by the body of believers or was not working toward that end.  Neither would the many scriptures make sense that show that the elders are a distinct group of men that have greater responsibilities than the rest of the brethren, such as Acts 11:30, 14:23, 20:17, 1 Peter 5:1, and the issue concerning circumcision in Acts 15, 16, and 21.  Also, James 5:14 enjoins those who are sick to call for the elders.  That would be difficult to do if it were not clear who the elders are.

That said, it’s not entirely necessary to have ordained or otherwise officially recognized elders for people to function as elders. After all, every local body started out that way.

Many view the ordination of elders as an ecclesiastical function, something that can only be done by those who are themselves ordained.  In some churches, even that is not sufficient, the one doing the ordaining must have a higher office than anyone at the local congregational level, therefor must be a bishop or apostle.  This preserves the denominational control over the churches in a denomination but we find little support for it in scripture.  Even the whole concept of a denomination lacks biblical support.

In Acts 6:3 the disciples chose those who would manage the widow’s fund and then the apostles “ordained” them into service.  The Greek word used here is καθιστημι (kathistemi), which literally means “to stand down,” such as if one were to place an upright object on a table or the floor for all to see.  In the King James Version it is translated ordained only three out of nineteen times.  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words:

a formal ecclesiastical ordination is not in view, but the ‘appointment,’ for the recognition of the churches, of those who had already been raised up and qualified by the Holy Spirit, and had given evidence of this in their life and service. [4]

In other words, it was not actually the people or the apostles who chose them, but it was the Holy Spirit.  The people merely discerned who the Holy Spirit had chosen and affirmed them, while the apostles formally set them in place, putting their stamp of approval so that the members who trusted the apostles would also trust in these appointees to minister in that capacity.  A. H. Strong notes:

The word ‘ordain’ has come to have a technical signification not found in the New Testament. There it means simply to choose, appoint, set apart. [5]

This same Greek word is used in Titus 1:5 where Paul instructed Titus to “appoint” elders in each of the churches on the island of Crete.  As in Acts 6:3, the use of the word kathistemi would indicate that Titus did not necessarily choose who the elders would be but more than likely had the churches do that after he did some teaching to establish the standards of character necessary to set the church apart from the rest of the Cretans.

Another Greek word sometimes translated as ordained but usually as appointed or chosen is χειροτονεω (cheirotoneo), which literally means to stretch forth the hands, such as in voting.  It was a term primarily used of voting in the Athenian legislative assembly and only used twice in the New Testament.  It is used in Acts 14:23 where it says, “they appointed for them elders in each assembly (of Lystra and Iconium), having prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord, on whom they had believed,” and also in 2 Corinthians 8:19 where it says the churches in Greece chose who would accompany the apostles in taking famine relief aid to the poor saints in Judea. Technically, the church is “ordaining” Joe if they say to the apostles, “You will need some assistance in taking this relief money to Judea. Take Joe, he has a lot of experience traveling in those parts.”

According to W.E. Vine, this word is probably not to be taken in its literal sense, especially when spoken of two people doing the appointing in Acts.  What this word signifies in these contexts is the appointing of those who had already been chosen.  How they were actually chosen is not known.  I would, however, like to give some pragmatic reasons why the people should choose their elders rather than the elders or someone from outside the church doing the choosing:

AccountabilityWhen I was a Legislative Assistant for a State Representative I would get calls from people who were having problems with their county commissioners.  Not only were the commissioners allowing cell towers to be installed in neighborhoods that did not want them, but they also seemed not to care a lick about their constituents.  The people were calling our office to get their State Representative to put a stop to it.  They figured that state legislators were higher up in the governmental pecking order and could pull rank over their counterparts at the county level.  I would have to explain to them that a state legislator has no authority over a county commissioner unless he introduces a bill and gets at least 50% of the other legislators and the governor to sign on to it.  Of course they are not likely to do that.  Legislators from Seattle aren’t going to care about one cell tower in some neighborhood in Spokane.  The peeved constituent would then ask, “Who then has authority over my county commissioner?  Who can remove him if he isn’t doing his job?”  I would explain to them that the final authority rests with the voters who elect him.  If their neighborhood is dissatisfied with the response they are getting then they need to work to get someone else elected to take his place at the next elections.  I explained that is the reason we have elections, even for non-political positions such as county sheriff, auditor, or school board member, so that if they are not doing their job to the satisfaction of the people, the people can fire them at the next elections.  Without this accountability to the people, corruption is nearly impossible to eradicate. It’s hard enough, even with elections.

Representation – Another reason for the congregants to elect their elders is to ensure that they are working on their behalf, and not having that ministry for their own emotional satisfaction or other wrong motives.  No one can better tell whether an elder is a humble servant leader or not than the ones he is supposed to be serving.

To understand the purpose of a governing board I quote from The Trust in Trusteeship condensed from Carver and Mayhew’s Carver Guide Series on Effective Board Governance:

Boards exist to own an organization on behalf of some identifiable ownership to which they are answerable. Simply put, a board governs on behalf of persons who aren’t seated at the table.  The primary relationship the board must establish, maintain, clarify, and protect is its relationship with its owners keeping in contact with them, and hearing their voices.

When board members are not answerable to the owners, which are the congregants when we are talking about a church, then it is far too easy for them to ignore the voices of the owners. They are not functioning as a proper board nor can they say that they are truly representing them or ministering on their behalf.  The only way for leaders to be answerable to the people is if there is a mechanism, such as a vote, by which the people approve them, preferably unanimously.

When elders are elected we are not talking about exercising democracy.  A democracy is when all the people vote on all the issues.  What we are talking about, to put it in civil terms, is a democratically elected republic.

Knowledge of Qualifications – No one outside of a church has a better sense of whether an elder or elder candidate has the character qualities of an elder than those who know him on a day-to-day basis.  How would someone in another city know if an elder candidate has “a good reputation with those outside the church,” (1 Tim. 3:7) such as with his business or professional associates, or his extended family?  How would he know if a candidate is “without reproach, a one woman man, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not a brawler, not a striker; but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money, one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (1 Tim. 3:2-4) if he is not with him on a regular basis?  Furthermore, someone from outside a church is not listening to an elder’s teachings and would have no ability to detect if the elder is getting off base, but those who listen to him every week will be able to detect those subtle changes in teaching or direction.

Those who insist that elders should be chosen by the pastor or by denominational authorities or an “apostle” do not have the scriptures backing up their position.  Chances are they hold this doctrine because conceding to having a congregational vote puts their control of one or more churches in jeopardy.  Let me reiterate that church government is not about how man will “order” God’s church, but it is about working out the headship of Jesus in the most tangible way possible.  The way Jesus creates order in the church is through his Holy Spirit that has been given to all Christians.  This Holy Spirit gives all Christians a measure of discernment.  If that corporate discernment is not recognized and well-respected but rather ignored by a church’s leaders who want to maintain their own control or simply believe discernment is a gift only for those in high office, then we are living in the Old Covenant.  We will be looking more in-depth at the differences between the Old and New Covenants and how that relates to church government in a later chapter.

Method of Voting

When I mention electing elders I do not mean pitting two or more elders against each other for a single position like we do for our civil legislators.  Quite often in those cases the people feel like they are having to make a choice between the “lesser of two evils.”  This should never be the case in a church because we are not trying to fill a predetermined number of positions but determine whether individuals are qualified for the job. We will have only as many elders as we have those who are qualified to be elders.  That being the case, we should not expect elders to be elected with a simple majority, a plurality, or even a super majority (60%).  If even one person in a congregation feels a candidate is not qualified then that candidate’s fitness for that ministry should be called into question.

One method used by some churches that takes this into consideration is for the members to first nominate candidates, each member nominating as many as he would want to have represent him as an elder in the church.  A list of nominees is then published and the congregation is given a few weeks to contact the current eldership or a select committee expressing their concerns about any of the nominees.  This also gives the nominees a chance to withdraw their nomination if the Holy Spirit has not put it on their heart to serve the church as an elder.

This gives the elders a chance to review the concerns of the members to determine whether they are sufficient to disqualify an individual.  If they are, that person’s name is then removed from the ballot.  Most of the people won’t know if the reason is because he is not qualified or just doesn’t want the job.  The members are then given a list of candidates and vote again on all those that they want to represent them.

The church may want to establish a minimum number of votes to elect an elder so that those who end up being elders are actually approved by a majority of the members.  This prevents elders being elected that may be qualified but are not well-liked or respected or are unknown to most of the people.  This is not a popularity contest, however, it would be wise to establish some sort of minimum threshold for respect since those who are not respected will make poor leaders and will not fairly represent the body to those on the outside.

Pastors, Not Just Board Members

When a lot of people think of the church board, they think of a group of influential men and women that have been in the church much longer than any of the ministers who have been brought in from the outside.  Though the pulpit ministers have an incredible amount of influence in the church due to the volume of teaching they do, everyone knows that it is the board that controls the church, for better or for worse.

Those who promote monarchial, or one-man rule leadership, will point to churches like these as an example of why a pastor should not be hindered by a board of elders.  They will tell stories of spirit-led pastors being hindered in being able to lead their churches into a more mature spiritual state because of the resistance they get by an unspiritual board that is stuck in tradition and unwilling to change.  Perhaps it was one very powerful and influential board member who gives a lot of money to the church who was hindering the pastor.  I know of one church in my community that is getting a reputation as a “pastor killer.” It went through six pastors in four years!

The scriptural answer to this dilemma is not to vest final authority in the pulpit minister making him effectively unaccountable, but to have the board made up of elders who are themselves ministers.  With the church boards mentioned in the previous paragraph, no one sees these elders or board members as pastors.  No one expects them to be the ones to lead in preaching, teaching or in prayer, or be the ones to call on for counseling.  Those duties are given to the ones that are hired by the board, those who have been professionally trained to do such things.

Having two groups of people, one to oversee the church and the other to feed and care for the church, is not something that can be found in the scriptures.  This is something that has evolved over the centuries.  In the scriptures, what we do find is that God entrusts the eldership with ALL the responsibilities of the ministry, and it is this same body of men that take final responsibility for the welfare of the church.  They are the only overseers we see in the New Testament.

When doing word studies on the words overseer (or bishop), pastor, and elder, one will notice that these terms are used interchangeably.  Why are there three terms for the same thing?  This is typical of the Holy Spirit’s use of the Greek language.  For example, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is also called an infilling, a pouring out, and a shedding abroad, each term emphasizing a different aspect.  Each of the terms for church leaders also emphasizes a different aspect or facet of the same ministry, that of wisdom for the elder, guidance for the pastor, and protection for the overseer. These are three different ways of describing the same ministry.

When Paul left the church at Ephesus in the hands of the elders, he admonished them, whom the Holy Spirit had already made overseers, to do three things: watch over themselves, feed the church, and be watchful over the church that wolves do not enter in to draw away disciples after themselves.  (Acts 20:28-31) The Greek word for feed is the verb form of the noun pastor.  Paul is telling the elders to be the pastors of the church, following his example.  Paul points out several things he did that a pastor will do: serve the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears and trials, shrink not from declaring unto them anything that is profitable, teach publicly and from house to house, testify of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and declare the whole council of God.

Perhaps the reason a non-pastoral board of elders evolved in the church is because pastoring a church is a lot of work.  It is far easier to hire someone else to do it.  Non-pastoral elders are a natural outcome of our lazy nature.

Peter, cutting across the grain of our sin nature, told the elders in his first general epistle, which was addressed to all Christians in the region of Asia Minor:

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder . . . pastor (same Greek word that Paul used when speaking to the Ephesian elders) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight, not by constraint, but willingly, not for the love of money, but of a ready mind, neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:1-3) 

This statement of Peter’s shows his confidence in the Holy Spirit working in the church to make elders out of ordinary men.  Remember, it was Peter who could only speak confidently that he loved Jesus with phileo love, an emotional attachment, but could not say that he loved Jesus with agape love, which is self-sacrificial love.  Even with that, Jesus admonished him to feed and pastor his sheep, knowing that Peter would be a new man when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church.  After experiencing the powerful transforming work of the Holy Spirit, Peter is now admonishing the elders to pastor Jesus’ sheep with the same self-sacrifice modeled by both him and the Great Shepherd.

Servant Ministers, Not Clergy

You may have noticed that so far I have only referred to the ministry of elder in terms of it being a position or an office when I have been speaking of how people think of it who do not practice biblical eldership.  When speaking of a biblical New Covenant church, I have always referred to the ministries as just that, ministries, and not positions or offices.  This is no accident, but a concerted effort on my part.  The reason for this is if we think of them as positions, and especially if we think of them as offices, we will, as many churches have already done, undo what Jesus and the apostles did when they established church order in the New Covenant.  God, through the early church, upended the ecclesiastical order he had established for his Old Covenant church in Israel.  To undo that New Covenant pattern would mean reverting back to an Old Covenant mode of operation.  In my mind, the blood of Jesus is too costly for us to accept Old Covenant Christianity in any way, shape, or form.

In the Old Covenant, God established the clergy, a word that comes from the Latin clericus, or priest.  This was a body of men set apart from the church, through an ecclesiastical ordination, to the service of God.  It consisted of the Priests and the Levites.  The rest of the people were what we would call the laity, a word that comes from the Greek word laos (laos), which means, the people.  The Old Covenant prophets, by contrast, were not ordained and did not hold an office.  They were prophets not because of their position, but because of what they did, which was to prophesy, or speak for God.  They were lay ministers, not clerics, to use modern terminology.  The only reason they had any influence was because they were recognized as people who spoke for God.  Such being the case, they had a lot of influence because all the people, even the kings, knew that if a man was a genuine prophet, it wasn’t him they had to reckon with, but the God who inspired him.  His authority came from the fact that he spoke the truth and spoke for God.

When Jesus instituted the New Covenant, he didn’t exactly abolish the clergy/laity distinction, as many believe, but shifted these designations.  Instead of both the clergy and laity being within the church as under the Old Covenant, Jesus made the whole church the “clergy,” and the rest of the world the “laity.”  In 1 Peter 2:5 and 2:9-10 it says, “Yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,” and “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who once were not a people, but now are God’s people; who were not enjoying mercy, but now have found mercy.”  This “priesthood of all believers,” as us Protestants call it, is God’s representative in the earth, just as the priests represented God to the Old Covenant church. We’ve all been ordained, and the rest of the world is our laity.

Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, all Christians are “ordained” and set apart from the world for the service of God.  Certain men are uniquely gifted for certain ministries such as prophet, teacher, elder, or administrator, but that does not make them a special clergy class that is separated from their brethren.  All Christians are ministers, some just have ministries that make them more influential than others by nature of the ministry. Even among a group of equal elders, the ones that excel in the teaching ministry will have more influence and possibly get paid something for their ministry, but that does not mean a teaching elder is in a class above the other elders. It just makes him more influential.

It may be true that some Christians are not mature enough to be considered the clergy for the world, in which case the elders are there to help mature them into this ministry. Ephesians 4:11 speaks to both ministry within the church and the ministry of the church out in the world: “And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry.”

