In this article, we describe church leadership and government as we understand and implement it. In summary, we employ a plurality of elders, open ministry, and unanimity.
Unanimity a Fundamental Principle
Since we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, having received a name above all names, the subject on how His authority is executed over the church is of utmost importance since it is through the church God has chosen to bear testimony to His Son’s authority, both now and in the age to come. This is stressed at present because His authority is now being challenged, making the question as to who is to rule, the issue of the universe. It is in this hostile environment the church is called to bear testimony to His sovereignty, before both earth and heaven, not in word alone but in fact. The accusation is, by he who is known as the accuser of the brethren, that there is no one who truly desires righteousness and, therefore, no one who desires truly for Christ to be Lord over them. It is for this reason Jesus, from the start, posed His question to those who professed to be His disciples “… why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things I say?” which echoes still and is even now, more than ever, relevant for His disciples. This is significant, for God has designed in His redemptive plan that there would be a company of believers who will reign with His Son, to replace those who from among the angels have rebelled and are to be removed from power. But it is required of those who are chosen to wield with Him His authority over the nations, to have firstly, during this age of apostasy, come under His authority.
So then, let us understand that during this time while absent in body, our Lord, though being in heaven, has yet promised to be present in spirit with us on earth when we gather in His name; and it is in the Spirit we will know Him and His leadership for His assembly. Therefore, since he is present to rule, He will not give, and therefore neither can we, any member or committee, His place, in executing His authority. Consequently, it is not the role of those who have the oversight to act as if they have such authority, lording over His things, dictating to the assembly, the assembly of which they are a part (for there is no clergy/laity divide, all being of one body and Christ alone the Head). In lieu of any heavy-handed delegated method, the Lord has ordained that all things in the church be done in unanimity. Therefore, a primary characteristic of the function of those guiding the brethren, is that they assist the assembly in the process of coming to know the Lord’s mind in order that the church may be free of faction and able to act in faith collectively, in spiritual and intellectual oneness. While this process is essential to His purposes, it, also, acts as an offset to the inclination of the flesh to usurp the Lord’s place among His people.
Christ is not Divided
With this in mind, let us acknowledge that it is, also true that in Christ there is no division and it is, therefore, He who places so much importance on this matter of oneness. For this oneness does not originate with men but comes out from the integrity of all that Christ is in our union with Him. It is His very substance, not just His influence, which extends to all those that comprise His body making them one. The intention is clear: God wills that the reality in Christ be the substance in our experience. For God is after more than the church just coming to agreement. Persuasion may accomplish that, but His desire is that we actually know Him in the process. Our concord is much deeper than simply the impression of mind. It is derived out from the essence of Christ’s being, and its expression in the members’ relations one to another is a testimony to the body’s shared life–the same life shared by the Father and the Son, a life with inherent affinity toward all that is good. It is the testimony of the nature of the oneness in the Godhead expressed in God’s children.
Leaders Need Clarity
They that serve in overseeing God’s House, understanding the significance behind this principle of acting in oneness, must know that it is defeating God’s purpose if they should compel their mind upon others. They must understand that it is God’s intention for them to wait patiently on Christ, having faith that He is actually over His House and dealing with each individual member in view of the whole, so that all may come to participate in the manifestation of His essential unity. A participation not gained by divine fiat but is conditioned on and corollary with our faithfulness to Him as head over His body. Progress toward partaking in this oneness, as well as all things spiritual, is only possible when we are in obedience to what the Lord, as head, has already made known concerning His will. Knowledge, divorced from a sense of moral obligation is not progress and not spiritual. Understanding this, it should be clear that God’s end is that His children, maturing spiritually in the process, come to know together ever more fully the unity of the faith in experiencing Jesus Christ as Lord, not that the leaders, being correct or not, should bypass the brethren and force their way upon the them. For the leaders to take command and dictate, forcing their will, is to do what the Lord refuses to do and is, in fact, thwarting the Lord’s purpose.
You see, the Lord could force His way upon us but He doesn’t (and this should act as an example). It’s because to force defeats His purpose, which is only realized in the course of the brothers together, having shared in the fellowship with their one Lord, coming to know His will and causing them to be of one soul in their conviction. This fact should be fully grasped and, therefore, I will repeat to accentuate: it should be understood that, during this present age Christ will not force us to yield Him His place as Lord, for it is central to His objective that we be free to choose whether or not to submit to Him.
Yet, once we as an assembly, in truth, do humble ourselves so as to acknowledge that He has the right to rule over us in our practical corporate life, and believing He is able to make known His will, He will take up His place and reign over us. And from His secret knowledge of what is hidden in the hearts of all, He will work, acting in, upon and among His people that we might know Him…for we must know Him as Lord to go on with Him.
