Leadership and Unity in the Kingdom of God
The Church is the kingdom of God on earth. Christ her Head has delegated elders to be the rulers in the Church in an official capacity as a Church court. In this office elders formulate doctrine and present it binding upon the church in the form of confessions and creeds or as some call it - a covenant. This points to the unity and connectionalism of the Church. As always pardon any typos and any weaknesses in my writing skills. I have sought to put this together in a somple manner so that the truth is easy to grasp. I do hope I have succeeded in this task. Finally as you start to read this our prayer is Oh Lord King eternal lead on!
I. The Church Is the Kingdom of God on Earth
The gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus, the disciples and the Apostle Paul all preached its gospel. Jesus “... went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people”.( Matt. 4:23; Lk. 8:1) The twelve was sent out by Jesus to preach the gospel and to heal the sick. “And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.”(Lk. 9:2) And the Apostle Paul spent time in Rome where, he lived two whole years at his own expense, welcoming those who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with boldness and without hindrance. (Act 28:30-31)
The King of the Kingdom:
The Subjects of the Kingdom:
The Law of the Kingdom:
II. Elders and the People of God
A. The People Of God Have Been Ruled By Elders Throughout History
3) The Time of The Kings
4) The Time of The Captivity
5) The Time After The Capitivity During the Rebuilding
b) New Testament
1) In The Gospels
2) Acts and The Pastorals
Leadership is important whether it is in business, the government of a country or in leading the people of God in the "household of faith". As a society we look for men of character and integrity for leadership. We have difficulty in giving honor to men of questionable character. If you think this is important in civil government then it is even more important in the Church. Therefore, in the Kingdom of God there must be men ordained with knowledge, wisdom and godly character according to the Biblical standards of leadership. This necessity is clear since the "sheep" must be led into "green pastures" and to "calm waters". The leadership call is to lead the sheep and that can only be done as the elders fulfill the "musts" of character qualities stated in the Bible.
Tit 1:5-9 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-- if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Num 11:16 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.
Act 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Multiple elders in a church has many benefits. A couple of them are included here. The first is a diffusion of power. No one person has the power in their hand. Also any bad decisions made by just one man is ended. The plurality of elders takes away weaknesses which happen when one person makes binding decisions upon the church. As we all see so often one man shows often lead to tyranny. The plurality of elders creates a means of "checks and balances". Each elder must study the Bible and to bring it to bear upon the issues that come before the court. They then come together for discussion and to formulate the Bible teaching. They also work together to seek needed practical application of the Bible concerning the doctrine now formulated. With multiple elders abuses of authority that could happen are held in check since all elders are involved in study, decision making, doctrinal formulation and suggested application.
Having stated a couple benefits I now want to look at a couple weaknesses that comes from non-biblical leadership in the church. Many Churches, perhaps yours, have just one elder or pastor. Perhaps he makes the decisions or he may defer to the congregation for discussion and a vote. In this type of non-biblical leadership all lead or one leads and both brings their own set of problems.
In the best case the one pastor would be a smart man and take the whole burden of the church upon himself or perhaps he moves the deacons to act as elders and not as deacons or as some combination as elder/deacon. Or perhaps the congregation knows all the Bible and how to apply it in all areas, even the most difficulties of life. But this cannot be the case since the congregation needs led and are at different places in their growth in knowledge and faith.
But wisdom and observation teaches that most men cannot handle that burden of the whole church Even if the pastor does move the deacons in a role elders should do, then the burden of the deacons becomes greater. As far as the congregation voting many are not capable of applying the scriptures in their own lives let alone making decisions and voting on the most difficult church related and member issues. Not all study theology let alone practical theology. These types of "church leadership" are just not biblical. Many churches struggle with major problems due to these types of non-biblical leadership in their church. Thankfully some over the years have moved to put elders in place after seeing the difficulty and the truth of scriptures in eldership rule
III. Official Role of Elders: A Session in a Church Court
Christ has delegated elders as pastor teachers to labor in the administration of the Word and sacraments for the Church. This call has a great many responsibilities. The administration the elders are called to is a. to guard the doctrine of the Bible, b. to lawfully administer the sacraments, and c. provide day to day counseling and instruction for the guidance of the flock of God.
The elders are the officers of the kingdom. Their responsibility is to ensure there is sound biblical preaching and teaching in the doctrines of the nature and character of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, salvation, the nature and place of the church in the life of the believer, and practical theology for progressive sanctification. (Acts 20:29-32)
Officially the elders rule in the capacity of a Church court. To many of you this may be something you have never heard before but once you read this it will make sense and you will see that it is part of the plan of God for the Church and His people. When the elders meet they sit in a session being ordained of God by the Church to judge matters, according to the Word, in order to formulate doctrine, and bring resolution to problems and current difficult issues as they arise.
