Monday, March 23, 2015

Is the New Testament Church today properly structured?

The answer to that question can be found in a very simple test. May I add that most Christians will fail this test!
• Question #1 — Which three of the Ephesians 4:11 ministries are mentioned most in the New Testament?
• Question #2 — Which two of those fivefold ministries are mentioned least in the New Testament?
The answers may shock you. They indicate how far out of balance the contemporary church has grown compared to the original church that Christ established on the earth.
Answer to question #1:
• The word “apostle(s)” occurs 85 times in the New Testament.
• The word “prophet(s)” occurs over 150 times in the New Testament, about 20 of those occurrences referring distinctly to prophets in the Church Age.
• The word “teacher(s)” occurs 125 times in the New Testament.
Answer to question #2:
• The word “evangelist(s)” occurs only 3 times in the New Testament.
• The word “pastor(s)” occurs precisely one (1) time in the entire New Testament! One time! (Ephesians 4:11)
Consider those numbers. The Bible speaks of New Testament apostles, prophets, or teachers a combined total of at least 200 times. Pastors and evangelists are mentioned a combined total of four times!
And yet the modern day church calls most ministers by the term “Pastor” and shies away from “apostles” and “prophets” like a horse avoiding a rattlesnake! Man’s prejudices, fears, or misinterpretations have deprived the Lord’s Church of the two foundational ministries — apostles and prophets — that He Himself placed on earth. The Church today, wherever it denies these two ministries, is improperly structured. Pastors, evangelists, and teachers alone cannot bring the church to maturity. They were never intended to. Jesus gave all five ministries for that purpose.
In the two sections that follow, we will examine the characteristics and work of prophets and apostles in the Church Age. Nowhere in Scripture is there a concise, precisely worded “job description” of these two offices. Therefore, I will not try to define the terms "prophet" or "apostle." Rather, I will offer to the reader overviews, or composites, of these two ministries in the New Testament. Of course, no individual apostle or prophet can be expected to fulfill every aspect of these descriptions. That level of perfection remains the privilege of the Lord Jesus Himself.
5. What are the biblical characteristics and ministry of apostles?
• Acts 2:4 They were filled with the Spirit.
• Acts 2:14-36 They preached the Word of God.
• Acts 3:1-8 They healed the sick.
• Acts 4:1-12 They were persecuted.
• Acts 5:1-11 They pronounced God’s judgment.
• Acts 5:12 They worked signs and wonders.
• Acts 5:42 They taught and preached Jesus Christ.
• Acts 6:1-6 They ordained deacons.
• Acts 8:14-17 They laid their hands on others to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
• Acts 8 and later chapters. They founded and/or strengthened new churches.
• Acts 9:36-43 They raised the dead.
• Acts 10 They preached to the Gentiles.
• Acts 12:1-11 They were martyred, persecuted, and sometimes delivered.
• Acts 13:4 They were sent by the Holy Spirit (the root of the word “apostle” means “sent”).
• Acts 13:11 They pronounced a curse.
• Acts 14:21-22 They confirmed disciples in their faith.
• Acts 14:23 They ordained elders.
• Acts 15:1-21 They settled doctrinal disputations.
• Acts 15:4,6,13,19 Some were church leaders.
• Acts 16:18 They cast out demons.
• Acts 19:22 They sent forth other ministering men.
• Acts 20-28 list further ministries that apostles performed.
• 1 Corinthians 3:10 They were wise master builders. They laid spiritual foundations.
• 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 The apostle Paul warned his “sons” in the faith.
• 1 Corinthians 7:1 They counseled and answered the saints’ questions.
• 1 Corinthians 11:34 They set churches in order.
• 2 Corinthians 11:28 Paul exercised “care of all the churches.”
• 2 Corinthians 13:10 They used their authority for edification.
• Ephesians 2:20 Apostles are part of the foundation of the church.
• Ephesians 3:3-5 They received revelation from God.
• Ephesians 4:11-12 They perfected the saints.
6. What are the biblical characteristics and ministry of New Testament, Christian prophets?
• Acts 11:27-28 They (1) did trans-local ministry and (2) they foretold future events.
• Acts 13:1 They can be among the leaders of a local church.
• Acts 15:32 they exhorted and confirmed the brethren, sometimes with “many words”.
• Acts 21:10-11 They may give personal, predictive prophecies under divine inspiration.
• 1 Corinthians 14:29 They prophesied in church services.
• Ephesians 2:20 Prophets are part of the foundation of the church.
• Ephesians 3:3-5 Prophets may receive revelation from God.
• Ephesians 4:11-12 Prophets perfected the saints.
7. Should we identify and recognize apostles and prophets today? Certainly!
Luke 6:13 "When morning came, [Jesus] called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles." If Jesus named them and designated and recognized them as apostles, how can we do otherwise?
Acts 14:4 "...the apostles Barnabas and Paul...” The New Testament, here and in many other verses, consistently recognized men by name in the office of apostle.
1 Corinthians 14:29, 32, 37 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.... [32] The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.... [37] If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.
The early church — here, the church at Corinth — found it quite normal to have a prophet or prophets in the church.
Acts 13:1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers.
Again, it was not unusual, but accepted, that there might be prophets (even plural prophets) in a local church. And the New Testament church identifies some Christian prophets by name:
• Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10)
• Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32)
Matthew 10:41a, KJV He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.
Why beat around the bush? Jesus tells us to receive someone who is a prophet “in the name of a prophet.” There is no biblical encouragement for identifying certain ones as “evangelists, pastors and teachers” and then identifying true prophets and apostles with descriptive but controversy-avoiding phrases like: “He has an apostolic [or prophetic] ministry.” As if the Lord has given three nouns (evangelist, pastor, teacher) and two adjectives (apostolic, prophetic)! No! Jesus said to receive a prophet “in the name of a prophet.” It’s time for the Church to shake off the fear of man and return to biblical patterns.
My prayer is that once more in the 21st century, as in the first century, the Church will return to the clear pattern of Scripture. May the body of Christ once again grow and thrive as we open our hearts to the God-given ministries of modern day prophets and apostles, as well as evangelists, pastors and teachers.
And along with these much-needed fivefold ministries, may the Church recognize also the biblical, local-church ministries of God-called elders and deacons, as well as the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Revival can again break out in churches determined to search the Scriptures, to rediscover the proven, historical "ancient landmarks" of God's word, to open their hearts to the ministries of God-given, modern day apostles and Christian prophets, and to “build ... everything according to the pattern” (Hebrews 8:5) laid out by God in Scripture.

