Volume 1 March 27, 2002 Issue 4

In previous issues of Diligence we have studied various reasons why the term "peculiar" (Titus 2:14; and I Peter 2:9 KJV) applies to Christians who are dedicated to following the Word of God. So far we have studied the following reasons:

  • Followers of Christ accept that the Bible is the Word of God
  • Followers of Christ are added to the Church by God
  • Followers of Christ are peculiar in Status
  • Followers of Christ are peculiar in Worship
We now continue our study of "a peculiar people" in this issue with:

Followers of Christ are peculiar in Organization

The Church is not an organization founded by men and therefore it is not subject to man's patterns of organization. It is rather an important part of the eternal plan God designed from before the world. (Please read Eph 3:3-14; I Peter 1: 20; II Tim 1:8-10; Titus 1:2-3) God's plan of organization for the Church is unique, or peculiar, in our culture and is truly a product of God's doing. He knew from the beginning that His Body of believers would have two types of needs — physical and spiritual. Therefore, He provided a simple structure to meet those needs. Since there is not a lot of Scripture that deals with the organizational structure of the Church, God must have thought we could get the message without too much misunderstanding. The Scriptures do not authorize any superstructure of organization divided into districts, parishes, states, synods, dioceses or national levels. Each congregation is self-sufficient (or autonomous) and self sustaining. There is no denominational affiliation, nor is a congregation under the supervision of any earthly institution or organization higher than the local congregation.

One important point before we begin our discussion of the organizational structure of the Body of Christ — the secular world has no bounds on types of organizational structure or the qualifications of those who might fill each need within an organization. As a Christian, it would be improper to attempt to apply the organizational structure of the Church to a corporation or governmental agency. It is equally inappropriate to apply organizational structures designed by men (to meet earthly goals) to the Church.

So, what should members of the Body of Christ expect in terms of organization of their local congregation? The only structure of organization outlined in the Scripture is this:

  • Christ — the head of the Church — the Body of Christ
  • Elders — men chosen as overseers of each congregation
  • Deacons — men chosen to care for the physical needs of a congregation
  • Teachers, Evangelists, Members — the rest of the congregation

If there is any structure for organization outlined in the Scriptures other than the one just listed, we cannot find it. Note that the emphasis is on functionality of each position — not levels of hierarchy. Now, let's take a closer look.

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church by God's design
(Please also read Eph. 1:17-23; Eph. 5:23 and Col. 1:12-19)

Colossians 1:18 "And He is the head of the Body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy." NIV

Ephesians 1:22 "And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body...." NIV

Elders were chosen as overseers of each congregation
(Please also read I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9 and I Peter 5:1-4)

Acts 14:23 "Paul and Barnabus appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord." NIV

Acts 20:28 "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with his own blood." NIV

Deacons were chosen to care for physical needs of each congregation
(Please also read Acts 6:1-6 and I Tim. 3:8-13)

Acts 6:3 "Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." NIV

Teachers, Evangelists, Members — the rest of the Body of Christ
(Please also read Rom. 12:4-8 and Eph. 4:11-12)

Romans 12:4-5 "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body...." NIV

The organizational structure of the Church continues to be questioned in our times just as it has been in prior generations. There is a temptation to use organizational forms that differ from those outlined in Scripture. Perhaps some people misunderstand God's organizational plan for the church as it is described in the New Testament or perhaps they are simply not influenced by the Scriptures and continue to insist that a worldly organizational plan would be more effective than God's method. It is impossible to imagine that God in His infinite wisdom, would not have known how very much the world would change in the thousands of years it has existed. God's Word is timeless and applies to us today just as it applied two thousand years ago. Again, we must have faith that God knows what is best for His Body even when it may seem illogical or ineffective to us. Remember — God's ways are not the same as our ways nor are His thoughts the same as our thoughts. We see this also evidenced in I Corinthians 3:18-20.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness' and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.'"

