What is God's Plan for His Church
By Allen Rhoades
It’s Sunday morning - time to dress-up, get in the car, and travel to church. Once there, you meet a few people and sit down. From here the next hour or so is directed to you. Starting with the music leader, you sing the selected songs. Then it proceeds to the pastor teaching you God’s Truth while you perhaps say an “Amen” or just say nothing. Afterwards you meet with a few people and then get into the car to travel back home.
This too closely describes church for many believers. With the exception of a pastor allowing a member of the laity to teach some subgroup of the church or sing a special, your input into the gathering of believers is to sit down and remain silent. You hear things you mostly believe is from God (if not you switch churches to find a new speaker) and quietly discern what to reject as not from God. Thus the search for the Truth becomes a passive spectator sport.
God is the ultimate authority. He is your Lord and Master - the one you must obey. You owe Him your complete love with everything you’ve got. He is your Creator, Savior, and Judge; the one before whom you will stand and give an account of your actions.
Are you doing what He says? How do you know what He says? These are very serious questions as ignorance will be no excuse when you stand before Him, even if your ignorance of His truth is from following a preacher who speaks what is not true. You are responsible to God for yourself.
This is an awesome responsibility which cannot be delegated to another. God and His Truth need to be your life’s all-consuming search.
While this responsibility is solitary, your life is not to be. In fact, a big part of your answering to God will be for what you’ve done, or not done, for others. Did you “love your neighbor as yourself?”
God Reveals His Truth
God reveals Himself and His Truth. You need the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth. The scriptures were written when holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit is in you and your fellow believers to lead into all truth.
This all-consuming search for God is done with an honest heart before Him, reading His written Word and gathering with other seekers. The portion of scriptures on gathering together that is quoted most often is “not forsaking the gathering of yourselves together”. The fuller context of God’s Word from Hebrews 10 is as follows:
23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
This command to gather together is part of the command to encourage and exhort each other. Does this describe your gathering? Will you be able to stand before Him having obeyed His command to exhort the brothers? Have you considered them in order to stir up love and good works? Have you learned from their exhortation, knowing that His Day is coming? Have you been stirred up to love and good works from the brothers?
If your church experience closely resembles the norm then the answers to this question may not be the one you would like. Or perhaps you’ve decided that the exhortation of the brothers is best left to the professionals.
God’s Plan for His Church
God’s plan for the assembly of believers is not what is being practiced now. Our meetings have followed a history based on the model of papal authority instead of God’s authority. God’s word is opposite to what we practice in three key areas:
1. The leadership of the church is always a plurality.
2. The leadership of the church and those gifted to speak are not the same.
3. The command is for all believers to warn, encourage, exhort and discern. Not just the leaders or those gifted to speak.
As I write on these things, test the spirit and see if these things are not evident from what the Holy Spirit has already shown in the scriptures. I have no new or special revelation from God; however, God has placed on my heart the need for His people to share and learn from each other as He commanded.
Do not replace God’s commands with the commandments of men. Whether it be mine, another’s, or your own words; always let your heart cry “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Especially when the commands of God are against your traditions - the ways you are accustomed to and comfortable with.
The Church Leadership
God setup a system of leadership in His Church. But while many believers feel that there must be the ‘one’ main leader to prevent bad and accomplish good, God establishes a plurality of leaders.
Elders are Bishops
Many churches use the qualifications of a bishop (the same word as overseer) from I Timothy as the qualifications for their main leader. Thus they equate a bishop as referring to their main leader, under which some churches choose to set up a board of elders. However, the bishop is one and the same as the elder. This is quite clear in the scriptures.
5For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—6if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
27For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28Therefore
take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,
to shepherd the
I Peter 5
1The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Not only are bishops the same as elders but they are always plural. Even in a single church as noted in the previous verses from Titus and Acts and in the following verse from Acts. Also notice that the scriptures show the elders appointed from the believers at that church.
23So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Note that Acts and 1 Peter 5:2 also entrust the elders with the shepherding responsibility which would make them pastors (the same word as shepherd). The English word ‘pastor’ has one reference in the scriptures from Ephesians:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.
This is one of several portions explaining we are one body each with differing gifts. To use this reference to say a shepherd or pastor is the one head gifted leader is directly opposite of what is being said. Such misuse is the creation of a new position that did not exist in the church and is not presented in the Word of God. The scriptures teach of a single Head of the body, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Conclusion on a
Leader Single Church
There are many fine preachers who are known as The Reverend, The Pastor or The Head Pastor. This refers not to being one of the elders or overseers but as the lead authority for that church. But on who’s authority do they claim their authority? By the authority of their congregation? By the authority of their religious denomination? By the authority of their Bible college? We know that it needs to be by the authority of God. If by His authority then where did He give it?
