Last week we talked about the overall pattern of the church, the identifying features or “fingerprints” of the bride of Christ. One of those patterns we identified was the organization of the church. Let’s look at that today.
One of the most common ways for the Lord to talk about His church is as His kingdom. And as we think about the organization of the church it might be helpful for us to explain the pattern as the organization of a kingdom.
Who’s the King?
Jesus, first of all, is the King (see Luke 22:30; John 18:36,37; Hebrews 2:7; and many others); the Kingdom of Heaven is His. And as the King of this eternal kingdom, He has given explicit structure to its authority and organization. You would expect nothing less from a king.
And that structure starts with the top: (Matthew 28:18) “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Did you notice? “All authority…,” He said. “In heaven and on earth,” He continued. Like any king over any kingdom, Jesus claims utter and total authority over His kingdom. Any authority exercised by anyone else must actually come down from the top authority. Although lesser authorities may be given some latitude on some matters, those decisions must still be within the top authority’s parameters. So also with the Lord’s church; since Jesus is the King, He has claimed all authority and has allowed only so much latitude to other “rulers” that He has designated. Exceeding that authority would be called treason, rebellion, and treachery in any kingdom. Jesus is the king of His kingdom.
What does the rest of the Kingdom structure look like?
The pattern of the organization under His throne is not an earthly one with earthly headquarters and a pyramid-shaped leadership structure with international, national, regional, and finally local divisions. Instead, our King’s structure is that “headquarters” is in heaven alone directly over local congregations.
In the first century apostles were appointed by the King to “Go into all the world and make disciples…” (Matt. 28:18-20). They obeyed the King and established congregations everywhere across the face of the globe and exercised a certain wide ranging authority as establishers of these “colonies” (congregations) of the Kingdom. Even so, they themselves were told, (Matthew 18:18) “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” They were given authority only to speak what the King had already authorized, and not to exceed that authority.
As the apostles went about establishing new congregations of God’s people, they established the King’s governmental structure. For example:
Acts 14:21-23 — “After [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that [Antioch Pisidia] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Titus 1:5 — “For this reason I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,”
Apart from the apostles themselves, whose mission (as eyewitnesses to the resurrection) was limited to the first century, no higher leader or authority (international, national, or regional) is ever mentioned. And no apostolic succession is ever authorized from the King in Scripture (the authorized word of the King).
Local congregations, then, have been led ever since by elders by authority of the Lord Jesus. Even so, their authority is likewise limited to be only within the parameters of the King’s commands and patterns found in the Bible. Throughout Scripture we find these men appointed by apostles (in the first century) and evangelists, but only according to the stated qualifications of Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). Their commission is to shepherd (feed, strength, heal, and defend) the flock (1 Pet. 5:2), oversee the work (Ac. 20:28), and equip the church toward maturity through their teaching ministry (Eph. 4:11).
Under the oversight of the shepherds (because the elders are responsible for the soundness of teachings in the church) an evangelist or preacher of the word often works both preaching the Gospel to the lost and preaching the King’s word to the church “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:1,2). They must be men who are neither afraid nor ashamed to preach the truth of the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:6-14). They must pay close attention to themselves and their doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). And they need to be motivated by love for Christ and fear for the souls of men (2 Cor. 5:11-14).
Deacons are also part of the patterned structure of the Kingdom. First appointed in Acts 8 to minister to the Hellenistic Jewish-Christian widows (also seen in Philippians 1:1), they serve the physical needs of the congregation, like benevolent work, care of our buildings and grounds, rides to church, church finances, bringing communion to shut-ins, logistics of various programs of the church, etc. They likewise must be men who have met the standards set by the King in 1 Tim. 3:8-13.
The Kingdom also includes teachers and a number of other talents and skills for the church’s benefit. Teachers are, of course, those who teach us God’s word, the King’s message, so we can follow it — so we’ll be properly equipped and mature for the King’s service. There are others, too, who like the various limbs and organs of the body provide the other necessities for the health and growth of the body (1 Cor. 12).
This is the Kingdom’s pattern, established by the King of kings Himself; not one that men would be inclined to choose on their own. But faithful citizens of His kingdom, will gladly submit to His pattern of organization; others will have to face the Judge on charges of rebellion.