Once we do submit to Him, we will experience his love in both the administration of His blessing and discipline. Discipline, because in respecting Him as Lord we actively enter into His purpose and, therefore, should expect not only His blessing but His chastising as well. Chastising is necessary in order that we may learn thereby to fear Him, becoming partakers of His holiness in the process. For it is holiness that is required for one to attain to the honor and glory which God has prepared for them who have in all things grown up into Christ, who is the head of the body. On the other hand, those who now fail to give Him His place as Lord, will know His discipline later, at His return and it is then they will learn to fear Him, but at such a loss.
Now this liberty, as to our respecting Christ’s Lordship or not, is by God’s design. Since He created us as moral beings it must be so. This is the reason our participation in His divine nature, our only source of holiness, is conditioned on a moral basis: We must choose to do right, we must will to do God’s will, we must willingly bow ourselves to Christ’s rule over us. These facts are demonstrated in that though we are bought with a price, the blood of Christ, and therefore belong to our Lord, He yet respects the sovereignty of our wills. Leadership in God’s house then must do the same.
So it is, before any action as a church is taken, the saints are to agree on what is the will of God: this not only demonstrates respect for each man’s autonomy but, also shows faith in one another’s integrity, (of those who choose to take part, that is, for no one is compelled to take part; one can decline); and, yet, let there be warning: Because one implies, when choosing to participate, that he is true and upright, and will bring upon himself the fearful reality of being accountable to the Lord, who is judge over His House. For if it be that the heart of any is not true but is holding a wrong motive, acting out of an oppositional spirit due to jealousy or some other wrong reason, then, since our Lord alone knows the secrets of the hearts, it falls to Him to act in judgement. To add further caution: In the process of coming to one mind we must also act in mutual love for one another, otherwise we will never enter into the knowledge of our Lord’s will. This is because Christ’s will for His people is always operative in love. If we have some other disposition, even if we are objectively correct in our understanding of what the Lord would have, we will not truly comprehend. Being of a different spirit than love we will be prone to move to achieve our ends by means outside the Holy Spirit. This then may work to divide God’s people, destroying God’s House and prompting God to act on His promise: “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye.” Recognizing these simple but fearful truths, we should conclude that overseers need to understand that oneness in church matters is necessary in realizing God’s purpose in His Son’s rule over His House and, therefore, should be the church’s objective: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The Lord’s Authority
Oh, but when love prevails, how wonderful is a church under our Lord’s authority! It is where the Father has ordained His blessing. In it the Lord takes action according to the truth, according to the hearts; and what man cannot accomplish He can and He does, causing the inward and the outward to be one. The objection of doubters, stating the impossibility of men ever coming to one mind in religious matters, is refuted by the confidence of our faith, not in the method, but in Him who as Lord is able to make known His will to those who love Him.
So it follows, because we are one in Christ, if just one person in a gathering of the Lord’s people earnestly desires to know and do His will, because of that one, the Lord will not only work in his regard but He will work toward the goal of bringing all to the realization of His will. Since he is a part of the whole, God can then regard him as representing the whole and on that basis. God may use his true heart as a catalyst of sorts, working to bring all the hearts to be true. Oh, how wonderful are God’s ways, and how important it is to be part of an assembly! If the mature brothers follow through in helping the assembly to embrace this truth in faith, the result of the Lord’s dealings with the assembly will, I believe, amaze all, and bring all under a fearful awe in the knowledge of the presence of Christ as Lord in their midst.
Knowing these spiritual realities regarding the assembly, it is alarming to think that some other so called authority, manifested or covert, issuing from a source other than the Lord in His union in life with His body, could possibly set itself up in the Lord’s House! This illegitimate authority would separate from their Lord those who willingly submit to it, breaking off, in the vital sphere of servant/lord relationship, one’s participation in the divine life. As a result, the progress toward God’s end, the realization of the body of Christ attaining to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, is curtailed. Do not think this substitute authority is an innocent thing, which is “of little concern as long as that which needs to be done is done,” for it is positively evil.
Without compromise the experiential reality of our Lord’s headship over His people is indispensable. If it is missing, a void is created, and authorities other than our Lord’s will surely fill it! They whom the Lord places in responsibility are to guard against this from happening! Woe unto them if it turns out that they themselves has taken that authority! Let us all heed the Lord’s instruction: “…Ye know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your servant; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus Entitled to Fear
Let us beware: Because Jesus is Lord, He is, indeed, entitled to the fear inherent in the respect His authority demands. This warning should especially be taken to heart by they who act in authority under Him for they will be judged more severely than those who are not in authority. They should thoroughly understand that God is after the saints to gain an inward conviction as to His will and not just an outward consent. The leaders, therefore, should be cautiously awake to the possibility of dismissing with this primary occupation, wherein they truly and honestly encourage the members, along with themselves, together, to look to the Lord for His direction. Failure to do so, because it is difficult, time consuming and impractical, etc., will result in sidestepping question as to their own intention and understanding, which will, then, work to predispose them to think their own will and ways are God’s will and ways. Subsequently, they will end up usurping the Lord’s authority, assuming His position over His people.