Judicial decisions must be made with great caution and care using utmost discernment. Proper and diligent investigation must be accomplished to get to all sides of a story or issue. Also proper witnesses must be established. “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother“ (Deu 19:15-18). In every judicial case brought before the elders session the Bible must be brought to bear upon the issues. And the elders must know that the scriptures are sufficient for answers and direction in all things that pertain to life and godliness. 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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2Ti 3:16-17)
In their work the elders must make a diligent effort to reconcile any differences, correct any sin and restore relationships. But when there is no repentance of sin and / or continued heretical doctrine believed then the elders / Church court, must pronounce judgment and excommunicate. The elders then communicate the judgment to the members of the church so and give direction to their responsibilities to the person excommunicated.
He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him. (Pro 18:17)
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mat 18:17-18)
As you can see the office of elder in the kingdom of God is a very tedious and hard job. There needs to be more than one person leading and we can be thankful to God that He leads His Church in wisdom and in peace.
There are times when matters go beyond the local assembly. Issues arise and problems develop that affect the church either in a particular part of the globe or all of Christendom. In these cases the Lord finds it wise to have the elders of His Church from all over come together, search the scriptures and settle matters adequately. When the Church is meeting as the higher Church courts there is no hierarchy. There is no central or higher organization above the local Church. it is simply the Church meeting in order to work thru and find biblical answers in order to lead the people of God in truth and grace. They are ordained elders coming together not to enact church legislation, nor to adjudicate matters without biblical law. The decision and decree sent to the local assemblies are made based upon understanding of and being derived from the Bible. That is simply what elders do. They labor and work for the unity and purity of the Church. It is the Church meeting, for the purpose of working together for the sake of the people and for the glory of God.
B. Examples When Churches Need To Come Together
Several examples where the need of the Church to meet in this matter includes but is not limited to:
· False teaching
· Doctrinal disputes
· The need to settle disputes between two congregations
· The need to settle disputes between members that have disputes that that are between two or more congregations
· Any time the elders of a local assembly are unable to handle a matter in a satisfactorily manner
· In matters of appeal by a church member or a particular assembly
Once judgment is made in these difficult matters the elders then go back to their churches and instruct their people in unison with the word of God in unity with sister churches.
C. Biblical Example of Church "Higher Court"
There is a biblical example where this happened. It is found in the Book of Acts in the fifteenth chapter. In this Jerusalem council the normal pattern for church government was recognized by the apostles and the elders. The apostles did not govern apart form the God ordained form of Church leadership which is leadership by elders. The apostles and elders both submitted to the Church court showing no one person or group of persons can of and by themselves rule and govern the Church. This was an expression which showed the Church at large as one! AMEN!
Points to note as you read the account of the Jerusalem Council of Acts Chapters 15 &16:
#1. The early church was having doctrinal disputes
Act 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
#2. The issue was understood to be more than a local assembly or congregational issue, but one that affected the Church at large.
Acts 15:2-3 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
#3. An assembly was convened of the apostles and elders to discuss the serious matter and to render an official understanding and decree.
Acts 15:4-6 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
#4. The conflict was discussed, resolved and an authoritative decree was issued by the Church court or council.
Act 15:22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
Act 15:31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
#5. The decree became a governing authortative document in the Church.
Act 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.
V. The Function of the Elders Confirm That The Church Is A Creedal and Confessional Church!
Sadly some faith groups, many "pastors" and Christians reject the biblical practice of creeds and confessions however the reality is that throughout Biblical history God's people needed and used creedal and confessional statements. The Bible is the only rule of faith and practice. Confessions and creeds are a biblical practice and supports our beloved Scripture alone doctrine and never usurps the authority of the Scripture. It is a biblical tool used for the summarization of the major doctrines of the Bible revealing how the Church understands the Bible in such things as the Knowledge of God, Man, Salvation, Sanctification in redemption, the Church and Her function, the return of our Lord, etc..
There is a real need of the creeds and confessions to be used in the Church and in the practice of its members for several reasons.
First, with them we can determine the principal doctrines guiding "faith and church groups".
Secondly, they help in giving us a written defense of the faith so that we can stand against the ever shifting religious fads in our day.
Thirdly, they direct us to the scriptures to further understand their teaching so that all of our opinions and actions can be directed and judged by them.
Fourthly, the leaders in the Church are bound to the truth of the scripture that has been expressly set down in the creeds and confessions. It keeps them united and protects them from subverting the doctrines of the faith. And finally, they serve in showing a unified Church since they show that She shares a set of beliefs in the effort to defend the faith.
A. Statement in the Old Testament
We identify a basic creedal statement needful for the instruction of the people of God in the Old Testament to remember to teach their family in Deut. 6:4. This is an early attempt to state a doctrine in creedal form: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh”.
