"THE CHURCH JESUS BUILT"
The Organization Of The ChurchINTRODUCTION
1. In suggesting how to identify "The Church Jesus Built", the previous
a. The importance of distinguishing between the church "universal"
and the church "local"
1) The very nature of the church "universal" makes it difficult
to identify it as such
2) With the aid of the New Testament, however, we can identify
b. That the New Testament provides a "pattern" by which we can
identify local churches of Christ which are true to the Bible
1) The church at Jerusalem "continued steadfastly in the
apostles' doctrine" - Ac 2:42
2) The apostles taught their doctrine in "every church" - e.g.,
1 Co 4:17
-- Thus we should expect that the churches were similar in
doctrine and practice
2. The pattern we find for local churches includes such elements as:
a. The organization of the church
b. The worship of the church
c. The work of the church
[In this lesson, we will examine what pattern emerges from the New
Testament regarding the organization of the Lord's church in the local
sense. But one might ask...]
I. WHY BE CONCERNED ABOUT "CHURCH ORGANIZATION"?A. ORGANIZATION REVEALS PURPOSE...
1. When God creates something...
a. He has a purpose in mind
b. He designs His creation with the organization to accomplish
2. This is true in the physical realm
a. Certain animals were created as beasts of prey
b. Simply by looking at the animal's features (i.e., its
organization), we can glean what its purpose is
3. This is true with the local church as well...
a. Seeing its organization will help us learn of the Lord's
purpose for the church
b. This will be especially helpful later, when we examine the
work of the church
B. APOSTASY OFTEN BEGINS WITH CHANGES IN ORGANIZATION...
1. One of the earliest departures from the New Testament was in
2. Modern-day apostasies often start this way as well
-- And usually when people seek to change the purpose or work of
[The organization of the church as revealed in the New Testament should
not be taken lightly. The Lord had a purpose in mind, and organized
the church to meet that purpose. With that said, let's now consider...]
II. CHURCH ORGANIZATION IN THE NEW TESTAMENTA. ELDERS TO OVERSEE THE LOCAL CONGREGATION...
1. A congregation, once fully developed, would have elders - cf.
Ac 14:23; Ti 1:5
2. These elders were also called bishops and pastors
a. "Elders" (Grk., "presbuteros", presbyter) for they were
b. "Bishops" (Grk. "episkopos", overseer) for their task was
to oversee the congregation - cf. Ac 20:17,28; 1 Pe 5:1-2
c. "Pastors" (Grk. "poimen", shepherd) for their task was to
shepherd and feed the flock of God - cf. Ac 20:17,28; 1 Pe
-- Not three distinct offices, but different ways to describe the
men and their work (cf. Easton's Bible Dictionary, Moody
Handbook of Theology)
3. Elders were appointed only after meeting stringent
a. The qualifications are listed in 1 Ti 3:1-7; Ti 1:5-9
b. Note that they "must be..." (no exceptions), e.g....
1) Husband of one wife
2) With faithful children
-- Such qualifications prepared them for their role - cf. 1 Ti
4. In every congregation with elders, there was always a
plurality (never just one)
5. The authority of the elders to oversee was limited...
a. They were to take heed to the flock of God "among which
the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" - Ac 20:28
b. They were to "shepherd the flock of God which is amongyou" - 1 Pe 5:2
-- No elder (bishop, pastor) or group of elders had any
authority beyond their local congregation!
B. DEACONS TO SERVE THE ELDERS AND THE CONGREGATION...
1. These were "servants" (Grk., "diakonos", servant, minister)
who assisted the elders in the work of the church
2. Their qualifications are found in 1 Ti 3:8-13
3. The work they do is a very noble one - 1 Ti 3:13C. THE MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION ITSELF...
1. Commonly called "saints" (Grk., "hagios", holy one) in the New
Testament - cf. 1 Co 1:2; Ph 1:1
2. Also called disciples, Christians, believers, etc.
3. Among such members there may have been "evangelists" and
"teachers" - Ep 4:11
a. The "evangelists" would take the gospel to the lost
b. "Teachers" instructed and edified the members
c. Note: Those commonly referred to as "preachers" or
1) May do the work of both evangelist and teacher - e.g.,
2 Ti 4:5; 2:2
2) But whether they serve as evangelist, teacher, preacher,
or minister, within the local church they likewise
submit to the oversight of the elders
[In Ph 1:1, we find the organization of the local church alluded to in
Paul's address: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,
with the bishops and deacons". Other than the members (saints), what
organization existed was a two-tier system (bishops and deacons).