Remember that you will stand before Christ. Do not fail to gather together as He has commanded. To gather together around a single main leader is just as contrary to God’s Word as having your infant baptized; neither is specifically prohibited by the scriptures but both go against what God has established. But this is only the start of how we fail to gather as He commands. Merely substituting several leaders to give the Sunday morning sermon instead of a single leader still denies the gathering of the body with its differing gifts and the command to all to exhort.
Let us first look at the portions of His Word on the gifts. Note that to each one of us some gift is given and think about what form a gathering of gifted believers would take.
1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
3For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone
who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt
to each one a measure of faith. 4For as we have many
I Corinthians 12
4There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
27Now you are the body of Christ, and
7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love
I Peter 4
10As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11If anyone speaks, let him speak as the utterances of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Do we use our gifts today? Did God stop providing gifts to His body? Or do we endeavor to fit God’s gifts into man’s structures?
Speaking and Leading
Notice that the gifts to speak are listed separately from the gift to lead. Also Peter’s encouragement to those gifted to speak is in the main portion of his letter to the ‘pilgrims scattered’, not in the later exhortation directed to his fellow elders. In Acts two deacons, Stephen and Philip were preachers of His word. Although it may not be allowed at your church, the gift to speak has been given by God to believers who are not elders.
Not all elders have the gift to speak. 1 Timothy says “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Note the distinction means that not all elders labored in word and doctrine. Does this seem odd to you? May the Spirit use this odd feeling to impress on you whether these words are from Him and what you should do about it.
This is not to say that God cannot reveal His truth through a divinity-degreed leader during a forty-five minute span with a three point alliterated outline. But is it not contrary to what God has commanded (Romans 12:3) to promote this and fail to recognize that He has gifted some degreed and some non-degreed, some leaders and some non-leaders, to speak on His truth during varying time spans with a varying number of points?
If those gifted to speak - prophesy, teach, and exhort - are not recognized and encouraged then what edification that God has for us are we missing? Will we not be responsible to God for the truths we would have learned from our fellow believers whom God gifted to speak? Will you not be responsible for failing to use your gift to edify the body? Do you earnestly desire the best gifts as God commanded? It is a shame that we gather in His Name and refuse His gifts or contort them into our own constructs.
What We Should Do Now
To have each believer use God’s gift to edify the body would make a great improvement in His church. So we need to gather together to listen to those He has gifted to speak. Those whom God has not gifted to speak will have other gifts to edify the body.
Does a lack of the gift to speak require those so lacking to remain silent? Absolutely not. At least some gifts are a matter of degree and do not mean that those without the gift are completely lacking. Such is definitely true of the gift of faith and mercy. The absence of God’s gift of giving (Rom.12:8) does not preclude them from “distributing to the needs of the saints” (Rom. ). Likewise, those not gifted in teaching, exhorting, or leading are not precluded from their responsibilities to their fellow believers. So let’s look at some of our responsibilities to others.
The Believer’s Responsibility
The teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples are most often directed to all believers, hardly at all to just church leaders or to just those gifted to speak.
The two greatest commandments are to each person: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. These commands sum up all of your responsibility, the rest are details.
Christ is Your Lord
The scriptures teach that the head of every man is Christ. Christ died and rose that He may be our Lord; it is wrong to allow His Lordship of your life to be usurped by yourself or any other person. Let no one try to mediate between God and man except the man Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ, who has all authority, has given authority to teach His commandments. We are only exalting the Lordship of Christ when we teach His commands with authority. The problem is on whose commands are we teaching.
Christ is Their Lord
The scriptures teach that there are doubtful things on which believers may differ: one eats meat another is a vegetarian, one esteems special days another considers all days alike. The answer to these differences is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the believer with whom you disagree. Who are you to judge? (The concluding command to uphold the weak does not replace this truth on which it is based.)
If a believer goes against the commands of Christ then we should reprove them in love with the authority of Christ. But, again, many churches follow history instead of Christ and accept the doctrine of the Puritans. The Puritans were so ‘holy’ they even condemned righteous acts as sinful. They warned their congregations how insurance is against God. Likewise, how many sins have we invented, believing that God must have forgotten to include them in the scriptures? To judge a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ as in error or sinful or a heretic when they fail to follow denominational commands is itself against His command and is wickedly attempting to replace His Lordship. How much harm has been done to new believers who are told that to follow Christ they must obey commands He has not given.
In your responsibility to exhort the brothers, make sure that you do not confuse His commands with those things you feel He has impressed upon you. Both can be shared, but not with the same authority. Do not usurp the Lordship of Christ but rather establish it.
Exhorting Each Other
14Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
1Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
I Thessalonians 5
11Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
12And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
14Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you
12Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15while it is said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching