Sunday, July 2, 2017 am                                            NT Church 2017 Index

Those Who Lead

                 As we continue our study of the New Testament church, we have been addressing the organization of the church as described in the Bible.  We have noted that is a clear distinction between the universal church and local congregations.  And the Bible uses the same Greek word (ekklesia, usually translated “church”) to describe both.  We have noted that each local church exists as if it were the only one on earth (answering directly to Christ).  And as such, we have seen that each congregation is independent and autonomous.  We have seen how the corruption of this pattern has led to many different organizational structures, all without Biblical authority (and thus they cannot be the church we read of in the Bible).  In our last lesson, we addressed the distinction between the individual and the local church, noting that while a Christian is part of a local church, that is only one aspect of his life (he has family, civil and social, governmental and economic responsibilities as well).  This factors into respecting the boundaries of the work of the church, as well as its organization. 

Today, we want to begin examining the various leaders God has given us within a congregation.  Our next few lessons are going to address those appointed to lead.  We are not going to engage in an exhaustive study of each of these offices, but we are going give due attention to them, as they help us understand the organization and work of a congregation.    In the coming weeks, we are going to notice:

·         What does the Bible say about leaders in a congregation?

·         What is the office of elders?  What is their work?

·         What are the qualifications for one being an elder?

·         What are our responsibilities to the elders?

·         What is the office of deacon and its qualifications?  (PM lesson on whether or not we can have deaconesses)

·         What about the evangelist, preacher?

·         What does the Bible say about teachers and their responsibilities?

Today’s lesson addresses those who lead within the congregation. 

 I.                     Those who lead

a.       Philippians 1:1 describes the saints in Philippi with the bishops and deacons.   This passage describes those who comprise a local congregation.  All other passages dealing with the local church sustain these groups (and the saints would INCLUDE the “bishops and deacons”).

b.       Ephesians 4:11 describes that God gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to build up the body of Christ.    Another passage that describes leaders as they build up the body of Christ (4:11-16), including within a local congregation.   Notice the functionaries mentioned:

                                                   i.      Apostles – God’s specially appointed “ambassadors” who revealed His will as the church was in its infancy.

                                                 ii.      Prophets – messengers of God, who received direct revelation and revealed God’s word.

                                                iii.      Evangelists – a proclaimer of the gospel.  This is not necessarily one who is inspired.  We find evangelists working in local congregations (2 Timothy 4:5, Acts 21:8)

                                                iv.      Pastors – another word for elders, as we will see in our next lesson (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2)

                                                  v.      Teachers – those who impart knowledge and instruct.  Again, inspiration is not necessary today.  (Acts 13:1, Hebrews 5:12).
NOTE: Grammatically the term “teacher” may be describing the “pastor”.

                                                vi.      NOTE: As we will see in coming lessons, elders, evangelists and teachers have a part in the church, even without inspiration.  Apostles and prophets were inspired men who delivered God’s message orally and then through the written word.  Their work to deliver this message to congregations and Christians so that they could properly function and be what God would have them to be.  These “offices” or functionaries, are not needed today as we have the completed word (Jude 3, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, etc.) and the days of miracles are complete.  BUT, the other responsibilities are very much involved in the work of a congregation.

c.        A scripturally organized congregation.  There are four different conditions churches find themselves in.

                                                   i.      Scripturally organized – with qualified elders in place.  There may also be deacons (qualified) and preacher(s) and teachers

                                                 ii.      Unscripturally organized – there is a different organizational structure – includes super-organizations (something larger than the local church to which several congregations answer).  This might also include a church where the “pastor” takes the lead, a presiding elder (bishop), legislative boards and committees, women appointed as elders and deacons, or involved in decision making roles, etc.
AND, this would include a congregation with unqualified elders (including appointing “the best we have” or “they will grow into it”, etc.)

                                                iii.      Scripturally unorganized – a congregation that is striving to stand true to God’s word, but there are no elders (yet).  They might have business meetings with the men of a congregation to make decisions that have to be dealt with.  BUT, they have the desire and are genuinely working toward appointing qualified leaders.

