Jesus built His church on a Rock
(Matthew 16:18)

How is the church of Christ led?

"The whole body, joined and knit together" (Eph. 4:16).

Text: Ephesians 4:4-16
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.' (Now this, 'He ascended' -- what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."

I. Christ is the Head of His church.

A. After Jesus rose from the dead, He told His disciples: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Mat. 28:18).

B. "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence" (Col. 1:18).

C. Christ is the one Shepherd of His flock: "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16).

II. Christians are forbidden to exercise lordship over one another.

A. Jesus told his disciples: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant" (Mat. 20:25,26; // Luke 22:24-26).

1. Jesus forbids ecclesiastical authority.

2. There is no hierarchy in His church, no rank or levels of leadership.

a. We are accustomed to Roman Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses trying to defend their hierarchical government by reference to Moses appointing men over tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands in the Old Testament.

b. The last while, even in the church, some have misused this passage to defend hierarchical government in the church.

c. An Old Testament example does not authorize a similar organization for the New Testament church.

d. Some claim, however, that elders may organize a local congregation any way they want, and that this passage in Exodus serves as an example of an expedient form of organization.

e. 'There must have been some kind of organization in Jerusalem,' they say, 'to look after the needs of more than 10,000 people.' This 'must have been' argument is the same one used by J.W.'s and other sects to defend their hierarchies.

f. No congregation in the New Testament was organized in this fashion. Before the dispersion because of persecution (Acts 8:1), the Jerusalem church had grown to over 10,000 members (Acts 4:4). But we do not read about men over tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands!

g. There was indeed 'some kind of organization'! The question is: May we modify the organization God has prescribed? The organization of the church is defined in the New Testament. Christ is Head (Eph. 1:22). There are evangelists, pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11) as well as servants. The work of each is defined. But who, according to the New Testament, has a higher level of leadership, an evangelist or a deacon, a deacon or a teacher? The work of each is different, but there is a complete absence of any concept of rank. No one is authorized to be a hierarch. There are no levels of leadership except that elders oversee the flock.

h. A congregation of any size can easily be led using only those offices and functions prescribed in the New Testament. The question is whether we are satisfied with God's way, or whether we think we are smarter than God.

i. The difference in rank inherent in a hierarchy is forbidden by Christ. "When He was in the house He asked them, 'What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?' But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, 'If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all'" (Mark 9:33-35).

B. "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ" (Mat. 23:8-11).

1. What is a rabbi? Both Jesus and John the Baptist were called rabbi by their disciples (John 9:2; 3:26). A rabbi is a teacher who has a master/disciple relationship with his students. According to the usual practice, disciples might eventually become rabbis themselves, and would then have disciples of their own.

2. Jesus told His disciples not to be called rabbi. They would always remain disciples. He is the only rabbi and His disciples are all brethren.

3. When Jesus says we have but ONE teacher, it is the same Greek word used in other places to describe Christian teachers (Acts 13:1; 1 Cor. 12:28-30; Eph. 4:11-16). What is the difference?

a. The word 'rabbi' qualifies 'teacher' in this verse. We may have teachers in the church, but not rabbis.

b. Christian teachers may not have disciples or followers.

4. There are no patriarchs in the church, no popes, padres, paters or fathers. God is our only Father.

5. The Greek word for 'masters' in Matthew 23, verse 10 is not the word used in the master/slave relationship but is a word found only in this verse. The NASV translates it as 'leaders' but neither is it the usual word for leader. It means a 'guide teacher.'

a. Members of the Orthodox church are encouraged to find a 'spiritual director' to help them grow. The concept is similar.

b. We receive help from brethren, but we are not to have one certain person as our 'guide teacher' or 'spiritual director.'

c. We look to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).

6. Christ has provided evangelists, pastors and teachers to build up the body (Eph. 4:11,12) but they may serve only according to their commission, which does not include the function of rabbi, patriarch or hierarch.

7. This, of course, also precludes the use of religious titles, such as Reverend or Doctor of Theology.

C. There is no clergy in the church on the Rock.

D. Nor is there a separate priest-class. All Christians are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).

E. Christ is Lord. We are brethren.

III. The gospel was revealed to apostles and prophets in the first century, who record it in Holy Scripture.

A. "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:19- 22).

B. Through signs, wonders, powers and gifts of the Holy Spirit, God gave a co-witness to their message: "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Heb. 2:1-4).

C. God commanded them to make the gospel known to all nations through prophetic writings: "according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith" (Rom. 16:25- 27).

D. The Scriptures equip the man of God completely: "But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:14-17).

IV. No organizational structure between Christ and the local congregation is authorized. Each church builds on the solid foundation already in place (Eph. 2:20).

V. Christ has provided for edification and service in the church.

A. Elders lead the local congregation.

1. "So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed" (Acts 14:23).

a. Each church has a plurality of elders.

b. The Greek word is 'presbuteros' which can mean elder, or elderly man, depending on the context.

