Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Role of Government in the Local Ecclesia
The Eternal God places a serious and comprehensive responsibility on the shoulders of those seeking to be overseers in His church. They must be "ELDERS" in the faith -- not recent converts -- but mature in the truth of YEHOVAH God and solidly grounded in the Law of YEHOVAH God and the doctrines of the Bible.
by John D. Keyser
That which is happening in the Churches of YEHOVAH God today is not some new thing. It is only that which has happened so many, many times before. It is exactly what any student of church history would expect to happen. It is simply what always happens!
If, for instance, YEHOVAH God were to raise up a church through you today, you can be sure that within a generation or two at the most, it would begin to apostatize and become corrupt! Not only that, but you would also know that this sickness -- once it manifests itself -- is INCURABLE!
Since these are the facts of history, what is the lesson for us, today?
The answer is simple -- YEHOVAH God is alive and what He does today is FOR today!
The truth that you possess today, is for you and all of those you can tell about it. It is NOT for five generations into the future!
It is NOT, my friends, YEHOVAH's intention to build up a church organization today, that will preach the gospel to our grandchildren tomorrow.
When our grandchildren are adults (and the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God is not yet here), YEHOVAH God will be there to give them whatever they need.
Indeed, YEHOVAH could build one organization that would stand immovable -- throughout all ages. But, if He did that, He would have to force the men who were at the helm of that organization to remain faithful -- and this He just doesn't do! YEHOVAH God does not work that way. He NEVER has! Even the unconverted realize that!
However, Satan works that way. Adolf Hitler worked that way -- and Mussolini too. Nero worked that way. But YEHOVAH God doesn't!
YEHOVAH prefers to allow men to make their own decisions -- to go the way THEY want to go.
Those who love Him will always be faithful to Him. Those who do NOT love Him will never be faithful to Him. They will not follow Him without being coerced -- without being forced to follow Him.
When the Church begins to apostatize (as is occurring in some offshoots of YEHOVAH's Church today), it is a simple thing for YEHOVAH God to reach down, pluck a few from the fire, and start again. This is the way He works! This is the way He has ALWAYS worked!
Anyone who will take the time to study a few dozen documents of Church history will discover, in a few evenings, that it has been CHURCH GOVERNMENTS, taking to themselves authority which the Messiah NEVER remotely intended them to have, that have been responsible for false and pagan doctrines creeping into the Church!
They will also easily prove that it was these same governments that were responsible for many of the most VILE and WICKED events in the history of this sin and blood-soaked world.
The truth is, the history of GOVERNMENT in the Church of YEHOVAH God proves to be little more than a sad chronicle of oppression and persecution directed against those who have tried to hold onto the truth!
While posing under the label of the government of YEHOVAH God on earth, this FALSE Satanic thing called Church Government has stained the pages of history with the blood and tears of tens of thousands of the TRUE followers of the Messiah -- all in the name of UNITY! This child of Satan has PERSECUTED men and women who refuse to surrender their consciences to that ancient doctrine of Babylon -- the PRIMACY OF PETER!
Now, once again, the leadership of YEHOVAH's Church has "fallen away" from YEHOVAH God! They have "APOSTATIZED," and found it necessary to maintain a RIGID GOVERNMENT in order to control YEHOVAH's poor faithless sheep.
And, true to form, this leadership seems absolutely bent on the spiritual slaughter of as many of these poor sheep as they can deceive, or frighten into releasing their grip on Yeshua the Messiah!
Once again, my friends, the overwhelming majority of those whom YEHOVAH God has called to a reward in the first resurrection are being DECEIVED, and will lose that reward if they don't wake up! As Matthew wrote: "For many are called, but FEW are chosen" (24:14).
Indeed, if there is anything we can learn from a careful study of church history, it is an emphatic and intense distrust of GOVERNMENT within the Church of YEHOVAH God!
In our article The Primacy of Peter and the Church of YEHOVAH God, we plainly show that the form of government practiced today by many offshoots of YEHOVAH's Church, and others, is totally PAGAN in origin and an abomination in the eyes of YEHOVAH God. However, we are NOT saying that the Church does not have any authority whatsoever, because it does -- mainly at the local church level.
We must understand that there is a VAST, OVERWHELMING difference between requiring a minimum standard of decent behavior within a church (out of love for YEHOVAH's people) and the OVERBEARING, autocratic government practiced in many churches today.
The TRUE government of YEHOVAH God -- to be practiced in His Church -- is found outlined in the New Testament. Let us take the blinders from our eyes and see what the Word of YEHOVAH God has to say about this VITAL subject.
