1 Corinthians 12:28
And God hath set some in the church, first paid-staff, secondarily worship leaders, thirdly technical crew, after that class teachers, then administrative counselors, helps, governments, children workers.
Of course the above is a major-misquote, but you’d almost think that the way church organizations in our day are run that the above verse must be in the bible someplace.
Today we will talk about church government, and try to get a grasp of how the church was biblically intended to be structured by Christ – and how the early five-fold ministers set-up, and established church organizational structures. Let’s start where the Gospels end, and the church begins – with the Ascension of Christ.
…When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
And He gave some apostles, and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers;
The ascention with its rammifications is a largely untaught element of the Gospel in the church today. I hear lots of messages about the birth of Christ, the cross of Christ, and the resurrection of Christ; less teaching on the life of Christ, and very little about the meaning and implications of the ascension of Christ. Perhaps soon I’ll write more centrally on the topic. Here it is essential to address, because the ascention was also the birth of the church.
Prior to the ascention Christ, being in the wold (even though resurrected) could not come into our temples (bodies).(John 16:7). In fact that is the central reason that Jesus ascended according to Ephesians 4:10 –
He …ascended up far above all heavens, THAT HE MIGHT FILL ALL THINGS.
That, right there, is the central reason for the ascension: so that Christ can fill all things. It has also elevated Him above all things so that He can be the head of the body, indeed. He is enthroned in the heavens at the right hand of the Father, and is now capable of filling all things. Prior to the ascension, He inhabitted an earthly body, and was limited to His habitation there; yet now that He is ascended up far above every principality, and power and dominion that can be named on earth below, or in heaven above, He can fill all things! Praise God!
When Jesus Christ ascended, He led our captivity captive, and He gave gifts to men. He also, then became the head of the church (Eph 1:20-23).
Prior to the ascention the church did not exist – there was no head above for it to exist under. Jesus had disciples before the ascention – there were those who followed His earthly ministry, but they could not be filled with His person, or be members of His body because there was yet no eternal head ascended into the heavenlies.
The church began at the ascension. That is when He gave the five-fold ministry: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11). As these commissions are those that Jesus has given to the church, we can be confident that these commissions are set in place at least until Jesus Christ returns (see also post: The Year of the Lord’s Favor (or ‘The Most Basic Appologesis for Pentecostalism You’ve Never Read’)).
These gifts are the foundational spiritual ministry COMMISIONINGS. I emphasize ‘commisionings’ because these are different than church organization ‘offices.‘ In our day certain groups mix up these Christ-commisioned ministry types with the organizational offices. I have used the phrase ‘office prophet’ in the past, but this is a misnomer the bible does not reference the five-fold ministries as ‘offices,’ or earthly positions – they are spiritual positions ordained, commissioned and set in place by Christ personally, not earthly church organization positions.
(EX: Every biblical Apostle (the word ‘Apostle’ meaning: ‘sent one’) was sent PERSONALLY by Jesus Christ – the twelve when He was in the flesh; Paul not having known Christ in the flesh was nevertheless sent personally by Him through the Holy Spirit (he is the apostle to the gentiles, and is our example of development and commissioning in the church are, wherein Christ is ascended and not physically present (1 Cor. 11:1).)
There are three church ‘office’ positions mentioned in scripture (Bishops, Deacons, and Elders (See 1 Tim 3:1-13 & 5:17-20). Some groups like to use the five-fold ministry terminology for organizational church staff offices; I suppose I don’t really have a problem with that, but they ought to be aware that people are not really Apostles just because they oversee five churches (that’s just a bishop with oversight of five churches).
Within most denominations in the church culture as it has developed, we generally just call everyone ‘pastor.’
The five-fold ministry are not earthly positions, they are the gifts that Christ gave when He ascended, and the church began. The organizational ministry offices are positions whose roles were determined by the commissioned ministers. Where do we get our main understanding of church organizational ministry from? The APOSTLE Paul.
As a commissioned apostle, Paul had the authority to develop, and teach HOW church organizations should be run. As the foremost church-planter among the Apostles (church planting is not necessarily the ‘job description’ of an Apostle, though most of us have been taught that), Paul had a tremendous ammount of experience in setting up church organizations, and knowing what type of leadership to install in it (no doubt, it was not experience alone, but the revelation of God).
The five-fold ministry was given to men PRIOR to the existence of any church organization. The group of about 120 in the upper room might (Acts 1:15), roughly, be considered the first church organization, but aside from acting as a council of elders in deciding who would be chosen to replace the ‘BISHOPRICK’ of Judas (Acts 1:15-26 (notice the commissioning as an apostle could not be conferred by the elders – only Jesus commissions apostles (personally) – but the implied earthly office that the apostleship conferred (‘bishoprick’) could be given to another by the elders (this is not to say that Matthias was not an apostle – that he was not also personally sent by Jesus – but that Judas’ commission as ‘apostle’ was not transferable to anyone else)), and that Peter arose among them as a leader, there is little indication of organizational structure until after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, when the mass of new converts (3,000) joined the body.
Thankfully when people started joining their numbers at that time, they already had a council of knowledgeable, grounded ministers who had experienced the ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, of Christ, and who now had received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Now that there began to be new believers, these 120 ministers had work to do, as they commenced the work of the ministry in discipling new believers, earthly organizational ministry roles were formed. Acts 6:1-8, for example, chronicles the institution of the first organizational usage of the office of the ‘deacon.’
(FUN WITH GREEK!) The word from which we derive ‘deacon,’ and ‘deaconate’ really just refer to someone’s personal ministry – we could almost always translate the Greek word into the words ‘minister,’ or ‘ministry.’ (Greek: diakonia (dee-ak-on-ee’-ah); attendance (as a servant, etc.); figuratively (eleemosynary) aid, (official) service (especially of the Christian teacher, or techn. of the diaconate)) EX: Paul refered to his apostleship (commission) as a deaconate in Rom. 11:13 (the English word used is ‘office,’ but in Greek he actually uses the word for ‘deaconate’ – thus literally: ‘attendance,’ ‘aid,’ or ‘service.’ In this context he calls his commission as an apostle a ‘deaconate’ – really the term just means ‘ministry’ as it is elsewhere translated many times – and an apostleship is, indeed, a ministry.)
The earthly ministerial offices (Bishop (episkope), Deacon (diakonia), Elder (presbuteros))are those that are set in place for the healthy function of a church organization, and to meet certain needs. That means they are changeable. The ‘office’ positions can, will, and must have flexibility in their roles in order for the organization to continue to appropriately function in a changing culture. In the case of the first installment of deacons, for example (Acts 6:1-8) the need for their role arose because of the cross-cultural misunderstandings over the distribution of goods between the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 6:1). Now, this is not a ministry which would have been necessary if all of the converts were Jewish, or if all of the converts were Greek.
The ministry position was basically to liaison between the Jewish, and Greek Christians in the distribution of goods; as such it arose because of the crossing of two cultures. This is a dynamic which will have application anywhere we try to build intercultural church organizations (which is a very good thing), but every instance of cultural mis-communication and misunderstanding is going to be different based upon the cultures which are being crossed. The role of Deacons must be adaptable in order to form-fit their ministerial styles to fit the demographics they are trying to reach.
Paul began to work exclusively among the Gentiles – in the churches he planted, the roles of deacons were different than they were in the first church in Jerusalem, because the needs were different. Organizations, and organizational ministry roles change – they must change to become adaptable to their culture, otherwise they will cease to meet the needs of the people, and become obsolete – non-relevant to the culture.
The five-fold ministries are commissioned, unchanging foundational ministries which precede, and supersede church organizations. None of the five-fold ministry functions change – the minister may change, the deaconate (or the operation of their commissioned position) may transform in style or presentation, but the five-fold commissions are like foundation stones (‘…Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…’ (Matt 16:18)) whose functions must remain unchanging. The church will always need Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors (Shepherds), and Teachers. Earthly church organizations change, and the job description of ministers of church organizations may change, but these five commissionings, ordained personally by Jesus Christ, are all essential functions within the greater body of Christ over-and-above church organizations. These existed before church offices, and will exist after – the foundations of the New Jerusalem bear the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; for His is an everlasting kingdom that will never perish, fade or spoil. Amen!
