The Organization of the Church

“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.”
—Titus 1:5

THE BIBLE MAKES IT clear that the word church is translated from the Greek word ekklesia meaning ‘a calling out.’ The present Gospel Age is the time when this selection of a people for God’s name (Acts 15:14), or the church class, takes place. Most people think of a church as a structure where God is worshiped. In the early church they had no special structure that they would call a church. Being Jews, they went to the Temple to witness to other Jews. In order to learn how the church was to be organized we have to go back in time to the Early Church.

The Scriptures do not indicate that the various local groups of ‘called out’ ones in those early years of Christianity had any elaborate organizational arrangements, nor does the Bible teach that this was God’s design for the church as a whole. However, the disciples at that time were not without some organization. Their meetings were not without order, and various privileges of service were assigned to different ones according to their several abilities.

In the Early Church organization Jesus was universally recognized as the Head. This was in keeping with Jesus’ own instructions to his disciples when he said, “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” (Matt. 23:8) Paul wrote, “Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” (Eph. 5:23) In I Corinthians 11:3 he presents the same thought, saying that “the head of every man is Christ; … and the head of Christ is God.”

Jesus is not only the head of his church,he is also its foundation. “Other foundation can no man lay,” wrote Paul, “than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 3:11) In Ephesians 2:19,20 the church is referred to as “the household of God,” and is declared to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

The Apostle Peter wrote, “It is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” (I Pet. 2:6) Peter’s affirmation that Jesus is the ‘chief corner stone’ in Zion, the church, is especially noteworthy in view of the misunderstanding which has been attached to Jesus’ statement, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”—Matt. 16:18

This assertion has been misconstrued to mean that Peter was to be the ‘rock’ upon which the church of Christ would be built. But this interpretation is at once seen to be in error when we discover that Jesus used two different Greek words in making the statement. When he said, ‘Thou art Peter,’ the Greek word translated Peter is petros, meaning a ‘piece of rock.’ But when he said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church,’ he used the Greek word petra, meaning a ‘mass of rock,’ a boulder.

Peter had just said to Jesus, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) Jesus was pleased with this confession. We might paraphrase his reply to Peter in order to get its meaning a little clearer, “Peter, your name means that you are a small piece of rock, a pebble. But by comparison with the meaning of your name, the great fact of my Messiahship, and that I am the Son of God, is as a great mass of rock, a great boulder, and the church will be built upon me as its foundation.”


In the Divine arrangement the entire church, from Pentecost to the end of the age, was to be served by twelve apostles specially appointed by God. It was in keeping with this that Jesus chose just twelve men to be associated with him during his ministry in order that they might receive personal training from him. These were Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas.—Matt. 10:2-4

Judas proved unfaithful and the Scriptures indicate that Paul was chosen by the Lord to take Judas’ place. They decided upon Matthias. However, this action was taken before they received the Holy Spirit, and there is no evidence that the Lord honored their choice. Matthias’ name does not appear after this.

The word apostle means ‘one who is sent,’ or a delegate, an ambassador of the Gospel. From this broad standpoint every Christian is an apostle, for we are all ambassadors of Christ. In fact, the word is used in the Bible with reference to others than the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This does not mean that they occupied the same high position of authority in the church as that given by Divine appointment to those specially chosen by the Lord.

In John 17:12 Jesus refers to these Divine appointees as those whom his Heavenly Father had given him. These special apostles did not select each other for the position, so they had no authority to select Matthias to take the place of Judas. Just as the Lord had selected the others, so in his own time and way he selected Paul and gave him authority as one of the twelve.

The twelve apostles were more than mere preachers of the Gospel. They were miraculously inspired by the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to speak and write the truths of the Gospel with authority and accuracy. Their word was, and is, law to every Christian. It is because of this authoritative position which they occupy in the organization of the church that the completed church—likened to a “city”—is shown to have twelve foundation stones and in these stones are written the names of “the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”—Rev. 21:14


In Ephesians 4:11 the Apostle Paul informs us that the Lord provided for other servants in the church; that, in addition to apostles, he arranged for prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Peter speaks of the Old Testament writers as God’s “holy prophets.” (II Pet. 3:2) These wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. The Christian takes their word, even as that of the apostles, as authoritative. (II Pet. 1:21) When Paul speaks of ‘prophets’ as servants in the church he uses the term in a much broader sense, applying it to public expounders of the Gospel.

These prophets and teachers are all essential servants in the church, but not inspired as were the twelve apostles. Nor are they appointed in the same miraculous way, as were the apostles. Paul instructed Titus to “ordain” elders in every city. —Titus 1:5

The expression in the New Testament, “laying on of the hands” is, according to the Greek text, more properly the stretching forth of the hand, as in voting. (I Tim. 4:14) The clear implication is that by apostolic authority the lesser servants of the church were to be appointed, or elected, by the congregation, which they were to serve.


Thus while Jesus is the head over the whole church, from Pentecost throughout the entire age, and the apostles also its inspired servants for the entire age, all the other servants were to be chosen by the brethren themselves, as they were needed, and as there were opportunities to serve.

The scriptural term ‘elder’ applies generally to all who serve the church along spiritual lines. A pastor, a teacher, an evangelist, or a prophet would come under the general designation of elder. The Greek word presbuteros, from which it is translated, signifies one who is mature. In the church it would describe one who is recognized as being sound in the faith and spiritually mature in experience.

The word ‘bishop’ is also used in the New Testament, and applied to servants elected by the church. The Greek word episkopos, from which it is translated, means ‘superintendent’ or ‘overseer.’ All elders are properly, according to opportunity and ability, overseers in the church; for it is their duty to watch over the flock of God and care for their needs, particularly along spiritual lines.

The word ‘deacon’ appears a few times in connection with the arrangements of the Early Church. It is a translation of a Greek word diakonos, which means to ‘run errands,’ or give assistance. The indications are that deacons were appointed to help with the material arrangements of the church. The first of these to be appointed were in the church at Jerusalem. See Acts 6:2-4.

The scriptural qualifications for those who can properly be elected by a congregation to serve as elders, or “bishops,” and “deacons,” are set forth by Paul in I Timothy 3:1-13. In these qualifications the expression “apt to teach” implies a proper understanding of the truth of the Divine plan as taught in the Bible. Any group of consecrated brethren, large or small, which has brethren who meet these qualifications, are authorized by the Scriptures to elect them to these services. When this is done, these appointments are recognized by the Lord.

The Scriptures make it clear that no group of Christians needs to look to a parent church for authority to elect servants, hold meetings, and carry on the work of the Lord in its community.

Nor do congregations need to be large in order to exercise their liberty along these lines. The Biblical record is that many of the churches or groups of Christians in apostolic times were organized in the homes of believers, and held their regular meetings in these homes.

The same thing is being done today. As in the past, the Lord is richly blessing those who find others with whom they can cooperate as a group—or within the scriptural meaning, a church. These can elect their own servants by the simple method of stretching forth the hand. No membership roll is needed, nor is such authorized by the Scriptures.

There is not much in the Scriptures to indicate the nature of the meetings held by the various groups in the Early Church. Certainly the apostles, and others, on occasion, gave discourses. But profitable meetings can be held even though there may be no one qualified to preach a sermon.

Meetings for Bible study in which all present have an opportunity to express their thoughts, are very helpful. An elder, if one has been elected, should serve to keep the study orderly. Prayer and testimony meetings are also spiritually profitable to those who are seriously endeavoring to know and do God’s will. Wherever possible an elder should preside. There is definitely no need for any hierarchy.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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