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The question of organization and/or government within the congregation of believers has been a subject of discussion for quite a while. On one hand, it appears that the ministry is given authority to dictate to the lay members. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account." (Heb 13:17abc)


On the other hand: 'And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves." ' (Luke 22:25-6)



There is really only one scripture that seems to directly address a structure of authority for the New Testament believers. That is I Corinthians 11:3. "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." Based on this there is no separate category of "minister" to which everyone in the congregation reports.


This seems to be at odds with Hebrews 13:17 quoted above. This conflict is resolved by looking at the original Greek and by simply thinking about it a bit. Let's consider that Hebrews was a letter probably written by Paul to believers in Judea. Whoever the author was, he undoubtedly knew who the "rulers" were and he knew generally what they were telling the congregation to do.


This letter was written to known believers being taught by known 'rulers'. It is probably safe to say that Paul did not know any of our church pastors or what they are saying. In Galatians Paul says, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8). It is apparent that no minister has any exemption from this and no "authority" to dictate anything but what is taught by the word of God. Of course, if someone is preaching the word of God, why would anyone want to be contrary?


If the ministry is giving direction based on their own understanding or their own mind and not trusting in what the word of God says, no one is required to automatically fall in line or believe. The same holds true if they are directing in areas upon which the word of God does not speak in word or principle. Because a minister says something is so, does not eliminate an individual's responsibility for their actions.


The translation aspect of Hebrews 13:17 involves an examination of the Greek words "peitho", translated 'obey' and 'hegeomai', translated 'rule over'. The primary meaning of "peitho" is actually 'persuade' according to Thayer's lexicon. The exhaustive Liddell and Scott lexicon agrees with that stating, "prevail upon, persuade, usu.[usually] by fair means". Now it is fairly obvious that the Hebrews were not being asked to persuade their 'rulers'. So this is not likely the intended meaning here.


The secondary meaning of "peitho" is 'be persuaded'. Again Liddell and Scott agree and state, "to be prevailed on, won over, persuaded". This definition certainly makes sense in the context of Hebrews 13:17 and Galatians 1.


Within the general context of persuasion, "peitho" can carry the meaning of 'obey'. If this meaning were intended, there would be something in the context that would make that apparent. However, neither the context throughout scripture nor the context here, supports an unquestioning 'obey'. (See James 3:3 for a valid example.) We have already seen what Paul said about those who preach another gospel. We are to tremble at the word of God (Isa 66:2). Believers do not automatically obey the commandments of men (Mark 7:7, Col 2:22, Acts 5:29). However, everyone is due our respect as a fellow human being. This disallows arrogance toward anyone, especially not the 'rulers' of the congregation.


The word in Hebrews 13:17 that is usually translated 'rule' is the Greek word 'hegeomai'. The primary meaning according to Thayer is 'to lead'. Again, Liddell and Scott support this and say, "go before, lead the way". These 'rulers' are leaders that are to help map out the ways of God for the main body of believers, by example. 'Rule over' in Hebrews 13:7 & 24 is the same word.


The context in Hebrews 13:7 particularly lends itself to the concept of leader, since the exhortation is to "follow". Actually, this carries weight with every other use of 'hegeomai' in the chapter. It is generally accepted in translating, that multiple uses of a word in close proximity will carry the same meaning. Hebrews 13:7 being the first use in this general context, the meaning of 'lead' is established by its immediate use of the concept 'follow'. The literal translation would probably be 'imitate', but certainly follow is connected to that meaning as well. One sees the example of the leader and does the same. One sees how the leader walks and conducts himself accordingly. The follower seeks to emulate the leader. He is a willing participant. There is no thought there of simply doing what the leader says or being dictated to. The leader 'goes before', shows the way and sets the example . This is an entirely different concept from a ruler giving orders. The example is the conduct of the leader, what is discernable from close contact. Example is not primarily concerned with abstract concepts or the mental perceptions of the leader.


This word 'hegeomai' has a secondary meaning of command, as in leadership of a military/governmental organization. When translating, context and priority (primary meaning vs. secondary meaning, based on frequency of appearance in the language) are the deciding factors in assigning meanings. If Hebrews had intended us to draw the secondary military/governmental connection, it would typically have included some reference to the military or government in the context. It does not. Instead, there is an exhortation to 'submit' meaning 'resist no more', or 'yield' to the leadership. In the military not much time is spent encouraging the lower ranks to submit. They would find themselves in the brig very quickly if they did not submit.


This scripture in Hebrews really agrees perfectly with I Corinthians 11:3 and Luke 22:25-26. The authority invested in the leadership is to teach the ways of God, especially by setting the example. The veteran sets the example for the novice. This is not a difficult concept to understand. It revolves around visible and discernable conduct not beliefs that really have no affect on ones daily life. There is no place for someone who promotes himself or some personal opinion and claims it is God's will when it is not. One who does that takes the name of God in vain and will be held accountable. (Deu 18:20, Ex 20:7)


At the same time, the membership should seriously consider what the leadership says. In a typical church organization the pastor is supposed to be a professional in understanding the word of God. They were established for the perfecting of the saints (Eph 4:12), to lead the way in the ways of God. If in doubt, a true servant of God will welcome free inquiry regarding scriptural examples or principles and patiently explain the word of God. The explanation will make sense. Any leader who seems to stray from the path as defined by scripture, should be watched very carefully. He probably doesn't know the way and like the blind leading the blind, everyone may fall in the ditch.