Fear of Christ Evident
Leadership’s apprehension in this matter should be manifest to the whole assembly. Indeed, their caution should extend influentially to all the brethren, impressing upon them the same conviction of the serious nature of the trespass of acting independently of the Lord. Let it be emphasized that, all in the assembly presently stand before the presence of He who judges the secrets of our hearts, and that we, while expecting Him to reveal to us His will (for it is His desire we know His will), are to submit to Him in all things. It will only then be that He will lead us in the way of an ever increasing fullness in experiencing the unity of the faith with the other members of His body.
Respect for Elders
Now, in Scripture church governance is based upon what might be called the village model where all the men, and especially the heads of households, meet in counsel for decision making. In the process, out of respect, preferential weight of influence is given to the older men, that is, the elders. And though all elders are held in honor simply because of their age, there are, yet, distinctions among them. For with the church, as with the villagers, the members of the community are familiar with each other and they will not only know the spiritual character of one another but they will also know who is more capable, available and morally fit to lead. It is they who are recognized as carrying more authority than the others; which acknowledgment amounts to a designation; and though they that rule do so as among the elders, it is only natural that they will be understood as referenced when “church elders” are mentioned.
Also, on a more practical level, it is necessary that some time pass from the conception of a church before there is recognition of the leading elders; simply because there must be evidence of their appropriateness before the members can acknowledge them. Then, when they do, there will be but little change for the assembly; seeing that the elders, if it be that God has chosen them, will be to a large degree already functioning as such, simply because they are such - If this fact is not true then they are not whom God has chosen. And since elders in Scripture are always plural it should be understood that God’s design is that there always be more than one. So as long as there is only one that fits the character called for, it is then not yet time for elders to be acknowledged as designated. But, when that time comes, the lists of characteristics the apostle Paul gave unto Timothy and Titus, mostly involving their outward lives, should help in deciding whom it is the Spirit has chosen. Yet, what is also of weight in consideration, though not plainly emphasized in those lists but, nonetheless, logically assumed all would know – the elder must love the Lord, his life showing evidence of it, so all know without question, it is true; also, he must love the brethren and, in his depth of concern, be moved to prayer, being truly burdened and occupied with their spiritual well-being, so that, he being like unto the good shepherd “…layeth down his life for the sheep” in sacrificial care.
So, it is, first of all, that the expression of “elder” is descriptive of advanced age, which implies wisdom and invokes respect; and in the context of the of the village, characteristically a clan, and in the church, a spiritual family, it too adds the further dimension of a paternal relationship, which also, summons respect. This relational connotation is not just a figure of speech but is real for we are all of one life in Christ and, therefore, we are truly the family of God. For this reason, the rightful character of the church community is that of a household, where the elders are older brothers who the Father has directed to be occupied with the nurture and care of their younger siblings.
The elders, then, deal with family matters; relational and developmental, organizational and occupational. They are to be involved in looking to the spiritual well-being and growth of all. With this in mind, they must, then, allow for all in the family to have participation and responsibility in the household as part of their upbringing. And, again, while maintaining a healthy loving atmosphere, they are responsible for seeing that all the spiritual needs are provided for; those needs which, though spiritual, correlate nicely with the needs of any natural family: food, protection, security, comfort, peace, education, correction, guidance, socialization, training, emotional support, etc. To put it simply the expectation of the Father is that the elder brothers are to make sure that a home is provided, where, in an atmosphere of love and care, His children feel at home; so they can there develop morally and spiritually into godly men and women.
Yet, again, this can only be possible if there is the foundational understanding of the moral obligation for one to respect the elders. For the influence of those elders who preside over church affairs, who in particular are esteemed in recognition, is anchored to this principle; without which the awareness of the inherent authority due them will be missing, allowing an external authority, likely propped up by force, position or preference to emerge and take its place. So, let it be clear, it is through the moral principle which warrants respect for elders the Lord has chosen to demonstrate His authority in His House; and we should honor Him in doing so. In fact, this principle of honoring the elderly, along with the other precepts God has set up for society regarding the differing roles and distinctions concerning man and woman, father and mother, parents and children, etc., are actually innate to the creation and, no matter that the world disregards them, they still remain applicable today. If one thinks about it, they will conclude that the apostles, in Scripture, exhort those in the church to observe all these precepts.
Now, in this leadership model, all the men, who desire to participate, while giving honor to the elders, out from among whom some have the esteem of presiding, are free to take part in the decision making process. Yet, and, perhaps, this is the difference in the church versus the village; the rule of the elders does not give them authority to make decisions in contradiction to the others for, as I’ve already stated, the church must act in unanimity, gained as a result of the rule of Christ over each member, as a testimony to Christ in them. Even so, this process is not to be thought of as democratic in nature for the church is not a democracy but a monarchy; and all the order of function is for the purpose of aiding the community in knowing Christ as Lord. Still, again, as I’ve stated, it is always a matter of the heart and these outward things only assist those with honest and pure hearts in their gaining the knowledge of the will of God. This is another primary occupation for the designated elders; they are to work toward keeping the hearts right before the Lord.
