The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (VI)

The Importance of the Local Church

This is the sixth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). We’ve learned that the “My Church” of Mt. 16:18 is singular in number, universal in existence and that Christ is the Supreme Head with headquarters in Heaven. However, the New Testament reveals that the Church, in its local aspect, is plural in number, independent in operation and overseen by men according to the Divine plan as prescribed in the New Testament. Therefore, when we speak of authority, we must understand whether it is universal or local authority. When we refer to membership, we should know whether it is universal or local membership. When we speak of fellowship, we should understand whether it is universal or local fellowship. And when we talk about the work of the Church, we ought to know whether we are talking about the universal or local Church.

As we’ve learned, membership in the Universal Church is by birth — a birth of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). This is accomplished by obeying the gospel and being added to the universal body of believers, the “My church” of Mt. 16:18. However, this does not make one a member of a local congregation or church. This membership is obtained by the mutual consent of both the baptized believer and the congregation with which he desires to be identified (cf. Acts 9:26-28;18:27;Rom. 16:1-2).

Floating Membership

Some Christians have the mistaken idea that they are members wherever they attend just because they are members of the Universal Church. If all Christians made the same assumption, there could be no local congregation, for such persons remain independent, free from responsibility and free from discipline should they be disturbers of churches. The progress of God’s work in a local area cannot depend upon such people. On the contrary, when one joins or identifies himself with a local church, he pledges or agrees to enjoy and participate not just in the local worship, but in the local fellowship in aiding and financially supporting the cause of Christ in the community and elsewhere. Now, it is true that one can be a member of the Universal Church without being a member of a local congregation, as was the case with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39).

Therefore, it must never be argued that one must be a member of a local church of Christ in order to be saved. Nevertheless, the question is: Can one remain faithful, and therefore saved, if he refuses to become a member of a local church? Again, there may be some exceptions, but I think the general answer is “No!” In other words, the mindset of the “floater,” who argues for automatic membership in any local church, and in fact all local congregations, because he is a member of the Universal Church, is contrary to the truths taught in God’s word. The Bible teaches that each Christian ought to be a part of a local congregation, and participate in the activities of that group of believers. Except in rare circumstances, it is impossible to fully obey the Lord without such participation. Why? Because Christians are taught to not be “forsaking” the “assembling” of themselves “together” (Heb. 10:25). This passage does not say, as some try to make it say, “forsake not the assembly,” referring to the Lord’s Day morning assembly, as if that assembly is essential and all others are optional. Instead, it is the practice of assembling together that is under consideration: “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together…” (KJV). But there is more to this subject than just attending services and warming a pew. Instead, we must come together to engage in those things the local church is prescribed to do.

The Importance Of The Local Assembly

The whole church comes “together” only as each individual participates. Individual action is made clear in the NASV: “not forsaking our own assembling together…” (Heb. 10:25). Consequently, the person who willfully absents himself from any assembly has a spiritual deficiency. He may do so because he does not feel a sense of “community” with the saints. He may not understand or appreciate the benefits to be derived from community in worship. He may consider the call to assemble as “man-made.” This is often the attitude toward evening and midweek services. However, such assemblies were first called because spiritually minded brethren felt the need for them. So, if we have a sense of “community,” then it would seem reasonable that these would be important to us.

The N.T. reveals that the early saints, as a group, engaged in five activities when they assembled for worship. Two of these (#1 and #5 in the list below) were authorized as first day of the week only activities. The others were engaged in on other days in addition to the first day of the week.


  1. They met on the first day of the week to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34; Acts 20:7).

  2. They had preaching and teaching when they came together (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:15).

  3. They engaged in singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

  4. They engaged in congregational prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:5; 1 Cor. 14:12-15).

  5. They laid by in store into a common treasury on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 5:1-6).

The Local Assembly Chooses Its Own Servants

According to the Bible (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9; Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23; Eph. 4:11-16) those who are to serve the local church are:


  • Elders

  • Deacons

  • Evangelists

  • Teachers

An example of the whole congregation (“the multitude of the disciples”) being involved in the selection of servants is found in connection with the church at Jerusalem (cf. Acts 6:1-6). This “seek[ing] from among you” (v. 3) was done according to the apostles’ instructions. Because faith comes by hearing God’s word (cf. Rom. 10:17), Christians today, exercising faith in God and His word, follow this example in appointing those who will serve the local congregation. This means that the local church, apart from the instructions in the Bible, is not subject to any outside control or oversight. This is what we are talking about when we say the local church is completely autonomous. Synods, conventions, and all denominational structures are unwelcome and anathama to churches of Christ functioning after the New Testament order.

The Local Church Has Work To Perform

The local church has been given work to perform. There is:


  • The work of Evangelism.

  • The work of Edification.

  • The work of Benevolence.

Evangelism

Each individual should participate to the extent of his or her ability in every teaching effort planned by the congregation. This would include attending the scheduled services of our “Gospel Meetings,” and making efforts to bring others to hear the gospel on those special occasions. By freely giving of their means into the common treasury of a local church, Christians have fellowship in supporting evangelists. This includes not just those evangelists who are members of the local church, but also those who are laboring in other places. Paul, you recall, received “wages” from other churches while ministering to the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil 4:10-11).

Edification

There is much that we can do as a congregation to “edify one another.” One way is to participate in the Bible classes a church offers. What, pray tell, is the purpose of “joining the disciples” in a particular area if one is not going to be “coming in” and “going out” with them in their various spiritual activities (Acts 9:26-28)? In order to be successful, every member who is able ought to be participating in the scheduled Bible studies offered by a church, putting forth his or her best effort. The Bible teaches us that we are to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,” and this in the context of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). Some had, for whatever reasons, given up on meeting together. For these, the Scriptures tell us, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26b-27). Those who were converted on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension into heaven “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The Scriptures go on to say “Now all who believed were together” (Acts 2:44).

“Were together” does not mean they became a commune, all living together, but speaks to the marvelous unity of these brethren who were “coming in” and “going out” together — a genuine community of believers. It speaks of a unity of mind, of purpose, of faith, of heart, of action. They were united because they were obedient believers in Jesus Christ. Although men try, they cannot create such unity. This isn’t socialism, and it surely isn’t communism. It is, instead, pure N.T. Christianity. It is the unity that only comes “in Christ.” The meaning of “together” (Grk. epi to auto) is explained by the following verses:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47).

I emphasized “as anyone had need“ in the above quotation because this is the key to understanding what took place. Christians, without being forced to do so, willingly took care of those in their number who had needs. These “needs” were not simply “wants” or “desires,” but were instead the genuine needs that people have in order to sustain their existence; namely, food, water, shelter, clothing, et cetera.

Benevolence

The local church is to engage in works of benevolence as circumstances dictate. The word benevolence means, “An inclination to perform kind, charitable acts.” Clearly, the church has been given the responsibility to provide for its own needy (Acts 2:44-45; 4:35; 1 John 3:17). In Acts 6:1-6, we learn that the Jerusalem church provided for needy saints. Then, in Acts 11:27-30, we learn that the disciples at Antioch sent a contribution “for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.” In Romans 15:25-26 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, we are informed that the churches of Macedonia and Achaia sent their contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. In other words, the churches of Christ take care of their own! On the other hand, churches of Christ have never been burdened with the responsibility of taking care of the world’s poor. Indeed, such would be impossible! Nevertheless, there are those who believe the local church has just such a responsibility. Although there is absolutely no authority in the New Testament for such, these advocate using the treasury of the local church to take care of all who are needy, particularly non-Christians.

Today, we find some churches of Christ pooling their money together for the relief of non-Christians. To many, this seems perfectly all right; but nowhere in the Bible is Christ’s church saddled with such a responsibility. Actually, it is sometimes all the church can do to effectively take care of its own needy. The Scriptures are totally clear on this subject. Taking care of the benevolent needs of the saints is all that local churches of Christ are responsible for. Yes, it is true that Christians, as individuals, have a responsibility to the needy, and this is true even when the needy are not Christians (Galatians 6:2-10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 4:17).