There are other scriptures that seem to indicate the ministers are rulers. I Timothy 5:17 is one of them. The word used for 'rule' in that verse is 'proistemi'. Again, it means to 'set or place before' or 'preside'. Liddell and Scott treat it as a compound word 'pro' meaning 'before' and 'histemi' meaning 'stand'; a leader. One who presides at a meeting is not necessarily superior to all attendees. Things need to be organized, meeting place prepared, possibly scripture reading determined, a study leader or speaker designated. The easiest way to handle this is to make someone responsible. This leader is presiding in the business of the congregation, not in their routine lives.


On the other hand, one should respect the position of the one presiding. He is there so things can be done decently and in order, not to promote chaos and contention. If those who are not presiding have complaints, they should petition through standard means.


Other scriptures that seem to place the ministry in a ruling position above the congregation are similarly misunderstood. A careful reading and translation will not support a dictatorial ministry. They lead by example. It should be the goal of each member to walk in the way of God on their own two feet, with understanding, not blind obedience.


"These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11)


"Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern." (Phil 3:17)


"Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity." ( I Tim 4:12)


Why were the translators confused?

The simple answer we would suggest, is a conflict of interest and or blind acceptance of tradition. Generally speaking, those who were knowledgeable enough in the ancient Greek language to do a translation were theologians. They had their own ideas about what the Bible "says". Many were church leaders, ministers or heavily involved in the religious community themselves. In translating the way they did, they were solidifying their own position, even if subconsciously. We wouldn't say they were slanting the Gospel with the intent of deceiving. Given their background, human proclivity to trust in itself and the proclivity of the general population to want some human to tell them directly what to do, it was easy for the translators to choose words that elevated their own status.


They were probably also victims of their upbringing and the teaching of those who went before them. The Protestant reformation put a different slant on many things and respect for the word of God was elevated. However, just because there was improvement, doesn't mean that every problem was corrected. It's not unusual when remodeling a house to tackle the areas that are most in need. The relatively minor things are put off. The same approach in the area of church reform shouldn't be hard to imagine.


What is the 'Church'?

According to Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language the primary definition of 'church' is: "a building set apart or consecrated for public worship, esp. one for Christian worship".


The Greek word used in the New Testament, translated 'church' "ekklesia", carries a significantly different meaning. Its primary meaning according to Thayer's lexicon is "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly". Liddell & Scott say, "assembly duly summoned less general than sullogos". ('Sullogos' is "assembly, concourse, meeting of persons, whether legal or riotous"). The 'church' (ekklesia) has no connection to any particular building. It is a group called together 'summoned' for a purpose, not just any crowd, like sullogos.


Whenever the English New Testament refers to the church it is referring to the body of believers, either locally or universally. No subset of believers, e.g. elders, the ministry or the legal entity under which the congregation/ministry conducts its business, is intended. Certainly no building is intended. "A group of worshippers", which is roughly equivalent to "ekklesia", is listed sixth in Webster's possible definitions of 'church'. The English word 'church' is really a very poor fit for the concept intended in the original Greek text.


Other New Testament words


The concept of 'church' intended by the New Testament writers is not the only concept that is clouded in most English versions. One needs to examine a number of Greek words, because many lose their true meaning in translation. Unfortunately, this may seem a bit tedious. However, it is essential if one is to understand the original intent of the New Testament writers.


"So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23)


Elders were chosen from among the congregation in every congregation. Actually 'appointed' (Gr. cheirotoneo) is defined by Thayer as:


1) to vote by stretching out the hand

2) to create or appoint by vote: one to have charge of some office or duty

3) to elect, create, appoint


The Liddell & Scott primary meaning is: " stretch out the hand, for the purpose of giving one's vote in the assembly"


The possibility that Paul unilaterally chose the 'elder(s)' in any congregation is remote. Young's Literal translation reads, "and having appointed to them by vote elders in every assembly, having prayed with fastings, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Based on this, it seems the whole group including Paul and Barnabas chose the local elders. Another possibility is that Barnabas and Paul chose them by vote. This would make for a very odd election involving only two people. If that were the case, it seems the action would have been described as something other than "cheirotoneo", to vote by stretching out the hand.


As indicated above, the meaning of this word can be 'appoint'. However, this meaning is apparently rare, since it is listed last of the tertiary meanings of "cheirotoneo". There would need to be some context that would indicate voting was not intended. There is really nothing here that does so. The entire congregation chose the elders. As such, it makes a certain amount of sense that they were also responsible to the congregation.


Paul told Titus to 'appoint' elders. "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you--" (Tit 1:5). Although some might assume that Titus was therefore to do this unilaterally, there is really no indication here of exactly how he accomplished it. The 'command' was to set, place or put elders in each city. Titus could have accomplished that in numerous ways, including having the local congregation "vote by stretching out the hand". That is more than likely the example he saw in Paul. Why would he do it any differently?



What is an Elder?(Greek; presbuteros)

The term 'elder' appears frequently throughout the scriptures. The typical word for 'elder' in Hebrew is 'zaqen'. Its primary meaning is simply 'old'. Ezra often uses an Aramaic word to convey the same meaning. 'siyb'. Its primary meaning is 'to be gray'.


Titus, Paul's assistant, was left in Crete to 'set in place' elders. Also the twenty-four surrounding the throne of God are called 'elders' (Rev 4:4). This shows a great diversity and yet uniformity at the same time. Typically an older person, an elder was primarily trustworthy and of upright character. He was someone to whom others would go for advice.