Now, perhaps, I should address here the matter of women and children in relation to this process of decision making for the church. As I’ve stated above, the order God has set up in the church does not undermine the order which He has established in the family. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, the apostle addresses the topic of authority in the church and he states “…I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Therefore, seeing that God is consistent and that the order He set in the family correlates with that which he set in church, it is the men who are involved in the decision making and not the women and children. To have it otherwise would show disrespect to God who has set the order.
Now these things I’ve addressed should give some foundational footing so that some simple additional guidelines can be added.
Gentle, Humble, under Authority
The church’s community governance is above all of a gentle and humble character (“…Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”) and is primarily operative through the visual aid of the exemplary lives of those who the saints hold in honor. Those of a violent spirit should not be in oversight of anything in the assembly, especially, God’s children! In addition, with the church’s firm understanding that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God and that, when clarity is demonstrated, they command the final say on all matters; they then provide those in responsibility (and all others as well) the utility of their use in guiding God’s people: through teaching, encouragement, exhortation, counsel, comfort, correction, and rebuke - all of which are to be executed in a conciliatory manner which makes for peace.
Terms are Functional
Accordingly, there are in the New Testament three terms descriptive of the character and occupation of the recognized brothers: elder, pastor and overseer, each indicating their own particular sphere: the council, pasture and estate. Any brother in responsibility will participate in all three, as an elder who functions as a pastor and an overseer. Though there is considerable overlap, for the occupation is one; designated as elder he will primarily deal with matters in a council setting, where decisions are made; as pastor, which means shepherd, with making sure the spiritual care of those that make up the assembly (in this inference, the flock) is being met; as overseer (Gk. bishop) the supervision over others in relation to what is expected of them, especially those who serve the practical needs of the church community (deacons and deaconesses).
No Offices or Titles
It should be noted and emphasized, however, that these expressions do not refer to different offices and are not titles, as such, either. One does not find in the Scriptures leaders addressed as they are today; such as Elder So-and-so, Pastor So-and-so, or Bishop So-and-so. It was early on in church history that this practice of treating these expressions as titles of ecclesiastical offices slipped into the church. It had a devastating effect, dramatically altering the environment of the assembly, helping to create an entirely different setting than that of a family which God originally intended. It is this worldly mindset which elevated the elders to be of a professional caste and thus aided in promoting the origination of a clergy and a laity system, which was so effective in its modification of the venue that, now, most, having never witnessed the living order of the spiritual, have difficulty imagining things in any other way.
For once an authority other than Christ’s has gained a footing; it sets the ways, means and disposition of its governance in the realm of the flesh; even altering its very identity from that of the living body of Christ to a lifeless organizational structure; so that the spiritual cannot and will not function in it. In fact, believers must go against their spiritual instinct to become part of it. So, it is very important that this idea is not carried over into the community of believers who have come out of such organizations; and those in oversight should avoid association with that which gives even the semblance of suggestion or promotion of validity in the idea of clergy; refusing it when directed toward them and correcting those who would bring it into the assembly. This must be done rather firmly because of the state of things in the church at present.
There is also the matter of incorporation. In the eyes of the government to incorporate is what technically creates a “church” because it officially makes it a worldly organization. Whereas the truth is that the church is not a worldly organization but is made up of a heavenly people and though in the world they are not to be of the world; and it is not any worldly government but the Lord who decides what is and what is not a church. The church then should not tie a knot to a relationship with the world and its governments. Even more so, seeing that the church, being the body of Christ, is a living organism and that a corporation cannot contain something alive without it becoming a cage, for the church to incorporate then is for it to willingly submit to being caged.
The fact is that the corporation mode works best as a model for businesses; but the church is a not a business, it is a family and what family would ever incorporate? This structure when applied to the church actually works to destroy its true identity, molding it into a framework which is not suitable and as a result those churches are run like a business. They, then, like any other company provide their product or service via their specialists, the clergy, and the laity, as consumers, pays for those services. So, like a business “ministry” is thought to be occupations, a way to make a living – ministers then, are hirelings under this system.
Then, again, along with a worldly status, incorporating will allow for a church to exist as an entity legally set apart from the people that make it up. Just think, according to the law an incorporated church may still be a church even without any members…how is that possible and the reality of being in Christ stay intact? ‘But it is needful so that the church may own property’, many will insist, for they just can’t imagine a church not owning property. Yet, where in the New Testament is evidence that they ever did? For incorporating was practiced in the 1st century by both the Greeks and Romans and many religious organizations became corporations for the same reasons they do today; yet, the apostles never gave example in doing so themselves nor did they ever instruct the churches to do so.
