God’s True Church Is Organized!
“I’m not leaving the Church,” explained one in violent disagreement – “only leaving the ‘organization’! “I’ll always remain solidly in God’s Church, but I must repudiate the organization!”
But is organization – even of God’s own Church – evil?
Can one withdraw from any active participation in the “organization” that is God’s true Church – which is performing the Work of God by the power of His Spirit, fulfilling the great commission Jesus Christ gave His true disciples – and yet, somehow, “be in the Church”?
Let’s see what the Bible clearly says, not using our own human reasoning, but searching the Scriptures to learn what the Great God, and His Son, Jesus Christ say about it.
What Is The “Church?”
Millions reason they are somehow in God’s true “Church” no matter what denomination, sect, cult, political persuasion, social club, or business affiliation they maintain. Millions like to believe that “most” all churches have “mostly good points,” but, naturally, have “some points on which they might disagree.” But “does this really matter, after all?” some reason, “Surely, since they believe in Christ, and in His ‘atoning work,’ they will get to heaven anyway, won’t they?”
Because of the false teaching, resulting from a completely misunderstood statement of Jesus Christ concerning the Kingdom of God, literally millions assume the “church” is a completely disjointed, loosely disconnected, ethereal, vague, nebulous, imaginary “something” that is “within” you!
Many assume that, collectively, the true Church (all those they assume are going to “heaven”) might include “members” of literally dozens of “churches” of this world; denominations of all sorts. Whether liberal-minded Catholics actually believe any Protestants will “go to heaven” without ever becoming a Catholic is a moot point, but it seems, many of professing Protestant Christians is willing to concede that millions of other Protestants (and perhaps even a few Catholics), though they disagree on many major points and belong to vastly different organizations, will eventually enter the “Beatific vision.”
But is all this reasoning true?
And, even if millions might “think” it is –does that make it so? Is the true Church of God, the Church Jesus said He would build, just an “imaginary” body of “believers” who have no connection with each other, or any specially organized group? May one “be in” the true Church of God, bearing fruit, fulfilling Christ’s commands, carrying out His commission, without being a living, active member of an organization?
“I will build my church,” Jesus said (Matt. 16:18). The Greek word for “church” in this passage is ekklesia – which can mean “called-out ones,” or “specially chosen ones,” or “body of believers”! It is a word which denotes “group,” “body,” “congregation” – a group of people! Through transmission of the Bible text into other languages, and especially resulting from the commonly misunderstood usage of the English word “church,” the true meaning of what Jesus so plainly said has been lost from sight!
Today, a “church” is a “building,” as often as it is a “group. “The Methodist Church” could be either a building on the corner, or the group of people who are called “Methodist” as an organization!
Jesus didn’t imply He would build a building when He said, “I will build my ekklesia.” He meant exactly what He said: He would construct, knit solidly together, consecrate, organize and commission His group!
Jesus – The Living Head
That passage of Matthew’s 16th chapter is only understood by carefully comparison with many other scriptures, which made it clear that the “Rock” (Greek, Petra), to which Jesus referred was Himself, and the “pebble” (Greek, petros) was Peter. Jesus is plainly called “that Rock” (I Cor. 10:4) which followed the Israelites in the wilderness, and the Rock of our salvation (Deut. 32; Ps. 18:2, 31, and 46; Ps. 31:2-3).
Paul says Christ, not any human being, is the living Head of His Church (Eph. 1:20-23; 4:15). “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:17, 18). He, not any man, is called the Head of the body (the Church) and the “chief corner stone” (Col. 2:10, 17; Eph. 2:20).
David said: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner” (Ps. 118:22). Peter referred to this scripture, saying: “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner” (I Peter. 2:6-7).
Christ is called, at once, the “head,” the “head of the corner,” and the “chief corner stone,” as well as the “capstone.”
“. . . . . Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.”(Isa. 28:16). Never did God the Father or Jesus Christ intend turning leadership of the Church over to men! Jesus Christ said, “Lo, I am with you always” in commissioning His disciples! He, Christ, is the living, active Head of His Church, just as He has always been!
An Organized Body
It is not an analogy of men to refer to Christ’s group of “called out ones,” or His ekklesia (Church), as a body! Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Abide in me, and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine (an integral part of the body!): no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:1-4).
