I gave much of this sermon five years ago at the Feast of Tabernacles. Because many of you who are listening now were not with us then, I want to give it again today. I am aware that what I’m going to cover is hotly contested throughout the Churches of God.
Feast of Tabernacles pictures The Kingdom of God. A
kingdom is one form of government. The Kingdom isn't
here yet but the Church also has a form of government.
Church government is a very familiar subject to
everyone in the Church of God. We have all heard many
sermons, read many articles, and discussed or referred
to this subject for as long as we have been in The
Why is this such an important topic? What is Church Government anyway? What should it be? Today we're going to find out. Because we have so much to cover and we have to fit it on one tape, I’ll be moving along pretty fast. I suggest you at least jot down the scripture and Strong’s number of the words in question so you can study it later.
Webster's defines government as:
Is this what Church Government is? As we delve into this subject, you might ask yourself, "Does the Church need government and if so, what kind and how much?"
The Worldwide Church, where many of us began, and to a large extent most of its descendant churches who are with us today, was organized around a very structured hierarchical set of offices. At the top was God the Father. No one doubted that. Just below Him was Jesus Christ. So far so good.
Next was the human head of the church here on earth, the Pastor General, who in later years accepted the title of Apostle. He claimed to receive his instructions directly from Jesus Christ, either through reading the Word or by direct inspiration from Jesus Christ.
Below the Pastor General or Apostle were evangelists. These were people who typically directed major organizations within the Church such as the media, geographical regions, church campuses, senior administrative positions, and so on. This so-called "rank" is found three times in the New Testament, the most explicit being Ephesians 4:11.
What does this scripture mean, "He gave..."? Let's turn to 1 Cor 12 to find out.
God gave certain gifts or talents when He assigned these titles or positions to specific individuals. Yes, there are certain positions which God has singled out. He even ranks them. But the vast majority of what we have known as church positions are not even listed. Why? We'll find out.
Below the evangelists were pastors. These were generally people who had reached the epitome of heading local churches, usually large ones, but were not administratively talented enough to direct major departments.
Below the pastors were preaching elders, a title not specifically used in the Bible. Preaching elders had responsibility for individual churches.
Below the preaching elders were local elders, so-called "ordained" individuals who had the ability to give sermons but who were definitely subordinate to the individual heading the local church, whatever his rank. Local elders could be individuals who came from the local area, or they could have been given that rank as they graduated from Ambassador College and were sent out into the field. Only the Ambassador College graduates were typically on the payroll. Local elders were sort of the Second Lieutenants, though the Local Elders themselves might disagree with that high an assessment.
All those possessing the above ranks were considered by many to be "Ministers." Perhaps the title of "Minister" was not accurate for Local Elders but many claimed to be.
At the bottom of the "ranks" were the Deacons. These were the sergeants who lived in the local area who carried out the wishes of the local church officials, either by themselves, or with the assistance of local church members. Most deacons were permitted to give sermonettes about some limited subject, but were essentially doers, not speakers.
There was even a position below all these ranks known as "pillars." These were individuals who were considered sound supporters of church doctrine and authority, who usually had some duty such as setting up chairs or handing out hymnals, but whose "authority" was pretty much limited to establishing a work schedule. They were, in essence, leadmen.
For the women, the only ranks were that of deaconess, and wives of elders and above. Deaconesses were ordained; wives of elders were not, but received implied power and prestige from their husband's position - sort of like a First Lady. Both positions were intended to assist and advise church women who had personal problems or questions. Wives of deacons were often given tasks such as organizing church luncheons by women higher up the ladder.
At the bottom of the ladder or under it was the flock.
As can be seen, these so-called "ranks" were based more on political position and ability than on religious ability, though one could not normally achieve political position without being perceived as religiously "converted" and knowledgeable. There were some notable exceptions, however. The most prominent exception was probably Stanley Rader, legal assistant to Herbert Armstrong, who seemed to carry the equivalent rank of an evangelist, but who, to my knowledge, was never ordained. His influence on the church was phenomenal.
Is there any Biblical Justification for these "ranks"? As we showed earlier, there is Biblical justification for some of these titles. Let's look now at the Biblical definition of these titles and see how they compare with the positions used in the church. We'll take each position used in the Bible, define it biblically and see how it compares with the rank used by the Worldwide church and many other Churches of God today.
Apostle, from the Greek word "Apostolos", means "one who is sent"; a delegate. Paul used the word to describe Jesus' relation with God the Father in Hebrews 3:1. This is a direct reference to Jesus' words in John 17:3.
