Building a New Testament Church Part 1

Posted By on January 7, 2020

I want to speak in the first session at any
rate today about the New Testament churches. I am speaking to the pastors again; you are
called to build churches. Whether we build according to the New Testament pattern or
not, we are called to build churches. I want to read two short passages first in which
Jesus used the word “church.” It was Jesus’ idea; he didn’t just come to save individuals,
he came to build a church. The first is on the memorable occasion when he asked the disciples,
“Who do you say that I am,” which is the most important question of all.
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He was the first
person ever to say that. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon, son
of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven. And I tell
you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades
will not overcome. I will give you the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth
will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” That
is in Matthew chapter sixteen. We turn the page and we find in Matthew 18 verse fifteen:
If your brother sins against you go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.
If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one
or two others with you or take one or two others along so that every matter may be established
by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them tell it to
the church and If he refuses to listen even to the church treat him as you would a pagan
or a tax collector. You notice that Jesus used the word “Church”
twice but in a very different way. The first time he says “I will build my Church,”
which he has been doing ever since. The second time he tells us to report something to the
church. They cannot be the same thing and it is clear that the first time he used the
word “church” he was referring to the universal church to which every Christian
belongs by virtue of belonging to Christ. Because you belong to Christ you belong to
his Body; you are part of it. You are already in the church. But then he says, “If you
have a dispute with your brother tell the church.” Well if you tell the whole church
you would spend the rest of your life flying from one place to another telling the church.
It is very obvious that he uses the word “church” now in a local sense.
So there is both in Jesus’ mind the universal church and a local church and he expects all
his followers to belong to both, but I am meeting people all over the world now who
want to belong to the church but not to a church. That is quite dangerous for them and
certainly not Jesus’ will. They say, “Yes I belong to the Body of Christ, I belong to
Christ, I belong to his church”, but they decline to join a local church. Therefore
they can’t apply to themselves the second passage of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18.
They don’t belong to a church that they can talk to, a local church, which can deal
with the problem for them if they cannot deal with it themselves.
So that is the first, most basic thing: all Christians belong to the church but too many
don’t belong to a church, a local church. But Christ came to build both, and the church
is made up of local churches and we need to belong. Now of course everybody knows that
the church is not a building. But we have so fallen into that habit that we point to
a building and say, “That’s the church I go to.” The building is not a church;
the church is people. Whether it meets in a building or in the open air that is the
church – that is a local church. I had one day in Guildford, in Surrey, England
where our church was, and a whole busload of young children arrived one Wednesday morning
with their teacher. The teacher said, “The children are doing an exercise on local churches,
and please can we come in and see your church?” I said, “Well I’m sorry but they’re
not here.” The teacher looked rather puzzled and said,
“But isn’t this the church?” I said, “No, most of the church is up in
London today so you won’t be able to see them.”
The teacher looked quite upset and she said, “Can I bring the children in?” They all
sat down and she said, “Would you answer their questions?” They all had a pen in
their hands and a piece of paper poised for the answer. They began to ask things like,
“What does that thing on the wall mean?” I said well that’s a ventilator and it lets
fresh air in. “Oh,” they said. “What does that thing
in front of you mean?” I said, “Well that means it’s a little light to see my notes
when I’m preaching, and I’ll switch it on and off for you.”
They kept saying, “Well what does that mean? What does that mean? What does that mean?”
I realized they had been looking at other churches where everything was symbolic and
everything had a meaning, where even in the end of the pews that people sat in there were
three circles carved into the wooden end of the pew, three overlapping circles and they
had been told, “That means the Holy Trinity.” So they’d been told the meaning of everything
in the other churches and I just didn’t have a meaning. Finally since they had written
nothing down I took pity on them. I went forward and lifted up sections of the floor and showed
them the baptistry pool and that really got them and they were furiously writing down.
I said, “That’s where we baptize people,” and they thought that was very exciting. They
hadn’t seen one of those in any of the other churches.
So the church is not a building and when you fill a church with symbols it is really quite
a distraction. We don’t need a church with symbols. I will tell you a secret: I design
church buildings in my spare time. I have designed over a dozen now, you can see them
scattered all over Britain. None of them look like a church – not one of them. They look
like a large family home because they are not a house of God, therefore they don’t
need a very high ceiling for him to get his head under. That is what so many “house
of God’s” are designed like, with very, very tall ceilings as if God can somehow get
under them. But mine looked like family homes with lounges, with toilets, with everything
a family needs. And I say: the buildings I design are to be a home for God’s family
– not a house of God but a home for God’s family. Yet still people come and pray at
the beginning of a service, “Lord, we’ve come to your house.” But it is a home for
God’s people; it’s for his family, and the more like a large home it is the more
the family will feel at home. So there we are. It means if you no longer need them you
can sell them as good community centres then they are not tied in anyway to the Christian
faith, they are a home for God’s family. So I don’t need to say any more. We put
outside the building a notice that the church meets here every Sunday morning, and that
kept it before the public eye. Nor is the church a denomination. Jesus never
built a denomination. The word means a name, and we denominate a church or a group of churches
by giving it a name. I have heard Cornerstone Church, Mount Carmel Church, and a lot of
other names here. Those are denominations. They denominate that church and distinguish
it from others. It is a name that men have given to a church; it’s not a name that
God has ever given to a church. Men think up a name to distinguish their fellowship
from others. All those names are for men; not one of them is from God. They are simply
denominating a church. The Church is not an organisation. One of
the most damaging features of some churches today is that they are modelled on a business,
usually copied from America, which is one gigantic business country. Therefore, the
pastor is the managing director of the business and sits in the biggest office somewhere in
the building and behaves as if he is the boss. That model of a business—the church is not
a business. It needs to be businesslike in its handling of finance and in many other
ways, but a church is not a business. It is not an organization; it is an organism, it
is a body. Above all the church is not a club. Some churches
I go to seem more like a religious club than anything else. With a club you join it, you
pay your membership subscription, you attend the business meetings, you keep the rules,
you vote at the business meetings. But that is not a church; that is a religious club.
The church is not the clergy. It is amazing how many people think that the clergy form
the church. In my country when people say “The church ought to do something about
this,” they mean the clergy as if the professional Christians are the church, and people blame
the church for doing things. They don’t blame all the people who go to church, they
blame the clergy. But they are not the church. So the church is not a building, it’s not
a denomination, it’s not an organisation, it’s not a business. It’s not a club,
it’s not the clergy. So what is it? Well let’s think of some other things that the
Bible calls the church. First of all, three words beginning with “f”. It is a family.
It is the brothers and sisters of Jesus. It is a family and ought to convey that meaning
to everybody who comes. We are a family together. The next word the Bible uses is a “flock”.
We are a flock of sheep and we are under shepherds who are themselves under the Good Shepherd.
We are a flock. Sheep are not the most sensible animals. Sheep have a way of going their own
way and it needs a shepherd to keep them together and guide them in the right way. When you
study a shepherd’s life in the Middle East it is totally different from a shepherd’s
life in England for example. A shepherd in England chases the sheep from behind, usually
with a dog. I have been a shepherd. I have had a sheepdog for many years after I left
farming. But shepherding in England is quite a different job. My first job as a shepherd
was to take a needle and thread and sew lambs’ eyelids open. Because many lambs are born
blind with a dropped eyelid and you have to take a needle and thread and sew their eyelid
open until their muscles take over and the thread rots and drops out. But my very first
job, can you imagine it, with a little lamb in my arms and needle and thread? I am amazed
they allowed me to do it. But I was giving lambs sight. But in the Middle East they don’t
use dogs and they don’t chase sheep. They walk in front of them and they have given
every sheep a name. The shepherd just walks in front and says, “Come on Black Legs.
Come on White Wool,” and that name they immediately respond. I remember watching two
shepherds in the Middle East coming together, each with a flock following them. Then they
suddenly met and the two flocks mixed up. Now in England that would be a crisis; we
would spend the next hour and a half separating them again. But they didn’t, the shepherds
just walked on, turned around, and called their sheep. They just separated into two
flocks again and they went on. All this is a very meaningful when you read John 10, for
example. “My sheep know my voice,” and he calls them by name individually. A shepherd
in the Middle East has to walk a long way because the grass doesn’t grow everywhere
like here or in England. There are not green fields. There are little patches of green
among the hills, so he has to walk the sheep a long way every day. He walks them through
a valley where there are wild beasts lurking in the shadows. Therefore he carries two weapons.
One is a crook with a curved top by which he can grab his sheep by the neck and pull
it to himself. But the other is a short sharp cudgel, and with that he beats off the wild
animals, the lions, for there were lions in the Middle East. So, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
He has a crook and a cudgel, he has both. One is to pull the sheep out of danger and
the other is to beat off the enemy. They go through these dark valleys to find grass,
and lurking are these wild animals. “Yea though I walk through the valley of deep shadow….”
It does not use the word “death.” It simply says, “When I walk through the valley of
deep shadow you’re with me with those two things in your hands.”
Another very interesting thing about sheep is that their nostrils and their mouth are
much closer together then we are. Therefore they cannot drink from rough water. Therefore
they are led by still water. A good shepherd knows where there is still water that they
can drink without drowning, without sucking up the moisture into their nose. Then at midday
in the heat of the sun, if they went on walking they would suffer from heatstroke. I’ve
seen the good shepherd in the Middle East tie the legs of the sheep together with a
short piece of rope. He ties their four legs together and pushes them over so that they
are not tempted to run around in the heat. “He makes me lie down.” It is all there
in the Psalms, it is quite wonderful. Anyway, I didn’t come here to lecture on
sheep. I came here to talk about the flock, but it gives you so many aspects of how the
good shepherd looks after his flock and what he does for them: sees that they get food,
sees that they get rest, makes them lie down when they need to and fights off wild demons
that want to attack, and pulls the sheep closer to himself when they are in danger. It’s
all terribly vivid. So the church is a family. It is a flock and
it is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Now that word “fellowship” is much stronger
than it’s often used. I remember one pastor who always used to say at the end of a service,
“Come and have some fellowship over a cup of tea.” I always had visions of all the
people crowding into one cup of tea. I thought, “That’s a strange thing to say.” But
fellowship is a word “koinonia.” That is a very unusual word. It is used of
Siamese twins. Those are two twins who are born joined together, sharing the same bloodstream,
sharing even the same organs together. One of the most difficult surgical operations
is to separate them. Indeed, some cannot be separated and must spend the rest of their
life together. Siamese twins are koinonia; they can’t do without each other. We have
koinonia in the Spirit, which means the same Holy Spirit is flowing through all of us.
It would almost take a surgical operation to separate us, we are that close. It means
to share the same life. That is not just friendship. We often use the word “fellowship” in
place of “friendship”. But it is a much stronger word and it exists only between people
who have the same Holy Spirit flowing through them both. That is why Christians who have
received the Holy Spirit, when they meet each other, within five minutes they are talking
as if they have known each other all their life. It is a most unusual thing.
I know three words in Indonesian, and the language of Sarawak, and any of your languages.
There are three words the same in every language: hallelujah, taxi, and coca cola. So wherever
I go in the world if I’m thirsty I shout “Coca Cola!” If I need to go somewhere
I shout “Taxi!” But if I want fellowship I shout “Hallelujah!” and whoever turns
around and smiles is my brother and sister in Christ, and we can have fellowship immediately.
It is one of the most astonishing things that happens between those who share the same Spirit.
There are three lovely words that describe the church and they can be used in no other
connection together. But there are three other words that are used beginning with “b”
in the New Testament. The Church is a body – a body, the Body of Christ on earth. Therefore
a Christian – a lone Christian by themselves – is like a little finger running around
the floor by itself. It is almost silly to imagine. If you lose a member the Church has
been dismembered. It is not that you’ve lost a member of the club; you have lost a
member of the Body. They have been a vital part of the Body and they’ve been a function
within the Body, but the Body has many members. Some people lose members of their body in
real life and many still, amazingly, carry on. The Olympics for those in wheelchairs
and for those who have lost legs are amazing. Did you see them? All the Olympics are followed
by the Paralympics for those who have lost limbs. It is amazing what they can do and
yet they are handicapped. A church, which is a body, will lose something; will be handicapped,
if they lose a member. A member is not someone whose name is on the books. It is someone
who is functioning towards the other people, towards the other members, and providing a
function that they can’t provide for themselves. That is a unique concept of people coming
together – a club is totally different. Then also the church is a bride – one bride.
When you become part of the church of Christ you are part of his bride. You are not married
yet, you are betrothed to Christ in this life and one day the marriage will take place.
The Bible ends like every good romance: “And they get married and live happily ever afterwards.”
That is the end of the Bible. It ends with a marriage. My relationship to Christ at the
moment is: I’m betrothed, I’m engaged to him, and I am looking forward to the consummation
of that relationship, to the marriage itself. Therefore a bride-to-be will spend her time
getting ready for the wedding. We are told in the Bible what that means. It means to
be developing good deeds, which are the equivalent of the bridal dress, and every bride wants
to be dressed in white. I presume that is true here also, and that was a symbol of virginity
– that she kept herself pure for her bridegroom. The final “b” that the church is described
in the New Testament: it is a building, but not the kind of building we call a church,
but a building of living stones of which Christ is the chief cornerstone. A building that
is a temple in which God can live. But it is a building, but not a building of bricks
or stone, but a building of people, which together allow God to live on the earth because
God dwells in his holy temple and the church is a temple for God to live in. Well now,
those are all unique descriptions of a church in the New Testament and make it quite different
from every other organisation on earth. Just a word about the words used of the church:
the basic word is “ekklesia,” from which we get the word ecclesia, or ecclesiology,
or ecclesiastical meaning “churchy” That word means quite literally “out called,”
ekkelsia. We are the out called assembly of God. But that word was used in ancient Greek
of the political assembly, when representatives of the people came together in a democratic
form of government. That is not the church; we are not a democracy. But we have come together
out of the world. We’ve been called out of the world to come together. The Greek word
for come together is “sunagoge,” sun “together”, and goge “come.” A synagogue is a “come
together” of God’s people. So we are called out to come together.
That word “synagogue” is very important because the churches of the New Testament
were modelled on the synagogue – the Jewish synagogue before them. The synagogue developed
in Babylon, when they were separated from the temple. They had no temple to come together
in so, they developed local synagogues. The whole New Testament church pattern is modelled
on the synagogue, because for us the temple is in heaven, the real temple. The temple
in Jerusalem was a copy; the tabernacle before it was a copy. Those who designed them were
shown glimpses of the real temple in heaven, the real tabernacle in heaven. Both temple
and tabernacle were designed on the same basic layout with its Holy of Holies in the middle
and its outer courts for people to come and worship. Both the tabernacle, which was virtually
a moveable tent, and the temple, which was a very solid stone building were modelled
on the same plan. But we don’t need a temple; we don’t need a priesthood. We don’t need
sacrifices and altars, because all that has been done and transplanted back to the heavenly
reality. We have a High Priest up there who has made every sacrifice needed for us. That
is why we don’t turn up at church with a lamb, or a dove, or something to have its
throat cut to worship the Lord. In the Old Testament when you worshipped the Lord it
was a bloodbath. It was like an abattoir; it was like a sacrificial with blood flowing
everywhere. It was an amazing sight. But we don’t need any of that. We don’t need
all the things that the law of Moses told us to have because they have all been fulfilled
in Christ. He has entered into the real temple on our behalf presenting his own sacrifice
to God the Father for our sins. Therefore we only need synagogues. We make a big mistake
when we try to build temples on earth, and a number of churches have done that, modelled
on Greek temples. It is amazing how many churches look like a Greek temple with pillars at the
front. It reminds me of a unique experience I had
when I first went to New Zealand, it never dawned on me that we would cross the dateline.
I left Hawaii, I was going west to New Zealand—I went via Los Angeles and then Hawaii. I left
Hawaii on a Thursday night about ten o’clock. I was squeezed between two huge south sea
island ladies. They were enormous. They had so many rings of flowers around their necks,
it was like living in a greenhouse for days, and I was squeezed between the two of them.
Then I thought, “Now I won’t get to New Zealand for another twelve hours. I’m going
to go to bed because I know I’m preaching at three o’ clock on Saturday afternoon,
so I’ll get a good twenty-four hour sleep and get over the flight.” Then the pilot
came on and said, “It is now one o’ clock Saturday morning.” I said, “It can’t
be. We’ve just left Hawaii and it was ten o’clock on Thursday night.” We had crossed
the dateline; I got out of the plane, into a car, and half an hour later was preaching
in the biggest church in Auckland, New Zealand. Now I had gone in the back door and I had
not seen the front of the church. I don’t remember what I said nor do they. But I do
remember vividly that the Lord gave me a vision halfway through my preaching. I saw a huge
ship, an ocean going liner that was stranded and unable to move. Now just a week or two
before, the QE II, the Queen Elizabeth II, had been stranded with a broken oil pipe to
the engine. They had taken the passengers off in little boats and had taken them to
the nearest port. I saw the passengers on this large liner being taken off in little
boats and being taken away to a port. But the funny thing was: the bridge of the ship
was missing and in its place was a Greek temple. You know what they look like, with columns
holding up the triangular bit at the top. I thought, “That’s strange.” I told
the congregation this and they were shattered, because the front of that church was a Greek
temple, and for months people had been leaving the church and going to a bigger Pentecostal
church in the town hall. The church had been shrinking and shrinking as little families
and groups of people were taken away. It led to an amazing revelation to all of us. Anyway
that is just a recollection of mine, but I thought you might be interested.
The first thing we want to tackle is: what shape is the leadership in the New Testament
church? Because we should model our leadership on that. The first thing I want to say is
very important, but will come as a shock to some. The leadership is never one man, therefore
you never hear of “Mr So and So’s church”. A local church in the New Testament was never
led by one man. There is no such thing as “the pastor” in a New Testament church.
Modelled on the synagogue they are led by a group of men, and I underline the word “men”.
Not a group of men and women but a group of men and they are called the elders of the
church. That doesn’t mean that they were elderly, it means that they were ahead of
the others spiritually, that the others could look up to them; never one man – always
a group of elders who shared responsibility. We are told in 1 Timothy 2 what the qualifications
are. One is that they be married to one wife. I don’t think that means that there was
a lot of polygamy went on, I think it means that they have been married to one wife and
never divorced. Of course if a wife died a person was perfectly free to remarry. But
nobody was free to be divorced and remarried and be an elder of a church. They had to be
not lovers of money because that would be very bad to be an elder of the church. It
did not mean to say they didn’t have money, but they were not to be lovers of money. These
were essentially supervisors of what went on in the church. Every New Testament church,
as soon as possible, had a group of mature men who supervised all that the church did.
We are going to look shortly at the discipline in a New Testament church, and that can’t
be done by one man. I am afraid that may be why in many churches that are led by one man
that there isn’t any discipline, because if one man tries to discipline a church he
will very quickly make enemies and make life very difficult for himself. But if a group
of men do it together then discipline is very much easier to apply. So, on the one hand,
elders, male elders were chosen out of the Christians gathered together as soon as they
showed more maturity than the others. One of the qualifications was that they had
to have a good report from outsiders. When we were choosing an elder in our church we
would go to the employer of a candidate we were considering and say, “What do you think
about this man?” I remember going to the electricity board because the man we were
considering as an elder was a manager of these landlines, the wires that take electricity
around the country. I went to his boss and I said, “We’re considering John to be
an elder of our church. What do you think of him?” This electricity board man said,
“You’ll be very lucky to have him.” Now we don’t believe in luck but that was
what he said. He is not a believer but he said, “He’s a very good man, you’ll
be lucky to get him.” We reported that to the church. We have a
good report from an outsider about this man. He actually became one of the best elders
we had. So we are told in 1 Timothy 2 how to choose them, what kind of men, and above
all a man who manages his own family well, because if he can’t manage his own family
he is not going to manage the family of God very well. So the proof is in his home and
in his family life. The other group of people you need, to have
a full church structure, are deacons. It seems to me clear that the deacons can be men or
women, and they are called to be servants of the church in practical ways. So we have
elders to supervise men, and men and women who serve the practical needs of the church.
