Why "organization"? Isn't there something inherently evil in being "organized"? What is the Church? Why a "church"? Is the Church which Jesus built only a loosely connected, disorganized, autonomous group of local "churches" — or is it, according to the Bible, an organization? I'M NOT leaving the Church," explained one in violent disagreement — "only leaving the 'organization'! I'll always remain solidly in God's Church, but I must repudiate the organization!"
But is organization — even of God's own Church — evil?
Can one withdraw from any active participation in the "organization" that is God's true Church — which is performing the Work of God by the power of His Spirit, fulfilling the Great Commission Jesus Christ gave His true disciples — and yet, somehow, "be in" the Church?
Let's see what the Bible clearly says, not using our own human reasoning, but searching the Scriptures to learn what the Great Almighty God, and His Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, say about it.
Millions reason they are somehow in God's true "Church" no matter what denomination, sect, cult, political organization, social club, or business affiliation they maintain. Millions like to believe that "most" all churches have "mostly good points," but, naturally, have "some points on which they might disagree." But "does this really matter, after all?" some reason. "Surely, since they believe in Christ, and in His 'atoning work,' they will get to heaven anyway, won't they?"
What Is the "Church"? Because of the false teaching, resulting from a completely misunderstood statement of Jesus Christ concerning the Kingdom of God, literally millions assume the "church" is a completely disjointed, loosely disconnected, ethereal, vague, nebulous, imaginary "something" that is "within" you!
Many assume that, collectively, the true Church (all those they assume are going to "heaven") might include "members" of literally dozens of "churches" of this world; denominations of all sorts. Whether liberal-minded Catholics actually believe any Protestants will "go to heaven" without ever becoming a Catholic is a moot point; but, it seems, many a professing Protestant Christian is willing to concede that millions of other Protestants (and perhaps even a few Catholics), though they disagree on many major points and belong to vastly different organizations, will eventually enter the "Beatific vision."
But is all this reasoning true?
And, even if millions might "think" it is — does that make it so? Is the true Church of God, the Church Jesus said He would build, just an "imaginary" body of "believers" who have no connection with each other, or any specifically organized group? May one "be in" the true Church of God, bearing fruit, fulfilling Christ's commands, carrying out His commission, without being a living, active member of an organization?
"I will build my church," Jesus said (Matt. 16:18). The Greek word for "church" in this passage is ekklesia — which can mean "called-out ones," or "specially chosen ones," or "body of believers"! It is a word which connotes "group," "body," "congregation" — a group of people! Through transmission of the Bible text into other languages, and especially resulting from the commonly misunderstood usage of the English word "church," the true meaning of what Jesus so plainly said has been lost from sight!
Today, a "church" is a "building," as often as it is a "group." The "Methodist Church" could be either a building on the corner, or the group of people who are called "Methodist" as an organization!
Jesus didn't imply He would build a building when He said, "I will build my ekklesia." He meant exactly what He said: He would construct, knit solidly together, consecrate, organize and commission His group!
Jesus — The Living Head That passage of Matthew's 16th chapter is only understood by careful comparison with many other scriptures, which make it clear that the "Rock" (Greek, Petra) to which Jesus referred was Himself, and the "pebble" (Greek, petros) was Peter. Jesus is plainly called "that Rock" (I Cor. 10:4) which followed the Israelites in the wilderness, and the Rock of our salvation (Deut. 32; Psalm 18:2, 31, 46; Psalm 31:2, 3).
Paul says Christ, not any human being, is the living Head of His Church (Eph. 1:20-23; 4:15). "And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Col. 1:17,18). He, not any man, is called the Head of the Body (the Church) and the "chief corner stone" (Col. 2:10,17; Eph. 2:20).
David said: "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the comer" (Ps. 118:22). Peter referred to this scripture, saying: "Wherefore also 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. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner..." (I Pet. 2:6-8).
Christ is called, at once, the "head," the "head of the corner," and the "chief comer stone," as well as the "capstone."
"... Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious comer stone, a sure foundation ..." (Isa. 28:16). Never did God the Father or Jesus Christ intend turning leadership of the Church over to men! Jesus Christ said, "Lo, I am with you always" in commissioning His disciples!
He, Christ, is the living, active, Head of His Church, just as He has always been!
An Organized Body It is not an analogy of men to refer to Christ's group of "called out ones," or His ekklesio (Church), as a body! Jesus said: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.... Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine [an integral part of the body!]; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (John 15:1-4).
Jesus used the obvious analogy of a growing, producing vine with roots firmly implanted in rich soil, the flow of life-giving sap through the main vine (Christ) to the major branches on to the smaller branches, and finally producing fruit! He said: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered [he has been cut off from the main trunk, and therefore from the life-giving flow that can come only from remaining a part of a tightly knit, integral body, together, as one living organism]; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (verses 5-6).
Jesus Christ of Nazareth makes it crystal clear that He is the living Head of His Church, His group of human beings who are called by His name, in whom is the very Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9). Each individual member is a part of a living, vital organism, having no life separate from, or apart from, that organism!
Though one might "reason around" in his own mind that by withdrawing from what he may contemptuously call "the organization" (God's Church!) he is, in fact, "remaining in the church," he is only deceiving himself — playing with meaningless words — and directly contradicting these powerful words of Jesus Christ Himself!
Jesus Christ organized His true Church! He said: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit..." (John 15:16). But unless one remains a part of that spiritual body, firmly attached to the main vine, he cannot "bear fruit."
Appearing to His own disciples after His resurrection, Jesus said: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world [the consummation of the age]" (Matt. 28:18-20).
Following the suicide of Judas (Matt. 27:5), Jesus inspired the apostles to select another man, Matthias (one of two men selected after lengthy discussion among the remaining eleven leaders, and the one finally chosen by lot), because He was determined to begin with the perfect governmental number, and a number representing organized beginnings — twelve! There were twelve tribes in Israel, and Jesus Himself described twelve future thrones (Matt. 19:28) upon which His own apostles will sit, judging the twelve tribes of Israel!
A Great Commission Jesus showed His group, His body of believers, His Church, would be a human, physical group of men and women — flesh and blood human beings — with a great Work to do!
"... And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Matthew's Gospel records Jesus' prophecy that His Great Commission to His true disciples would be fulfilled: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). Jesus, appearing again to His disciples following His resurrection, said: "Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so [in like fashion] send I you" (John 20:21).
Paul was inspired to write: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?" (Rom. 10:13-15.)
Jesus said: "Even so send I you," and made it perfectly clear that unless those who are sent (ordained) remain in the body, and firmly attached to the Branch (see Isa. 11:1), they are utterly cut off, can bear no fruit, and are not the chosen servants of Jesus Christ, who remains the living, active Head of His Church!
Jesus said: "As my Father hath sent me" — showing Christ came to perform a Work on this earth! He said: "My meat [my daily activity; my livelihood, my "occupation"] is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34).
Christ said His preaching of the gospel (which He repeatedly called the "work" or "my work") was only possible because He, Christ, stayed firmly joined to the Father! "... My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). And in verses 36, 37: "But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me."
Christ said: "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4); and, "... the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.... If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him" (John 10:25,37, 38).
Jesus Sent to Preach the Gospel What were those works to which Jesus continually referred?
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Jesus read from Isaiah, standing in the synagogue of Nazareth. Then He announced: "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:18-21).
Jesus said He was sent from the Father, and He sent His disciples in the same manner, for the same purpose: to preach the gospel! "Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all demons [Greek], and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-2).
"But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10:6, 7). He showed, after sending "other seventy also," that the harvest was plenteous, but the laborers few — saying: "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.... Go not from house to house.... heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:1-9).
When John the Baptist was in prison, about to be beheaded, he sent a few of his disciples to Jesus. They asked: "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:3-5).
Gospel of the Kingdom Continually, Jesus emphasized the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness to all nations! He said: "And the gospel must first be published among all nations" (Mark 13:10).
