The Biblical pattern of the New Testament Church
The origin of the Church
The church is a new entity that came into existence after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost (about fifty days after the death of Christ in Acts chapter 2). Why did I say this? I said this because Christ foretold in Matthew 16:18 that “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” before his death and resurrection. When He used future tense “I will build my church”, it means the church is not in existence at the time of his statement. The word ‘church’ is used for the first time in the above passage when Jesus foretold about it. These words of Christ clearly state that He is going to begin something brand new which was not in existence before.
Church was formed on the day of Pentecost
The foretelling of Jesus Christ regarding the formation or building of His Church happened on the day of Pentecost. Acts chapter 1 gives the below details. Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of forty years and spoke about the kingdom of God. He convinced them with the proofs that He was resurrected and alive by presenting Himself to them. On one occasion when he was eating with them, he gave the disciples a commandment, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak”. He spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit several times (refer John 14..). Now Jesus said this promise is going to fulfill. Therefore wait in Jerusalem. In other words, they are not expected to start their Gospel ministry before the coming of the Holy Spirit because Christ was going to send the Holy Spirit so that He can be with them in Christ’s physical absence. Jesus also said in verse 6 that “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, when the Holy Spirit comes they are going to be baptized with the Him.
After this command, Jesus was taken up right before their eyes. He has gone up and up into heaven and a cloud hid Him from their sight. The disciples looked intently up into the sky as He was going up. Verse 10 says suddenly two men dressed in white stood near them and said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”
After 10 days of the ascension of Christ, the promised Holy Spirit was sent and He came upon 120 followers of Christ who were waiting and praying. The church began on this day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured per Christ’s promise. On this day of Pentecost Peter stood up along with other 11 disciples raised his voice and preached about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ because they were the eyewitnesses of Christ for about 40 days after Christ’s resurrection. He preached and said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Three thousand people (huge number of people) believed in the message, got baptized and were added to the original 120 on that day. From that day onwards, verse 47 (b) says ‘the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved’. Now, this is the account of the formation of the Church.
Could not have been formed before the day of Pentecost
The church could not be in existence prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit because Jesus already said in John 15:26-27, “When the Helper (Holy Spirit) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Based on this verse, Jesus intended the Church to begin when the Holy Spirit and they (disciples) together will start testifying Christ. It is the empowering mighty power of the Holy Spirit that worked in Peter and disciples to stand up and preach like this in loud voice. Humanly speaking they won’t be able to preach about Christ’s resurrection just after 50 days of Christ’s resurrection because they were so scared and worried and they have shut themselves up in a room because of their fear of death. The courage to stand and preach was the imparting power of the Holy Spirit who was poured out to the disciples just on that day of Pentecost as Jesus promised. You see the Lord’s work is a joint work of the Holy Spirit and believers when they testify Jesus Christ. In addition, Jesus Himself apparently said they will start their testifying work only after the pouring of the Holy Spirit. Therefore Church could not function before the coming of the Holy Spirit to this world. And now the Holy Spirit came and Church was formed on the day of Pentecost. From that day onward those who accept Christ as their savior are added to the Church.
Secondly, Baptism of the Holy Spirit is needed to add believers to the church. This is why Jesus commanded prior to His ascension to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the promised Holy Spirit and the He said – they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 gives us the definition of the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. This is what it says, “ For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” This passage informs us the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a work of the Holy Spirit by which the new believers in Christ are placed in the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Therefore the Church was first formed on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came into the world and baptized them into the Church. The process of baptizing believer into church began on the day of Pentecost. It would not be possible prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This process of Holy Spirit baptizing or uniting believers into the church continues even today until the day the Church will be raptured. All believers in Christ, those who accept Christ as their savior, are baptized or united into one body which is the Church regardless of their background – Jews, Greeks, slaves, free, black, white, Asian. This is what 1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches us.
Three important noteworthy points in the prediction of Jesus regarding the future building of Church.
1. I will build my church
Of course, Jesus is referring to a future event that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). But note He said ‘He will build’. The Church was and is being built by Christ according to His claim. In other words, it is not built by people themselves. It is not the work of humans. Christ will build it. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” The church is the enterprise of the Lord and He is the one who will build it and make it grow. In the above passage, we have seen how God uses His people to lay the foundation and water it. God causes it to grow.