In the New Testament, the Greek word used is typically 'presbuteros', i.e., elder, of age. This term also carries with it the concept of senior or respected leader of the people. It is used frequently in New Testament era Greek and Hebrew writings to refer to the elderly, respected people in the community and leaders of the community. They may or may not be appointed somehow or other to a particular official job. There is not dictatorial authority implied. What is implied is that the person is of high character and in a position to influence for the good of the community.


The use of the term 'elder' or 'presbuteros' undoubtedly comes from the Jewish community where the New Testament congregations formed. Certainly Elders in Israel had a certain amount of authority. In Acts 6:12 they, with the Scribes, forcefully brought Stephen before what was probably the Sanhedrin, the high court of Judea. The rulers in Judea were also called elders (Acts 4:8).


However, because the Jews in New Testament times vested civil authority in their elders, doesn't necessarily mean that elders in the congregation of believers would have 'authority to rule' the congregation. The civil elders had certain civil responsibility. The elders in the congregation administered the affairs of the congregation. There were obviously some problems with the leadership in Israel, otherwise they would not have crucified Jesus. There came to be problems in some New Testament elders too. The Head, the Messiah, is able to resolve these things. A believer will do what he can and wait on the Messiah for the rest. Depending on the situation one can vote with ones feet, i.e. note divisive or offensive people and walk away.


The gentile countries evidently had a particularly bad reputation. "And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." (Luke 22:25-26) Evidently the leadership in Judea was not quite so bad.


In any case, the congregation of believers used the same moniker for their leaders as the Jews did. If there had been a radical difference between the elders of the synagogue and the elders of the believer congregations, it seems some note would have been made in Acts or to at least Timothy or Titus. Alternatively, an entirely different name would have been used.


'The term "elders" is usually used in the sense of authorized or ordained religious leaders, but in one instance at least, it has a purely community connotation, and means roughly "town fathers"'. (p 180, The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age, by Gedaliah Alon) This also reflects the station of 'elders' in the believing community.


"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (I Pet 5:1-3)


This is probably as good a summary as any of the responsibility of an elder to the congregation. Feeding the flock seems to involve at least teaching the "council of God", i.e. the instruction of God (Acts 20:27-28). They were to take "oversight". This assumes that if something were not happening in a godly way that they would at least speak up, if nothing else. This is certainly what Paul did when he found out about the man living with his father's wife (I Cor 5).


Although the congregation evidently chose the elders, those chosen may not have been overjoyed at the appointment. They are exhorted to willingly help the congregation. We assume the rest of the congregation was not as well founded in the word of God as those chosen were. They shouldn't begrudge the other believers their time or whatever it took to support the congregation. Neither should they seek any monetary gain that could conceivably come their way. They should be anxious to serve without seeking anything in return. Their reward would come from their Creator. Their best work would be done by setting the right example.


The 'elder' would exemplify "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). His efforts to help would be on a volunteer basis, not for hire.



Bishop (Gr. episkopos)

The bishop assured that the functioning of the group went smoothly. An 'Overseer' (Gr. episkopos) is "a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian or superintendent". (Thayer) Liddell & Scott say "one who watches over, overseer, guardian".

The overseer was not necessarily involved in a visible function in the congregation himself, but in making sure things ran smoothly and that someone did what was necessary. In the New Testament congregations, it seems to be the title of a local facilitator.


This is very similar to 'Elder'. An elder was also to be taking oversight of the congregation. This would not necessarily mean someone who has direct responsibility for the congregation, but apparently someone besides each individual in the congregation who had to "give account" or explain the progress of the congregation and likely his part in it. We saw this in Hebrews 13:17 explained earlier.


"Obey [be persuaded by] those who rule [preside over, maintain decorum and order] you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you." Those who presided had to answer to God not only for their own conduct, but evidently to some degree for the congregation over which they presided, their stewardship. I suppose this shouldn't be a big surprise. Both stewards and teachers will be judged (Jam 3:1, Luke 16:2). Besides facilitating the meeting of the congregation, it makes sense that this individual would probably end up teaching too.


Actually, the designation of 'bishop' is not often used. It appears the term refers to an office probably filled by an 'elder', which term is used fairly often. Paul describes qualities someone who fills the position of a bishop must have in I Timothy 3:1-7. In short, he must be a good teacher, honest, gentle and not greedy for money.


Minister (Gr: diakonos)

"of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God" (Col 1:25)


"His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."" (John 2:5)


"Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant." (Mat 20:26)


These three examples all contain the same Greek word (diakonos) translated either 'minister' or 'servant'. Actually there are a number of Greek words that are translated 'minister'. All of them include the meaning of servant. English differentiates between the leader of the congregation who is designated a 'minister' and domestic help, usually intended by 'servant'. There is no such clear differentiation in the Greek language.


The leader of the congregation was therefore expected to serve the congregation just like domestic help would serve their master or employer. The minister Paul was the servant Paul. The definition generally accepted is "one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master, a servant, attendant, minister " (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament).


"as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf" (Col 1:7).


In this case, 'fellow servant' could just as easily be translated 'fellow slave'. The master is Jesus Christ. The ministry fills in for Christ by serving the congregation, the body of Christ. So while the minister is to care for the congregation, the real master and caregiver is Jesus Christ. The minister is responsible first to Christ then the congregation.


