Ecclesial Administration

by A.E. Knoch

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 administration.

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 supervisors.

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 fitted him.

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.

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