Summary: This is the second sermon in our "Jesus Built" Series. It examines the pattern that we have in scripture of the organization of Jesus church, universal and local,and talks about how changes in the organization lead to apostasy
The New Testament provides a pattern that was followed by the early church. They followed what the Apostles gave them in their teaching and writings. The Jerusalem church gives us an example of this. We are told in Acts 2:42 that these Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine”. Any church that belongs to the Lord, being built by the Lord Himself, will do likewise. Since Jesus Himself said that the Apostles would be the ones who were led into all truth by the Holy Spirit, we need to look at what they say in their writings as to what the church should look like. As we talked about in our previous lesson, Peter was given the keys to the kingdom. He is the one who taught how access is granted into the Lord’s kingdom, of which we become part of when we obey the gospel of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13). The Apostles tell us what kingdom citizens, the universal church (or the bride of Christ, or the temple of God) looks like.
This is not only case regarding the universal church, but also in the local church. The Apostles also taught what local churches/congregations were to look like in every area. They taught the doctrines that Christ gave them in every church they visited (1 Cor. 4:17) or wrote to. The Epistles were shared among the early Christians so they could know how to please and serve God as they came together to form a local congregation of God’s people.
The pattern that we find for local churches includes such elements as...
• The organization of the church
• The worship of the church
• The work of the church
We will examine all three of these areas in later lessons to show exactly what a faithful local church looks like if Jesus is the builder of it. In this study, we will examine what pattern emerges from the New Testament regarding the organization of the Lord’s local congregations (with a few thoughts about the organization of the universal church).
This subject is important for many reasons. First, it is a subject talked about in God’s word. If it is important enough to the Spirit to reveal these things to us, it must be important for those who want to please God to follow what the Spirit says. Second, apostasy often begins with changes in the organization of local churches. These changes then spread to the point where they can easily become a cancer among the Lord’s people. Paul warned the Ephesian elders to be on guard for those who would arise out of their own leadership to get disciples to follow them instead of sticking to God’s pattern (Acts 20:29-30). This is what we end up seeing in the early church. Changes began to be made regarding the organization of the church which led it into full blown apostasy. We will talk more about this later…
CHURCH ORGANIZATION IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
I would like to begin by giving some quick thoughts about the organization of the universal church. What we see in scripture is quite different than what we see in today's denominations. What we see in scripture is that there is not any organization beyond the local church. There was no board which oversaw the whole church. There were not any Popes or cardinals like we see in Roman Catholicism. What we see in the Bible was that each local congregation was autonomous. They were self governing. Each local group of Christians looked to Christ alone as their head and based their doctrines, organization, worship, and work on what the Apostles taught. There was no council they could point to for their doctrines. There was no denominational board. They looked only to the word of God.
With this said, within each local congregation, we see the following organization given to us by God in scripture:
A congregation, once fully developed, would have elders. Elders were appointed to oversee the local congregation. In Acts 14:23, we are told that as Paul and his companions visited the churches they planted, they “appointed elders in every church”. Paul also gave this command to Titus, one of his trusted coworkers:
“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:5).
There are a few different names given to these men in scripture: Other names given in scripture are:
• Elders (Grk., "presbuteros", presbyter) for they were older men