Jesus used the obvious analogy of a growing, producing vine with roots firmly implanted in rich soil, the flow of life-giving sap through the main vine (Christ) to the major branches on to the smaller branches, and finally producing fruit! He said: “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered (he has been cut off from the main trunk, and therefore from the life-giving flow that can come only from remaining a part of the tightly knit, integral body, together, as one living organism): and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (vs. 5-6).
Jesus Christ of Nazareth makes it clear that He is the living Head of His Church, His group of human beings who are called by His name, in whom is the very Spirit of God and of Christ (Rom. 8:9). Each individual member is a part of a living, vital organism, having no life separate from, or apart from, that organism!
Though one might “reason around” in his own mind that by withdrawing from what he may contemptuously call “the organization” (God’s Church) he is, in fact, “remaining in the church,” he is only deceiving himself – playing with meaningless words – and directly contradicting these powerful words of Jesus Christ Himself!
Jesus Christ organized His true Church! He said: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). But unless one remains a part of that spiritual body, firmly attached to the main vine, he cannot “bear fruit.”
Appearing to His own disciples after His resurrection, Jesus said: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:18-20).
Following the suicide of Judas (Matt. 27:5), Jesus inspired the apostles to select another man, Matthias (one of two men selected after lengthy discussion among the remaining eleven leaders, and the one finally chosen by lot), because He was determined to begin with the perfect governmental number, and a number representing organized beginnings– twelve! There were twelve tribes in Israel, and Jesus Himself described twelve future thrones (Matt. 19:28) upon which His own apostles will sit, judging the twelve tribes of Israel!
A Great Commission
Jesus showed His group, His body of believers, His Church, would be a human, physical group of men, and women – flesh and blood human beings - with a great Work to do!
“. . . . . And you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus’ prophecy that His great commission to His true disciples would be fulfilled: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14). Jesus, appearing again to His disciples following His resurrection, said: “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so (in like fashion) send I you” (John 20:21).
Paul was inspired to write: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then, shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent” (Rom. 10:13-16)?
Jesus said: “Even so send I you,” and make it perfectly clear that unless those who are sent (ordained) remain in the body, and firmly attached to the Branch (see Isa. 11:1), they are utterly cut off, can bear no fruit, and are not the chosen servants of Jesus Christ, who remains the living, active Head of His Church!
Jesus said: “As my Father hath sent me” – showing Christ came to perform a Work on this earth! He said: “My meat (my daily activity; my livelihood, my ‘occupation’) is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
Christ said His preaching of the gospel (which He repeatedly called the “work’ or “my work”) was only possible because He, Christ, stayed firmly joined to the Father!” “. . . . . My Father works hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). And in verses 36-37: “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.”
Gospel of the Kingdom
Continually, Jesus emphasized the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness to all nations! He said: And the gospel must first be published among all nations” (Mark 13:10).
Mark’s account of Jesus’ commission to His disciples reads: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned (Greek, condemned)” (Mark 16:15-16).
So, as Jesus was sent to preach the gospel, He also sent His disciples to do the same! Jesus Christ did the Work of God: he called and trained His disciples, putting them through the maturing experiences they would need later. He rebuked and exhorted them, finally giving them of God’s Holy Spirit, ordaining them into His own Church as His apostles, and sent them out into the world to fulfill the commission He gave them! That great commission is still being carried out today!
Organization Is Necessary
It would be impossible to perform God’s Work, either then or now, without the organization Christ Himself ordained. “Organization” is not a “nasty” word! It stems from “organism,” meaning a living, vital collection of cellular tissue; a plant, or living creature; a part of God’s creation having life and purpose and being.
Jesus Christ established government in His Church – insisting He would at all times retain ultimate authority! He never intended making any human being the Head of the Church! But He did place the apostles in charge under the living Christ!
Throughout the book of Acts, you see examples of the government of God in action. At the Jerusalem conference, for example, came the first major test of the type of government Christ had established within His own organization.
“Certain men,” who are unidentified (men with no official status within the Church, who were unordained, and who were mainly affected by their past religious teachings – that of the Pharisees), “taught the brethren, and said, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
Apparently, Paul and Barnabas could not change their opinions. It became necessary to go to higher authority to resolve the difficulty. Even though Paul was an ordained apostle (as was Barnabas), these “men” who were unauthorized to teach anyone – who were unordained – refused to believe him. Because of the effect it was having on the brethren, several of the leaders decided to “go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question (v.2).