Jesus, the head of the body sets these ministers into place, it is He who has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
These ministries are;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Eph. 4:12-13)
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are the spiritually designated ministry set in place to raise ALL CHRISTIANS into ministry! In this capacity it makes perfect sense that these ministers would create ministerial organizations, and appoint leaders who may not be specifically Christ-commissioned five-fold ministers to lead the organizations (Bishops, Deacons, Elders). This concept would run under the premise of the priesthood of all believers. You don’t have to be an Apostle to be a Bishop – the requirements for being a Bishop are found, plainly stated in 1 Tim 3:1-7.
There is a principal of the priesthood which declares that it is an honor that no man takes upon himself (Heb. 5:4); and yet – Paul the Apostle declared that he who desires the office of Bishop desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1). Is this a conflicting principal? No, the New Testament honor of priesthood is found in the five-fold commissions, these are those who – in this church age – are ‘given’ (Eph. 4:11), or ‘set’ (1 Cor. 12: 28) in the body by Jesus. This is not a distinction of ‘full time’ vs. ‘lay,’ or even ‘part time’ ministers. A bishop is a full time minister – it is a good thing (says Paul) to aspire to this office – to want to be in the full-time ministry; one can aspire to, and attain the office. (You can be a bishop, you can plant, and oversee churches… but see you give place to the commissioned ministers of Christ). The five-fold commissions on the other hand are given and set in place by Jesus – believe it or not, these are not necessarily what we culturally consider ‘full-time’ ministry roles.
Joseph was the most anointed man in the land of Egypt – ordained a prophet before his brothers cast him into the pit. Who recognized his True Spiritual position as a commissioned prophet? NOBODY!!!!
Jesus knew that Joseph was a prophet, and Joseph knew it, but his True position in the heavenlies went undiscerned Joseph’s whole life until God revealed it to the King of Egypt, and wisdom was justified of her children.
The True commissioned apostles and prophets in our day may be downtown washing dishes because they can’t find a job – they might not have had enough money to go to bible school, and therefore be ‘unqualified’ (by worldly standards) for ministry in church organizations – undiscerned by their families, churches and employers. May God bring Joseph out of the prison houses, and set them on high in the land, to deliver God’s people from famine and drought!
Here comes a great dichotomy in application. Who knows who the real five-fold ministers are today? We have lots of church organizations with lots of bishops, deacons and elders (although, in the Western Evangelical world we call all of them ‘Pastors.’) – we even have an entire neo-Pentecostal denomination that uses the five-fold titles as organizational titles (as though operating in the gifts of the Spirit + using said titles is a ‘reformation’).
The good news (and bad news) is that the only way to tell who is actually a five-fold commissioned minister is to be connected with the Head of the Body who (actively, daily) sets them into place. There are outward evidences – fruits and manifestations, alright, but guess what? All Christians are supposed to be operating in the Power of the Holy Spirit, and evidence the fruit of the Spirit. This is why in these days the Spirit is poured out upon ‘all flesh’ – this is the priesthood of all believers.
In Matthew 7:15-23, Jesus spoke about false prophets (pseudo-prophets in Greek); He declared that they would say to Him, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?’
Sounds like big-league stuff, right? And in their asking him, ‘didn’t we prophesy, didn’t we…?’ Sounds like they may have thought they were real prophets, themselves, no? But all Christians with the Spirit of God can operate in these gifts. Only those Jesus personally sends are True commissioned prophets – to these who sported themselves prophets Jesus will declare: ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU’ (You’re not a prophet – I didn’t send you.)
I would recommend NOT jumping to the conclusion that someone is an apostle, or a prophet just because of miraculous Holy Ghost manifestations (or even accurate prophecies, powerful revelatory teaching, etc.). Here is the question: DID JESUS call you an apostle? DID JESUS call you a prophet?
All the Apostles were sent personally by Jesus. Even Paul. Paul did not ever meet Jesus in the flesh so far as we can tell from scripture, and history. He is the apostle to the Gentiles, made an apostle after the ascension; any apostle who lives today – and there is no doubt in my mind that there are some, for Christ has not yet returned for His bride (and the five-fold commissions are the gift He gave to His bride) – will become an apostle as Paul did. Paul who never experienced Christ in the flesh, did nonetheless receive His call, and commission from Jesus personally.
