How are churches supposed to be organized? What about overseeing organizations like the Southern Baptists or Presbyterians?
The Bible is very plain and straightforward about church structure, and yet Christians for the most part do their own thing, what “seems right in their own eyes”.
- Jesus Christ is the only Head and Ruler of all churches – Eph 1:23; Col 1:24
- The Bible is the sole and complete authority for doctrine – 1Pet 1:3; 2Tim 3:16-17;
- The Bible never gives example of anything but churches that are local, autonomous groups of Believers. After the Apostles, there is no record or command of an overseeing Body, something which did not begin to appear for about 150 years when the first “bishop over several churches” appeared. There were councils of church leaders that decided early church doctrine, but this part of the establishment of the early church and did not become a governing body. Once the council decided on issues, the group was dissolved.
- Each church is shepherded (spiritual overseers) by a plurality of Elders (Pastor/BishopElder; same thing, same word) – Acts 14:23; Acts 16:4, 5; Acts 20:17,1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:1719; Tit. 1:59; Heb. 11:2; Jas. 5:14, 15; 1 Pet. 5:15
- Each church is served by Deacons who are spiritually mature managers of church activity. – Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:8-13
That is the plain and simple teaching of Scripture and yet we see it routinely ignored by Christianity.
The SBC has the same problems with scandals, politics, power struggles and money that every other big overseeing organization has whether Catholic, Presbyterian or Assembly of God (or the cults with big organizations).
While the SBC is CERTAINLY more Biblically conservative than most every other religious hierarchy, having a parent organization is still not Biblical, and thus predictably, fraught with problems. At the very least, we cannot expect the highest blessing of God when we do things differently that He prescribes. I don’t think it constitutes the absence of a saving Gospel by default, but there are certainly “religious organizations” that seem to have lost the basic Gospel message.
There are groups who would claim an improper church organization is tantamount to false religion, and thus not truly Christian. I disagree. Church organization can be out of kilter while not resulting in a false Gospel message. Correct church organization is not salvific… though that is NOT a reason to think it is unimportant.
I have people at this point say “yeah, but the Bible does NOT say we CAN’T have governing church bodies.” Correct. It doesn’t. And often times when the Bible doesn’t directly speak to something, it becomes a matter of liberty. However, God has plenty to say about how His Church is organized and when God speaks proactively, it eliminates the liberty to do it differently (unless the Bible plainly grants that liberty).
The example we find in the Bible is always a local, autonomous church, shepherded by a plurality of Elders, served by Deacons. This is not a denominational preference… it is the plain directive of Scripture that has been ignored to both extremes by man. Today we mostly have churches either ruled by one man, or ruled by a overseeing political body… very interesting (and predictable) that man wants to do everything EXCEPT what God prescribes.
With “one pastor” churches you risk personality worship, dictatorial rule, and one man with little or no accountability. Or, you have the situation where the “one man” is at the mercy of the “church vote” and has to keep people happy to keep his “job”. It is not Biblical (neither is the paid professional church preacher/Pastors/staff… but that’s another issue). That IN NO WAY means every “one man ruled” church is experiencing any of these things, but it certainly makes a fertile ground for it.
With “overseeing organizations” you get politics, power struggles, and unbiblical authorities telling other Christians how to worship, live, believe etc.
The local autonomous church is made up of a community that lives together and works together. Jesus Christ is our only higher “authority” to which all churches are subject, and the Bible is His revealed will. There is no Biblical permission or example to create overseeing organizations and they have ALWAYS been problematic, starting with the Roman Catholics and every other one since then. “One pastor” churches are just as problematic because God wants accountability within a plurality of Godly men.
Is it WRONG (sinful?) to have the large overseeing organization? Let’s just say it’s not what God commanded, or gave as examples in the Bible, and therefore MAN is deciding there is a BETTER way than what God has prescribed. Historically, it’s easy to show that it causes problems… it is the human “we must have a King” syndrome. Humans want someone to tell them “what to do” and “how to do it” because that is much easier than “working out” our own salvation with the fear of God and the liberty of Christ.
I would stop well short of saying that churches with non-Biblical organization structures are heretical or unchristian (some are, but for other reasons)… but I would not hesitate to say that using a non-Biblical organization is LESS than God wants, and can never be as fruitful or spiritually healthy as sticking the clearly presented Biblical model (all other factors being equal).
Church organization is not presented in Scripture as a TEST of Christian fellowship and those who make it one are at least as worse off as those with the unBiblical church structure.
The principle involved here holds true for ALL aspects of the Christian life: do it God’s way, that’s the best way. Add man’s “improvements” and you get less then what God would have. Most of the time, you get a LOT less.