December 5, 2004,
THIS ISSUE: "The
Those who espouse a "new hermeneutic" deny there is a New
Testament pattern to which the church is to conform. Rubel
Shelly and Randall Harris, professors at
For the individual believer, Christ’s perfect example remains the
benchmark for his or her life. For the corporate body of Christ, there is no
historical prototype of the church for duplication. The
If there is no pattern "of the church for duplication," any organizational structure we desire is acceptable. Why not have a pope?
The first world wide falling away from the faith resulted in the Roman Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Church in the East. Historians, even among denominations, universally agree that in the first few centuries after the beginning of the church, locally independent congregations, each ruled by a group of elders, gradually shifted rule upward and became consolidated in organization. Thus, this great apostasy began with a corruption of the organization of the church. In fact, this very centralization of rule is what enabled false doctrines and practices to rapidly spread.
The first nation wide apostasy among those who were striving to restore
New Testament Christianity in
As the author of Hebrews compared the priesthood of Christ and the New Covenant system to the tabernacle and levitical system of Moses, he wrote:
For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain" (Hebrews 8:4-5).
Moses was required to meticulously follow a complex, divine pattern in
erecting the tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9,40). Moses
followed the pattern exactly (Exodus 39:43), and, as the result, "the
glory (i.e., holy presence) of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exodus
40:34-35). We, likewise, have been given a divine pattern for the church, the
What is the pattern for the organization of the universal church?
While on earth, Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). That church, by definition, is composed of all saved people, both living and dead, throughout the whole world (Ephesians 5:23; 1:22-23; Hebrews 12:22-24). When the Lord saves people, He adds them to the body of the saved, the church (Acts 2:47). What organization, then, are all the people of God, Christians (Acts 11:25-26), upon this earth to have?
By "organization" I mean "an administrative and functional structure" (Webster. 1590). More specifically, I use the term "organization" to mean a group of people with pooled resources (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), common oversight (1 Peter 5:1-2), and a work all join in as a unit (1 Timothy 5:16). The Roman Catholic Church claims to be this very organization. In fact the word "Catholic" means "universal." The Mormons, who make the same claim, are similarly organized, and many denominations have a universal, earthly structure of organization.
Organization should not be confused with arrangements, methods or work. Organizations use arrangements and methods to do work. The Pope may arrange a meeting at which a speaker lectures on the deity of Christ. In this case an organization, the Catholic Church, uses an arrangement (meeting) and a method (lecture) to do a work (teach). A local congregation of Christians may arrange a meeting at which a speaker lectures on the deity of Christ. Two vastly different organizations would have used the same arrangement and method to do the same work.
What, then, is the earthly organization for all the people of Christ, His
church? There is none whatsoever. The church of the New Testament has no
earthly head or headquarters. Jesus Christ is its Head (Ephesians 1:22-23).
It is a truism that the headquarters is wherever the Head is. The
headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is
Further, there is no organizational scheme authorized by the Lord to tie
all local congregations of God’s people together. And, even if there
were, this would not really organize the
In fact, if some super promoter could get every local congregation on
earth to function through a giant, organizational scheme, this would not even
organize the universal church on earth, for the units which compose it are
individual Christians, not congregations. As a body the church is
How are all Christians tied together? Only by spiritual ties of fellowship
with the Father, the Son, the apostles, and each other, as we each walk in
the light of Christ (1 John 1:3,7). Our only universal Head is the Lord Jesus
Christ (Colossians 1:18), and we all must obey Him alone (Colossians 3:17).
As each of us does so, we share in the work our Head directs us to do and
share in the spiritual blessings that come from the Father through Him. I am
often thrilled to learn of Christians in distant parts of the world whom I
did not previously know about. Undoubtedly there are uncounted and
uncountable numbers of people throughout the world who have by faith been
baptized into Christ and are following His Word. No earthly organization ties
us together, and we may never contribute money to a common treasury. We may
never even know of each other’s existence in this life. Have you met my
dear brother Sunday Ayandare in
The late Jimmy Lovell founded
The universal church is a spiritual relationship. Its only Head is Christ. Its only tie is spiritual fellowship of individual Christians in Christ by submission to the word of His apostles. It has no earthly organization. We must maintain this divine pattern (Hebrews 8:5).
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