2. These same men are also called shepherds or pastors 'poimeen' (Eph. 4:11) and overseers or bishops 'episkopos' (Acts 20:28).

3. They must meet specific qualifications before being appointed. Paul told Titus: "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you -- if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:5-9). See also 1 Tim. 3:1-7.

a. Most disagreements about the qualifications of elders can be easily solved by putting each qualification in the form of a question.

b. For example, some suggest that a man may continue serving as an elder after his wife dies. But how would he answer the question, 'Are you the husband of one wife?'

c. Some suggest that the requirement of having faithful children does not apply if one has no children, or if ones children have left home. But how would such a man answer the question, 'Do you have believing children?'

d. Other requirements, such as business success or education, may not be made.

e. We must simply do what God says. That is what the church on the Rock does.

4. Evangelists are to appoint qualified men as elders (Titus 1:5).

5. When appointed according to the word of God, these men are made overseers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28).

6. Men must be appointed on the basis of Scriptural qualification, not on the basis of popularity.

a. The last while some brethren have encouraged congregations to vote for elders or have a referendum every few years. This is an insult to the Holy Spirit.

b. One brother wrote: "Any time a majority of the members of a congregation no longer consent for a man to serve as one of their elders he is no longer an elder" (pg. 26, Church Leadership & Organization, Flavil R. Yeakley Jr., 1986).

c. But what if 51% (or 90% for that matter) of the congregation have been deceived by a smooth-talking false teacher who has infiltrated the congregation and encouraged them to get rid of the elders and let him take over?

d. What does God tell an elder to do in such cases? Flee and let the wolves kill the sheep? "For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God" (Titus 1:7), "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain" (Titus 1:9-11).

e. Just because 51% (or 99%) of a congregation are against an elder who is qualified and duly appointed -- maybe they have itchy ears -- doesn't mean he must resign as shepherd. That may be the time he is needed most!

f. Granted. It will not be easy for him to serve under such circumstances. But if the Word of God reveals anything about the men who have spoken out for truth through the ages, it is that they often are not popular, even with God's people.

g. On the other hand if only one person objects to a man on valid biblical grounds he should not continue to serve. Of course, personal accusations must be substantiated by two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19).

7. "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Peter 5:1-4).

8. "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11) also applies to elders.

9. An elder is authorized to do whatever he is commanded to do in the Scriptures, but he has no personal authority.

10. Elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to shepherd the flock. The word of God does not authorize them to delegate their God-given task to someone else. They may not appoint someone who is not an overseer to be an overseer or an under-overseer!

11. How long does one remain an elder?

a. Since men are made overseers by the Holy Spirit, a man remains an elder until the word of the Spirit disqualifies him.

b. In connection with the 'referendum' idea already mentioned, one brother has written: "The Bible is silent on the subject of tenure. The life-time tenure system is Scriptural, but it would be equally Scriptural for a congregation to adopt some limited tenure system" (Yeakley, op.cit. p. 138).

c. The Bible is not silent about appointing elders, only about 'unappointing' them! We are authorized to do the first, but we are not authorized to do the second!

d. Why should a man whom the Holy Spirit has appointed as overseer, ever be dismissed unless he no longer meets the qualifications of the word of God?

e. Is not permission from the Holy Spirit required to dis-appoint him?

f. There is an interesting comment on this in 1 Clement, chapters 44 and 45.

B. Certain men are appointed as servants (deacons) in the church.

1. They relieve the elders of every-day tasks so they have more time for spiritual matters: "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:3,4).

2. They must also meet specific requirements: "Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double- tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 3:8- 13).

3. The word 'servant' (like 'elder' and 'teacher') is used both in a general and a specific sense. In the general sense, all Christians are to be 'servants,' but not in the specific sense.

4. It is in the broad sense that Phoebe is called a servant of the church in Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1,2). She was not the husband of one wife!

C. Preachers -- also called evangelists -- are men who publicly proclaim the good news of salvation. They also edify the church.

1. Paul wrote to Timothy: "Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Tim. 4:5).

2. Preachers play a vital role in God's plan for salvation: "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:14,15).

3. Preachers are to be supported by their fellow Christians: "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:14).

4. For a more detailed study on this topic, see the article under my name in The Old Paths Archive: "The Work of an Evangelist."

D. "Teachers" are also among those whom Christ has given "for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11,12).

1. "Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers" (Acts 13:1).

2. "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers" (1 Cor. 12:28).

3. Although there is a general sense in which all Christians should become teachers in time (Heb. 5:12), not all Christians are teachers in the formal sense.

a. Paul asks: "Are all teachers?" (1 Cor. 12:29) and James warns: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1).

b. Paul wrote to Timothy about certain people who had wandered into vain discussion "desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions" (1 Tim. 1:6,7). Each member serves according to his own ability in building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:16). Unqualified people should not be allowed to teach and those whose capabilities lie in other areas should not be forced to teach. Men with potential should be trained: "What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).