The fact is that, ownership of property, as a church, greatly alters the conception as to what a church is, changing the character of everything. Once a building, for instance, is owned the church can then easily be understood as a building, for it is more permanent than the ones who attend. Then the expenses of upkeep, debt, and utilities all become the expenses of the corporation and the leaders being responsible are yoked with a burden Christ never intended for them to bear. To think some churches, as a corporation, will even take out mortgages, borrowing from those in the world…Yikes! The church should never be in debt to anyone, especially those in the world…This is shameful! Is God not able to care for His own?
Learn a lesson from Abraham, who as a sojourner in the land of Canaan never owned any property, save a grave for his family. The elders are, also, to keep the assembly aware of their alien status in this world and encourage the church to be content to be strangers in it and warn them so as to not seek to dwell in Sodom as did Abraham’s relative Lot who, when once there, became involved in its affairs, judging in the gates, etc. By necessity individually the saints will own things but never should they as a church collectively do so. So it comes to this, incorporating does not create a church in the eyes of God but it can destroy a church…It can drag it into the world.
Now, all such churches who follow this altered mode share in retaining one thing in common, an affinity with the world; and as all things in the world, man is in charge, inspired from below, inspired by the earthly, soulical and demonic. There is, then, in these structures, no difference between the character of the world and that of the church; this is why the church at large shares the same characteristics as other earthly organization, fitting very nicely into it. It should be no surprise when these religious organizational leaders use the same devices used by those of the world: appeasement, enticement, threats, force, pleasure, pain, promises, manipulation, etc. Nor should we be shocked that, as a result of the Lord’s non-involvement, money and worldly power in place of the Holy Spirit is what they look to, to prop up their religious activities. In such an organization, where the flesh is ruling, it will be, indeed, difficult for the individual to advance spiritually; on the other hand, it will be impossible for the church collectively to do so.
When the Holy Spirit equips spiritually the church’s members it is so they may be able to build up the body. It should never be thought, however, that gifting is God’s way of signifying who He desires to be the designated elders for elders are not the only ones that are to function in edifying the assembly. Many other than the elders may perform like activities to that which the elders are occupied with. They may teach, exhort and encourage, warn, correct, and even rebuke. This is in line with the fact that all in the church community, as members of the body of Christ, are to function in some manner that edifies others. Seeing it is so, it is perfectly clear that the designated elders are not to do all the work of ministering; and therefore, that which distinguishes them from the others is not found in their spiritual gifting but in their authority to conduct themselves in a pastoral disposition in the oversight of the affairs of the family of God.
As important as doctrine is, it too is not to usurp the Lord’s authority – for it is possible to be wrong concerning doctrine but we will never be wrong in honoring Jesus Christ as Lord. Therefore, our essential identity as a church is in knowing Christ collectively and not in knowing doctrine per se. Just as the disciples followed Christ before they knew much doctrine at all and were considered His disciples because of their association with Him vs. a “cause” or identifying doctrine, so we should be known as servants of a living God and His Son’s disciples, because of our association with Him. In fact, it was only in following Jesus that disciples would come to know the truth they would hold to, their understanding increasing to be ever clearer, changing their views as needed, learning on the way. This is exciting, as we too, accompanying our Lord, are disciples on the way; and in expectation we should be ever ready to learn, so as to be enlarged in our understanding: If we lose this disposition we stop growing in our relationship with Him. For, whereas we are not to be children in understanding we are to be forever babes at heart, eager to learn together as an assembly, humble enough so that we remain disciples and not become “know-it-alls.” This pleases the Father so as to allow Him to reveal His secrets to His children who first and foremost love His Son. Therefore, we must offer up our doctrine continually to Christ so as to be under His authority… so that it may be an expression of His authority…so that it is out from our relationship with Him, fresh and true knowledge, not divorced from our Lord who Himself is the Truth.
But note it is while His disciples were together Christ instructed them. We should have the same expectation that it is together as an assembly He will instruct us. And when he does, we should look to Him to keep us humble, because we could come to think of the knowledge gained as our own possession and consider it right to distribute as from ourselves; whereas we are only able to distribute truth when the Truth possesses us, then in its distribution others will come to know Christ in the process, receiving it out from Him. Therefore know this, that it is only pride which would cause leaders, because of what they’ve seen, to esteem themselves an “authority”; expecting others, apart from their encounter with the living Christ in the Spirit, to receive as truth what they teach. This self-elevation will rob the church of further revelation and result in the sad state of being frozen in dogmatism, unable to be enlarged in understanding, where doctrines rule in elevated leaders and not Christ.
In contrast, the elders’ role is to minister in the Spirit in humility, where the expectation is shifted off themselves and placed on Christ, thus keeping the assembly, also in humility, awake and alive to learning under the reality of the Lord’s Headship; and though the elders do guard against the false, in their course of discerning they must not themselves lose that sense of littleness in their childlike expectation to learn. For if they act as if they have all knowledge, further blessing stops with them. No, the elders are to guard their own hearts so as to retain the disposition of learners on the way, expecting the Lord to teach them through the other members, as well; so as to give example before all how spiritual progress is gained only in one's dependence upon the Lord and not man.