                                                iv.      Unscriptrually unorganized – either a congregation that is developing but intends to appoint an unscriptural organizational structure (see above).  
OR, a congregation without elders that 1) has qualified men to serve that lack the willingness to step up and do so, 2) has a membership that refuses to accept these qualified men, 3) expects the preacher to do the work of the elders in their absence, 4) refuses to acknowledge the need for elders and deacons today.

d.       God’s intent – elders in every church.   Acts 14:23 finds Paul and Barnabas, after a short time, “appointed elders in every church”.  Titus 1:5, Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders in every city (congregations therein).  It is because of this that we speak of a scripturally organized congregation. 
IT was also His intent that there be a plurality of elders – cf. Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-3, Philippians 1:1, Acts 14:23, Hebrews 13:7, 17; etc.   This prevents a one-man ruler system (cf. 3 John 9-10), and provides a system of checks and balances. 

e.       Deacons can only be appointed when there are elders.  The position of a deacon is one of an appointed and qualified servant (1 Timothy 3:8-13).  Because of their responsibilities, it is necessarily implied that they be under elders.   1 Timothy 3 is the only passage that deals with the qualities.  IT FOLLOWS the qualifications of elders.  Notice that Titus 1:5-10 speaks of the qualifications of elders (only).  When deacons are mentioned it is with elders (Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3).  The possible exception to this is Acts 6:1-7 (7 men appointed to care for neglected Hellenist widows in Jerusalem during the infancy of the church).  There are many problems this verse including what is NOT said (assumptions one has to make), including whether or not this was an “office” as recorded in 1 Timothy 3, or just entrusted men who carried out a given function.  MORE on deacons in a later lesson. 

 II.                   What about congregations without elders?

a.       We mentioned above a “scripturally unorganized” condition.  This is a congregation without elders for proper reasons (not a plurality of men, that has a genuine desire to appoint qualified elders).

b.       Examples of such would be a newly formed congregation (e.g. Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch – pre Acts 14:23) or a small congregation where something happens to the current eldership so that there is no longer a plurality, and there is no one else qualified to serve (NOTE: We are not in this position, HOWEVER, we are only ONE elder away from it).

c.        Typically, in these situations, a congregation has “business meetings” with the men of the congregation together making decisions (or some similar system). 
This system has numerous problems including no examples of it in scripture (but a congregation HAS to do something in the interim)
A business meeting is an EXPEDIENT to carry out the work.  Such a system can work when all involved love the Lord and the truth and one another.  We can respect God’s boundaries in the decisions we make in this situation.  Anything done in this situation should be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).  And with consideration of respect for the spiritually mature in that circumstance (cf. 1 Peter 5:5, 1 Timothy 5:1, etc.).
But understand, by definition, this system typically involves a group of spiritually immature men which is why it is NOT God’s design for a mature congregation.   It is NOT a circumstance anyone should be content with maintaining permanently.  As one source said, “Any congregation of God’s people who prefer, or are satisfied with, the business meeting approach to church leadership, is in sinful rebellion against God.[1]

 III.                 What about “pastors”?

a.       A common system in the denominational world, aka, the “clergy-laity” system, appoints a “pastor”, one man to oversee the work of a congregation.    Typically, this is the preacher.    And in some instances, he works with a “board of directors” or “board of deacons”, neither of which is found in scripture.

b.       The term “pastor” is from a Greek word (ποιμήν, poimēn) that means a shepherd.  When used in conjunction with leadership in a local church, it is a term associated with the elders (also bishops).  We will address this more next week, but for now I mention 1 Peter 5:1-2 and Acts 20:17, 28 – the word “shepherd” or “pastor” there is a verb.   In these texts, we are also reminded that the ELDERS are the ones who oversee the flock.  They are the spiritual shepherds. 
Also be reminded of the plurality of shepherds in scripture. 

c.        While there is some overlap in their work (both elders and preachers – are to teach, evangelize and build up the body, AND they need to work together to achieve common goals), the Bible makes a clear distinction between the work of an evangelist (preacher) and a pastor (elder).  This too we shall see in coming lessons. 

d.       Often, the denominational pastor fails to meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-10.  He is appointed by some board (or in some cases, a church appoints [hires] him) to lead them. 

e.       Denominational pastors are given responsibilities and authority that belong to the elders.  That is contrary to the organization we read of in scripture.  There is a danger of this happening, especially in a congregation without elders and in which many converts come from denominational backgrounds and have not been taught the difference.

 As we have noted, God has given us the organization of the congregation.  While maintaining our autonomy, we must realize there are those entrusted with leadership and responsibilities within.  Let us seek to understand who God has appointed where and strive to be the church of Christ even in this.   Think about it.