Basic Biblical Principles 4
One of the differences between the churches of Christ and other religious affiliations is in the way we are organized. So who is right and who is wrong or does it make any difference?
Yes, it does make a difference! God gave us, through the Bible, how He wants the church to be organized. We would have to be incredibly arrogant to think that we could substitute our wisdom for God’s wisdom, in the organization of the church.
So then we must study the Bible to understand what God wants for the church. Then we must follow it to the best of our ability. One thing that God wants us to know is that Christ is the one and only head of the church. (Eph. 1:22 and 5:23) Also, the Bible tells us that each church is to have its own elders (Acts 14:23) and their job is to direct the flock (1 Tim. 5:17). Since each congregation is to have its own elders to direct their affairs, then that means that each congregation is autonomous. The Bible does not justify linking congregations together in larger organizations, whether state-wide, nation-wide or world-wide. It is also important to notice that churches, in the Bible, are always portrayed as having multiple elders. The early churches were organized this way for many years. Then some elders started putting themselves above other elders and eventually over the elders of other congregations. This led to a hierarchy of church leaders, which ended up with one man being the “head of the church”. But the Bible tells us that the head of the church is Christ Jesus.
There are least three other words used in some translations of the Bible that are used interchangeably with the term “Elder”: Shepherd, Overseer, and Pastor. The term “Pastor” has been misused to such an extent that it has a totally different meaning in today’s language. The word “Pastor” has come to refer to the preacher of a congregation. Although in many religious organizations the preacher has taken on the role of an Elder and the Elders (if there are any) have a mostly figure-head type of role. This is contrary to Biblical teaching in so many ways. First, the “preacher/Pastor” is often the only Pastor, which violates the multiple Elder/Pastor requirement or there is a head “Pastor” and one or more assistant “Pastors” which is contrary to the practices of the early church of having no hierarchy of Elders. Often the “preacher/Pastor” is appointed by a higher authority than the local congregation, which is a definite violation of Biblical teaching and early church practices. Finally, these “preacher/Pastors” quite often do not meet the very strict Biblical requirements of being an Elder/Pastor.
What, then, is the proper relationship between the Elders/Shepherds and the congregation? This can be summed up very well by 1 Peter 5:2 and 3. The Shepherds are to oversee the congregation and the congregation is to follow the Shepherds. But, the Shepherds are not to “lord it over” their flock. The Shepherds must always try to do what is in the best interest of the flock and not what is in their own best interest. This means that the Shepherds must get to know their flock and listen carefully to what the flock wants and needs. The Shepherds also have the responsibility of protecting the congregation from false doctrine (Acts 20:28-31).
When congregations are organized properly and all parts of the organization try hard to live up to their individual responsibilities, then things tend to run more smoothly, inter-personal relationships are closer, and there is less likely to be divisions among the congregation. Isn’t it amazing how things go so much better when we do things according to God’s wisdom, instead of trying to use our own?