Consequently, a Christian may deem it fit to meet this responsibility by building, in cooperation with others, various benevolent institutions (hospitals, aid societies, etc.); but even when he does so, these institutions must not be seen as doing the work of the local church. The local church, which has the God-given responsibility to care for its own, is sufficient to do its own work. Furthermore, and as we’ve previously learned, even Christians are not to unduly burden the church in matters of benevolence. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:16, the apostle Paul said, “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.” Therefore, those who think the church is responsible for taking care of all the needy have “wrested” the Scriptures by wrongly applying passages meant specifically for individual Christians to the local church. Called upon to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, it is extremely important for Christians to make distinctions between individual and collective responsibilities and activities, always guided by book, chapter and verse.

The Local Church Is To Practice Discipline

The church at Corinth was instructed to deliver the fornicator to Satan “when you are gathered together” (1 Cor. 5:4-5). There are two reasons for this. First, the immediate objective is to remove the wicked man from the fellowship (1 Cor 5:13), and second, to ultimately save the sinner (1 Cor. 5:5). The united action of an entire group of saints will have far more power to bring the sinner to repentance than when just a few people take it upon themselves to do so. If a brother or sister “walks disorderly” and will not repent, the local church is to “withdraw” from that person (2 Thess. 3:6). When a church fails to do this, it can only do so by disregarding the Lord’s instructions, which is serious business as it is nothing short of rebellion.

The Local Church Is Not A Social Club, Country Club, Or Recreational Center

Individually and collectively, the church is a “spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). It is not, then, a social club/country club for religious people. The Corinthians were instructed to “eat at home” (1 Cor. 11:34), and this was the pattern for the church (individually and collectively) from the very beginning: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47a).

In Summary


  • The local church is a voluntary association of Christians who come together to do those things that God would have them do as a group.

  • Each individual member should participate fully in the worship and work of the local church as he or she has the opportunity and ability.

  • However, as Christians, our responsibility to the local church is only one of many obligations we have as we live in this world. Without denigrating the importance of the local church, those who think it to be the be all and end all of the Christian’s obligation, fail to be the well-rounded influence the Lord expects His unique people to be to a lost and dying world (cf. Matt. 5:13-16).

This is summed up in the chart below:

The Christian's relationships of life.

Our plan is to continue this study in the next article.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (V)

Priesthood of all Believers

This is the fifth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. Very few people, and this includes too many New Testament Christians, don’t have a clue as to what the church actually does (I’m speaking now of the church in the local sense). This is caused, at least in part, by an institutional concept of Christianity. This kind of thinking has resulted in two tragic consequences:

  1. Many feel that every responsibility of a Christian is to be discharged as a part of the church (as a group)—these folks “practice” their religion only as a part of a group, church, or institution, and
  2. If the local church is not big enough to do what some Christians want, larger institutions are formed in order to accomplish the desired goals.

The problem lies in the failure to understand the responsibility of the individual member of the Lord’s church (I’m here referring to the universal body of believers). Consequently, it is important to keep in mind, as we’ve already learned, that the individual is the unit of membership in the universal body of Christ and, as a result, has duties that must be personally discharged, no matter what others may do. Yes, a Christian certainly has duties to discharge as a member of a local church, but for the moment I want us to focus our attention on the Christian’s responsibilities separate from the local congregation.

To make sure all minds are right, it must be reiterated that one does not become a Christian by belonging to a local congregation, or because his parents were Christians before him. One becomes a Christian when he personally obeys the gospel. When he is saved, he is added to the universal body of Christ: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). Therefore, people who believe they are Christians because they were born in a “Christian home,” live in a “Christian nation,” or attend a “sound church” are greatly mistaken. In order to be a Christian, one must be “born again,” which was described by the Lord as a birth “of water and of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-5). One becomes a Christian by personal faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ, who is described as the Author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).

Total Equality

In Galatians 3:26-29, the Scriptures say: “For we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

As we are individually called by the gospel, a Jew has no advantage over a Gentile, a slave stands on equal status with his master, and a female stands on an equal basis with a male, in that she does not come to Christ through any man, but by exercising her individual will in obeying the gospel.

All Are Priests

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9)…“and has made us kings and priests [or a kingdom of priests] to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6). The Scriptures go on to say: “You [Jesus Christ]…have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10), and “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6). All believers have access to the Father through Jesus Christ and are called upon to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks…for all men” — “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). No one stands between these priests but Jesus, the High Priest: “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1) and “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14).

The Priestly Ministry

Christians, by virtue of who they are, are involved in a priestly ministry to the world. There are obvious ways we may do this, such as helping the helpless. There are also strategic ways such as asking why the poor are poor and dealing with the structures and powers of our societies that marginalize and depersonalize people; thus we become priests to the principalities and powers. Paul wrote, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). In Ephesians 6:12, he said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Describing this ministry, Jesus said it would be like leaven: “Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened’” (Mt. 13:33). Consequently, our job is to change the world. We do this as priests of the kingdom of God, serving a lost and dying world that is sin-sick and on its way to hell.

As priests of the Most High God, we must minister to those around about us, doing good to all men as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10). Ours is a high calling that must not be taken lightly, for to do so will cause us to fail in our service/ministry, the majority of which takes place apart from the local church. Again, I wish to make it very clear that nothing I’ve said here in anyway demeans the local church, a relationship that is, in all but the most extreme of cases, an important part of every Christian’s life. Nevertheless, much of our ministry stands outside of the local church. This may sound strange to you, but it is, nevertheless, true. With this in mind, notice the following chart.

What we see from looking at this chart are our duties as members of the universal body of Christ, the “My Church” of Matthew 16:18. One aspect of our total duties is to the local church. These duties, along with the relationships we have with other members of the local church, are extremely important. But as you can clearly see, they make up a rather small portion of our entire duties and responsibilities.

A Compassionate Ministry

As can be seen from the following passages, our priestly ministry is to be a ministry of compassion: “He has shown you , O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23), “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27), “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9-10). This kind of ministry, particularly because it is to be done in the midst of a fallen and broken world, is not easy. For example, your child watches television in a neighbor’s home and you discover later that some of the material was pornographic. Your boss requires you to do work for a business known to have connections to the Mafia. The school system teaches a godless, secular approach to all subjects, including the creation of the world. Your purse seems to have holes in it and your money seems to purchase less and less because of global economic factors over which you have no power. These complexities come not simply from the perversities and sins of individual human beings, but from something more systemic, more all-embracing. For behind every visible foreground to a person’s life — family life, work life, community service, citizenship, and church life — there is an invisible background, not seen with the human eye, but profoundly influential. We want to do good, to serve God and our neighbor, to do an honest day’s work, to fulfill our citizenship responsibilities, and to meet our obligations to our family. However, we find ourselves confronted almost on every hand with resistance. Why? Because the “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” “the rulers of the darkness of this age,” and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” are arrayed against our God-ordained ministry to a lost and dying world. Satan and his demonic forces are at work in the heavenly places, and in the world, to destroy our priestly ministry.

Unsuccessful in destroying the Christ, Satan and his horde seem bent on destroying Christians, who are, as living stones, the building (or body) of Christ here on earth. Left here in the world, Christians do not feel in control of the circumstances surrounding their priestly service. They encounter unjust and unloving structures, principles of conformity (e.g. professionalism), cultural expectations, social patterns, law without moral foundations, customs and traditions, escalating pressures for performance, technology as master and not servant, seemingly intractable institutions, professionalism and careerism, images, the almighty dollar, red tape, and spiritual forces. The last enemy, of course, is death, an enemy that seems to lurk everywhere.

Even when one’s primary focus is the local church, service there is not free from resistance. To be faced are the powers and principalities in disguised form: power, conformity, legalism, institutionalization, and sometimes outright demonic attack. Consequently, there is no escape from the many faceted powers and principalities that are determined to resist the Truth of God and our priestly service to Him and His creation. Having attacked our Lord and failed, and now intent on destroying Christians who are, as living stones, the building (or body) of Christ here on earth, Satan roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour (1 Pet. 5:8). However, with the help of Him who overcame Satan and his ungodly horde, we too can overcome the powers and principalities in heavenly places, namely, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). But if we are to do so, we must be willing to do our part, which is described in Ephesians 6:10-17 as a taking up and a putting on of “the whole armor of God.” This is the only way we’ll be successful in doing the work the Lord has prepared for us to do. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:11-13).