When Paul, Peter, James, or Jude introduced themselves, they did not do it after the manner of, “Greetings, my name is Apostle Paul,” but rather after the manner of “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,“ or “James, a servant of God.”  They did not use the term apostle or servant as a title but as a means to identify their function in the body of Christ.  Likewise for the other ministries.  Agabus was not addressed as Prophet Agabus but, “Agabus, a prophet,” (Acts 21:10, cf 11:28) and Phillip was not addressed as Evangelist Philip, but, “Philip the evangelist,” (Acts 21:8) to indicate their roles in the church to those who might not know which Agabus or Philip was being referred to or not know what it was they did in the church.

Compare that with pastors today who identify themselves with a title such as Pastor Bob or Reverend Jones, and expect their parishioners to address them as such, even in casual conversation.  Some churches, like the Catholic Church, take this to an extreme, calling their priests Father and certain men Monsignor, which means, my Lord, or the Anglican Church whose Archbishop of Canterbury has the title, The Most Reverend and Right Honorable So-And-So, Archbishop of Canterbury.  All such titles are wholly inappropriate for servant ministers who want to follow the teachings and example of Jesus and his apostles.

Titles only serve to bolster the clergy/laity distinction that Jesus eliminated through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, this distinction crept back into the church soon after the apostles died.  It is a product of our sinful human nature as people yearn to be given more respect and have more authority than what they have actually earned or are entitled to.  To quote Alexander Strauch,

Christianity, the humblest of all faiths, degenerated into the most power-hungry and hierarchical religion on earth.  After Emperor Constantine elevated Christianity to legal religious status in AD 312, the once-persecuted Christians fiercely persecuted all their opposition.  An unscriptural clerical and priestly caste arose that was consumed by the quest for power, position, and authority.  Even Roman emperors had a guiding hand in the development of Christian churches.  The pristine character of the New Testament church community was lost. [6]

Paul recognized the human tendency for someone who is an apostle to use that for his own purposes instead of God’s, when he said,

For we have not at any time been among you with flattering discourse, even as you know, nor with a pretext for covetousness, God is witness; nor seeking glory from men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been a burden as Christ’s apostles; but have been gentle in the midst of you, as a nurse would cherish her own children. Thus, yearning over you, we had found our delight in having imparted to you not only the glad tidings of God, but our own lives also, because you had become beloved of us.  For you remember brethren, our labor and toil, working night and day, not to be a burden to any one of you, we have preached to you the glad tidings of God.” (1 Th. 2:5-9)

Paul spells out the perfect antidote for man’s tendency to seek glory from men and it’s not a new and improved title such as Servant Sam or even Servant/Elder Dave, but self-sacrificial love that shows itself in humble servant leadership, apart from the need for titles.

Titles are not the only way that ministers unwittingly set themselves apart from their brethren.  They also wear priestly garments such as robes and clerical collars rather than wearing what everyone else wears.  They also put themselves up on pedestals, literally, by putting their pulpits so high above the people they have to climb a ladder to get into it.

One way that clerics intentionally set themselves apart from the brethren is by allowing only duly ordained ministers to preside in marriage ceremonies, baptisms, communion, confirmation, ordination of ministers and other Christian “ceremonies” that by their nature lend themselves to easily morphing into priestly functions.  In sacramental churches such as the Catholic, Episcopalian, and Anglican churches, there are certain graces from God that a parishioner can only receive through sacraments, which include those just mentioned plus those that are not as well known among Protestants such as Extreme Unction and Penance.  What this does is creates a dependency class where the laity become dependent on a clergy for receiving grace from God rather than becoming wholly dependent on God.  In the Orthodox Church this is taken to an extreme where the church is the ONLY means by which a layman receives any grace from God.  The result is that Orthodox Christians can spend a lifetime in their church but never read any scripture or pray anything other than prescribed prayers.  In other words, though they regularly partake of the sacraments, they have no relationship with God because someone, or an institution, has placed itself in between them and God as the sole channel for the flow of God’s grace.

Ministers should strive to avoid creating a dependency class at all costs.  This would not need to be mentioned except that one reason some men go into the ministry is because they have a strong need to be needed. The traditional pastor/parishioner relationship provides fulfillment for that need.  To stem this tendency a minister must see his primary role in the church as one who helps people become dependent on God.  We are to be “able ministers of the New Covenant,” (2 Cor. 3:6). God defines that New Covenant as such, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)  This speaks of individuals having a relationship with their God.  The next line speaks of these individuals not having dependency on man, “. . . and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them.”  1 John 2:26-27 reiterates this truth concerning dependency on man by saying, “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and you need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him.”

It is a natural thing for men to want to be great in the church and Jesus showed how to attain to greatness.  It is not through climbing the company ladder from Deacon to Associate Pastor to Senior Pastor to Bishop to Archbishop to Cardinal to Pope, or if you are in an independent Protestant church the top of the ladder is Senior Pastor.  It is by being a servant to the least.  Jesus said:

The Scribes and the Pharisees have set themselves down in Moses’ seat (of authority). All their works they do to be seen of men, for they make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the chief place in the feasts and the first seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market-places, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.  But be not called Rabbi (my master, or my teacher) for one is your instructor, and all you are brethren.  And call not any one your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, he who is in the heavens. Neither be called instructors (a guide, master, or teacher), for one is your instructor, the Christ. (Mt. 23:2, 5-10) 

Jesus is not prohibiting men from functioning as fathers, guides or teachers, or else he would not have given us pastor/teachers and Paul and John would not have likened themselves to spiritual fathers in 1 Cor. 4:15, Phi. 2:22, Titus 1:4, and about ten times in the epistles of John.  What Jesus is speaking against is being “called” something, as when one has a title, and the mindset that comes with dependency on men at the expense of dependency on the Holy Spirit.

Jesus finished his list of don’ts in Mt. 23 with a do, “But the greatest of you shall be your servant. And whoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and whoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.”  Does that mean that if we strive to serve then we can humbly allow others to exalt, or promote us to being Pastor So-and-so?  No, Jesus said, “Be not called …” saying we are all brethren, that is, we are all peers, and we should serve one another, even as Jesus left us an example by washing the feet of the disciples. (Jn. 13:14)

Some churches with monarchial, or one-man rule government, have things backwards because they see the parishioners as the ones who are supposed to serve the pastor.  They tell the young ministers-in-training that if they faithfully serve the pastor then God will some day “release” them into their ministry or allow them to be “the father of the house,” i.e., give them a chance to be served.  The Promise Keepers, for example, great organization that it is, has been influenced by this trendy mindset in their 2003 edition of The Challenge:

We want to see men set on fire for their church, and their pastor . . . Pastors, bring your men.  Our challenge is to turn their hearts toward the church, and toward serving you.

Jesus did not say, “If you want to be great in the future, be a servant now,” but, “Those who are the greatest among you, shall be your servant.”  (Mt. 23:11)  In the church of God, just as in a family, you start out as the one being served and then work your way up into the one doing the serving.  The greatest one who ever lived came not to be served but to serve, and give his life. (Mt. 20:28)

Being a servant is how one gains the respect and authority needed to function as a leader in the church of Jesus Christ.  We will go into more detail in Chapter 4 concerning just what we mean by authority when we speak of the authority of leaders.

Examples, Not Professionals

If Jesus were to follow modern practices of hiring ministers none of his twelve would have passed the test since none had the necessary training to be a minister.  Even after spending three and a half years with Jesus none could produce a seminary degree to show they were qualified to carry on Jesus’ ministry in his absence, yet Jesus sent them out to preach the Gospel anyhow.  Beyond preaching the Gospel, their ministry was to show what it meant to live as a Christian.  They had sufficient training for that having spent quality time with the Author of their faith.  Jesus set the example of what it meant to live as a Christian and they were to in turn do the same by showing by example what it means to be “set free from sin and become slaves of righteousness,” (Rom. 6:18) demonstrating how “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:4) and showing a life marked by “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17)

With the talents, gifts, and qualifications necessary to hire a pastor who is able to fulfill the duties of a modern pastor we have a far larger member to pastor ratio than you have member to elder ratio in an elder led church.  Logistically it’s difficult for a pastor of a church of more than 50 members to have much of a relationship with all of the members, let alone with a church of 500 members as is very common.  With an elder led church 50 members might have 10 to 20 elders or be split up into 2 to 5 cell churches with 3 to 7 elders in each group.  These elders are going to have more of an opportunity to lead by example since each member is going to have more of an opportunity to get to know an elder on a personal basis rather than just know a pastor from what he preaches during church.  The modern church has evolved in to a big machine that is less relationally based and more program based, making it hard to function as a genuine body of believers.  The more talented and professionally adept the pastor of a modern church is the bigger his church is likely to be and the less relationship based his ministry is going to be.

In an elder led church it’s quite possible that the majority of the men are mature enough to be elders according to the standards given in the New Testament.  If half of those have a heart to shepherd the flock and take on the burden of responsibility you might have two male members for every elder.  That kind of ratio lends itself to having relationship based ministry where the elders mentor the others in Christian living. That scenario makes discipling a natural, organic occurrence rather than a program forced on the body.

Maturity, Not Gifting

Few of those who meet the elder’s qualifications for maturity laid out in the New Testament are gifted enough to be able to be the pastor of a modern church.  Some churches are finding it hard to find applicants to choose from in filling a pastoral vacancy.  In this process they look right past the several men in their own midst who have the maturity to be a spiritual overseer and leader while trying to find someone who not only has the maturity but the giftings required to pastor a modern church.  Sometimes they will even become enamored with a minister’s charisma and fail to see his immaturity. Meanwhile, the elder-in-the-making is relegated to a lesser role and is thus emasculated.

To what degree should an elder be gifted in preaching, teaching, counseling, and administration?  The New Testament lays almost exclusive importance on the character of an elder but does hint at abilities in two places.  An elder should be “abt to teach,” (1 Tim. 3:2) and be able to correctly handle the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)  Also, an injunction for any servant of God, whether an elder or not, is to be apt to teach so as to be able to gently instruct those who oppose him.

The Greek word for apt to teach is διδακτικος (didaktikos) which means skillful in teaching.  We tend to think in terms of a minister’s pulpit or classroom teaching abilities when we read these scriptures but what is in view is secondarily an ability to intelligently discuss the Word, present the truth as he knows it, and refute false doctrine on a one-on-one basis as well as share the Word in a small group setting. The primary role of one who is apt to teach is to explain and model righteousness in a small group setting.  The reason I say “in a small group setting” is because the pulpit ministry had not been invented by the first century but became a thing in later centuries.   Other than evangelists and other itinerant ministers, elders were still ministering in small groups and were not necessarily adept at public speaking, which takes a certain skill, especially if one is to get paid for it.  Not all elders are going to be classroom or pulpit teachers and neither do they need to be, but they should be skilled at handling the word and be able to tell when a doctrine is biblical or not and be able to explain their reasons for it, or reasons why it might not matter, or how to apply the principle in our lives today without necessarily obeying the letter of the word, and also show how to live godly lives.

Some elders are going to have a gift for teaching and would then serve as the pastor/teacher of Ephesians 4:11, who by his teaching pastors other Christians, including other elders.  This one should have a ministry beyond his own cell church, teaching to a larger audience either by going “house to house,” i.e., church to church, or offering his services to those who can gather together from several cell churches.  But this ability is not what should be required of an elder.

Our large bureaucratic denominations tend to have theology education requirements of their ministers.  This assumes that by acquiring a degree a minister can rightly divide the word of truth but it also eliminates those who are able to rightly divide the word of truth through their own self-study.  Given that denominational headquarters do not have a very good method of filtering applicants short of giving them an extensive test I suppose it is understandable that a theology degree would be required.  In an elder led church, however, the elders are going to be recruited from within the church where the people will know the elder candidate well enough to know of his abilities in the Word.  They won’t be fooled by someone with a degree yet lacks ability nor will they sideline someone who has the ability but has no formal theological education.


Regardless of the form of government a church has, how much authority the leaders carry can vary widely depending in large part on the personalities of the leaders.  Someone we might classify as a “control freak” will be able to find “biblical justification” for his leadership style just as much as a very “laid back” leader will be able to find justification for his style.  Which one is right?  Does the bible promote or sanction both extremes allowing a leader to lead according to what suits his style?

If I were to find the best verse to prove each end of the spectrum I would choose the following: for the authoritarian leader I would use Hebrews 13:17 in the King James Version, “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.”  For the laid back leader I would use Matthew 20:25-28 (NKJ) “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave, even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

Paul seems to imply in Hebrews that Christian leaders rule over their members while Jesus seems to repudiate the idea of Christian rulers exercising authority over their members.  In a debate we could see those at both ends of the spectrum taking their favorite verse with as many supporting verses as they can muster and pit them against the scriptures the other side has and feel they have won the debate if they can come up with either more scriptures or more convincing scriptures than the other side.  Or the discussion may end with one side saying “We are with Paul,” and the other side saying, with even more smugness, “We are with Jesus on this one.”

The problem with this approach, other than the spirit of debate involved, is that it violates sound principles used in hermeneutics, which is the art and science of interpreting literature.  First of all, we don’t pit scripture against scripture to determine what the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to us.  If we have scriptures that appear to contradict each other then we need to seek a position that harmonizes all of the scriptures that relate to the issue.  Before that, we also need to first look to see if we are starting with a good translation of the verses in question.  With Hebrews 13:17, a proper translation will cast a completely different light on the subject than the one cast by the King James Version.

The Greek word that is usually translated as “submit” is πειθω (peitho) which means to “allow one’s self to be persuaded,” or to “be yielding.”  The New American Bible translates it as “defer” and the New Jerusalem Bible translates it as “give way.”  The Bible in Basic English translates it “give ear to.”

The Greek word often translated as “those who have the rule over you” is  ηγεομαι (hegeomai), which is a general term used of any kind of leader and most translations have it simply as “leaders.”

The Greek word that is usually translated as “submit yourselves” is υπεικω (hupeiko) which has a meaning very similar to πειθω (peitho) and means “to yield.”  Peitho relates to an attitude where one refuses to be convinced whereas hupeiko is primarily a military term used of combatants ceasing to resist and is used metaphorically to mean to yield or give way.  Putting it all together, a more accurate translation would be: Give ear to your leaders and yield to them. . .

A more accurate translation of Hebrews 13:17 makes it possible to harmonize with Matthew 20:25-28 because it does not imply the minister rules or exercises authority over the member, the very thing Jesus forbids in Matthew.  The King James Translation was translated by scholars from one denomination, the Church of England, who had a vested interest in maintaining their ecclesiastical control over their members.  This was the same denomination that a few decades before translating the King James Bible had burned William Tyndale at the stake for translating the Bible into English.  Since they could not prevent their people from getting their own English translations, they made their own, with an obvious bias toward ecclesiastical control of the parishioners.

True Submission

Accurate definitions of hupeiko and peitho, Greek words often translated as “submit,” go a long way to understanding what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us regarding submission.  Beyond that, how these terms are used in other places in the New Testament will reveal much about what they do not mean.  For example, young people are admonished to submit to older people (1 Pet. 5:5), and all Christians are admonished to submit to each other according to Ephesians 5:21 which says, “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord.”

