The Lord established His church in the first century. In so doing, He gave mankind “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3-4) and instituted a religious organization in which men from all walks of life could function as a unit. The divine organization of the church of Christ can be found only in the New Testament.
Over the centuries, men became dissatisfied with the organization of the Lord’s church and introduced drastic changes in it. In so doing, they sinned and corrupted Christ’s religion. But today, that same church, with the same organization that God ordained, can be found in many communities. The church of Christ does Bible things in Bible ways and has restored the organization of the New Testament church.
The Word “Church” in the New Testament
The Bible speaks of the church in a universal, comprehensive sense (Matt. 16:18; 1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 1:22-23). This includes all the saved of the earth since the first century, and all are subject to Christ as the head of the church (Eph. 5:23-25).
But when New Testament writers referred to the body of Christ as “the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1) or “the church…at Antioch” (Acts 13:1) they did not have the universal sense in mind. They spoke of the church of Christ in a local sense and that is the only sense in which there is an organization of the church. This terminology includes all of God’s people in one community. When Luke said Paul ordained elders “in every church” (Acts 14:23), he referred to the local congregations of the Lord’s people.
The phrase to, “set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5) clearly indicates a need on the part of each faithful congregation to set in place the heavenly designed organization. This makes each local church a self-governing unit with the control of its own affairs.
A thorough search of the New Testament reveals no other organizational structure existed that was higher than the local church. There is no other sense in which Bible writers used the term church. Neither the term denomination nor denominationalism occurs in sacred writing.
Obviously then, Paul did not belong to one denomination while Peter belonged to another. Such terms and organizational concepts are foreign to the wishes of heaven. I know this to be true because of heaven’s guide book—the Bible.
Each Local Church had its Own Members
The Bible teaches that when a sinner is converted, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13, 27). One becomes a member of the body of Christ in the same way that he is converted. He trusts Jesus as the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16; 11:24). He repents of his sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38). He confesses what he believes in his heart—that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God (Rom. 10:9-10)—and he is baptized into Christ unto the remission of his sins (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-4). He then identifies and assembles with a local church of Christ as was practiced in the New Testament.
Biblically, members are called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). They are also referred to as “brethren” (Rom. 10:1), “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2) and “servants” along with others Christ has designated. But the only name they wear is Christian.
Members of the body of Christ do not wear human names such as Methodist, Baptist or Jehovah’s Witnesses. God knew what He wanted to call His people. Why wear any other name? Furthermore, the Bible says the Father named His family in heaven and on earth (Eph. 3:15).
The Local Church Appointed its Own Teachers
Teachers of the word of God are at the very foundation of the church. The church needs teachers to teach disciples the way of the Lord more perfectly (Heb. 5:12-14).
Though all members are expected to privately teach their neighbors, friends, and family members (1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 28:18-19), not all members are commanded to be public teachers (Jas. 3:1). Though all members are expected to teach and admonish one another in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16), all need not think that they must teach a Bible class.
The Local Church Appointed its Own Preacher
In the first century, a Gospel preacher was one who proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 4:2). He was also referred to as an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). Though the foolish sought to venture into new teaching, the faithful messenger never went beyond “the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9-11). Even then, those who wanted to please men avoided various difficult themes and subjects that their hearers hated, but the man of God always preached the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He preached the word (2 Tim. 4:2).
Today, the preacher is expected to do many things that are unheard of as God-given duties of an evangelist. He is expected to know how to perform a great wedding ceremony or preach funerals. According to the standard of most religious people, he must be proficient in visiting hospitals and the bereaved. No doubt, these are good works for every Christian—and that includes the preacher—but a close study of the letters to two first century evangelists, Titus and Timothy, helps us to see the work of a preacher in the light of heaven’s lamp. He is to preach, edify, train, defend the truth, and study the Word.
The Local Church Appointed its Own Qualified Elders
New Testament guidance teaches us to appoint qualified elders in “every city” (Titus 1:5) and to appoint them “in every church” (Acts 14:23). All references to this body of men show that God wanted a plurality of elders to lead each congregation. One-man rule is not heaven’s way, but man’s.
To be godly elders, men had to meet the heaven-given qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). They were to be shepherds of the flock and overseers of God’s people (Acts 20:28).
Like the preacher, they too had duties to perform. Bible writers referred to them as “elders” (Acts 20:17), “bishops” or “overseers (Acts 20:28). “pastors” or “shepherds” (Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 6:4). These names describe their work.
When you think of a “shepherd,” you think of one leading, feeding and caring for the sheep. An “overseer” is one who makes sure that all things being done are done properly and the word “elder” indicates an older person who is a wise counselor.
The Local Church Appointed its Own Qualified Deacons
Churches in the first century also had deacons. Paul wrote to “all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phlp. (1:1). As it was with the elders, so it is with the deacons. The Bible speaks of a plurality of deacons. These men helped the elders carry out their duties. No, they were not “junior elders” with any oversight authority in the church. They were—and are—simply special servants working under the oversight of the elders and who, like the elders, had to meet certain God-given qualifications before serving as deacons (1 Tim. 3).
By following this pattern, as set forth in the New Testament, we allow Christ to be our head. To deviate from this pattern and set up organizations such as Missionary Socities, and offices such as Cardinals, Popes, Priests, and Reverends is to depart from what heaven wants. As we look around at the religious world, we see many who have substituted what they want for what heaven has commanded. But the church of Christ is organized according to the New Testament Pattern with elders, deacons, evangelists, and members.