The word is also used frequently to describe Jesus' twelve disciples who were selected and trained by Him to establish the original Church in Jerusalem (Luke 6:13) and later to go to believers outside Israel. Paul was later chosen and trained by Christ to establish the Gentile Church and described himself as an apostle to the Gentiles in Romans 11:13.
After these original apostles, we read of other, what could be defined as "lower level apostles" in Romans 16:7, though there is some question whether the verse describes apostles themselves or simply acquaintances of the original apostles.
But how did the Worldwide Church justify associating Herbert Armstrong with being an apostle? Because they believed that Mr. Armstrong was the prophesied Elijah the prophet of Malachi 4:5, whom God promised to send. Most believe that this prophesy was fulfilled by John the Baptist in Luke 1:17, but that is not altogether true because Jesus spoke of Elijah in Matthew 17:11 and John was already dead. Was Herbert Armstrong a type of the prophesied Elijah? In view of the comparison with John, he could very well have been. HWA did come just before the day of the LORD. HWA did announce the coming of the LORD. HWA did establish a following (a church or assembly) reoriented toward Biblical instructions and vastly different from main line so-called "Christian" churches. Did he "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers" as in verse 9? He certainly did not turn his own heart to his son Garner Ted Armstrong, even though GTA reportedly tried repeatedly to renew their father-son relationship. Does the word "fathers" in Malachi 4:6 then refer to the ancients of old? Are the children the church of today? Is the orientation and conversion of this end time people toward obeying God and living His way of life what will save the earth from a curse (utter destruction - see Zech 14:11)? Was Herbert Armstrong perfect enough to have been a type of Elijah? Was John? Is anyone? How perfect was Elijah? Did Herbert Armstrong have the vision to be an Elijah?
Let's talk about prophets:
Today's Church of God has no office of Prophet, at least by that title. Why have we not filled that office today? Is there no need for it? Is the office of Prophet reserved for someone who only prophesies into the future, not someone who can interpret prophesies made in the past? Are we so close to the close of the age that we need no more prophesies of the future? Only time will tell - but the office is open for qualified applicants - like maybe the two witnesses.
Evangelist means "one announcing the good news" or "a preacher of the gospel". Both Philip and Timothy were evangelists. From the definition of the word "evangelist", one would tend to believe that an evangelist is someone who proclaims the word of God to the unbelieving, rather than providing pastoral care to the baptized, though that is conjecture. The word "preacher" is probably more descriptive. It comes from several Greek words but one is "kerusso" and means "to herald divine truth, proclaim, or publish". Inclusion of the word "publish" implies that an evangelist or preacher may proclaim via the printed word as well as verbally. Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:7, claims to be a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. It seems reasonable to assume that a person of higher position would qualify for lower positions too. Not all preachers were from the New Testament times. Noah is said to be a preacher of righteousness and Solomon is referred to as a preacher. We'll talk more about preachers and preaching later. In today's vernacular, the role of an evangelist would be very similar to that of a missionary.
Exactly how the role of evangelists in the Worldwide church complies with the above description is unknown. The Bible descriptions and examples do not seem to fit the role of an administrator, which seems to have been the Worldwide description, though evangelists were able to preach when required to do so.
The word "pastor" is used only once in the KJV of the New Testament - in Ephesians 4:11, which we have already read. "Pastor" comes from the Greek word "poimen" [poi-mane’, G4166] and means "shepherd". In the Old Testament, the word "pastor" is confined to seven times in the book of Jeremiah. It comes from the Hebrew word, "rawaw", H7462, and, again means "shepherd". Paul spells out three functions of a pastor:
Let's look at some examples of shepherds.
Here Jesus felt sorry for all the people who were failing for lack of a shepherd, a pastor, to guide, feed and care for them. Note the point that sheep and people need a shepherd, not just another sheep.
A shepherd is one who tends herds or flocks, not merely one who feeds them. Pastors gently guide as well as feed the flock. Let's look at a few scriptures which describe this:
The question now becomes, "What is an overseer?" According to Vine's, an overseer (episkopis in Greek- G1985) is a bishop or elder who cares for the flock’s spiritual health. The word does not describe an office. It describes a caring, patient person of character. Let’s look at a description of a bishop or overseer.
A bishop or overseer must be able to exhort and convict (convince) by sound doctrine, not threats, expressed or implied, those who would disagree. Let’s examine the words.
Exhort, G3870, means to earnestly advise, not threaten.