To be submissive does not mean one must always do what a leader tells him to do, especially if doing so violates his conscience or even if it just doesn’t seem like a good idea.  If being submissive means we should throw away our better judgment and just do what we are told by our leaders then we should do whatever any of our brothers tell us to do since we are also supposed to be submissive to each other according to Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Peter 5:5.  Can you imagine what kind of mess the Christian church would be in if we all did whatever any other Christian told us to do?  Obviously, submission is not necessarily strict obedience, but simply an attitude of heart that humbly considers other’s admonitions and desiring to glean what wisdom we can from them.  More than that, with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts and minds of other Christians, we need to recognize that what another brother is saying to us might indeed be a word from God.  That is why Paul says in Ephesians to submit to each other in the fear of the Lord.  Regarding those in leadership, this submission works in both directions since God may be using a brand new Christian, or even a non Christian, to speak to a seasoned leader.

Not having to blindly obey our leaders does not mean, however, that we should expect to always get our way in the church.  If we all did this, contention and disorder would ensue.  For us to all work together in harmony we all need to die to self and prefer our brother above ourselves and allow those who are taking the lead to actually lead us.

True Authority

In the Christian church, submission is not something that can be mandated, legislated, or even manipulated, though some will try.  True submission is earned.  A leader will see submission if he is a true shepherd laying down his life for the sheep.


A New Covenant Republic, Not a Democracy

Most Americans, when asked what form of government our nation has, would say we have a democracy, even though our founding fathers wanted to avoid a democracy like the plague.  A democracy is where the people vote on everything.  Few democracies last more than a few years since it is the people’s nature to vote for what suits their own interests rather than what’s best suited to the nation as a whole.  Pure democracies have never lasted very long.

Our founding fathers recognized this and sought to establish our nation as a Constitutional Democratic Republic.  It’s democratic in that the legislators are elected by popular vote, but the public rarely votes on policy issues except through occasional referendum and initiatives of the people.  It’s hard enough for a group of legislators to be informed about all of the legislative issues that come before them when they dedicate their whole lives to it.  It would be impossible for the general public to be well enough informed.  That is why our founding fathers created a republic with “elders” who represent the people and legislate on their behalf.   As George Washington put it, they are the “wise and honorable” whose job it is to legislate according to what benefits their constituents in particular and the republic in general.

Trans-Local Ministers, Not Denominational Oversight

Scholars of church history say that the churches of the first century were a loose-knit group in association with each other but with no formal organization or denominational structure.  That does not prevent those who have something to be gained by denominationalism from reading it into the scriptures.  For example, it might appear that since the church at Jerusalem sent apostles, prophets, and teachers down to the new church at Antioch, then that church was under the control of the church at Jerusalem.  It may also appear that all of the churches that Paul started were under his control, like he was some sort of archbishop over them.  It might also appear that since Peter wrote in 1 Peter to the churches of Asia Minor, largely established by Paul, that he had authority over them.  If that were the case, then John also had authority over them, hopefully at a different time than either Paul or Peter, since he wrote to seven of these churches in the book of Revelation.

This is a classic case of eisegesis (to guide in), starting with our own presuppositions and reading them into scripture, rather than exegesis (to guide out), trying to discern the truths the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to us by way of the text.  It would do more justice to the scriptures and make more sense of them to view the churches where ministers were sent out from such as Jerusalem and Antioch and the apostles and other ministers that were sent out, as resources, not as bishops or denominational headquarters.  The church at Jerusalem, with its concentration of mature and gifted ministers such as apostles, prophets, and teachers, was a resource church for many others that were young and lacked the spiritual gifts, talents, and maturity needed to be firmly established and self-sufficient.  Paul and his band of fellow helpers such as Titus and Timothy were trans-local ministers, a sort of mobile resource that got out into the field and thus were able to be available to churches in need both far and near.

Paul cannot possibly be thought of as a bishop over the churches that he established because that would have been logistically impossible considering the sheer number of churches he established, the great distances between them, and the lack of communication systems at the time.  He had to be able to as he stated in Acts “commend them to the Lord in whom they trusted,” meaning leave the elders in God’s hands and let God take care of them.  This was his habit, as can be seen in Acts 14:23 and 20:32.  Not only does responsibility for a local body of believers transfer to the eldership once one is established, but scripturally, the seat of authority rests with the people and the elders they approve, not with someone from a different city.

Among the elders you will find men who are particularly gifted to be of use to not only the congregations to which they are a part, but also to other congregations as well.  I believe this is what Paul is referring to in Ephesians 4:11 when he says God:

has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the equipping of the saints; with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ; until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto a measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; in order that we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of teaching. 

We can see all of these ministries in action in the book of Acts.  They were the itinerate ministers, moving from city to city as needed by local congregations or to establish local congregations to begin with.  Their job was to serve the Christians by helping to establish them in the Christian faith and equip them for the ministry so the body of believers could edify itself, apart from reliance on outside help but getting it on occasion, and be able to discern for themselves truth and error.  The final result is expressed in vs. 16:

the whole body, fitted together, and connected by every joint of supply, according to the working in its measure of each one part, works for itself the increase of the body to its self-building up in love.” (Darby’s Literal Translation)

Once this state of self-sufficiency in Christ was attained, these ministers could move on to other areas leaving the oversight in the hands of the local elders, occasionally stopping by or writing letters providing additional correction when necessary.

When one of the apostles established a church they may have had, out of necessity, monarchial government, if they didn’t work as a team as they usually did, but that was only long enough to get the eldership to a place where they could assume leadership. If an apostle had to leave the church before that time he appointed one such as Timothy or Titus to carry on until he or the church could appoint its own elders.  Neither he nor the congregation sought out a new apostle, head pastor, or chief elder to be brought in from another church, but caused to be appointed those several men who were mature and qualified which could officially assume leadership for the church as a corporate body, and were recognized for the leadership they had already been providing.

Other than the elders already mentioned, the ministry of pastor can only be found once in the whole New Testament, yet the whole modern church revolves around this “position.” To say that a church is to be led by only one pastor we have absolutely no place to turn in the whole Bible to back this up.  It makes more sense to say that the pastor/teacher, since found only in Ephesians 4:11 and grouped with other obviously itinerate ministers, is also an elder whose teaching gift is beneficial and needed beyond his own congregation.  He is not a pastor in the modern sense of the ministry, but an itinerate teacher who pastors through his teaching, hence he is a ποιμενας και διδασκαλους (poimenas kai didaskalos), a shepherd/teacher.

The modern western church, and much of the eastern Protestant church which has been influenced by western missionaries, has gotten a lot of its ideas concerning governmental hierarchy and denominational control, and the distinctions drawn between “clergy” and “laity,” from older translations like the King James Version, written by clerics in the Anglican Church of England who were steeped in worldly hierarchical church structures and control.  The only significant difference between the Anglican Church of that time and the Catholic Church was that the Church of England broke from the Pope.  They did not, however, become a part of the Reformation that held much more than the Catholic doctrine of papal authority up to the light of the scriptures.  The Anglicans retained every bit of the Catholic hierarchical system that created two classes of Christians, the clergy and the laity, and arranges churches under a regional bishop.

The bias of the King James Version translators toward denominational structure was so pervasive that these Anglicans actually inserted into the KJV text the following at the end of 2 Timothy and Titus, “The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians, was written from Rome, when Paul was brought before Nero the second time,” and “It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians, from Nicopolis of Macedonia.”  The translators of the New King James Version, to their credit, removed these sections because they are not found in any of the Greek manuscripts, but to the unsuspecting reader of the original KJV, these sections appear to be inspired text and will be used to try to understand church government, leading them to doctrinal error.

From the Anglicans we also get the following terms that seem to flow so easily from the lips of Protestants: position, office, ruling, ruling over, being over, government, ordination, sacraments, and ideas of rank such as clergyman, layman, reverend, priest, and bishop.  This vocabulary is unscriptural, terribly misleading and conveys ideas contrary to what Jesus Christ and his apostles taught.  Such terminology misrepresents the true nature of apostolic Christianity.

Even the word “church” is misleading.  William Tyndale refused to use the term “church” in his translation of the Bible because he understood it would uphold the very institution, the Church of England, that was trying to prevent him from translating the scriptures into English.  It was “The Church” that was his thorn in the flesh, not the body of Christ.  He translated ecclesia, which literally means “called out ones,” as “assembly,” a word that better captures the essence of the Greek word.

The apostles never spoke of “being over” anyone.  They spoke of taking the lead, watching over, feeding, laboring, serving, ministry, adjusting, and appointing, which gives a whole different flavor, a New Covenant flavor at that, to church leadership.

An apostle or prophet can make an adjustment to an assembly that has gone off course without actually carrying any legal or ecclesiastical authority over that church.  It is not too hard to see that someone like Paul, who after planting a church, laboring diligently among the people and loving them like a father loves his own children, will have their respect and they will know who he is, a man of God who has the mind and heart of God, and speaks the words of God.  Naturally, he is going to be listened to and obeyed, regardless of his “position,” or lack thereof.

When Paul chastised the Corinthians for not dealing with the man involved in incest, he said, “What will ye? That I come to you with a rod; or in love, and in a spirit of meekness?” (1 Cor. 5:21)  His “rod” was not his posture of authority, but the Word of God.  He was saying either do the right thing with the man in question or have to hear him chastise them some more concerning their irresponsibility as overseers.  Of course, Paul also had genuine spiritual authority to deliver such a one over to the power of Satan for the destruction of his flesh, but that is an authority Paul had not because he carried the title apostle or was over that church, but because he was Paul, a man God used in powerful ways.

Authority Rests With the Local Body

Concerning the apostles’ and prophets’ other admonitions, even commandments to the churches, it was up to the churches to discern whether they were speaking the truth or not, or speaking in the Lord’s behalf, and act accordingly.  If this were not the case, Paul could not have said in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test all things, prove all things, hold fast that which is good.”  If an apostle’s word was to be the final authority he could not have said, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8)  Neither could John have commended the Ephesians in Revelation 2:2 for trying those who claimed to be apostles but found them to be liars and Paul would not have considered the Bereans more noble for searching the scriptures daily to see if Paul was accurately teaching from the Old Testament. (Acts 17:11)

These scriptures in principle refute the idea of denominational control.  Yes, it’s true that Paul exercised oversight in that he watched over the churches he established but it is possible to have oversight over people without being over them in a hierarchical system.   An example of this is the apostle John’s letter (3 John) to his friend Gaius regarding the pastor at his church who did not allow John’s letter to the church to be read or allow John’s friends to visit.  If John had been over that church governmentally he could have had Diotrephes removed from office.  By the same token, if the members of that church were given authority to approve their leaders they could have had a recall vote and removed Diotrephes from his position of preeminence.  They could also have sided with Diotrephes and not received John’s ministry, but it appears they were not given a choice in the matter.  Even if authority had been residing with the people, as it should have, John could still exercise oversight as long as he was allowed to write to the church offering his assessment of their spiritual condition.  As it were, with the seat of authority illegitimately residing with one man, Diotrephes, all John could say to his friend Gaius was to not follow his example and put up with it all.

It may seem confusing that the seat of authority should rest with those who are being governed rather than with those who are governing but perhaps America’s civil government will show an example of this.  Our Democratic Republican form of government is based on this separation of powers.  Ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Though few Republican legislators put them into practice, many Republican parties throughout America have adopted platforms that reflect the wisdom of relying on individual self-government and autonomous local governments at the expense of a strong trans-local (federal) government.  Three of these platform planks of a Republican Party appear to be adopted by delegates who were studying New Covenant church government:

  1. We know that the government that is closest to the people is the most effective, responsible and responsive one.
  2. Therefore the federal government should provide the people with only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals, private organizations or local governments.
  3. Experience has also shown that the government that governs least governs best.

America’s founding fathers well knew the dangers of a nanny government that has the authority to have the final say on anything.  Our Declaration of Independence states, “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  The Bill of Rights is a great example of a maxim expressed by the Supreme Court which states, “It is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizens to keep the government from falling into error.”  The whole reason we have a Second Amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms is so that the people can overthrow a despotic government, even as the Patriots overthrew the British Crown.  Another way of saying we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is to say that final authority rests with the people and is expressed through the “elders” they elect to represent them.

A Body, Not An Institution

A discussion of church government would not be complete without examining what a church is and what its function is.

Jesus likened the New Covenant to new wine and made a point that the new wine should be stored in a new wineskin, not an old one.  The old wineskin of the Old Covenant church government was suitable for the Old Covenant, but is a totally inadequate container for the New Covenant.  The change of the priesthood from the Aaronic Order (Levitical priesthood) to the Melchizadek Order (Priesthood of all Believers) necessitates a change of wineskins.

The Old Covenant church was arranged similar to an army except that it was theocratic; the Commander-in-Chief was God with Moses as the Joint Chief-of-Staffs.  The New Covenant church, by contrast, is not arranged like an army, but is arranged like the human body.  It is also a theocracy, with direction coming from Christ, the head of the body, giving commands to each of the members of the body through the agency of the Holy Spirit, represented in the body by the nervous system.  Because the Holy Spirit had not been given to the church in the Old Covenant, it was not able to function as a body, but only as an institution with a human head.

Modern churches, on the other hand, are more like institutions than an organism, and some take things to an extreme to say that God established only one institution in the earth.  The Catholic Church, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, state that since the church has been entrusted with upholding the truth, as it says in 1 Timothy 3:15, then the church must of necessity speak with one voice.  The only way to get that, they reason, is that God will sanction only one worldwide institution.  God could not possibly be sanctioning all the myriad institutions that all speak different things, since God is not the author of confusion. Or so goes the reasoning.  To arbitrate differences and ensure a unified message, God’s institution would have to have one person at the top that could speak ex cathedra, meaning, from the throne (of God).  Speaking of debates within the Church of England concerning the number of sacraments, the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Assuredly their wanderings and gropings after the truth prove the necessity of having on earth an infallible interpreter of God’s word.” [7]  They surmise that Peter was the first head of the church, and his mantle of authority was passed on after him to another who passed it on after him and so on, until this seat came to reside traditionally with the Bishop of Rome.  The fact that none of dozens of supposed popes between Peter and Gregory the Great, the Bishop of Rome between the years 590 to 604 AD, knew they were supposed to be the head of the world wide church doesn’t seem to matter to the Catholic Church.  Gregory the Great was the first Bishop of Rome who was recognized by any of his contemporaries as a supposed successor to Peter.  That didn’t exactly sit well with the bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Smyrna, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, who did not recognize the Bishop of Rome as having any position over them.  Things came to a head during The Great Schism of 1054 AD when the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Constantinople excommunicated each other.  The Bishop of Rome insisted all of the bishoprics, or sees, as they call them, should be united in one universal see with him as the head, while the other bishops insisted that right doctrine would be sacrificed under such a proposal.  The Bishop of Rome went his way and those who followed him became the Catholic Church, catholic being a Latin word for universal, while the rest of the bishops went their way and those who followed them became the Orthodox Church, orthodox being a Latin word for right belief.

