Identifying A New Testament Assembly
Compiled by Lonnie Ford for the Nepali Brethren
Chapter: XI. PRINCIPLES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE ASSEMBLY
In the Old Testament, God initially dealt directly with the individual. Later, under the Old Covenant, Israel was established as a Theocracy, with prophets, priests, and kings governing the people under the delegated authority given by God. The New Testament Assemblies follow this same pattern of Theocracy, with Christ as the head and with its appointed leadership under His delegated authority.
- Christ is the head of the local and visible Biblical Assembly.
- Christ exercises His authority through His Assembly and its specially appointed servants, but He never transfers His power.
Their election simply confirms the call they received from Christ.
- No one has any independent authority apart from Christ and His word.
- The Lord's Assemblies elect their officers, but while these officers function as representatives of the people, their authority comes from Christ.
- It is He that set pastors in the Assemblies as shepherds to feed the flock of God.
- Much of the ministry of Christ involved identifying and training leadership for the new Testament Assembly, the function body, (1 Cor. 12:28-31; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
- The importance of these offices of leadership in the Lord's assembly, is seen in the fact that the Scriptures show that all three persons of the Godhead, are involved in setting men in the position as Pastor.
The primary duty of the elected officers is to see that the Biblical instructions for worship, doctrine, discipline, and gospel proclamation are followed.
- In Jer. 3:15, God the Father promises to give His people pastors after His own heart, "And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding."
- In Acts 20:28; this work is attributed to the Holy Spirit, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the assembly of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."
- In Ephesians 4:11-12, Christ the Son, gave gifts to His assembly and among them were gifted men to lead, "And he gave some, apostles and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
The New Covenant Officers of the Assembly.
- This is the Lord's flock, and because of His great love for the flock, he is very concerned about the men chosen for leadership of His household.
- It is a position that involves a tremendous responsibility and accountability, (Heb. 13:7, 17).
- However, it is a position of great reward for the faithful under shepherd, (1 Peter 5:4; 2 Timothy 4:6-8).
- The New Covenant mentions only two offices for the Lord's assemblies -- those of the elder (pastor) and the deacon (who takes care of tables).
- The importance of these offices is underscored by the high moral and spiritual requirements set for those who would fill them.
- The Assembly recognized the sacredness of the calling to leadership through ordination, the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6; 13:2-3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22).
- The elders (pastors).
- What is an elder?
- The "elders" (Greek, presbuteros) or "bishops" (episkopos), were the most important officers of the Assembly.
- The term elder means older one, implying dignity and respect.
- His position was similar to that of the one who had supervision of the synagogue.
- The term bishop means "overseer."
- Paul used these terms interchangeably, equating elders with overseers or bishops, (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7).
- Those who held this position supervised the newly formed Assemblies.
- 'Elder' referred to the status or rank of the office, while bishop denoted the duty or responsibility of the office -- "overseer."
- Since the Apostles also called themselves elders (1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), it is apparent that there were both local elders and itinerant elders, or elders at large.
- But both kinds of elder functioned as shepherds of the Assemblies.
The elder's responsibility and authority.
- To qualify for the office of elder a person must be "blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, soberminded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well? Having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the assembly of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil," (1 Tim 3:1-7; cf. Titus 1:5-9).
- Before appointment to the office, therefore, the candidate must have demonstrated his leadership ability in his own home.
- The family of the one suggested for office should be considered.
- Are they in subjection?
- Can the man rule his own house with honor?
- What character have his children?
- Will they do honor to the father's influence?
- If he has no tact, wisdom, or power of godliness at home, in managing his own family, it is safe to conclude that the same unsanctified management will be seen there.
- The candidate, if married, should demonstrate leadership in the home, before being trusted with the larger responsibility of the leadership of "God's household," (1 Tim. 3:15).
- Because of the importance of the five Paul charged, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily," (1 Tim. 5:22).
The attitude toward the elders.
- An elder is first and foremost a spiritual leader.
- He is chosen "to shepherd the Assembly of God," (Acts 20:28).
- His responsibilities include but are not limited to;
- Supporting weak members, (Acts 20:35).
- Admonishing the wayward, (1 Thess. 5:12).
- Being alert for any teachings that would create divisions, (Acts 20:29-31).
- Elders must model the Christian lifestyle (Heb 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3), and set examples of liberality, (Acts 20:35).
The deacons (and deaconesses).
- To a large extent, effective Assembly leadership depends on the loyalty of the membership.
- Paul encourages believers to respect their leaders and "to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake," (1 Thess. 5:13).
- "Let the elders who rule well," he said, "be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine," (1 Tim. 5:17).
- "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account," (Heb 13:17; cf. 1 Peter 5:5).
- When members make it difficult for the leaders to perform their God-assigned responsibilities, both will experience grief, miss the joy of God's prosperity and will held accountable to Him personally for their behavior.
- Believers are encouraged to observe the leaders' Christ-like lifestyles. "Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith," (Heb 13:7).
- They should pay no attention to gossip.
- Paul warned, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses," (1 Tim. 5:19).
- The name deacon comes from the Greek diakonos, meaning "servant" or "helper."
- The office of deacon was instituted to enable the Apostles (pastors), to give themselves fully "to prayer and to the ministry of the word," (Acts 6:4).
The feminine form of the term appears in (Romans 16:1, 9).
- Although deacons were to care for the temporal affairs of the Assembly, they were also to be actively involved in evangelistic work, (Acts 6:8; 8:5-13, 26-40).
Like elders, deacons are also selected by the Assembly on the basis of moral and spiritual qualifications, (1 Tim. 3:8-13).
The Lord placed Pastors in the Assemblies, the Assemblies elected Deacons.
- Translators have rendered this word either as "servant" (KJV, NIV), or "deaconess" (RSV).
- The word and its usage in this text suggest that a deaconess may have served in the Assembly, at the time Paul wrote the book of Romans.
The Discipline of the Assembly.
- No deacon is to usurp authority over a pastor. He is servant of the Assembly not it leader.
- Christ gave the Assembly the authority to discipline its members and provided the proper principles for doing so.
The Authority of discipline.
- He expects the assembly to implement these principles whenever necessary, to maintain its lofty calling of being a "holy priesthood" and "holy nation," (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Peter 2:5, 9).
- Yet the Assembly must also attempt to impress upon the erring members their need of amending their ways.
- Christ commends the assembly of Ephesus because it "cannot bear those who are evil" (Rev. 2:2), but He rebukes the assemblies of Pergamus and Thyatira for tolerating heresies and immorality, (Rev. 2:14-15, 20).
- Just as our assemblies apply Biblical principles in admitting someone to membership, so too must we apply Biblical principles in the governing of the membership and, if necessary, in removal from membership.
- Jesus prescribed principles to follow, which make all of us to some extent responsible for each other's behavior, and He included disciplinary procedures, (Matt. 18:15-17).
- It is in this context that He gave the first Assembly the responsibility to pronounce His forgiveness and His judgments.
The only fact that we want to establish at this time, is that the Lord Jesus does indeed intend for His Assemblies to govern their members, even to the extent of disciplinary measures when these become necessary, and that He authorizes and commands such.
- Read the words of Jesus carefully as recorded in Matt. 18:18, "Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
- Of course, the ratification in heaven of what the Assembly does on earth, is contingent upon the Church's acting in obedience to Christ and His principles, without hypocrisy or favoritism.
- This text clearly confirms that Christ will ratify what His Assemblies do, according to the rule He has given them to act by,
- It is therefore a terrible text to those who are justly and duly 'cut off' from the communion of the Assembly.
The Assembly does not have authority to ignore persistent sinful behavior among its members.
- Let us not think that this is simply an optional power to act, for all of the Lord's instructions are given in the imperative, by that we mean they are direct commands.
- Therefore, if ignored we stand in disobedience to God's Holy Word.
The Necessity or Purpose of Discipline . . .
- Our Lord has not left that option open to us.
The necessity and purpose of Congregational discipline can be readily exhibited in six particulars.
- To glorify God by obedience to His instructions for the maintenance of proper Assembly spirituality and government.
To reclaim offenders.
- God's Word makes it plain that He intends discipline of various types to be a part of Assembly life, (Matt. 18:15-19; Romans 16:17; 1 Cor. 5; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 5:20, 6:3-5; Tit 1:13, 2:15, 3:10; Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20).
- It is always glorifying to God when we obey His Word rather than cater to our own ease and comfort.
- Since as the Lord's Assembly, we are bound to give full allegiance to Him as our exalted Head (which means to love Him and keep His commandments (John 14:15, 23-24; 15:10, 14), it is evident that our Congregations' honesty of heart, is tested when confronted with the choice between obedience and disobedience in this matter of the discipline of its members.
- Let us not be as those in Jeremiah's day, of whom it is written: "The word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it," (Jer. 6:10).
Discipline is also designed by our Lord to avoid profaning our communion with the Lord, which the Lord's Supper symbolizes, (1 Cor. 11:27).
- The goal in every type of discipline, whether it be gentle correction, admonition, rebuke, or exclusion from the Covenant relationship and Assembly, is always the restoration of the offender, (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 5:5; Gal. 6:1).
- None of the Biblical instructions in this matter promise that restoration will result.
- Nevertheless, God's wise directions as to how a disobedient member is to be brought to repentance, are to be respected and obeyed.
- Thus, while we might be inclined simply to pray about the matter, God commands action to accompany our prayers.
- The apostle's instructions concerning an offender, "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3:15), set the tone for this grievous work.
- Although exclusion also punishes the man, woman or youth, it does so in such a way that, by forewarning him of his future condemnation, it may call him back to Covenant salvation.
Assembly Discipline also displays the integrity and honor of Jesus and His Written Word.
- We shall never be able to keep the Assembly in perfect purity, since we are but fallible men.
- Our inability to achieve perfection in this matter, however, is no excuse for giving up the attempt.
- We must maintain the purity of the glorified Savior's Assembly, to the full extent of our knowledge and power.
- This is all the more evident once we recognize that false doctrine and bad conduct are infectious.
- If these are tolerated in the Assembly, all members will receive hurt, (1 Cor. 5 -- "a little leaven leavens the whole lump").
- On the other hand, if Assembly discipline is exercised in punishing sin according to the pure Word of God, and if Christ Jesus is acknowledged as the only Head of the Assembly, we will experience the sanctification of the Lord, fellowship with one another and communion with our Blessed Savior.
A fifth purpose for discipline is to deter others from sin, (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20).
- This is done as the Assembly is exhibiting fidelity to His principles, (2 Cor. 2:9, 17).
- By Obedience to the Word, we confirm that God's Word is true.
- The Assembly which refuses to exercise discipline, can neither command the world's respect nor the confidence of its own members.
- If we reject Assembly discipline, we reject a portion of the Word of God and question the validity of the whole.
Last but not least, it is to prevent giving cause for God to set himself against any Assembly (Rev. 2:14-25), due to carelessness.
Different Modes of Discipline . . .
- By the faithful practice of discipline, rebellious self-indulgence is repressed and virtue nourished.
- The modes or types of Assembly discipline vary from the mild to the severe.
- Discipline is a form of training and instruction in the holiness of God, and has our full redemption as its goal.
- The following are biblical methods (modes) of discipline:
- Admonition -- either private or public (Romans 15:14; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Tit 3:10-11).
Reprove, rebuke, convince, convict, (Matt. 18:15; Eph. 5:11; 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Tit 1:9, 13, 2:15).
- The dictionary defines 'admonish,' as 'to put (one) in mind to do a duty; to charge authoritatively, to exhort, to urge always with an implied reference to the danger or penalty of failure.
- The Scripture itself is a form of admonition, (1 Cor. 10:11).
- Fellow members ought to admonish and encourage one another, for example, to do the work of personal evangelism (witnessing from house to house), and to attend all the meetings of the Assembly, (Heb 10:24-25). Witnessing is where 'sheep beget sheep, and pastors shepherd sheep.'
Furthermore, members will help one another "grow up into Him in all things," if they will obey the apostle's admonition to be "speaking the truth in love," (Eph. 4:15).
- The Greek word 'elegcw' (elegcho), which is used in the passages just cited, is a rich word which means '. . . to rebuke another with such effectual wielding of the victorious arms of the truth, as to bring him, if not always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction, of his sin . . . ' (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, p. 12).
- This word is also used of the Holy Spirit's work in (John 16:8), and is found on the lips of the enthroned Christ in (Rev. 3:19), where he says: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
- Thus, proper rebuke is an act of love.
- The proper guide in such matters is the Word of God, which we are told is "profitable . . . for reproof," (2 Tim. 3:16).
- It is important that all of us practice loving admonition and rebuke in our relationships one with another.
- Many have been prevented from more serious misbehavior or error, by the gentle rebuke of a brother or sister in Christ -- especially those who are close and personal friends.
- If each of us would conscientiously apply admonition and rebuke, there would be less need for exclusion from the body.
- Knowing this, the faithful member is eager to help turn sinners to repentance before exclusion becomes necessary.
Exclusion . . .
- As each member gives thought to his or her responsibility, let it always be remembered that the only proper source of admonitions and rebukes, is the Word of God.
- This does not mean that we must always quote Scripture to one another, but it certainly does mean that the substance of all admonitions and rebukes, must be soundly and clearly scriptural.
- We are not to offer one another human ideas (psychological solutions); but rather, are to speak with the authority of "Thus saith the Lord."
- This should be done in humility, remembering that we ourselves are nothing but sinners saved by grace.
- Furthermore, repentance and faith constitute the way of salvation for all believers; thus we attempt to lead the wayward sinner on the same path which we ourselves must tread.
- We do not stand over them as superiors, but beside them as brothers and sisters, (Gal. 6:1-3; 2 Thess. 3:15).
Thus this most severe of the forms of discipline, excludes the offender from the Lord's Assembly and from all the privileges of membership, including the hope of the Covenant promises.
- The descriptions given by our Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul define this final form of discipline:
- ". . . if he neglect to hear the Assembly, let him (or her) be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican," (Matt. 18:17).
- "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother (or a sister) be a fornicator (adulterer), or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat . . . Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person," (1 Cor. 5:11, 13).
Paul claims this sanction when he writes concerning the Corinthian situation, that the man is to be 'delivered to satan' (i.e., put back into the world which is satan's domain), "in the name of our Lord Christ Jesus" and "with the power of our Lord Christ Jesus," (1 Cor. 5:4).
- The one who is put out of the Lord's body, is assured of the judgment of God's Wrath at the judgment seat of Christ; to give an account to Him for all things done in the body.
- However, while the person must certainly be excluded from membership in the body, and from the Lord's Supper, he or she is not excluded from attendance to hear the Word preached and taught. Even non-believers are welcome to the public assemblies, (1 Cor. 14:23-25).
- That this form of discipline is unpleasant and a cause for mourning none would doubt, (1 Cor. 5:2).
- Nevertheless, this practice is sanctioned by our Lord in the New Covenant Scriptures, (Matt. 18:18-19).
It is not to be thought that exclusion is irreversible, for the person who repents of sin, whom seeks God's cleansing and pardon, is to be welcomed back into the fellowship of the Assembly, (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
- Paul states clearly and decisively that our Lord Jesus Himself, is the authority behind true exclusion from the New Covenant relationship.
For more on this subject, see discussion under the heading of "the Functioning Body."
- Indeed, it is the responsibility of God's people, to continue to pray for any persons thus removed from fellowship; that God will bring them to true repentance.
- Not just to confession of sin, but to repentance, which is a change of mind or heart that is evidenced by a change of direction and actions.
- On the other hand, so long as they remain unrepentant, they remain excluded from membership in the body.