But it wasn't long before changes in organization it occurred, so
perhaps a word or two should be said about...]
III. CHANGES IN THE ORGANIZATION OF THE CHURCHA. ANCIENT CHANGES...
1. In the New Testament, churches that had elders (bishops) never
had just one...
a. There was always a plurality - cf. Ph 1:1; Ac 20:17
b. This certainly prevented a one-man rule over a church
2. But things soon changed; as noted by the Holman Bible
a. During the second century A.D. churches came to have a
single bishop, and then that bishop came to exercise
oversight over nearby rural churches as well as the city
church so that his ecclesiastical territory became known as
a "diocese" or "see" ("eparchy" in the East).
b. Bishops of churches that had been founded by apostles were
said to be in succession to the apostles, and hence their
teaching was held to be authentic and their authority
c. By 400 A.D. in the West, the bishop of Rome began to
assume extraordinary authority above other bishops
3. According to A. T. Robinson's Word Pictures: "Ignatius shows
that in the early second century the office of bishop over the
elders had developed, but Lightfoot has shown that it was not
so in the first century."B. MODERN CHANGES...
1. Many denominations have simply adopted the later changes in
a. Some go back to 400 A.D., and emulate an organization
similar to Roman Catholicism
b. Others go back to the second century A.D...
1) And have a three tier system of bishop (pastor), elders,
deacons within a congregation
2) Or where a bishop or group of bishops (presbyters)
oversee a number of churches
2. Some who have sought to restore New Testament Christianity
have adopted changes that are not much different than what
occurred in the past
a. The International Church of Christ has developed a
hierarchy of control over churches that emulates the
structure found in Catholicism and other churches
b. The sponsoring-church concept adopted by many churches of
Christ has the same effect as changes which occurred in the
second century (elders in one area overseeing other
churches or areas)
C. THE IMPORT OF SUCH CHANGES...
1. One might wonder whether such changes have any importance
2. My response is yes, for several reasons...
a. First, it reflects an attitude toward the Scriptures and
1) That we are free to change whatever we desire
2) That we can come up with a more efficient plan than the
b. Second, organization (design) reflects purpose; change the
organization and you change the purpose
1) E.g., in the New Testament organization of the local
church, the purpose of the elders is to watch and feed
the flock over which the Spirit has appointed them
2) But when elders become overseers of other churches or
works in other areas...
a) They are no longer shepherds, but administrators
b) They presume authority in areas they have not been
c) They take on works they really can't oversee (at
-- Their purpose as God's shepherds has changed
c. Third, changes in organization upset the "balance of power"
1) Other than the authority given the inspired apostles, no
man or group of men were given more authority than the
elders of a particular church
a) Even their authority was limited to the church were
b) A plurality of elders in one congregation also kept
them in check
2) But when changes in church organization occurred...
a) It became possible for one man to control one or more
b) It became possible for a group of men to control a
group of churches
-- Thus authority over churches which ought to rest in
Christ and His apostles now becomes vested in uninspired
d. Finally, the Divine wisdom to slow the development of error
1) Some changes in church organization were an attempt to
2) But whenever you have an organizational structure above
the local church, the potential for error's spread
a) If error creeps in a local church, it is less likely
to spread if each congregation is independent and
b) But if error creeps into a hierarchy like those
developed in the second century and later, it can
quickly spread to churches expected to submit to such
1. A study of church history should illustrate the danger of making
changes in the organization of the church
2. When Jesus said, "I will build My church...", I believe He knew the
best way to do it!
a. The New Testament reveals how He did it through His apostles
b. A clear pattern concerning the organization of churches in the
New Testament reveals its simplicity and evidence of Divine
If we are content to "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine"
(Ac 2:42), then we will make sure that we follow their ways in Christ
pertaining to the local church!