Read the whole chapter. Think about it. The advocates of circumcision would surely have seemed to have every possible scripture on their side, wouldn’t they?
Remember, not one scrap of the New Testament had even been written yet! There were no “new Testament” books of the Bible to which the apostles, or the dissenters, could turn. And almost everything they could read from the Old Covenant might strongly indicate circumcision was required!
Perhaps, however, one of the apostles hit upon Jeremiah 4:4, which says: “Circumcise yourselves to the Eternal, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.” But the major point which bore the most weight was experience! Notice how Paul and Barnabas reasoned that God had given the Gentiles His Sprit, that he had obviously not withheld salvation from them just because of their “uncircumcised’ condition! Then Peter substantiated their words by showing that God had “put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (v. 9)
James then rendered a final decision (vs. 13- 21). He said: “Wherefore my sentence is (decision, choice, policy), that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.”
A Verbal Decision
Later, it was said that the apostles “. . . . . went through the cities (and) they delivered them decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4).
This decision was rendered orally! It was not based on any direct quotation of scripture you can find in the 15th chapter of Acts. Not once did any of those who spoke quote any “chapter and verse,” but rather told of the experiences of practical day-to-day conduct of the Work, and of the fact that God had obviously given of His Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles!
Now, of course, since Luke kept record of these facts, and sent them to his friend Theophilus (Acts 1:1), we can read the account of this verbal decision! But the verbal decision was not based on something previously written, but on the facts of what God had done!
Notice the organization here! First, the dissident “teachers” began upsetting the brethren. Paul and Barnabas tried to dissuade them and convince them of their error. They refused to believe. Paul and Barnabas and other ministers decided to take the matter to headquarters (at Jerusalem then) to higher authority. They did so. A decision was finally rendered, after all sides had been heard!
But did this stop the false teachings that all must be circumcised in order to be saved? Did it end the controversy over circumcisim? No – not at all – it only began it. From that time on, Paul’s life in Christ’s ministry among the Gentiles was to be plagued by continual persecutions from former or still active Pharisees who urgently insisted circumcision was required! They didn’t believe in the official authority of God’s headquarters apostles and ministry, as did most of the Church.
What Is Power?
“Power corrupts!” goes the saying. And, like many “sayings,” it is in error. God possesses all power – and Jesus said, in commissioning His disciples: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). Yet, our God is incorruptible, as is Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, and the Head of His Church!
The abuse of power is certainly corrupt. The ageless lessons of power wrongly used by carnal men is the most noxious and repetitious lesson of all of mankind’s history.
But what is “power”? It has many definitions in your dictionary, from force, energy and the ability to do work in the physical sense to the political definition of the ability to hold sway other men’s minds.
Power and authority are, believe it or not, given into the hands of Christ’s own ministers! And that power can be abused. One of the most basic cravings of human nature is the desire for power. From the time we were children our own human nature of vanity, jealousy, lust, greed – the desire to enforce our will on others – manifested itself. This power is evidenced on face book, twitter and the other social media venues. If you do not agree with me, I will unfriend you is the message conveyed today!
Human Desire for Power
The dangerous egocentricity of the craving for power is the hidden drive that motivates millions of human beings, in all our colors, races, religions and nationalities. Intangible, unrealized, unrecognized even by those so afflicted, power can-- given carnality and basic human nature-- corrupt.
On one occasion the disciples were caught up in a heated discussion about “rank” and “status” in the future. Jesus was heavy with sick dread about His imminent crucifixion. It was during the final Passover, the famous “last supper.” Jesus had just finished sharing the bread and wine with His disciples and had spoken out about the one who was to betray Him.
The disciples were not “saints” by any means – but carnal, albeit sincere and willing men, whose human natures had not yet been changed by the supernatural begettal of God’s Holy Spirit. Their reasoning was still physical, carnal, and therefore selfishly oriented. Though Christ was exceedingly heavy of heart, they couldn’t truly empathize with Him, reaching out with their hearts and emotions to let Him know they bore the same sorrow. Instead, “. . . There was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest” (Luke 22:24).
They wanted to know specifics! At that time they wanted Christ to name names, and designate positions, ranks, titles, and official status! But Jesus Christ said nothing about who should ultimately lead, even though Peter, John, James, all were present. Very likely, knowing the impetuousness of Peter, and noticing Christ’s statement which immediately followed - “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (v. 21) – Peter himself was involved in the argument.