Convict, G1651, means to refute, to prove false or wrong.
So verse 9 says an overseer must be able to earnestly advise someone or even to prove someone wrong by use of sound doctrine, not punish, if someone should disagree.
From Acts 20:17 and 28, we know that these overseers were elders and that their purpose and duty was to feed the flock. The gift of the Holy Spirit made them overseers of the Church of God. This appears to be good evidence that these elders had received an extra amount of God's Spirit to enable them to be overseers as well as elders.
What is an elder? Strong's - G4245, defines an elder as one who is old or older, i.e. a senior. Let's look at another reference to elders, this time by Peter.
The word "overseers" in 1 Pet 5:2 comes from the Greek word "episkope’o" - G1983, which also means "caretaker." The word "willingly" simply means "voluntarily". So what do we have here? Paul showed that overseers are elders. Peter also points out that elders should be willing to serve, not for money (a motivation of far too many) or because they have been coerced into it, but because they want to help. But Peter also cautions elders to oversee the flock; not lord it over people, but to act as examples. The word "compulsion", G317, means "by use of threat, entreaty, force, or persuasion." Elders are not to use these evil methods.
So much for the so-called "ranks" shown in Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12. But there is one other word that is commonly used to describe the office and duties of church officials. That word is "minister". What is the source and meaning of the word "minister?"
The principal Old Testament word for "minister" is sharath (shaw-rath') - Strong's #H8334. The word means to serve or attend or wait on other people. There are a few other Hebrew words which are interpreted "minister" but they also have the same meaning.
The principal New Testament word for "minister" is diakonos (dee-ok'-on-os) - Strong's #G1249. The word means "one who executes the commands of another"; an attendant or waiter or deacon or servant. Again, there are a several other Greek words which are interpreted "minister." "Minister" can be either a noun or a verb. The Greek words vary accordingly but the English word "minister" is commonly used when translating the various Greek words. Romans 12:7 shows that ministering, i.e. serving, is a gift.
Let's read some New Testament scriptures to study some of the many applications of the English word "minister."
Here, in Christ's own words, we see that Church leaders must serve, i.e. be a slave, to the Church or assembly, not rule over it. Greatness can only be accomplished by continuous servitude.
The KJV translates diak’onos into the English word "Minister" but many modern translations use the correct translation, "servant".
The word "minister" here is the verb deokoneo (de-ok-on-e'-o), G1247. It means to serve others like a Christian deacon. You say you thought deacons were a class of bosses, not servants? Perhaps we all have some re-learning to do. Deacons must be servants.
Verses 1-6 are describing civil magistrates, not church officials. The words "Minister" in verse 4 is from the Greek word "diak’onos", the same word as used in Mat. 20:26; that he is an attendant, waiter, servant, or deacon. He is, in essence, a servant working for God. This implies that a magistrate is authorized by God to do to us what he is placed in office to do, whether to our benefit or not. Christ expressed this to Pilate in John 19:11 when he answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above." This can be a difficult concept for citizens living in a democracy, who often feel that government officials should serve as the people's representatives. So, we can see that verses 4 and 5 are describing a minister who is a civil magistrate, not a religious official. That is not what many hierarchical churches would have you believe.
The word "minister" in verse 6 is from the Greek word "leitourgos," G3011, meaning "a public servant." Both the KJV and many modern versions use the word "minister" in verse 6 instead of what might be more descriptive, "magistrate."
The word "minister" in verse 25 comes from the Greek word "diakone’o" (G1247), meaning "to serve others". It is the same word we looked at in Mat. 25:44. (Read v 25)
The word "ministering" in verse 16 comes from the Greek word "heirourge’o", G2418, which means "to be a temple worker, i.e. to minister in priestly service". Paul is using this word to metaphorically explain his own priestly service of presenting gentile converts to God.
The word "ministers" comes from the Greek word "hupere’tes", G5257, which means "subordinates or assistants" (of Christ); literally, the word means an under- rower.
The word "minister" comes from the Greek word "ergaz'omai", G2038, which means "to toil or work" in sacred things or those who are assiduous in priestly functions.
It's interesting that the true meaning of every word translated "minister" implies that the person is a worker, servant, or assistant. Could we be seeing an attempt by the translators to justify the authority and high position of ministers existing in their society and churches? Even today, in secular governments, "ministers" are the titles of very high positions. That is just the opposite of the meanings we have been reading in the Greek.
But what is the larger picture? Does this imply there is no authority in the Church? Are all ministers just worker-bees? Who then leads the Church? Is the Church or assembly just left to drift aimlessly, by themselves, without a leader?
