Ask Your Preacher
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
I have always heard, and still do, that a congregation cannot have one elder. I cannot seem to find any Scripture to support this. Thanks again for your help.
Count Me In
Dear Count Me In,
The more accurate way to deal with this issue is to make your statement in the positive – a congregation must have a plurality of elders. In everything that a congregation does, it needs to find biblical authority. Acts 14:23 says that they appointed elders in every church. Acts 15:2-6 points out that the church in Jerusalem had multiple elders. In Acts 20:17, Paul called for the elders of the church that met in Ephesus. Jas 5:14 recommends that the sick call for the elders of the church to pray for them. Also, Peter exhorts the elders of each congregation to tend the flock amongst them (1 Pet 5:1-3). There is not a single example of a lone elder in the New Testament. Every congregation was led by a multiplicity of pastors. The final kicker on the issue is that Paul specifically commanded that elders (plural) be appointed in every congregation (Tit 1:5). If we let the Bible be our guide, we have no precedent for a single elder congregation.
(This question is a follow-up to “His Money”)
Is money given to the Lord attached to a particular church location, or is it to be used by the members that gave it? For example, when a church dissolves its membership, if the money is simply "the Lord’s", can it be used by another body of Christ for the Lord's work?
Dear Membership Required,
The location of the building isn’t the important thing; it is the organization of people who are guided by the elders that makes up a congregation (Php 1:1). The elders are in charge of properly using the money that sits in the local treasury (Acts 11:29-30). The local congregation’s leadership is held accountable for the distribution and use of the church’s funds. This Bible pattern ties the money to the congregation (even if they move down the street), not the specific physical building they meet in.
In the sad circumstance that a congregation dissolves, the faithful thing to do is to make sure the funds are properly used before dissolving – and one proper use would be to give the funds to another faithful congregation that could use them – just like Acts 11:29-30 shows.
What are the jobs and differences between Bishops, Pastors, Elders, Deacons? What is the chain of command or should I say the order between these positions? Where in the Bible does it talk about each of these positions, or are they manmade?
Rank And File
Dear Rank And File,
Elders are the superintendents of a local congregation, and they are always men. The word elder is one title to describe the leaders of a local church. Other titles include ‘overseer/bishop’ (depending on translation – 1 Tim 3:1) and ‘pastor’ (Eph 4:11). The title of the job explains their role. They have the oversight of God’s people. That oversight only extends to one congregation (1 Pet 5:2), the local congregation that they are among. Each congregation has elders appointed in it (Acts 14:23).
Elders must meet strict requirements before they are appointed. Those qualifications can be found in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Elders are always referred to by the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ – thus making them men. Also, one of the qualifications is that they be ‘a husband of one wife’ (Titus 1:6) which makes it pretty clear we are talking about men. Elders also never serve alone. All the churches in the Bible had multiple elders. Elders serve an important role of protecting, leading, and guiding the direction of a congregation. They will give an account for every christian in their congregation (Heb 13:17). A congregation should never take lightly the responsibility of appointing only completely qualified elders.
Deacons are servants of the church. The word ‘deacon’ comes from the Greek word ‘diakonos’ which literally means ‘servant’. The Bible doesn’t give a detailed account of their job because there are so many ways that servants can serve. Deacons in the church are men that meet the qualifications of 1 Tim 3:8-13.
These deacons are a specific type of servant in the church – they serve the eldership (Php 1:1). Deacons are given authority by the elders to oversee various responsibilities within the church. These responsibilities might be building maintenance, the treasury, benevolence, etc. – whatever tasks the elders need help getting done are the tasks deacons are to fulfill. A good example of how this would work can be found in Acts 6:1-4 when the apostles needed help making sure the christian widows received their daily bread. The apostles had too many responsibilities already, so they delegated that task to seven capable men (Acts 6:5-6).
In short, the local church is led by elders (also known as pastors or bishops) and those elders have qualified deacons that help them fulfill their responsibilities.
