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:: Teaching Booklets - Scriptural Church Government ::

 

 

Scriptural Church Government
A Study Booklet By Dr. Steve Highlander 

Defining the Problem

One of the biggest problems in the Church today is a lack of God called, God ordained leaders who are doing what God called them to do, where God called them to do it. The solution to the problem of weakness in the church is a return to Biblical patterns for Church Government and Church leadership.

"But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him." I Cor. 12:1

"...but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will." I Cor. 12:11

What do these two passages have to do with the issue of Church government? EVERYTHING!!!

This is true, because a big problem in the Church, is man usurping the authority of God in placing men in ministries and in positions of leadership in the churches that God has not called them to. Unless the leadership of the Church is ordained and commissioned by God, we will continue to have serious problems in our churches.

We need to take a serious look at some problems in regards to Church government and leadership today. Denominational leaders, pastors, church leaders and anyone else who has a position of leadership in the church need to examine their positions and ministries in the light of this thought: "Are you doing what God called you to do, where God called you to do it?

God Sets Members as it Pleases Him

The two passages mentioned above tell us two things about church government. First God puts people in positions in His Church as it pleases Him. God doesn't ask our opinion or approval. Jesus said, "I will build my church....." Notice the power and authority of this declaration. Jesus Himself retains the right to build HIS church. He did not turn the responsibility over to men as the Roman church taught and many denominations repeat. Peter was not the "rock" on which Jesus would build the church, the revelation from the Father that Jesus was the "Son of the living God" was. If Peter was the "rock" we have a pretty weak foundation, because a few verses later we find Jesus rebuking Peter for allowing satan to influence his thinking. No doubt Peter felt a little pride at this pronouncement. This is a fundamental problem, just because a man received a revelation from God doesn't mean everything he says or does from then on is from God. We must stay in the Spirit, for it is easy to go back to the realm of the flesh to do things in our own understanding and power.

When we speak of "members" in the body of Christ we are not speaking of church membership. A member in the body was one who was organically attached to the body of Christ, not someone who was a member of an organization. And, when Paul spoke of members in the body it was always in context of the function, role, or ministry they fulfilled in the church. So when the Bible tells us that God sets the "members" in the body as it pleases Him, we understand this to mean that God is setting the ministry roles in the church as it pleases Him. (See the study booklet The Body of Christ, by the this author.)

The second thing that we discover is that the Holy Spirit bestows gifts and ministries, as "He will". Again we don't find God asking our permission or opinion or even requesting our confirmation. It simply says he does it according to His will.

This is paramount to our study on church government and leadership. We must understand that God's kingdom is a "theocracy" not a democracy. In other words Jesus Himself, not men, rules it from the top down. God established His own leadership in the Bible. He broke social customs and established patterns to call whom He would, when He would and where He would. He called the poor, uneducated, and outcasts as well as priests and kings. His call was based on His will, not on some merit of the person called. The called have two choices: follow or refuse. Some, like Jonah refused for a while, but the call of God eventually won out in His life.

When men went about to establish their own leadership or when God's true leaders turned away from Him and went their own way it resulted in a disaster.

Unfortunately, in the church today we have too many men and women who have been called by men, not God. We also have just as many ministries that are not where they should be. Oh they might be pastors, but are they in the right church, the right town or even country? They are out of place because men set them in the church as it pleased them, or they couldn't wait for God to establish a place of ministry for them and went out to create their own place. Either way they create two problems. First they are not in the right place and God can't fulfill His will in and through them and second they are blocking the right person from taking his or her place in the Body.

When this happens, men have to create unscriptural things to maintain the positions they have created for themselves. These traditions and means of authority begin to replace the word of God and create confusion in the church. Soon, because the Word of God has been set aside, the power and life of God also vanishes, and the church is left with dead doctrine and dying Christians. Jesus told the Jewish leaders, "you have made the word of God of no effect by your traditions." Matt. 15:6

"Beware, lest any man spoil you...after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Col. 2:8

Consider one of the most tragic events in Israel's history. We find the story in 1 Kings 12. The kingdom of Israel was divided (like a lot of the church world today). Two kings vied for the allegiance of the people. One reigned in Jerusalem and the other, Jeroboam, had to create a new capital city. He realized that if the people continued to go to Jerusalem to worship that the kingdom would be united again and he would lose his kingdom, position and power. How much like the church this is. Returning to pure worship, allowing God to be the Head of the church and bring a unity to the Body of Christ would threaten a lot of denominational kingdoms. Let's see what Jeroboam did.

"And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense." 1 Kings 12:26-33

Here is man-made religion, created to protect his position. He had it all, priests, gods, houses of worship, feasts and rituals.

Notice his motive. If the people went back to TRUE worship, he would lose his kingdom. He wasn't concerned about the people or their relationship with God; he was only concerned about his kingdom. The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day were the same way. He even KNEW the right way. He KNEW where the truth and power was, but his position was more important.

Today many denominations and ministries are only concerned with the kingdom or positions they have created. To yield to God and lead the people into worshipping God in SPIRIT and TRUTH would mean losing position or people. Many pastor's have been confronted with the truth of the Word of God, yet choose to continue leading people in a lie, because to embrace the truth would cost them too much.

Notice also, Jeroboam placed the "idols" in Bethel (meaning "house of God") and Dan (meaning judge). It was a religion of convenience. "It is too much for you to go to Jerusalem to worship, let me make it easier for you." The "house of God" became steeped in idolatry as well as the "judgment" of the church being corrupted.

Then we find that Jeroboam created his own priesthood. Since the real priests where in Jerusalem where they should be, he made priests of the lowest of the people "who were not Levites." This is significant because God divinely choose the Levites to be priests. In other words Jeroboam "ordained" people to serve God that God never called to serve Him. Denominational Bible Schools do this regularly. If someone pays the money and passes the tests they are "ordained" whether they have been called of God or not.

Last of all Jeroboam created a new form of worship which "he devised out of his own heart." How sad that he did all this with a view of protecting his position. He was willing to lead the people into idolatry and create a false system of worship that mimicked the truth of God's Word.

This is the last thing we need to see. The feast "he devised of his own heart" in the eighth month was LIKE the genuine feast the LORD had ordained in the seventh month. False systems of worship usually don't deviate much from the truth, they copy it, and they keep the outward observances, but change the meanings. Truth becomes dead doctrine and reality in God is reduced to ritual without power to change lives. However the people don't even realize that they have been deceived because it looks a lot like the real thing. A person doesn't counterfeit a $4.00 bill because there isn't one. But they do copy the $50 and $100 bills. And the results look good until you closely examine them, then the fakes are discovered. When we closely examine many things in church today we will discover that they are not of divine origin, but clever copies made to look like the real thing. It is a sobering thought to realize that their worship of God became a sin to them.

However, when God-called, God-ordained men and women lead the Church in submission to Christ the Head, the world will see the Church operate in the fullness of the love, power and authority of Jesus Christ. Until then we are left with the pitiful efforts of men trying to do something they have not the call, power or authority to do.

There are many church leaders who have not been set in the Body by God. They may have good intentions. They may love God with all their heart. They may have a grand education and people may call them Doctor or Reverend. They may pray and seek God over the lost. However, none of these things are a substitute for the call and anointing of God, and these sincere people are left to try to serve God in their own power. Here are some problems the Church must face and overcome.

  1. Some pastors/leaders have never been called or ordained by God.

  2. Some of those who have genuine ministries from God are not where they are supposed to be because some church hierarchy has usurped God's authority and placed them where God has not called them.

  3. Some genuine ministries assert their own will for different reasons including money, position, power or even ignorance and have therefore moved away from God's perfect will for their lives.

  4. Some people who have been called and ordained by God are hindered in fulfilling that call by church structures and man-made doctrines that tell them they are somehow disqualified for the ministry or that they must first go to a Bible school before God can use them. I have known numerous people who went through a divorce (not of their own choosing) and denominations disqualified them from preaching, even though they went on to leave the denomination and continue in an anointed ministry. I believe God should be the one who decides if a man or woman retains their anointing, and if God has placed His approval on a ministry by His anointing, then men had better leave it alone, lest they be found to fight against God. If God lifts the anointing from a ministry it will be evident to all. I believe God can decide on His own whom He wants to anoint and whom He doesn't.

When God properly aligns the leadership of the Body, the rest of the Body will also come into line and we will see the manifestation of Christ in His Church

Biblical Ministry Offices and Gifts

The Bible establishes several ministry gifts and offices. It speaks of these offices and gifts in both functional and descriptive terms. We need to look at each office and gift to understand the plan of God for Church leadership. You will discover that many of the terms used are interchangeable, meaning they apply to the same office or gift. A careful comparison of the scriptures will reveal the offices and ministries as God intended them to be.

When men set about to create their own ecclesiastical government, they also created leadership positions that were not Biblical. Remember how Jeroboam had to create a new system to maintain his position.

Men love positions of power. They love to develop denominational structures and hierarchies of leadership to control the ministry and church, however we do not find any of these man-made structures in the Bible. It is time for those men and women of God, who love the Lord more than position, to return to a biblical pattern of Church government. Jesus is building HIS Church under HIS authority and HIS power and will soon bypass all the man-made structures, no matter how grand and glorious man has managed to build them.

The following study will no doubt shake some theological theories and threaten some cherished positions. However, if we want the Lord to pour out His Spirit we will have to do as Moses did, and build everything "according to the pattern established." With these thoughts in mind we will take a look at Biblical Church offices and ministries, using only the Bible as our "pattern".

As mentioned, the Bible speaks of these ministries and offices. Some tell us the nature of the work while some describe the function of the work. For instance the word "shepherd" (and the word was actually translated as pastor), was used only once in the King James version of the New Testament to directly describe a Church office (Eph. 4). However we discover that we are to do the work of a shepherd; tending, feeding, leading, and protecting the flock of God. The use of the word "shepherd" is a descriptive term used to explain the nature of the work. A 1st century church leader would immediately understand the entire nature of his work, because he understood the job of shepherd. The Old Testament gives us some insight into the ministry of the shepherd, but the King James Version of the New Testament uses the term only in direct reference to Jesus Himself.

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28 KJV

Here we find an interesting combination of words used to describe the ministry. First we are told in verse 17 that Paul called for the ELDERS of the Church to come and meet him. When talking to them he says that the Holy Ghost made them OVERSEERS and that they were to FEED the flock of God

The word OVERSEERS is episkopos in the Greek and is the word from which we get 'Episcopal'. The word is translated as both OVERSEER and BISHOP. Overseer refers to the nature of the work and Bishop relates to the office.

The word ELDER is presbuteros in the Greek and is the word from which we get 'Presbytery'.

The word FEED is poimaino in the Greek and means "to tend as a shepherd." The word for shepherd or pastor is poimen. Where the King James Version uses the word "feed," the New American Standard version uses "shepherd". The Living Bible uses both "feed" and "shepherd" when translating this word.

Paul used these terms in various ways to describe the office or position of the men as well as the job they were to do. There is no evidence that a hierarchy or denominational structure was established here, because he was referring to the same group of people-elders from a single church at Ephesus.

Let's look at some of the Biblical words used to describe the office and work of Church leaders

Shepherd

The word 'shepherd' and the word 'pastor' are the same. The English word 'pastor' is used only once in the entire King James Version of the New Testament and it is in reference to a ministry gift in Ephesians chapter 4. However, as we have already said, the leadership of the church was to do the work of a shepherd. The shepherd was to lead, feed, and protect the flock. This charge has been given to all those who call themselves leaders regardless of the specific office or title they profess. The term shepherd refers more to the work than to an office. Jesus declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd and Peter describes Jesus as the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Church leaders are under-shepherds, serving the flock under the ministry of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus. Let those who consider themselves "overseers" of the church remember that they themselves are being watched over by the Chief Shepherd. It is His flock, for He was the one who lay down His life for them. Let the shepherds beware, lest they be found guilty of abusing the flock of God for their own gain. Consider what God says to the shepherds of Israel:

"Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: "You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds," declares the LORD. "Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. "I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD." Jer 23:1-4 NAS

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, "Thus says the Lord GOD, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? "You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. "Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. "They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. "My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them." Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: "As I live," declares the Lord GOD, "surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: "Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them."  Ezek 34:1-10 NASU

God is seriously concerned about how the shepherds treat the flock. But he also assures those diligent shepherds that there are rewards both now and in eternity for faithful service to God and man.

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed (lit: tend as shepherd) the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight (GR: EPISKOPEO, to diligently watch over) thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." 1 Peter 5:1-4 KJV

These verses show us that the shepherds of the flock were to be concerned about the care of the flock and not about their positions, authority and personal gain. Jesus is watching and He is jealous over His flock. We find that God loves His flock so much that He will deliver them from bad shepherds and give them shepherds after His own heart. For a person to assume the role of shepherd is a grave responsibility and should not been done with haste. Those concerned with position and power will find themselves face to face with the Chief Shepherd who died to protect the sheep.

Bishop

The word for BISHOP is episkopos and means OVERSEER. There is no Biblical basis to make a Bishop of more authority than any other church office. As we have already seen, elders where referred to as Bishops and Shepherds. There is no indication in the Bible that a Bishop governed many churches or ruled over churches in a geographical area.

The term BISHOP refers to the nature of the work much the same way that Shepherd does. The Bishop was an overseer. Several men in the Bible were referred to as "Bishops". Timothy is called the first Bishop of Ephesus (II Tim. 4:22), while Titus is called the first Bishop of the Church at Crete (Titus 3:15). Jesus is also referred to as the "Bishop and Overseer of our souls" (I Peter 2:25).

"Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:" Phil 1:1 NASU

Here Paul addresses the leadership of the Church at Philippi. He mentions "overseers" (Bishops) and "Deacons," but not Elders or Pastors.

Again we see no justification for a denominational structure of authority here. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us that councils of men ruled over numerous churches. Even Paul who founded the churches dealt with them as locally governed bodies.

Now, if someone called of God wants to call himself a bishop, he has the biblical authority to do so, however creating a structure of authority is not included in that right. Timothy and Titus were leaders of specific churches.

In I Tim. 3 and Titus 1 we find the qualifications for a Bishop, but we do not find the qualifications listed for Elders, Pastors, etc., this is because, those with ministry gifts were considered "Bishops" or "Overseers" of the church. Therefore, a Bishop was someone who had one of the five-fold ministry gifts. A Bishop was not a separate ministry, but referred to the office, which was held, and the nature of the work, which was to supervise or oversee the affairs of the local church.

Elder

The word 'Elder' is presbuteros in the Greek and is the word from which we get 'Presbytery'. Again the word is descriptive of the office held, rather than a specific ministry. In many cultures, age, and the wisdom gained by experience, is held in high esteem. This is the sense in which 'elder' is used in the church. It is a continuation of the Hebrew idea of leadership by those who by reason of age had the wisdom to make decisions concerning the whole country.

Because the Church is spiritual, physical age doesn't matter as much. Elders now refer those who are experienced in the Word of God.

Peter referred to himself as an Elder (I Peter 5:1) as did John (2 John 1 and 3 John 1). Since we know that Peter and John were Apostles it is safe to say that elders where a term used for those people who had five-fold ministry gifts.