In more recent history, a couple of other institutions have come along claiming that God’s truth was lost during that whole time but God has created a latter-day institution to restore God’s truth.  One is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise know as the Mormons.  They believe God has restored the biblical offices of apostles and prophets who have the divine gift to restore the truths that were lost and also make them applicable to modern culture.  The other one is the Watchtower Organization, better known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also believe God could only have one institution on the earth and they are it, and through them God is restoring biblical truth.

These groups would not be making such claims of being God’s only legitimate institution if institutionalism had not crept into the church to begin with.  Jesus did not bring into the world a better institution, but a body of believers.  God is restoring biblical truth to his church, but not through top-down management, since that is where the church got off track to begin with in the second century.  God is restoring biblical truth from the bottom up as Christians who are sitting in the pews are discerning whether what is being taught is according to the heart and mind of God, as expressed in the scriptures.  That process could not have even started in the English speaking world until 1384 when John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English for the first time and in the 1500’s when Martin Luther had the Bible translated into German and William Tyndale translated it into English.  By this time the printing press had been invented and in 1525 Tyndale began shipping copies to England where the Church of England issued dire threats to anyone possessing an English Bible.  Before this the Bible had been only in Latin, which only priests could read.

Tyndale was certain that the way to God was through the Holy Scriptures.  He vowed to an ignorant Catholic priest whose children he had been hired to tutor, that “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause that a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.”

That’s not something that clergyman wanted to hear.  His position of authority and privilege within the institution of the church depended on the ignorance of the church members.  His colleagues were equally uneasy about having the Word in the vernacular.  So complete was their fear that their institution would be shaken that they burned Tyndale at the stake.

Most modern churches do not take institutionalism to such extremes.  All have allowed access to the scriptures in the language of the people and many even encourage independent Bible study, though challenges to whether the teacher is accurately handling the Word are rarely welcome.  Nevertheless, it is very difficult for contemporary Christians to think of the church as anything but an institution.  In many people’s minds not having an institution is the same as having anarchy.  This is due to not having anything in mind that could replace institutionalism.  Hopefully, this book will provide the biblical alternative, the Headship of Jesus Christ, as expressed in the churches planted by the Apostles.

To further clarify the difference between a body, sans the institution, and an institutional church trying to be a body, we need to first look at Paul’s teaching on the body of Christ.  First of all, by the power of the Spirit we have all been baptized into one world-wide body of believers. (1 Cor. 12:13)  This has nothing to do with water baptism or even the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  This is a baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.

The local body works as a whole when each part of it is contributing so that the body can build itself up. In the human body, all of the body parts are important because all of them are necessary for the functioning of the whole body.  No one part is independent but all parts need all of the other parts.  Paul takes this a step further in 1 Corinthians 12 by showing that those parts of the body we esteem to be less honorable we clothe with more honor and make them more charming, and so by analogy we should take greater care of those in our church who are less appealing.

Contrast this with an institutional church where few of the members participate in the ministry of the church, whether it is in-church ministry or outreach.  Most are spectators who would not cause a void if they left.  Though Paul teaches that the eye can not say to the hand, “I have no need of thee,” in practical terms the majority of church members are not needed by anyone but the preacher who needs people to fill the pews and pay their tithes.  Many institutional churches also work hard to make “comely” members feel welcome and “uncomely” members feel unwelcome, since they would rather their church was like a country club than a mission to people in need.

Another thing I would like to do some time when I have nothing better to do is take a survey of Christians and ask them if they can define the purpose of a church service.  In other words, why do they go to church?  Some will answer because God wants them there.  But why?  My guess is most will say something like, “to be built up in the faith,” or “to learn about God,” or “to learn how to be a better Christian.”  These answers imply one-way ministry, with the average Christian as the recipient and in most churches one man is the minister or at best a select few.

The scriptures we touched on in Ephesians 4 give us a better answer to these types of questions.  The purpose of a church meeting is for a body of believes to build itself up into the fullness of the stature of Christ.  The purpose of the church is to represent Christ in the world, and the purpose of the meeting is for that church to be a better representation of Christ as each member contributes to the edifying of that church.

In an institutional church a pastor will usually speak of the church as his church.  In an organic church, no one claims ownership of the church but all recognize that the church belongs to Jesus.  His servants see themselves as stewards of God’s grace, which implies responsibility, but also implies ownership by someone else who has entrusted the steward with care for his belongings.

In an institutional church, ministry is programs.  In an organic church, ministry is people.

Every Man Ministry

When I first began to learn about “body ministry” where ministry is not supposed to be by just the ordained or paid ministers it was always in the context of an institutional church and a typical church service on Sunday mornings. I had wanted to see the gift ministries of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist and Pastor/Teacher have the freedom to operate within that context, but even more I yearned to see the average Joe Christian not just be a spectator in a religious production.  I longed to see everyone contribute to the edification of the body as God gives him ability.

But I was seeing that in the context of an institutional setting and a typical church service as well, where it wasn’t really practical for more than just a few to be involved, and besides that much of the involvement was not ministry to people but a service to the religious production. The guy in the sound booth, the usher, or even the door greeter rarely got into the lives of the people in the pews. And many of the people in the pews never got a chance to have their individual issues addressed short of making an appointment with a pastor.

I then began to wonder how the 59 or so “one another” scriptures in the New Testament could practically be accomplished in a typical church. I still wonder and I think the answer is they really don’t.

Besides the commands from Jesus to “love your neighbors as yourselves” there are 15 verses in the New Testament from Jesus, Peter, and John which tell us to “love one another.” There are many more admonishments from them and Paul which are practical ways in which to “love one another”.  They include:

Be at peace with each other, wash one another’s feet, be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honor one another above yourselves, live in harmony with one another, accept one another just as Christ accepted you, serve one another in love, carry each other’s burdens, be patient, bearing with one another in love, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgive each other, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, in humility consider others better than yourselves, bear with each other, forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another, make your love increase and overflow for each other, encourage each other daily, build each other up, confess your sins to each other, that is, confess how you have missed the mark in your relations with the others, pray for each other, each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, and finally we are to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

These things simply can’t be done very well if at all in the context of an institutional setting where only certain ones are “in the ministry” and Sunday morning is a “service” rather than a place where people can get to know one another and talk about what’s going on in their lives.

In an organic setting ministry happens in ways that actually address the needs in the body and every person has the opportunity to be a minister. There really is no way for that to happen when a service is dominated by the preacher.

The New Testament Pattern, Diagramed

It will be helpful to get a clearer picture of what a New Testament church looks like if we make a diagram of a local body of believers as well as diagram its relationship with other bodies of believers. I’ll represent a church by a box and divide this church into mature Christians and immature or baby Christians. Mature Christians are what some translations refer to as being “perfect,” however, a better translation would have either “mature” or “complete,” and should be taken as the normal state of a Christian, not some pie-in-the-sky condition that only a few can attain to. (1 Cor. 2:6, 14:20, Eph. 4:13, Heb. 5:14)  Immature Christians are what the Bible calls novices.  This word novice in 1 Timothy 3:6 comes from the Greek word νεόφυτος (neophutos), from which we get our word neophyte.  It literally means “one newly sprung up.”  A church comprised of mature and immature Christians could be diagrammed as such:

I’m purposefully trying not to make this look like a pyramid or imply those on the top have authority over those on the bottom.  Next, we’ll divide this church into those who minister and those who don’t.  Ministry I define as not just “having a ministry,” but being a blessing to others, either in church or out.  It includes everyone from the preacher to the coffee servers to those who help the elderly with their yard work.  For those who minister the Bible uses the term diakonos which is translated as either servants, ministers, or deacons.  Its secular usage was that of a domestic servant, cook, or anyone who attended to the needs of others.  We tend to want to make this a lower office in the church but such an interpretation is reading something into the scriptures that is not there.  Scripturally, it is used of anyone who serves in any capacity, such as Paul who called himself a “deacon” (Col. 1:23) or someone who just got saved and has a ministry of “helps” to single mothers.  1 Timothy 3:8,12 does list qualifications for being a “minister” which may lead one to conclude this is an office, however, the qualifications are no higher than what we would expect for any Christian.  Since a Christian is one who represents Christ in all that he does Paul wanted to make sure those who serve in any capacity in the church or outside the church do not bring ill repute on the name of Christ.  In other words, if you are not a “good Christian,” do not serve until you get your life straightened out.

Those who don’t minister we will call attenders, those who attend a church and receive from the ministry of the other Christians in the body but do not minister to others themselves. Now our church looks like this:


As you can see our church is divided into quadrants with the X axis representing ministry and the Y axis representing maturity.  This gives us four possible scenarios: 1) mature ministers, 2) immature ministers, 3) mature attenders, and, 4) immature attenders.

Arising from the mature ministers, which are those who “addict themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15) and wash the feet of the saints, that is, use their giftings to serve the body rather than themselves, are those who:

  • Have a tested nature.
  • Have wisdom stemming from experience.
  • Take the lead among the flock.
  • Demonstrate care and concern for the flock.
  • Are examples to all of what a Christian should be.

These will naturally be entrusted to oversee the affairs of the church and will be called overseers, or elders.  It is these elders who pastor the flock, naturally.  They could potentially be the majority of the men if the church is a mature church.  Thus our church looks like this:

From among these overseers will arise those who have particular giftings that are beneficial to more than just one assembly and so will circulate among the assemblies and plant new ones.  These will be the so-called “five-fold ministries” of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor/teacher, which should actually be called a “four-fold ministry” since pastor/teacher is one ministry, that is, one who pastors by teaching.  Now our church has matured and has become a Resource Church:

To complete the picture of a biblical apostolic fellowship of churches we would see several churches, some established and some new church plants, all of them interrelated by the relationships of the four-fold itinerant ministers who circulate amongst them:

Any given area or fellowship of churches may have several resource churches.  For example, the church at Antioch was a resource church simply because Paul was based there while the church at Jerusalem was also a resource church with its concentration of apostles and prophets.

What distinguishes a mature church from an immature one is whether there have been any elders raised up to lead the church.  For example, the churches on the island of Crete were immature because Paul had to find someone to work with them for a period of time until elders could be appointed.  The church at Ephesus was a mature church because after three years of Paul’s ministry it had elders who were ready to carry on in Paul’s stead.

A church plant may be formed by splitting off brethren from an established church that has outgrown its physical structure.  In this case it might be a mature church from its inception or even a Resource Church, depending on who is in it.  A church plant may also be a church started by an apostle or evangelist.  It could also be planted by evangelistic Christians in which case it could possibly be comprised of all new Christians with some oversight from someplace else until it has matured enough to be self-governing.

Compare this apostolic model with how most denominational churches are structured in a hierarchy:

Growth Through Division and Multiplication

One major difference between an institutional church and an organic church, one that behaves like an organism, is the way in which it grows.  An institutional church will typically grow by becoming bigger and bigger which requires constant building programs and siphoning off of resources that could go towards outreach, benevolence, and church planting.  An organic church, on the other hand, will act as a cell does in an organism, which in our case is the world-wide Body of Christ.  Instead of growing bigger and bigger, each cell grows to a point that is determined by the limits of its physical structure, that is, how many people you could fit into a house if that’s where they meet.  When it reached maximum capacity, instead of spending money to make the house larger, it would split the church in two and one part would remain and the other would meet in someone else’s home.  If you have a group of believers that grows from 20 members meeting in a house to 500 members, instead of a succession of expensive expansion programs you have 25 cells meeting in homes on a weekly basis.  Each of these cells is a church in its own right with hopefully three to five elders.  All 500 members meet as a general assembly in a rented hall or rent another church building for monthly or weekly worship meetings or teaching seminars.  This is much less expensive than building your own facility and is better stewardship of the resources our Lord has put into our trust.  With 25 cell churches with three to five elders each you would have 75 to 125 elders among the general assembly.  Of those elders a few will be especially gifted to be of benefit to the whole fellowship of churches and will be the ones to play a major role in the general assembly by serving as the pastor/teachers.  Others may be on staff as those who are sent out to help plant new churches (apostles), or circulate among the cell churches ministering in prophecy and exhortation (prophets), or circulate among the unchurched to bring people to the Lord (evangelists).

With a structure such as described above, it could be possible to have 500 people in fellowship with each other and having their spiritual needs met without anyone being a paid staff person except for those who by nature of their ministry are unable to hold down a job, such as those who are continually on the road or have been sent to a country where it would be illegal for him to get a job, or if he could get a job it would not be sufficient to support his family or would severely hinder his work.  With the exception of itinerate ministers such as Paul, the early church for the first three hundred years did not have paid ministers.  In fact, those who rose up as “bishops” tended to be those who gave the most money to the church, not ones who got paid by the church.  The general principle concerning supporting ministers, as expressed in the New Testament, was not to “muzzle the ox which treads out the corn.” (1 Tim. 5:18) In other words, if a job keeps a minister from doing his ministry, then he should be supported.  Since the role of pastoring a local body of believers did not fall on one man’s shoulder but was spread to several elders then no one had such a load that he could not pastor and hold down a job at the same time.  It was only when monarchial pastors came into existence that it was thought necessary to have full time pastors since it was very difficult for one man to carry that responsibility and work another job at the same time.

Those who have studied church growth distinguish between church planting and church planting movements.  A church planting movement (CPM), as defined by the booklet Church Planting Movements published by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, is “a rapid and exponential increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.”  Notice the words rapid and exponential.  A missionary planting one church per year is good, but that is not a rapid or exponential increase in church starts such as in a place in Southeast Asia where in four years the church in a population of 7 million people grew from 3 churches and 85 believers to 550 churches and 55,000 believers.  Or take the example of one city in China where over a four-year period (1993-1997), more than 20,000 people came to faith in Christ, resulting in more than 500 new churches.  In these CPM’s, two churches become four, four churches become 16 and so forth, making for an exponential increase.  This exponential multiplication is only possible when new churches are being started by the churches themselves – rather than by professional church planters or missionaries.

Though the biblical model I have described in the previous section incorporates the ministry of an apostle who is sent out to plant churches, the greatest potential for church growth is when churches plant churches through division and multiplication where a large number of members are involved in evangelism and evangelistic Bible studies without reliance on “professional” church planters.  Sometimes it is necessary for a missionary from the outside to come into an area that has not received the Gospel to give the people the Gospel, but once he has planted a church rapid church growth will only happen if that missionary moves out of the limelight and takes a behind the scenes supporting role for an indigenous CPM.

Those who have studied Church Planting Movements have noticed several universal elements, some of which are incorporated into this book such as:

  • Local leadership
  • Lay leadership
  • Cell or house churches
  • Churches planting churches
  • Leadership authority is decentralized
  • Multiple leaders within each cell church

Some have used a church planting methodology called planting POUCH churches.  The POUCH methodology contains core elements that should be applicable to virtually any church planting context.  A POUCH church utilizes Participative Bible study and worship groups, affirms Obedience to Jesus who said, “Love your neighbors as yourself,” as the sole measure of success, uses Unpaid and non-hierarchical leadership and meets in Cell groups or House churches.

