by Michael S. Cole, M.D.
Jesus said, “and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it..” – Matthew 16:18
The church that Jesus built was HIS church. Jesus Christ is Himself its foundation (I Cor. 3:11). He is the Savior of the church (Eph. 5:23). It was purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). He is the Head of the church (Col. 1:18). The church is the bride of Christ (II Cor. 11:2). The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23). The Bible says there is only one church (or body) (Eph. 4:4).
Since the church belongs to Jesus Christ, the New Testament is our only reliable guide to the church’s organization and the regulations for entering His church. No man-made churches are described or authorized in the Bible (Psm. 127:1).
The New Testament often refers to “the church” in a universal sense, encompassing the entire family of God throughout the world (Mark 16:15). Also, the scriptures frequently refer to “the church” in a local sense (I Cor. 1:2).
The Bible authorizes no organization for the universal church, except Jesus, who is the absolute ruler (Eph. 1:20-23) with absolute authority (Matt. 28:18). The New Testament does present Christ’s plan for the organization of the local church.
The only way to construct the true, original organization that God approves of is to look into the scriptures. Let us examine the organization of the local congregation in the first century.
The church was established in Jerusalem on Pentecost, about 33 A.D. (See Acts 2). After this, the New Testament makes no reference to anyone being saved without being in the church. God automatically adds the saved to the church (Acts 2:47). Entrance into the church (the body of Christ) occurs with baptism (Gal. 3:27, I Cor. 12:13, Acts 2:38-41).
In the first century church, members were simply called “Christians” (Acts 11:26, I Pet. 4:16). They were also referred to as “saints” (Acts 26:10, Rom. 1:7, I Cor. 1:2, Eph. 1:1). Christians were also considered to be “priests” (Rev. 1:6, I Pet. 2:9).
The New Testament is filled with instructions for Christians, including how to act, how to respond to others, and how to serve God (II Tim. 3:16-17, Titus 2:2-8).
Though men and women are equally valuable in God’s eyes, they are to fill different roles in His church. It is by God’s design that women are not permitted to assume positions of church leadership (I Cor. 14:34, I Tim. 2:12).
From among the members are chosen teachers, preachers, deacons, and elders.
All Christians are expected to be able to teach the lost (I Pet. 3:15, Matt. 28:19). All Christians were told to “teach and admonish” one another in the first century (Col. 3:16). Those qualified with considerable knowledge of the Scriptures can teach in a more formal manner. Those who do, have greater responsibility (James 3:1).
God expects teachers to present the Word accurately and fully (II Tim. 2:15, Acts 18:26, Matt. 28:20). The scriptures gravely warn Christians about false teachers (II Cor. 11:13-15, II Tim. 4:3-4, I Tim. 4:1-3, Matt. 24:24).
Men who choose the ministry as an occupation (I Cor. 9:14) are called preachers (Rom. 10:14), ministers (Col. 1:23), and evangelists (Acts 21:8). They have no duty to God different from any other Christian, just greater responsibility to work full time for the Gospel.
The apostle Paul instructed the young evangelist Timothy to “Preach the Word” (II Tim. 4:2, 5). First century preachers were primarily concerned with pleasing God (I Thess. 2:4, Gal. 1:10); therefore they preached the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
A minister is to serve (Matt. 20:26-28). The preacher can be a leader in the church (Phil. 3:17). But no where does the Bible authorize him to be a ruler.
New Testament preachers diligently studied the Word of God, using references from the Bible to support their preaching (Acts 2). They believed the Scriptures alone were sufficient and condemned those who taught otherwise (I Tim. 4).
Faithful New Testament evangelists preached the gospel fully (Rom. 15:19), forcefully (Acts 18:28), simply (II Cor. 11:3), urgently (I Cor. 9:16), boldly (Eph. 6:19-20), and in love (Eph. 4:15).
Their preaching was aimed at converting the lost to Christ, restoring the wayward Christian, and keeping the saved saved.
To be continued…