Structure of Church Government
The sheer diversity in today's church government -- papal, episcopal, presbyterial, democratic, and even non-government (Brethren, Quakers) -- testify how important the Biblical example must be adhered to, strictly and uncompromisingly. As soon as the church departs from this principle, confusion follows in its wake. When, on the other hand, this principle is followed, the result is an evident unity in doctrine and church life, which is well-pleasing to YEHOVAH God and healthy for His people.
It seems to be normative today to have Christians roaming around without holding a fixed membership in a local church, where proper discipline is maintained and the Word is preached in purity. This reflects on our poor and inadequate understanding of what YEHOVAH God is accomplishing among us; it is derogatory of the Messiah who, to obtain redemption for his church, the Bride, suffered death. The Messiah's church is glorious, even though it contains many blemishes and defects. No local church on earth is free from the taint of sin; there is always an element of corruption and mixture. This does not mean, however that we neglect to exercise the proper church government that is delineated for us in the New Testament.
The Church or Ecclesia is YEHOVAH Godís vehicle to establish His kingdom in the earth. His authority and government is most fully expressed in the church. In New Testament Church government, the Messiahís example is the base upon which we must build. His servant-hood and love are expressed through the ministry of elders and deacons for the purpose of nurturing and serving the people of YEHOVAH God.
According to Alexander Strauch, "The local church's structure of government makes a statement about the nature and philosophy of its ministry. The local church is not an undefined mass of people; it is a particular group of people that has a unique mission and purpose...the elder structure of government best harmonizes with and promotes the true nature of the local church as revealed in the New Testament" (Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, Lewis & Roth Publishers, Littleton, CO 1995, p. 109).
He goes on to say: "Of the different New Testament terms used to describe the nature of the church -- the body, the bride, the temple, the flock -- the most frequently used is the FAMILY, particularly the fraternal aspect of the family, brethren" (ibid., p. 109).
Author Robert Banks, a prominent leader in the worldwide home-church movement, picks up on this in his book Paul's Idea of Community, notice!
"So numerous are these [references to "family"], and so frequently do they appear, that the comparison of the Christian community with a 'family' must be regarded as the most significant metaphorical usage of all....More than any of the other images utilized by Paul, it reveals the essence of his thinking about community" (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, pp. 53-54).
The reason for the family atmosphere within the Ecclesia is because only the most intimate of human relationships can express the love, closeness, relationship and privileges that should exist between YEHOVAH God and the true Christian -- and between Christian and Christian -- as a result of the Messiah's death and resurrection. The local Christian Ecclesia, therefore, is to be a close-knit family of brothers and sisters. Adds Alexander Strauch:
"The reality of this strong, familial community supersaturates the New Testament [whose] writers most commonly refer to the believers as brethren. Peter refers to the worldwide Christian community as 'the brotherhood' (I Peter 2:17; 5:9). The terms brethren, brother, or sister occur approximately 250 times throughout the New Testament. These terms are particularly abundant in Paul's letters. The New Testament displays the family character of the Christian brotherhood in many practical ways. The early Christians met in homes...They shared material possessions...They ate together...They greeted one another with a holy kiss...They showed hospitality...[and] when appropriate, they disciplined their members" (Biblical Leadership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 110).
"Not only is the local church an intimate, loving family of redeemed brothers and sisters," argues Alexander Strauch, "it is a non-clerical family. Unlike Israel, which was divided into sacred priestly members and lay members, the first-century Christian church was a people's movement. The distinguishing mark of Christianity was not found in a clerical hierarchy but in the fact that God's Spirit came to dwell within ordinary, common people and that through them the Spirit manifested Jesus' life to the believing community and the world."
"It is an immensely profound truth that no special priestly or clerical class in distinction from the whole people of God appears in the New Testament. Under the new covenant ratified by the blood of Christ, every member of the Church of Jesus Christ is a holy saint, a royal priest, and Spirit-gifted member of the body of Christ. Paul taught that a wide diversity of gifts and services exists within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), but he says absolutely nothing about a mystical gap between sacred clergy and common laity....The New Testament...stresses the ONENESS of the people of God (Ephesians 2:13-19) and the dismantling of the sacred-secular concept that existed between priest and people under the old covenant (1 Peter 2:5-10; Revelation 1:6)...." (ibid., pp. 111-112).
YEHOVAH God was very clear in the New Testament about how He wishes His church on earth to be organized and managed. First, the Messiah is the head of the church (under YEHOVAH God) and its supreme authority (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18). Second, the local church is to be autonomous, free from any external authority or control, with the right of self-government and freedom from the interference of any hierarchy of individuals or organizations (Titus 1:5). Third, the church is to be governed by spiritual leadership consisting of two main offices -- elders and deacons.
Offices in the New Testament Church
The three prominent forms of church government in Christendom today all appeal to the Scriptures -- as well as church tradition -- for support of their respective positions. Since the Bible is not silent on the subject, key elements in the biblical examples are germane. The New Testament has noted the following:
There is no distinction between "elders" and "bishops" (Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:17, 28); these represent the same office and order.