Some of the things that have been shown to be obstacles to CPM’s are:

  • Constructing church buildings
  • Creating dependency by subsidizing pastors.
  • Imposing extra-biblical requirements for being a church such as land, a building, seminary-trained leadership or paid clergy.
  • Non-reproducible church models – components that cannot be reproduced by the people themselves such as imported solutions to local challenges.  Extraneous items may be as innocuous as cinderblocks for construction, electronic sound systems or imported folding chairs.
  • Extra-biblical leadership requirements such as theological training or academic degrees.
  • Planting “frog” rather than “lizard” churches. To quote Church Planting Movements:

Frog churches perceive themselves as ends in themselves, sitting fat and complacent on a hill or lily pad (or main street), expecting the lost to come to them in search of salvation.  Frog churches hold meetings in places where they feel comfortable and require the lost to adapt to their froggy world.  Lizard churches are always pursuing the lost.  Adaptable and ready for action, they move quickly into the world through cracks and crevices seeking the lost.  Lizard churches penetrate the homes of the lost with evangelistic Bible studies rather than requiring the lost to come to their churches.  They are willing to change their colors, expend enormous energy, even lose their tails, if necessary, in order to bring the lost into the family of God.

A Frog Church will be consumed with maintaining an institution and a program. Much of the staff will be devoted to that. A Lizard Church will be consumed with people. Their mindset will be, “Ministry is people, not programs.”

Concerning theological training for ministers, those involved in CPM’s have realized that theological training in and of itself does not make a person a good minister.  Seminaries have graduated and ordained thousands who are neither qualified nor called of God to be in the ministry.  Neither does a good minister necessarily have to be theologically trained, the twelve Apostles being a good example. They should at least be a “learner for life,” one who is a self-learner on a continual basis.  They also recognize that pulling ministers out of their ministry to send them to theological training for one to three years in another location is also a great hindrance to church planting.  To respond to this, Rural Leadership Training Programs have been developed.  An RLTP is on-the-job training for church planters and church leaders aimed at practical, short-term modules of training designed to keep students engaged in their ministry while they learn.  They usually take the form of weekend or weeklong seminars every few weeks.

Some of the most rapid church growth has taken place when an expectation of church planting is engrained in the church plant from the beginning, even before there are any Christians!  Instead of just inviting non-Christians to a church, they search out what the Bible refers to as a “son of peace,” (Lk. 10:6) one who is open to the Gospel and willing to host a Christian worker while he shares the good news that the Kingdom of God is near at hand.  Others who are open to the Gospel are gathered in the host’s home for participative Bible studies.  Some of those who receive the Lord take their Bibles in hand and duplicate what they have seen the original Christian worker model after having observed him lead a study for as few as two sessions.  Even before that group is considered a church one from that group is planting another church.  Church planting strategists who have observed CPM’s have seen men plant several churches in their first year as Christians!

Organic Cross Pollination for Health and Humility

Even though home churches, organic churches, and cell groups in institutional churches provide a much needed avenue for spiritual growth because they encourage Every Man Ministry, there is one thing I have noticed which hinders their spiritual growth and that is many tend to be rather insular. Or to put it less politely, they live in their own bubbles of ignorance. I have seen those who are the leaders of groups, the ones who tend to be the ones who have answers to people’s questions, provide some of the most vapid and uninformed answers imaginable because all they and the rest of the group understands is what they have learned from one denomination or line of thinking.

As with corn stalks growing together, cross pollination is healthy. That’s why we are told to plant our corn in several rows next to each other rather than one long row. It’s so that the pollen from one plant will fall on the other plants around them.

It’s good to get together with people who have other perspectives. There are many ways to get that including: conversations with others outside our group, allowing others from other groups to share with our own group, and reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts from experts and influencers. All of these help us to get outside of our own thinking and provide different ways of interpreting the Scriptures that we never would have thought of on our own.

There is a pride that says, “I’ve got my Bible and the Holy Spirit. That’s all I need.” Over the years I have noticed the ones who say this and denigrade scholarship and are too lazy to find out what the Greek and Hebrew words actually mean, and never seek out conversation with people who disagree with them. They are the most mixed-up people on the planet. Yet they think they have the correct interpretation of the Scriptures and everyone who disagrees with them just don’t have the Holy Spirit like they do. Their arrogance is astounding, and crippling, yet they can’t see it in themselves.

But give them sufficient time with other brothers who do more than just sit and listen to the preacher, or if they are the preacher and they get sufficient time with other knowledgable ministers, eventually they will realize that their way of thinking isn’t the bee’s knees that they thought it was. They then can open themselves up to the Holy Spirit teaching them through the Body of Christ.

If pride comes before a fall, then humility comes before spiritual growth into maturity.

Honestly, the greatest obstacles to spiritual growth, the things that will tear a fellowhip apart, are pride and ego. But if the people can make a dedication to love one another no matter what, that group can get past these obstacles and find themselves growing in ways that could never happen when so much effort is put into having an institution that looks good on the outside.


Now that we have established how a church should be structured and governed to emulate the churches planted by Jesus and his Apostles this would be a good place to discuss the actual church service.

But wait! Did the first century church even have church “services”? Or were they believer’s meetings?

And what’s the difference?

Until Christ is Formed Within You

In the beginning I set out a question regarding leadership in the church to be answered in this essay. That question was:

How is this leadership to be done, 2000 years later, so that Jesus still has an active and vital headship and us humans don’t get in his way? And worse yet, think we are doing Jesus a favor while we are getting in his way?

I hope that I have made a good case for collegiate leadership being the model employed by Jesus’ apostles to ensure an active and fital headship of our Lord and Savior.

Another question needs to be asked and kept at the forefront of our thinking when we make decisions about how we are going to lead our churches, and how we are going to conduct ourselves during the times when we come together as one local body of believers. That question is:

How does what we are doing in our church services produce Christlikeness in the saints?

Or does it?

When we gather together are we producing a show to attract more people and grow the numbers or are we trying to grow the people, however many or few we have, into better examples of what it means to follow Jesus?

When Paul saw the church he planted in Galatians being seduced by Judaizers into thinking that they had to follow the entire Law of Moses he rebuked them sharply, and not just because there was false doctrine to contend with. They were falling way short of Paul’s overall goal for his ministry. He labored and suffered much to achieve that goal.

That goal, as Paul put it:

My children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:19-20)

“Pains of childbirth”.


Did you notice how strongly Paul felt about this?

For Paul falling short of this goal impacted him at a deep level. This was at the core of his reason to be “in the ministry”.

May God instill that same core in all of us who labor for His purposes.

The Goal of the Christian Faith – And Our Meetings

Christ being formed in the people wasn’t just Paul’s unique ministry calling. It was what he viewed as the Plan of God from the beginning and the goal of all Christian ministry. He expressed that Plan like this:

For those who God foreknew [to be the ones who would submit to Christ] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29)

Everything Paul did to establish Christian churches was done with this goal of Christlikeness being formed in the people, because this is what God chose for the faithful according to Romans 8:29. His ministry wasn’t Paul’s Vision for Church, his ministry was to serve the Vision of God.

Paul grieved when he saw one of his churches continue to be spiritually immature, one which had not grown up into Christ. He was distraught when they were easily led astray because of their immaturity. It made him feel like his efforts were falling short of what he preached about in Ephesians 4:11-12 –

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor/teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Becoming more Christlike is what our Christian faith is all about. With that in mind, I ask again, how do our church services serve this vision?

Or do they?

Ministry in an Organic Setting

People say, “You know, church isn’t a building, it’s a people,” as if we don’t already know that. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian from any denomination or any part of the world who doesn’t already know that “church isn’t a building.” But what would be more surprising to more people is if you said, “You know, ‘going to church’ doesn’t mean going to a church service. It means gathering with the believers for mutual edification.”

At our destination when we are “going to church” we typically go to sing worship songs and listen to a preacher, and spend a little time catching up with the friends we have there. Very little opportunity is given for each member to be able to help others reach the goal of the Christian faith, which is, “Christ formed in you,” or, “becoming mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Ephesians 4 lists some more up-front and public ministries for accomplishing maturity – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor/Teachers. I also see these as pan-church ministries. They are the ministries that benefit several churches in a region and these ministers are the ones who spend some time on the road rather than spending all of their time at one church.

They are also the ones who have a right to “live off the Gospel” as per 1 Corinthians 9:14, while the local ministers who are able to hold down a job should be expected to do so without an expectation of being financially compensated.

Romans 12 lists what we might call ordinary every-day ministries of all of the members of the Body of Christ at a local congregation. They are: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy. It’s not an exhaustive list of how God uses his saints because God will respond to unique situations with unique abilities, but it would be wise to consider if these ministries are present and if there is the freedom for them to be present when we gather together at our regular meetings.

I used to try to figure out how those should work in a church service but at some point I realized they have nothing to do with church services.  This was after I witnessed a gal with the gift of prophecy exercise her gift in relaxed conversation with others at a get-together in a home with people who were mostly Christians. She was ministering very effectively to people who didn’t even know they were “in church” because nobody was calling it a church service! They came for the BBQ and to spend time with friends, not to “go to church”.

This, I believe, is how God intends for his saints to be edified. It should happen whenever Christians gather for any reason, or for no reason at all other than to just hang out together. Having a weekly meeting simply increases the opportunity for the brethren to see each other and be a part of each other’s lives, and be used by the Holy Spirit to fascilitate the spiritual maturing of our brethren.

The Bible says nothing about one weekly time being the time when the Holy Spirit works through the brethren to bring about spiritual maturity. All of our times together should be what church is meant for, which is mutual edification for the maturing of the saints.

Gathering in Jesus’ Name

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

In other words, when we “gather in Jesus’ name” Jesus shows up!

Whenever Christians get together it should be done in Jesus’ name, for Paul said, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Colossians 3:17) Doing something or saying something “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t mean saying, “I do this in the name of Jesus” before you do it or say it, else we would need to be saying that a thousand times every day. The term “in the name of” means to do something according to how that person would want it to be done. To do or say something in Jesus name means to do it in a way that reflects the totality of what Jesus is all about. What he is all about is having God’s nature formed within us.  Doing and speaking in Jesus’ name means to do it in a godly way which reflects the fact we are under submission to our Lord Jesus who told us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is our call 24/7, not just when we “go to church.” For a Christian, everything we do, including being with another Christian, should always be “in Jesus name”. It’s a time for Jesus to “show up” in each one and minister to each other.

When Paul said (assuming he wrote Hebrews), “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” it’s easy to read into that and assume he’s talking about meeting “for church” but that’s just an assumption. Why should stirring up one another to love and good deeds be confined to “church”, if even that happens at church?

In the grand scheme of things, mutual edification of the body of Christ is meant to be an every day occurance as Christians are together, for any reason. Even at the office or on the jobsite, or meeting with customers, when we have opportunity to get to know each other during breaks or even while working, or run into someome we know while shopping, we should be thinking about mutual edification. We should be asking ourselves, “how has God given me the ability to help this person I am talking to in his or her walk with God? How can I stir him or her up to love that person that they are having a hard time with?”

We should also be asking ourselves, “How has my weekly meeting with the brethren helped me to better help mature this person I am talking to right now?”

Emascalation in the Body of Christ

I have seen numerous mature Christians of Elder quality who were being prevented from being utilized by God to edify others in the Body of Christ because the time together was dominated by the song service and the one guy preaching. I was one of them for decades. If the members of a body are being stunted in their ability to edify the body, then that body is not going to grow up into maturity.

In our Organic Churches we have a conviction that if something gets in the way of what God intends for his people then we should just get rid of it. Tradition shoud die an easy death if it gets in God’s way.

If the time a people want to devote to being together is a short time then the traditions to forsake might include getting rid of regular, programmed preaching and music ministry altogether. If the people want to spend more time together and there’s a perceived need for it then we might include teaching, preaching, and singing. If there’s not enough time during our main gathering then we do those things at other times. We reserve the main meeting for mutual edification.

At least as far as a planned meeting goes.

In the Organic Church I have been involved with for about four years our discussions run for three to four hours. We don’t tell anyone that we can’t do this or do that at any given meeting. What we say is that if you have a gift of teaching and you believe you have a teaching our church needs then by all means edify us with what God has given you. Same for exercising any of the Gifts of the Spirit. But that doesn’t have to mean having the floor at our main meeting, though it certainly could. In an organic setting any ministry can happen spontaneously and that’s how it should be. Those meetings are rich in ministry because what’s being done responds to the needs of that particular fellowship of believers or at least one person who shares his life, thoughts, hopes, and struggles. And the next meeting will be different because the people may not be the same and the needs expressed will be different.

Not having the regular meeting programmed and planned out each time allows the emasculated men to be used as God intended.

Emasculated Men Need a Good Batonage

Emasculated men and women who spend a lifetime of drinking in from the ministry of others and don’t have the opportunity to give out to minister to others are like the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea between Israel and Jordan has rivers running into it but no river running out. The salt carried in by the rivers has built up to a toxic concentration preventing most sea life. A healthy lake needs both an inlet and an outlet.

Emasculated men and women are also like wine that has remained still for too long. It becomes ropey after the sediments settle on the bottom which can ruin the flavor in some wines. This is known as being settled on its lees. Winemakers know there may come a time to stir up the settled wine in a process they call batonnage.

The churches of the world are full of hundreds of millions of saints who rarely have an opportunity to give out what God has put in and have become settled on their lees. The solution to this problem is replacing the pastor-centric church with Body Ministry.

In a pastor-centric church the success and the growth of the church is dependent on the preaching talent of the one man, or a select few if the church is big enough. And that success is generally measured in the numbers of people. Rarely is it measured in the spiritual maturity of the people.

Make the Main Thing the Main Thing

After sharing my convictions about body ministry and incorporating group discussions or Bible studies into their regular activities to some pastors and churches they saw the need for them.  So they adopted regular group meetings in one form or another. But they were held at some other time than what they considered their time for “church” on Sunday morning. It was considered as a supplament to the church service where the lion’s share of the time was devoted to a worship time and one guy or a select few up front doing all the ministering.

What does this say about the priorities of such a church? It says that the pastor’s ministry and the music ministry is the most important thing, while the ministry of everyone else is secondary. Yes, those supplamental group meetings can be organic, but doing things this way also says that the benefit of organic ministry, where Jesus is in charge of the meeting and uses several as He sees fit, and where people are better encouraged and grow more mature, is not as important as puting on a production that attracts more people to the church.

To follow the pattern of the Apostolic Church and maximize organic spiritual growth, I suggest churches go a step futher and make the more intimate discussion or Bible study groups, as long as they allow for freedom and sponteneity, the Main Thing, the thing that is called “going to church.” Which means if the church has more people than can fit into anyone’s living room then the church has more than one meeting each week. And preferably not all at the same time. This is so that those who desire to meet more than once per week can do so at two or more different meetings. Also, those who have spiritual gifts and ministries that are beneficial to more than his or her own group can circulate amongst the meetings so more people get the benefit of what God has given them the ability to do and the words they have to say.

