Who was in Charge in the Apostles’ Tradition?
While there is no manual on Church government in the New Testament, there are numerous sections of scripture that itemize requirements of leadership as well as records of leadership decisions. But, most importantly, the role of the headship of Christ and the operational capacity of the Holy Spirit in the church is emphasized.
Jesus Christ is in charge, the body operates in sync in The Holy Spirit.
The Apostles’ tradition shows a church under Jesus Christ via Holy Spirit guidance. First Christ is in charge:
which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come. He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:20-23 WEB)
Yahweh gave Christ to be head over all, the above verse says. The prophet, the apostle, the pastor and teacher, the bishop all are under Christ. Christ heads the church and directs the church via the Holy Spirit.
Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and God which he purchased with his own blood. (Act 20:28 WEB)
We read in the above verse that the Holy Spirit makes people overseers. Christ is the head but the energization, the enablement is done via the Holy Spirit. That concept is explained more in John chapter 16, starting in verse 13:
However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming. (Joh 16:13 WEB)
The above verse explains that it is the Holy Spirit that does the guiding, but the Spirit is only acting on what he is told. The next verse tells the source who is telling the spirit:
He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. (Joh 16:14 WEB)
This is Jesus speaking, and he said that the spirit gets his information from him. Next, Jesus said where he, Jesus, gets his information:
All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you. (Joh 16:15 WEB)
Here Jesus said that he gets his information from the Father. Putting these verses together Jesus is declaring that He will be in charge, but he is just reflecting the Father’s will, and the Holy Spirit is carrying out that same will of the Father via Christ when he guides the church.
In T 1.7 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 7, The Apostles Taught the Body of Christ Energized in the Spirit we read how Christ’s church works as a body where every member has been set by God. The members include apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, miracle workers, healers, helps, government, speakers in tongues, interpreters of tongues, and more. All members manifest the spirit in the work that they do. The holy spirit is the glue and the driving force of all the members of the body.
Government is listed as one of those members. Government is the Greek word kubernesis, G2941 in Strong’s, and means pilotage, directorship. The church needs Holy Spirit guided government.
When the term church is used it refers both to the local congregation and to the total body of believers. I Corinthians 1:2 refers to a local church.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (1Co 1:2 ESV)
Colossians 1:18 refers to the whole body as the church.
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1:18 ESV)
Acts 20:28 above refers to the whole body of believers. The Holy Spirit is to make all the overseers in the whole body, the whole church. That doesn’t mean that overseers can’t be mistakenly appointed without the Spirit’s guidance, just that the Father set it up that the Spirit appoints the ones that are to be made overseer.
While we are on the topic of churches it is important to note that the church is a group or assembly of believers, not a building.
However, the Most High doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says, ‘heaven is my throne, and the earth a footstool for my feet. What kind of house will you build me?’ says the Lord. ‘Or what is the place of my rest? Didn’t my hand make all these things?’ (Act 7:48-50 WEB)
As far as the buildings go this new church was very practical as to where these new churches would meet. For the most part they met in houses:
Likewise, greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. (Rom 16:5 KJV)
It says greet the church that is in their house. First-century churches often met in houses for the most part.
The word church above is the Greek word ekklesia, G1577 in Strong’s, and means assembly. The church is that group or assembly of people, not the building. Interestingly, while the word for synagogue is a different word in Greek, it also means assembly. Ekklesia is translated assembly in the WEB version and others while it is translated church is still others.
The assemblies of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you much in the Lord, together with the assembly that is in their house. (1Co 16:19 WEB)
to the beloved Apphia, to Archippus, our fellow soldier, and to the assembly in your house: (Phm 1:2 WEB)
Paul rented a house in Rome to teach from.
Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who were coming to him, (Act 28:30 WEB)
There is Paul’s Christian teaching center in a rented house. The fact that there is not more guidance about facilities is indicative a lot of flexibility in the choice of this matter. And, notice that there are no building drives in scripture, nor are there mentions of expensive temples in the New Testament. Not that it would be wrong to buy a building, or even have a large beautiful facility, but that was not the emphasis. The place where they met for fellowship was of lessor concern. The greatest concern was the spread of the word of God.