A Knightly Priesthood

The great apostle Paul, who was a fine example of what I am here calling “knightly priesthood,” said this in Romans 12:1-2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

The Christian who is called to a priestly ministry is also described as a soldier engaged in spiritual warfare. Consequently, it seems correct to think of the Christian as a chivalrous knight engaged in those duties involving special service to the King. Webster defines chivalry as “the qualities (such as bravery, honor, protection of the weak, and generous treatment of foes) of the ideal knight: chivalrous conduct,” all of which seem to be the subject of what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

The Knightly Priest Ministers With God’s Help

The apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) and then, “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rm. 8:21). He then made it absolutely clear that all of us are to be assured that God will continue to aid all His children, by saying: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8:37-39). The following Chart graphically reminds us of this enduring assurance.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21). “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:2-4).

We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, Lord permitting, as we concentrate specifically on the work we are to do in connection with the local church.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (IV)

Ordained Minister

This is the fourth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy or Laity, as do most religious organizations. And because it doesn’t, its preachers are not “credentialed” or “ordained,” as are most in the denominational world.

I have been asked on more than one occasion where and when I was “ordained.” When I have tried to explain that gospel preachers are not “ordained,” “credentialed,” or “called” in the ordinary denominational way, I have been rather quickly and summarily labeled a “lay preacher.” Although I reject the designation, I suppose this is about as close to understanding what a gospel preacher is that a denominationalist operating under the delusion of clericalism will be able to come up with. In point of fact, an evangelist or gospel preacher in no shape or fashion resembles most denominational preachers or clergymen. To understand this, it is important to understand some key words and their definitions.

Clericalism is the domination or rule of the “ordinary” members of a church by those ordained, trained, and invested with privilege and power. Such is the natural outcome of (1) a people who have eschewed Bible authority in favor of the think-sos of men and (2) the inevitable pressure placed upon religion by the world to specialize and centralize. As R. Paul Stevens has pointed out on page 52 of his interesting 1999 book, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, And Ministry In Biblical Perspective:

Clericalism is not only expressed in dominance through knowledge, position or exclusive right (as in sacramental ministry). It often gets expressed as disdain for the laity as unreliable, incompetent and unavailable. Increasingly, in a high-tech, fast-paced society, churches are hiring professionals for everything from childcare to financial management. Such disdain is expressed in the words of Sir John Lawrence: “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church, a clergyman dressed in the ways he approves, services of the kind he’s been used to, and to be left alone” (Lawrence quote in Stott, One People, p. 36, emphasis in original).

According to Stevens, this is countered by anti-clericalism, which he describes as, “…the domination of the ‘laity’ and the rejection of ordained church leadership” (Ibid.).

Consequently, and according to the truths taught in the Bible, true New Testament Christianity will always be, as long as it remains authentic, anticlerical. In other words, the local church, although it is to be guided by a multiplicity of God-ordained leaders (elders, bishops, pastors), does not have, nor will it be seeking, a professionally trained and ordained seminarian as its leader or “pastor.” Such, as we learned in an earlier article, is totally foreign to God’s word. In fact, Paul was very careful to warn the churches of the first century that the God-ordained plan of several men meeting the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 (namely, an eldership) exercising the oversight of a local church would eventually be corrupted by those who made up these elderships because they desired to “draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28-31).

Therefore, it is certainly disappointing, but not unexpected, that by the third century Christendom had almost totally and wholeheartedly adopted the clergy-laity distinction, an idea that was completely at odds with New Testament teaching. The “preverse things” (Acts 20:30) these elders or bishops would teach is first recorded in the words of Ignatius of Antioch (AD 50-110), who argued for the necessity of having a single bishop in order for there to be “unity” and “peace” in “the Catholic Church,” as he called it:

Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself [I Eph6:1], your godly bishop, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ.” Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters. Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit. [I Mag 2:1,6:1,7:1,13:2] In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church. [I Tr 3:1] Follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God’s commandment. He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil [I Smy 8:1,9:1], Lightfoot translation (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Antioch).

Although he did this in the face of the continuing heresies of Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing that had become so prevalent in the churches of the latter half of the first and early second century, it is interesting that the source listed above prefaced the quoted material by saying: “Ignatius is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyality to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop per congregation.”

About this, the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia says:

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the testimony which the Ignatian letters offer to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity. The martyred Bishop of Antioch constitutes a most important link between the Apostles and the Fathers of the early Church. Receiving from the Apostles themselves, whose auditor he was, not only the substance of revelation, but also their own inspired interpretation of it; dwelling, as it were, at the very fountain-head of Gospel truth, his testimony must necessarily carry with it the greatest weight and demand the most serious consideration. Cardinal Newman did not exaggerate the matter when he said (“The Theology of the Seven Epistles of St. Ignatius,” in Historical Sketches, I, London, 1890) that “the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles.” Among the many Catholic doctrines to be found in the letters are the following: the Church was Divinely established as a visible society, the salvation of souls is its end, and those who separate themselves from it cut themselves off from God (Philad., c. iii); the hierarchy of the Church was instituted by Christ (lntrod. to Philad.; Ephes., c. vi); the threefold character of the hierarchy (Magn., c. vi); the order of the episcopacy superior by Divine authority to that of the priesthood (Magn., c. vi, c. xiii; Smyrn., c. viii; Trall., c. iii); the unity of the Church (Trall., c. vi; Philad., c. iii; Magn., c. xiii); the holiness of the Church (Smyrn., Ephes., Magn., Trall., and Rom.); the catholicity of the Church (Smyrn., c. viii); the infallibility of the Church (Philad., c. iii; Ephes., cc. xvi, xvii); the doctrine of the Eucharist (Smyrn., c. viii), which word we find for the first time applied to the Blessed Sacrament, just as in Smyrn., viii, we meet for the first time the phrase “Catholic Church,” used to designate all Christians; the Incarnation (Ephes., c. xviii); the supernatural virtue of virginity, already much esteemed and made the subject of a vow (Polyc., c. v); the religious character of matrimony (Polyc., c. v); the value of united prayer (Ephes., c. xiii); the primacy of the See of Rome (Rom., introd.). He, moreover, denounces in principle the Protestant doctrine of private judgment in matters of religion (Philad. c. iii). The heresy against which he chiefly inveighs is Docetism. Neither do the Judaizing heresies escape his vigorous condemnation (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07644a.htm).

In that letter to the church of Smyrna referred to above, Ignatius’ exact words were, “Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” It is only fitting, then, that his remains are today being venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as they repose in a church (“St. Clement”) in the city of Rome.

The Word “Clergy”

It is ironic but true (remember, the Devil loves irony) that the Greek word kleros, the word from which we get our English word “clergy,” is used in the Bible to refer to the whole people of God, not just a few (cf. Kittle and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, 763). In fact, all the people of God receive a “place” or “inheritance” (kleros) through the gospel. As Jesus is reported to have said to the apostle Paul, “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance [kleros] among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:17-18). Nowhere does the Bible use this word to describe someone appointed to an office in the church. It is important to note that the word was not used to refer to “clergy” until the third century. It was at that time that “laity” began to be used, as well, for it goes without saying that a “laity” can only exist when it has an opposite against which to define itself, and throughout the first and second century there was simply no such opposite. Thus, it ought to be clear to anyone interested in what the Bible says about church matters that the clergy-laity distinction so prevalent in Christendom is totally unscriptural and an invention of man and makes up at least some of the “perverse things” of which Paul warned the first century church of (cf. Acts 20:30).

The church of the first century had no “laity.” All were “clergy,” in the Bible sense of that word, in that all members of the Lord’s church had obtained a “place,” “portion,” or “inheritance” in the kingdom of God. As such, those who make up the Lord’s church or kingdom are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9), a “kingdom of priests” (Rev. 1:6), a “holy priesthood” that is able “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). In such a place, there is no room for some earthly mediator or priest. The glorified man, Jesus Christ, who now rules as King of kings and Lord of lords, is not just our High Priest, but He is the only “man” authorized to be the Mediator between us and the Father (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).