In our study of church organization it is important to note that the Scriptures are very explicit as to the type of persons who are qualified to serve in leadership roles within the Body. There are attributes that those persons must possess in order to meet the Scriptural requirements that allow them to serve in the office of an Elder or of a Deacon. Space does not allow us to list those qualities here. However, please take a moment right now and read I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. The specific qualifications listed in these Scriptures must never be ignored simply because they are difficult to abide by in our time and culture. These attributes required for leadership are important to know and continue to observe because unfortunately, when a departure from the Biblical pattern of organization occurs in a congregation, it is usually accompanied by either a rejection of the qualifications just read or a redefining of those qualifications in order to match the moral decay of our culture. We should never allow anyone to explain away the need for Elders and Deacons to be held to the highest moral standard concerning marriage or any of the other requirements listed in the Scriptures.

It is apparent from Acts 6:1-6 and Acts 20:17-38 that Elders were appointed for the purpose of addressing the spiritual needs of the Body. By definition they are to be older, and therefore qualified to deal with those spiritual needs. However, in some churches today, Elders are mistakingly viewed as CEO's instead of spiritual overseers. It is very difficult for an Elder to oversee the spiritual needs of a congregation if he must also oversee all of the physical needs. For the Church to function in the context of the pattern defined in the New Testament it is necessary that Deacons take care of the physical needs — allowing the Elders time to focus on the spiritual needs. Assuring that the spiritual needs of each member are known and met is essential to the well being of the Church. When the leadership is able to handle their role properly the rest of the members in the Body will find it easy to be involved and active. (I Peter 5:1-4)

Refusal to accept Scripture as the final word concerning the manner in which the Church should be organized, indicates a reliance on sources other than God's Word. Great conflict often comes about once a departure from God's design occurs. Failure to follow the organizational pattern of the Scriptures results in confusion within the Body and causes it to no longer functions as the Church. Instead, it begins to take on the attributes of a secular organization. In the business world, when results are not as leaders perceive they ought to be, there are often steps taken to reorganize and restructure in order to improve on the results. Since this tactic is successfully used in the business world, it must be useful in the Church, right? Wrong! When the Church is perceived to not be functioning the way it ought to, we can not place the blame on the organizational structure — God Himself designed it! Our faith that God knows what is best will not allow us to depart from His simple plan of Elders, Deacons and Members. We must, instead of placing blame on the structure, review those things listed in the Scriptures that are required of each of us as functioning members of the Body, and determine if we — whether Elders, Deacons, Teachers, Evangelists or Members, are adhering to and performing the functions that the Biblical roles require of us, whether physical or spiritual. Again, the emphasis is on functionality of each position — not levels of hierarchy.

The current structure of most churches today is somewhat complicated by the inclusion of Ministers and/or "Pastors" into their organizational structure. If the Scriptural roles are not meticulously adhered to, the "Pastor" or Ministers are expected to assume the role of the Elders and the Elders are expected to assume the role of Deacons and the Deacons wonder what they are to do or may even be completely eliminated from the organizational structure and replaced with any number of non-Scriptural roles bearing titles such as "committee chairpersons", "ministry directors", "worship facilitators", and etc...

It is beyond the scope of our study in this issue to discuss in detail the relevance of qualifications of Deacons and Elders, as well as the role women play in leadership. God's word is sufficient if we rely on it as the authority. It is never acceptable to chose to rely on the wisdom of men, or our desire to be like other organizations. The Body of Christ must never struggle with God over organizational structure but should readily accept that which He has designed for His Body of believers.

We are not ashamed to belong to the Body of Christ as established from its beginning. Christ as the Head of the Body, Elders, Deacons and members. Let us not become convinced that He is the author of confusion and division. That is the job for the Devil and those whom he can influence. As is stated in I Timothy 3:16:

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." NIV

The above scripture is ours to accept or ours to reject. Sometimes the greatest task we must accept is to obey.

"Diligence" is a publication of:
Dennis and Sherri Owens — Cincinnati, Ohio