One other point should be noted. When the Bible speaks of Church leadership it always uses the plural. The churches were governed by a plurality of leadership. This doesn't mean that there might not have been a "Senior Pastor" or Chief Elder, but it does mean that God intended for the church to have a group of spiritually mature people who cared for the flock rather than their own gain and their own agendas.

Again, we have discovered that 'Elder' refers to some quality of the ministry, just as Bishop did

Drawing Conclusions from the Scriptures

We have discovered repeatedly that the words for Elder, Bishop and Shepherd were used to describe the same people. We can conclude therefore that the words do not represent a variety of offices forming a hierarchy of denominational structure, but rather describe the various qualities and functions of the leaders in the church.

A Bishop, Elder and Shepherd were all one and the same person and office. The title Bishop referred to his office and job of overseeing the affairs of the Church. Elder, referring to the revered status of wisdom and experienced gained through age. And Shepherd, relating to the nature of the work a person was supposed to do.

Furthermore, a Bishop, Elder or Shepherd also operated in a least one of the five-fold ministry gifts found in Ephesians chapter 4. Indeed, the spiritual ministry gifts qualified one to be an overseer of the church.

There is one other office in the bible that we need to discuss. That is the office of Deacon. However, since the Deacon was on a different level, we will discuss it later on in the study.

Now that we have defined the offices in the church, it is time to look at the ministry gifts, which function in those offices.

The Five-Fold Ministry Gifts

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:" Eph 4:11-13 KJV

Here we find the functions of the ministry. Every apostle is an elder or bishop, but not every bishop or elder is an apostle. The five-fold ministry gifts automatically made a person an Elder or overseer in the church.

We also find a few other interesting facts about ministry. The first is the PURPOSE of ministry:

  1. For the perfecting of the saints

  2. So they could do the work of the ministry 

  3. For the edifying of the Body of Christ.

And we also discover a time frame that the various ministries are to operate in. The Bible says these ministries will function "till" or "until" something else happens.

  1. We all come to the unity of the faith

  2. And the knowledge of the Son of God

  3. Unto a PERFECT Man (singular)

  4. Unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Before we look at the ministry gifts themselves we need to look at their PURPOSE. The ministry is not to lord it over God's flock, but to be examples to them. Likewise the job of the ministry is to reproduce itself. In other words, as a church leader your job is to train your congregation to do the work of the ministry.

Many church leaders are afraid to let their people get too spiritual because they are afraid they will lose their position, or that some other ministry might be better, or more anointed then theirs. This is wrong. If God put you in the position, man cannot take you out. If you are worried about your position then maybe God has not put you there after all.

The job of the ministry is to PERFECT the saints and EQUIP them to do further ministry in the church and the world. The end result of this is the Church coming to a place where it will completely and fully manifest Christ on the earth.

You will notice that the scripture here says that we will come to a PERFECT Man (singular) and that Man is Christ. The reality that we are striving towards is the Body of Christ coming to the place where Jesus can manifest himself perfectly in and through it.

Jesus and the Five-Fold Ministry

It is important to note that Jesus himself was the totality of the 5-fold ministry. He is the "Apostle of our profession" (Heb. 3:1). He was a prophet, (indeed He was the Word made manifest). He was the first evangelist and the "Good Shepherd," (pastor) who gave his life for the sheep. Nicodemus declared Him to be the "teacher come from God" (John 3:2).

Some have claimed to have all the ministry gifts, but this is not correct. A person may do the work of an evangelist without being an evangelist, or prophesy without being a prophet. We must acknowledge that there are unique gifts and functions for specific callings.

The whole concept of the revelation of the Body of Christ is that Jesus broke (parted) His Body and passed it out amongst the disciples. While men relate this to communion and fight over the proper way to keep it, they have missed the spiritual point of Jesus entirely. He wasn't instituting a new rite, but illustrating a new reality.

"Take, eat, this is my BODY which is BROKEN for you." The word Jesus used here was "klao" and was used to describe the breaking of bread. Jesus meant (and Paul understood) this to mean that Jesus' ministry (Body) would be broken in pieces and passed out to the disciples and indeed the entire Church (Body). Had Jesus been referring to His physical body being "broken" on the cross he would have used a different word, "suntribo," which means, "to break, to crush or to tear one's body." This word was used in John 19:36 in fulfillment of the prophecy that "not a bone of Him should be broken (suntribo)."

You see, Jesus was not referring to His physical body on the cross, but rather His spiritual Body soon to come into existence. While men make much of their communion services and argue their doctrines, they totally miss the reality that Jesus intended.

Paul was using this exact argument to deal with the carnal division in the Corinthian church. In fact, Paul sums up the entire teaching on "communion" by saying the people eat and drink damnation to themselves, not discerning the Lord's body and that for this cause they were weak and sick and died.

Now the carnal church teaches that they died because they drank the juice and ate the bread in an unworthy manner. But Paul said it was because they were not DISCERNING THE LORD'S BODY: the CHURCH. Paul started his teaching in 1 Cor. 10:17 "For we [being] many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread."

Paul started by saying WE are the bread and Body Jesus was referring to. The bread to which we pay such reverence was but a picture of the reality the church has missed. They have kept the shadow and missed the "body." "Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Col.2:17

If this picture is true we should see it elsewhere in the Bible for "in the mouth of two or three witnesses let everything be established."

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost appeared as "cloven tongues of fire and settled on each of them." The word used for "cloven" was "diamerizo" and meant, "to cleave asunder, cut in pieces or to distribute thoroughly."

The picture given us in Acts, when Jesus baptized His Church in His own Spirit and created His many-membered body, was the same as at the last supper. The flames of fire did not come to each individually. It appeared as a whole and was "cloven" or divided and distributed to each of them.

The picture is the same with the bread, the wine and the fire. They received from Jesus a portion of the whole. They were incomplete and the Body of Christ was incomplete, unless they worked together.

It is an interesting fact that the scriptures state that they were together in one place and in one accord when they received the baptism of the Spirit. Perhaps the Church of the 21st century could learn a lesson and realize that same unity would produce the same results. A divided house can not stand, and a divided Church can not express "the full stature of the man Christ Jesus" to a world in need of His ministry.

All this is vitally important to understanding both the Body of Christ and Church government. All five ministry gifts are necessary to establish the Church and bring it to "a perfect man." One ministry can not do it. The problem with churches today is that they are built on the foundation of the pastor, with a little help from teachers or evangelists. One or two ministries think they can do the job of five. We need to understand that Jesus is building HIS Church according to HIS pattern. It is time we submitted to the truth of the scriptures and allowed all the ministry gifts to operate in our Churches.

The hour is late and it is time for those who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to stop fighting each other in an effort to protect their kingdoms and ministries and get serious about THE KINGDOM!!

Now, we can look at the various ministry gifts.

Apostle

The word for apostle is apostolos and means one "who is sent." The office of apostle still operates today, although liberal denominations want to do away with it because of the supernatural element that attends the office and gift. Some say that since the apostles wrote the Bible others who claim to be apostles will also declare their words to be divinely inspired and therefore worthy of inclusion in the cannon of scripture. To this we would say that not every apostle wrote a book in the Bible and not everyone who wrote a book was an apostle. Luke was not called an apostle, yet he wrote two books (Luke and Acts). Barnabas on the other hand was called an apostle, but wasn't one of the twelve. Barnabas' writings are not included in the cannon of scripture.

There is much misunderstanding about this gift. Just because a man starts a church it does not make him an apostle.

The Ministry of the apostle was multifaceted:

  1. Protecting the Church from doctrinal error and false ministry

  2. Laying the foundation for the Church universal and individual local Churches

  3. Spiritual Establishment of Churches (both the planting of new churches and building up of existing ones).

  4. Establishment or confirmation of local leaders

  5. Settling questions of Christian faith or practice

  6. Correcting errs and erring leaders

It would appear that the apostle was a "pioneer," forging the way for others to come behind and continue the work.