E. In the body of Christ, each member is important and has his own special task according to his ability.

1. "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12).

2. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Rom. 12:1-5).

F. The contribution of women is extremely important in the body of Christ.

1. There are many examples of godly women in the New Testament.

a. Women provided for Jesus from their means (Luke 8:1-3).

b. A woman anointed Christ's body beforehand for His burial (Mat. 26:6-13).

c. Dorcas was full of good works and charitable deeds. She made tunics and garments for widows (Acts 9:36-39).

d. Aquila and Priscilla explained the way of God more accurately to Apollos in private (Acts 18:26). Paul calls Prisca and Aquila his fellow workers in Christ Jesus (Rom. 16:3).

e. Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).

f. Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea, was a helper of many including Paul (Rom. 16:1,2).

g. Euodia and Syntyche were fellow workers with Paul in the gospel (Phil. 4:2,3).

2. Older women are to be teachers of what is good: "the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things -- that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed" (Titus 2:3-5).

a. What a tremendous teaching responsibility has been given to women in the church! A godly woman who wishes to serve the Lord has in this passage a commission to which she can dedicate her best talents during a lifetime.

b. Before one can teach, one must learn. A Christian woman who wishes to teach must first have learned to be reverent, to love her husband and children, to be discreet, chaste, domestic, good, and to be obedient to her husband. Quite a challenge. As her hair begins to show beautiful sprinkles of gray, after molding with God's help her own life into an example worthy of emulation, she then has the privilege and awesome responsibility of training young women in these same virtues, that God might be glorified.

c. A woman who by her own example is qualified to teach these things will not be offended that God has restricted her teaching to other women.

d. Rather, she will, by her word and example, admonish other women who have difficulty accepting God's word in this matter.

3. Problems in this area are not new. They existed in the first century.

a. Jesus rebuked the church at Thyatira for tolerating a woman false teacher, who called herself a prophetess (Rev. 2:20-23).

b. Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 was obviously occasioned by improper conduct on the part of some women : "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self- control" (1 Tim. 2:11-15).

4. Why does God not permit women to teach or to have authority over men?

a. This restriction is not based on some local or temporary custom but (1) on the order of creation "For Adam was formed first, then Eve" and (2) the fall of man for "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression."

b. After the first transgression, God told woman that her husband would rule over her (Genesis 3:16).

c. This is why Peter writes: "Likewise you wives, be submissive to your own husbands" (1 Peter 3:1).

d. This relationship in the home has ramifications in the church: "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church" (1 Cor. 14:34,35).

5. A beautiful woman in God's sight finds fulfillment in her important position in the body of Christ, and glories in her womanhood.

a. Peter wrote to wives: "Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:3,4).

b. A woman with the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit will not desire to serve as a elder, or to preach, or to exercise leadership over men.

c. And she will help women who are spiritually immature and carnally minded to learn these things.

6. The devil is sly. He tries to lead us away from God's word gradually, hoping no one will notice.

a. Some have started having mixed classes taught by a man/woman team. A woman is not to teach or to have authority over men. The fact that she takes turns speaking with a man, or sits on a panel with men, does not change the fact that she is setting herself up as a teacher of men.

b. That a Christian woman who is submissive and modest may privately assist her husband in explaining the way of the Lord to a man is indicated by the example of Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:26. But this is a far cry from Priscilla and Aquila serving as team teachers of a Bible class at Ephesus!

c. So-called 'chain' prayers in a mixed group where both men and women participate in leading the prayer are also in violation of God's word. Some claim that the women are just praying their own private prayers in such cases. But private prayers should be prayed privately (Mat. 6:6). When a prayer is said aloud in a gathering, the others are to follow the thoughts and to say the amen (1 Cor. 14:16). A woman who prayers aloud in a mixed group is either exercising leadership over men in violation of 1 Tim. 2:12 or she is violating Mat. 6:6. This, of course, does not apply where men and women recite (or sing) a prayer in unison under the leadership of a brother. An example of such is probably Acts 4:24-39. In this case the women are following, not leading.

7. Because of Satan's onslaught in this area, the help of godly women is urgently needed in the body of Christ to train the younger women in godliness. Women are much more effective at this than men.

8. If by word and example the older women, in reverence and modesty, will train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind and submissive to their husbands, they will be making an immeasurable contribution to the cause of Christ, and indirectly, they will greatly increase the effectiveness of men in the church.


I. Christ is the Head of His church.

II. His followers are forbidden to rule or exercise authority over one another.

III. Christ revealed the gospel to apostles and prophets in the first century who recorded it in holy Scripture.

IV. There is no organizational structure between the local congregation and Christ.

V. In each congregation servants, teachers and preachers do their work under the supervision of a group of elders, who are examples to the others because they themselves are walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive