How to Organize a Church – The New Testament Church
In this article we will discuss nine facets of the New Testament Church
1) Define the word ‘Church’ and description of the church
The Greek word from which we get the term church is ekklesia. It is in the New Testament that we see this term come to have its technical sense of a group of people who have gathered for the purpose of instruction and worship. It is used in the broadest sense of the universal church – that body of all believers in Christ from Pentecost to the rapture e.g. ‘I will build my church’ Matthew 16:18. In another facet of meaning it could be used of believers in a certain city e.g. Revelation 1-3. It was also used in the New Testament to describe those believers meeting in one location Romans 16:3-5.
There are many descriptions or analogies of the church in the New Testament. Here are five main ones: 1) The Body of Christ – with Jesus as the head Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:12. Direction for the body comes from the head which is Christ. 2) The Temple of God – Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of this 1 Corinthians 3:16. Each Christian is a stone and the temple is still under construction. 3) Thirdly the church can be described as the bride of Christ 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Revelation 19:7, 22:17. 4) The church can also be described as the flock of God John 10:22. Jesus Christ is the shepherd. Finally the church can be described as 5( the vine and the branches John 15:1f and the Christian should abide in the vine for fruitfulness.
2) Explain God’s purpose for the church
God, it seems, has several major purposes for the church. 1) Firstly CONTINUATION. The church should continue the work that the Lord Jesus began Acts 1:1 implies this. What Jesus began we should continue with. 2) Secondly, PROCLAMATION. The church is God’s instrument to uphold and publically display the truth of God to the world. 3) Thirdly DEMONSTRATION. Ephesians 3:10 to show the angelic hosts, HIS great wisdom. As God used Job in the Old Testament to instruct Satan so He uses His church today. According to Peter 1 Peter 1:12 angels stoop down with interest to behold what God is doing in the world. Finally 4) GLORIFICATION – Ephesians 3:2 ‘to Him be the glory in the church and in Jesus Christ to all generations forever and ever Ephesians 3:21. The above are the main purposes for the church – all should be joined by the Spirit of God to the church, a membership that cannot ever be revoked so we can be saved.
3) Discuss the Biblical definition of Ministry
In terms of biblical teaching every Christian is in the Ministry. The world divides Christians into separate classes:clergy and laymen but Scripture teaches no such distinction. Since, then, we are all in the ministry what is an exact definition of ministry ? There are two basic concepts to grasp hold of here: 1) Service – the idea of ministry is best defined in terms of service Ephesians 4:12 whether this be douleo, leitourgos (priestly service) or diakonos (deaconly service) as applied to apostleship Acts 1:17,25. Christ himself emphasized the importance of service ” For even the Son of Man did not come to be served , but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 2) The second general characteristic of the ministry in the New Testament is that the service should be spiritually profitable and help build up the church, to build up the body of Christ. Ministry in the New Testament is meeting the total needs of the saints – the sick and poor individuals – in fact every kind of service that benefits other Christians.
4) The Doctrine of Spiritual Gifts and the Priesthood of all believers
Basically to each individual member of the church body God has given particular abilities to carry out some functions better than others. These abilities we call spiritual gifts. ‘But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ 1 Corinthians 12:4-7. Spiritual gifts are the supernatural endowment of power to carry out the work of the ministry. Since no one has all the gifts, and since everyone has a gift designed for a specific use, all Christians must do the work of the ministry. Let us now move onto the discussion of the concept of the priesthood of all believers – this is perhaps most clearly set out in 1 Peter 2:5,9. ‘You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a high priesthood…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…’ We are to offer up spiritual sacrifices as set out in the New Testament. These include: 1) The sacrifice of self Romans 12:1 2) The sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving Hebrews 13:15 3) The sacrifice of serving/service Hebrews 13:16 4) The sacrifice of proclamation 1 Peter 2:9. There is naturally a link between the doctrine of spiritual gifts and the priesthood of all believers as it is by the actions of all the church members that ALL the spiritual gifts can be put to the greatest use. This has practical applications in our own ministry that we should concentrate on those areas of our spiritual gifting.