We can look to the ministries of Peter, James and John as examples of the apostolic ministry. They labored in the "word of God and prayer" (Acts 6:4). They settled disputes and questions. They provided practical leadership in the local church. In a general sense, they established the church.

The most famous of all apostles was Paul. We can look at his ministry to discern many functions of the apostle. Paul was "one sent forth" (Acts 13), called and sent by the Holy Spirit. We know that Paul established local churches where there were none. He said he didn't want to build on another man's foundation. He stayed with those churches teaching and laying a foundation for the church to continue after he moved on. Even after he moved to the next place he stayed in contact with the churches, encouraging them, answering questions and correcting errors.

The apostle was send by God to establish the church. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Therefore we can conclude that part of the apostolic ministry was one of foundation building or establishment.

Another responsibility of the apostle was establishment of leadership in churches he planted (Titus 1:5; I Tim 3:1; Acts 6).

The fourth responsibility of the apostle was to protect the Church from false doctrines. Paul constantly fought against false doctrine creeping into the church. The early church had to deal with everything from the Jews, who said you must keep the law, to the Gnostics who believed in intellectual religion. Then there were those who just made up doctrines out of their fleshly minds (Col. 2:18).

Paul warned the church that, after his departure, grievous wolves would come in among the flock.

"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." Acts 20:29-30 NASU

Paul confronted false doctrine on every hand to keep the church pure.

One thing we know for sure, apostles were not men-pleasers. They were not after a reputation. They were wholly concerned for the purity and reality of the Church.

In this regard, Paul sometimes had to bring correction to leaders or brothers in the Church who were bringing division. Paul did this with apostolic authority and power. It was not by man's authority, given him by some council, it was genuine authority that comes when a person is called and ordained by God.

Concerning authority Paul referred people to the proof of his apostleship: the signs and wonders that God wrought by his hands. "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles." 2 Cor. 12:12

Today men feel the need to impress people with titles and names. They want to make sure everyone knows they are an apostle or prophet. But Paul said the proof of his apostleship was the fruit he bore and signs God wrought through him. If someone needs to tell you they are an apostle or prophet, they probably aren't. True apostles and prophets are known by the quality of their ministries and they aren't concerned with the approval and praise of men.

One thing we do not find is Paul establishing a denomination. In fact Paul fought against this personal kingdom-building. In Corinth the believers where fighting over who was their favorite apostle. Some followed Paul and some Apollos, still others followed Peter. Paul called them carnal for following men and not the Spirit. He said it wasn't the workers that were important, but Christ.

"For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." 2 Cor 11:2 KJV

The ministry of the apostle was to prepare and present a virgin church to Christ.

Prophet

The office of prophet is well established in the Bible. In both the Old and New Testaments. The prophetic ministry of the Old Testament had several functions. A prophet was "the voice of God" to the nation, a king or a person. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that as His sheep we can all "hear His voice." A person does not need a prophet today to hear God's voice, but the prophetic ministry continued on in the New Testament, so we need to take a look at this how this ministry functioned. In the Old Testament Prophets served in several ways:

  1. They recognized and confirmed God's appointed leadership

  2. They gave direction from God when called upon

  3. They told of things to come, both immediate and future

  4. They corrected erring kings, false prophets, self-righteous priests, sinful people and idolatrous nations

  5. They spoke both blessing and judgment as God directed

  6. They encouraged the people with words of comfort and direction when there was work to do

In short, the prophet of the Old Testament spoke when God said to speak, and spoke what God said to speak, regardless of the cost or how receptive people were to the message. The prophet was not to be concerned if the message was not received, he was just concerned with its delivery.

We can safely say that God raised up prophetic ministries when people or a nation needed to hear His voice. As already noted, the Christian has the ability to hear Jesus' voice, however when a person, a ministry, a church or a nation stops listening, for whatever reason, God speaks loudly through a prophetic ministry. God also speaks through prophets when confirmation or direction is needed. The current "prophetic movement" in the church today is mainly concerned with personal prophecy. This has little scriptural foundation.

In the New Testament we find the prophetic ministry is also a foundational ministry of the Church, along with the apostle. The world-wide Church of Jesus Christ, as well individual churches, need a prophetic foundation to build on.

The Church has the written Word as a foundation, but they also need a God-breathed word. God did not ordain or establish every gathering of people who call themselves a church. God did not order every building built just because it has some denominational name on it.

The scripture has said, "unless God builds the house, they labor in vain that build."

Are there apostolic and prophetic foundations in your church? I don't mean, can you point to some scripture or doctrinal statement or creed, I mean has God ordained what you are doing, where you are doing it?

In the New Testament we find the prophetic ministry more concerned with work in the local churches (I Cor. 14:29). The prophets appear to do more prophetic preaching and teaching, then warning kings and nations. However, where there was a need for such, there was a prophet sent by God.

Prophets in the New Testament confirmed God's word (Acts 21:11), provided direction for ministry (Acts 13:1), told of coming events (Acts 11:27), strengthened and confirmed the church (Acts 15:32), and received and taught revelation from God concerning the mysteries of the New Testament (Eph. 3:5).

Throughout the scriptures we find the prophetic ministry of God was rarely appreciated, because they spoke the word of God regardless of who liked it. The true prophet wasn't out to gain a following, in fact they usually made people mad, because they confronted their hidden sin, idolatry, rebellion and iniquity. God knows all hidden motives, and after giving people ample warnings and grace to repent, he will reveal such motives through the prophets if people will not voluntarily submit to God's Spirit.

Jesus, wept over Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets."

Where are the prophets today that bring a word of correction to bring people and Churches back into line with God's word? Many "prophets" of this hour mainly prophesy blessings and reap the rewards from awe-struck worshippers. Maybe we should refer to these people as "profits" instead of prophets?

Of course the prophetic ministry was not always correction. Paul taught the true essence of New Testament prophecy:

"But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men [to] edification, and exhortation, and comfort.... he that prophesieth edifieth the church." I Cor. 14:3-4 KJV

I must add here that there was a difference between the "gift of prophecy" (I Cor. 12:10) and the office of prophet (Eph. 4:11). Paul said we could "all prophesy one by one that all may learn and all may be comforted." (I Cor. 14:31). He also asked the question, "all are prophets?" The obvious answer is "no!" All prophets prophesy, but not every person who shares a prophecy in a church service is a prophet.

It would appear that New Testament prophets were mainly engaged in giving the church a strong foundation in scriptural knowledge and practical application, but when the people or a church moved away from God, He sent a prophet to bring them back in line.

Let us not forget that the first section of the book of the Revelation was a word of correction to the Churches through a prophet. God told them what was right and what was wrong and how to fix it. He encouraged them and warned them. There were promises and consequences.

When a prophet speaks there is no room for opinion. You must either accept or reject it. Of course it is human nature to reject the messenger in an effort to disqualify the message. If we can prove the messenger is not from God, then it is obvious the message is not from God. So men find reasons to reject the prophet, so they do not have to deal with his word.

The prophetic ministry of the New Testament is very necessary for the perfecting of the saints. It should not be dismissed, but it should be judged. A prophet who does not want his or her word judged is not a prophet of God, for God clearly laid down principles for judging prophecy. Those who were prophets were to judge the prophecies.

"Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If [any thing] be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." I Cor. 14:29-33 KJV

Scripture is clear that prophecy is to be judged. The New Testament resounds with warnings of false prophets from Jesus in the gospels to John in the book of Revelation. Paul warned of them. Peter warned of them. It must be a serious problem for the church, yet the church either ignores the prophetic ministry or accepts everything that anyone who claims to be a prophet says. Prophecy must be judged by those who are prophets. And any person who does not want their prophecy judged is not operating under New Testament authority, and therefore not from God.