B. Personal Statements:
Creedal statements are also personally needful as we give reasons for our faith and stand against heresy that comes our way. Statements of faith at the most personal level are acknowledged from reading the statements in the Gospels from Nathaniel, Peter and Thomas: Nathaniel answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.(Jn 1:49) And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.(Mt 16:16) And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. (Jn 20:28)
C. Statement Penned Early After Ascension of Christ:
That Confessional and creedal statements were penned early after the ascension of Christ is seen as we read the writing of the Acts of the Apostles chapter 15 which has been discussed above. Also the Apostle Paul penned a creedal statement that was probably part of a hymn read or sung by the people of God. Paul confessed in his pastoral letter that “…without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." ( 1 Tim 3:16)
D. Confession and Creedal Statements A Must For Church Leaders To Perform Their Role:
Confessions and creedal summaries are necessary for Church leadership to carry out their responsibilities. We see this in the example given in the Bible in Acts 15. The elders followed the instruction of the Bible and practiced testing doctrine – believe(ing) not ... every spirit, but try(ing) the spirits whether they are of God (John 4:1).The findings denied false teaching while at the same time instructed the Church members in all Churches how to practice living in the faith. The Church then issued a binding doctrinal decree as a product of their study and deliberations. The Jerusalem court decreed what the error was, what the truth is, and what the church is to do in the practice of the correct doctrine. Therefore the decrees of the Jerusalem council bound the Church in what was to be believed and how this doctrine was to be practiced. “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well, Fare ye well.” (Act 15:28-29)
E. Creeds, Confessions, Councils Throughout History
Throughout history many complex heresies arose. Can you think of some? What about: the denial of the Trinity, the denial of the virgin birth, the denial of the church, many second coming heresies, etc. Because of these the Church had to come together in many courts and councils to study, test and write decrees to instruct the Church in correct Bible doctrine and practice. These writings form the binding creeds and confessions of the Church. The more frequent and complex the heresies the more frequent and instructive the creeds and confessions have become. Here is a list of some of the most well known creeds and confessions needed by the church throughout history. Also a few of the Church councils are listed.
1. The Apostles' Creed
2. The Nicene Creed
3. The Athanasian Creed
1. The Westiminister Confession
2. The Belgic Confession
3. The Thirty-Nine Articles
1. The Jerusalem Council - Acts 15
2. The Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) - (To settle the Arian dispute)
3. The Council of Constantinople (381. A.D.) - (To assert the personality of the Holy Spirit and the humanity of Christ)
4. The Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) - (To emphasize the unity of Christ’s personality and to condemn the views of Pelagius)
5. The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) - (To state the relationship between the two natures of Christ)
6. . The Council of Constantinople (553 A.D.) - (To deal with the Monophysite dispute)
7. The Council of Constantinople (680 A.D.) - (To condemn the Monothelites)
8. The Council of Nicea (787 A.D.) - (To deal with problems raised by the image controversy and to decide that the worship of images should be allowed)
VI. Conclusion - Final Remarks Concerning Unity In The Church Universal
In a longer conclusion than usual I want to make remarks concerning Church unity. The Church is the Bride of our Lord and therefore unity needs to be fought for. Unity will be fought for if we truly learn to love the Bride of our Lord.
A. Doctrinal Formulations Founded by Church Courts are Binding Authority in the Church
To summarize Christ is the head of the Church. Her government is upon His shoulders. He has delegated her to be lead, by a plurality of elders. Officially, elders convene in an ecclesiastical court.
Within their official capacity elders do many things but mainly:
> -- settle disputes,
> -- adjudicate doctrinal and disciplinary cases
> -- perform administrative work performing research making decisions where bible clarifications are needed and Church unity is compromised
> -- test doctrine,
> -- document biblical teaching sending it to the Church in creedal, confessional or catechetical forms for instruction of the laity
The nature of their work, the authority of their call, the biblical decisions of the Church court of elders, along with their doctrinal formulations (creedal and confessional) which are founded upon the truth in the Bible by necessity have a binding governmental authority in the Church. Therefore no church member, elder nor Church can be independent of the Church and Her Court.
B. No Independency in the Bible
Scripture teaches that there is nothing that is truly independent. As people we are not independent. Being dependent upon God and upon each other is a basic teaching of Holy Writ. We find that even Christ is subject to the Father, Men in Subjection to Christ, wives to husbands, women and men are not independent of each other. In the Church the members are not independent but rely on each other since they have gifts for each others good. Ministers cannot be independent for they must be ordained and help accountable to God and to the other elders to ensure proper Bible instruction and godly living. Also believe it or not governments are not independent but are subject to and serve God.( 1 Cor. 11; 12;14; Rev 1-3; Rom 13; Acts 15;etc.)
All Churches that hold to the essentials of the faith are a part of the body of Christ. There is biblically no such thing as an independent Church. All of the Church is connected. The "household of faith" need each other and are to be unified in the kingdom of God (1 Cor 12; Eph 3, etc.) Now you may say, "But we ladies don't wear pants in our church. We have a distinctive of our own that is a different from your church." Or perhaps, "We believe you can speak in tongues", or "We baptize differently than you." Well, ok, there may be some demonitional disctinctives but even these may call for searching the scriptures, testing and discussing the differences. But if you believe the essentials you are connected to the body of Christ, are in the kingdom and therefore you CANNOT BE independent. We are the Church. We need each others gifts. These distinctives are not to be walls t\which separate nor to justify independency and seek to break connection with the global church.
C. Handling Denominational Distinctives
The distinctives should be studied at the Church court level. But the unity and fellowship of the Church is to be promoted by the elders as they teach the people in the congregations the essentials of the faith, lead them into worship and administer the sacraments. Some of thedenominational distinctive difference discussions may take years to resolve. Some may never be resolved but the connectionalism of the Bride of Christ should not be destroyed. If the differences in the distinctives cannot be resolved there is no biblical directive to separate. The unity of the Church is to guarded by the elders in these matters. Differences that are not essential doctrinal issues are not to be tools of separation and disunity.
When the essentials of the faith are compromised and are not being held to then the Churches should make decrees and proclamations with creedal and confessional statements instructing the Church in the truth and in the need and practice of standing against heresy. This should be done so the members in the church can be on guard and defend the faith.
Here area a couple of examples of what can and should happen. One is an example showing when unity should be guarded and maintained by the elders even when there are some differences. The other example will show when there is a need to be a dividing line of separation between two groups where the faith has been discarded.
NOTE: NO PARTICULAR CHURCH GROUP IS IN MIND THESE EXAMPLES ARE FICTICIOUS.
Church of the Messiah
a. Holds the unity of the faith and solid Bible theology
b. They ordain deaconesses for special work with the women based on Rom. 16.
c. The Church as a strong discipleship, missions, and evangelizism program.First Church Of His Glory
a. Holds the unity of the faith and solid Bible theology
b. They ordain deacons (men only based on (1 Tim. 3)
c. The Church as a strong discipleship, missions, and evangelizism program.In Example A for one group to totally exclude or to seperate from the other because of the difference in point "b" when all the essentials of the faith are adhered to would not be proper. Love and unity should be guarded in both groups by the elders and any statement of difference must be communicated in such a manner so as to help the members continue to be "adhesive" in their love care and fellowship.
Example B -
The Church of the Good Shepherd
a. Holds the unity of the faith and solid Bible theology
b. Ordains men as elders to rule. Also ordains both men and women in the deacon roles to serve the physical needs of the church.
c. The Church as a strong discipleship, missions, and evangelizism program.
First Church of the Open Door
a. Teaches that the Bible contains Gods words. There is nothing definite concerning man in sin but that men only have problems not being positive in their thinking and actions. Jesus came to show men how to live even when you may have terrible disasters in your life. After all His love, care and positive approach to life brought him to death and even in this he was full of positive love. This is the essence of what the Bible teaches and we are yo have Jesus as our example. This was His mission in life.
b. The leaders in the church are people with the ability to motivate and lead. They are progressive and open to a diversity of beliefs and lifestyles. They can get things done!
c. The mission and teaching of the church is that God is love and He or She is the God of all people. So the mission is to teach all to live in love and acceptance.In this example the First Church of the Open Door is apostate and has left the faith. Thge Church of the good Shepherd is not apostate and is in the kingdom of God. She is connected to all Christian Churches around the world and is useful to God and His people for fellowship and the exercising of the gifts of her members for the advancement of the Church and her people.
In all of this discussion it is implied and supported that the Church is universal, cannot be independent, and must be connected to all other Bible believing Churches. All of the Church is to work together for the furtherance of the gospel and kingdom advancement.If the Church in the United States and around the globe dropped its independent , sectarian spirit (even in their own denomination and groups) and learned to work with each other in searching the scriptures and judging matters according to the Bible there would be a great consistent testimony before the world. I am concerned that as long as there is a failure to conform to the biblical form of Church government there will never be unity amongst the church or faith groups. Those outside looking at the Church will continue to see the weaknesses. And the cause of many of the weaknesses are due in part to ecclesiastical disunity.
I have not said in any way that the Church is to compromise and mix with groups that have left the faith. God forbid! What is being said is that that there is not one good reason those who hold to the fundamentals of the faith cannot come together on common grounds and defend the essentials of the faith. The denominational "great wall" distinctives that are disrupting fellowship and unity must be torn down. This tearing down must begin with serving Christ in ecclesiastical unity through the biblical government of elders.
May the Church unite for the good of all and the unity of the body in doctrine and practice. Lead on oh King eternal!