It shouldn’t surprise the Bible student that the Lord has given a pattern for the church. In the construction of both the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25-31) and the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:11,12,19) patterns were given by God. And so also in the New Testament Temple (the church, Ephesians 2:20-22 & 1 Corinthians 3:16) a pattern has been given:
- for entrance (e.g., Romans 6;17 & Acts 2:47),
- for worship (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:1-33),
- for mission (e.g., Mark 16:15,16),
- for holiness (e.g., 1 Peter 1:15,16),
- for unity (e.g., Ephesians 4:1-6 & 1 Corinthians 3:16,17), and
- for leadership and organization (e.g., Ephesians 4:7-16).
And part of that pattern of leadership and organization includes the establishment of elders (e.g., Titus 1:5 & Acts 14:22-23).
Some churches follow the Biblical pattern for church organization, others don’t. We might categorize how men organize churches in four different ways.
Scripturally organized—As Paul sat in prison for his faith, he was determined that his mission of planting and nurturing churches not be stopped, he wrote instructions for both Timothy and Titus about how to encourage and organize new gatherings of disciples into functional churches. These instructions included the appointment of elders and deacons as part of a pattern of church organization. Churches that follow this pattern are Scripturally organized flocks of believers in Jesus, and this is the Lord’s desire for us.
Scripturally unorganized—Of course, New Testament churches don’t start full grown and mature. As Paul went through southern Turkey and established churches there, they were, for a while, without elders and deacons. As Paul doubled back on his mission route and returned to these new churches, he established elders in every city (Acts 14:22,23). He was able to do this, because he gone first to the local synagogue and was able to convert already Biblically educated, morally upright, and spiritually practiced Jewish men to fill that position. Not every group of believers has that advantage in our age; many smaller churches are without qualified elders for many years. Such churches remain Scripturally unorganized led by the men of the church, often by traditional customs like business meetings. It is not ideal, in the same way that we want our children to mature and grow up, but it remains within the pattern of the New Testament.
Unscripturally organized—Then there are those who have chosen to organize their churches by worldly wisdom. One of the more popular unscriptural organizations is pyramids—pyramids of bishops overseeing thousands of congregations with a human at the top overseeing them all. These pyramids come in a variety of “flavors”, the most famous being centered in Rome. Other unscriptural organization would include women in leadership positions, “open fellowship” leadership, and the appointment of unqualified leaders (see 1 Tim. 3). Such organizations (“churches”?) have clearly added to and departed from the Biblical pattern—unscripturally organized.
Unscripturally unorganized—Then there are churches who give lip service to following the Biblical pattern; but who deliberately neglect the appointment of elders and deacons, when there are qualified men willing to serve. The motivations for this neglect are various; but the end result is an unscripturally unorganized church, a stunted body of Christ, and one disobedient to the will of God. If the church has men who are both qualified and willing to shepherd God’s flock, they should be appointed and followed (see the above scriptures).
God has indeed given us a plan for His New Testament Temple, the church. Let us, as faithful disciples, humbly submit to His will and wisdom, and let us organize His church His way.