There are records of churches being started and leaders put in place in the New Testament but there are no intricate guidelines in the bible for church governance. Jesus Christ is the head, who guides through the Spirit. And sometimes we will see that the guidance included elections by the members of the church which means there was human input, but only with the validation of the Spirit. This all indicates that there is some freedom and flexibility built into the plan on how to spread the word of God, and build and govern churches.
The initial headquarters of the church was at Jerusalem which coordinated efforts in spreading the word, including resolving issues.
Who was the overseer in Jerusalem? Many people assume that Peter was the first overseer because of his acts of leadership. Peter stands up in Acts 2 and becomes the spokesman. Yet we see when we look at Acts that it was James who is actually the head of the church at least when Paul went there. Notice that when Paul went in to present himself to the church it was to “James” and the elders.
And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
And when he had saluted them, he rehearsed one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry. [Act 21:17-19 ASV]
This is really a case of Paul presenting himself to leadership, in this case it appears it was James who was in charge of the Apostles. And, incidentally. James is listed with the apostles,
But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. [Gal 1:19 ASV]
There are numerous records that show that the leadership at Jerusalem directed the efforts on different fronts. For example, the Jerusalem leadership had heard that there were believers in Samaria that had received the word of God but did not manifest the spirit of God (the Holy Spirit had not fallen on them). Jerusalem sent Peter and John.
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. (Act 8:14-16 WEB)
Here is another record of Jerusalem’s oversight. There was a quarrel over the gentiles who had received the spirit and what needed to be done.
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. When Peter had come up to Jerusalem, those who were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men, and ate with them!” (Act 11:1-3 WEB)
This is the fantastic record where the Jerusalem leadership learns that Peter was directed by the spirit to minister to Gentiles and that they had received the Holy Spirit just like they had.
And another example of oversight was recognizing who to minister to Jews and who to the Gentiles.
(for he who worked through Peter in the apostleship with the circumcised also worked through me with the Gentiles); and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision. (Gal 2:8-9 WEB)
Headquarters received some of the moneys collected. Here we see that local churches sent offerings for different purposes to Jerusalem. First, we see a general collection.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I commanded the assemblies of Galatia, you do likewise. On the first day of every week, let each one of you save, as he may prosper, that no collections are made when I come. When I arrive, I will send whoever you approve with letters to carry your gracious gift to Jerusalem. (1Co 16:1-3 WEB)
Next, we see a collection for the poor at Jerusalem.
For it has been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are at Jerusalem. (Rom 15:26 WEB)
As far as collections for the saints went, Jerusalem was not the only recipient. Not all moneys went to the headquarters. Here different local churches are supporting Paul’s missionary journeys directly.
However you did well that you shared in my affliction. You yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the Good News, when I departed from Macedonia, no assembly shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only. (Php 4:14-15 WEB)
Missionaries were sent by Church Leadership with guidance from the Spirit and not just from the main headquarters. There were more than one centers of Christianity. Antioch was a center of Christianity while Jerusalem was the main headquarters initially. The leaders at Antioch prayed and fasted and were told by the Spirit to send Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey.
Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Act 13:1-3 WEB)
Significantly, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch and reported back to them what had transpired.
From there they sailed to Antioch, from where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. When they had arrived, and had gathered the assembly together, they reported all the things that God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith to the nations. (Act 14:26-27 WEB)
Paul and other Apostles appointed leaders in places where they started churches. Here is a record of Paul and Barnabas appointing elders.
When they had appointed elders for them in every assembly, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed. (Act 14:23 WEB)
There is no record that headquarters in Jerusalem had any say in this matter. Paul’s ministry, the administration of the church to the Gentiles, included appointing the elders in those churches. This indicates the office of apostle includes governance.
Here Paul appoints Titus to oversee Crete including appointing elders in the cities.
I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; (Tit 1:5 WEB)
As far as Paul’s ministry with concerned, he had a number of people, a team if you will, whom he sent to minister and he wrote recommendations for them so that they would be well received.
All my affairs will be made known to you by Tychicus, the beloved brother, faithful servant, and fellow bondservant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, together with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you everything that is going on here. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you received commandments, “if he comes to you, receive him”), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for God’s Kingdom who are of the circumcision, men who have been a comfort to me. (Col 4:7-11 WEB)
But we beg you, brothers, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to respect and honor them in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. (1Th 5:12-13 WEB)
Demetrius has the testimony of all, and of the truth itself; yes, we also testify, and you know that our testimony is true. (3Jn 1:12 WEB)
Paul also “unrecommended” people.