The five-fold ministers CAN be known, this is why the elders must be discerning of the Spirit of God. Christ will testify to these True ministers should we each be connected with the head. Paul admonished the Thessalonians to:
…KNOW THEM which labour among you, AND ARE OVER YOU IN THE LORD, and admonish you (1 Thess. 5:12)
So the church in our day are admonished by the Apostle to be discerning – to know, and be aware of those who ‘are over us in the Lord.’ True Apostles and prophets.
I’ve actually been working this post for several days… tried to make this post a little more reachable, difficult to cover the topic of church governments without sounding too theological. Guess I haven’t succeeded in doing that:
But I hope a funny GIF can make up for it.
To be fair, I left out a bunch of dry information, and didn’t burden you will all the research into Greek words I did.
For the over-ahchieving among my readers, more information is below, but you can consider the post officially finished with Michael Caine’s beautifully acted moment, there.
The Greek word most commonly translated as ‘church’ in the New Testament is:
ekklesia (ek-klay-see’-ah); from a compound of ek ((ek) or ex (ex); a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause; literal or figurative; direct or remote)) and a derivative of kaleo ((kal-eh’-o); to “call” (properly, aloud, but used in a variety of applications, dir. or otherwise)); a calling out, i.e. (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both)
(Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
The Greek word for ‘church’ actually means like, ‘a called out group.’ Jesus specified in Matthew 16 that He would build His own ‘Ekklasia’ – this was the Greek word used in the passage where Jesus declared to Peter, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church (ekklesia)…’ (Matt 16:18)
The Greek word that is the basis for the English term ‘Bishop,’ or ‘Overseer’ (as it is one place translated) is:
episkope (ep-is-kop-ay’); inspection (for relief); by implication, superintendence; specially, the Christian “episcopate”
episkopos (ep-is’-kop-os); a superintendent, i.e. Christian officer in genitive case charge of a (or the) church (literally or figuratively)
As you can see the word means ‘inspection’ (in fact, it is also used a couple of places in the New Testament to describe the final judgment – but insofar as it describes a ministry title:), it implies one who is the inspector or superintendent of (an) assembly of Christians.
The Bishop – as an inspector, superintendent, or overseer – is the one who organizes and oversees church organizations.
Another church office which is described in the New Testament is the office of ‘Deacon,’ which comes from the Greek:
diakonia (dee-ak-on-ee’-ah); attendance (as a servant, etc.); figuratively (eleemosynary) aid, (official) service (especially of the Christian teacher, or techn. of the diaconate)
Now, this word is a little more elastic that the words for ‘Bishop,’ and is often used to describe any believer’s ministerial service, as well as it is used to describe a church office. Perhaps a more readily grasped usage of the word ‘diakonia’ would be simply: ‘ministry.’ We could replace the word ‘deaconate’ with ‘minister.’
Again, we typically tend to call every position in churches ‘pastor,’ (Ex: ‘children’s pastor,’ or ‘Executive Pastor,’ or ‘Small groups pastor’) but biblically, most of these positions we refer to as ‘pastorates’ are actually ‘deaconates.’ I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with using the term ‘pastor’ in place of the word ‘deacon,’ or ‘bishop,’ I’m simply trying to clarify the purpose of each role.
Beyond Bishops and Deacons, a role which is important within church organization hierarchy are ‘elders’:
presbuteros (pres-boo’-ter-os); comparative of presbus (elderly); older; as noun, a senior; specifically, an Israelite Sanhedrist (also figuratively, member of the celestial council) or Christian “presbyter”
Of course, we get the word ‘presbytery’ from this Greek word; according to Titus 1:5, elders are to be ‘ordained,’ or ‘appointed,’ they are therefore church office positions as well as Bishops and deacons are. Thankfully, we have some background from the Old Testament as to the role, and function of ‘elders’ – the same word is used to describe the Sanhedrin counsellors in the New Testament. An elder would basically be a wise, and learned, godly, prophetic person in the church who can act as a counsellor (you know, like the prayer team or church board at your church.)
So the biblically defined Bishop is the head overseer of the organization, deacons are the ministers who work together under the oversight of the Bishop. Elders are like the ruling council, which would help decide the direction the organization is going in, and help with matters of business, and/or personal ministry or council. That is the biblically described church organizational ‘hierarchy’ in a nutshell.