Who Rules the Church?
It is heaven to serve Jesus in the company of His saints. It was He who said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). We are engaged in a work so supernatural that to forget Christ is to ensure defeat.
But just how does Jesus build His church, and upon whose authority? At least seven things need to be said.
1. Christ alone is the Head of the church. He is the only Senior Pastor (Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:18; Eph. 4:5; 1 Pet. 5:2).
2. Christ’s authority is manifested in the assembly through the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit. All Spirit-filled believers are priests and are directly responsible to the Head (Rom. 14:4; 1 Tim 2:5). Moreover, all believers have gifts and can minister in and to the assembly according to their giftedness (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4:7, 16). The New Testament knows nothing of a clergy-laity division. All the members comprise a fully functioning priesthood. Various brothers can teach the church, and the congregation is permitted to question them or add their own insights under the direction of the Spirit (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:29-35).
3. In each assembly certain brothers are not only gifted by the Holy Spirit but are gifts of Christ to the church (Eph. 4:11). Their specific ministry is to teach the Word of God and to equip their fellow saints for works of ministry (Eph. 4:12). The expression “pastor-teachers” (Eph. 4:11) does not refer to “officers” or official positions but to functions or duties. The notion of a church “office” is based on human tradition and on faulty translations (e.g., in 1 Tim. 3:1 Paul refers simply to “oversight,” not “the office of a bishop” as in the KJV).
4. Leaders in the assembly are extensions of the church and not over it (Phil. 1:1). They are older and more spiritually mature brothers (“elders”) who are sensitive to God’s voice and who obey that voice. Their function is to “oversee” the assembly, and the assembly properly recognizes their experience and gifts (Acts 20:28; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). These elders arise from within the local church where their life and character are known (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5).
5. Elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) based on their maturity, their gifts, and especially their character (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). Churches do not appoint elders; they recognize them. Men function as overseers because they are elders and because they are gifted as pastors.
6. The New Testament always speaks of oversight in terms of a plurality (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 4:17; Heb. 10:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). It knows nothing of a church with “a” pastor. For example, the Ephesian church had a plurality of elders, not one “pastor” (Acts 20:17); hence the “angel” of Rev. 2:1 cannot possibly be used to support a one-man pastor system.
7. Often one elder will have more influence in the assembly because of his gifts and experience. But such an elder is not a “senior pastor” (head honcho); he is simply a “fellow elder” (1 Pet. 5:1). Jesus specifically taught His followers not to take upon themselves honorific titles that set them apart from the “brothers” (Matt 23:6-12; Mark 10:35-45).
These principles are not to be held only in theory. They should become our joyful practice as those in submission to the Head of the Body, the Lord Jesus Christ. In light of these principles, we would do well to ask ourselves some questions:
1. Why do so many of our assemblies divide their leadership into a hierarchy of “senior pastor,” “associate pastor,” etc. when the New Testament makes no such distinction?
2. Why do so many of our congregations look for potential leaders outside of their own ranks instead of raising and training their own men for pastoral leadership?
3. Why do so many of our congregations fail to give members of the church an adequate opportunity to exercise their gifts, including the gift of teaching?
4. If all believers are priests and gifted, why do so many of our congregations place the responsibility for edification in the hands of a few professional “clergy”?
Dear friends, we believe God for our souls. Let us also believe Him for our churches. The condition of a church may be accurately gauged by its leadership. Truly I wish that all pastors could always, without doubt, say that “Christ is the Head our church!”
February 11, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.