In our last article we notice that congregations are independent and autonomous. That means that they are self-governing and independent. In the New Testament we find no organization larger or smaller than the local church to do God's work. There is no scriptural authority for earthly headquarters, church councils, conventions or any body that dictates what a local church or group of churches is to believe. Thus, a local church that is pleasing to God realizes that it will answer directly to God for how she conducts herself (See Revelation 2 & 3). But, what about the organization within a local congregation? In this article, we will notice the scriptural organization within a local church.
Simply stated, the organization of a local congregation today consists of elders, deacons and Christians. In Philippians 1:1, Paul addresses the church in that way. He wrote, "Paul…To all the saints who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." In addition to this, we read in Ephesians 4:11-12, "And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…" In the church today we cannot have apostles, because a requirement of an apostle is that they be an eyewitness of the resurrection of Jesus. (Acts 1:21-22). In addition to this, the mission of the apostles has been completed. Also, we do not have prophets, because the days of prophecy are done (1 Corinthians 13:8-11, which speaks of a time coming when prophecies would cease. That time is when "that which is perfect has come". That which is perfect has come; it is the word of God. James 1:25 speaks of "the perfect law of liberty", a reference to the completed word of God. Jude 3 says we are to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." Thus we can see, we do not have prophets today, or any other miracles). Even though we do not have apostles and prophets, we do have evangelists and teachers. The works of both of these classes are to teach God's word, both to the lost and to those who are saved. However, a study of this important function points to the fact that neither of these is an office but simply a work. More will be said about these later.
The elders are the overseers of a congregation. Elders are men who have proven themselves in every way to be above reproach, knowledgeable, and leaders. There are three terms used to describe these men: Pastor (or shepherd), which describes their responsibility; Bishop (or overseer), which describes their guardianship, and elder (or presbyter), which describes their maturity and dignity in the Lord. All three of these terms are used in Acts 20(17 &28) and 1 Peter 5:1-2, to describe the same person. These men must meet all of the very strict qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9. A study of these qualities will eliminate MOST people. The reason is because of the serious nature of their responsibility. That responsibility consists of shepherding the congregation. To the elders at Ephesus, Paul said, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) Later, Peter taught in 1 Peter 5:1-3, "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;" In both of these passages we find that the elders have a responsibility to the congregation where they are elders. We also find in both texts that the extent of their office is LIMITED to the local congregation over which they have been made overseers. Hebrews 13:17 says that they will answer for the way they lead a congregation: "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you." A study of the New Testament will reveal that this is the ONLY office in the church today which has any authority. And even their authority is limited to that which is taught in God's word. In other words, they only enforce what God's word teaches in the way they think is best, rather than make up whatever rules they want to make up. One final observation before we continue is the fact that the mention of this office is always plural indicating that there must be more than one elder if there are any.
Deacons are servants appointed by the elders and congregation to serve. Like elders, there are qualifications for these men. They are outlined in 1 Timothy 3-13. The word deacon means simply a servant or minister. These are qualified men appointed by the elders to serve in various capacities. They carry out whatever tasks they are assigned faithfully. While the term deacon is not used in Acts 6, we have a possible example of their function. On that occasion, there were some needy widows in Jerusalem who were mentioned to the Apostles. Their reply to this need was, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;" (Acts 6:2-3). We do note that while these men are not overseers, their tasks might require a certain degree of oversight in the work they have been assigned.
Paul included everyone else in Philippians 1:1 in the term saints. This is simply a reference to all Christians. Certainly Christians have responsibilities within a local church. They have a responsibility to obey the elders (Hebrews 13:17), to worship God and assemble together (Hebrews 10:24-25, Eph. 5:19), and to do their part so that the church will grow (Ephesians 4:16, "from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.").
We also read of evangelists or preachers. They have many responsibilities including to preach the word both to Christians and to the lost (2 Timothy 4:1-2), to remind brethren of their responsibilities (1 Timothy 4:6), to continually study God's word and pray (1 Timothy 4:13-16) and to be a proper example to the believers (1 Timothy 4:16). He can devote his life to this and be supported in his efforts (1 Corinthians 9:1-9, 2 Corinthians 11:8[used sarcastically]). However, in all that he does, a preacher does NOT have authority over a congregation. A church does NOT belong to him. Like every other member of the church, he must submit to the decisions of the elders.
What about pastors? A denominational concept of local church organization is to have the preacher "run" the church. He is often referred to as the pastor. This is NOT according to the New Testament pattern. We have already pointed out that the word pastor has reference to the office of an elder. It is possible for one to be a preacher and an elder at the same time, in which case he can be referred to as ONE of the pastors of a local congregation. Peter is an example of this (1 Peter 5:1). Does your preacher call himself the pastor? Ask him where he finds the authority for that term. We also note that the Bible mentions no special titles for the preacher. Yet, we hear preachers referred to as "reverend". No where is this term found to refer to a preacher. Neither is the term, "father" except in Matthew 23: 8-11 where we read, "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant". Note how this text CONDEMNS the use of titles. A preacher or evangelist is simply one who proclaims good news. These terms describe what he does.
Thus we see the organization of a local congregation. What about the church of which you are a member? Do they violate any of these principles concerning their organization? If so, I ask you to consider where you are and God's word. If we can be of assistance, we invite you to check us out.