Each congregation and center of leadership is to have a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1) -- not one-man rule.
These elders have oversight of the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-3) and are thus responsible to rule the congregation (1 Timothy 3:5; 5:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24). They judge among the brothers (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:5) and, in contrast to all the members, they do the rebuking (1 Timothy 5:20). The Messiah calls them to use the "keys of the kingdom" to bind and loose (Matthew 16: 19; 18: 18; John 20: 23), these keys being the preaching of the gospel (I John I :3), administering of the sacraments (Matthew 28:19-20; I Corinthians 11: 23ff.), and the exercise of discipline (Matthew 18:17; I Corinthians 5:1-5).
The elders are assisted in their ministry by "deacons" who give attention to the ministry of mercy (Philippians 1:1; Acts 6:1-6; cf. 1 Timothy 3:8-13).
The office-bearers in the church are nominated and elected by the members of the congregation (e.g. Acts 6:5-6), but must also be examined, confirmed and ordained by the present board of elders (Acts 6:6; 13: 1-3; 1 Timothy 4:14).
Members of the church have the right to appeal disputed matters in the congregation to their elders for resolution, and if the dispute is with those local elders, to appeal to the regional governing body (the presbytery) or, beyond that, to the whole general assembly (Acts 15). The decisions of the wider governing bodies are authoritative in all the local congregations (Acts 15:22-23, 28, 30; 16:1-5).
In Ephesians 4:11-13, we find listed the ranks or offices YEHOVAH placed in the New Testament Church of YEHOVAH God: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, AND SOME TO BE PASTORS AND TEACHERS, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature..."
With the last mentioned classification in this list from Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul is getting down to the actual organized government in YEHOVAH's Church -- that of the LOCAL CHURCH LEVEL.
The word "PASTORS" in this passage actually comes from the Greek word POIMEN, meaning "SHEPHERD, superintendent." In the New Testament this word "pastor" is linked together with TWO other words that mean EXACTLY the same thing:
"To the ELDERS among you, I appeal as a fellow ELDER, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be SHEPHERDS of God's flock that is under your care, serving as OVERSEERS -- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (I Peter 5:1, NIV).
These same words in I Peter are also linked together in Acts 20:16, where Luke writes:
"Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible by the day of Pentecost. From Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus for the ELDERS of the church. When they arrived he said to them:...Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the holy spirit has made you OVERSEERS. Be SHEPHERDS of the church of God, which he has bought with his own blood" (NIV).
We find, in Titus 1:5-7, that TWO of these words are here linked together: "An ELDER must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an OVERSEER is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless..."
These verses we have just looked at PLAINLY reveal that pastors (shepherds), elders, and overseers are IDENTICAL and fulfill the SAME ROLE OR FUNCTION in the local churches.
In the book Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern, by Ralph Woodrow, we read, on page 112:
"Paul instructed Titus to 'ordain ELDERS in every city' (Titus 1:5), and then went on to speak of these elders as BISHOPS [OVERSEERS] (verse 7). When Paul instructed 'the ELDERS' of Ephesus, he said: 'Take heed unto yourselves, and to the flock over which the holy ghost hath made you OVERSEERS (bishops), to FEED (PASTOR) the church of God' (Acts 20:17, 28). The word translated 'overseers' is the SAME WORD that is elsewhere translated bishops. The word 'feed' means the SAME as the word translated pastor. These ministers were referred to as ELDERS, BISHOPS, OVERSEERS, AND PASTORS -- all of these expressions referring to exactly the SAME office."
How very plain this is!
If we lay all this out in chart form, we have the following:
Same Function or Office
PRESBUTEROS ---Elder (older man)
POIMEN -----Shepherd (pastor)
We have already seen that PASTOR (Greek, POIMEN) is defined as "shepherd, superintendent." OVERSEER (Greek, EPISKOPOS) is defined as "a superintendent, an overseer, an inspector; a bishop or overseer of the Christian Church." The word ELDER (OLDER MAN -- Greek, PRESBUTEROS) means "an old man, an elder, a presbyter or priest." (A Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament, by John Dawson. London).
Combining all these definitions we can see that the man filling this office is an ELDER -- "old man" in the faith -- who is an OVERSEER or superintendent who SHEPHERDS or pastors the Church of YEHOVAH God.