2. Jesus said, “My Church”. The church is 100% of His and it belongs to Him. Sometimes we see certain churches are associated with people’s name. Even though people do this ignorantly or casually, I believe this is incorrect to know or publicize the church in the name of certain individuals whoever that may be. No human name should rightly be called for the the church because church is Christ’s. Christ is the one who builds, grows and keeps it in this world.
3. Jesus said, “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” This is a big and bold statement that we all rely on. Especially those who are engaged in church planting ministry this is a big encouragement. Someone rightly said in the past if there is an enterprise we can build with 100% guaranty, that is planting a church on this earth with the help, counsel, and guidance of the Lord. Why? Jesus promised the gates or power of Hades will not overcome it. The gates of Hades here meant the power of evil and persecutions, the Satan’s attack on the establishment of the church. These will not overcome the church per Jesus Christ. How true this statement of Christ. Christian church experienced heartbreaking, untold persecutions and suffering from the first century. I don’t have the time to write all the atrocities experienced by Christian churches throughout the world. But none of these evil forces or satanic attacks stopped the advancement the church in the world. Each time through persecutions, church advanced and multiplies and spread through the whole world. People will continue to persecute you and church and of course, the Bible reminds us the persecution will increase as the end times get closer as we see today right in front of our eyes almost every day. But do you know what? They may persecute you and me because we stand for the eternal truths revealed by God in the pages of the Bible, but they will never be able to overcome the enterprise of the church. This is the promise of Christ.
The functions or the activities of the Church
The Bible says Church is the body of Christ and the head of the Church is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says the Church in Corinth is the body of Christ. Paul says to them, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” Verse 12 of the same chapter says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Colossians 1:18 says Christ is the head of the church- “He is also head of the body, the church.”
As the body of Christ, the members of the church are the hands, foots, and mouths of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to reach out to the people of this world who are still in darkness and shows them the light and truths of the living God.
But how is church going to accomplish this purpose? The blueprint or the roadmap to achieve this purpose is given in Acts 2:42. It says there the first group of believers who formed the church on the day of Pentecost “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
These are four main functions or activities of the church as seen in Acts 2:42-47
• Members of the church devoted themselves to the teaching of the Bible. Teaching and learning the Bible doctrines are so important to stand firm in our faith. The Lord appointed teachers in the church so that they can equip the believers with strong, foundational doctrines and Bible teachings, to build up the body of Christ so that believers can become mature men, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11:13). By the teachings of the Bible by the God-appointed teachers and by devoting to listen to their teachings, we are no longer continue as children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:14). Such teachings will equip the saints for the work of service. (Vs. 12)
• Fellowship with one another. The church is God intended place for good and strong fellowship. Believers can learn from one another through varied life experiences, get encouraged and motivated, receive and give mercy and love to one another. Fellowship time can be a good time for counseling one another according to the truths of the Bible. There are wonderful and personally edifying and God glorifying results accomplish out of fellowships
• Breaking of bread and praising God – remembering Christ’s death, burial and resurrection by observing Lord’s supper which is the commandment of the Lord. (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Acts 2:46 9 (b) informs apparently they were breaking bread to remember the Lord (per His commandment) coming together every day in their homes. But later according to Acts 20:7 the first-century church started observing the Lord’s table on the first day of every week. It says there, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” I have little bit concern many churches have hesitancy in remembering this command of the Lord. Some churches observe this unique command of the Lord only once in few or several months. Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (NASB, AKJV, KJV). Apparently, this indicates we should observe the commandment of the observance of the Lord’s supper as often as we can. However, some of the churches like Bible chapels and other Christian churches observe the commandment every Sunday. I believe this is a true Biblical pattern worthy to follow. Breaking of the bread (Lords supper) and praising God went together as they gathered (vs.46).
• Coming together for prayer. Coming together for prayer as a corporate body or individual groups within the church is a very important pillar of any local church. Bible says in Acts 12:5, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” We understand from this chapter because of the fervent prayers of the church, God miraculously delivered Peter from the prison though he was bound by chain and guarded by four squads of soldiers. Such is the miraculous deliverance attainable when a local church comes together for praying. Apostle Paul in his epistles to different churches constantly requested their prayers for the advancement of his ministry of reaching out to the people. (Romans 15:30; Romans 15:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 11:25-28; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11). Prayers of the believers in the local church can accomplish much and have the power to tear down the fortress of the enemies of Christ and devil. Believers coming together and praying can result in the healing of the sick, deliverance from evil attacks, protection of the families, individuals, communities, and nations and help in the growth of the church and furtherance of the Gospel.
