How Is the Church on Earth Organized?
The Bible teaches the whole church has no permanent earthly organization. Only the local congregation has officers and organization today. The apostle Paul called the elders from a local church, Ephesus (Acts 20:17). He said that they were to take heed to the flock (church) over which the Holy Spirit made them overseers (Acts 20:28). The Holy Spirit makes men overseers of a local congregation only. Never does the Bible say that there are to be overseers of the whole church of the entire body of Christ. In 1 Peter 5:2, elders are told to feed the flock of God which is among them. They have no responsibility as elders except in the local congregation where they are overseers. Sometimes men think their plans for organizing the church are better than God’s. Some want to organize the whole church today. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men (1 Corinthians 1:25). We must respect God’s arrangement and honor His wisdom. Only the local church is organized on earth. The whole church is not.
Whenever the Scriptures speak of permanent offices in the church, the local church is referred to. In the beginning of the church, before the Scriptures were completed, there were special officers of a temporary nature. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, the Bible says God appointed in the church, “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.” These gifts of the Holy Spirit which enabled the working of miracles were temporary. First Corinthians 13:8-10 teaches that when God’s perfect revelation, the Bible, would come, the partial revelations would cease. When miraculous gifts ceased, the permanent officers of the church continued. The positions in the church which God planned to continue did not depend upon miraculous power. When we read the qualifications for elders in the church, the power to work miracles is not mentioned. Men can be elders without miracle working power.
All permanent church offices were for the local church. Living apostles and prophets over the whole body of Christ soon ceased. But elders were ordained in every church (Acts 14:23). Titus was left in Crete to ordain elders in every city (Titus 1:5). These verses show that elders were for the local church only, and not for the whole body of Christ. The elders from Ephesus were to take heed to the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). This flock was the local congregation at Ephesus (Acts 20:17). Elders are commanded to tend the flock of God among them (1 Peter 5:2). They have no authority over the whole church. All Scriptures which deal with permanent church government deal with the offices in the local congregation.
Jesus Christ is still the Head of the church. The Lord’s apostles and prophets continue to have an important place in the church because we still follow the authority of their inspired words. But these officers over the whole church have no successors. All church officers today are in the local church. The Bible gives no instruction for officers other than in the local church. Where the Bible speaks, we speak; but where the Bible is silent, we must be silent. We must abide in the doctrine of Christ and not go beyond what is written (2 John 9; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
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