"For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." (Gal 1:10b)


Deacon (Gr. diakonos)


If you're paying attention you will notice that the same Greek word is used for a deacon as is used for a minister. I Timothy 3 seems to contrast the diakonos with that of a bishop, although the qualifications are very similar. The function highlighted in I Timothy 3 seems to be more in line with the deacons chosen in Acts 6.


Throughout the New Testament this term is used of women and servants who attend to the needs of others. Although in some cases, such as that of Stephen, some 'deacons' were effective beyond 'waiting on tables' (Acts 6:2), attending to people's needs seems to be the main function of a deacon. They did the grunt work necessary, so the elders and the congregation could concentrate on teaching and learning.


Paul was not ashamed to label himself or others with this title (Col 1:25, 7). It is apparent He was not very concerned about status or rank.


Apostles & others

"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues." (I Cor 12:28)


"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph 4:11-12).


For the conduct of the business of the Gospel and the effective teaching or upbringing of the babes of Christ, there was a structure of authority and accountability within the leadership of the ministry. First (Gr. proton) was the Apostle. 'Proton' carries with it the meaning of chief as well as first in order. Certainly the account in Acts 6 shows that lacking some other direction the congregation looked to the Apostles to iron out the business that pertained to the congregation. They set in place deacons to handle the problem. The deacons did what was necessary on behalf of the Apostles. The ultimate authority remained with the Apostles. The deacons reported to the apostles in particular and the congregation in general.


We assume Paul and Barnabas were appointed apostles in Acts 12:2-3, although this is not specifically stated. An apostle (Gr. apostolos) is simply a messenger, one sent with orders. There was no apparent structure of men that had to be consulted. There is certainly no indication the apostles of Jerusalem were consulted. When Paul did consult with them, he had already been preaching (Gal 2:7). They simply recognized this and welcomed him. (Gal 2:9) They felt no need to ordain him to any position. Jesus Christ already did that.


A true Apostle of Jesus Christ is validated by the work he does, not because he has a sheet of paper that designates him an 'apostle'. "for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing. 12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds." (II Cor 12:11cd-12). "If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (I Cor 9:2).


In II Corinthians 8:23 Paul seems to be designating the whole delegation that he is sending to Corinth as apostles. It seems that the term 'apostle' had not acquired all the stately and exalted baggage, which Christianity now attaches to the word.


There were evidently some in the congregation that had an ability to foretell the future, or at least one future event. Prophets are listed second after the Apostles. Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32) and Agabus (Acts 21:10) are designated as prophets. The primary definition of the Greek, "prophetes" is "an interpreter of oracles or of other hidden things" (Thayers's). Although there is a connection with the future, this isn't necessarily their only function and may not have been their primary function. Most of the time they probably functioned as a preacher (See I Cor 14).


Philip, one of the original seven ordained in Acts 6, is called an evangelist (Gr. euaggelistes Acts 21:8). So also it seems, is Timothy (II Tim 4:5). Even as of Acts 8, Philip seems to be active in aggressively spreading the Gospel by oration, commonly called preaching. Liddell and Scott indicate outside the context of the Bible "prophetes" is used of a "proclaimer of oracular messages". This fits with the general understanding that an evangelist is one who preaches or speaks on behalf of God.


It is interesting that Paul's description of what seems to be a pecking order in the ministry in I Corinthians, differs from the similar list in Ephesians. Only in Ephesians is an evangelist and a pastor mentioned. This would tend to indicate a loose structure or Evangelists, Pastors and teachers are the same thing. If there was a structure, it wasn't rigidly fixed enough for Paul to list the categories consistently twice in a row.


A 'pastor' (Gr. poimen) is typically a herdsman, especially a shepherd. It is also used of "the presiding officer, manager, director, of any assembly". This function then is apparently another name for an elder and a bishop.


The third category listed in I Corinthians 12:28 is that of teacher (Gr. didaskalos). One needs a certain mass of knowledge to begin to comprehend the word of God and the mind of God. A novice can get up to speed faster if someone can explain the basics and point him to the foundational precepts. After that, a believer needs to look to the record our Head left. The human teacher should point the student to the word of God. Jesus Christ is our Master, guide and ultimate teacher . "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren" (Mat 23:8). "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40).


Getting counsel from proven men is a wise thing to do, but seeking the input of the Creator is even better. We're not limited to one or the other. To be the child of God, seek to understand the mind of God through His word.


After teachers, Paul mentions other items that don't appear to be functions as much as gifts or special abilities (I Cor 12:28). This includes miracles, healings, helps, administrations, and speaking in other languages. Miracles seem to be in a special category. The rest are apparently not listed in any particular order, but are various gifts that certain people had.


"Administrations" is placed in the same category as 'speaking in other languages'. The Greek behind this word indicates one who pilots a ship or helmsman. This may or may not be someone with greater authority than every other hand on the ship. This term is also metaphorically applied to administrators in local governments. In the congregation it was evidently someone who had a knack for organizing or supervising a smooth running operation.


Ordination and Administration

One would assume Peter, an original disciple of Jesus, would have been considered senior to Paul. However, after the episode related in Galatians 2:11-14, it is apparent Paul did not defer to anyone or recognize any human as needing to approve his understanding or the truth of the gospel. Interestingly, Paul gave little hint of any 'top down' structure even when he was being cautious about his own message. The account in Galatians 2 indicates he went to those of 'reputation' (vs. 2), 'those who seemed to be something' and those 'who seemed to be pillars'. These are strange descriptions for the highest 'authorities' who 'rule over' the congregation.