God has given us a most wonderful example of this through the apostle Paul, who after having met the Lord on the road to Damascus, and having afterward learned for 14 years under the tutelage of the Spirit, while being used of God in the presentation of the gospel to the Gentiles, went up to Jerusalem to consult with the other apostles; and in his own words recounting what happened to the Galatians he said “… I laid before them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles but privately before them who were of repute lest by any means I should be running, or had run, in vain.” To think that this chosen vessel was humble enough to submit to the other apostles (James, Peter, and John) and then tell others he did so…how much more should we do likewise in the assembly: “…subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.”
Eldership pertains only to the community of the church they preside over. Therefore, they will not be recognized as elders when visiting other churches. This is because each assembly is autonomous. Yet, we, indeed, should have fellowship with other churches, expecting to learn from their example; and knowing the same Lord is over all we should expect the same manners to have been established in one as in the other; but if we find differences we perhaps should inquire of the Lord as to whether we are amiss in that area. Still, the members of each church must come to know the mind of the Lord for themselves for each church retains their independence and are responsible for their own affairs. Hence, the decision of one church does not apply to another, no matter how close the association. The elders must see to it that this distinction is maintained when outside influence is coming into the church.
Except for how it affects the assembly, elders are not to act as if they are over the ministry of others. For example, evangelists are only dealt with if their actions are disruptive to the community; such as encouraging others to join in evangelizing during the time the gathering is scheduled or if he in his ministry is behaving in such a manner it brings shame upon the church. The members need to understand that the way they behave themselves in public, especially in their gospel outreach or whatever ministry they might undertake, reflects onto the church and, therefore, the elders can address, should their actions be deemed unsuitable, the ministers in this regard. However, the elders are not to take control of or direct anyone’s personal ministry for each servant shall give an account to the Lord, not the elders.
Elders are, also, not to dictate who is to teach, or what is to be taught, etc. And they are not responsible for making judgement for the assembly as to the “spiritual value” of what is ministered; and then divert or direct things toward or away from any one in particular. They, however, along with the rest of the assembly, are to judge, not only teaching but all ministries, as to what is false and what is true; and correction is not a private affair but before the whole assembly. (Happy is the church wherein the brethren have the discernment as to what wrong merits addressing and what does not.) On the other hand, elders are to judge as to what is appropriate or inappropriate in the manner of presentation; keeping in mind the objective before them, which is that all things be done for edification and in love, decently and in order: the elders are not to allow those ministering to verbally beat up on or harass the members, nor are they to allow the solicitation of money or permit one to manipulate the members in any way. Their primary job is to orchestrate things so that all may participate in love to the edifying of the body; which then calls for them to also see to it that no one dominates the meeting with whatever gifting they may have.
It is also not their job to stop visitors from coming or even from ministering but they may address them before hand, if it be deemed necessary, as to what is not permissible; such as asking for money, etc. Nonetheless, the body should be protected from them who would promote “ministry schemes”, “pyramid schemes” and political undertakings which amount to nothing but robbing the Lord’s people. In regard to these sorts of “ministries,” if it be known beforehand, the elders should intervene and not allow them to enter, explaining to the church the problem with them; for the church is not an open marketplace for charlatans to hawk their wares and con artists to operate their scams, neither is it an earthly institution to be dragged into worldly affairs under the guise of religion. The elders should see clearly enough to stand against these things so as not to follow the example of the institutional system, which allows those from the outside to come in and solicit involvement, votes and money. Yet, neither should those from inside be allowed to promote their business, politics or “ministry.” The elders should guard against anyone using the church as a platform for their ministry or to promote their personal vision, etc.
The role of elder is just the reverse of what is today popular; he is not to facilitate over the assembly’s ministry for that is the place of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the elders should be careful to stop anyone, especially themselves, from putting their hands on the meeting so as to control or influence its direction; and even in doing so they are to be careful not to leave their imprint upon it. They are, nonetheless, to correct things when a casual talkative irreverent spirit is displayed, so that it intrudes on the purpose of the gathering; which in the case of the ministry meeting, is to hear from the Lord through those who would speak as oracles of God. Still, it is not their responsibility to see that “the show go on” for what takes place in the meeting is not entertainment, not a party nor a social gathering, and the elders are not the promoters. But it is God’s House wherein the members serve God in offering up sacrifices of prayer, praise and thanksgiving, where God through their ministry will spiritually build up His people; where the love the members have for one another, is the love He has implanted in their hearts, which in turn generates a holy environment wherein Christ is glorified. I say their love but it is love in the Holy Spirit and it is therefore the Spirit which actually creates the spiritual atmosphere: let not the elders, nor anyone else, endeavor to create a mood or ambiance for all the fragrances acceptable and pleasing to God are those of Christ in the Spirit. However, think not that to exhort all to give reverence to the Lord and provide example by doing so is imposing a mood upon the meeting, for such is expected of God and will open the way for the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the leading brothers, along with all others who are spiritual, should themselves be real and honest in their reverence toward God, for nothing spiritual comes of pretense; and in their worship the reality of the Lord through the Holy Spirit may be awakening in all and Christ will then have the preeminence.
