CHRIST ALONE OUR LEADER
Why Does Christ Assembly Teach a Plurality of Elders and No Clergy?
God gave the church only one Head, Jesus Christ, that He might have the preeminence in all things (Colossians 1:18). God draws people into the church by faith in Jesus Christ through grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus emphasized that His body has many diverse members, each one essential to the proper function of the whole body (Romans 12:3-5). Jesus never intended the diversity of spiritual gifts to cause divisions or ranks within the Body of Christ, but rather that “all the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25), so that the individual members suffer and rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Spiritual Unity. God bestowed spiritual gifts upon members of the Body of Christ for the edification and unification of the members, so that they may all be one in Christ, the Head of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12). Jesus prayed earnestly for this unity, that all believers may be one, even as He is one with His Father (John 17:21). God commands believers to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). To that end, God has “called believers in one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). As Head of the Church, Jesus Christ personally leads His followers as a Shepherd tends His flock (John 10:10-17). He never intends for His followers to suffer divisions or seek personal glory, but to abstain from following men or dividing themselves into ranks or factions (1 Corinthians 3:1-9). The ministry flows from the spiritual gifts given to all believers, not from offices or officers within the church. Many people forget this essential pattern of New Testament practice.
Avoid Titles. Jesus specifically taught His disciples to avoid titles that exalted one believer above another believer. In Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus told His disciples to call no man “Rabbi,” “Father,” “Teacher,” or “Leader.” Calling any believer a “Teacher” or “Leader” of the church or bible study specifically violates the command of Christ to avoid such titles. He alone is the Teacher and shares that title with no man (Matthew 23:8). Jesus warned His disciples to beware of such respectful greetings in public (Mark 12:38). Religious leaders, such as the scribes and pharisees, loved the honor and prestige bestowed upon them by the crowds, but Jesus warned His disciples to avoid such self-importance. Some people today love titles like “Reverend” or “Father.” These titles spread division in the body of Christ by separating people into ranks: clergy and laity. Jesus has only one Body and He alone is the Head of that church (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Ephesians 1:15-23). The Bible teaches that Christ alone should be first in all things, and that all believers should treat one another as brothers and sisters (Matthew 23:8). No one should pretend to be any more important than any other believer (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). In fact, Jesus said that the greatest among believers shall be the servant of believers (Matthew 23:11).
Servant Leaders. Jesus created His body of believers for “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Among those good works, Jesus emphasized loving service to God and our neighbors (Mark 12:28-34). He also emphasized that every believer has a duty of service to God (Luke 4:8; Colossians 3:24).
Priesthood of All Believers. Every believer stands before God as a priest of God (1 Peter 2:9-10), to perform the services of a priest, offering both himself and all that he possesses as sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1-2). As priests, we exercise God’s spiritual gifts in the humility of daily self-sacrifice (Romans 12:3-8). Pastors and teachers use their gifts to equip believers, so that believers may perform the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13). Believers, gifted by God, and not “the clergy,” perform the work of ministry. Believers alone comprise one body, which Christ anointed for the work of service to all other believers as His holy priests (1 Peter 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 1:21-24). Great damage has been done to the church through some men and women anointing themselves as leaders in charge of the ministry. Through spiritual gifts, apportioned by God as He deems best and with at least one spiritual gift bestowed upon every believer, the Holy Spirit energizes believers to perform the work of ministry. One man or one woman ministry never formed the pattern for assembly practice. God did, however, provide an organizational structure for the church.
Overseers and Deacons. God set (ἔθετο) some “elders” (“πρεσβυτέρους“) within the local church as Church Overseers (“ἐπισκοποῦντες“). I once believed elders and overseers were interchangeable terms, but careful study changed my understanding that the New Testament has two church offices: (1) Church Oversees; and (2) Church Deacons. In Acts 20:17, Paul called the Ephesian elders of the church (“τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς ἐκκλησίας“) to gather to him. Referring to those same men, he told them in Acts 20:28 to “be on guard for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers (“ἐπισκόπους“), to shepherd (“ποιμαίνειν“) the church of God. . . .” God called these men “overseers.” They performed the work of “shepherding” the church at Ephesus. The Holy Spirit had appointed them to the office of “overseer,” but even then the overseers were “among” the flock (“ἐν ᾧ“), denoting that they came from the flock and labored within the flock. Titus 1:5, 7 also shows that Paul directed Titus to appoint elders as Overseers. The qualifications in Titus 1 refer to Church Overseers, not elders. See also 1 Peter 5:1-2 for the function of elders in the congregartion. Some elders held the office of Church Overseer, but not all elders. The Office of Church Overseer came with specific qualifications, but no qualifications were required for elders. Acts 6:1-6 describes “deacons” (“dιακόνους”) as spiritual men, who oversaw the feeding ministry and also preached the Word of God (see Stephen and Philip in Acts 7 and 8). Later, the office of deacon became a part of the church, with specific qualifications for holding office of Church Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). As believers, we must obey (“πείθεσθε“) the esteemed ones (“ἡγουμένοις“) of the church, and they must act as men who will give an account to God of the souls they watch over with joy (Hebrews 13:17). Therefore, we recognize both Church Overseers and Church Deacons as offices within the church. The Office of Apostle passed away, except for Jesus the Apostle, because no one can meet the qualifications of the Office of Apostle today. The Spiritual Gifts of the Shepherds and the The Spiritual Gift of Apostle should not be confused with the Church Office of Overseer and the Office of Apostle. Elders do not rule the church, but they must lead.