I wish that the denominational world could see, by faith, that glorious and all-sufficient church for which Christ died as it really is — truly a church without laity. However, I am afraid that the “clergy” will do their utmost to keep their counterparts ignorant about the true structure and governance of the Lord’s church. What a pity.

We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, Lord permitting.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (III)

Missionaries

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Consequently, many, even those who are worshiping with local churches of Christ, are confused about the work of so-called “missionaries.”

Foremost is the idea that there are only a few select, spiritually elite, individuals who are called to be “missionaries.” These, we are told, fulfill a very special role in the body of Christ and often at great peril to themselves. To bolster this idea, we hear some saying, “Not everyone can go, but most can give, and certainly all can pray.” At first, this appears to be just another way of saying that there is room for everyone to be involved in the kingdom of God, albeit in different ways. Consequently, it sounds quite biblical. It’s not. Nevertheless, there is just enough truth in this myth for Satan to make us feel comfortable when we embrace it. As a result, many of us fall into a deadly error — an error that says there really is a missionary elite (i.e., a specially favored, highly talented, relatively small group of Christians who are really God’s choice little band for evangelizing the world). The fact that all this corresponds so closely with what we see and hear further operates to make this seem even more plausible. After all, the number of those who actually go into foreign fields to preach and teach the gospel is relatively small. So, although we may not see ourselves as the missionary type (and few are, we console ourselves), we can surely give from our abundance to support these dedicated few, even if this entails digging a little deeper than usual. After all, foreign evangelism is something very special, we tell ourselves, and if, God forbid, we happen to be in a situation at the moment where we are unable to give, then we can always pray for the work and the safety of those involved.

“What could possibly be wrong with this scenario?,” you ask, and “How could such be unbiblical?” Simply this: The “going” that God commands of His people is not limited to an elite group of super-Christians, even as it was not limited to the apostles to whom it was first given. Further, it is not limited to far away places that inevitably involve the crossing of large bodies of salt water. On the contrary, the Lord calls every Christian to be a missionary. In doing so, He commands all of us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Yes, I realize that the Lord first directed this to His apostles, but most interpreters have understood that this wasn’t limited to them alone. In fact, and this by way of extension, it is every Christian’s “call” to the mission field — a field made up not only of exotic sounding places and far away locations, but one that includes our houses, our neighborhoods, and our communities. It includes the factories and offices where we work and the schools we attend. In reality, the mission field may be as unromantic and unexotic as that area just over our backyard fences. In other words, although we Christians are no longer “of the world,” through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we are still “in the world” (John 17:6-19), and it is to this world — the one in which we live every day — that the Lord has called us to be missionaries.

So, with the undeserved fuss that is frequently made over “missionaries,” a group thought to be an elite band of super-Christians willing to make great personal sacrifices to preach and teach the gospel in far away places, many of us unwittingly fall into Satan’s snare as we alternately praise and feel sorry for this admired group (viz., the “some” who can go). Believing missionary work to be a task for the few, the rest of us, in moments brought about by guilt, or even by a desire for greater personal service, promise to pay for and pray for “our missionaries in foreign lands.” But in exaggerating the role of those who go great distances to communicate the gospel, we begin to underestimate the divine call to missions that is placed on all Christians. We soon forget that all of us are called upon to live in a mission field, and that all of us are, in fact, missionaries (and this no less or no more than those few who go the great distances). When this happens, the work the Lord left us here on this earth to do is seriously hampered.

We are sometimes lead in the song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing thru.” This sentiment is an integral part of a correct biblical worldview, for as Christians we are to understand that our citizenship is not here on earth, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Here we are but sojourners and pilgrims (2 Peter 2:11). What this means, then, is that wherever we are in this world is the mission field, and when every Christian gets this idea firmly entrenched in his or her mind, we’ll be doing a much better job of what it is the Lord left us here to do.
Does this mean that I think those who go into foreign fields are not to be admired for their work’s sake? Certainly not! Does it mean that I think they should not be supported? No! Does it mean that I think those in foreign fields do not need our prayers? Don’t be ridiculous! What I’m saying is that we must learn to view what the “missionaries” are doing as nothing more than an extension of the work we are all called upon to do. This is to say, mission work is not something “other than” what the rest of us should be doing. We are all in this together, and this is not because we are giving and praying, as we should be, but because we are all missionaries to a lost and dying world.

Our ancient adversary is a formidable foe who specializes in the “deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Therefore, it should not surprise us that a church that prides itself on being missionary-minded, and takes comfortable satisfaction in its support of foreign evangelism, reveling in the long roll of preachers it supports at home and abroad, can still be failing in its primary missionary responsibility. Indeed, it is a pathetic thing when a church that expends great amounts of money supporting the preaching of the gospel around the world, and rejoices in the saving of foreign souls, is made up of members who fail to see themselves as missionaries called to service in the army of the Lord. Failing to see themselves as “candidates” for the Marine Corps of evangelism (i.e., “a few good men”), they forget that they are actually “conscripts” who have been called upon to serve the Lord where they are. They forget the church is not the building where they assemble, but the body of Christ that gathers together on the Lord’s Day for worship, and then scatters into the world for service during the rest of the week, going to the unique places God has called them to go. Seduced by a lie and effectively destroyed by a myth, these Christians have caused the primary mission of the church (“to seek and save the lost”) to be seriously impaired as they imbibe the Laodicean legacy. Thinking themselves to be rich and in need of nothing, they do not realize they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

But, there is a remedy, and as always, it is to be found by turning to God’s Word.

When Christians turn to God’s Word for guidance, they will learn to think of themselves as missionaries.

When men go back into the business world on Monday, and they do so not just as an opportunity to make money, but because this is where Christ is sending them, they will see themselves as missionaries to the business world.

When the women of the church return to their tasks in the home, the neighborhood, and the world of commerce, and they do so not just because this is the nature of their lives, but because they are being sent by Christ to these places. They, too, will see themselves as missionaries.

When young men and women who have been taught God’s Word return to their schools and colleges not just to get an education, but because this is where Christ is sending them, they too will be missionaries.

In truth, the role of missionary is assigned to all in the kingdom of God, not just a few. Consequently, the true measure of a church is not necessarily to be found in its foreign evangelism budget or in the number of preachers it supports. It is, instead, to be found in the portion of its own members who understand that because they are saved by Christ, they are sent by Him as missionaries to a lost and dying world. In the plan and purpose of God, all are meant to go. Therefore, the idea that “some can go” falls far short of the truth.

Consequently, when churches of Christ return to their ancient heritage, rejecting as they should the traditions and think-sos of men, ideas that raise the work of foreign evangelism to pedestals to be exalted throughout the brotherhood, they will realize that God’s plan for missionary work is the only effective plan for missions.

When Christians understand the Bible as we should, we will be saying to ourselves and our fellow Christians that all can go, and therefore should; that all can give, and are, as a result, under obligation to do so; that all can pray, and that this is to be an essential part of going and giving, but that this must not be seen as a substitute for either one of these.

So, as a kingdom of priests, let us all rise to the missionary task set before us, and let us take consolation in the assurance that we can do all things required of us through Christ who gives us the strength (Philippians 4:13).

In the next article, we’ll examine some more characteristics of the church without laity.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (II)

Preacher with Bible

This is the second in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Nor, as we learned in the previous article, does the N.T. authorize a pastor-system in which one man exercises “rule” over the local church. Instead, the Bible teaches the local church is to be served by a plurality of men (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Jas. 5:14) who meet the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 & Tit. 1:5-9 and are selected by the congregation they serve (Acts 6:3). These men, when scripturally qualified and selected, are “gifts” given by the Lord to local churches (cf. Eph. 4:7-16). This means that among churches of Christ faithful to the N.T. there can never be any organizational structure larger than the local church. This means that all the organizational and ecclesiastical structures in use in Christendom today are unscriptural and, as such, do not honor or glorify the Lord they claim to serve. Furthermore, the one-man pastor-system that pervades Christendom today dishonors the Lord and that glorious body for which He shed His precious blood.