Under the name "Older man" (elder) the Aid to Bible Understanding has this to say:
"As in fleshly Israel, so in spiritual Israel the "older men" were those responsible for the direction of the congregation...in a few texts the "older men" are called e.pisko.poi or 'OVERSEERS' ('bishops,' AV)...Over and above one's having attained spiritual maturity, the ability to teach, to exhort and reprove clearly played a major part in one's being accredited as an 'older man' in the congregation (I Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9). As 'SHEPHERDS,' the 'older men' would be principally responsible for the spiritual feeding of the flock, as well as for caring for those spiritually ill and for protecting the flock against invasion by wolfish elements. -- Acts 20:28-35; Jas. 5:14, 15; I Peter 5:2-4....Even as each city in Israel had its 'OLDER MEN' who guided and judged, so each city-congregation of spiritual Israel had its body of 'OLDER MEN' or 'OVERSEERS,' these regularly being mentioned in the PLURAL, as at Jerusalem,...at Ephesus,...at Philippi,...and with regard to the 'laying of hands' on Timothy...Nothing is said of any term or period being assigned to the holding of the position of "older man." Since the appointment was an acknowledgment of the person's spiritual qualifications, it would appear that the "older men" continued to be accredited as such as long as they did not prove unfaithful" (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1971, page 1249).
A Dictionary of the Bible, edited by James Hastings, makes this comment about the office of ELDER:
"The difference of name between ELDERS and BISHOPS [OVERSEERS] may point to some difference of origin or function; but in NT (and Clement) the terms ARE MORE OR LESS EQUIVALENT. Thus the elders of Ephesus are reminded (Acts 20:28) that they are bishops [overseers]. So, too, we find SUNDRY BISHOPS in the SINGLE Church of Philippi. In the Pastoral Epistles, Timothy appoints BISHOPS [PLURAL] and deacons, Titus ELDERS [PLURAL] and deacons...The qualifications also of a BISHOP [OVERSEER] as laid down for Timothy are PRACTICALLY THOSE OF THE ELDER as described to Titus, and equally point to ministerial duties in contrast to what we call episcopal" (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1951. Vol. 1, page 440).
The Aid to Bible Understanding also has quite a bit of information about the next title -- OVERSEER:
"The Christian "OVERSEERS" (e.pisko.poi) corresponds to those recognized as the 'OLDER MEN' (pre.sbyte.roi) of the congregation. That BOTH of these are designations of THE SAME POSITION in the congregation can be seen from the instance of Paul's calling the 'older men of the congregation' of Ephesus to Miletus to meet with him there. In exhorting these 'older men,' he states: 'Pay attention to yourselves and all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you OVERSEERS [form of e.pisko.poi], to SHEPHERD the congregation of God' (Acts 20:17-28). The apostle further makes clear this identity in writing to Titus. He here speaks of Titus' making appointment of 'older men in city after city' and, in evident reference to such ones, he goes on to describe their qualifications but uses the term 'OVERSEER' (e.pisko.pos) in doing so, as he also does in setting forth similar requirements when writing Timothy. -Titus 1:5-9; I Tim. 3:1-7. 'OLDER MAN' (pre.sbyte.ros) is the more basic (and far more frequent) designation for those appointed to exercise congregational direction, while 'overseer' (e.pisko.pos) describes a fundamental responsibility this position entails" (Article "Overseer," page 1260).
The Bible aid continues:
"Hence, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Vol. 1, pp. 128, 129) comments: 'Presbuteros, an ELDER, is another term for the same person as bishop or OVERSEER...The term 'elder' [older man] indicates the mature spiritual experience and understanding of those so described; the term 'bishop,' or 'overseer,' indicates the character of the work undertaken.' The earlier-mentioned work edited by G. Kittel says: 'They are ELDERS IN STATUS (not in virtue of their age but in virtue of their position and accreditation), and they are BISHOPS [OVERSEERS] IN RESPONSIBILITY.' -- Vol. II, p. 616...The fact that these overseers or older men are also described as 'SHEPHERDS of the flock of God,' and 'God's stewards' eliminates any thought of rule or authority like that exercised by kings, lords or masters (owners or employers)...what authority the congregational OVERSEERS had was for the spiritual up-building of the brothers and the protection of the congregation's purity..." (ibid.).
In the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, published by the Abingdon Press, we find some more interesting facts:
"It is reasonable to suppose, therefore, that the BISHOPS were originally those ministers of the Christian communities who were ordained as 'OVERSEERS' of the Eucharistic banquet [?], by virtue of their evident 'spiritual gift' (charisma) for this service. That they were selected and ordained for this office by the apostles, as I Clement says, is certainly possible; and that they were also members of the local presbyteries of 'ELDERS' is probable. Thus the apparent IDENTIFICATION OF BISHOPS [OVERSEERS] AND ELDERS in Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5-7; I Clem. 44:5 may be explained..." (1962, page 442).
