Question #307

I have a question about leadership in the church.

I'd like to start by saying that though I do disagree with some of the teaching on your website, I've been tremendously blessed by the fruit of the Word that is available from it. It's quite clear you've done in depth studying of the Word, and the truth of the Word is abundant. Thank you for your obedience in the Lord's call, and thank you for being used by God to teach. The question I have is in regard to the correct Biblical structure of the church. As I've read the New Testament, especially Acts, I've not come across anywhere that a "pastor" is mentioned as the "head" of the church. From what I can see, the apostles (namely Paul) appointed elders in each city and/or church, but other than the leadership of the apostles, I don't find any "church" where there was one particular leader over it. It seems that the churches were led by a plurality of elders, rather than one pastor. I wonder if that tradition began in modeling the business world…with a CEO as head, a treasurer, secretary, board and all. Is this Scriptural? In the Old Testament, there was often one leader (Moses, Joshua, etc.), but I don't see it in the early church of Christ. Could you please expound on what the Word teaches regarding correct church structure? Thanks so much!

The Answer:

Thank you for your comments concerning Thy Word Is Truth. It is a time consuming effort but the reward is great. Hopefully your areas of disagreement can be resolved by serious open-minded study of scripture. Every effort is made to expound what the Bible teaches. If you believe that we have erred in that effort, please take the time to send us the results of your study and inform us of where you believe Thy Word Is Truth has misstated that truth.

As for your observations concerning the leadership of the church, you are correct. Paul’s teaching and practice was to appoint elders (plural) in every church. Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17. There was a plurality of elders in the church in Jerusalem. Acts 15:4, 22. When James spoke of leadership in the church he called them elders. James 5:14. However, others terms are used to described elders; pastor is one of those words. It comes from the Greek word poimen, which is the word most often translated shepherd in scripture. The term bishop is also used to describe elders in the church, being from the same Greek word, episkopos, that is generally translated overseer. These terms are never used to apply to the minister or evangelist in scripture. The term “pastor” is used in the denominational world to refer to the preacher who is generally the head leader in a denominational church. This was not the case in the New Testament; elders (also called pastors, overseers, or shepherds) were the leaders in each local congregation. This began to change when one of the elders was appointed the “head elder” or bishop. The bishop gradually became the head overseer for a region, which in turn required an archbishop, which in turn required cardinals which in turn required a pope. None of this hierarchical organization was known in the church of the New Testament. See “Class: Lord’s Church” for a fuller discussion of the New Testament church. As for who is the “head” of the church, scripture is clear – it has no head other than Christ. Eph. 1:22; Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18. The elders are the leaders of a local congregation, but neither they nor any one of them is the head of the church. To claim such is to reject its true head, even Christ.

The aim of churches of Christ is to restore New Testament Christianity, including its organization. While the departure from New Testament teaching and practice began with the Roman Catholic Church, every departure that it made from the faith was adopted and continued by the Reformation Movement. That movement’s name demonstrates that it primarily desired to reform the Roman Catholic Church. The Restoration Movement seeks to reform nothing. It seeks to discard unscriptural practices and teaching, restore New Testament practice and teaching, and thereby be only New Testament Christians. No additional name is needed other than the name of Him to whom the church belongs. No additional organization is needed beyond the local congregation with its elders and deacons.

To avoid misunderstanding, keep in mind that the name of Christ is not a formal name for the church. The term “church of Christ” in not the “name” of the New Testament church, it is a description of the relationship between Christ and his followers. It designates or describes the assembly (the literal meaning of ekklesia, from which we get the translation “church”) that belongs to Christ.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)