Rightly rejecting, as they do, the ecclesiastical hierarchies and one-man pastoral systems that exist in most denominations today, local churches of Christ, when they have qualified men, always appoint a plurality of men to serve as elders/bishops/pastors, as the Scriptures dictate.

However, when qualified men are not available to serve the local church, there has all too often been the tendency to look for an evangelist/preacher/minister who can provide that leadership and direction. This is a gross misunderstanding of the role and function of the preacher/evangelist/minister.

“Preacher”

Paul was a preacher (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). In Romans 10:14, he wrote, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” “Preacher” is translated from a Greek word (kerux) that means “a herald.” It describes one having a message to proclaim. The preacher is to herald or proclaim the word of God, the gospel or good news of God’s plan for saving mankind.

“Evangelist”

Both Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5) are called evangelists. In the Greek, the word means “a messenger of good” (Vine), and describes one who brings the “good news” of the gospel. This work is identified as a gift of God for the benefit of the church in Eph. 4:11-12. Contrary to what some think, this word does not connote a traveling preacher. What is emphasized by the word is the message.

“Minister”

We find the term in Eph. 3:7, Col. 1:23,25; 1 Tim. 4:6. Of course, the Bible knows nothing of “the Minister” who is set apart and superior to other saints. However, the word, which in the Greek means “a servant,” emphasizes the relationship the preacher or evangelist has to those he teaches. Paul emphasized this concept when he called preachers “ministers through whom you believed” (1 Cor. 3:5).

1 Peter 4:11 says: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” All ministers may not be preachers, but every faithful preacher of the gospel is a minister of the Lord and to those who hear him.

But nowhere in God’s word is the preacher/evangelist/minister given the “oversight” or “rule” in the local church. Therefore, the idea of Evangelistic Oversight did not originate from the N.T.

The charge Paul gave to Timothy was to “Preach the word!” (2 Tim. 4:2). In doing so, he was to: “Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” His charge to Titus was to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Thus, we have the work of an evangelist, or as might be considered, his duty, responsibility or office, which Paul made absolutely clear must be done if the evangelist is to fulfill his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5). The evangelist’s authority does not extend beyond that of an elder, nor can it be rightly assumed that he is free from the oversight of the elders, but should labor under them when a member of a church that is scripturally organized. But what about a situation where the church is without elders? Should not an evangelist take charge in such a situation? Did not Paul command Titus to take charge of the churches in Crete (cf. Titus 1:5)? Was this not the same point Paul made to Timothy when he mentioned to him the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13?

No, Titus was not put “in charge” in Crete. Paul left him there to “set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5), but there is nothing in the immediate context, or instructions found elsewhere in the N.T., that indicate that the preacher exercises any evangelistic oversight. Therefore, Paul’s instructions did not authorize “evangelistic oversight.” On the contrary, appointing elders would entail the preacher encouraging the congregation, through his preaching and teaching, to “seek out” from among themselves men meeting the Holy Spirit’s criteria. This would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Doing so did not put Titus “in charge” of anything but doing his work as an evangelist and fulfilling his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5).

Well, if the preacher/evangelist/ minister is not to “take charge” and “pastor” the flock, as we see being done in the denominational world, then what is the work of a preacher?

The Preacher’s Work As Revealed In The Scriptures

The preacher’s work that follows is gleaned from a study of Paul’s various instructions to Timothy and Titus.

First, because the preacher is not directly inspired today, he must devote himself to the study of the Scriptures so that in his lessons he is “rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:15). Christians need to understand that the preacher in his study is just as much “on the job” as the preacher who is out “pounding the pavement.” Study is hard work. In fact, in some instances it can be as exhausting as physical labor, in that “much study,” the ancient preacher told us, “is wearisome to the flesh” (Eccl. 12:12). Some preachers, more inclined to be gregarious than others, spend their time visiting around the community and seeking opportunities to teach. This is well and good. However, they may find it difficult to buckle down for the hard, exhausting work of studying. The lack of study will show in their preaching and the brethren will start to complain. Surely, a faithful minister of the gospel will not become so entangled in the affairs of life that he cannot find the time to study. Unfortunately, some preachers receive “full time” support while devoting much of their time to fishing, golfing, selling, et cetera. But the Scriptures say that “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim 2:4). So, although it is frequently overlooked, a preacher must spend a great deal of his time in studying God’s word, contemplating its application, and praying for its adoption.

Second, the work of a preacher is to “preach the word,” which includes convincing, rebuking and exhorting with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). There is an unwholesome trend among some brethren today to minimize the importance of pulpit preaching, and to over-emphasize other forms of evangelism. These want to measure a preacher’s effectiveness by how many cold calls he makes in “personal work.” Such an attitude is unfair in that it magnifies one kind of evangelism over against another. In truth, neither of these forms of evangelism should be ignored, for both pulpit and individual teaching are important. But to judge a preacher’s effectiveness by one or the other is a serious mistake. Paul said that he “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Further, the evangelist is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), which simply means when it is well received and when it’s not.

Third, the preacher is to “set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5). This includes, as the immediate context indicates, the appointing of elders. As we’ve already pointed out, this would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Further, the preacher must hold fast the pattern of sound words, charging some that they “teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3; Titus 1:10-14; 2 Tim. 1:13-14). He must warn the church against apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-7; Acts 20:29-31). Even elders, when convicted of sin, must be publicly rebuked (1 Tim. 5:19-22; Titus 3:10-11).

Fourth, the preacher’s work involves training others so they can be effective servants of Christ: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This would entail teaching the younger men with the view that they will develop into elders, deacons and preachers. When a preacher has done his duty to train others, the work continues to move forward even when he is absent preaching and teaching elsewhere, or when he moves on to another work. A congregation that has talented men who have been taught well are able to function effectively without a “full time” evangelist, if need be.

Fifth, the preacher is called upon by God to be “an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12; 5:22). The man doing these things will be an asset to the local church and will, no doubt, be highly esteemed in love for his work’s sake (1 Thess. 5:13). Being fully supported to preach the gospel on a regular basis is a privilege and trust that must never be abused by those who desire to live faithfully before the Lord.

In the next article, we plan to delve a bit further into our investigation of the church without laity.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity

The "My Church" Of Matthew 16:18

The church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ is unique (cf. Acts 20:28). It is most unfortunate that it remains a church unknown to most. Astoundingly, it is a church without laity, and it is this feature that we’ll be focusing on in this series of articles. But to do so, it is necessary to begin this story at the beginning.

Before His death on the cross some two thousand years ago, Jesus declared, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18b, KJV). It is, therefore, this church — the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 — on which we’ll be concentrating our attention. But to see this church as Christ created it will not be easy for some because they will come to this study with various denominational preconceptions about what the church belonging to Christ ought to look like. Nevertheless, in order to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of this church, it is required that one reject, at least for the moment (and I hope permanently), all denominational thinking, for it is just such thinking that has caused the church without laity to be marginalized and unappreciated for most of the last two thousand years.

Therefore, I ask all of you who read here to make a genuine effort to free your minds of the denominational clutter that so easily besets us and to be willing to open your Bibles in a study of a subject that is of paramount importance to us all, in that it has to do with where we will be spending an eternity.

Acts 2 records the founding of the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. It took place after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven in A.D. 30. As the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached by His apostles on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s ascension, a day that was later referred to by the apostle Peter as “the beginning” (Acts 11:15), those who heard and obeyed the message were added to the church by the Lord Himself (cf. Acts 2:47). It has been this way ever since.

The Church Is A “Called-out” Group Of People

The church that the Lord added people to at its beginning was a “called out” or “gathered people” (for such is the meaning of ekklesia, the Greek word often translated “church” in the New Testament) that did not consist of a clergy-laity distinction, as do most religious bodies today. On the contrary, Christ’s church, a church He purchased with His own blood (cf. Acts 20:28; Hebrews 10:29), consists entirely of a priesthood of believers who have been “baptized into Christ” (Galatians 3:27 Romans 6:3). It was Peter himself who said to all baptized believers: “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). In another place, he said, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, the church belonging to Christ is a called-out group of people who make up a priesthood of all believers. As such, they are able to offer their own sacrifices to God without any earthly mediators.