Let those who desire the ministry of a prophet beware. The true prophetic anointing is not a toy that the church can amuse itself with. God dealt with false prophets, but true prophets receive eternal rewards for their faithful ministry in the face of opposition.

Evangelist

The Greek word for evangelist is "euaggelistes" and means one who brings good tidings. The ministry of the evangelist is well known in the church today. However there is some confusion over the ministry of the evangelist. Today it has come to mean someone who preaches, but does not pastor a church. Eager for titles, men are left with "evangelist" to fall back on.

When the church uses the word evangelism, it is generally agreed that they are talking about winning souls to Christ. However, today in America, the "evangelist" is considered to be preacher who comes to a church for a special revival meeting. While I believe in revival and special meetings and applaud those who preach in them, I think it sells the office of the evangelist short. Most evangelists of America today preach to church people. There seems to be a discrepancy between our concepts of evangelism and the evangelist.

The evangelistic ministry of the New Testament was primarily concerned with salvation. There are very few references to the evangelists in the bible, but the one that is there is crystal clear. The deacon named Philip was called an evangelist (Acts 21:8). The whole of Acts chapter 8 is dedicated to his ministry. Philip was chosen first as a deacon to serve in the church. Later he left Jerusalem to preach the gospel. Luke tells of his revival in Samaria. Great signs and miracles attended the preaching of the word and the whole town listened and responded to his message of salvation by believing in Jesus and being baptized in His name.

An interesting point is made here. Although he preached salvation and had a tremendous revival the apostles came down and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Ghost. We should be careful not to create any doctrines here. Philip was filled with the Holy Ghost, but God seems to have restrained him to preaching the good news and baptizing in Jesus name.

We notice Philip did not stay to "pastor" the church he started. This is another trait of the evangelist, he turns the converts over to pastors who are able to nurture the new Christians to maturity while he goes about leading more to Christ.

In the next scene we see God directing Philip away from this mighty revival in Samaria to a single man in a chariot in a desert. Once again we find the evangelist leading someone to salvation in Christ.

The last picture of the evangelist reveals him traveling and preaching as he goes.

Here we have a composite picture of the true evangelist. Souls are his primary concern wherever he goes. It makes no difference if it is a crowd of thousands or one man in a chariot. We see Philip staying and preaching in Samaria for a good while, but we also see him preaching in a traveling ministry. While there is no set pattern, the New Testament evangelist seems to have been a traveling ministry, going where Christ had not yet been preached. However, Paul tells young pastor Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5), I.E. win souls to Christ!

The New Testament Church needs to raise up true evangelists today, with a burning desire and an anointing to win souls. In many churches evangelism is either a special ministry once or twice a year, in which few, if any, get saved, or it is ignored altogether.

However evangelism was the lifeblood of the early church. In the Revelation, Jesus praised the church at Ephesus for its faithfulness and good works, but told them to repent and do the first works. This Church, started by Paul and pastored by Timothy had ceased to evangelize. This is a danger for many churches who started by winning people to the Lord, but later became more caught up in shepherding the flock. The need for genuine evangelists in every church is great. God thinks it is important. Jesus said the harvest was plenteous, but the laborers (evangelists) were few.

Pastor

The Greek word is "poimen" and means shepherd. The pastoral ministry is easily the most recognized office in the church. This ministry is the largest segment of the 5-fold ministry, mainly because the bulk of the ministry in caring for the church falls to the pastor(s).

This is precisely the problem though. The church was not mean to be carried on the back of the pastoral ministry alone. Jesus ordained a 5-fold ministry not a 1-fold ministry, to prepare and perfect His church. Are we so foolish as to expect the pastor alone to do what Jesus knew could not be done?

Our 21st century concept of the pastor is grossly out of line with the New Testament. As we have already seen, there was to be a plurality of leadership in the church. In every instance where church leadership is mentioned it uses the plural (elders, bishops, deacons). Even in our text it says he gave some pastors, not 'a' pastor.

And while we are here we might as well say that Jesus is the head of the Church, not the pastor. Jesus alone is the good Shepherd. Pastors are a really under-shepherds.

While smaller churches may not need a multitude of pastors, the idea was for a number of people with various ministry gifts to carry on the collective work of the local church. One of the great hindrances to the church is it insistence on calling one man "pastor" and leaving him to do the bulk of the work. If someone feels "called to the ministry" he usually leaves the church to pursue Bible school, then he is off to find his own "one-man show."

How sad this is. When churches desperately need young men and women to help lead the church as they grow in their gifts and callings.

The pastor was a shepherd. His concern was the flock. A shepherd had several duties, including:

  1. Feeding the flock of God -- teaching and nurturing them while keeping them from eating harmful things. (John 21:16, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2)

  2. Watching for enemies - false prophets and others greedy for personal gain (Acts 20:31)

  3. Defending the Sheep - against false doctrines and spiritual wolves (John 10:15, Acts 20:31)

  4. Caring for the sick and wounded (spiritually and physically)

  5. Being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3)

  6. Searching out the lost and trapped sheep and bringing them home (Luke 15:4, Gal. 6:1)

  7. Personally knowing the sheep in his care (John 10:14) (Here is the great difference between a shepherd and a hireling.)

  8. Leading the flock to "green pastures and still waters." (Ps. 23:2)

  9. Restoring the soul of those discouraged by sin or circumstances (Ps. 23:3)

While we might be more or less specific, I think these things generally cover the pastoral ministry. In one sense every leader is to be a pastor (shepherd), leading, guiding, protecting and tending the flock. That was the commission given to the bishops (overseers), who we have already seen to be those in the 5-fold ministry. However there is a specific calling to be pastors, those men and women who have a heart to work closely with the sheep in everyday life. It would be difficult for a prophet, evangelist or a teacher to have the same burden, because of the nature of their call and gifts.

Teacher

The word used here is "didaskalos" and simply means "a teacher". Jesus was a "teacher come from God."

It is important to understand that the gift or ministry of teaching is just that. It is a supernatural calling and anointing to explain and expound the scriptures given by the Holy Spirit. Because a person teaches a Sunday School class or Bible study does not make him a teacher with a five-fold ministry gift.

Here again is a great problem in the Church. We have many people trying to teach what they do not know. "Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." I Tim. 1:7 KJV "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again...." Heb. 5:12 KJV.

Pastors and elders need to be careful about who they appoint as teachers. A man or woman can teach without being a "teacher" in the 5-fold ministry sense of the word, but how much better it would be if our Churches understood the need for anointed teaching ministries.

Much deadness in the church can be traced to deadness in the teachers. Repeating doctrine does not bring life, for the Bible says, "Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." (2 Cor. 3:6).

Anointed teachers have the ability to bring understanding to the people of God. While the evangelist is mainly concerned with salvation, the teacher desires people to become mature in the word. The ministry of the teacher is more calculated and more likely to be "line upon line," rather then delivered with fiery preaching.

As with the other ministry gifts there are serious warning that attend the office. That warning goes out both to the flock to beware of false teachers (2 Peter 2:1), and to the people desiring to be teachers. It is a serious responsibility to teach the Word of God to the People of God. "My brethren, be not many masters (teachers - didaskalos), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." (James 3:1)

Paul also warns us that time would come when people would gather teachers to hear what they wanted to hear.

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." II Tim. 4:3-4

A person cannot become a teacher in the ministry by going to Bible school. Like the other ministry gifts, God ordains it. Education alone will not create an anointing. In fact, the Bible says, "knowledge puffs up" or makes a person proud (I Cor. 8:1).

The teaching ministry is a very serious charge in the Church and those who would call themselves teachers should fulfill the call with all seriousness. Let those of us who teach, pray that we learn and teach only the truth, for we do not want to be found feeding the flock of God poison.

Differences and Personalities in Ministry Offices

There is one more issue we need to consider in the area of the 5-fold ministry. This is the issue of UNITY IN DIVERSITY. There are five ministry gifts, because they are different and they are all needed.

Sometimes we find the various ministries fighting with each other over things like vision, function and even popularity. Sometimes the hard-working pastor gets jealous over what seems like the more glamorous ministry of the prophet or the acclaim of the apostle.

We must understand that all the ministries are necessary, but all the ministries are different in function and purpose. It is here that we need to understand some of the differences so we can work together for the equipping and perfecting of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Here is a classic example. I am a teacher in the 5-fold ministry, my friend Randy is an evangelist. In our younger days we used to argue over the style of ministry that was effective. Randy loved preaching in the old Pentecostal way. He loved to use the verse, "God choose the foolishness of preaching...." Of course he interpreted preaching as shouting and getting very excited about the message. I, on the other hand, taught more in depth, in a slower more thorough way. It wasn't until we became more mature that we recognized the need for both "styles."

Here is where we must understand some differences in calling, function, purpose and temperament among the various ministries. Paul gives us some insight in I Corinthians 12:

"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal...." I Cor. 12:4-7

Paul is talking about the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, but I think we can safely apply it to the 5-fold ministry since, they too, are spiritual gifts and ministries. Paul describes what I call "UNITY IN DIVERSITY." Different gifts, operating different ways, in different people, yet under the unction and control of God.

How much clearer could we get? God needs a variety of people, with different ministries, yet all following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Church leaders, LISTEN CLOSELY!! The apostle is not in competition with the pastor or prophet. The ministries should work together, each respecting and appreciating the gifts God has given the Church. Competition among the ministry is a clear sign of IMMATURITY, not spiritual greatness. Let those that think they are spiritual acknowledge this fact. Jealousy, strife and envy have no place in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Understanding a couple of simple truths can solve much infighting amongst the ministries.

  1. God matches personality and temperament to the function of the ministry. People have different personalities and this difference plays a major role in their ministries.

  2. Each Ministry gift has a different function, but each is necessary for the completion of the whole.

  3. The gifts operate different ways in different people.

We like people to be like us! However, the problem is, God made a variety of personalities. Without taking time to examine all the different personality traits, we know that people are different. Some are very impulsive and want to do things quickly at the last minute. Others have to have everything planned out in advance. Some people are very forceful and "natural born leaders," while others are more quiet and unassuming. The Body of Christ needs all these elements. God will often bring people with different temperaments together to bring balance to the ministry.

Each of the five ministry gifts has a tendency to see things from their perspective alone. It takes maturity to understand the function and vision of each gift and appreciate the differences God has created.

The Office of Deacon

The word used for deacon" is "diakoneo," and comes from the root word, which literally means, "to run errands."

The deacon was a servant of the Church, not a decision-maker. Today, many churches have created "deacon boards" to run the spiritual affairs of the Church, including controlling the pastor. This is wrong. While the deacons where clearly spiritual men and women and mature Christians, we do not find them making spiritual decisions in the early church, their job was to serve the temporal needs of the body, freeing the apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers for prayer, Bible study and ministry.

In Acts chapter six we find the installation of the first deacons. The church was growing and the apostles needed help in practical matters. They said it wasn't right for them to leave the word of God to serve (diakoneo) tables.

This in no way degrades the office of Deacon. Clearly these people where very mature, "filled with the Spirit" and held in the highest regard of the congregation. Philip and Stephen also became distinguished preachers, proving the truth of the scripture in 1 Timothy 3:13 "For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus."

The office of Deacon is often the first step on the road to more spiritual ministry. Jesus taught that he that was faithful in little would also be faithful in much (Luke 16:10-12). This is why Paul said the Deacons should first "be proved," or tested, like metal is tried, for its purity. 1 Timothy chapter 3 gives some guidelines for Deacons.

We find this truth throughout the Old Testament. Joshua ministered to Moses and later became his successor. The Bible tells us that Elisha "ministered unto Elijah" (I Kings 19:21). Consider the testimony of this servant-turned-prophet:

"But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD, that we may enquire of the LORD by him? And one of the king of Israel's servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the LORD is with him." II Kings 3:11. KJV

The word Deacon is also used of women in Romans 16:1:

"I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant (diakoneo-deacon) of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also."

To sum up our understanding, Deacons were faithful, spiritual men and women who assisted the church leaders by serving the natural needs of the body. Many of these servants went on to become leaders and ministers with their own calling and anointing.

Christian Idolatry?

Now we need to come back to the question of church government. We started this study by defining a problem in the church today: people in ministry positions that have not been called and ordained by God to those positions.

God is bringing the Church back to spiritual truth and practice, as He continues to perfect His Bride. God will have a victorious Church without spot or wrinkle. That is not the question. The only question is, "Will you and I be a part of it?"

God will not allow man to continue leading His Church astray. Man-made programs, denominational structures and positions will never bring the Church to maturity and completion. We must understand this. When God told Moses to build the tabernacle (which is a picture of the Church), he told him to make sure he built "everything according to the pattern...." (Exo. 25:8-9).

When God said, "make it of gold," He didn't want it made of silver. When He said, "use linen," Moses didn't have the liberty to substitute wool or ram's skin. Man cannot continue to substitute his own way for God's pattern. Are we really so proud to think that we have figured out a better way to build the Church than God's own plan? We are in a serious hour when many people are on the verge of turning away from the true path of God and following the spirit of the world.

"Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent...." Acts 17:28

I know this verse is talking about idolatry, but what was idolatry? Wasn't it creating your own idea of God? Building a system of worship out of your own heart. Wasn't this exactly what Jeroboam did? He kept all the outward symbolism. He used the same religious words and practices; he just changed them according to his own imagination. The Bible tells us Jeroboam DEVISED the feast out of his own heart and ORDAINED it. This is what the idolaters do; they craft a model "by art and man's device." It might be beautifully crafted, lacking no detail, shining in its glamour, but it is still the work of men.

This verse in Acts tells us that God is not like anything created by man's "device." The Greek word for 'device' is 'enthumesis'. It means to create out of one's thoughts. It also carries with it the idea of having one's emotions stirred and might be the idea behind 'enthusiasm.' Now does it make sense? Man is enthusiastic for God and sets about to create his own system, out of his own understanding.

I do not believe that there are very many people who purposely set out to create a false system today. Most likely it is their enthusiasm for God that causes them to build up church governments, ministries and programs. However the result is the same.

Today, many denominations are guilty of the same sin as Jeroboam. They have taken the things of God and have changed them according to their own devices. Systems of Church government have been established that are not scriptural, men have been ordained that are not called of God. Men have created a system of worship that effectively separates people from the God they seek to worship.

What was an idol? It was a "image" of a god, but it was not the god itself. So people worship the idol which is but a symbol. So today many churches have created a system that is worshipped in the place of the true God. People worship the liturgy, tradition and forms instead of worshipping the true God that it is all supposed to represent. Is this not a form of idolatry?

It was man-made things that God put up with for a time (he winked at them), but is now commanding us to repent and do things His way.

Jesus asks us to come to Him in the Holy Place. When He died, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom by the hand of God (Matt. 27:51). Paul tells us that this signified that the way directly to God's presence was now open (Heb. 10:20). We no longer need religious trappings to help us worship God, we can come to Him directly, yet multitudes still are bound to forms of worship that are nothing less than idolatry. The very forms themselves keep people from experiencing the reality of communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Consider God's definition of an idol:

"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands . They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands , but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; [so is] every one that trusteth in them." Ps. 115:4-8

Many Churches today treat God as if He is a dead idol. They do not believe He sees and hears and touches and speaks to us today. Their concept of God is dead. And their church services are a memorial to His death, not a celebration of His eternal life. The Psalmist says the worshippers are as lifeless as their worship and concept of God. It is time to arise and shake the dust from our feet and return to a pure worship of the living Lord. God, shake your Church from "Christian idolatry!"

How many though, will leave the tradition and man-made ways behind? Who will pay the price in terms of rejection, criticism and loss of position? Who will "go without the camp bearing His reproach?" (Heb. 13:13) Who will dare stand to rebuke error? (Gal.2:11) Who is willing to stand in their churches and set things in order by the Spirit of God and His Word? Is there a man or woman reading this who has seen the truth and is willing to allow God to change them? If so, may the Lord bless and lead you in every way.

Who Controls the Church?

One problem with Church government is control. Scripturally, who has control over the local church?

I cannot find anything in scripture that even remotely hints at denominational structures for the purpose of church government. Neither do we find a board of deacons telling the pastors what to do. In the Book of the Revelation we don't find Jesus sending a message to the District Presbyter or to the denominational headquarters, but to individual churches, dealing with individual problems.

Each church was to be autonomous, or self-governing under the direct headship of Jesus Christ. Where Christ was the head, the ministry flourished, where man was the head, there were problems.

Many churches in Africa argue about head coverings, but, as usual, they have missed the spiritual point Paul was trying to make. The Church is called the "Bride of Christ," making her the woman. Ministry, ordained by God, was the man, called to prepare the Bride for her husband. Paul said that the man was the head of the woman and Christ was the head of the man.

In many forms of Church government the Church (woman) can sack (fire) the pastor (man). Now tell me who is the head of whom? If the man (ministry) has anything on his Head (that is between him and Christ, such as a board or elders or deacons or congregational vote) then he dishonors his head, which is Christ. Our very forms of church government dishonor the Lord we claim to serve and worship.

Now, let's ask a practical question? The pastor and other 5-fold ministry leaders are supposed to be more spiritual then the general congregation and specially anointed for the job of the ministry...right? Then why do people under the ministry have the right to sack them? Who is supposed to be the more spiritual? How has this happened and why does it continue? There are two reasons: 1. Some people have never been told any different and have just accepted things as they were taught. 2. Some people are afraid to confront the system because of the cost involved.

Another problem with some forms of Church government is men directing the ministry without consulting Christ. Some forms of Church government assign pastors to a church, even if they do not feel called to that particular church. They also move the pastors around regularly. This causes problems, because the sheep know that there will be someone new coming in a short while. Just as a pastor gets established and really knows the flock, he is sent elsewhere. Does this really make good sense? We do not find Paul operating this way.

There is nothing wrong with churches cooperating for the sake of the gospel. However the danger with men is that they always have to start organizing and controlling things when they start to grow. Many like-minded churches created associations to promote the truth God had given them. They sent out leaders who preached the same message they did. They formed societies for mission work. All of these things were good, but they drift off course when the Holy Spirit is replaced with doctrinal statements, codes, creeds and policies. Man usurps God's place of leadership when he begins to control large numbers of churches and ministries without the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

A good friend of mine was a District Presbyter with the Assemblies of God Church in America. God called him to the foreign mission field in Indonesia. When he went to the Assembly of God leaders, they agreed with him that he was called of God, but said the Assemblies of God couldn't send him because he didn't fit into their policies concerning missionaries. He had two twin boys who were about 13 years old at the time and the A.G. policy wouldn't allow them to go.

Here was a faithful man who was called of God, but the policy of the denomination wouldn't allow him to fulfill that call through the Assemblies of God, even though they acknowledged God was leading him. Now, tell me who is in charge of that church system? God, who called the man, or men who made a policy that said he couldn't go? The Assemblies of God gave him their blessing, but he had to resign his position and turn in his ordination credentials to fulfill his call. And because he was no longer an Assemblies of God preacher, his many friends in various Churches couldn't support him with church funds directly. You would have thought they would have changed their policy to fit the will of God, but they didn't. Oh how man has usurped the authority of God with his policies.

The Denominational Monster

The great danger of denominations is that they end up taking on a life of their own. They start out serving the churches and ministries, but slowly turn until the denomination becomes the master and the churches and ministries its servants. They take on a life of their own, but it is not the abundant life of Christ, but rather the stagnant life of organizations, boards, committees and meetings. The head of the board replaces Christ the head, and the Holy Ghost is sacked by the sacraments. Men have taken control so slowly they don't even recognize that God is on the outside looking in.

"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write…Behold, I stand at the door, and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open the door , I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." Rev. 3:14-22 KJV

You will notice that Jesus was not talking to the world, but rather to His Church. Jesus was on the outside of this church knocking on the door, waiting for someone to let Him back in. He could have forced the door. He could have walked through the walls as he did in the upper room on the night of His resurrection when the doors where shut and locked for fear of the Jews. But here we find Jesus knocking on the door, waiting to see if anyone in the Church is listening. He will only come in if He invited to be the head again, other wise He will remove the candlestick and go where He can be the proper head.

The Spirit of the Lord says that the day is soon coming when many candlesticks will be removed. The religious form will continue, but the fire and the light will be gone. He that has an ear, listen to what the Spirit says to the Church in this hour.

Give the Lord Back His Church

God never intended for dominations, committees and boards to be over His ministry. There is one head and that is Christ Jesus. There is one teacher, guide and comforter and that is the Holy Ghost. Men need to repent and give the Lord His Church back. They need to stop using her for their own gain, position, power and agendas and let God be God once again.

How can we slay the monster we have created? Is it possible? The answer is a resounding YES! Jesus spoke to churches in the book of Revelation. He reaffirmed the good things they were doing and corrected the error and lack. He will do the same for us today. There are many things the Church is doing well, but as Jesus said, "I have a few things against you." (Rev. 2:4)

So it is today, the Lord has a few things against us. The Christians at Ephesus had many things in their favor. They worked hard and hated evil, but Jesus told them that if they didn't repent of the error and return to the way things were in the beginning He would remove their candlestick.

There is only one way to "slay the monster" we have created and that is to kill it. It must cease to exist or it will continue to exercise its power.

Men and women of God must come back to the Bible as their sole source of doctrine and practice. We must return to the Holy Ghost as the teacher, forsaking men's doctrines and structures. Many man-made structures were created with the intent of helping promote the gospel, however over the years they have moved away from the Lord and the pattern laid down in the word of God.

We must now return to this Biblical pattern of Church government.

Let me say now that it will be costly for a man or woman of God to forsake tradition and church structure to follow the Bible. The reformers of the Church were never appreciated in their day. They were ridiculed and mocked and thrown out of fellowship.

"How dare they suggest that our great denomination isn't right," the leaders say.

However, you will find it is usually the people who have the most to lose in terms of power, position and even money, that are most reluctant to slay the very thing that gives those things to them. This is human nature and it is to be expected, but God also expects those people who want to go on with Him to follow Him regardless of the cost.

The father of the reformation, Martin Luther, did not intend to start a new denomination. He wanted to reform the Catholic Church. However, when the majority of the leaders refused to repent and let God deal with His Church, God moved out and went where He could be the Head. It will be the same today. Did the Catholic Church die that day? No, it is bigger than ever, claiming great works around the world and boasting great membership. However there will come a day when God calls us into account and He said:

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock." (Matt. 7:22-25)

You will notice that they did all these things in Jesus' name. You and I would look at these people and say, "What great Christians they are. What a great church they had. They prophesied, they did supernatural things and oh, what great works in Jesus' name they did." Surely their reward will be great in Heaven.