Mark's account of Jesus' commission to His disciples reads: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned [Greek, condemned]" (Mark 16:15, 16).
So, as Jesus was sent to preach the gospel, He also sent His disciples to do the same!
Christ did the Work of God: He called and trained His disciples, putting them through the maturing experiences they would need later. He rebuked and exhorted them, finally giving them of God's Holy Spirit, ordaining them into His own Church as His apostles, and sent them out into the world to fulfill the commission He gave them! That Great Commission is still being carried out today!
Organization Is Necessary It would be impossible to perform God's Work, either then or now, without the organization Christ Himself ordained. "Organization" is not a "nasty" word! It stems from "organism," meaning a living, vital collection of cellular tissue; a plant, or living creature; a part of God's creation having life and purpose and being.
Jesus Christ established government in His Church — insisting He would at all times retain ultimate authority! He never intended making any human being the Head of the Church!
But He did place the apostles in charge under the living Christ!
Throughout the book of Acts, you see examples of the government of God in action! At the Jerusalem conference, for example, came the first major test of the type of government Christ had established within His own organization.
"Certain men," who are unidentified (men with no official status within the Church who were unordained, and who were mainly affected by their past religious teachings — that of the Pharisees), "taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).
Apparently, Paul and Barnabas could not change their opinions.
It became necessary to go to higher authority to resolve the difficulty. Even though Paul was an ordained apostle (as was Barnabas), these "men" who were unauthorized to teach anyone — who were unordained — refused to believe them. Because of the effect it was having on the brethren, several of the leaders decided to "go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question" (verse 2).
Government Upheld Read the whole chapter. Think about it. The advocates of circumcision would surely have seemed to have every possible scripture on their side, wouldn't they?
Remember, not one scrap of the New Testament had even been written yet! There were no "New Testament" books of the Bible to which the apostles, or the dissenters, could turn. And almost everything they could read from the Old Covenant might strongly indicate circumcision was required!
Perhaps, however, one of the apostles hit upon Jeremiah 4:4, which says: "Circumcise yourselves to the Eternal, and take away the foreskins of y our heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem." But the major point which bore the most weight was experience! Notice how Paul and Barnabas reasoned that God had given the Gentiles His Spirit, that He had obviously not withheld salvation from them just because of their "uncircumcised" condition! Then Peter substantiated their words by showing that God had "put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (verse 9).
James then rendered a final decision (verses 13 through 21). He said: "Wherefore my sentence is [decision, choice, policy], that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood."
Later, it was said that the apostles "... went through the cities, [and] they delivered them decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4).
A Verbal Decision This decision was rendered orally! It was not based on any direct quotation of scripture you can find in the 15th chapter of Acts! Not once did any of those who spoke quote any "chapter and verse," but rather told of the experiences of practical day-to-day conduct of the Work, and of the fact that God had obviously given of His Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles!
Now, of course, since Luke kept record of these facts, and sent them to his friend Theophilus (Acts 1:1), we can read the account of this verbal decision! But the verbal decision was not based on something previously written, but on the facts of what God had done!
Notice the organization here! First, the dissident "teachers" began upsetting the brethren. Paul and Barnabas tried to dissuade them and convince them of their error. They refused to believe. Paul and Barnabas and other ministers decided to take the matter to headquarters (at Jerusalem, then) to higher authority. They did so. A decision was finally rendered, after all — sides had been heard!
But did this stop the false teaching that all must be circumcised in order to be saved? Did it end the controversy over circumcision? No — not at all — it only began it. From that time on, Paul's life in Christ's ministry among the Gentiles was to be plagued by continual persecutions from former or still active Pharisees who urgently insisted circumcision was required! They didn't believe in the official authority of God's headquarters apostles and ministry, as did most of the Church.
Next time, we shall see the many examples of God's government in action in His Church: government necessary to preach the gospel and do the Work of God, as well....as to settle doctrinal and procedural matters, and to protect the flock and conduct all matters of the Church.
(To be Continued)