I wrote to the assembly, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, doesn’t accept what we say. Therefore if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. Not content with this, neither does he himself receive the brothers, and those who would, he forbids and throws out of the assembly. (3Jn 1:9-10 WEB)
On the other hand, Acts 15 shows that Paul subjected himself to the leadership in Jerusalem. And we have this:
As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered the decrees to them to keep which had been ordained by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. So the assemblies were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. (Act 16:4-5 WEB)
Each local church was connected to headquarters from which decrees were disseminated from and sometimes these missionaries disseminated the decrees personally.
Now, there was some hierarchy in these appointments by Paul:
I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; (Tit 1:5 WEB)
Now, we see Titus, under Paul’s authority appointing elders. Paul appointed elders who appointed other elders. However, there is no record that these elders reported exclusively to Titus who reported to Paul, although that may be what happened most of the time.
Additionally, although Paul was the apostle that founded many churches, when he later dealt with problems in those churches, he didn’t just rule on everything but delegated to the local leadership which was wasn’t necessarily just one overseer.
I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to think the same way in the Lord. Yes, I beg you also, true partner, help these women, for they labored with me in the Good News, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Php 4:2-3 WEB)
Evidently Euodia and Syntyche had a dispute. Paul asked some unnamed partner to help resolve it. Next, in Corinth someone did something sinful and was rebuked and the person repented but the matter was not quite resolved.
But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow, not to me, but in part (that I not press too heavily) to you all. This punishment which was inflicted by the many is sufficient for such a one; so that on the contrary you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his excessive sorrow. Therefore I beg you to confirm your love toward him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things. Now I also forgive whomever you forgive anything. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2Co 2:5-11 WEB)
Then there is the matter of incest that evidently wasn’t taken care of. Paul wrote:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles, that one has his father’s wife. You are arrogant, and didn’t mourn instead, that he who had done this deed might be removed from among you. For I most certainly, as being absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as though I were present, judged him who has done this thing. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, are to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1Co 5:1-5 WEB)
So, Paul ordained elders and he even charged some elders to ordain more elders. The local elders handled some things but Paul intervened at times. And it is an apostle that is setting up these government positions.
There is no New Testament example of a stronger hierarchy than this. But there is an Old Testament example of spirit led hierarchy of authority under Moses. Remember that while we are no longer under the law the Old Testament it is given for our learning and there is some useful wisdom in Old Testament examples:
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through perseverance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 WEB)
If you read management advice you will find that one person can only successfully lead a small number of people in a team. The optimal size is 8-10 people under you. That is not a biblical law expressly but there is the example of Jethro’s advice to Moses that suggests that.
Moses appointed a hierarchy:
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God. Aaron came with all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. On the next day, Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from the morning to the evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, “What is this thing that you do for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning to evening?” Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a matter, they come to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to perform it yourself alone. Listen now to my voice. I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You represent the people before God, and bring the causes to God. You shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the way in which they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men which fear God: men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. Let them judge the people at all times. It shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge themselves. So shall it be easier for you, and they shall share the load with you. If you will do this thing, and God commands you so, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.” So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. They judged the people at all times. They brought the hard causes to Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves. Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way into his own land. (Exo 18:12-27 WEB)
“Rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” indicates a hierarchy where the basic unit is about 10. And the advice is simple, everyone is trained in the statutes and laws and how everyone should walk and what work needs to be done. Each ruler has oversight over his group and advises that group, handling most matters at the local level. Issues in the group are handled in the group unless it is a great matter which would go up the hierarchy all the way to Moses if necessary. So, there is a biblical example for a hierarchy.
And there is more. You see the great Moses, and he truly was great, got so burned out that he literally said to Yahweh, “Kill me now.” Yes, it’s true.
Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent; and Yahweh’s anger burned greatly; and Moses was displeased. Moses said to Yahweh, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why haven’t I found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Have I conceived all this people? Have I brought them out, that you should tell me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which you swore to their fathers?’ Where could I get meat to give all these people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. If you treat me this way, please kill me right now, if I have found favor in your sight; and don’t let me see my wretchedness.” (Num 11:10-15 WEB)
Moses was pretty upset here. But the Lord was gracious and provided help. Moses received revelation, word of wisdom, to farm out his responsibilities even further:
Yahweh said to Moses, “Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit which is on you, and will put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you don’t bear it yourself alone. (Num 11:16-17 WEB)
So, there we have the example of division of labor in leadership. Moses was led by the Spirit to start a council of leadership that shared his leadership responsibilities. These new counselors were empowered with the holy spirit to make godly decisions.