(43:07) Deacons, again, are chosen for their quality. Both elders and deacons need spiritual
qualities. Don’t think that because a man or woman is good at practical things that
you should make them a deacon. They need to be spiritual people as well, but who have
a gift for some practical area. So in our church we had a finance deacon who looked
after the money, we had a catering deacon who looked after the food, we had a music
deacon who looked after the music, and we had the building deacon who looked after the
building fabric. Each of these had a practical service to the church and each of them had
a team around them who helped them with that task.
We were trying to build a New Testament church. So we had elders, of which I was one – a
mixture among the elders of full-time, spare time, part-time, but they were all equal elders.
I was a teaching elder. We had counselling elders. We had an elder who looked after widows
pastorally, but he also did a wonderful job practically because he was a builder. He could
mend their broken windows and things that widows need. But his main task was looking
after them spiritually. So we had elders and deacons. I believe that’s the order of the
synagogue and it was taken into the early church by a straight transfer. So a church
needs first elders – a bunch of mature men – and then deacons. It then will not centre
on one man. There will not be “the pastor”. There will be teaching elders and pastoral
elders. There will be some who will do evangelism
as well. Some will be paid by the church – that is very clear. An elder who does both preach
and teach – meaning preach to unbelievers and teach believers – since he is engaged
in a double task, Paul said, “He’s worth a double honorarium.” That is his word.
Paul clearly teaches in Galatians 6: If you are benefitting from someone by his spiritual
contribution to you, then he should benefit from a material contribution back from you.
So a paid elder is clearly seen. Or if he’s part time, a half paid elder. When the money
is available that is valid expenditure. But the money should not be in the elders’ hands.
Let a deacon look after your finance for you and keep it independent of the elders, and
then there is no temptation for one man to be putting it into his own pocket. You have
got a case in court at the moment that is asking questions about a pastor. That should
never have arisen. I’ll come back to the finance.
So we have elders and we have deacons. At first, elders are chosen by the one who is
planting the churches and who is starting them. By the way, apostles who are called
to plant churches where there are none – apostles never plant a church by themselves. Always
in the New Testament at least two go to plant a church, not one. So right from the beginning
it is not a one-man outfit and not one man and his wife—two men. They may take with
them some women, they may take with them a whole team, but they never went to plant a
church by themselves. Once again, if only we had followed the scripture we’d have
avoided so many problems. After the first appointment by an apostle—for
example Paul wrote to Titus and he said, “I left you in Crete to appoint elders in every
city” – because already there were groups of converts meeting but they needed elders
as soon as possible and got on with the job. But later, when the apostles had gone planting
churches somewhere else the church has to appoint the next elders. How do they do that?
I’m convinced from reading the New Testament carefully that the whole church was involved
in choosing the next elders. Because the word used is: “They raised the hand to appoint
elders,” which means that they consented. They voted, to put it crudely, and so did
we for our elders because we believed it was right. Not that anybody who got fifty-one
per cent of a vote would be an elder, far from it. We said they had to get at least
four out of five members recognising them as shepherds. The elders might bring a name
to the church and might therefore recommend, but it was the whole church. We asked the
sheep if they recognised the shepherd because they are going to follow a man they recognize.
If the elders are self appointed by the elders, they are imposed and people might or might
not accept them as shepherds. But if the people have been asked, “Do you recognise this
man as a gift of God to you as a shepherd?” then they will follow him. They have recognised
him. We did that. We believed in open government. I mean by
that, that the elders brought everything to the sheep, to the flock, to the family. Matters
of discipline were brought to the whole church because Paul never told elders to discipline.
He told the whole church to discipline a man who was misbehaving. We practised that, so
that every member had a share in the responsibility of the family. We found it really paid off.
We had a business meeting every month for members only, and that was a legal requirement
in Britain. Maybe here, I don’t know, but the laws of libel and slander did not apply
to a church business meeting if there was not a single member of the public present.
Then we could discuss a person freely and frankly without any fear of legal comeback,
because it was a private meeting of members only. We did discuss people. We discussed
potential elders, we discussed potential members, but the whole church shared in that, and It
led me to the conviction that you have got to have a membership and have regular meetings
for members only if you are going to be a New Testament church. I’ll come back to
that. It’s a very important point. One text I would like to revise in your mind,
it’s been used mainly by elders about themselves. It is in Hebrews chapter 13:17, which in some
Bibles reads like this, “Obey those who rule you and submit to their authority.”