(This question is in response to “Legal Council”.)
You said, "No congregation has the right to impose their decisions on another local church." But in Acts 15, James, the bishop of Jerusalem (not an apostle) sends a letter of decree to the local congregation that was circumcising Gentile believers. This became binding on that local congregation (and the practice obviously stopped). Also, you said, "The only difference would be that the council in Acts 15 affected the entire universal church because the apostles were there, and the apostles had authority over all the church." Where in the Bible does it specifically say that the authority of the apostles ended when they passed on? Is that just an assumption?
Make A Decision
Dear Make A Decision,
James wasn’t the only one who sent that letter – he was one of the elders from Jerusalem, but the letter was sent by the apostles and the elders (Acts 15:23). The apostles were the ones with the authority to lay the decree down for all the churches. Paul points out that as an apostle, he had that authority and responsibility in 1 Cor 7:17 and 2 Cor 11:28.
It isn’t an assumption that the apostolic authority ended with these first apostles. In order to be an apostle, a man had to be specifically sent forth by Christ (the word ‘apostle’ means ‘one sent forth’) and have witnessed His resurrection (Acts 1:21-26). Elders only have the authority to shepherd the local congregation they are at (1 Pet 5:2). Universal church authority ended with the apostles.
If christians of all different denominations are bound for heaven if they accept Jesus, why is there so much division? If there aren't different levels to heaven and varied eternal rewards based on your denominational allegiance, then why the need for so much variation?
Too Many Choices
Dear Too Many Choices,
The denominational world is confusing… exactly the opposite of God’s church (1 Cor 14:33). The term ‘denomination’ comes from the idea that a church believes that it is a subgroup of a larger religious body. Lutherans worship and teach differently than Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc., but they all believe themselves to be christians – this is wrong. Jesus said that there is only one path to heaven (Matt 7:14). The apostle Paul said that there is only one church (Eph 4:3-6). Denominationalism teaches that how you act and worship are matters of opinion, but Jesus said that how you act and worship are matters of truth (Jhn 4:24) and the Bible condemns the division we see in the religious world today (1 Cor 1:13). The only way to avoid denominationalism is to find a congregation that simply teaches what the Bible says – no creeds, no opinions, no personal agendas. If we truly love Christ, we will follow His commandments (1 Jn 5:2).
Everything a church does (worship, membership, how they teach to be saved, how they spend their money, even their name) needs to have Bible verses backing them up (1 Tim 3:15). A church needs to be able to explain the reasons for why they do what they do (1 Pet 3:15).
Our congregation here in Monroe goes by the name ‘Monroe Valley church of Christ’ because ‘church of Christ’ is a Biblical name for a congregation (Rom 16:16). We worship by singing (Col 3:16), studying the Bible (1 Tim 4:13), praying (2 Thess 3:1), taking communion (only on Sundays – Acts 20:7), and taking up a collection (also only on Sundays – 1 Cor 16:1-2). We teach that you must hear God’s Word (Rom 10:17), believe God’s Word (Jhn 3:16), repent of your sins (Mk 6:12), confess Jesus as your Savior (Lk 12:8), and be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38, 1 Pet 3:21). We do all these things because they are practices found in the Bible. As you said, you don’t want to go to a church that offers their own thoughts – you want God’s thoughts.
There are other congregations like ours scattered across the country and the world. Most of them use the name ‘church of Christ’, but then again, many churches that use that name aren’t faithful. A Bible name for a church isn’t enough to make it faithful. We have helped others, like yourself, looking for New Testament Christianity find faithful congregations in their area by contacting other preachers and christians that we know. We’d be happy to do the same for you. If you feel comfortable, just let us know what general area you live in, and we will try and get you in touch with a congregation that lives like your Bible reads (our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org). It is frustrating, confusing, and exasperating to deal with denominationalism. Thanks be to God that there is a better option!