Acts and The Body of Christ - Local to National

Kaitiaki's picture

Basically this is just a "what do we learn about the Church from Acts?" thread. As we watch Paul and Barnabas and then Paul and Silas building the Church in Acts, what can we learn about their concept of the Church as a whole? Robert suggested my original plan was too cumbersome so asked me to create new threads.

Thread Moderator - Kaitiaki

This thread looks at the relationship between the local Church and the Church overall as seen in the Council at Jerusalem particularly (Acts 15). It discusses the role played by the council and how it dealt with the problem of the Gentiles Churches and the Jewish customs based on the Law.

Here is the starter question: "From the way this problem was both discussed and resolved (and with reference to other parts of the NT) there have been derived at least three forms of Church government. How would you see the procedures of your Church's system of government dealing with the issue (of Acts 15) if it had arisen in today's world? "

CLARK E. WADE's picture

I see leadership in the New Testament as being "flat"...

Dear sister Connie,

I see leadership in the NT as being "flat" and not "hierarchical" because Jesus Christ is the One, or should be the one, in Front, taking Headship over His church, who has been given all authority in heaven and earth.

And there is plenty of leadership in this model but it is through service to and under the saints rather than the Gentile way of rulership which speaks of "lording over."

I believe Jesus Christ wants to be sole Lord and King "over" His House and our mistaken notions of human leadership are obstructing His rule because we think that there are mediators to that rule 'over' His house.

"But Christ was faithful "over" His house as a Son. And it is we who are members of His house..." (Hebrews 3:6).

"Looking away to Jesus, Who is "the Leader" and the Source of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:2).

"As "officiating Priest", a Minister in the holy places and in the true tabernacle which is erected not by man but by the Lord" (Hebrews 8:2).

"But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone [in the church] on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:9-11).

"But Jesus called them to [Him] and said to them, You know that those who are recognized as governing and are supposed to rule the Gentiles (the nations) LORD IT OVER THEM [ruling with absolute power, holding them in subjection], and their great men EXERCISE AUTHORITY and DOMINION OVER THEM.

"BUT THIS (this style of leadership) IS NOT TO BE SO 'AMONG' YOU; instead, whoever desires to be great 'among' (this word 'among' is important because Jesus never uses the word 'over') you must be your servant, And whoever wishes to be most important and first in rank 'among' you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to have service rendered to Him, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for (instead of) many (Mark 10:43:45).

"Now an eager contention arose among them [as to] which of them was considered and reputed to be the greatest...But Jesus said to them, The kings of the Gentiles [are deified by them and exercise lordship [ruling as emperor-gods] OVER THEM; and those in authority 'OVER THEM' ARE CALLED 'BENEFACTORS' AND WELL-DOERS.

Isn't that what we call those ecclesiastical authorities over us as "benefactors" and "well-doers?"

"BUT THIS IS NOT TO BE SO WITH YOU; on the contrary, let him who is the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who is the chief and leader like one who serves (Luke 22:24-26).

Do you see here how Jesus seemed to have "flattened" all of our notions of hierachical leadership regarding His Kingdom? This type of leadership that Jesus spoke against is the leadership of the world and not of the Kingdom of God.

Ephesians and Colossians teaches that there is only One Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Corinthians were enamoured with certain leaders, a Paul or a Peter or an Apollos, and Paul writes to them that they have erred in...

"...not holding fact to the Head, from Whom the entire body, supplied and knit together by means of its joints and ligaments grows wth a growth that is from God" (Col. 2:19).

There is something about our flesh that insists and demands
"human leadership" in place of the Holy Spirit's leadership. This was the situation in I Samuel 8.

"And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken to the voice of the people in all they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king OVER them" (I Samuel 8:7).

And this is what the people said:

"No! We will have a king over us (or a religious hierarchy of kings), that we also may be like all (the Gentile nations), and that our king may govern us, and go out before us and fight our battles" (I Samuel 8:20).