Ironically, and I say this because current practices in many Protestant churches belie this idea, the watchword of the Protestant Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” Luther himself said: “All Christians are priests and all priests are Christians. (Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 283). It was even earlier than this that Augustine, who is so greatly admired and venerated by Roman Catholics, wrote, “None of the faithful doubts that the priesthood of the Jews was a figure of that royal priesthood which is in the Church, to which are consecrated all who belong to the Body of Christ, the sovereign and true Head of all priests” (Augustine, Quaestionum Evangeliorum, ii, 322ff, quoted in Paul F. Palmer, SJ, “The Lay Priesthood: Real or Metaphysical?,” Theological Studies, Vol. 8 [1947], p. 583).

But in quoting these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, I have really gotten a little ahead of the story I wish to tell. My point in quoting them at this time is simply this: many years after the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 was established, prominent Catholics and Protestants recognized that in the New Testament, and this is going to be a complete surprise to some who read this, there was no concept of a “priesthood within the priesthood” of all believers. In the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 there was no laity, period. All were priests. In fact, not only did Christ’s church not have a laity over which earthly priests were to exercise authority, there was absolutely no clergy-laity distinction to be found in Christ’s church.

Defining Terms

Even though clergy and laity are frequently used terms today, it cannot be assumed that all understand how these terms are being used here. Permit me, then, a little time and space to define terms. Depending on the specific denominational context, the laity are defined by function (namely, they do not administer the Word and “sacraments”), by status (they do not have a “Rev.” in front of their names), by location (they serve primarily in the world), by education (they are not theologically trained), by remuneration (they are not full-time, paid “ministers”), and by lifestyle (they are not considered overtly religious, but are primarily occupied with secular life). Notice that these qualifications are mostly negative. On the flip side of this coin, the clergy are defined positively with reference to the things mentioned above. As such, the clergy dominate the work and function of the various churches they “serve.”

A Departure From “The Faith”

During the first century, a century that had revealed to it “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b), Christ’s church existed exclusively without any clergy-laity distinctions. It was not until the second and third centuries, when rank apostasy had produced a man-made ecclesiastical order in the church, that a definite clergy-laity distinction clearly manifested itself. Such remains in place until now in many different denominations. This man-made innovation was the result of three major influences:

  1. a man-made molding of the original, godly structure of the New Testament church into the image of the secular structures of the Greek-Roman world which, incidentally, were not unlike the professional-lay distinctions we find in our own modern societies;
  2. the transference of the Old Testament priesthood model to the leadership of the church;
  3. the false, but popular, piety that elevated the Lord’s Supper to a mystery which required priestly administration. After all, if the utterly false idea of transubstantiation is believed (a doctrine that says the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread of the Lord’s Supper, when blessed, actually turn into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ), then it is only natural to think that special care and handling of such must be given by a select few who can correctly administer said “sacrament.”

However, and this is always the case, such developmental theology was the product of men and, therefore, did not reflect the truths taught in the New Testament.

The Lord Established Only One Church

Jesus Christ established only one church (sometimes referred to as a “body”) of which He, and He alone, is the Head (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4; Colossians 1:18). Consequently, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), and this refers to the ascended and glorified Jesus, functions as this body’s High Priest and only Mediator (cf. the book of Hebrews). Thus, the church belonging to Christ needs no earthly mediator through which it offers its sacrifices, and any such vicarious system is a perversion of the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. As such, this universal body of believers has no earthly head or organizational structure. This means that all ecclesiastical structures, whether they be Catholic or Protestant, are not just extra-biblical, but anti-biblical as well. “In Him” (Colossians 2:10), and this is to say in connection with Jesus Christ, the church is complete, and because it is, it needs no exalted priestly caste, like the old Jewish system, to intercede or mediate on its behalf.

Nevertheless, the Lord instructed His called out group of people—that is, His church—to organize themselves into local congregations. These were sometimes referred to as “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). Consequently, within the pages of the New Testament, we can read about the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2), the churches of Galatia (cf. Galatians 1:2), the saints that made up the church at Ephesus (cf. Ephesians 1:1), Philippi (cf. Philippians 1:1), and Colosse (cf. Colossians 1:2). We can further read of churches at Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (cf. Revelation 2-3). The men in these local congregations who had the “oversight” (the Greek word here is episkopeo, from which we derive the word “bishop”), were called “elders” in 1 Peter 5:1-5. The English word “elders” is translated from the Greek presbuteros, from which is derived the transliterated term “presbyters.” Therefore, an elder (or presbyter) was a bishop (that is, one who exercised oversight) in a local congregation. This is borne out by the immediate passage under consideration, and by others, like 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, where the qualifications of these men are discussed in some detail.

In the apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, he calls these unique men “bishops,” but in Titus he refers to the same group of men as not just “bishops,” but also as “elders.” Consequently, the Scriptures make it clear that an elder and a bishop in local churches of Christ were not different offices (or functions), but were terms that described the maturity of the men (they were elders, or older men) who exercised the oversight (or bishopric) in a local congregation. In Peter’s instructions, we learn that these men were to “feed” the flock of God which was among them (cf. 1 Peter 5:2). The NKJV translates this word as “shepherd,” while the ASV says “tend.” The Greek word so translated is poimaino, from which we get the word “pastor.” So, according to the New Testament, the terms elder, bishop and pastor are used interchangeably of the same man, and are not titles, per se, but serve to describe who and what these men are in connection with the “flock,” or local church, of which they are members. But when those in these churches started changing the government of the local church, mimicking the Greek-Roman culture in which they lived, they developed an ecclesiastical order that conferred a higher ranking on a bishop than they did an elder, eventually granting to bishops oversight over more than the local church of which they were members.

Always A Plurality

On top of everything else, and this is going to be another big surprise for some of you, elders, bishops and pastors, who were the overseers of local churches of Christ, were always referred to in the Scriptures in the plural. In others words, when the apostle Paul was in Miletus and wanted to speak with the leaders of the Ephesian church, he sent and called for “the elders [plural] of the church” (Acts 20:17). This is not a surprise for the careful Bible student, for in Acts 14:23 we learn that Paul and Barnabas, in their second missionary journey, had “appointed elders [plural] in every church.” Also, in a letter written to Christians everywhere, James assumes the established order in every church would be “elders” (plural), for he instructed Christians, no matter where they were, to “call for the elders [plural] of the church” (James 5:14). One can conclude, then, that the New Testament order was that if a local church had elders (and this was not a given, for there would not always be men with the necessary qualifications), there would always be at least two of them.

Therefore, according to the New Testament, a local church that was scripturally and fully organized had a plurality of elders/bishops/pastors who exercised oversight in that local church. These men had to meet certain stringent qualifications (cf. 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) and be selected by the local church of which they were members (cf. Acts 6:3). Consequently, one man could not scripturally exercise oversight in a local church, as is done in many denominational churches today. It was not until the 2nd century, in the face of various heresies (Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing tendencies) that Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 50-110) argued for having a single bishop so that doctrinal unity could be maintained. By the time of the writings of Tertullian (A.D. 197-200), a structure for the church consisting of ordinary members who were served by a priestly or ecclesiastical order of bishops, presbyters and deacons, was already in place.

In the 3rd century, the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum in the East devoted five chapters to the office of bishop, claiming that bishops were “priests and prophets, and princes and leaders and kings, and mediators between God and his faithful, and receivers of the word, and preachers and proclaimers thereof, and knowers of the Scriptures and of the utterances of God, and witnesses of his will, who bears the sins of all, and are to give answer for all” (translated by R.H. Connolly [Oxford: Claredon Press, 1929], page 80).

Meanwhile in the West, Cyprian, who was the bishop of Carthage, and therefore a usurper of the biblically ordained government of the church, which recognized no earthly church government larger than that which was contained to the local church, modeled his church order on the civil orders of the rulers of the city of Carthage. In doing so:

  1. He made a clear distinction between the order of bishops and the laity.
  2. He sacralized the priesthood according to the Old Testament model of the sacrificial priesthood.
  3. He established a monolithic episcopate that was to be the same for all of Africa
  4. He linked ministry to sacrifice, again in the image of the Temple priesthood.
  5. He modeled the bishops in the image of the Roman senators.
  6. He consolidated the supposed ruling powers of the bishops through various means, such as episcopal conclaves.
  7. He further argued that anyone who separates from a bishop, separates from the church.