Since everyone in that fellowship of small organic churches does not meet together every week then those who circulate among the groups provide cohesion and commonalities, similar to what is experienced amongst denominational churches, without the control often required for that.

None of this precludes everyone in all of the home fellowships getting together on occasion as needed. It is more efficient, after all, for a visiting teacher to teach to everyone at the same time.  Also, worshipping together in a larger group has the benefit of having more people with musical talent who can facilitate that time. But again, those times are supplemental to the Main Thing.

Small Groups Meeting Together Without a Mortgage or a Megaphone

Note also that since the supplamental meetings are not something that happens fifty or more times per year the need for a dedicated building is diminished. This is Good News for churches in America saddled by burdomsome debts and Good News for churches in third world countries who simply can’t afford to take care of each other and raise money for a building at the same time.

So how does a group of small groups meet together if you don’t have your own building?

You beg, borrow, or steal. Well alright, don’t steal. But you can borrow or rent. Or you meet outside in the park.

In Kenya, were I was teaching on this subject, churches were already used to meeting outdoors.  Raising funds for a dedicated building could be a several years long process if a fellowship outgrows the host’s living room. Other than the twice a year rainy seasons, meeting outdoors was often more confortable than meeting in an enclosed room under a hot tin roof. During the rainy season they could just split the large group up into smaller groups that could fit into living rooms and wait until things dry out to meet as one large group in the great outdoors during the next dry season. For an Organic Church where the large multi-group gatherings are not the Main Thing then church attendence would not suffer if they had to on occasions go for several weeks without those meetings. They still had the small group meetings which were the core of the church. Lack of good weather or a facility to meet in doesn’t get in the way of the Main Thing.

Of course meeting outdoors or otherwise not having a permanent structure had one disadvantage: hauling in and setting up a sound system from scratch for every meeting would be a daunting task.

But then why would sixty people meeting together need a sound system?

Seriously! Why?

I just did a little experiment in the little church we borrow for our Organic Church meetings. I took the sixty chairs that were set up in rows for their church services and arranged them in three circles one inside the other.  I made three isles leading from the outside to the inside of the circles so people could get in and out. I sat in the inner circle and noticed the distance from me to the farthest chairs, which were about twenty feet in front of me and ten feet behind me. I’m quite sure I could have spoken to sixty people filling those chairs without having to shout. I would just need to project my voice, which is more normal and natural and easier to do than shouting.

I then compared that to how the chairs are normally arranged and measured the distance from where the pastor preaches all the way to the chairs in the back of the room. It was about sixty feet. Hence, the need for their sound system, although even there the pastor has a loud voice that could fill that small auditorium just fine without amplification.

So I ask again: why the sound system?

As for body ministry, it’s actually easier for many people to talk to a group if they don’t have to hold a microphone or have one stuck in their face. It’s just a more natural form of communication without having to use a microphone.

How large of a group gathering can you have and not need a sound system? One or two hundred?

  • Peter preached to over two thousand people in Acts 4 and three thousand people in Acts 2.
  • Jesus preached to five thousand people for his Sermon on the Mount.
  • Billy Sunday’s crowds would average six thousand people for the 79 meetings of his six-week 1923 Columbia, South Carolina, campaign.
  • It was said George Whitefield preached to thirty thousand people at a time.
  • Orators spoke to the crowds in the Coliseum at Rome which held up to fifty thousand people.
  • And it’s been estimated that Moses preached to six hundred thousand people at a time.

All of this was before amplifiers were either invented or used. No doubt a healthy set of vocal cords and good natural accustics played a part in those numbers. But you get the point.

So does preaching to sixty, even without a loud voice, good accustics or amplifiers seem doable for an occasional large group gathering of several home groups if the chairs are just arranged in a way that is conducive to dialogue?

When I was preaching in Kenya I was in a church with twenty people in a building that could hold about forty. The pastor of that church who preached before me had the sound system cranked up so high it made my ears hurt. And he had a wonderful, deep, melodious voice that was plenty loud enough without the aid of electricity.

I did not understand why he did this. Was it because the people were old and half-deaf like me? Well if they were it was because they were made that way by the sound system they were using. It was about as loud as the rock concerts I used to go to in my younger years which no doubt contributed to my partial deafness today.

At another church I preached at in Kenya I was being drowned out by the preacher in a church down the road – nearly two blocks away. I wanted to walk over there and ask the preacher if he could turn it down – not only for my sake but for the sake of everyone in his church.

Why do we think we need to have booming sound systems and the permanent structures to put them in?

A lot of that has to do with ego.

If you already have the building just arrange the chairs in circles and ditch the microphone and electric guitars, and have discussions. Actually TALK TO EACH OTHER. You’ll be amazed at what God will do.

Why We Need Sound Systems and the Buildings to Put Them In

As I just mentioned, the answer is: EGO.

Everybody in a church wants to feel proud of what they have. That’s only natural. It’s the way God has made us. Everyone wants to be able to bring friends and family to our church and see them impressed with what we have invested a good portion of our lives. Even if they can’t come to a service we can show them the building and let that speak to them. If they come to a service we want them to be impressed with the pastor and his preaching, and the music ministry. We also want them to be greeted and introduced to the people so they will see how friendly and welcoming they are.

This is normal and natural to human nature. It isn’t bad. But it isn’t spiritual either. And it can be bad if it gets in the way of what God wants.

Isn’t that how we define idolatry in our modern society? It’s something that we put our affections on and spend time doing that gets in the way of doing what we should be doing for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Besides a vibrant Priesthood of all Believers, aka Every Man Ministry, which fosters spiritual growth into Christlikeness, God wants us to take care of each other. That might take money to accomplish. But what if paying the pastors’ salaries and raising money for a building campaign or to pay for upkeap, repairs, and the power bill drains the financial resources that could be going to help people in the congregation who need help?

In American we might be able to do it all: pay salaries, build buildings, and take care of the poor and needy.  But there is no doubt that when we do the former, especially if the church is growing and we keep having to put walls around them, the latter suffers. And so does missions.

God never asked us to put walls around the people. He asked us to take care of each other.

“But how can we grow if we don’t put walls around the people?” you may ask.

We do like they did in the first century church: we make do with what we have. What we have are homes to live in and commercial property, including other church buildings, we can borrow or rent at a fraction of the cost of having our own building.

Making do with what we have and spending our money on what God has asked us to do is good sterwardship of the resources that God has put into our trust.

When we make maturing into Christlikeness and taking care of each other priorities in our churches we will find not having the riches of salaries, buildings, and sound systems helps produce the spiritual riches Jesus came to die for.


By now I hope you realize modern forms of church government have evolved considerably from how things were in the beginning.  To the degree that a church has “progressed” from the early church is the degree of change that would be necessary to return to early church polity.  Ironically, those churches that pride themselves on going back the farthest in history to the establishment of their traditions are the ones that have evolved the most from the early church, namely the Orthodox Church and to a slightly less degree the Catholic Church.  I’m sure that if the apostles Peter, James, and John were to rise from the dead and attend an Orthodox Church service they would faint if told it was a Christian church.  It would bear very little resemblance to anything they had experienced in the first century.

One Body

One of the biggest changes to modern Christianity is the loss of the “one body” mentality of the early church.  Early Christians considered themselves first and foremost to be members of the worldwide body of Christ.  They met together with their brothers according to geographical and structural constraints, not according to “denominations.” The only thing preventing two brothers from going to the same “church” was the distance between them and whether the meeting place was big enough for the both of them.  Regardless of where they fellowshipped, they all had one common denominator, they worshipped the same Lord and drank from the same Spirit!

When an apostle wrote an epistle to a church he addressed it to all the Christians in a given city, with the exception of Galatians which was addressed to the Christians in a region comprising several cities.  This is a good indication that all the Christians in a given geographical area were all “in the same boat,” so to speak, and not divided by doctrinal issues.

I know it would be wishful thinking to hope for all the churches in a city to drop all of their denominational barriers and join together as one local body or a collection of local bodies bound together by trans-local ministries.  But one can hope that a couple churches in a city plus the home churches will catch a vision for doing this so that the earliest form of church organization could be seen in our times.

Some churches are already close to operating according to the early church pattern.  Many Christians already meet together in autonomous fellowships and have no denominational oversight to be free from.  What they lack is fellowship with other Christians in their same locale and the sharing of ministries and resources with each other.  Many home churches and other independent assemblies find themselves isolated from other independent assemblies, even when they are in the same community.

Some, such as the Southern Baptists, are a step closer.  They are independent yet to a limited degree share ministries and resources and meet together with other Southern Baptists in the same region.  But rather than a team of elders who are responsible for ministering, each assembly has one person who is “their pastor” and he does the preaching and teaching 90% of the time.   To change to an early church pattern would mean banding together with other local independent assemblies, Baptist or otherwise, and devise a way for all of the local assemblies to be able to benefit from the giftings of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers among them.   They could also work together in local outreach and outreach to the world.  Those who are now pastors could be part of a team of trans-local ministers who circulate among the assemblies and/or provide a class for interested brethren to gather to them for teaching.  These trans-local ministers would not have legislative authority over the local assemblies but they would have the heart of God for the brethren and offer admonition and wise council as led by the Holy Spirit.  In that sense they would have oversight of the assemblies they are associated with but would not be over them like a bishop.  It would be up to each local assembly to decide if any changes are needed regarding the concerns expressed by the trans-local ministers, just as it was in the first century.

To follow the example of the early church, it would not be a given that any of these ministers would get paid.  With administrative and pastoral responsibilities shifting to a team of elders at each assembly it might be discovered that no one needs to be paid for his ministry.  This would free up funds to support those who really cannot hold down a job and minister at the same time, such as missionaries to countries that do not allow foreigners to work or trans-local ministers who do a lot of traveling because they are in high demand.

With the lack of a paid staff at each local assembly there would also be more funds available for evangelism and outreach.  I would rather not use the Mormon Church as an example, but they do not have paid pastors.  One reason they are growing, other than a high birth rate, is because they funnel funds that would have been used for staff, if they operated like most churches, into sending their young men door to door.  We can learn something from them.

Biblical Unity and Humility

If there is one thing that makes it difficult for churches to band together and be a part of the same association of churches it is doctrine.  So many in each church feel very strongly about their church’s doctrinal distinctives and feel it is their God given duty to bring others into the same light they have.  They feel that to join ministries with another church whose doctrine they feel is un-biblical would mean they would have to do as some do and “agree to disagree,” that is, turn a blind eye to the perceived “heresies” of the others.  For some, that’s a hard pill to swallow.

Unless everyone agrees to not make doctrine an issue it takes a mature approach for churches with a variety of doctrinal persuasions to be united in common ministry and yet not ignore theological differences.  Everyone needs to have a seeker’s mentality that recognizes we are all on a journey and learning of the Lord, growing in our understanding of God’s word.  One who is still learning humbly admits that it’s possible he may be in error while someone else may have the truth on a matter.  He also treats others as he would want to be treated, as one who has a God given right to use his own brain and come up with conclusions that differ from others.  We all desire grace from those who believe we are in error and so should have grace on others whom we feel are in error, allowing them to grow in their understanding of God’s word as we would want others to allow us to grow in our understanding.

Does that mean we can never bring correction to others whom we feel are in error?  By no means.  What is important is how we bring that correction, humbly recognizing that we might be the ones who need to be corrected.

Churches who desire to band together would need to be “non-creedal.”  Again, that could for some be hard to swallow since many see their church’s creeds as a way to define what they feel is correct doctrine.  One problem with a creed, however, whether it be a historic doctrine such as the Nicene Creed or the Westminster Confession of Faith, or a modern work, is that it erects barriers between the brethren, and the more pages in the creed the more likely someone will find something objectionable.

Rather than bring the brethren into doctrinal unity, creeds tend to divide.  It is arrogant to think that if we put forth a doctrine, even with ample teaching to present our case, that all who are sincere and have a heart for God’s truth will see things the way we do.  And if they don’t, what are they to do?  Pretend they agree so they can be a member of our church?  We should not put such a burden of conscience on our brothers in Christ.

Of course, some may consider this book to be a creed of sorts, especially if the principles in it are used to define an area wide fellowship of independent assemblies.  I can’t say that I would dispute such a notion, but would rather defend the necessity of this “creed.”   Paradoxically, to be consistently non-creedal would entail following the creed of non-creedalism!  But how else are we to eradicate the barriers erected by creedalism other than to be dogmatically non-creedal?

Though many churches have tried, it is very difficult to come up with a set of doctrines that defines the minimum “theology” one needs to be a Christian.   Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is about the only thing ALL Christians can agree on.  The Apostle’s Creed comes pretty close since it just reiterates what the bible says without interpretation.  I like the approach of one Baptist pastor who put it to me like this, “If someone believes that Jesus is Lord, that’s good enough for me!”


When most Christians who have known nothing but monarchial church government are presented with the idea of a plurality of equal elders they object to it for purely pragmatic reasons, saying a church has to have one man at the top, otherwise disharmony and discord will prevail.  Some may even point out the one church they know of that had an equal eldership and was in discord as proof positive that it doesn’t work.  Most of those who bring that up do not have any other experience with equal elderships nor do they realize that many churches in their own communities have equal elderships, such as the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, and these churches don’t have any more discord than the ones with monarchial leadership.  My experience is there is more genuine unity in these churches than in the ones with monarchial leadership.  I would be willing to bet that you will find more church splits with churches with monarchial government than with collegiate leadership.

Having said that, we must realize that surveying and comparing the condition of churches is not how we discern what is biblical and what is not.  For those who do have biblical reasons for monarchial church government I have devoted this chapter to show why those reasons are not sound and do not do justice to the Word of God, why they are not “cutting it straight.” (2 Tim. 2:15) [8]

Theological objections to equal eldership fall into these categories:

  • A false view of human nature based on poor interpretations of several Scriptures.
  • Holding to the Old Testament pattern of church government.
  • Hierarchies in the godhead, family, and Old Testament as our pattern
  • Various New Testament passages wrongly interpreted.

False View of Human Nature

If we learn anything from history, it is the folly of a well-intentioned system like communism that is based on a false anthropology, a false view of human nature.  The communists believed that the hands of power should be given to a few intellectuals but did not realize as Lord Acton so aptly stated, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The communists also believed the uneducated populace were incapable of self-governing and needed the intellectuals to rule over them.  They had an overly optimistic view of the abilities of their leadership and an overly pessimistic view of the abilities of the “laity.”