All four pillars described above are Bible pattern and blueprints for the Christian churches.
Jesus’s worldwide enterprise called the Church is under the mandate of the great commission commandment.
The activities described in the book of Acts in the Bible clearly informs us this is the main goal of the Church. All the ingredients we have seen in Acts 1: should contribute to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Jesus gave this commandment of great commission after his death, burial and resurrection, to the disciples and this is recorded in Matthew 28:19-20. It says, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Later just before the ascension of Christ into heaven He again reiterated this commandment in Acts 1:6-8, “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The disciples thought so far all looks good. Jesus rose again from the dead and the disciples were curious to find out is this the time the old testament fulfillment regarding the restoration of Israel’s kingdom happens. The old testament has hundreds of prophecies regarding the future rule of the Messiah in this world from the capital city of Jerusalem. They were anticipating this future rule of the Messiah could happen at that time after the resurrection of Christ from the dead. But Jesus said to them, it is not for you to know the exact time of the establishment of the future kingdom of Jesus Christ because God the father has fixed this time by His own authority. But meanwhile, before that happens, they have a job to do in this world. In few days Jesus is going to His Holy Spirit (which happened in Acts 2) and they are going to receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and as a result they shall going to witness or preach salvation through Christ in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotes part of the earth.
Luke the only Gentile author in the Bible says this to Theophilus, probably a high-rank official in Rome, why he wrote the book of Luke and Acts. He wants to Theophilus to know all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was ascended to heaven. Not only that, he also wants Theophilus to know what happened after the ascension of Christ to heaven. Jesus by the Holy Spirit gave orders to the apostles what they should do. This is what it says, “The first account I composed (referring to the book of Luke), Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. The second account (the book of Acts) gives details how Holy Spirit who was sent by ascended Jesus continues the work that Jesus began.
What Jesus began to do and teach on the earth did not end by his ascension to heaven. On the contrary, the first church formed on the day of Pentecost continues his work and teaching. This is why Jesus already predicted and promised: “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18). The Holy Spirit who is sent by the ascended Lord as promised on the day of Pentecost, now indwelling in all the true believers of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19) and indwelling in the body of Christ which is the church (1 Corinthians 3:16, ‘you’ in plural form referring the Church in Corinth) need to continue what Jesus has begun to do and teach. This is what the great commission is all about. The Christ’s Church should continue what He began until the rapture of the church.
What was Christ began to do and teach? Luke 19:10 Jesus Himself says His mission was to see and to save that which was lost. John 1:29 says “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. In other words, Jesus was on a rescue mission in which He came to this earth to offer Himself as a sacrificial lamb who would die for the sins of the people. In pouring out Himself in death for the sins of humanity, Jesus Christ already accomplished the salvation of the people. No more sacrifice or any offerings of sin is needed period! This is why Jesus declared on the cross just before His death, “It is finished”. What is finished? Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient sacrifice and there is nothing else people need to do from their side for the forgiveness of their sins and for the entrance into heaven after their death. “It is finished”. The divine work for your salvation is already done or finished. Bible assures in Hebrews 9:14, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” What is this means? The Hebrew writer says in Chapter 10 that the old testament sacrifices were a shadow of good things that were coming. These shadows were not realties in themselves. Those animal sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. Why? It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. But when Christ came into this world as a fulfillment of all these sacrifices He was the perfect lamb of God who will take away once and for all the sins of the world. By His one sacrifice on the cross, by his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus has made perfect those would come to Him for salvation.
You see, this is what Jesus did and began to teach. Now each believer in Christ and the church as a whole has a commandment to obey. What is it? To obey the Lord’s great commission. Take the Gospel which is the good news to the world. To announce to people God loves them and sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die for their sins. By believing in His death, burial and resurrection from the dead, they can be saved and enter into heaven. Church in whole and individual believers in the church are expected to witness Jesus Christ and His fulfilled work to this lost world with the power of the Holy Spirit in them. They need to baptize the new believers in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey all the commandments of Jesus (Bible study). In addition, the church should remind and encourage the new believers with the comfort that Lo, Jesus is with them always even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20).