The above takes some discernment to know what is man’s influence vs. the Spirit’s but the first step is in acknowledging the need to know the difference.
Also, the prevailing state of disregard, as to the experiential realization of the headship of Christ, may be a roadblock hard to overcome but we cannot be content to have men retain the reins of control over the Lord’s House; we must awaken the brethren; we must be zealous for His position as Lord. It was our forerunners who failed in retaining the Lord’s authority over the church; it will take those brave enough to lead the way forward by returning to recover that which was lost.
In regards to how to practically implement the doctrine of doing all things without faction, it may be helpful to share some ground rules we as an assembly have laid down for ourselves:
It is not necessary that all the men participate in the decision making process. In fact, it may be best some choose not to. Because, whatever be the reason, anyone of us may not feel we are spiritually up to it. For example; one who has demands upon him to such an extent that he is unable to give himself to seeking the Lord’s mind at the time, might feel God has not ordained he take part. Then, again, the younger brothers may feel out of their depth and would honor the elder brethren in abiding by their decisions: “…ye younger, be subject unto the elder.” Still, not all may have conviction one way or another on a particular matter; they then should not involve themselves: It is considered unanimity as long as there is no opposition voiced toward any proposal in conviction that it is not the Lord’s will. It should be emphasized that, it is not one’s preference which is to be voiced but one’s conviction, as to what is or is not the Lord’s will...personal preference should not be voiced at all. However, for no reason should anyone ever be compelled to participate.
Once there is agreement, to where action has been taken or a matter decided on, it will remain in place and not be changed until all agree that it is God’s will to do so. That is, the status quo stays intact until there is unanimity for it to change. Just because someone comes in with a new idea does not mean we are out of oneness. For the saints to know this brings peace to the church setting.
Sisters and children do not take part in the process. It being understood that they have say in their home setting and that the head of the household can take their concern to heart. The church will not seek to know if there is unity among family members so as to not trespass onto the sanctity of one’s family. It is considered a shame for the members of a household to make it known that there are differences among them. Anyway, those differences are not to come into the church.
Teaching which does not demand that the church as a whole take action is not a matter for this process. However, when it comes to the awareness through the assembly being addressed that members hold a different view on doctrinal matters, it should be acknowledged by all that, it is not good; for God would have all be of one mind as to the truth. Prayer in assembly, therefore, should be offered up by all, asking God to make His truth known and that the matter does not cause division. In such cases the brothers may share their differing convictions as long as all do so in a conciliatory manner; so the members can in discernment evaluate what is said.
The process should be held in open assembly before all. The seriousness of the matter should be stressed with the reminder that our Lord has promised to be in our midst during this time. Then in a prayerful disposition the brothers should all be free to state their conviction. There should not be allowed any arguing, emotional displays or blackmailing the church by making threats to manipulate the feelings such as ‘I will leave the meeting’ if such and such is not agreed to. The sisters are to attend but they are to restrain themselves from involvement and be given to silent prayer.
If the matter is not resolved during assembly and time to pray and possibly fast regarding the matter is desired, then the time for the next assembly to take up the matter again is to be set. During the time in between, there is to be no politicking, no going from house to house trying to influence each other. The sisters are, also, not to take up the matter outside the assembly among themselves. If, after again convening, there still remain differences, the matter is not to be allowed to become a bone of contention but is to be laid aside for a time to allow the Holy Spirit to deal with the hearts of all. Eventually, if hearts are right and all believe it is God’s desire for us to be one in the knowledge of the truth, God will bring us to the unity of the faith. During the time He is working with us, we forebear with patience in regards to one another. No one is to act independently on the matter, so as to pursue their own will, ignoring the fact that the church has set the matter aside.
2. No Older Men?
In the American culture respect for elders is not emphasized, nor encouraged; in fact, just the opposite seems to be woven into the fabric of our society. The well-known phenomenon of the generation gap is built into our modern sociological makeup and it has greatly affected the church at large. This is indeed the work of the evil one. Why, some institutions will have the older generation meet in the morning and the younger in the evening. And this is thought to be OK? It’s not OK. Anyway, the sad fact is we must deal with what is.