The very premise of monarchial church government, whether it be at the world-wide level such as the Catholic concept of the need for a vicar or pope, at the denominational level, or with what’s been called “apostolic” government which is really not apostolic but episcopal, or at the local assembly level with the one-man rulership concept, is that we have an intrinsic need for someone to rule over us, even if we are in leadership ourselves.  This is based, in part, on a rather pessimistic view of human nature.  Proponents of this view will point to a number of scriptures, all of them taken out of context to prove their point, such as:

Stupid Sheep

Communism says, in essence, “The people are stupid, we need to tell them what to do and how to think, and command the economy.”  Friedrich August von Hayek, who authored A Road to Serfdom in 1944, a timeless meditation on the battle between collectivism (communism) and individualism (free enterprise), wrote a book in 1988 called The Fatal Conceit in which he shows how the communists were conceited in their thinking that they could possibly know enough to succeed in a centrally controlled economy.  He showed that the marketplace can take care of itself and will thrive if the government leaves it alone.

By the same token, modern liberals have the same conceit.  They are statists who believe the government should be the solution for everything and will try to create a dependency class to keep themselves in power.  As long as they have people who depend on them they stay in power and will resist any efforts to empower the people to be self-sufficient.  They want to keep the people believing that they cannot succeed without a “nanny state.”  They think they know better than we do how to run our lives.

If a pastor is more interested in propping up his own religious kingdom than empowering the people he will drill into his congregation that they are stupid sheep in need of a pastor.  He will also extend this to his own staff who should be elders and overseers themselves.  If that pastor has official elders he will not allow them to actually be pastors or overseers as that would diminish his authority or he will create a pyramid system to be sure all of the pastoring and overseeing is an extension of himself.  He will even try to create a dependency class out of his own elders who should be the first ones to be men of God able to walk alongside the other men of God in mutual submission without the need for someone to rule over them.

The author of the book of Hebrews chided the churches saying, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (5:12) Paul chided those who need milk and cannot handle solid food as being carnal and not spiritual, according to 1 Corinthians 3:1-3:  “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.” Not only will pastors keep their elders in this place but will say they will never rise to walk shoulder to shoulder with him.  What these pastors need to do is empower their elders to equally take on the responsibilities of oversight and ministry.  Some just need to get out of the way so their elders can grow up.  They aren’t stupid sheep by any fault of their own.

Original Sin

Another doctrine to prove we have an intrinsic need to have someone rule over us is the Doctrine of Original Sin. There are numerous versions of this doctrine within Christianity but most will assert that the Bible teaches us that we all inherit a “sin nature”, even though it never actually says that.  The doctrine of original sin needs to be examined right along with all other post-apostolic doctrines, this one originating with Augustine in the 5th century.  What the Bible does say is that because of Adam’s sin DEATH (not a sin nature, but the wage, or consequence, for sinning) has passed upon all men because all have SINNED (not because all have inherited a sin nature.)

Even if we were born sinners that does not negate the fact we are living in the New Covenant where God is writing his law on our hearts.  We do not need “benefactors,” people to rule over us to save us from our own selves, as some say.  What we need to do is submit to the Lordship of Christ, receive the Word with meekness. We need to “Younger submit to the elders,” (1 Pet. 5:5) that is, the immature should submit to the mature. The pastor may not be the most mature saint in his church.  We need to “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord.” (Eph. 5:21) This type of mutual submission will provide all the protection we need except for those rare occasions when someone is living in open and unrepentant sin and is not submitting God or anyone else, such as the fellow in Corinth involved in an incest relationship or the gadabout who would not work.  These are the only ones who need someone “over” them, and then only long enough to deal with the situation, assuming their character flaws are healed by the Holy Spirit.

Prone to be Evil

Some will say that based on Genesis 6:5-6 that we have an intrinsic need for someone to rule over us because it says, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, and it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart,” But that was not a description of all of mankind for the duration of human existence. It was a description of mankind at only one point in the history of mankind.

Some will want to use the very incriminating language of Romans 3:10-18 where Paul quotes a number of passages from Psalms and one from Isaiah, saying it applies to Christians because Paul uses it to make a point to a Christian audience.  If this passage describes the spiritual condition of the church then the remedy is not to have pastors rule over us.  The people described in this passage are the kind we should be excommunicating.  Such a church would make a mockery out of Christianity.  It’s certainly not the kind of church I would want to take my wife and kids to.

What Paul is saying is that Jews are no better than the Gentiles and quotes these verses to keep the Jews who are still under the Law from being proud and arrogant.  The verses immediately before and after these verses (9 & 19) give the context: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin . . . Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God.”

Prone to be Deceived

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”  The point Jeremiah is trying to make is that we should not rely on ourselves or our fellow man, but rely on God.  Those who do rely on God receive the blessings described in the previous verse and those who don’t will receive the judgement described in verse 13; they shall be ashamed.  The answer is to call out to God as Jeremiah did in verse 14, saying, “Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For Thou art my praise.”  The answer is not to call on a pastor to rule over us to protect us from our own deceptive hearts, for that would be doing the opposite of what Jeremiah is getting at.  Who then would protect us from our pastor’s deceitful heart?  What pastor dares say he is righteous enough for the job, yet many do just that.

Natural Men

Spiritually abusive pastors will drill into their congregation I Corinthians 2:14, “But the carnal man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” implying that they are spiritual but the elders or members who disagree with them are carnal. They never read the next verse, “But we have the mind of Christ.” The ones that Paul is talking about as being natural men, in this context, are either the ones who are truly carnal, the kind we kick out of our churches, or the unsaved. Saved men are born of God. Though they are not perfect and can be accused of being carnal to some degree, we cannot wrest this scripture to say that any born again member of our church cannot receive the things of the spirit of God, including what God has spoken to the leadership.  It is also ad hominem reasoning (attack on a person’s character to avoid the issue) to say that just because a parishioner is not able to receive what the preacher is saying he must be carnal and incapable of digesting such solid meat. It could be the preacher is just plain wrong but he and others can’t see it.

What we should be hearing from these preachers is how God has enabled us to overcome our carnality and come alongside to help the person overcome.

Doing What’s Right In Their Own Eyes

Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  This scripture is used – read that, abused – to say that men should not decide for themselves what is right or wrong since our carnal human nature will inevitably lead us in the wrong path.  This seems to apply to all men, even the leaders of a church.  But of course we are not left without hope, for God in his divine mercy has made for us provision, one person in every assembly whom God can trust to be his vessel for divine direction.  That of course would be the Senior Pastor.  I may be being facetious but I have heard this line of reasoning from Senior Pastors more than once.

One “proof” given, from the Old Testament, as you might expect, is the story in Judges 17 which concludes with verse 6: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in this own eyes.”  This only proves, they say, that if a church has no “king,” or head pastor to rule over the laity and the elders, then the people will not follow God’s ways but follow man’s ways, thinking it is the right thing to do.

First of all, God did not want them to have a king to begin with.  Reliance on a king, or a pastor for that matter, is perilous.  The success or failure of the assembly hangs on the success or failure of the king.  In a church, however, that is operating as a New Testament church, all of the mature Christians are pillars.  The fall of one will not bring the house down.

What the scripture is speaking to us from Judges is that times were so bad that without a king the people did whatever they wanted but a good king, and only a good king, focused Israel’s attention on the Lord, which prevented the outbreaks of sin and oppression so prevalent during that time.

The promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:33-34 is that God would put the Law in our hearts and He would be our God and we would be His people, “and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”  The whole point of the New Covenant is that God would empower us to live as He had wanted Israel to live, with no “king” but God.  That is why he can say to the leaders of the New Covenant church, “Do not lord it over God’s heritage, but be an example for the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:3)  The Old Testament kings lorded over God’s heritage, for good or bad, but that is not the way of the New Covenant where “if any man be in Christ, his is a new creation, old things are passed away, and behold, all things are become new,” (2 Cor. 5:17) and, “it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”  (Php. 2:13)

In contrast to the time of the Judges, in Acts it was a good thing for everyone to do what was right in his own eyes, especially if the whole assembly is in agreement: “It seemed good unto us (apostles, elders, and the whole congregation), being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you.” (Acts 15:25)

Even in the Old Testament (for those who insist on using it for proof texts) a good king was not above consulting the people to discern a course of action.  In 1 Chronicles 13:1-4 King David “consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, with every leader.  And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, if it seem good unto you, and that it be of the Lord our God, let us . . . and all the congregation said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.”  The people doing what’s right in their own eyes is a good thing, if they are following after God, especially if they have received the Holy Spirit and are under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Holding to the Old Testament Pattern

How much of the Old Testament is relevant for us today?  We know that in general terms all of the Old Testament is relevant for “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and “the holy scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation,” (2 Tim. 3:16,15) but that is quite different from saying we are to obey the Old Testament unless specifically negated by the New Testament or that we are to even follow the governmental structure set up in the Old Testament.

The Changing of the Covenants Changes EVERYTHING – We know that the types in the Old Testament such as the lamb sacrifice are to be done away with because Jesus fulfilled them but the moral law is to be retained and Jesus did, after all, say, “I have not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.”  Is there any scriptural warrant for hanging on to the Old Covenant church government system while jettisoning other elements of the Law of Moses?  Would we have to destroy the Law in order to change the governmental structure?

I believe the following scriptures will answer these questions for us.  They are but a fraction of the scriptures showing the utter spiritual bankruptcy of the Old Covenant in comparison to the New Covenant:

When there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.  (Heb. 7:12)

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.  (Heb. 7:18-19)

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. (Heb. 8:13)

Jesus may not have destroyed the Law while on earth but his Gospel would soon make it disappear.  When the writer of Hebrews said soon, he meant soon, and I believe this disappearance had its final consummation with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Not that it would be wrong to continue to be Torah Observant, but it was no longer a requirement for any group of people.

Some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said:

The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses.

James said:

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” In a letter they sent to the Gentile believers they said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”  (Acts 15)

Notice only four things from the Law were retained and only to keep from rubbing the Jews the wrong way more than was necessary.  Hierarchical, monarchial church government was not one of the four things. The church was freed from that and could say “Amen!” with Paul who said:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”  (Rom. 7:6)

Hierarchical governmental structure is contained in that same written code that Paul does not want to serve.  Some may insist on living according to that code, but as for me and my house, we prefer to serve in the newness of the Spirit.

Love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:10)

There isn’t much room here for a church ministry echoing the Old Testament.

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.

That Seed would be Jesus and he already came, therefore there is no need for the law. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”   Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”   Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.  (Gal. 3:19, 24, 4:24-25, 30-31)

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  (2 Cor. 3)

With much agony of spirit Paul labored to keep the Galatians from falling back into law keeping, saying:

I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.  Oh foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?  This only would I learn of you, received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?  But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law.  (Gal. 1:6, 3:1-3, 4:18)

Those who insist we keep any of the Law are in the same category as these Judaizers who preached another gospel.  Keeping the law will produce what it produced in the Old Covenant, spiritual bankruptcy.  Praise God He has provided for us a new and living covenant through which we boldly enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus. (Heb. 10:19)

The Old Testament Church Our Pattern?

The above scriptures, though they are by no means exhaustive, provide ample proof that we are not to be followers of the Law.  Galatians, 2 Corinthians, Acts, Romans, and Hebrews all attest to this.  But even if they were not in our Bibles we would still have reason to not follow the Old Testament church government structure. If we should do something just because the Bible doesn’t say we shouldn’t do it then we might as well have infant baptisms, High Mass, practice penance, pray with rosary beads, and who knows what else we could come up with.

A closer look at the Old Testament reveals there is little precedence for the idea of one-pastor rule even in the Old Covenant:

MOSES – Moses was a type of Christ, New Testament pastors are not. The 70 elders are a type of the leadership of a local assembly who receives direction from Moses (Christ) who receives direction from God. (Jn. 5:19, 5:30, 14:10)

Being in the Old Covenant and not being filled with the Holy Spirit, the individual Israelites were not able to be led of God but they needed someone over them to be led for them. As for us in the New Covenant, “we need not that any man teach us,” but, “we have an unction from the Holy One, and we know all things,” that is, “we are friends of God.” (1 Jn. 2:27,20, Jn. 15:15) It’s not that we don’t need teachers and overseers, it’s just that we don’t need to depend on them like Israel needed Moses and like some pastors believe the eldership needs a pastor, or like the Catholic Church says we need a pope.  Likewise with the Mormon church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who both say we can not make it without their organizations.  One pastor whose church I was attending told his elders who were in the process of disciplining him that “Without me, you will never be the Bride of Christ.”  He placed himself in the Chair of Moses, just as the Scribes and Pharisees had done.

Jesus confronted false spiritual authority in his day when he said, “The Scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.” (Mt. 23:1)   The fumes of conceit have demented any church leader who compares himself or his “position” to the role Moses had in God’s economy in the Old Covenant and thereby demands complete obedience and submission.  Know for a certainty, that pastor is not posturing himself to serve, but to lord it over the sheep.  He’s also doing damage to the discernment level of the body he is trying to usurp authority over.  According to Paul, we (Christians) have the mind of Christ and are to test all things.  (1 Cor. 2:16, 1 Th. 5:21)

I have actually heard authoritarian pastors accuse those who think this way of being like Miriam and Aaron who complained to Moses, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?”  God’s point to Aaron and Miriam was that He DID speak to Moses in a different way than to everyone else, including the prophets.  An elder in the New Testament can make no such claim.  This does not, of course, negate the fact that even though God can and does reveal things to those who are not in leadership yet, He has given the job of leading the church to certain mature saints.

THE KINGS – God did not want Israel to have a King, God was to be their king, but since they were not satisfied with that, he gave them Saul.  It was never God’s intention to have one head pastor rule over an eldership; it is to be Jesus alone who is to be the Chief Shepherd. It is because the typical church eldership does not meet the prerequisite of being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom that they need a single person other than Christ to lead them.

Had Israel been up to the task, God could have had them be a nation of priests reconciling the rest of the world to God, be led as a corporate body by God without a singular man such as a king or Moses mediating, and enter into a Sabbath rest under Joshua.  Though God hinted at such things for them, we know that is a tall order for a body of believers who had not been given the Holy Spirit.  We, however, have no such excuse.

THE HIGH PRIEST – Again, the High Priest is a type of Christ, not a type of a pastor. The corporate body of priests in any city would represent the eldership of a local New Testament congregation.  The priests held mainly a ceremonial function symbolizing the redemptive ministry of Christ but devoid of any real leadership in Israel.

THE COUNCIL OF ELDERS – Leadership by a council of elders is a form of government found in nearly every society of the ancient Near East.  It was the fundamental, governmental structure of the nation of Israel throughout its Old Testament history (Ex. 3:16, Ezra 10:8).  With several mentions of elders in relationship to the New Testament church verses only one mention of the ministry of a pastor, it’s evident this is the only form of government that transcends both covenants.

Hierarchies in the Godhead, Family, and Old Testament Our Pattern?

Some have reasoned that since God is a God of order then of course he would want his New Covenant church governed according to the pattern of hierarchical order he has established elsewhere.  They point to the hierarchies in the trinity, the family, and the Old Testament as the pattern we should adopt for New Covenant church government.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it fails to understand one simple thing.  These hierarchies exist because of an intrinsic difference between those on the different levels of authority.  Jesus had a subordinate position in the godhead precisely because he was a man and the Father was not.  The Father was his God (Eph. 1:17), the source of all that he was, as can be seen by the following statements: “I can do nothing of myself,” (Jn. 5:19) and “Why call me good? There is only one who is good, the Father in heaven.”   He was a man who was totally incapable apart from the power of his Father.  When there is total dependency, there is naturally a hierarchy.