NO! We don't find Jesus praising them at all. He called them workers of iniquity. Iniquity is the word for self-will. They were not doing God's will, they were doing their own will in Jesus' name, and Jesus said that wasn't good enough, and told them to depart. God is not only serious about what we do, but how we do it, and even if He told us to do it in the first place.

It is time that true ministries of God stood up and did whatever it takes to bring the Church of Jesus Christ back to the Biblical pattern. Some churches and ministries will respond to God's call to restoration and reform and some will not. If those you fellowship with will not yield to God, you may have to move on without them, just as countless men and women have done in the past.

Jesus told a man to follow Him. His response was, "let me first go bury my father." Jesus seemed unusually hard-hearted when he said, "let the dead bury their dead." However there is a message here. When someone does not want to follow Jesus, they must be left behind if they stand in the way of you following Jesus.

Many of us have had to leave some things behind to serve God. This is the nature of the call, even as God called Abraham and told him to leave his father's house and go where he was told. Some will have to leave "their father's house," that old denominational structure that has ceased to follow God. Like Abraham you may not know where you are going for sure, but you are "looking for that city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11:10). You are no longer content for "cities" built by men, but the City of God, the eternal Church of Jesus Christ, built by the Master himself.

Setting the House in Order

In the last section the question was asked, "how can we change this"? Let me say that a church isn't out of order just because it is a part of a denomination. However, many churches, denominational or not, need to make some changes, be they minor or major ones. As always, God must be the one to direct every facet of church government and ministry. Creating more man-made systems to replace the old ones just doesn't work, and we've had 400 years of denominational history that proves this.

Let me say again emphatically—Jesus said, "I will build My Church!" The Holy Spirit is the Master Architect, and He alone has the master plan and knows were each piece of the building goes. He also knows exactly how to mold each person to fit into his or her particular place in the Body of Christ.

There are several spiritual and practical steps to change. The first is prayer. God is looking for those people who will cooperate with His plan. It was in a time alone with God that Moses received the instructions for building the Tabernacle of God. It would be foolish to believe that God wants to build His Church, and then say that He won't give us instructions.

The next step is personal obedience. Personally change whatever God speaks to your heart about. We cannot tell, and expect, others to change if we have not been willing to make those changes ourselves. We must be convinced of the truth and yield to it before we can preach it with authority.

Humility is a major characteristic of the true ministry. Can you accept obscurity as well as fame? Can you let the big ministries continue on in their glamour, while you wait patiently for God to do His work? Could you step away from a large ministry and start all over if God shows you the place where you are isn't where He wants you to be?

Abraham had to be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was not mere human love that was at stake here. Every promise God had made to Abraham was tied up in Isaac, for God had told him, "In Isaac shall your seed be called." (Gen. 21:12, Heb. 11:18). If Isaac died so did the promises of God. Do you see Abraham's trial? God had asked Abraham to do the thing that seemed impossible. It seemed contrary to everything God had told him. Yet in obedience, this man BELIEVED GOD and it was counted to him for RIGHTEOUSNESS!

Restructuring Church Government

So now you have a question. "I am a pastor and I realize my church is out of order, how can I change it?" Good question! Again we must go back and start with God. Here are some practical steps to take (always within the guidance of the Holy Spirit).

Make sure you are in the right place first. If you know you are where God has called you, then God has given you a divine authority to set things in order. Make sure you are convinced of the scriptures yourself.

Pray for your church and especially the elders, deacons and others, who work with you, that God begins to convict their hearts and minds of the truth about authentic church government.

God might have you meet privately with your leaders to begin prayer teaching on the subject before you speak to the church as a whole.

Pray over each ministry and person, making sure that God has called and ordained the ministry and the person or persons leading it. Likewise pray over each position: deacon, elder, Sunday school teacher, evangelistic team leaders and others. In Acts chapter six we are told the apostles prayed and laid hands on deacons after they were chosen. If necessary, you may have to move people from one position to another, or ask people to step out of a position for a while. Remember, humility is paramount to the building of the Church, for we must want God's perfect will more than we want position or title.

Conclusion

God wants a perfect Body to perfectly manifest Christ on the earth. At any point the Body is not in alignment with God's will, something will have to change. Because the hour is late and the end of the age is at hand, God will not tolerate this confusion and dysfunction any longer.

I believe that God will begin reorganizing His church. There will come a shaking in the Church. Ezekiel saw a vision of dry bones and it has prophetic significance for this hour.

"The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones ; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army." Eze 37:1-10

The bones were scattered and very dry. There was no life. As we look at the Church today, she too is scattered by denominations and doctrines. Many churches are dry and lifeless, if they would only admit it. Like the prophet of old, we too sometimes wonder if these bones can live. Will God ever have a Church without spot and wrinkle? Will the reality of Ephesians chapter 4 ever happen? Was God telling us something impossible when He said that we would all come to the unity of the faith, unto a perfect man and the full measure of the stature of Christ?

The prophet shook his head in amazement and replied, "oh God, you know!" And God does know that the bones will live. God does know that there will be a Church fully manifesting Christ to the world.

According to Ephesians chapter 4 the very purpose of the ministries God appointed (and thus the purpose of this study) was to bring the Church to that place.

God told the prophet to prophesy to the bones.

When he obeyed, something started to happen. The Word tells us the bones came together, "bone to his bone." There was a Word, a prophetic message that started a chain reaction. All these scattered bones begin to find their original intended places. I don't think God put Sam's hand on the end of Bill's arm. The bones came together bone to his bone. God didn't grab just any old bone lying next to each other and stick them together.

Here is the prophetic message for our day. God is sending people to speak to His Church. There is going to be a shaking and a noise. Churches will be shaken. Denominations will be shaken. Scattered bones lying side by side will have to find their proper place in the Body. God will realign His Body, setting the members in the Body according to His will.

Some will blame the devil for the shaking. However, it is God tearing the man-made church apart with the goal of realigning it bone to his bone. I think the God-built Church of Jesus Christ will be somewhat smaller then we see now, for many will not follow God. This might be the reason for the great apostasy Paul warned us about in II Thessalonians 2:3. Jesus told us that because INIQUITY (self-will) would abound in the last days, the love of many would grow cold (Matt. 24:12). Paul tells us it is the "mystery of iniquity" that causes the great falling away from truth.

Too many people have too much to lose to obey God. They will continue in their self-will and the Spirit of God will move on leaving them to their systems they have created for themselves.

Ezekiel saw the Church come together perfectly, he saw sinew and flesh and skin come upon it, but it still needed a God-breathed life. Once again a prophetic message was sent and once again something happened when the prophet obeyed.

God sent His Spirit (breath) and they bones lived. They stood up and became "an exceeding great army." It might be good to note that God called these bones "slain". They had been an army at one time, but they had been killed in battle. The flesh was now gone. However God was going to take this same army and raise it up in resurrection life, filled with the Spirit of God and use it again.

God is preparing a Church for the last days. That Church will be the exceeding great army, which God will use to reap the final harvest and defeat satan.

It all starts with the leadership of the Church coming into right relationship to Christ and to each other. Nothing else will happen until God gets his men and women in the proper places.

As we conclude our study, I will challenge you once again. Are you doing what God called you to do, where God called you to do it?

If you are, be blessed. Be patient, for God is working all around us to bring our brothers and sisters into alignment. If you honestly have to say that something is wrong, then allow God to correct it. If you are out of place, then humble yourself before God and allow Him to realign you. If you are a shepherd in a church and something is out of place, be faithful to stand for truth, praying God will establish His Church. If your denominational leaders won't yield and you can't serve the Lord in truth where you are, leave and don't look back. If your local church leaders don't want to come into line with God's Word, stand your ground and pray for God to work in them or remove them.

God will have a Church; the only question is will you and I be a part?


Copyright 2000 - 2007 Steve Highlander & C3M Ministries. All rights reserved. 
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