But Christ was not about to be trapped into creating some “ecclesiastical hierarchy” of “rank” which would ultimately ferment into a rigid, stiffing, pompous, dictatorial “establishment”! Instead, He gave them a great principle of leadership.
Christ Defines True Greatness
“And he said unto them, the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them: and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger: and that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sits at meat, or he that serves? Is not he that sits at meat? But I am among you as he that serves” (Luke 22:25-27).
To any stranger, entering the room at the mealtime, they would have thought Peter, James, John and the other apostles were the “greatest,” since they were obviously sitting “at meat.” But what about Jesus? Why, they would have immediately supposed He was a servant of the house, waiting on tables! They would have seen Him wash His own disciples’ feet, a task among those of the lowest. They would have seen Him break and distribute bread, and pour out individual servings of wine, and hand them to each one.
Yet, obviously to you and I, looking at the Scriptures and understanding the awesome greatness of Christ, it was Jesus who was in authority, who had the power, who was the “greatest”!
What a striking contrast to the usual ostentatious conduct of carnal men who desire personal recognition, acclaim and status!
Christ knew the only true “status” worthy of the word was where He stood with God, His Father! So Christ provided the basis for God’s government in His Church by pointing to the word “service”! The very word “minister” means servant!
The Impact upon Peter
Peter never forgot what Jesus said to Him following His denial, and his shamed, thrice-repeated, ever more intense statement of love for Jesus. He was to later write: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder (thus showing no consciousness of “rank” between those who, though not ‘evangelists’ or even pastors of churches, were older men who were ordained), and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof (the ‘overseer- ship,’ or ‘presbytery’), not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. Likewise, ye younger, submit your selves unto the elder. Yea all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:1-5). Peter never forgot Christ’s three-fold command: “Feed my sheep!”
The Right Use of Power and Authority
The apostle Paul coined a new phrase, one which has been a guiding light to Christ’s ministry in this modern age: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (II Cor. 1:23).
“Helpers of your joy,” a title hardly suitable for anyone misusing the power of the ministry!
Can we see clearly, and understand, that the power and authority Christ gives His ministry is not “over” the people in the sense of stifling control over their lives? He gave power – but power over the forces of evil which destroy men’s lives, power over the diseases which afflict people, power over demons which might influence or possess!
Christ called His twelve disciples and “he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner disease” (Matt. 10:1). In commanding them to go abroad and preach, He said: “And as ye go, preach, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils (demons); freely ye have received, freely give” (vs. 7-8).
The power was to help the people, to relieve terrible suffering, physical and mental: and to preach the good news of Christ’s soon-coming rulership on this earth!
Later, when Christ built His Church on that first Pentecost after His resurrection by granting God’s Holy Spirit to the original apostles (including Matthias, replacement for Judas Iscariot), He was fulfilling His promise: “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). He again promised power!
Notice that even after the resurrection, and many infallible proofs that Christ was alive, the disciples still wondered about the establishment of an earthly kingdom then and there!
“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, it is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:6-9).
Power for a Purpose
“Power?” But why? What kind of power? Was it “authority” in the sense of having power to “give orders” to people, to hold sway over people’s private choices and opinions, to stifle and control other human beings? No – it was for the same consistent reason He had given the same men power as fledgling disciples on their first “evangelistic’ trip! “. . . And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Those were the last words Jesus spoke before being bodily assumed into heaven!
The apostles knew there was a great job to do, that a great commission had been given! Peter certainly didn’t mistake the purpose for God’s Holy Spirit – the unlimited power that Christ promised to send. It is not revealed which one of the apostles spoke the words of Acts 1:24-25 – only that “they prayed, and said, thou , Lord, which knows the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell.”
They knew they had been given a ministry (a service) to perform. Peter had referred to the broad principle in at least two of the Psalms concerning an “overseership” (“bishoprick,” KJV) to be transferred out of the hands of Judas and into the possession of a replacement.
Referring to Judas, he said: “For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry” (v. 17).Peter went on to say: “. . . And his overseership let another take” (v. 20).
The apostles were keenly aware that their whole lives would now be organized into a unified body for the purpose of accomplishing one great job!