Back in the New Testament, there are guidelines given for the selection of these elders that were appointed,
I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; if anyone is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, who are not accused of loose or unruly behavior. For the overseer must be blameless, as God’s steward; not self-pleasing, not easily angered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for dishonest gain; but given to hospitality, a lover of good, sober minded, fair, holy, self-controlled; holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict those who contradict him. (Tit 1:5-9 WEB)
This is quite the list of requirements and will be discussed further in a future article. Notice it says the overseer needs to be faithful to the “word which is according to the teaching”. Part of the tradition of the apostles is that the elders, the overseers, teach what the Apostles taught. And not only the elder himself needs to be upright but also his family needs to be godly. Timothy was told this:
This is a faithful saying: someone who seeks to be an overseer desires a good work. The overseer therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, modest, hospitable, good at teaching; not a drinker, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having children in subjection with all reverence; (but how could someone who doesn’t know how to rule one’s own house take care of God’s assembly?) not a new convert, lest being puffed up he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover, he must have good testimony from those who are outside, to avoid falling into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Ti 3:1-7 WEB)
This is a similar list to what is in Titus. One thing new in this list is that he can’t be a new convert, a bishop, an overseer, has got to be experienced.
As far as the deacons are concerned, in Acts 6:1-6 the apostles directed the people to select seven men to act as administrators in the business end of the ministry. These men were the first deacons.
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service. The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.” These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (Act 6:1-6 WEB)
The word deacon in the bible is the Greek word diakoneo, G1247 in Strong’s, and means to be an attendant, or to wait upon. These men were to oversee the daily distribution which was either food, or money provided to the widows in the church. This service identifies them as deacons. The apostles, and other gift ministries ministered the word and prayed steadfastly. But the other work, in this case, the daily ministration required appointment of people of good report, full of holy spirit, and wisdom. These people are deacons.
There are guidelines for selecting deacons also in Timothy.
Servants, in the same way, must be reverent, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for money; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Let them also first be tested; then let them serve if they are blameless. Their wives in the same way must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let servants be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well gain for themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1Ti 3:8-13 WEB)
The Church Council
There is one church council in the New Testament from which we can learn a few things. The council at Jerusalem was called to settle the matter of circumcising the believers. It was held at headquarters in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas reported to the whole assembly where the Judaizers called for both circumcising the gentiles and keeping the law of Moses. (No wonder Paul writes so heavily about the law in his epistles.) The apostles and elders gathered to reconcile the question. The Apostle Peter rose up and gave his judgement that they “abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood”, but not troubled with trying to keep the law. And they qualified their judgement with:
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: (Act 15:28 WEB)
How did they know that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit? There is only one way, the manifestations of the spirit. That means word of knowledge and/or word of wisdom. And we know that there were prophets there who are charged with the task of confirming whether something or not is of the spirit:
Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers with many words, and strengthened them. (Act 15:32 WEB)
So, the apostles and elders decided the question under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Notice that there is no specific mention here of bishops in the decision although the word elder does refer to someone who rules in the church. First Peter talks about how elders are to pastor the flock and take the oversight.
Therefore I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and who will also share in the glory that will be revealed. Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, not for dishonest gain, but willingly; neither as lording it over those entrusted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock.(1Pe 5:1-3 WEB)
Here we see that the description of what elders to includes what bishops do so the terms appear to be interchangeable. The offices mentioned in this outcome were apostles, elders, and prophets, not just bishops alone. Apostles and prophets in the decision show the operation of the holy spirit enabled gifts in the decision.
Prophets as spokesmen for God, encouragers and comforters, and confirmers of the Word are seen here and in other places. They also were instrumental at times in governing the church. Here Agabus foretold the famine and a relief effort was set up.