Notice how the Qumran community viewed the roll of overseer:
"The recent discoveries of MSS of the Qumran community near the Dead Sea, however, have raised once more the question as to the possible Jewish origin of the title 'OVERSEER.' The Damascus Document, published by Schechter in 1910, described as OVERSEER or inspector of the camp (mebaqqer), who taught the covenanters the 'works of god,' looked after them 'as does a SHEPHERD HIS FLOCK,' and, in particular, SUPERVISED the admission of new members, the DISCIPLINING of offenders, and ALL FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS. This same officer now appears in the Manual of Discipline from Qumran (VI. 12-20; cf. CDCIX. 18-22; XIII. 7-19; XIV. 11-13; XV. 8, 14), and appears to be comparable to the 'STEWARD' of the Essenes noted by Josephus (War II. viii. 3; cf. Philo in Euseb. Preparation VIII. 11)" (ibid.).
Additional comments relating to this office are found in A Dictionary of the Bible, edited by James Hastings:
"In NT we have fairly frequent mention of bishops [overseers] and elders, and THE TWO OFFICES SEEM MUCH THE SAME. This is proved thus:- (1) Bishops and elders are NEVER joined together, like bishops and deacons, as separate classes of officials. (2) Ph. 1:1 'to bishops [overseers] and deacons' (no article). If there had been a distinct order of elders, it could scarcely have been omitted. So 1 Tim. 3 passes over the elders, though (5:17) there certainly were elders at Ephesus, and had been (Acts 20:17) for some time past. Conversely, Titus 1:5-7 passes over bishops [overseers], describing ELDERS in their place, and in nearly the SAME WORDS. (3) The bishops described to Timothy, the ELDERS of 1 Tim. 5:17, and those of 1 Peter 5:2, HAVE DISTINCTLY PASTORAL FUNCTIONS. So, too, have the ELDERS of Acts 20 and those described to Titus. (4) The same persons seem to be called BISHOPS and ELDERS (Acts 20:17, 28, Titus 1:5, 7...). The words are also SYNONYMS in Clement ad Cor. xlii.44, and (by implication) in Teaching, xv., and Polycarp, Phil. i...the general equivalence of the two offices in the apostolic age seems undeniable..." (article "Bishop," page 301).
The last of the three names -- SHEPHERD, PASTOR -- is pictured in the following passage: "Jehovah is a Shepherd who lovingly cares for his sheep, that is, his people...His Son Jesus Christ is the 'great shepherd' (Heb. 13:20) and the 'chief shepherd,' under whose direction the overseers in Christian congregations SHEPHERD the flock of God..." (Aid to Bible Understanding, article "Shepherd," p. 1489).
Did you notice what this CLEARLY says?
The overseers of each LOCAL CONGREGATION are directly responsible to YESHUA THE MESSIAH for the well-being of YEHOVAH's people! The overseers of each local congregation report directly to YESHUA THE MESSIAH -- not to some "pastor-general" or "chief apostle" in a "headquarters" church or location!
A literal shepherd's life was not an easy one. Genesis 31:40 and Luke 2:8 reveal that he was exposed to both heat and cold, as well as sleepless nights. At great risk to himself he protected the flock from PREDATORS, such as lions, wolves and bears, as well as from thieves. The shepherd had to keep the flock from SCATTERING (1 Kings 22:17), SEARCH for lost sheep (Luke 15:4), CARRY infirm or weary lambs in his bosom (Isaiah 40:11) and CARE for the sick and injured.
What a contrast to the leading "ministers" of the Churches of YEHOVAH God today! Do Joseph Tkach, Gerald Flurry, Rod Meredith, and even field pastors, spend "sleepless nights" "exposed to both heat and cold" at "great risk" to themselves to protect the flock of YEHOVAH God? The only sleepless nights that Gerald Flurry might have is when the air conditioning breaks down in his mansion on a hot Oklahoma night! The only personal risk that these so-called shepherds of the Messiah might experience is when a tire blows on their chauffeured limousines!
Instead of searching for lost sheep and keeping the flock from scattering, these impostors are scattering TRUE Christians to the four winds by watering down, corrupting, and prostituting the truth of YEHOVAH God! Instead of protecting the flock from predators, these sinister sycophants of Satan are themselves preying upon YEHOVAH's people -- using every cunning device they can think of to accumulate power, money and prestige and, in the process, destroying the very salvation of those they are supposing to be caring for!
The Bible also points out that the shepherd was entitled to a share of the flock's produce, and often his wages were paid in animals (Genesis 30:28, 31-33; 31:41), although sometimes in money. A TRUE minister of YEHOVAH God has the right to share in the local congregation's sustenance. "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?...when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest" (I Corinthians 9:7, 10).
But he receives his wages from those in the LOCAL church whom he serves -- NOT from the financial department of some "corporate" church headquarters! Not only that, but YEHOVAH God does not intend for His shepherds to live like kings on the money extracted from those in the congregation who can barely afford to feed and cloth themselves! When a minister receives his salary from the congregation he serves, proper control and accounting can be kept, and the temptation to enrich himself at the lay-members expense can be quickly spotted and corrected.