To the credit of these leaders, they seemed to be happy to share preaching the gospel with Paul. They didn't claim to own it themselves, have sole right of distribution or right to tithes and offerings. Paul was not required to pledge any allegiance to them. He had already demonstrated his allegiance to Jesus Christ. That was all that was necessary.


An ordination is recorded in Acts 13. This was done to delegate a job to Barnabas and Saul (Paul). "Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away." (Acts 13:3)


In this particular case significant emphasis is placed on the spirit moving certain 'prophets and teachers' to 'separate' these two for a particular purpose. It seems that the spirit of God used this special group to highlight the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to perform a function. Although it makes sense that Barnabas and Saul would occasionally report back to the group, the real mover in this matter was the spirit of God.


The details of how this worked are not given. However, indications are that the other apostles probably went to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mat 10:6b) as they had been instructed before. Greece and Asia Minor would not have been included. Since Antioch was relatively close to this area and they knew there were many Jews scattered around this area, the leaders in Antioch were moved that something should be done to reach these people with the gospel.


A commissioning of this nature and importance would likely have caused many problems in any organization that was rigidly structured. There was apparently no approval sought from the human head of the organization or the executive committee in Jerusalem. That brings into immediate question whether or not such a position or committee existed.


Jesus originally set the stage for the Apostles to lead the church and spread the gospel. "And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles" (Luke 6:13). "Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach" (Mark 3:14).


Restoring the number to twelve was one of the first orders of business in the new Gospel effort after Jesus death (Acts 1:15-26). Paul and Barnabas were also considered to be apostles (Acts 14:14, 4). There is no direct statement comparing this apostleship with the original apostles in Jerusalem. It seems no one was all that concerned about comparing themselves among themselves or measuring status.


Paul makes it fairly clear in Galatians that there was no organizational chart posted when he first met the Apostles in Jerusalem (Gal 2:6, 9). It is apparent James, Peter and John were leaders, but there was no clear human at the top. He calls them 'Pillars', which is an interesting word in this context. A pillar is a support for a structure. It is not the roof or tower that sits on top or towers over the structure that supports it.


Acts 6 describes another ordination. Complaints were lodged because the Greek speaking widows were being shorted in the 'daily distribution'. More than likely this was referring to the distribution of food. Acts 4:32 indicates that the majority of disciples were participating in a communal system of sorts. Possessions were given to the Apostles and they distributed them as needed (vs 34-35).


For some reason the Greek speaking widows were not being well cared for. Since the Apostles had control of the goods, the complaint went to the Apostles. They evidently acknowledged the problem, but understood that they could not properly handle this distribution and fulfill their responsibility to distribute the Gospel too (Acts 6:2, 4). So they asked the congregation to choose a group of men that they could make responsible for the 'daily distribution'.


This was a wise way to handle the situation. As much as possible, it is good to make all those affected by a situation, responsible for handling the situation. If things don't go well, they have no one to blame but themselves. At the same time they are empowered to solve the problem. The whole congregation or at least all that could be included agreed (vs. 5) with this approach.


Notice that the 'multitude of the disciples' (vs. 2) were involved, probably as many as they could get together. The choosing was not left to a small group of elite. The multitude worked out the recommendation together.


Once their choices came before the Apostles, they were accepted and empowered with responsibility for the distribution. The laying on of hands (vs. 6) was also an indication that the ultimate responsibility for this distribution rested with the Apostles. They were delegating it to those chosen. If they were derelict in their duty the Apostles had the authority to call them into question or appoint others in their place. One assumes this would be done with the participation of the congregation as before.


Even though some of these men went on to be of great reputation within the congregation, they were not given any responsibility that the Apostles didn't already have. In this case the men were commissioned to fill a particular need. However, as the spirit moved them they had confidence to serve their God in ways that were not specifically designated. They didn't need to be micro-managed. They saw a need and did what they could to fill it. One doesn't need an official title to be of help.


The example of Acts 6 does show an aspect of authoritative structure in the early 'church'. Those that favor authority for the ministry note that it was the Apostles that appointed the deacons, and indeed this was so. Those who favor a congregational structure in the hands of the lay members, note that the Apostles instructed "the multitude of the disciples" to chose the deacons and indeed it was so. The account here is showing a collaborative organization, where the lay members and the leadership work together to empower the congregation to work for the good of all.


Moses used this same method when he chose the judges as recommended by his father-in-law. Exodus 18:25 indicates that Moses chose and appointed these judges. This event actually happened after Israel had been camped around Mt. Sinai (Ex 18:5). Deuteronomy 1:12-16 also has an account of the same event. In that account Moses asked the congregation to find those who should be judges. Not surprisingly, since there were already tribal and family leaders (Ex 24:9, 19:7) the family leaders were evidently proposed by the congregation to be the judges. This probably didn't take a lot of debate.


Similar to the case in Acts 6, Moses evidently did the actual appointing to the position, but he asked the congregation to propose the candidates. They worked together on these organizational matters of mutual concern. The final authority rested with Moses for Israel, and in Acts 6, with the disciples/apostles. However, no one felt the need to be "in charge". The leaders in either era did not feel the need to micro manage.


The apostles were involved in a similar 'appointing' in Acts 1. Verse 16 through 26 describes the choosing of a replacement for Judas. The disciples proposed two candidates to fill Judas position. Then they asked God to make the final decision by casting lots. The final decision was God's. The disciples/apostles proposed the candidates.