Elders have sometimes used that text to impose their wills on the members and that’s a
naughty thing to have done. I’ll give you a surprise. The word “obey” is not in
the Greek, the word “rule” is not in the Greek, the word “submit” is not in the
Greek, and the word “authority” is not in the Greek. Otherwise it’s a good translation.
It does not say “Obey those who rule you and submit to their authority.” Not one
of those four words is there. It is a mistranslation by people who wanted to give elders too much
authority. It says, actually: “Be persuaded by those
who lead you and give way to them” – not to their authority but to them. It is asking
for cooperation from members with those they have recognised as leaders. It is saying,
“Be persuaded by them, listen to them. Listen to their reasons for doing something until
you too are persuaded that it’s the right thing.” It isn’t those who “rule”
you, it’s those who “lead” you. They are under shepherds for the Good Shepherd
and they lead you. They don’t push you. They don’t chase after you, they don’t
use dogs. They lead you. “And give way to them” – let them lead. It is a very gentle
statement that should have been properly translated. Again, you will have to take my word for it,
but if you know someone who knows Greek, you go and ask them.
Now let us come to the ministry of the church. What was the ministry of the New Testament
church like? Well there were special ministries, five of them actually: apostles, prophets,
evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Some people think that pastors and teachers are one gift,
and therefore they talk about four special ministries. I am convinced it is five, because
I have met some great pastors who could not teach and I have met some good teachers who
couldn’t pastor. So I’m prepared to believe they are two. Sometimes you get a man who’s
both, but not always. Usually a man is better at one or other of those two things.
But their task is to multiply their ministry in the church. It’s to coach other people
into that ministry. They are given to the church to make the church an apostolic church.
A prophet is given to the church to make it a prophetic church. An evangelist is given
to the church to make it an evangelizing church. A pastor is given to the church to make it
a caring church. A teacher is given to the church to encourage others to take up teaching.
They are not exclusive ministries to themselves. Their ministry is that their job is to multiply
that ministry, to share it, and to get others in the church doing it. Not, “I’m an exclusive
apostle and you must not touch my ministry,” but, “I’m here to help you to be apostolic.”
That’s the concept of special ministry, as I understand it.
Now some of those ministries are probably better travelling from one church to another.
They get a bit heavy if they stay around. Pastors and teachers are better staying around
in a church, but some prophets are better moving on. I have known some pastors—I knew
one in Australia who was clearly a prophet. I said, “You shouldn’t be a pastor. You’re
heavy. Every week you are bringing a heavy word from the Lord on the people straight
from God, and either they will get used to it and not listen any more or you’ll so
depress them that they will just collapse under the weight of your prophetic utterances.”
In fact in the early church the practice was for a prophet to stay only two or three days
in a place and then move on. Then the people were not subject to heavy prophetic messages
every day, every Sunday. Apostles are certainly mobile. Their job is
to move on when a church is established and settle another one somewhere else. They have
the job of breaking open virgin territory and planting churches where there are none.
If an apostle stays around and becomes an archbishop that’s not—or even becomes
a bishop. I mean by that, if having founded churches he then stays around to supervise
them, his job is to be on the move and go somewhere else.
Paul was an apostle. When he got a church going here he moved on to the next town and
got a church going there. So apostles and prophets are usually best moving around, and
evangelists too, moving from church to church to get those churches evangelizing. But pastors
and teachers are probably better staying and helping to build up the flock after the apostle
founded it, the prophets brought the Word of God, and the evangelists helped to increase
their numbers, let the pastors and teachers carry on.
I tell a story to illustrate two of those ministries. There were two men in Canada went
hunting bears and they borrowed a wooden cabin in the forest from someone, which was their
base. One day one of the men was preparing breakfast in the cabin and he looked out of
the window, and to his horror he saw the other man running out of the forest chased by a
seven-foot black grizzly bear. He thought, “Oh, what can I do to help him?” He couldn’t
do anything; he just urged him to keep running as fast as he could. He ran and ran and kept
ahead of the bear, got to the front door of the cabin, he opened the front door, and then
neatly sidestepped around the bear, pushed the bear through the door, and shut the door.
He called through the window, “You deal with that one and I’ll get some more.”
Now that is the difference between evangelists and the pastor. The evangelist goes out and
gets more, pushes them into the church, and then says to the pastor, “Now you deal with
them and I’ll get some more,” and they push all kinds of people through the door.
Some of them need an awful lot of help, but you can imagine what happened inside the cabin
after that. Well, you see some are go-getters, get more, and get them in; and then some,
and it’s the more difficult task, have to present them mature in Christ Jesus, start
with them where they are and build them up. So all these special gifts fit together and
it must be recognised that each is a gift of God. Nobody can say, “I’m going to
be an apostle.” “I have an ambition to be an evangelist.” Most people discover their
gift by—what’s the word I’m wanting? By vibrating in response to a gift. For example,
when Billy Graham was in England quite a lot of young men vibrated inside, “I should
be doing that.” We did have some young men who simply had an ambition to be like Billy
Graham. But others were vibrating inside and began to think, “Does God want me to be
doing that?” – and found that that vibration inside their spirit was the first beginnings
of a call to be an evangelist. I vibrated when I heard two people teach – really teach.
Something in me responded to their teaching, not just because of what they taught but because
of what they were doing. I began to think, “Does God want me to do that?” And here
I am. It’s the fifth of the special gifts, not the first, or the second, or the third,
or the fourth. I’m quite happy. In fact a few years ago I said to the Lord,
“What is my gifting now? What is my ministry? I am not quite sure what I am doing.” He
said a funny thing to me. He said, “David, I have made you an underliner.” I thought,
“Well that’s not in the Bible. What’s an underliner?” He then said, “You won’t
say much that is new to people, but you will underline what I am already telling them to
the point where they’ll do it.” I thought, “Well, hallelujah! I’m an underliner for
the Lord.” Again and again, it happened yesterday when I was talking to one of you,
you told me, “The Lord is already telling me that,” and I underlined it. That is quite
a wonderful ministry I think, underlining what God is telling people already in their
hearts so that they will do it. Well, I don’t fit any of these New Testament categories
but I know what the Lord wants. That is how we discover our gift: by listening to someone
exercising that gift, by vibrating inside and feeling, “I should be doing that”
– and finding you can. That brings me to my second point. In the
New Testament every person is a minister. There is no such thing as clergy and laity
in the New Testament, everybody has a ministry of some kind. In the early days of the Pentecostals
in Scandinavia, someone said to the leading Pentecostal evangelist, “How many members
have you now?” He said so many hundreds. They said, “How many ministers do you have
now?” He said, “Same number,” and that should be the answer of a true church, where
every member is in the ministry of one kind or another, where every member is active and
functioning in some way towards all the other members. It is a very active church.
We will come in a moment to the problem of the size of a New Testament church, because
the bigger the church you belong to, the fewer gifts are needed. A church of ten thousand
still only needs one preacher. If you are not careful the size of a church produces
lots of spectators but not so many ministries because they are not needed. Furthermore,
a large church needs a very developed ministry. You can’t let loose an amateur on a very
large crowd or they will soon grumble. So those who have developed gifts to a highly
professional standard finish up running the huge church, and amateurs find it very difficult
to develop their gifts in such a church. Well now, we have mentioned apostles. Some
people think that apostles are limited to the Twelve, the first apostles, and that we
shouldn’t use the name for anybody today. But when you look at the word “apostle”
in the New Testament there are at least five kinds of apostle, three of which were unique
but two of which are still found. The word “apostle” means “somebody sent” – a
sent one. “Apostelein” is the Greek verb “to send”. It’s the same as the word
“mittere” in Latin from which we get missionary and missile. A missionary is an intercontinental
ballistic missile – same word. Sent, sent from “A” to “B” to do something, that
is all the word “apostle” means. Jesus was called an apostle because the Father
sent him from heaven to earth to save sinners. He was an apostle, a sent one, and he was
quite unique. He chose twelve men, one of whom failed, but he chose twelve men to be
first disciples, which means to learn from him, and then to send them out as twelve apostles,
and they went far and wide. Thomas went to south India and there’s still a church named
after him in south India. I’ve been to his grave in Tamil Nadu, the southern state just
outside Madras. The other apostles scattered throughout the
world. They were sent by Jesus directly, and no one is sent by Jesus directly like that
today. They had to have known him before his death and after his resurrection to be one
of his personal apostles. That is why when Judas betrayed him they had to choose another
and it was someone who had known him before his death and known him after his resurrection,
so could be a personal witness to the truth of the resurrection, which was a key to spreading
the gospel at first. The third kind of apostles was Paul, and he
was the only one of this kind. He was the last of all the apostles, the last of the
special ones. He didn’t replace Judas, many people have taught that, that he was number
twelve. No, he said himself, “I’m number thirteen.” He acknowledged the twelve apostles
of Christ and then he said, “I was like someone born at the wrong time.” He was
the only one commissioned by the risen, ascended Christ. That sight of the risen, ascended
Christ in his glory blinded him for three days until he was healed. He has said, “I
have a unique apostleship.” In fact he says without boasting: “I’ve worked harder than
all the others, than all the twelve.” So those are the special apostles we find in
the New Testament. But we find others. We find for example that
the church of Corinth had its own apostles, its own sent ones. They sent out as missionaries
and preachers from the church at Corinth and they called them “apostles”, sent ones.
Any church that sends one of its members out to preach, it is right to call them an apostle.
Then finally we have a unique apostle in Epaphroditus mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
sent by the church at Philippi to be Paul’s housekeeper in Rome while Paul was under house
arrest. He wrote a letter thanking them for sending Epaphroditus as their apostle. The
title is there in Philippians letter but too many translators have got the idea that there
weren’t such apostles and have mistranslated the word. But it is the word “apostle.”
Thank you for your apostle Epaphroditus who is cooking my meals, making my bed, and looking
after me under house arrest. We had a marvellous church caretaker. I mean
by that he looked after the building. He was a brilliant carpenter, and many of the things
in the building he had made with his own hands. He kept the building spotless, and he did
more than that. He would take in tramps, take their clothes off them, wash their clothes,
put the tramp in the bath and get him cleaned up, give him a meal, and send him on his way.
My, you’re happy if you’ve got a churchwarden or church caretaker like that. So do you know
what we did? We sent him to Nazareth to help build a hospital for the Arabs. He was our
sent one to Israel, to Nazareth. He had never been overseas. He had never been in the air
in an airplane but he became our apostle to Nazareth and he helped to build a hospital
there. He was our sent one, sent from “A” to “B” to do a job, that is all that the
word apostle means. So it depends all on who sent them, where to, and what job for. But
they qualify for the word “apostle” if they do that.
So there are apostles today, but they must be sent by the church somewhere else to do
a job. There are too many self-appointed apostles around who are false apostles. They are really
acting as bishops and they are overseeing churches, which is not New Testament. The
word “bishop” is used in the New Testament as a translation of the word “episkopos”,
which is another word applies to elders, and in the New Testament there were many bishops
to one church. It was only later that the Roman Empire hierarchy of officials was adopted
by the church and we finished up with one bishop over many churches. That is a huge
difference and should never have happened. But a bishop in the church of New Testament
was simply an elder. There were three words used. Episkopos was
used of overseers. The second word [I am just hunting for—oh dear me where is it? Episkopos]“diakonos”
was for a deacon, but there’s another word, I know, “presbuteros” which was used for
elders. So elders had two titles: episkopos, which means “overseer”, and presbuteros,
which means “elder”, and then there were diakonos – deacons. Now here is a little
puzzle for you. There is one man in the New Testament of whom those three words were applied.
He was called an episkopos, a presbuteros, and a diakonos, and he is one of the most
prominent figures in the New Testament and he had all three titles.
Now can anybody guess who he was? One of the most prominent people in the New Testament,
shout out who you think it was! Well you can keep quiet because you know. Anybody else
shout out? Come on, shout out. Peter? No. You’re really responsive as an audience,
I am so thrilled. Come on, have a guess. Who? [Will somebody tell me what he said?] “James.”
No, try again. Well, it’s being recorded so I better go on or they’ll stop listening.
It was Judas. Judas Iscariot was an episkopos, a presbuteros, and a diakonos. All three are
applied to him in Acts chapter one when they said, “We’ll have to replace him,” they
had those jobs to replace. He is the only man in the New Testament called all three
names. Isn’t that interesting? Judas Iscariot. You would never have guessed that in a month
of Sundays would you? But he failed in all three and had to be replaced.
Well now, there we have a picture of ministry, and the object of all ministry is to equip
the saints to do the same job: to equip a church to be apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic,
caring, pastoral, and teaching. That is how God works. So these tasks don’t set ministry
above membership. They are given to serve and to train the members. In fact, Jesus was
very much against hierarchy in which some people are higher than others.
That is my version of hierarchy, h-i-g-h-e-r-a-r-c-h-y. That is when there os a structure like a pyramid.
This gifting is over that gifting, another is over that, and they finish up with the
pastor at the top of the heap. That is not New Testament structure. Jesus said, “Don’t
ever lord it over people. That’s what the Gentiles love to do. The Gentiles like power
and control, but not you. Whoever is least among you will be the greatest. You are to
serve people not to boss them.” That is why to build a church on a business
model is to be a failure. We need to be businesslike, especially in relation to our money – to
have our accounts audited and to keep real careful control of how the money is spent.
We need to do that. Well I’ve got three minutes left so I’m not going to tackle
the next subject, which is: what size should a church be. When you come back in half an
hour we’ll look into the New Testament about that too. I would just say this to whet your
appetite: some churches are too small to be New Testament churches and some churches are
far too big to be New Testament churches. So what’s the right size?

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 7 comments

  1. This is the first lesson I've seen from brother Pawson that shows evidence that he is mistaken about some doctrinal issues. On the issue of "prophets" who inevitably claim that "God told me …" followed by "new" words of God besides that given us in the bible. If that so called prophet says ANY SINGLE thing that does not come true, then he is a false prophet. No prophet of the bible ever claimed to have a 'seventy five percent', or 'many things' "come true" record. EVERYTHING prophesied by biblical prophets comes true.

  2. this whole concept of elders, and deacons, seems easy enough to understand….I wonder why no one seems to be doing this…

  3. hi mr pawson first i want to thank you very much for your teaching that helped me alot to understand the bible
    i am a person who was a Catholic all my life untill i was born again last year and i couldn't find any church arround me that fit the real gospel that you teach wich lignes up with my beliefs can you help me find one i live in canada thank you



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