Now in these days, prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up, and indicated by the Spirit that there should be a great famine all over the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius. As any of the disciples had plenty, each determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea; which they also did, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. (Act 11:27-30 WEB)
We also have the record of multiple prophets telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
Having found disciples, we stayed there seven days. These said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. (Act 21:4 WEB)
Coming to us, and taking Paul’s belt, he bound his own feet and hands, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit: ‘So will the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and will deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Act 21:11 WEB)
As I state in T 1.31 More on Paul’s Decision To Go To Jerusalem, How Tradition Can Affect Translation And Meaning, Accepting Deliverance When Available I believe Paul was being told not to go to Jerusalem and he couldn’t hear it so he went anyway.
Prophets were at the Jerusalem council and spoke encouraging words about the decisions made there.
So far it appears that the church in original Christianity operated pretty much in a hierarchical way. I believe that to be true. But we do have records in the time of Jesus’s ministry, and in the time of the apostles that show believers administering independently of the main organization.
First, Jesus himself was asked a question on this topic.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone who doesn’t follow us casting out demons in your name; and we forbade him, because he doesn’t follow us.” But Jesus said, “Don’t forbid him, for there is no one who will do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For whoever is not against us is on our side. For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Christ’s, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward. (Mar 9:38-41 WEB)
This is the Lord Jesus himself talking. John asked him about someone else who was, according to the script, casting out devils in Jesus’s name! How amazing is that? Almost as amazing to me is that God says the Apostles forbade him to continue. But Jesus straightened them out. He said not to forbid anyone. He said that whoever is not against us is on our side. If this isn’t an endorsement of the availability for people to start ministries independent of the main group, I don’t know what is.
And we have the record of Apollo in the Book of Acts.
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately. When he had determined to pass over into Achaia, the brothers encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he had come, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he powerfully refuted the Jews, publicly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. (Act 18:24-28 WEB)
So here we have an independent man named Apollos. He is mighty in the Scriptures. It says he taught accurately the things concerning Jesus. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, it is.
Look what happens next, Priscilla and Aquila heard him, and they told him to quit, right? No, they “explained to him the way of God more accurately”. Then it says the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to receive him. From this point, it looks like Apollos was incorporated into the church operation overseen by the apostles, prophets, and elders.
So, we have a couple of records that show that there is no authority to stop people from preaching and/or performing the mighty works of God for people.
We have been looking at the records in the New Testament that describe the governing of the church. First, we acknowledged that Jesus is the head who gets his guidance from the Father. Then we acknowledged that the holy spirit, who gets its info from Jesus Christ, works in us in this awesome body of Christ. There are many members in the body of Christ, and some of those members relate to the governing, directing, and pilotage of the church.
We saw that there is a headquarters in Jerusalem from which a lot of activity was directed. We also saw that there were other centers like Antioch. Most people today see the bishop and his staff as the leadership of the church. We saw that in original Christianity the leadership of the church was directed via the spirit through apostles, prophets besides overseers (bishops) and deacons.
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are necessary for the church to grow up because those are the offices that God has set in the body to enable that.
He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love. (Eph 4:11-16 WEB)
Remember the teaching about the uniqueness of the members of the body. The eye is the eye and does the seeing. The ear is the ear and it does the hearing. The eye can’t hear and the ear can’t see. For the Holy Spirit to operate it assigns functions to different members. Now, in truth some people have multiple functions like pastors and teachers, Paul was an apostle and a teacher and he prophesied. But one of the points about this lesson is that we need to call things what they are, and set things up the way God does set them up to be. The role of the bishop is not the role of the apostle, or prophet. The office of the bishop doesn’t automatically include the office of apostle and/or prophet. God set up the church with apostles, and prophets, etc. because all those capacities are needed for the body to work.
The need for “building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine” did not go away with the passing of the apostles. Thus, the need for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers didn’t go away either. And they are of vital part of the body of Christ, including the governing of the body of Christ.
Bishops are vital in their roles. They need to be well grounded in the apostles’ doctrine, apt to teach, given to hospitality and the like. But the bishop’s role is not the apostle’s role or the prophet’s role. The bishop’s role is the bishop’s role. The apostle’s role is the apostle’s role. The prophet’s role is the prophet’s role.
As far as hierarchy is concerned, and division of authority, we see in these records in the New Testament great examples from which to work. There is some hierarchy, but it is not rigid and it is always flexible to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
That is the apostles’ tradition that was set up in Original Christianity, and it is what we are charged to follow.
last revised 5/8/2023