It should be considered that the appointing in Acts 6 was to perform an administrative and/or physical task. Certainly Moses appointment required judges with understanding and ability to apply the Law of God. Acts 14:23 indicates the elders were chosen by election of the congregation to facilitate the local congregation.


On the other hand, there seemed to be no such election in determining who would become a 'minister'. Paul and Barnabas may have already been filling some ministerial responsibilities as of Acts 13. In any case they were apparently the logical choice of the holy spirit in the leaders of Antioch. There was no particular consultation with the congregation as a whole.


Timothy was "well spoken of by the brethren" (Acts 16:2), but it seems to have been Paul's choice to bring him along on his journey. That is what ultimately led to Timothy becoming a 'minister'.


The same seems to be true of Titus. Paul had Titus join him on a trip to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1). The next we hear from Titus he had apparently been sent as an emissary from Paul to Corinth. Likely he delivered Paul's epistle of First Corinthians (II Cor 7:6-8). There is no record of any election in this. The choice seems to be Paul's alone. He undoubtedly based his decision on personal contact and input from the brethren. Paul was not anxious to establish his seniority, but established Titus as his "fellow worker" (II Cor 8:23).


There may or may not have been a single protocol in the New Testament by which one could become a 'minister'. Perhaps Timothy, Titus and maybe even Paul were already deacons. In that case they were already servants or ministers.


It is interesting that mention is made twice of an ordination of Timothy. In one case it seems to be at the hands of Paul (II Tim 1:6). In the other case a group of elders are involved (I Tim 4:14). We assume these are the same event and Paul was a member of the group. Nevertheless, Paul seems to be taking primary responsibility for 'the gift' Timothy received, which seems to be 'the testimony' (II Tim 1:8). The same gift that made Paul a preacher (vs 11).


So, while the local congregation chose its leaders and those who administered whatever needed to be done locally, they did not necessarily have a hand in choosing all those who would be engaged 'full time' in the 'ministry' as we perceive it. Paul, and of course the apostles, were chosen directly by Jesus Christ. The 'ordination' in Antioch seems to be largely an outward show of the direction of Jesus through the spirit of God.


Paul felt perfectly comfortable with taking along assistants as he thought appropriate. He obviously had a disagreement with Barnabas about Mark (Acts 15:39). They disagreed to the extent they went on separate journeys. They were not dependent on the congregation or 'headquarters' to determine who their assistants would be and then, who would most likely become a 'minister'.


Paul's assistants in the ministry seem to move about regularly. Titus checked on the Corinthians and then reported back to Paul, who was probably in Macedonia (II Cor 2:13, 7:6). At one point Titus was left in Crete temporarily to handle the choosing of local elders (Tit 1:5, 3:12). At some other time he was sent to Dalmatia (II Tim 4:10).


Other assistant ministers traveled around independently as well. They don't seem to stay in one place for very long. They travel around evidently checking in on the various congregations, likely encouraging and exhorting and passing along news. This appears to be the main reason Paul and Barnabas decided to go on their second journey (Acts 15:36, Col 4:7-8). The congregations Paul and Barnabas established were "commended ...to the Lord" (Acts 14:23). Their progress was between Him and them.


Although Paul was not dependent on any structure or administrator in Jerusalem for support or direction, the leaders there were available for dispute resolution. The conference in Acts 15 is an obvious example. Cornelius had evidently already been baptized without being circumcised (Acts 10:19-11:18, 15:7). We assume Paul was aware of this, but it is possible he was not. In any case, it seems those coming from Judea should have been, but the significance evidently escaped them.


So, there was a dispute among believers over circumcision. They obviously considered it a fundamental issue. "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1b).


Rather than just parting ways in disagreement, they determined they "should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question" (vs. 2b). The issue was worth resolving and evidently everyone acknowledged the overall leadership of those in Jerusalem. The issue was not just heard by the leading man or just the apostles. "Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter" (vs 6). The discussion was evidently fairly lively: "And when there had been much dispute" (Vs 7a). Ultimately Peter, Paul and Barnabas evidently convinced the vast majority that God was indeed working with the gentiles regardless of whether they were circumcised or not. "Then all the multitude kept silent" (vs. 12a).


James was the one who summarized what seemed apparent to the gathering. "Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God" (vs 19). It seems apparent that the whole group was in basic agreement. The letter that was written to Antioch was not unilaterally from James, but from "The apostles, the elders, and the brethren" (vs. 23b). Neither James nor Peter was mentioned by name.


So the organizational structure of the entire ministry was not clearly defined as one would find on an organizational chart. The Pharisee membership, whatever their status (vs. 5), was allowed a voice as well as the most notable of the original apostles. The spirit of God, i.e. the mind of God in them, as a group, came to see the obvious answer to the question. It was a collaborative decision, which weighed most heavily the movement of God.


Less universal issues were handled in a less universal manor. Individuals who were obviously focused on a particular function, like Paul and Barnabas choose their assistants. These people either proved themselves or not, over time. While some like Philip progressed from 'waiting on tables' to preaching and the function of an evangelist (Acts 21:8), others (II Tim 4:5) came to that responsibility by their relationship with someone who was an apostle. There was no umbrella organization to which they needed to report, but they willingly sought the council of their leaders and peers, particularly in Jerusalem when there were fundamental disagreements over significant issues.



Who's in charge?