The apostles and the first-century believers faithfully carried out this commandment of the Lord. The book of Acts gives this testimony of their faithfulness to the Great Commission. They literally followed the outline given by Jesus before His ascension in Acts 1:6-8. We can trace the progress of their advancement in the book of Acts.
• First, mainly they witnessed Christ’s work and teaching to the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 2-8:3)
• Then they advanced to the next outlined area of Judea and Samaria – witnessing to the Gentiles (8:4-11:18)
• Now as the next advancement they witnessed Christ’s work and teachings to remotest part of the earthy (11:19-28:31)
The Future of the Church
The rapture of the church is an imminent future event when the church (all the then living believers in Christ) will be instantly translated into glorified bodies suitable to live in heaven and removed from this earth and caught up to heaven, when Christ descends from heaven with the shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. This is the blessed hope of the church and is the next event in the calendar of God. Bible also says the physical body of those who already died in Christ will be resurrected from the earth with glorified bodies at this same time of rapture and will unite with their spirits already in the presence of the Lord. Bible says believer’s death now means to depart from the body and be present with the Lord which means at the time of a believer’s death, immediately his or her spirit (the immaterial part of a person) goes to the presence of the Lord and the physical bodies are buried in the grave on the earth. On the day of rapture, the already dead in Christ will be resurrected with glorified bodies and be united with their immaterial part (spirit) in the clouds. Both groups, first the believers already dead in Christ and along with them then the living believers in Christ will meet the Lord in the air in the clouds. The living believers will be instantly receiving the new resurrected and glorified bodies and caught up in the air. They are the only groups of people who won’t go through the experience of death. The already dead believer’s spirits are in the presence of the Lord immediately when they died. However, they don’t receive the resurrected and glorified bodies until the day of rapture. Now both groups will have the new glorified bodies suitable to live in heaven. We will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
After the rapture of the church, then this immoral and wicked world will experience a 7 year tribulation period. The horrible and unimaginable punishments and judgments of a God-rejecting world are illustrated in detail in the last of the Bible called Revelation (Revelation 6- 19). The church is not appointed for this God’s wrath time on the earth (1 Thessalonians 1:10 b; 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and Revelation 3:10. Jesus is going to keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world (referring the tribulation time that is going to come on the Christ-rejecting world). The pattern of the Lord is to keep people away from the world wide destructions. Lot and his wife were kept away before the wrath of God was poured on Sodom and Gomorrah and the righteous Noah and his family were kept safe when God sent flood on this earth. In this age the Church is called the body (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesian 5:23) and the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27, 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Rev 19:7-9) and the head of the church and the bridegroom of the church will not allow her to suffer the sever wrath.
This tribulation period will be followed by the second coming of the Christ to this earth along with the raptured and glorified church that was kept safe in heaven during this horrible period of judgment on the face of the earth by the event of the rapture. The Lord will establish His promised restoration of the Kingdom on the face of the earth. He will rule from the city of Jerusalem and His body and bride the Church will rule with Him during this millennial kingdom. The kingdom of the worldwide rule of Christ establishing peace and righteousness will be for one thousand years per Revelation 20:3, 4d and 5). At the end of the thousand years of rule of Christ on this earth in fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament, all who rejected Christ as their savior will stand in front of the great white throne. Those whose names are not written in the book of the lamb (Christ) or the book of Life will be thrown into the Lake of fire- eternal hell, eternally away from the presence of the Good and loving God. What a horrible and sad day that will be for many who rejected the truths of the claims of Jesus Christ. My friend, you can avoid this tragedy of being eternal hell and being away from the goodness and love of God, by placing your trust in Christ who want to save you today from future hell. Would you call upon Him today and pray to Jesus to save you. Please do and do not wait for another day. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Do it today I lovingly urge you.
After these events, Revelation chapter 21 shows the eternal city and eternal life in heaven with God and Christ. A new heaven and earth and the old heaven and earth will pass away. Chapter 21 explains the marvel and wonder of this eternal city and many details about eternity. This is going to be most blessed and joyful experience of our life in the eternal city. This is a literal city built by God for His children. We will marvel at it. Much more than the beauty, luxury, and greatness of the eternal city, the most mind-boggling experience is this – we will dwell with God enjoying all his goodness and love. Bible says in Revelation 21:3-5, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
It says God God will make everything new. He will wipe all our tears from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or paid. All these old things have passed away. God guarantees this by saying “write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” God’s promise has God’s seal and signature behind it. Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “”No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
I gave you above a Biblical high-level plan of what future holds. Time and scope of this article won’t allow me to provide all the details embedded in each of these future periods. But you can learn more from the other parts of the Study Bible menu.
