Why does the church need “officers”? There are several reasons for it.
1) The law requires it. If a church has to file a tax return (which they do) or buy or distribute property or, heaven forbid, become entangled in a legal action then someone has to step up and personally represent the church. Romans 13 calls for us to obey the law unless it clearly conflicts with God’s commands. Naming church officers certainly doesn’t clearly conflict with the Word of God.
2) Common sense calls for it. Leadership happens. Without leadership any organization or group will eventually dry up and blow away.
3) The Bible commands it. Israel had local leaders and so did the early church. Obviously, God doesn’t have a problem with it. There is a movement led by house church zealots like Frank Viola to argue that that hierarchy has no place within the church and that the early church did not recognize “leaders” but as scholars from all stripe have noted, this is a poor reading of Scripture and an ill-informed re-writing of church history.
It is important to remember that Revolution does not have a purpose statement or a thorough S-plan…we have the Bible. We (the leadership team at Revolution) believe the Bible contains the very words of God (2 Tim. 3:16) and we attempt to follow it as best we can.
So, what does the Bible say about church leaders?
First of all, Jesus is the head of the church (Eph. 1:9, 22-23; 4:15; 5:23). We list Jesus on our org chart! We believe one of the reasons so many church leaders get in trouble is that they forget who is really in charge!
Second, in the church described in the New Testament we see the following officers: (1) Apostles; (2) Elders/Bishops/Pastor-Teachers/Shepherds/Overseers; (3) Deacons; and (4) Widows.
Now, we don’t have official “apostles” anymore for the New Testament teaches that the two qualifications for being an Apostle in the strictest sense were (1) having seen Jesus after his resurrection with his/her own eyes (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1) and (2) having been commissioned by Christ as his apostle (Acts 1:24-26; 26:16-17).
This obviously creates problems because Apostles generally appointed the other officers in the church (Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5). More on that later.
What did these various officers do?
Elders governed the local church (see 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Peter 5:2-5 and Hebrews 13:17) and taught.
Deacons (or servants) generally oversaw the church’s ministries of mercy (Acts 6:1-6) in order to free the Apostles and Elders to teach and preach.
Believe it or not there was apparently even an office for certain widows! These widows prayed for the church night and day (1 Timothy 5:1-16). That was their only job! Apparently, they would have been cared for by the church while they performed their duties. This is a powerful reminder of the need for prayer!
How many of these local leaders were there in each church?
There were always a plurality of elders and deacons.
So, wow did we get where we are now?
The end of “apostolic succession” and the institutionalization of the church beginning with Emperor Constantine created a true crisis for the church. In the early church, Paul was appointed by Jesus and then Paul appointed leaders like Timothy and Titus to appoint local leaders. Timothy and Titus appointed successors and so on and so on. BUT once Christianity became tolerated and, eventually, adopted as the official religion of the Roman empire, who was a leader became a political decision rather than one governed by Scripture and prayer. This nearly wrecked the church!
What are to do now that we don’t have Apostles around to appoint local leaders? Different churches have reacted in different ways.
On the one hand, the Bible assumes a plurality of leaders (Heb. 13:17) in every church (James 5:14). Yet, without Apostles to appoint them churches have reverted to democratic vote or denominational appointment. In many church plants, the church planters assumes the role of elders and then appoint officers as they see fit. So far, this has been the Revolution model.
Who is qualified to serve as a local church leader? We will cover that next week at Revolution.
Posted by Matt, Revolution Leadership Team
Revolution Church: Worship, Grow, Serve.