We have not dealt with every scripture people might think elevates the ministry above the average believer. We have dealt with those that are most often used and seem to make the strongest case for an authoritative ministry. We have seen these scriptures do not make that case, but have been misunderstood.

I Corinthians 11:3 remains a true explanation of authority within the body of believers. "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."

Ephesians 5:23 echoes this concept. "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body".

"But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren." (Mat 23:8)

"Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9)

The apostles knew that Jesus was still alive. There is no hint that Jesus appointed one of them to be 'in charge' while He was away. In fact, He is not 'away'. His hand is not shortened that He cannot accomplish what He wills. He expected them all to be witnesses of the Gospel (Acts 1:8, Mat 28:19). This was not new to them. They had done this before (Luke 9:1-2). They didn't need to set up a government to organize the effort.

The apostles were told to carry a money bag and maybe a sword. This indicates that they should take reasonable care for themselves. Jesus death was not a stumbling block during their first evangelical effort. Their message after the crucifixion would not be so readily received as before. It was evidently prudent to be more prepared for their journey.

If a need arose it was filled. Paul was called evidently to fill a void in the delivery of the Gospel. The head of the body was fully able to move within and outside the congregation to accomplish what was necessary. Jesus Christ is still alive today. He will accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

Anyone who thinks he is part of that effort should understand the true source of his support. It will not be his own cunning or ability. It will be the movement of the spirit of God. The spirit will guide either directly or through circumstances important aspects of what is or is not done (Acts 16:6-7, 13:2, 17:16-17, 18:5). If someone is depending on his own cunning or ability the Master will be fully aware.

Everyone in the body of Christ, i.e. the 'church' should be willingly subservient to Jesus Christ. This does not happen because they say some magic words, and they are 'spiritually' subservient as opposed to actually subservient. It happens when the believer sets their own will aside and conducts their life by His instruction. They tap the mind of the Creator as preserved in His word to direct their conduct. They relate to others as He would were He still walking the earth. They represent Jesus in body form.

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Phil 2:3-4)

"But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb 13:16)

"But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (I John 3:17)

This is the way Jesus Christ conducted Himself. He wants every believer to conduct themselves in this manner as well. How much more should the leadership personify this approach?

Although fully in charge, Jesus Christ will not necessarily micro-manage His congregation. "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (I Cor 11:19). Consider also the parable of the tares, which would indicate that the congregation will consist of faithful believers as well as those who are not really believers at all (Mat 13:24-30).

Sometimes He gives us enough rope to hang ourselves. During Noah's time man was not living as the Creator intended. When the situation reached a certain point He cleaned the slate and started over with Noah and his family. Not too long after that when things deteriorated He concentrated on Abraham and his family. He almost scrapped that original plan except Moses convinced Him not to destroy Israel in the wilderness. He established Israel, but finally destroyed their nation and scattered them in captivity. He gave them another opportunity to serve Him seventy years later. Ultimately that failed and the Jews were all but driven out of the Holy Land for about 1900 years.

It is not out of the question to think that He might clean house and start over occasionally. We can expect that if the congregation begins to lose its connection with the Creator it will be shaken until the imposters are mostly shaken out. Alternatively, the faithful may be shaken out and the imposters left with an empty shell. Jesus Christ is looking for those who wish to serve Him not an organization or themselves.

New Testament congregations did not always conduct themselves perfectly. Sometimes the apostles had to plead for godly conduct when it wasn't automatically forthcoming.

"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (I Cor 1:10)

"For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal?" (I Cor 3:4)

"These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit." (Jude 1:19)

Humble leaders who are trying to walk with Jesus Christ are not going to be very intent on gathering a following for themselves. They will recognize when others do this and may seem to fall victim to them on occasion. Diotrephes conduct (III John 1:9) was probably not unique. There will be tares among the wheat. All believers must be on the alert.

Christ is faithful and will draw near to us if we draw near to Him. He will post a watchman according to His timing and wisdom. He may work one way with one generation and some other way the next. The question is, "Will we be listening and listening on all frequencies or just the one we think He used last time?" The Creator is not limited in how or through what means, He might chose to proclaim His message.

"For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' 35 But wisdom is justified by all her children." (Luke 7:33-35)

John was evidently an intense austere man who survived on very little. Jesus was evidently very social and moved easily among the general population, including many who were marginalized by the religious community. Wisdom can come from either.

The apostles came from an association where Jesus was the obvious leader. They kept a shared purse under Jesus direction. After the ascension of Jesus Christ, they did what they had been told to do. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..." (Mat 28:19a). They had been trained to do this before Jesus was crucified. This was not really new to them. They carried on independently as they had done while Jesus was alive. They didn't set up their own little fiefdoms after Jesus crucifixion any more than they had done before. After all, Jesus Christ was and is still alive.



We have seen that scriptures, which attest to authority in the ministry, have a very specific application. Ministerial authority only applies to teaching the pure word of God and protecting the flock from those who would corrupt it. The early church used a collaborative organization that enabled the congregation to participate in making sure everything was administered decently and in order. No one was excluded in this process.


In what we would call doctrinal matters of dispute, those who were relied on to preside were open to input from any reasonable source. The word of God or His obvious movement was the yardstick by which they judged.


The church is the congregation. It is not the ministry, the building in which it meets or the legal entity under which it does business or tracks its finances.


Local congregations appear to have directly elected their local leaders. These elders organized the activities of the congregation to support instruction and enable growth of individuals and the group. An elder was typically a volunteer, of note among the congregation as someone well founded in the word of God and of impeccable reputation. Some leaders were evidently moved to greater functions of proclaiming the word of God. Apostles and Evangelists evidently traveled widely in support of multiple congregations or in communicating the word of God to new audiences.


