The New Testament Church - Its Organization

One thing which sets the New Testament Church apart from manmade denominations is its organizational structure.  Denominations are structured in a variety of different ways.  Denominations may have conferences, councils, synods, etc. which oversee either all the churches in that particular denomination or perhaps churches in a particular region.  What sort of organizational structure do we find in place in the New Testament?

The church has as its head Jesus Christ who built the church and died to purchase it with His blood (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18).  The church is described as a kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19).  As a kingdom, Jesus is the One who possesses all authority over the church (Matthew 28:18).  The church does not establish what it is going to do or believe by some sort of democratic process where everyone gets a vote.  Remember the way of the majority can very well be the way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).  The church does not establish what it is going to do or believe by the decisions of a group of men.  When men say something different than the gospel, they are to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).  The church establishes what it is going to do or practice on the basis of what Jesus has authorized and by doing so does everything in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17).

Local churches are to be organized according to the pattern we read about in the New Testament (2 Timothy 1:13).  Local churches in the New Testament were established when a group of Christians in a particular locality decided to work together as a local congregation of God’s people (Acts 9:26-28).  As time progressed (sometimes it was not very long) a plurality of men would be appointed as elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).  These men would also be referred to in Scripture as bishops and pastors/shepherds.  After Titus is told to appoint elders in every city, we read, “for a bishop must be” (Titus 1:7, NKJV) because these two words are different ways to refer to the same group of men.  Peter addresses those who were elders and tells them to “shepherd the church of God … serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:1-2, NKJV).  Here we find all three of these terms used to refer to this same group of men.  In Acts 20:17 Paul calls for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at Miletus.  He will tell these men, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28, NKJV).  Here again we find elders being called overseers and being given the work of shepherding the flock of God.  No where do we read about a congregation having just one elder.  Each local church is to have a plurality of elders.  Additionally, the oversight of elders is limited to the “flock of God which is among you” (1 Peter 5:2, NKJV).  This would be one reason why each local church needs to have its own elders.  Men who would serve as elders must meet the qualifications given in passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  Local churches also would appoint men to serve as deacons who would perform various acts of service within the congregation (Philippians 1:1).  We find qualifications given for these men as well in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

We do not read in the New Testament of an organizational structure greater than the local church.  Denominations which have such an organizational structure are certainly not the New Testament church.  We do not read of churches in the New Testament having some other form of organization besides bishops, deacons, and saints (Philippians 1:1).  Denominations which have some different form of organization for their local churches are not following the New Testament pattern.  Let’s abandon any organizational structure not contained in the pages of Scripture and be content to follow the Lord’s pattern for how the church is to be organized.