The Administration of the Church
Bible recognizes only two offices in the New Testament church and they are “elders” and “deacons”. There are two words used for ‘elders’ in the Bible and they are Presbyters and bishops. Both mean the same the same- role of an elder. In the Bible Presbyters are generally translated as “elders” and bishops are generally translation as “overseers”. In other words “elders” and “overseers” are used interchangeably. In Acts 20:17, Paul called the elders of the church in Ephesus and while he was addressing them he said, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:27.
Apostle Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint “elders” (Titus 1:5) and describes the qualification of “elders”. He says then in verse 7 “for the overseer (referring to the elders Titus would appoint) must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered…..” These verses again prove the fact that the word “elders” and “overseers” are used interchangeably for the elders. The reason for using these two terms in a parallel way is because the “elders’ are the “overseers” of the church.
In modern days, the term “Pastor” became a well-known term and people erroneously began to see their “Pastor” as the head of the church. As we established in the prior section, there is no other head for the church other than Jesus Christ. Christ is the head of the church and all members are different parts of the body of Christ. This is a point we already discussed above and there is no need to repeat this again.
Bible does not recognize “Pastor” as an office in the church but it recognizes “Pastor” as a gift given by the Holy Spirit. As I said above, Bible describes only two offices for the church and we don’t read about any other office for the church. But there are varieties of ministries and it is the gifts of the Holy Spirit and He empowers such ministries. In this essence, the word “Pastor” is a function or ministry that a person does in a local church (1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and Ephesians 4:11). They minister the Word of God accurately as Bible demands. 2nd Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” This is apparently the function of a pastor – laboring to accurately handle and expose the Word of God. They equip the saints and help in building up the body of Christ which is the church. As a result, the members of the church will become mature and won’t be tossed here and there by the winds of the false doctrines (Ephesians 4:12-14)
An “elder’ should also be able to teach because Titus 1:9 and Timothy 3:2 emphasizes this qualification along with other moral qualifications. However, there is one distinction we need to keep in mind. A person can minister in the church as a Pastor and he does not need to be an elder. The same way an individual can be in the office of an elder without having the gifts of the pastor.
When it says “elders” should be able to teach does not mean that he has to be excellent orator in teaching and preaching the word of God. But he should be able to teach in the sense that teaching is an ability all believers should possess because Bible says as we grow spiritually all believers are expected to become teachers (Hebrews 5:12). 1 Timothy 5:17 reminds us all elders may not have the special gift of teachings but if they do have this excellent gift of teaching also, then that is a double honor. But it doesn’t require an elder to be excellent teachers. Some elders may have such teaching abilities to expose the Bible in an accurate way. Some elders may not have this ability to expose and teach the Bible. Therefore, it is not a skill that an elder should necessarily possess. But the expectation of ‘elders’ is that he should know and hold the truths of the Bible doctrines to administer and guide the church in all truths. As a result of the knowledge of the doctrines of the Bible, he can stand against the penetration of false doctrines and incorrect teachings and direct the church based on the right doctrines and teachings of the Bible. When Paul called the elders of the church in Ephesus, there were several elders in that church and we don’t even know all of them or even heard about them as good preachers or teachers. But one this is sure and Paul is emphasizing that requirement. They should know the true doctrines of the Bible because these elders are the overseers for guarding the pure doctrines of the Bible in their church. Paul says, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
Bible clearly teaches the concept of plurality of elders in a church.
There are several Bible passages that emphasizes this requirement for a local church. As you refer the passages cited below, please see the concept of the plurality of elders in a local church is clearly established. As we established before these passages say ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ in plural forms both terms being used interchangeably.
Acts 20:17 says Paul called the elders of the church in Ephesus. “From Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them..”
Acts 20:28 says, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
In Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel and had made many disciples in the city and then it says, “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” It was their practice to appoint not one elder but “elders” in every church they had planted.
In Acts 15 we see the plural form “elders” is used several times to refer the “elders at the church in Jerusalem. (refer verse 23,22,6,4 and 2). Jerusalem church had several “elders” who could help Paul and Barnabas regarding the debate and issues they faced in their missionary journey.