The leadership in the body of Christ looks to Him for their physical support. It is certainly the responsibility of the congregation to provide support. However, the servant of Jesus Christ looks to Jesus Christ, his Master, and they are content with what He provides. They do not attempt to promote themselves, but their Master. They attempt to build up the congregation through instruction and example.


There were varying functions among the ministry as well as among the general believers.

All are thanks to the grace of God and Jesus Christ, intended for the betterment of the body as a whole. Paul obviously directed Timothy and Titus on occasion as evidenced in his epistles to them. For the most part his direction was about the work of the Gospel, qualifications of an elder, examples of sound doctrine and other duties or business of the ministry. In these areas Paul was obviously the senior. It only makes sense that he passes along his experience to the next generation and that they respect his instruction. It also makes sense that if he saw a need somewhere, he would direct someone to fill it if he were unable himself.


On the other hand, each head of household is responsible directly to their Creator. Leaders who lead astray will give account of their actions just as leaders who set the right example. Those who set the right example with a responsive congregation will obviously be happy to tell their account.

An interesting thing about government in the New Testament is how little information we are given. What we learn is largely from anecdotal evidence, not any direct instruction as to the proper form of government. That should be instructive in itself. The authors of the New Testament and epistles didn't see any need to devote time to this issue.

The church is likened to the body of Christ. Christ is the head. The body should look to Him for guidance and respond to His influence and direction. The ministry serves Jesus Christ in support of the congregation.

"For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body." (Eph 5:23)



Who would chafe under a ruler or leader whose primary interest is the well-being of those in his congregation?  What minister who recongizes Jesus Christ is his head will shrink from what is right in favor of influence from the wealthy?  What form of organization would frustrate this kind of a leader or create this kind of a leader?  This is exactly how Paul conducted himself in relation to Corinth and doubtless other congregations as well.  Having this kind of a leader is not a function of the organizational structure, but a function of the conversion of the individual leader and the spirit of Jesus Christ in him.

A spirit filled minister will lead by example of the highest caliber. He will treat everyone with equality, patience, gentleness, respect and concern. He will point people to the word of God, not himself. He will be an example in word and deed to enable the congregation to learn the way of God and enable them to clearly explain it to others. He will use His authority as a representative of Jesus Christ to teach and protect the flock. That is the authority a true minister is given.

With all this in mind it ought to be fairly evident that the exact form of government or organizational structure within the congregation or in the ministerial structure is not overly important. The leaders must understand the mind of their Creator and be focused on emulating it. With leaders like this, everyone's needs will be taken into account as much as is possible. This is typically the purpose of a government, to fairly administer for everyone, whatever needs to be administered. Spirit filled leaders will automatically do this.


The realities of their society had a hand in determining how they would organize. Communication was slow. The cost of writing materials was significant not to mention the time needed to hand write everything. There were no telephones, no express mail, no telegraph and certainly no Internet. With these capabilities they may have done things differently. Certainly it would be unreasonable to assume these capabilities would not have influenced their connections and therefore relationships with one another.


The education and background of the congregation must have also played a part in their organization. With just a few days of instruction Paul and Barnabas "commended them to the Lord". These new believers were already familiar with the organization of the synagogue and the function of the elders. They were also familiar with the Law. They heard it read and expounded on every Sabbath (Acts 15:21). Commending a group like this to the Lord would be much more successful than commending a group largely ignorant of the law and the Hebrew scriptures.

The Creator is not limited to a particular type of person or a particular organizational structure. He will use what suits His purpose at the time. God can use any governmental form when people with a full portion of His Spirit are guiding it. Only the self-seeking will be dissatisfied.

The flip side is that no matter what the structure, if the leadership is not filled with the spirit of God, ultimately the structure will seem to be a problem. Sooner or later someone will miss use or abuse whatever responsibility they have or else become offended and separate themselves from their brethren.

All this probably explains why the New Testament doesn't go to any great effort to explain "proper" church government. Whatever organization the believers had in place was not vital to their salvation. There were local leaders probably elected, to assure whatever needed to be done, was done decently and in order to the satisfaction of the group. The law of God does not micro manage how most of this should be done. It does require that things be handled justly and with love, humility and concern for all.

With that being said, the spirit led congregation of God, if it reaches numbers sufficient to be called an organization, will probably be loosely organized. It will be based on mutual trust and respect. It will not be focused on promoting a particular human leader. Rather the leader will be working to enable the members of the congregation. It will assume everyone wants to work together to do what is right. So that it may be evident who is serving the Creator, self-seeking imposters will worm their way in among the elect. Some of these may even be teachers. The head of the congregation knows the sheep from the goats. He will separate them if it is not obvious sooner.

"from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." (Eph 4:16)

The great shepherd of the flock is alive and well. He is the Master, the rest of us are brothers and sisters. We should help and support one another striving to serve, not be served. The mindset of the believer is the important thing. The organizational structure of the human organization with which the believer might fellowship is of little real importance, although it could be an indicator of the spiritual maturity of the leadership. What is important is that each individual believer represents Jesus Christ in his conduct.


"Therefore He says: "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light." 15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise... 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 ...be filled with the Spirit,... 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God< /span>." (Eph 5:14-21)


"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (II Cor 7:1)


"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." (Heb 12:28)


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