5) The Biblical reasons for One Church meeting and the practical reasons.
The main Biblical reasons for one church meeting are as follows: 1) The Scriptures teach that everyman has the right to participate in the meeting of the church. 2( When various elements of the meeting of the church are divided into several meetings often there is undue emphasis on value placed upon one as opposed to others. Teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer should be balanced. 3) If there are different meetings it can create confusion as to when the principles of the New Testament are to apply. In addition there are practical reasons for one church meeting: 1) Too many meetings and not enough time 2) Too much travel and multiple meetings are inefficient. 3) As a result of time and schedule conflicts every family has to make choices which omit some important aspects of church activity. 4) You cannot dissect the meeting of the church without losing some of its vitality – just like a living organism. Finally we can conclude that the one church meeting is vital for the principle of spiritual gifts to apply – as we all have different spiritual gifts. It is also necessary to demonstrate the leadership of Jesus Christ in singing and praying together. The principle of the priesthood of all believers may also be demonstrated in the one church meeting and so in the church as the body of Christ. We are reminded of the unity in the partaking of the one loaf 1 Corinthians 10:17.
There are two Greek words used here. Acts 20;17,28 and Titus 1:5,7. The Greek word presbuteros and the word episcopos. The word elder emphasizes the maturity of the person, while the term bishop refers more to the function of office. It is the practice of the New Testament church to have a plurality of Elders Phil. 1;1, Titus 1:5. The elders are to teach 1 Timothy 3:2, to guard Acts 20:28-29, to oversee 1 Peter 5:3, to give counsel Acts 21:23, to handle disputes Acts 15:2, to visit and pray for the sick James 5:14 and to supervise the distribution of money Acts 11:30. There are many Scriptural qualifications to be an elder – 1Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1;5-9. Elders should be the husband of one wife, hospitable, apt to teach, not a new convert, willing, not motivated by money, manage his own household well. In turn elders should be obeyed, respected, imitated, recognized and remunerated. Elders should be chosen by the Holy Spirit but recognized by the church members. There is not an exact process of specifying elders. It should be apparent. Finally Paul commends those who desire the office of overseer 1 Timothy 3:1
7) Giving in the New Testament Church
There are three principle reasons why Christians give in the New Testament: 1) The greatest reason was to meet the physical needs of the saints. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 was for people to give to the poor in Jerusalem. Every instance of a church collection being taken in Acts is for the poor e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:1-9. In Acts 6:1-6 and 1 Timothy 5:3-16 the aim is to give to widows. The area in which richer people in the church give to needy people in the church is also a vital area. An example of this is when the Macedonian and Achaian churches give to the Jerusalem church.
2) A second area or reason why Christians give in the New Testament is giving to those who minister ‘so also the Lord directed those who proclaim the Gospel to get their living from the Gospel’ 1 Corinthians 9:14 and also the passage in 1 Timothy 5:17-18. Also this need not just be money but all good things Galatians 6:6 ‘and let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches’ 3) Also there is the giving of funds to those who minister beyond the confines of the local church. The Philippians Church is a classic example of this Phil. 1:5. Also we are asked to help those that spread the word in 3 John 5-8. So Christians in the New Testament gave to meet the needs of those who lack, locally and in the church at large, widows, ministers and ministries outside the local setting.
8) The New Testament Practice of Collecting and Distributing Money
There are several key factors revealed in the practice in the New Testament. 1) Paul had no reservation about making the needs of others known e.g. Acts 11:27-30. He also encouraged the church to help Phoebe Romans 16:1-2 2) Although Paul made others needs known he did not ask for help for himself. He was content with little or much Phil.4:12. He accepted gifts but did not solicit them. 3) Paul encouraged the saints to give to meet the needs of others Galatians 6:6-10 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. The church should be encouraged to give. 4) Although there is strong