Consequently, in less than two centuries, the church, which was now to be identified with Christendom, had moved from a community of priests to a separate clergy that vicariously represented both the priestly and kingly rule of the people belonging to Christ.

According to the New Testament, however, the plurality of men who were appointed elders/bishops/pastors in local churches of Christ did not exercise their oversight “as being lords over” those who had been entrusted to them, but as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). In the chart below, one can see the erroneous view of the church as developed by man contrasted with the New Testament view.

Looking at this chart, it is easy to see the stark difference between what God ordained and what man ultimately created. Elders/bishops/pastors, although they are entrusted with the oversight of the local church, are not something other than or more than their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Accordingly, they exercise their oversight not as “lords,” but as “examples” of what pure, unadulterated Christianity is all about.

Even so, from the 4th to the 16th centuries, the clergy-laity distinction grew even worse. After his “conversion” in A.D. 312, and please note the quotation marks, the Roman emperor, Constantine, appointed bishops as civil magistrates throughout the Roman empire. He also organized the various churches into dioceses along the pattern of Roman regional districts. Furthermore, he consistently used the terms “clerical” and “cleric” to designate a privileged class. By the time of the Gregorian reform (A.D. 1057-1123), the structure of the entire Western (or Roman Catholic) Church was shaped by Roman Law. Therefore, in the period prior to the Protestant Reformation:

  1. the bishop of Rome came to be regarded as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed to be the church of Christ on earth;
  2. the language of worship ceased to be the language of the people;
  3. the clergy dressed differently and were prepared for ministry in a seminary;
  4. the clergy became celibate, and thus distant from the normal experiences of the laity;
  5. the cup, or fruit of the vine, was removed from the laity in the “Eucharist,” the term by which the Lord’s Supper came to be identified by the Romanists.

In due course, the clergy-laity distinction became institutionalized in religious orders, priestly ordination, and the seminary system.

Clergy-Laity Distinction Continued Among The Protestants

Even the Protestant Reformation, with its call to recover “the priesthood of all believers,” did not succeed in reinstating the laity as one dignified people called to service by means of their membership in the church belonging to Christ. Why the full implications of “the priesthood of all believers” was not fully realized in the churches spawned by the Protestant Reformation is an interesting question. Some of the reasons why are as follows:

  1. The Reformation was primarily concerned with soteriology (i.e., salvation) than ecclesiology.
  2. The priesthood of all believers was interpreted according to its effect on individual salvation. But with regard to the collective religious experience, it was “business as usual.”
  3. The preacher or “Rev.” replaced the priest.
  4. The sermon became the central act of Protestant worship—the Protestant “Christ-event,” if you will. In turn, this gave the preacher the same clerical standing as the Catholic officiant at the Mass, even though he now wore a Geneva gown.
  5. The scholarship inferred in such a ministry ultimately succeeded in once again taking the Bible out of the hands of the layperson and putting it in the hands of the seminary-trained scholar.

In the evolution of Western society from A.D. 500 to 1500, a period referred to by some, and I think rightly so, as the “Dark Ages,” the common man (or layperson) had lost access to high culture and learning. As early as the 8th century, the language of scholarship and worship had ceased to be the language of the people, and was, instead, Latin.

Although the Reformation spawned denominations that took seriously the priesthood of all believers, like the Quakers, Moravians, Puritans, Baptists and Anabaptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ et al., which were all lay oriented, even these denominations—denominations that stemmed from the so-called “radical reformation”—have now gravitated to the pre-Reformation clergy-laity distinction.

These churches eventually adopted the Catholic seminary system. While exceptions do exist, the seminary system, which was fully developed by the 19th century, became the universal model for equipping a generation of “pastors,” thus ensuring their enculturation into a clerical culture. Today, theological education remains, for the most part, the exclusive preoccupation of those intending a career in “the ministry” (read clergy). Ordination is still retained almost universally for the full-time, supported, church worker. Most denominations still regard the ordination process as conferring a priestly character. Para-church organizations not withstanding, there are no denominations that ordain people to secular careers and missions. In fact, “lay” spirituality is something that is rarely taught and promoted. Although the Reformation rejected the two-level spirituality of the monastery and common Christian, Protestant spirituality, with few exceptions, has focused either on charismatic and mystical experiences, or on the deeper spiritual life of outstanding church leaders. Consequently, there has been little exploring of the holiness of the ordinary Christian in the totality of his or her life: eating, sleeping, working, buying and selling, playing, having sexual relations, and dying. It is clear, then, that in all these years Christendom has not become free of the Greek dualism that relegates bodily life to a lower, less important, even insignificant, level of existence.

When thinking about all this, it is imperative we recognize that the same cultural and social forces that were at work in Christendom during the sixteen centuries before the Protestant Reformation (secular management models; professional-lay analogies; the tendency to deal with outside threats by increasing central government) are still at work even today. Therefore, the fleshly predisposition to a clergy-laity model must be continuously fought by all who would honor the church for which Christ died—the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. Addressing the need to reject the current clergy-laity model, D. Elton Trueblood (1900-1994), who was a Quaker, went so far as to call for a new Reformation:

Our opportunity for a big step lies in opening the ministry of the ordinary Christian in much the same manner that our ancestors opened Bible reading to the ordinary Christian. To do this means, in one sense, the inauguration of a new Reformation while in another it means the logical completion of the earlier Reformation in which the implications of the position taken were neither fully understood nor loyally followed (E. Trueblood, Your Other Vocation, page 32).

Abolishing the clergy-laity model and recovering the unique dignity of the whole people of God is — in theory as well as practice — a tall order indeed. Lord willing, it is precisely this glorious pursuit we’ll explore in the next article in this series.

Gender & Worship (Conclusion)

Femenism vs. God

I have frequently thought that if we would just get ourselves taught on this issue, emphasizing what the Bible says about the male and female roles, then a meeting of the whole congregation could be conducted in such a way that no one, male or female, would get out of line, and ultimately no one would feel left out of the process. But congregations that have tried this have not always met with positive results. Why? Because although it is certainly lawful for a woman to be in a business meeting of the church, it is not always expedient. The apostle Paul addressed this principle when he said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Being Lawful Doesn’t Equate With Expedient

What this means concerning the subject at hand is that although a combined meeting of men and women called to discuss church business is authorized, this does not mean it is mandatory, or even desirable. It all depends upon our attitudes, dispositions and, of course, our understanding of God’s word. Is our collective thinking up to speed on this, brotherhood wise? In other words, do most churches of Christ believe there is a “thus sayeth the Lord” for congregational business meetings? No. Are there some congregations that think there are? Yes. But even when a congregation concludes it does have authority to do so, even desiring to implement such a policy, are there reasons why such may not be expedient? Yes. For example, due to so many misconceptions that exist concerning this subject (some in the church and others in the culture), is there reason to think that some women might have a tendency to get out of their place in such meetings? And if they do get out of line, will the rest be willing to rebuke them, and take the necessary action if they don’t repent of their ungodly behavior? Or, might not a husband try to defend his wife even when it is clear to the rest that she has gotten out of her place? I hope you’re getting my point here. Yes, I believe the Scriptures teach conclusively that congregational business meetings are authorized and, therefore, can be conducted — and I would like to see this happen in more churches of Christ — but the pertinent question still remains: Is it expedient? Remember, just because something is lawful doesn’t automatically mean it is expedient, or that it truly edifies (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23).

Neither “Headship,” “Oversight,” Nor “Leadership” Authorizes Domination

I am the head of my wife and she, praise God, honors me as her lord (cf. 1 Peter 3:6). However, this does not mean that I run roughshod over her. In fact, I discuss with her every decision that directly impacts her life with me. We work as a husband and wife team. We discuss, or have discussed, most everything that relates to our life and work together. However, as the one who is in subjection, she defers to my judgment, as long as it is consistent with what God teaches in His word. This means that the ultimate authority for this relationship is not Allan Turner — it is, instead, Jesus Christ. This means that the delegated authority I have been given as my wife’s head must be exercised in view of the truths revealed in God’s Word. If I do not understand her needs (i.e., if I don’t “dwell with her according to knowledge,” 1 Peter 3:7), then I am not what the Lord requires me to be, and our prayers will be hindered. But how can I understand her if I’m not willing to discuss these needs with her? By the same token, how can the men of the congregation understand the needs of the congregation if they are not discussing these with the women members of the church?