We all know that any plurality of people will have a leader. Even if one is not verbally or formally assigned, one person will become accepted by the group (of even two people) as the leader. The leader then, sometimes almost unknowingly, begins to lead, to make decisions, to plan actions, to see that things are accomplished according to some plan, to speak for the group, to direct others. Every organization will end up having a leader whether it intends to have one or not. The status of that leader will depend upon the sincerity and ability of the leader, the attitude of the group regarding the importance of status, and the humility of the leader and the group.
This is not unlike the Church. Could a church or assembly function without someone to determine when, where and for what reason the group will meet or do anything? And what of scriptures which assume and seem to indicate that there is authority within the Church? Let's look at some:
The word "elders" is from the Greek word "presbut'eros", G4245, and means "one who is older". We've talked about this before.
The word "rule" is from the Greek word "prois'temi", G4291, and means "to preside over or stand before or superintend." It is the same word as used in 1 Timothy 3:5 which speaks of ruling your children and your household, and in Romans 12:8 which encourages diligence along with the gift of ruling. Correct ruling of your children requires generous amounts of love and patience and understanding. It may require the willingness to let them learn by experience, but without rejection, if that is what they insist on. Does that reflect what you have experienced in the Church? Or have you experienced elders and their families as people of privilege, not just honor? Or have you experienced another Diotrephes?
1 Timothy 5:17 gave us a picture of an older man presiding over an assemblage, not a dictator. But how many of us, during our church lives, have experienced a Diotrephes, imposing his autocratic will on others? Let's look at a different example:
The word "rule", in this verse, comes from the Greek word "hege'omai", G2233, and means "to lead" with official authority or "to deem" a matter. The New Testament translates hegeomai into many words, including judge, consider, count, regard, think, and view, but most of them can easily be read as "deem". One would have to interpret this to mean that "to lead" here means "give one's view of a matter". The word "rule" in this verse does not appear to be forcing but rather "leading in regards to influence."
Now let's look at the word "obey". It is translated from the Greek word "peitho", G3982, and means "to assent to evidence or authority". Sounds like a pretty straight-forward translation but most applications of "peitho" are translated "be persuaded by" or "trust" or "yield to".
The word "submissive" is translated from the Greek word "hupeiko", G5226, and means "to surrender, be yielding or weak". No surprises here. We read the same message in Titus 1:9 regarding an overseer. In order to be submissive, one must assent to or obey the one who gives his views or leads. Is Paul describing those who protect us physically or spiritually? Verse 18 makes it clear that Paul is including himself with those whom he wants people to "trust". Does this not infer leaders are to lead by influencing others while the flock is to accept that influence without being openly hostile toward the opinions of those leaders?
scriptures we have reviewed have revealed two things:
There are KJV translation problems concerning church
offices and officials, but these translation problems
do not nullify the concept of whether or not there are
to be church leaders. There are also translation
errors which involve accepted church procedures.
Unfortunately these errors have permeated most, if not
all, of our English Bibles. What could be the origin
of these translation errors?
Apparently when King James, as head of the Church of England, contracted to have his knowledgeable religious leaders translate the scriptures into English, both he and his religious officials were very hesitant to say or write anything which would jeopardize the status of the existing church organization. This was important to the church officials from the standpoint of sustaining their power and prestige while preserving the "Divine Right of Kings" philosophy, which, incidently has been resurrected by incorporating churches these last fifty years. Perhaps some day someone will preach on church incorporation. The "Divine Right of Kings" philosophy was important to the Crown from the standpoint of sustaining an unblemished position as head of the church. Neither party wanted to state anything which would cater to other religious views and thereby diminish their own position and power. The translators went to such ends to impress the Crown (perhaps to insure a continued stipend) that they actually replaced the name "Ya`akov", a Jewish name, with "James", the English king’s name. This may seem trite when compared with mistranslating titles and other words in order to adapt their meaning to Church of England practices, but the end result was still the same: a distortion of facts to satisfy their own end - a practice still employed by many church leaders today. Despite all this, and despite the fact that the 400 year old semantics often leaves one with an incorrect sense of meaning, the King James version is still considered to be one of the least error-prone in terms of doctrine of all versions in print today.
One word and function of nearly all churches we mentioned only in passing when discussing Evangelists is "Preachers" and preaching in general. What does the Bible say about that? Preaching is a function of a church. A preacher is simply one who preaches, not a rank or position within a church. What does preaching mean? Webster's defines the verb "preach" as, "1. To speak in public on religious matters; to give a sermon. 2. To give moral or religious advice."