The man is the head of the woman in a marriage because God made him different.  “Liberated” women have been trying for decades to prove to us that the difference is merely a matter of perspective due to enculturation, not because they were born different.  They are unwilling to accept that Adam was first formed and then Eve as his helpmate, and it was Eve who was deceived by the serpent because of her nature.  Of course, if husbands actually followed Paul’s injunction to, “Love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it,” and “honor them as the weaker vessel” then it would be a lot easier for their wives to submit.

In a church the babes in Christ are to a small degree dependent on the elders and so there is a hierarchy of sorts, hence the admonition: “We beseech you brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are standing before you (lit.) in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” (1 Th. 5:12-13)   This dependency, however, does not give the elder license to create for himself a higher level in a pyramid government structure.

Hierarchies in the Old Testament were created for the purpose of administrative expediency, the same reason a business or the military is hierarchical.  But an army has a different mission than a church, one that demands a human chain-of-command structure.

Hierarchical military imagery is glaringly absent from the New Testament.  The New Covenant church is referred to not as an army but as an organism, a body with Christ as its head.  A church’s mission is to have a “ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Cor. 5:18) building the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of man.  A church that is building its own kingdom, however, would benefit greatly from a hierarchy, and a pastor building his own religious kingdom would benefit from monarchial government.

In the military imagery that is used in the New Testament it speaks of the fact that the weapons of our spiritual warfare are spiritual, the necessity to be suitably outfitted for warfare, that we don’t go to war without being charged to do so (implying the commissioning of Christ), and that we should endure hardness and be not entangled with the affairs of this life so as to please him who has chosen us to be a soldier. (2 Cor. 10:3-6, Eph. 6:10-19, 1 Th. 5:8, 1 Tim. 1:18-19, 2 Tim. 2:3-4)  These scriptures lift up Christ as the Commander-In-Chief, but make no mention of the church as an army platoon or of its leaders as part of a military hierarchy.  Christ is the only implied military leader in the New Testament.

If any person in church history had the right to consider himself a general in the Lord’s army, it was Paul, but he simply referred to his fellow workers as “fellow soldiers.” (Php. 2:25, Phm. 2)  Neither he nor any other apostle talked about himself in military terms, but spoke of themselves as servants and workers.

Yes, “All scripture is inspired of God and profitable,” including the Old Testament, but it is only profitable if understood in the light of the New Covenant, otherwise referred to as “The Perfect Law of Liberty.”  The difference in light between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is like the difference between the moon and the sun.  The moon only reflects the light of the sun but has no light of its own.

Yes, God is the God of order, but in the New Covenant that order is accomplished through the Lordship of Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father and has a direct line into every church, even to every Christian, through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  When church order was the issue at the church in Corinth, the real issue was the Lordship of Christ, not the lack of control exhibited by its leaders.  He didn’t appoint someone to be the “worship leader” or someone to write a liturgy for the service.  Rather, he admonished each individual to act in an orderly manner while at the same time being careful not to replace the leading of the Spirit with formalism.

That’s not to say that God has ordained everything in the church to be “spirit led” in this sense since he has provided the gift of “government,” (as it is called in the King James Version) better translated “helmsman.”  These correspond to our modern term “administrator” and are not necessarily the same ones who have the teaching or music leadership abilities.  They oversee areas that need to be “governed,” such as church finances or a ministry department.

New Testament “Proof Texts” for Monarchial Church Government and Why They Aren’t

The Seven Angels of Revelation – It has been reasoned that since each of the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor was addressed to one angel (lit. messenger), then that must refer to a head pastor.  Other than the infamous Diotrephes, this is the only place one might want to turn for support of monarchial leadership in the New Testament so it deserves our consideration.

Some have ruled out the possibility that the seven angels are actual angelic beings saying that it would be incongruous for God to ask an angel to repent nor would God be asking a human being to write a physical letter to a spiritual being.  I cannot eliminate the possibility of the messenger being an angel because neither the book of Revelation as a whole nor the individual letters to the seven churches were written to the messenger but to the church body. We cannot isolate the phrase, “To the messenger of the church at XYZ write,” from the context of the whole book of Revelation.

A messenger is just that, a messenger of a message from one party to another.  The messenger would not be standing up in the congregation and reading a message to himself.  For example, in 2:10 the Holy Spirit says, “Prove yourselves faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life”  Are we to believe he will only give the messenger the crown of life for being faithful?  The following scriptures show that the message was to the whole congregation, not the messenger, irrespective of whether the messenger was angelic or human: 1:3-4,9,11, 2:23, 3:4-5, and 22:16.

Each of the letters ends with “To him who overcomes . . . “ As can be seen in the following examples each of these promises to the overcomers cannot apply only to the messenger:

To him who overcomes:

Ephesus – I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Smyrna – He will by no means be harmed by the second death.

Pergamum – I will give some of the hidden manna and I will give him a white pebble, and upon the pebble a new name written which no one knows except the one receiving it.

Thyatira – and observes my works to the very end I will give authority over the nations and he shall shepherd the people with an iron rod so that they will be broken to pieces like clay vessels, the same as I have received from my Father, and I will give him the morning star.  This refers to the church’s prophetic ministry.  See Jer. 1:10 for a parallel scripture.

Sardis – will be arrayed in white outer garments and I will by no means blot out his name from the book of life, but I will make acknowledgment of his name before my Father and before his angels.

Philadelphia – I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will by no means go out from it any more, and I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which descends out of heaven from my God, and that new name of mine.

Laodicea – I will grant to sit down with me on my throne, even as I conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  All those for whom I have affection I reprove and discipline.  Therefore be zealous and repent.  Look!  I am standing at the door and knocking.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his (house) and take the evening meal with him and he with me.

Christians throughout the ages have taken these scriptures to apply to these seven churches specifically, to church ages, and when apropos, to the whole church, but not just the messenger.

I cannot dismiss the idea that the messengers in Revelation were literal angels for another reason: the people of that time had an understanding of churches having a guardian angel.  It would not be unusual, especially given the nature of this particular book, for Jesus to ask John to send letters to spiritual beings.  Consider the transmission of the message from God.  It was first given by God to the man Christ Jesus who gave it to an angel who delivered it to the man John who wrote it to the seven churches but also addressed the messenger as well.

Bible scholars have posed a number of more credible alternatives to the monarchial leadership view.  Two of them are that angelos is either: 1) the prophet, or 2) a designated reader of important messages.

1) The Prophet – Of the three instances in the Old Testament when the Hebrew word for messenger is translated as angelos (in the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek) and it is referring to a man rather than a spiritual being, two of them refer to a prophet and the other refers to a priest.  The prophet would be a natural interpretation of “messenger” since they were quite familiar with the idea of a prophet being God’s messenger.   They were also familiar with the idea of a prophet being a “seer,” one who is able to discern the spiritual condition of an assembly.

Would the prophet have the authority to do something about what God was speaking to the churches?  Remember, we are in the New Covenant.  The prophet’s authority comes from the truth of what he is saying, not his position.   The message was to those who had an ear to hear.   It was up to them to respond.  The angelos being the prophet would be the most normal and natural interpretation, but then this is Revelation, a book of symbols, so it’s hard to get a “normal and natural” reading.

2) The Designated Reader – We know from history that since most people were illiterate the early churches had a designated reader who would publicly read important messages, such as from the government.  This person was called the angel, or messenger, and was chosen with care because if he messed up the whole congregation was liable.  They could not use as a defense if called on the carpet by the civil authorities, “But your honor, that’s the way our messenger read it to us.”  I have not found an original document, but I wouldn’t be surprised that if a Roman emperor were to write to the church in Sardis he would tell his scribe, “To the angel of the church of Sardis write, ‘Worship the emperor you bunch of atheists, or I’ll destroy you.'”  The fact that this messenger is called the “messenger of the church” rather than “the messenger of God,” as Paul called himself, would lend itself to this interpretation, yet these messengers were also held in Christ’s hand which seems to indicate the importance of this person beyond a mere reader of important public messages.

Regardless of the identity of the seven messengers of Revelation it is clear that the book was not written to them but to the whole church and therefore it was not necessary for the messenger to be in a position of authority to do something about the things that needed to be done.  Every time Paul wrote to a congregation about their spiritual condition he put the responsibility for change on the whole church, not on any of the leaders.  Even with the situation in Corinth it was up to the congregation to discipline the errant brother.  Only in the books of Philippians and Hebrews did Paul (assuming he was the author) even address the leadership of the churches, offhandedly saying, “Give my greetings to all those who are taking the lead among you and to all the saints.” (Heb. 13:24) and “to the saints in Philippi along with the overseers and deacons.” (Php. 1:1)  Given Paul’s tendencies, would it be unusual to think that John was addressing the whole church, not just the leadership of the church, since both were inspired by the same Holy Spirit?

Use of these passages in Revelation by those who promote monarchial rule only shows to what extent they will go to try to prove their position.  We can’t hang our whole ecclesiology on these rather obscure passages about the seven angels in Revelation.  To do so is sloppy and careless exegesis for it ignores the rest of scripture.  Principles of hermeneutics dictate we interpret obscure passages in light of clear ones, not vice versa.

It is clear that Christ is the head of the body, not a pastor, or even an apostle.  According to scripture, “a man is the head of his wife even as Christ is the head of the body,” not, “even as the pastor is the head of a body.”

The Giving of the Ministry Gifts – Eph. 4:11 – And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastor/teachers.

There is nothing said in this passage to indicate that he gave each congregation only one of each of these ministers or that these ministers even have an ecclesiastical position within any given church or over several churches.  To state such would be pure assumption and also contrary to the pattern we see in the Book of Acts.  We know that the church at Jerusalem had several apostles, and the church at Ephesus had several elders charged with pastoring that one church.  Obviously the pattern would indicate several pastor/teachers at any given church.  It would only make sense that God would give several pastor/teachers to any one congregation also, and we see in the book of Acts several elders charged with pastoring one church.

The scriptures are clear that a man is the head of his wife even as Christ is the head of the body.  It never says that an apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor/teacher is the head.  They may be the eyes, ears, mouth, arm, fingers, heart, liver, spleen, or what have you, but only Christ is the head.

If a singular apostle is planting an infant church and everyone in that church is a baby Christian, it would make sense to have monarchial leadership.  But that would be the exception, not the rule.  As can be seen in the book of Acts and the epistles the apostles did their church-planting missions in teams.

The Primacy of Peter – Where Jesus called Peter the rock that he would build his church on is the only place the Catholic Church can turn in the scriptures to show that Jesus had intended Peter to be his replacement after his ascension.  Peter has three basic roles in the church according to Matthew 16:18.  Peter is:

  • The foundation of the church.
  • The keeper of the keys of the kingdom.
  • The “binder and looser” on earth.

According to John Engler in The Rock-Foundation of Matthew 16:17-20:

We see the “foundation” aspect of Peter’s work fulfilled in Acts 2:38, when Peter is the one to answer the question, “What shall we do?” The answer comes from Peter’s mouth; it is in this sense that he is the foundation of the church. People initially entered the church based on what he said.

He explains the other aspects very well in his article that can be found at:

We do not see in scripture any place else where Peter is seen having any authority over any other apostle.   Using the principle of letting scripture interpret scripture we would have to conclude that Mt. 16:18 is saying something entirely different than what the Catholic Church is saying which uses this passage to prove pyramid church government with one man at the top of the world-wide “universal” church.  If that were the correct interpretation, we would expect to see evidence of Peter’s “primacy” elsewhere in the New Testament, but we don’t.


Previously I made mention of Diotrephes in 3 John who is our only example in our scriptures of a monarchial pastor, and he is not well spoken of. I’d be tempted to say that monarchial leadership started with him but I doubt he had any influence in what came to be in the 2nd century where we see monarchial leadership as the norm rather than the exception to be avoided.

How did the church transition from organic collegiate leadership to a hierarchical institutional system? According to Dr. Michael J. Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC:

By the end of the second century, most churches were ruled by a single bishop. For whatever set of reasons, monepiscopacy had won the day. Many scholars attribute this development to Ignatius.

There are two Apostolic Fathers who are credited with promoting submission to a bishop who presided over one or several churches. They are Ignatius and Polycarp. Here is an example of what Ignatius was telling people circa 96 AD:

Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest. —Letter to the Magnesians 2, 6:1

Churches that are episcopalian in form will appeal to Ignatius and Polycarp as evidence for what the Apostolic Church believed regarding church government. But to appeal to them as a standard of doctrine assumes several things that aren’t necessarily true. Some of those assumptions include:

  • There was no innovation by the Apostolic Fathers such as Ignatius and Polycarp.
  • The Apostles told Ignatius and Polycarp to do it the way they did it rather than leave things to their own discretion.
  • That church tradition is correct in saying Ignatius and Polycarp were appointed to be bishops by the Apostles.

The problem with the idea that Ignatius was appointed by an apostle to be a bishop is the source of the idea. That idea did not come from one of his contemporaries but from Eusebius writing in the 4th Century! And Eusebius never offered any sources for his information. He likely either made it up or had heard an oral tradition which had been floating around the Mediterranean for centuries, subject of course to much embellishment all along the way.

By the end of the first century and beginning of the second century, the literature begins to mention bishops, respected old pastors who were men with broad authority. Ignatius describes a three-fold ministry (bishops, elders, deacons) in Asia Minor; Irenaeus and Tertullian describe it in Gaul and Africa by the end of the second century. Sacramentalism appeared and grew during the next two centuries and with it came a priestly caste to administer the sacraments. By the time the Roman Catholic pattern solidified itself during the centuries between 400 and 600, the clergy were in control, and the members seem to have lost all say in any decisions that the priests imposed. A reading of the literature shows that all trace of congregational government had gone. As Cyprian had written as early as the mid-3rd Century, the essence of the church was seen to be in its bishops, which is not too different than what we have today in which the essence of the church can be seen in its pastors.

Contrast that with the emphasis on the local congregation in the New Testament. There we see autonomous congregations, not subject to episcopal control. The apostles, it is true, exercise a certain authority, but it is the authority of founders of churches and of the Lord’s own Apostles. After their death there was no divinely instituted apostolate to take their place. Instead, the local congregations were still self-governing, as we see from local church orders like the Didache written in the early 2nd century where appeal is also made to the democratic principle. The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are all one in Christ and there is no room for any absolute human authority.


[1]  Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth, 1997), p. 15.
[2]  The King James Version and others have unfortunately rendered this verse, “Submit to those who have the rule over you, and obey them.”
[3]  Alexander Strauch, p. 14.
[4]  1985, Pg. 33
[5]  A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1907), p. 919.
[6]  Strauch, Alexander. Pg. 25-26.
[7] The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII, Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Knight Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
[8]  The KJV translates this term as “rightly dividing” the Word of Truth.  Many translations have “handling correctly.”  “Cutting it straight” is a more literal interpretation.

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