Where we got these notions of ecclesiastical rulership, hierarchy and monarchial bishops over the house of God simply can't be found in scripture, but it did come from somewhere, and that was through some of the heavy-handed teachings of bishops' Clement, Ignatius, Tertullian (as well as Iranaeus, Cyprian, and Augustine). Here's a slice of some of their teaching that undercut and undermined the every-member functioning of the early church and created this two-tiered division that lives with us to this day:

Clement: Bishop of Rome:

"The high priest has been given his own specal services, the priests have been assigned their own place, and the Levites [meaning deacons] have their special ministrations enjoined on them. The layman is bound by the ordinances of the laity."

So here we have Clement blending notions of Roman ideas of top-down leadership with the Levitical priesthood.

Ignatius: Bishop of Antioch

"Let the laity be subject to the deacons, the deacons to the presbyters [elders]; the presbyters to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as He is to the Father."

"We should regard the Bishop as the Lord Himself..."

" must do nothing without the Bishop and the presbyters."

"It is not permitted to baptize or hold a love-feast independently of the Bishop..."

It seems it was also Ignatius who first termed the phase "monarchial bishop."

Our Lord desires a "kingdom of priests unto God." And here we have direct violations and divisions of that priesthood through this errant teaching of hierarchy and that the regular rank-an-file members of the body of Christ are beneath these Bishopal rulers and cannot do anything without their prestigious presence as the focal point.

Tertullian: Bishop of Carthage

"It is the authority of the Church...which has established the difference between the Order and the laity."

In other words, Tertullian doesn't refer to the authority of scripture here in making these divisions between clergy and laity, but it is the "authority of the Church" which is making these unscriptural, unapostolic distincions.

There are those who say we need these leaders "over us" to prrvent heresy in the church. But what happens when those over us are the ones who are teaching and promulgating the heresy?

It is God's plan that there be no distinctions between laity and clergy as Paul writes in Ephesians that it is God's goal that "the saints do the work of the ministry to building up the body of Christ." Regarding these "Bishops" of the early church, their very teaching seems to challenge the apostolic teaching of Paul, and John as well when he writes:

"You (the average Christian, the so-called "laity" class), do not need any one to teach you because His anointing is in you and teaches you all things" (I John 2:27).

I think Paul warned against these false teaching very forcfully in Acts 20 where he gathers "the elders" to him. This is a part of what he says:

"I know that after I am gone ferocious wolves will get in AMONG YOU, not sparing the flock; EVEN FROM AMONG YOUR OWN SELVES MEN WILL COME TO THE FRONT, who by saying perverse (distorted and corrupt) things will endeavor to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:29-30).

The passage speaks of men who will "come to the front". In my opinion, there is only one who deserves to be "in the front" and it is our Lord. And Paul is saying that certain elders will not only "come to the front" but they will speak "perverse" things.

I personally think some of these teachings that were taught after Paul went on to His reward from these bishops fits the category that Paul warned us about as he plainly saw these things through the Spirit.

Connie, here's a song I read the other day that in my mind speaks, or sings, to me this flattening of the body of Christ that dispels our worldly notions of Gentile rulership:

The Lord, the seed of life,
Has sown Himself into our heart
To grow up into fullness
And become His counterpart.
The seed requires no rules or forms,
For water is its need—
By this the all-inclusive seed
Will grow in us indeed!

The seed is simply Jesus!
Oh, Jesus lives in me!
And by His growth this seed
in us will reach maturity.

The growth of Christ, the seed, in us
Will soon produce the wheat,
The life within break forth—yet work
Divine is not complete;
For wheat alone can never be
The seed's expression true;
So all the grains must blend together
Into something new.

The seed is simply Jesus;
Now wheat is Jesus too!
The grains of wheat must blend
Together into something new.

The individual grains of wheat
No longer must be free,
But crushed together, ground to powder,
Every grain must be,
Until the wheat becomes the meal
From which the loaf is formed
Till all the saints will blend and to
His Body be conformed.

We all must take the grinding
until the Christ within
Can mold into His Body all the
individual grains.

The seed is planted, wheat is grown
And meal is the sum
Of all the growth upon God's farm,
Where Christians grow as one;
But all the growth in life is for
The building of the church,
That God and man may have a home
And both may end their search.