They had the fantastic truth to report that Christ was alive, that He had risen from the dead, that they were eyewitnesses to that fact, and that He was going to come again! And they knew that job was the purpose for receiving power! It was the power to accomplish the job they expected, and that power they used, - not the raw abuse of “power” to interfere in people’s private lives to the point of super- snooping, CIA, FBI-type surveillance over every thought, deed and act.
“Helpers of their joy,” yes, but “policemen of their souls,” never!
Miracles began to occur. The first was Pentecost itself, and the powerful manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit on that day: tongues of leaping, flickering flames, almost like divine crowns on their heads: powerful, intense, profound, moving words of Christ’s resurrection, happiness, joy; a feeling of almost immediate expectancy of an imminent utopia that would come when Christ would rend the heavens and step down once again to this earth! That spirit of wonderment and excitement filled them all! By the thousands, people were converted and baptized! They sold properties and stayed longer – wanting to be a part of all the miraculous things that were happening! Fantastic healings took place! And then, suddenly, a shocking event occurred!
Ananias and Sapphira
A couple thought pretense – a pretended posture of “giving” while being covetous of money – could “put one over” on the Church and the apostles. They desired recognition as generous, giving, wonderful “Christian” people. Their sordid story is told in 5th chapter of Acts.
Ananias and Sapphira are names synonymous with “lying to the Holy Spirit.” Their deaths were such a shock to the Church that “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5:11).
Unfortunately, the story of Ananias and Sapphira has been misused all down through history in order to wrest terribly private “confessions” out of thoroughly frightened ones who inexplicably find themselves before a stern-faced “minister” who now demands to know the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about some juicy little incident in their private lives. A careful study of Hefele’s “Church Councils” proves enlightening, as does research into the origin of the Catholic confessional booth. Sometimes such private conversations apparently got out of hand.
But this was unique in all the Bible – and no doubt, there have been tens of thousands of cases all down through history where people have tried to deceive Christ’s ministry, or lied to a minister in private counsel, and lived through it.
God’s purpose in taking the lives of Ananias and Sapphira was not to provide His ministry with the ultimate fear weapon for inquiring into the private lives of individuals. Ananias and Sapphira voluntarily came to the apostles, posturing as generous contributors of their earthly good. Peter plainly said that while it was in their own hands it was theirs, to do with as they chose. Only after they conspired, and then lied, was the horrible penalty exacted – and that not by the apostles, but by a divine miracle from God, much like the case of Korah’s rebellion.
The point is, it is a sin to lie, and the wages of sin is death – a fact which must be continually taught and emphasized by a loving ministry (Rom. 3:23; 6:23), in the hopes that sin will be repented of, forgiven and forgotten (Heb. 8;12).
God was proving, by direct intervention from heaven itself, that the power with which He was infusing His ministry was supernatural. There would be power to cast out demons, to heal the sick and to preach the gospel. The instant closeness of heaven was emphasized. The fact of God’s immediate presence was plain! The fact that Christ Himself was ruling, judging and making the final decisions was clear!
Jesus Christ determined He would remain at the helm, as He had promised – never allowing mortal man to usurp that ultimate governmental function: final decision-making, ruling His Church! But He had clearly demonstrated that awesome power could work in and through His chosen human servants!
The Church Begins To Wane
However, just as in the case of sensational healings, signs, (earthquakes, people being loosed from prison supernaturally, etc.) and other miracles gradually waned, even to the point the apostle Paul admitted at a much later date he had left “Trophimus at Miletum sick,” so were the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira absolutely unique in those early moments of the New Testament Church of God.
Later, Jude was to write that there were those who had “crept in unawares” and who had deliberately infiltrated into the ranks of Christ’s ministry, using hypocrisy and pretense! God allowed evil, plotting men to deceive and posture as true ministers, even though He had directly intervened, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, to show His never-changing attitude toward would-be deceivers.
Almost from its very inception, the New Testament Church had to constantly struggle to keep itself intact against subversive acts from within and attacks from without.
But God’s government overcame each of these obstacles. Though the Church may have been scarred, bruised, wounded, and, in fact, lay almost prostrate for long periods of time, true to Jesus Christ’s promises it never died!
But some points of truth did “die out” over a period of many centuries, until virtually all that remained of the original truths known and understood by the apostle Paul and other early New Testament apostles was the knowledge of God’s weekly Sabbath, the true name of the Church, and basic truths such as the nature of man and the mortality of the soul, the truth about a millennium on this earth, and the most basic of all truths concerning repentance, baptism and receiving of the Holy Spirit in order to achieve salvation.