Acts 21:18 says, “And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” This is referring to all the elders in the church in Jerusalem.
1 Peter 5:1 Peter, one of the elders calling himself as a fellow ‘elder’, gives his exhortation to other elders. “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed.
James 5:14 says if a member of the church fall sick they can call the elders of the church to pray for him/her. “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him….”
In I Timothy 5:17 Paul is talking about the elders in the Ephesus Church. “Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching.”
In Titus 1:5 Paul asks Titus to appoint elders in every town as he instructed him. “The reason I left you in Crete was to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”
There are many other passages supporting the plurality of elders in the church. However, I am not going to list all in this article. But the point is very clear. It is God’s mandate that each church must have more than one elder. A larger congregation should have several elders like the Church in Ephesus. A smaller church may have fewer elders but definitely, Bible supports the plurality of elders.
It is safe to say after reading the Book of Acts and Epistles a Biblical pattern for the New Testament Church is to keep the plurality of elders in a local church.
Deacons- the second office of the church.
The book of Acts informs us one truth. When the church began in the first century, it did not have deacons. But as the church grew and more people were adding to the church, there became a need for deacons. It says in Acts 6:1-2, “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said….”.
Therefore deacons may not be a necessity for a small congregation but definitely becomes a need when more and more people are added to the church. The qualification stated in Acts 6 are “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”. The Apostles said, to function as a deacon, a believer should have the ongoing filling of the Holy Spirit, along with good reputation and wisdom. In other words, deacons must be spiritually matured believers.
The purpose of selecting deacons was this – Apostles like to devote themselves to the payer and to the ministry of the Word. They said, “it is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables.” A person who is called to minister the Word of God should spend time on that calling and function by diligently preparing the Word because it demands a lot more detailed attention, time, energy and study to prepare to accurately divide the Bible for the congregation. Secondly, they are called to prayer. They have to spend more time in prayer for their Word ministries and for interceding for the church members and their varied needs. These were the calling of the Apostles in the first century. Other ministries like dealing with the complaints between groups (in this case complaints between Hellenistic Jews and native Hebrews) and other on-going business side ministries are expected to be handled by the deacons.
As we read the New Testament we understand there were twelve apostles selected by the Lord Jesus Christ. As we watch and understand the progress and growth of the church, we see Apostles are not selected from the congregation anymore (except the twelve selected by Lord Himself). As we carefully read the New Testament we see gradually the offices of the church became elders and deacons while the ministries and functions of the original Apostles and prophets were being replaced by pastors, teachers, and evangelists. Bible says, in Ephesians 2:20 God’s Household (the church) “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord…”.
In other words, the church was originally built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Christ being the corner stone. Both Apostles and prophets were now being replaced by pastors, teachers, and evangelists. Bible doesn’t state the need to appoint any more Apostles but clearly states the need to appoint elders and deacons (Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-3). Similarly, no more prophets are needed in the church because of the completion of the Bible with all 66 chapters and the provision of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers. The pastors, teachers, and evangelists are the new prophets because they explain the prophecies of the Bible directly from the Bible to the congregation and to other people. Both Apostles and Prophets functioned as foundations before the completion of the whole counsel of the Bible. Now the whole counsel of God that we should know for our life and faith are in the completed Scripture and God appointed pastors and teachers to teach us these prophecies. Today if anyone claims to be a prophet of God, he should be able to explain and expose the truths of the Bible and not self-made prophecies and imaginations.
The leadership of the church in a general form.
Bible also uses the leadership in a church in a more general form. We will examine few passages in this regard.
The leaders who spoke God’s message to you.
Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith ( Hebrews 13:7).
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you.”
The leaders who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 Paul says to the church in Thessalonica, “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
These passages talk leadership in general and wide terms. I believe this includes both church offices like elders and deacons and who preside over and ministers in the church like pastors, teachers, and evangelists who labor hard on the Word of God and spread the Gospel. The whole church should esteem them most highly in love because of their good work. These leaders bring discipline in a local church (elders), serves the business needs of the church (deacons), minsters the Word of God and feed the congregation (Pastors and teachers) and reach out people with Gospel (evangelists). Some of these ministries and functions could be overlapping. For example, Stephen was a deacon and he was a good preacher as well (Acts 7). Philip was a deacon and he was a preacher and an evangelist also (Acts 8:4-5 and 26-40).