Satan, however, saw that if power and authority could be concentrated in one man at a single location or "headquarters," then it would be easy to bleed the flock dry and exhort the brethren to send their tithes and offerings to headquarters -- and ask no questions. According to this perverted thinking it is the church members responsibility to pay, and headquarters responsibility to spend the money in whatever fashion the "Pastor-General" sees fit!
In Ephesians 4:11 you will notice that the word "TEACHERS" is linked to that of "pastors." The Aid to Bible Understanding expounds authoritatively:
"The position of TEACHERS was of such importance that it is listed third, right after apostles and prophets, in the placement of members in the congregation (1 Cor. 12:28). It was not a position filled by Christians generally (1 Cor. 12:29) and NEVER by women. Wrote the apostle Paul: "I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim. 2:12). OVERSEERS or OLDER MEN appointed to their positions by the holy spirit served in this capacity" (Article "Teacher," page 1579).
A Dictionary of the Bible, by James Hastings, points this out:
"Further, it [teacher] is also known by the name of 'pastor'; for the arrangement of the clauses ('and some' introducing each class) shows that the 'teachers' and the 'pastors' ARE THE SAME PERSONS. The distinction of the teacher from the evangelist is SIGNIFICANT, suggesting the differentiation of function in which THE EVANGELIST PREACHES, declaring the gospel, and THE TEACHER INSTRUCTS the converts. The companion title 'pastor' points to a settled ministry within the Church as distinct from the travelling missionary activity of apostles and evangelists..." (Vol. 1, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1951, page 691).
Herbert W. Armstrong, in his book Mystery of the Ages, makes a distinction BETWEEN pastor and teacher: "Pastors are stationary pastors over a LOCAL church or contingent group of local churches. THEN (emphasis mine) there were also placed in the Church TEACHERS -- not necessarily preachers." We have just seen, however, that this distinction is NOT implied in Ephesians 4:11. The original Greek couples "pastors" and "teachers" together -- making NO DISTINCTION between the two, so therefore "teachers" are not a separate function or role within the Church.
James pointed out the tremendous responsibilities of a teacher in YEHOVAH's Church: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). These words were not intended to DISCOURAGE men from becoming qualified to teach, but emphasize the heavy responsibility that comes as a result of filling this role. James placed matters in the right perspective in showing that MORE is required of teachers in the local churches. They will have to render a more serious account than members of the Church in general -- see Romans 14:12.
The Interpreter's Bible, published by Abingdon Cokesbury Press (1953), sums up this responsibility well:
"The PASTORS and TEACHERS are mentioned in a way that sets them apart from the former three categories; the form of the phrase might be taken to mean that THESE ARE DUAL TITLES FOR A SINGLE OFFICE -- reflecting the TWOFOLD TASK of the settled ministry, with its duties of pastoral care and instruction..." (page 691).
Now that we have clearly defined and analyzed the different titles and roles for a local church pastor, let's rewrite the chart adding the responsibility of "teacher" to the list:
Same Function or Office
PRESBUTEROS ---Elder (older man)
To avoid confusion, let's pick one of these four words -- OVERSEER -- and use it from now on when we refer to this category of local Church government.
Plurality of Overseers
The next question to ask, and a very legitimate one at that, is: Was there just one overseer for each local church congregation -- or was there a PLURALITY? Let Ralph Woodrow, in his book Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern, answer this question:
"In the New Testament, the full work of a church was not placed on one individual. Churches were commonly pastored by a PLURALITY of elders [overseers], as numerous scriptures show. "They ordained elders [plural] in EVERY church" (Acts 14:19-23) and in "EVERY city" (Titus 1:5). Expressions such as "the elders (plural) of the church" are commonly used (Acts 20:17; James 5:14)" (page 113).
Let us now go through all the verses in the New Testament, including those
quoted by Ralph Woodrow, that show the PLURALITY of overseers in the local churches:
ACTS 14:23: "Paul and Barnabas appointed ELDERS [plural] for them in EACH CHURCH and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord in whom they had put their trust."
I TIMOTHY 5:17: "The ELDERS [plural] who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching."
PHILIPPIANS 1:1: "...to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the OVERSEERS [plural] and deacons...."
TITUS 1:5: "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint ELDERS [plural] in every town, as I directed you."
I PETER 5:1: "To the ELDERS [plural] among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed."
ACTS 20:17: "From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the ELDERS [plural] of the church."
ACTS 21:17: "When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and ALL THE ELDERS [plural] were present."
ACTS 11:29: "The disciples, each according to his ability, decided
to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their
gifts to the ELDERS [plural] by Barnabas and Saul."
ACTS 15:22: "Then the apostles and ELDERS [plural], with the whole church [in Jerusalem], decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas."