When we first began to meet as an assembly we could not get any of the older generation to join with us. They would not leave the institutional setting. So we had no elders. However, even though we were all under 20 years old after some time it became apparent who were more devoted to the Lord in their heartfelt concern for the spiritual lives of the others. They were the ones who were also more responsible in the practical matters of the gathering; more sacrificial; more given to biblical study; etc. Though we never acknowledged they were “elders”, because of their age, we knew they functioned as such. Now, after many years, they are old enough to be elders. But in the early years they were like those youngsters who, when they had lost their parents, being the oldest sibling set themselves instinctively to parent their younger brothers and sisters. It is hard acting as a grown up when one is but a child but God was gracious and used it as a means of dealing with us, and in the end He saw to it that we would overcome; and so, I believe, if others are in like circumstances, no fault of their own, e.g. not out of rebellion or some other wrong motive, though it will be greatly more difficult, God will see to it they overcome as well.
The church has no salaried positions! The idea that “Pastors” are professionals and are therefore paid for their services is unbiblical! This idea, however, is the backbone of the institutional system; and sadly it seems to be still attached to some of the psyches of those who think themselves pastors of home churches. The fact is that, if the character of the church is understood as it is presented in Scripture, one could not have this expectation. No one would think that the church, understood as a family, would then pay the parental figures. Nor would they think so, understanding the church as the bride of Christ. Yet, they may perhaps think it appropriate when the Scripture refers to the church as a temple of God; but then they take quite a leap to conjecture that the leaders are the equivalent of the priests or Levites to this temple. This idea does violence to the picture, for not only are the leaders themselves part of the temple but all in the assembly serve God. Therefore, to follow the type, the picture would then be that all are priests and Levites; and this is the general view of the Protestants who rejected the Catholic view of a separate priesthood. To see the church as it is presented in 1 Corinthians, where all participate in building up one another, it makes it impossible to think along the lines of a clergy laity system where the professionals are distinguished and paid.
What is represented in Scripture, concerning a local autonomous church, is a community functioning under the communal principle of having all things in common. Not in any legal systematic manner but being motivated by love and out of concern for each other, while yet retaining full possession of all their own things, willingly share their blessings to relieve the burdens of others; according to their individual discretion as to what is the Lord’s will. Therefore, in love the individuals in the church freely give to one another without any coercion, when the need arises.
There is, also, another principle; which is that those who give spiritually are to be recompensed materially: “If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?”; it being understood that to be able to give spiritually would have called for time, toil and sacrifice, so again: “…let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Yet, at the same time, all in the church are giving, in one way or another, to the building up of one another; so this principle of recompense is not just applicable for spiritual service but for all services to the church. The reason the spiritual is mentioned is because no one would question the idea of recompense for material giving but they might spiritual giving. Therefore, Paul emphasizes the need to recompense they who give spiritually. Still, in addition to what all the members are giving, there are those, whom the Lord may have to expend exceptionally more effort in their service; they then, should be noted as ones to contribute to. Elders fall under this category for it is expected of them to be exceptional workers for the good of the church: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth the corn. And The laborer is worthy of his hire.”
Now this verse concerning the oxen Paul uses in reference to both the apostolic worker and the local elder for the principle applies in both cases. However, many have taken Paul’s words regarding the itinerant worker and wrongly applied them to those in the local assembly. For instance, Paul speaks of the Lord’s ordaining that “…they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel.” Not meaning those that are in the church community but they that are itinerant. It is, in fact, that Paul goes to extreme measures to distinguish the two, so that the churches would not be confused and think that those in the local assembly are to expect such recompense, so as to not do practical work: “For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat bread for nought at any man’s hand, but in labor and travail, working night and day, that we might not burden any of you: not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat”. Paul states that he has forgone his right as an apostle to live of the gospel so they would understand that as servants of God in the local assembly they are to also hold a job to supply for themselves and their families.
However, even with his example provided there were still those who thought that they could expect the church to care for their living: “For we hear of some that walk among you disorderly that work not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” These people who would not work failed to follow the tradition of the church and were therefore to be avoided, in hope that that they may become ashamed of themselves. Yet, it has come down to us in our day that the leaders of the church are to be supported by the Church? How is it they reconcile what they are doing when it was the tradition of the early church for all members to support themselves? Indeed, for it is the elders whose lives are to be examples for the members to emulate; which would not be applicable if they were unlike the members in this matter; of course, it is if they were still working and not retired from labor because of their age.
So, again, the individuals in the church will give not just to meet the need of those in need but to recompense for service performed; while, yet, those giving spiritually are not to make their ministry in the local assembly an occupation so as to not work at all, expecting the church to support them. Paul expressly says to note them that do so, so as to prevent them from participating in the communal spirit of sharing with those that have not.
However, there is yet one more principle which balances all this out; it is that which our Lord said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive...” So we serve God and if He moves on the hearts of others so that they share with us material things, we give thanks, for we receive it as from the hand of God; it is from Him we should look for our care as servants, not man. A servant of God should never ask for recompense from the church for they work for the Lord and it is He that supplies for them, not man. While at the same time, as a servant, he will direct the church in the principles above, even as did Paul.
There is much more that we could address concerning money; its mishandling and its appropriate use, etc.…. but another time. What needs to be understood is that there are no paid positions in the church and that the church has no possessions…therefore no general funds for such things.