IT is a great accomplishment to be able to put a finger on
precisely the proper place in God's Word for any given purpose. One of the most perplexing
problems the church has puzzled over is that of the government of its own members. It is
usual to go to Acts and pattern after the Pentecostal churches. A few go to Ephesians and
reason that a joint body should have no supervisors whatever. Both are wrong, because they
do not go to the proper epistle. Acts is outside this economy altogether. Ephesians is
devoted to doctrine and does not deal with the government of the ecclesia. The social
service of the saints is presented in Philippians.
The opening salutation of Paul's Philippian epistle recognizes the
office of supervisor and the subordinate sphere of the servant. Modern ecclesiastic pride
has altered this to "bishop" and "deacon." Both titles have been
corrupted so that neither conveys the truth. The bishop is now an overlord dominating the
minister or preacher or pastor, and the deacon an official with some of the same duties as
the ancient supervisor. As the headship of Christ was lost, and the dignity of service was
disdained, it was necessary to pamper to the pride of those who had lost the sense of
Christ's presence in the ecclesia, and put them in His place.
The ideal ecclesia, presented to us in Philippians, has supervisors and
servants, but no bishops and deacons. The latter is a badge of apostasy, the former is
evidence of conformity to God's order. It is gratifying to see so many of God's saints
jealous of Christ's place among His people, so that they repudiate every attempt to usurp
His headship. It is even good to see them carry this to the extent of dispensing with all
government in the ecclesia, for the error reveals a heart desirous of doing Him honor. The
best course, however, is to give Him His place supreme and also to recognize those whom
He, as Lord, has given to govern and to serve in each assemblage of His saints.
We are all prone to reason out matters which have been made the subject
of revelation. Many have sought to settle matters of conduct by deductions based on our
position in Christ. This has brought, them into conflict with plain passages of Scripture,
which actually deal with deportment. In other words, their course of reasoning has not
coincided with that of the holy spirit, because they have failed to recognize the fact
that our Saviour is not only the Christ, but also our Lord. All human
relationships vanish in Christ. They are all maintained in the Lord. Our place in Christ
is not a safe premise for reasoning on the subject of ecclesial administration.
Paul, long after his separation from the Circumcision, and during the
era preparatory for the present, gave a full account of the qualifications for both
supervisors and servants (1 Tim.3:1- 13). Later, when the "mystery" was
revealed, these instructions were not repeated, neither were they modified. As we have
seen, however, the supervisors and servants in Philippi, who had these qualifications, are
recognized. In this inimitable way, the whole previous consideration of the subject is
vitally incorporated into the ranking epistle on the subject of conduct for this present
Supervision is an "ideal work" (Titus 3:1). It must be
distinguished from the desire for preeminence. It is not by any means the same as setting
up a man in place of Christ. It behooves all to recognize and acknowledge those who are
qualified for this work, and to profit by their oversight.
Those who use the CONCORDANT VERSION will have noticed that the
"bishop" is literally the ON-NOTER, as it is in the sublinear, and is the same
word the Authorized Version translates "overseer" in Acts 20:28. No one,
therefore, can object to our rendering, supervisor, for it is practically the same in
meaning. "Overseer," however, suggests the slave gang, the brutal boss,
supervisor, one who visits and inspects and superintends.
We are all to serve one another. We are all slaves of Christ. But this
does not preclude a special service for the ecclesia, and the recognition of
certain brethren as servants. But this is by no means an honorary title, even though one
be chosen for the work. I myself once held the "office of a deacon" without
appointment, and served the Lord and the ecclesia by sweeping and dusting and cleaning the
premises where the meetings were held. Such a "deacon" is not always needed, but
some one should act as secretary, one should look after the books and belongings. All the
work to be done should be attended to by recognized servants under the eyes of the
These functions should not be confused with the gifts, as presented in
Ephesians. Pastors and teachers serve the ecclesia in an entirely different way. The
pastors care for the spiritual welfare of the saints. Teachers expound the truth. It may
be that one brother may have more than one of these gifts and services. He may have all.
Nevertheless, they are distinct. The qualifications are very different. An honored
expositor of the Word may not be at all fitted for the pastorate, and may not have the
experience and reputation necessary for supervision. Each should be kept in its own place
and in accord with the scriptural provisions and admonitions.
In these difficult and dangerous days, when the Lordship of Christ is
ignored on all sides, and when His spiritual presence is not realized, there is a strong
tendency to copy the world, and organize into a society along the lines of those about us.
But those who recognize the fact that we are a living organization, will seek to conform
to the Scriptures in matters pertaining to the ecclesia. Let us not reason that an
organism has no organization. On the contrary, living organisms are the most highly
organized of all God's creations. The difference lies in the fact that they are alive, and
made by God, not man. Let us recognize the various members and their functions. Let us not
dare to dictate what they are to do. Let each one occupy the place for which God has
But let us learn to differentiate between the ecclesia as a whole, of
which Christ is the all-sufficient Head, and its local expression and its
subservience to the Lord. Let us not confuse our personal relationship to Christ
with our ecclesial duties in the Lord. It is the height of apostasy to bow down to a pope
or prelate, Protestant or Catholic, who seeks to supplant the Head of the church and usurp
His Lordship over His slaves. But it is the loftiest loyalty to appreciate the gifts that
God has given and to recognize the supervisors and servants whom the Lord has qualified
for the government and service of the local ecclesia.
It has been our experience that, when an ecclesia is in fellowship with
God, the various members naturally assume their proper functions because they are fitted
for them, and their fellow members are aware of it. If their service receives formal
ratification, it is more in the nature of a public acknowledgment of their fitness, than
an election to an ecclesiastical dignity because of their popularity or influence.
There is no scriptural warrant for choosing supervisors or servants for
a definite term. This makes their tenure depend on many foreign factors, or factions,
rather than on their qualifications. It leads to an almost continual play of politics,
making them man-pleasers, and renders it difficult for them to serve as to the Lord.
Supervisors and servants should remain so long as they are qualified and recognized, or
circumstances arise which warrant their withdrawal.
The scriptural ideal is that all in a given locality should be
together, and that there should be no divisions except those imposed by geography. Even in
large cities where local meetings may be necessary, there should be regular occasions on
which all come together for mutual profit and edification and for cooperation in service.
It is especially desirable that those who come together out of the
various divisions and denominations of Christendom should make an earnest effort to
dispense with their previous prejudices and peculiarities. They should not confine their
fellowship to former associates. They should seek to clear away the barriers which have
been broken down. They should cultivate association with those who have come from
different denominations. There is far more profit in considering words and ways which
differ from our own than in rehearsing what we have been taught. Let us make an earnest
effort to realize the absolute unity of all, in Christ. All who call upon the Lord out of
a pure heart, whatever their creed or communion, are candidates for our fellowship.
Another point is of prime importance. Fellowship should not be confined
to those who agree with us in doctrine or who attend our ecclesia. That is the basis of
sectarianism. Service, of necessity, must be largely with those with whom we are in close
agreement, yet we should sedulously seek to reach out to all who are members of the body
of Christ. Let us not form another division. If we must differ from others, let it be that
we refuse to disown any who are Christ's, even though they disown us. Let us hold the
truth in love and urge it with grace, but never allow it to severe the bond, of peace
which unites us to all who are hallowed by God's holy spirit.