An Organism At Work
The spiritually gathered local church should be a miniature of the Universal Church, and as such may be likened to an organism, not an organization. The differences between the two are simple but fundamental. An organization is manmade whereas a local church is established by Christ Himself. If the components of an organization are divorced from one another, they still continue to operate independently; not so an organism; if its components are separated, it dies. An organization is an inanimate structure void of life, whereas, the local church pulsates with the very life of Christ.
A forceful illustration of the difference between these two is found in the Book of the Revelation (3:20). In that passage Christ is seen outside the door of the Laodicean church begging admittance, but His plea is unheard. The church at Laodicia had degenerated from an organism full of vitality into an organization void of life.
What, then, makes this organism, the local church, work? Basically there are three major components, all of which must function properly in order that the local church be effective. The three components are priesthood, oversight and deaconship.
Each of these operates under Christ and is responsible to Him. Each priest is responsible to Him as the “Great High Priest” (Heb. 4:14).
Each overseer is responsible to Him as the Chief Bishop (Chief Overseer) (1 Pet. 2:25). Each deacon is responsible to Him as the Head Deacon. The Lord Jesus during His sojourn here said, “I am unto you as a deacon” (Luke 22:27, a literal translation).
The priesthood has its source in spiritual birth; the oversight, in spiritual character and maturity; the deaconship in spiritual gifts.
The concept of priesthood is an Old Testament one that has been borrowed by the writers of the New Testament and developed through truths and principles meant for the Church. This function which was limited to only a few in the Old Testament dispensation, in the New is possible to every member of the Church of the Living God. The Spirit of God indicates that all are “an holy priesthood” and “a royal priesthood.”
Under the Old Testament economy the priest engaged in three functions which have a counterpart among the activities of priesthood in the churches.
First, they entered into the tabernacle. Although all priests were not allowed into the holiest of all, this being reserved for the high priest only, yet, we might consider their lives as being lived in the presence of the Lord. Today, each New Testament priest, by a new and living way, may enter into the immediate presence of God and there enjoy communion and fellowship with his Creator.
Second, the Aaronic priests, those of the Old Testament, offered sacrifices for both themselves and the ordinary people.. Hebrews eight reminds us that inherent in the office of a priest is the function of offering sacrifices. What may be the sacrifices which the priest of the New Testament should offer? Here are three: his person (Rom. 12:1), his praise (Heb. 13:15), and his purse (Heb. 13:16).
Third, the Aaronic priests were consecrated to the service of God; their consecration was detailed, their functions explicit, and their separation clear. It is similar today for the members of the Christian priesthood. In the consecration of the former, each was anointed on the right ear, right thumb and right large toe. This indicated that his entire person was physically the property of God. Today, the Christian is asked to come out from the throng and identify himself with Christ; to associate himself with the Man of Sorrows and to be separated to Him alone.
We noted in our first article that there were three terms used to describe the same person; namely, overseer, bishop and pastor. We also noted that where these individuals were mentioned, it is always in the plural, indicating that each local church had elders (bishops and pastors) who carried out the functions assigned to them. What are these functions?
First, elders are to care for the church of God (1 Tim. 3:5). The word “care” used here is the same word as was used by the good Samaritan when speaking to the Innkeeper, “Take care of him,” he said. This responsibility involves spiritual exercise and concern. It often makes elders unpopular but their hearts are knit to the people of God.
Second, they are to rule the church of God (1 Tim. 5:17). The word “rule” means to rule by example and suggests leadership. Eliphaz said of Job, “Thy words have upholden him that was falling” (Job. 4:4). Such is the function of elders.
Third, they are to feed the church of God (Acts 20:28). There is a ministry that can be given by visiting teachers. Even an evangelist can play a great part in teaching new converts. However, in the final analysis, it is the elders who are responsible to feed the church of God; to saturate the members of the assembly with the Word of God.
Fourth, they are to watch over the church (Heb. 13:17).
The word translated overseer is the Greek word, episcopos, which comes from two other Greek words, scopio, to see or watch, and, epi, over. It, therefore, literally means one who watches over. Elders must give an account of their work at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The accounting records will be opened to the One who will perform an exhaustive audit. The responsibility of making the entries belongs to the elders.
Finally, elders must guard the church (Tit. 1:9). They themselves must be so well versed in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures as to recognize false doctrine when it appears and keep it out of the church.
Is it any wonder that when Paul specifies the qualifications of an elder, he searches the elders inward life, family life and outward life? He qualifies them as to character, temperment, experience and reputation. True overseers are men of God appointed by the Holy Spirit, and they are accountable to Him for their charge.
As noted above, deaconship falls into two categories according to their natural gifts and their spiritual gifts. A contractor who serves on a building committee is using his natural gift for the Lord. An accountant who acts as treasurer of an assembly is using his natural gift for the Lord. When the Lord was choosing a man to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage, He did not choose one who was ill-prepared for the job; He chose Moses, a man raised in the courts of Egypt, a man who because of his natural gifts could speak to the Pharaoh. A natural gift is one for which we are trained in the secular world; it can be of value in the work of God.
Spiritual service requires more than natural gift; it requires spiritual gift and preparation. Moses spent forty years in the courts of Pharaoh developing natural gifts, but he spent forty years in the backside of the desert developing spiritual gifts; he was learning lessons in the school of God.
Today we need deacons who are prepared by God. We need young people who are willing to be moulded by the hands of God who will emerge as vessels of honour ready for the use of the Master. Do not confuse spiritual gifts with natural gifts, both are important in the assembly. When the two complement each other, work is accomplished for the Lord.