If this is true, and I believe it is, and if elders are supposed to be the kinds of husbands we’ve just talked about, then how could an eldership, if one exists, exclude female members of the congregation from discussing the important business of the church? I think the only correct answer is: It couldn’t and it wouldn’t! However, I have heard that there are elderships exercising their “oversight”/“rule” in local churches at the expense of the male members of the congregation, in that they do not even meet with the men of the church to discuss congregational business. This is, in my understanding of things, just plain WRONG!

The apostle Peter, who was himself an elder, instructed elders to: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). What’s my point? Simply this: If elders are not to be lords of (or masters over) the flock which is among them, how can it be thought wise for them to never have a meeting with the members of the church? Unless the congregation is so small that it would be possible for the elders to discuss the matter with everyone in the church individually before making some major decision, then a business meeting with the church would seem not only appropriate, but sometimes mandatory.

How does this apply to the subject of congregational business meetings? Well, if elders ought not to run roughshod over the men of the congregation by never calling a business meeting with them, then why should those in a “men’s business meeting” feel justified in making significant/major decisions without the valuable input of the women of the congregation? Godly elders do not relinquish oversight of the local congregation when they consult with members in a business meeting anymore than a husband does when he consults his wife and children. Consequently, the men of the congregation do not relinquish their leadership, nor do the women they consult usurp their authority, be it in a business meeting or otherwise.

So, someone says, “Okay, then, we won’t object to women being in a business meeting as long as they remain silent.” In other words, such will concede to the women being informed by what takes place, but they refuse to permit them to inform the meeting, for to do so, they think, would cause them to either teach over or exercise authority over the men. This could happen, of course, but not necessarily so!

Remember, if you will, that sweet Priscilla, a godly Christian woman, along with her husband, “took [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). The KJV and the ASV translate this same Greek word as “expounded.” Most assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or exercising authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). Remember, also, that dear sister Phoebe was a servant (a “minister,” if you will) of the “church in Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1). Paul asked the church at Rome to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and [to] assist her in whatever business she has need of you: for she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (v. 2). Assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or usurping authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12).

Yes, women may get “out of line” or “out of their place” in a meeting of the church to discuss business, and this must be guarded against by all involved. However, even men sometimes get “out of line” or “out of their place” in business meetings, and this is no less sinful than if women were to do so. Perhaps a reading of Philippians 2:1-8 at the start of business meetings would be beneficial to all involved.

Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

We must learn that when the apostle Paul said: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition [strife] or conceit [vainglory]; but in lowliness of mind [humility] let each esteem others better [more significant] than himself,” he wasn’t simply making a suggestion. He was, instead, giving a direct command! Christians are plainly taught to “submit…one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). Such godliness would eliminate the attitudes that wreak havoc in too many “men’s business meetings,” as it would with congregational business meetings, as well.

Authority Comes With Tremendous Responsibilities

My position/role with reference to the exercise of authority does not dictate my significance. The world may reason this way, but the gospel teaches that our glory, our worth, is measured by our personal conformity to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. Feminism argues that a woman cannot be “a serious person” unless she occupies a position of headship/authority. This kind of thinking does not come from “above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15). It reflects the mass stampede for power, recognition, status and prestige we see all around us in a lost and dying world. But the world’s reasoning is invalid. Authority does not authenticate me as a person made in the image of God. Authority is not a privilege to be exploited to build up my ego. Authority is a responsibility one bears for the benefit of others without regard for one’s self. This is the Christian view. In other words, my personal significance is not measured according to my rung on the ladder. Neither is my opportunity for personal fulfillment enlarged or diminished according to the role I have been assigned. If it is, then the goal of life degenerates into competition for power, and when this happens, then no one hungers and thirsts for the true fulfillment that comes only from doing righteousness. The ancient preacher said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13). Godly submission honors and glorifies God just as much as godly authority, and neither of these is easier than the other. For a woman to learn godly submission and for a man to learn godly leadership takes devotion and work. Devoted to God and the male-female roles He ordained, we work hard to exemplify these roles to the glory of God.

Contrary to what some think, the Bible does not teach that men are superior and that women are inferior. Thus, man’s authority is a responsibility, a God-given trust, for the good of all. It is not a right of man to exercise for his own self-exaltation or ego-satisfaction. And it is not so much a prerogative as it is a calling. It is, in fact, a duty, an obligation, a charge that God has given to man. It is unfortunate that sin has distorted both masculinity and femininity. Consequently, it is only “in Christ” that one can expect to learn what mature masculinity and mature femininity are all about.

“Authority,” whether in the home or church, is vested in men. However, any and all power associated with such authority recedes before its responsibility. In Matthew 20:25-26, the Bible says: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.’” Therefore, mature Christian masculinity views leadership/authority as an obligation to be borne (a sacred duty to be discharged for the good of others, if you will), not simply as a right to assert or power to exercise.

Conclusion

In conclusion, and in consideration of 1 Corinthians 14:40, which says, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” it seems prudent that a meeting called to address the business of a church without elders would benefit from (1) an agenda of business to be discussed and (2) a presiding “chairman” to facilitate the meeting. If executed well, these would provide a means for all things to be done decently and in order. But to exclude women from such meetings, as is often done today, and to do so arguing that the Scriptures require it to be done this way, is simply not scriptural, in that it cannot be demonstrated that the Bible teaches any such thing!

However, and as I’ve already mentioned, a congregational meeting of men and women to discuss business, although scriptural, may simply not be deemed expedient. In that case, and consistent with the prohibitions of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, a men’s business meeting could be conducted. But because we are compelled to arrive at our conclusions by consensus, then how could it be appropriate to make decisions that affect a whole congregation without first considering what the women are thinking? I don’t think it can be, unless you buy into the argument that a “men’s business meeting” is the “ruling entity” for the church. However, and as I’ve pointed out in this series of articles, the Bible makes it clear that this is a function reserved for the eldership, and not a group of lesser qualified men. Therefore, some means will be necessary for “feeling the pulse” of the women who make up the congregation. In other words, it is important not only that the women are being told after the fact what happens in the men’s business meeting, but that they have genuine input prior to decisions being made.

If, then, women are not going to be allowed in the meeting, or if in the meeting they are not permitted to speak, then it seems reasonable/expedient that the men could assign a man to meet with the women prior to the men’s meeting, so as to make sure they had a feel for what the women were thinking, and all this for the ultimate purpose of reaching a consensus. The male, who would chair the meeting, could then report to the men what the women thought about the business matters at hand. This would require, or so it seems to me, an agenda of business to be provided to these women before or during their meeting. Then, not only would the women of the congregation be informed as to decisions that were being made, but they would also have genuine input into the decision making process, so that when a decision is finally made, it would indeed be by consensus.

In a congregation without elders, this is, in my judgment, the only scriptural avenue available. By “only scriptural avenue,” I do not mean the particular plan I have set forth here. What I mean is that, in lieu of elders, it seems to me that the only scriptural avenue we have open to us is to arrive at our decisions by consensus. To doubt, as some do, that a consensus is possible, one must lack faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ in shaping the hearts of both men and women. It is my prayer that the Lord will help us do His will in His way.

Please, think seriously about what I’ve said. And as you do, understand that in the absence of a humble spirit of love and mutual concern, there are no rules of order that can make a church without elders function for the Lord as He would have it. As Christians, our task, without sacrificing the truths taught in God’s word, is to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Without elders, a church is, at best, still “lacking” (Titus 1:5). All who make up such a church should be determined to be the kind of men and women who will one day allow them to appoint, from among themselves, godly men who will be both qualified and willing to take the “oversight” of the church, as God intended. They must be praying for and working toward that day, and the Lord will surely bless them as they endeavor to do His will in all things.

May the good Lord bless us all as we continue to humbly study His word.