Many major points of truth had been lost, among them the knowledge of God’s annual Holy Days and Church government itself.
Organization Desperately Needed
But as the need for a more organized preaching of the gospel grew, so did the need for an organization to preach that gospel!
Very soon after the Church began, it became evident that, if the apostles were to devote their time to the primary mission of preaching the gospel, they would need help in administering various forms of physical service to others. The example of waiting on tables, resulting in the very first ordinations of deacons, is a case in point (Acts 6).
It remained for the apostle Paul to delineate the various functions for the purpose of preaching the gospel to the world and for feeding the flock. (all of which we will explain shortly).
But today, God’s Church is highly organized! As your body is highly organized –consisting of muscular, skeletal, nervous, digestive and circulatory systems – and as your own body must continually be nourished, fed, protected and receive exercise in order to continue to function in a healthy manner, so must the organized body which is the Church of God with Jesus Christ as living Head continually be nourished and must grow as does the highly organized and tremendously complex systematic organization we call the “human body.”
No, there is nothing “evil” in the word “organization.” It comes from “organism” meaning a living thing or creation which has been intricately and beautifully designed of God!
Government at God’s Church is for the purpose of keeping unity in the faith (Eph. 4:1-3), for preaching the gospel, for overcoming every obstacle, as well as settling doctrinal disputes, reaching decisions concerning disfellowshipping and reinstating in the Church, ordaining of ministers and establishing of Bible studies and churches – especially for the means of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness to all the world.
Without organization (and God is not the author of confusion, I Cor. 14:33).there would be no smoothly functioning, healthy body, edifying and building up itself as it continually feeds upon the Word and the knowledge of God, or accomplishing a great work which, after all, is the overall purpose for the maintaining of a healthy body!
Yes, it is true that God’s Church is organized! It is true that it has government, and that that government is from the top down. And that is God’s form of government, and the only form which can ever function in Gods’ true Church.
One of the major proofs of the true Church of God is the spiritual organization of that Church, exactly as defined in God’s Word.
New Testament Church Administration
Many New Testament scriptures show a pattern of God-ordained Church administration and organization.
In the 12th chapter of I Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God (not man) hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (I Cor. 12:27-28).
Notice how the organization emphasizes the primary purpose of the body first, and the secondary later. First, Paul spoke of apostles (meaning one is “sent” commissioned with a message, “set apart”), and then prophets (which can also mean an inspired “preacher” as easily as it can imply a “foreteller of events”).
Then he lists teaching (as in feeding the flock), and the administrative functions of the Church, as well as including various special gifts of God’s Spirit for healing and other miracles.
Paul also wrote: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.”
He then went on to describe the order of the “gifts” God had placed in His Church: “Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith, or ministry, let us wait on our ministering, or he that teaches, on teachings” (Rom. 12:5-7).
Notice again in this organizational passage how “prophecy” (including inspired preaching and teaching of the Word of God as it especially concerns the future) and then the “ministry” are placed first.
This same pattern is repeated in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he said: “And he gave some, apostles, and some prophets, and some, evangelists, and some, pastors, and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).
Paul’s writings constitute a beautiful and vivid picture of the government of God in action!
His very letters, in themselves, show a concerned and fatherly apostle who continually wrestled with the manifold problems of each individual Church area; writing to them in deep anguish of spirit over their personal problems, exhorting them, rebuking them, setting and deciding policies, sometimes disfellowshipping, and sometimes reinstating.
Paul’s writings reveal how God’s government was established for the purpose of preaching the gospel, for organizing churches and studies, for disfellowshipping in cases where this was required in order to keep God’s Church free from contaminating influences, for reinstating where that could happily be done, and at all times preaching “sound doctrine” and protecting the Church from attacks both from within and from without.
Church Administration Letters
Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles” are nothing short of “Church administration letters” from this apostle to the Gentiles and to the young men under his charge. In them, you can read of the many details concerning Paul’s instructions to young men such as Aristarchus, Secundus, Timothy, Titus, Gaius, and others who were his helpers in various parts of the Eastern Mediterranean region. And again and again the purpose for such organization is revealed.
Timothy was charged again and again to remember how he would meet every opposition, including seducing spirits, doctrines of demons and lies (I Tim. 4:1-2). He would face pride, ignorance, questions and striving about words, envy , strife, railings, evil surmising, perverse disputing of men of corrupt minds desiring material gain (I Tim. 6:4-5). He was warned to beware of “oppositions of science falsely so called” (I Tim. 6:20), “profane and vain babblings: (II Tim. 2:16), lies that the resurrection had already occurred which would overthrow the faith of some (II Tim. 2:18), foolish and unlearned questions (II Tim. 2:23). He was warned that evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse (II Tim. 3:13); people, having itching ears, would heap to themselves teachers and turn unto fables (II Tim. 4:3-4). He was told some would love this present world and simply quit when the going got tough (II Tim. 4:10).He was reminded about Alexander the coppersmith, who had done a great deal of evil to the apostle Paul (II Tim. 4:14).
Titus was warned that he would encounter “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10), and that he should “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15).
He was charged to “avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretic (factious, or of splits and schisms) after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:9-11).
In these “Pastoral Epistles” you not only read of the organization of an apostle giving instructions to a young evangelist on how to conduct the churches in his area, ordaining elders, disfellowshipping or marking those who cause divisions, but also you read of the day-to-day conduct of the Work at that time, even including such instructions as helping others who were traveling through the area (Titus 3:13) and that Timothy should remember to bring both the coat and some books and parchments Paul had left behind (II Tim. 4:13).
Paul’s Humanity and Humility
Through Paul’s letters the constant humanity of the apostle comes clearly through. He calls himself a “wretched man,” delineating the many areas of his own personal life in which he felt inadequate. He spoke of his physical infirmities and afflictions, sometimes cried out about the enormous burden of responsibility he carried and the lack of cooperation he would receive from this or that Church congregation.
Yet he continually preached, exhorted, and wrote powerful letters to strengthen the congregations to which he ministered, as well as the younger ministers in his charge.
Like the apostle Peter, Paul had a great measure of humility to temper any potential feeling of pomposity or vanity which he might have been tempted to assume simply because of the office in which Christ had placed him. Paul knew he was a “prisoner of the gospel,” and that his whole life was utterly dedicated to fulfilling the great Word to which he had been called.
The whole motive of all the apostles, as especially exemplified by Paul, was not to stifle the Church through their God-given power and authority, but – first of all – to give out Christ’s powerful gospel message, and – secondarily to protect the little ones in the flock from power and money-hungry deceivers (false apostles). This secondary function is a vital and integral part of feeding the flock.
Protecting the Flock
So not only is God’s Church organized for the purpose of preaching this gospel as a witness to the world, and to edify and build the Church (Eph. 4:12), but also for the purpose of protecting the flock from attacks from within, and from without!
Paul warned: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers (bishops or pastors), to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28-31).
By looking at Paul’s own life, the way he spent his time, you can easily see the priorities in God’s Work and the primary function of an apostle.
First and foremost, Paul labored incessantly to preach the gospel! Secondly, he strove to establish churches, ordain ministers, feed the flock, and continually exhort that the Church be kept from doctrinal error, as well as free from “grievous wolves” whether from within or from without.
The entire New Testament from the book of Acts onward bears testimony to the struggle which ensued as the government of God continually functioned to preach the gospel freely and without hindrance: to feed the flock with the truth, free from error; and to protect the flock from attacks.
Initially, as in the case of healings, signs and miracles (such as at least two cases of resurrections from the dead, and earthquakes), and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, God was plainly showing His great power was there to back up and support the responsibilities he had placed on His ministry.
But those same powerful signs did not continue in the same intensity throughout the history of the writing of the New Testament, nor are they continuing today!
Christ Backs His Church Today
Nevertheless, Christ’s promise, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” does remain in effect! When (not “if”) it becomes God’s time to once again shake this earth with great signs and wonders, He will do it!
But in the meantime He is providing His Church, the body of Christ, with the spiritual power, as well as with the physical necessities, to preach the gospel of the Kingdom in an organized fashion to the whole world as a last-moment witness and warning.
It could not be done in any other way! In today’s highly complex societies, with jet-age travel and space-age communication facilities, God’s Word must use the electronic media, the printing press, and personal evangelism – all possible methods to preach the gospel.
God, not man, is the author of order, or organization! Thank God He has placed government in His Church – and thanks be to Him He continually supervises and guides it, seeing to it that His government really works!