Nothing about a church office here is there? Perhaps this function needn't be a part of a church government sermon but it is such an integral part of most church services that I think we should cover it at least briefly.
There are church groups who feel that a person preaching a sermon gives too much authority to that individual. They prefer to have discussion groups where everyone has the same opportunity to raise and answer questions. Some even sit in a big circle to demonstrate equality.
But there are more than 150 examples of preaching in the KJV of the Bible. What is the role of preachers and preaching? These 150 examples reflect about 17 slightly different Hebrew and Greek words which are translated into the word "preach" or its derivatives. All of them (except a couple of mistranslations) can be defined as: To proclaim, to announce, to publish, lecturing, making a proclamation, to herald, to announce good news, to talk, to discuss, to dispute, to reason with, to discuss a topic or subject, to announce good news in advance, to herald divine truth. They are all about the same function. Preaching, though not mandated, is certainly a normal function of a church group or of persons from that group. Does that say that discussion groups are wrong? No, but neither does it say there should not be a preacher. In Christ's time, a leader, elder, whatever, had people read scripture, then he commented or preached about it.
the subject of discussion groups, we probably should
not leave out the Jerusalem conference described in
Acts 15. Here was a conference of give and take
between the conference attendees. At the end, there
was compromise and agreement leading to a united
church doctrine or policy. Does this compare with the
bickering and stubbornness we see in and between
various churches and leaders of churches of God today?
In summary, we have reviewed the titles used in the Worldwide Church and many of her daughter churches. Most, if not all, of the titles do not fit their biblical definition. Even in the case of elders, we have seen young men filling that position.
The method of selecting elders may even be in doubt, though one might question whether an elder would be appointed or elected if he were not already seen as fulfilling that role by the congregation.
We have investigated the subject of church authority and concluded that the authority of Apostles is unquestioned, although 2 Cor 10:1 shows that the Apostle Paul was humble (base) in others' presence, even though he was bold and authoritarian in his letters (verses 8 and 9). This is repeated in 2 Cor 13:10 and in Philemon regarding Paul’s assumption of Onesimus’ debts and Paul’s humble request, not demand, for his freedom. 2 Thes 3:9 shows Paul definitely had the privilege and authority to accept free food, but worked for it instead of acting out of order. His determination not to offend was obvious.
Permission for overseers to use scripture to refute those who speak against it seems to be established by Titus 2:15 & 1:9, but any other authority for these and other elders is not granted. The elders should fill an influential rather than hierarchical role. The elders' authority is likened to that of a head of household or a shepherd: leading and feeding with love. Even heads of family-owned hierarchical churches, as many Churches of God are, are not thereby licensed to some authoritarian or dominant role; nor are their families. Mat 20:25-28 proves that Ministers are simply servants, not rulers, of the Church.
The role of each church leader, however, must be accepted by the congregation with respect and patience as long as the leader lives a respectable life (1 Thes 5:12-13).
I hope that each of you will prove or disprove each of the points I’ve covered today. I would be happy to discuss any of these points with you, as would, I’m sure, any of the myriads of corporate religious leaders who would contest these points to protect their existing power and control over the flock.
As a side-note, I find it interesting that the established churches of the world nearly all side with the so-called Palestinians in their war against the Israelis. The Evangelicals, those who study and live by the word of God, rather than church doctrine or tradition, side with the Israelis. Prophesy makes it clear who God favors. In my view there is a vast chasm between those who trust in and follow God’s word and those who trust in and follow the dogma of the established corporate churches of the world, though both call themselves Christian.
have read several scriptures where the arrogance and
dominance of the shepherd or Pastor, these wolves in
sheep’s clothing, has resulted in the scattering of
the flock, a seemingly frequent occurrence in today’s
Church of God. You might want to refer to 2 Cor
With all these errors in the structure and function of the organized church today, is it any wonder that so many of God’s people are avoiding allegiance to church organizations? As one person told me, "We are actually very turned-off to ANY of the `corporate churches' and men clamoring for followings to support them. We feel like our consistent foundation of home-centered worship and study .... has served us well in providing a sure stability of dependence upon Christ while many brethren are floundering in their search for ‘somewhere to go’ and some person to ‘teach’ them."
In view of this statement, perhaps we should close with a scripture we read earlier:
given by Wayne Bedwell
Copyright © 2001, Wayne Bedwell