Even during the days of Polycarp (69?-155?), who was a disciple of the apostle John, we find the SAME UNDERSTANDING about the role of overseers in the Church of YEHOVAH God. In his epistle to the Philippian Church, Polycarp has this advice for the presbyters or OVERSEERS: "And let the PRESBYTERS [OVERSEERS -- PLURAL] also be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back those that have wandered, caring for all the weak, neglecting neither widow, nor orphan nor poor, but 'ever providing for that which is good before God and man,' refraining from all wrath, respect of persons, unjust judgment, being far from all love of money, not quickly believing evil of any, not hasty in judgment, knowing that 'we all owe the debt of sin' " (VI:1).
As well as reinforcing the concept of a PLURALITY of overseers, this passage also portrays the role of a SHEPHERD -- which is part and parcel of the overseer's responsibilities.
After reading these verses there can be NO ARGUMENT whatsoever concerning the PLURALITY of overseers in each and every local congregation -- it's as PLAIN as the nose on your face!
The next question to ask (and one that impinges upon church history) is this: Did these overseers SHARE responsibility, or did ONE assume the role of overall authority for the local congregation?
The Aid to Bible Understanding answers this question:
"A consideration of the Christian Greek Scriptures indicates that the OVERSEERS or older men in any one congregation WERE OF EQUAL AUTHORITY. It may be noted that, in his congregational letters, Paul DOES NOT SINGLE OUT ANY ONE INDIVIDUAL as THE overseer, nor are these letters addressed to any INDIVIDUAL as such" (Article "Overseer," page 1261).
Did you notice that -- "nor are these letters addressed to any individual as such"? Does the Bible uphold this statement? Indeed it does! In Romans 1:7 Paul addresses the local church in Rome: "To ALL IN ROME who are loved by God and called to be saints." In Ephesians 1:1 Paul handles it this way: "To the SAINTS in Ephesus, the faithful in Jesus Christ." And again, in Colossians 1:2: "To the holy and faithful BROTHERS in Christ at Colosse."
Polycarp, in his epistle, addresses the church at Philippi in the same manner: "Polycarp and the Elders with him to the Church of God sojourning in Philippi..." (VI:1). As was the case with Paul, Polycarp does not address a single individual in the church, but the CHURCH AT LARGE.
I think it is worth noting that Paul is BEING VERY CAREFUL NOT to address his letters to any one individual in the local churches, so as to prevent the situation that the apostle John faced in III John 9: "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, WHO LOVES TO BE FIRST, will have nothing to do with us." Here we see an OVERSEER trying to take ALL the authority to himself and DIVIDING the local congregation. This is a problem that occurred more and more frequently as the years slipped by -- until a SINGLE LEADER OR BISHOP started to rule the local congregations in a MONARCHICAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT.
Notice what the Aid to Bible Understanding has to say about this development:
"Whatever the way in which it developed, history shows that the position of OVERSEER (e.pisko.pos) did eventually come to reside in ONE INDIVIDUAL in each congregation with a resultant concentration of authority. In time such overseers even extended their control beyond their city to surrounding regions, forming a "diocese." The true sense of the term e.pisko.pos and the scriptural example were lost from view and the designation "bishop" took on a perverted sense, becoming the title of men who 'LORDED IT OVER THE FLOCK'...Historical data as found in the writings of early Christians coincides with the picture found in the Christian Greek Scriptures...Thus, after pointing out that there is 'no trace in the New Testament of government by a single bishop'...Douglas' New Bible Dictionary says: 'Among the Apostolic Fathers, Ignatius [of the first and second centuries A.D.] is the ONLY ONE who insists on monarchical episcopacy, and even he NEVER states that this is of divine institution -- an argument which would have been decisive, if it had been available for him to use.' Jerome (of the fourth century) is quoted as saying that the supremacy of a single bishop (e.pisko.pos) came about 'by custom rather than by the Lord's actual appointment'..." (Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. 1971. Article "Overseer," page 1262).
The general conclusion must be that while we find deacons and elders (or bishops in the New Testament sense) in the apostolic age, there is no clear trace of overseers in the monarchical sense, or of any ORDINANCE that every local church was to have its overseer (singular). This conclusion is fully confirmed by both Clement and Ignatius. It appears that after the apostles passed from the scene, the alleged need of firmer government gave rise to a single elder in a local congregation gaining power and ruling as a single authority.
How Many Overseers?
Having proven the PLURALITY OF OVERSEERS in each local church, let's ask the next logical question -- HOW MANY INDIVIDUAL OVERSEERS were there in each congregation? We can find a clue to this by going to Mark 6:7: "Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the twelve to him, HE SENT THEM OUT TWO BY TWO and gave them authority over evil spirits." This principle is also mentioned in Luke 10:1: "After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them TWO BY TWO ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go." If we compare this with John 8:17 we see that a definite number begins to emerge: "In your own Law it is written that the testimony of TWO MEN is valid."