What is the extent of a local church? How big of an area constitutes the sphere of a local church? We would draw the brothers’ and sisters’ attention to the fact that in the Bible, the church is never divided into regions. The Bible never groups a few churches together under a regional organization. Although there were seven churches in Asia, we do not see the Bible appointing Ephesus or Philadelphia to rule over the other six churches. We only see seven churches, with seven lampstands.
 These seven lampstands represent the seven churches (Rev. 1:12, 20). In the Old Testament, one lampstand was divided into seven branches. In the New Testament, there are seven lampstands, not one lampstand with seven branches. Jesus did not speak to the Angel (messenger/elder) over all seven churches. He spoke to the Angel of each Assembly.

This means that the seven different churches are shining by themselves and each one is responsible to Christ by itself. Every church is governed by Christ alone and is not under the control of any other church. In administration, every lampstand is independent and not under the control of any other lampstand. Every one of them is responsible to the Son of Man alone, who walks in the midst of the seven lampstands. 

They are responsible only to their High Priest. No church is responsible to another church. Although they are seven churches, they have not joined themselves to become one united church, and they are not responsible to some higher synod or convention. Each one of them is a so-called congregation, an assembly whose boundary is the locality. The Bible takes the city or the smallest administrative unit as the boundary of a local church. A local church is the basic unit of the church in the Bible. 

No local church is joined to another church or regards another bigger church as the central church. In other words, in God’s eyes, Rome has never been appointed to be the central church. God has never acknowledged one place as the center of all churches, with that place ruling over and controlling all the other assemblies. According to God’s organization, there is no center on earth. Jerusalem was not the central church at that time.

This does not mean that there are no regions in the Bible. Some places have similar conditions and needs, and they are treated according to the same principle. In Acts 19 Paul “passed through the upper districts” (v. 1). In Romans 15 Paul said that he traveled “from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum” (v. 19). These places belong to one region. Galatia was not an individual city but a province. This is why the Bible mentions “the churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2). Revelation mentions “the seven churches which are in Asia” (1:4). Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea were all in the region of Asia. Asia was a region, and Galatia was a province. We have to be clear that even though the needs and testimony of these local assemblies are peculiarly similar, no church possessed a higher organization or authority over the other local churches.

 The Bible never shows us that any local assembly possesses a higher authority than another assembly. Some have thought that Jerusalem was a mother church. Actually, there is no such thing. Every local assembly is local in its administration and responsible to Christ alone; it is not responsible to any other institution or assembly. Putting it another way, a local church is the only organization in that locality. To put it still another way, a local church is the highest organization and institution on earth; nothing is lower than it on earth, and nothing is higher.

There is no court above the local church to which one can appeal. The highest organization is the local assembly. The smallest unit is also the local assembly. The Bible does not tell us of a center like Rome, which controlled everything of the churches, because Christ wants to retain His headship in heaven.

 Every local church should maintain the testimony of the Body and express the Body of Christ in a miniature way. However, every local church should be directly responsible to Christ and not to other churches. This means every local church should only be regulated by Christ and not be controlled by any other institutions or churches.

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