Consider this for a moment: In Ephesians 1:22 Paul likens YEHOVAH's Church to the HUMAN BODY, the Messiah being the HEAD and the brethren in the Messiah the BODY; therefore, wouldn't it be logical to have the HANDS represent or picture TWO OVERSEERS who take care of and SHEPHERD each local congregation? I believe this becomes evident when we study the TWO WITNESSES of Revelation 11. It can be proved (see our article -- Behold, I Will Send You Elijah the Prophet) that the two witnesses are leaders or OVERSEERS of the end-time TRUE Church of YEHOVAH God. Therefore, merging all this information together, it becomes readily apparent that each local congregation or church has two overseers!
This is verified by Eusebius, who wrote about the Church of YEHOVAH God in the first few centuries after the Messiah. According to Dugger and Dodd, Eusebius speaks of the church "observing the Lord's supper at the same time the Jews kept the Passover; viz, on the 14th[?] of the first month, Nisan. There were at first TWO ELDERS, or BISHOPS, appointed for each city, as instructed by Paul to Titus (Titus 1:5); but toward the close of the second century this practice began to give way to the appointment of one bishop instead of two, and these bishops were appointed over not only the city, but a certain community or district, while an inferior order of ministers were appointed called deacons to preside over the local affairs of the church" (A History of the True Church, Third Edition, 1972, p. 44).
The fourth chapter of Zechariah corroborates the DUALITY of overseers in YEHOVAH's Church. Here we see the golden lamp stand representing the Church -- receiving the spirit of YEHOVAH God from the TWO OLIVE TREES who "represent the two anointed ones who assist the Lord of all the earth."
Consider also the case of Diotrephes once again: Here is a man "who loves to be first." If there were more than two overseers in each congregation -- let's say six for example -- it would be difficult for one overseer to gain the ascendancy without being thwarted by the other overseers; whereas with two, one could take all the authority and, if he had a large enough following, the other overseer would be powerless to do anything about it. This is how, in the early centuries of YEHOVAH God's Church, men began to usurp power and authority at the local church level, thus forming the MONARCHICAL or "bishop-based" system that has come down to us through apostate churches.
We should now have a CLEAR picture of the role of OVERSEER in YEHOVAH's Church. Let us turn to YEHOVAH's Word and learn what YEHOVAH God Himself REQUIRES in a man seeking this position.
In I Timothy 3 we read:
"Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an OVERSEER, he desires a noble task. Now the OVERSEER must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to much wine, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect...He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap" (Verses 1-7, NIV).
In the Book of Titus Paul reiterates the character of an OVERSEER:
"An ELDER must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an OVERSEER is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless -- not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to much wine, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by SOUND DOCTRINE and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:6-9).
Paul adds, in I Timothy 5:17, that "the ELDERS who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of DOUBLE HONOR, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages,' " Paul continues: "Do not entertain an accusation against an elder [overseer] unless it is brought by TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. Those who sin are to be rebuked PUBLICLY, so that the others [rest of the Church] may take warning."
The Eternal God places a serious and comprehensive responsibility on the shoulders of those seeking to be overseers. They must be "ELDERS" in the faith -- not recent converts -- but mature in the truth of YEHOVAH God and solidly grounded in the Law of YEHOVAH God and the doctrines of the Bible. With this foundation of true knowledge they can "oversee" the Churches of YEHOVAH God by TEACHING AND PREACHING the gospel of life; by PROTECTING the flock from false teachers and prophets -- thereby preventing them from SCATTERING into the apostasy of this world; by SEARCHING OUT those weak in the faith and nurturing them into "the fullness of Christ;" and by taking CARE of the physical needs of the Church -- visiting the sick and the widows and the poor in spirit.
Writes Alexander Strauch --
"Biblical eldership cannot exist in an environment of clericalism. Paul's employment of the elder structure of government for the local church is clear, practical evidence against clericalism because the eldership is non-clerical in nature. The elders are always viewed in the Bible as 'elders of the people,' or 'elders of the congregation,' never 'elders of God.' The elders represent the people as leading members from among the people" (Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 113).
This is a HUGE RESPONSIBILITY AND CHARGE, and requires men of character and humility -- men who, with the spirit of YEHOVAH God, can carry out these functions without "lording" it over the congregation and taking undue power and authority to themselves.
As the TRUE Church of YEHOVAH God grows, YEHOVAH WILL PROVIDE MEN such as these to lead His people into "all truth" and spiritual maturity.
Pray that YEHOVAH God will provide true leadership for those He calls out of the apostatizing Churches of YEHOVAH God during this end-time!
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