27. Church Organisation And Work


Many aspects of the primitive church are worthy of consideration. We will study just two more – its organisation and its work.


The early church was not a democracy. It was an absolute monarchy with Christ as king. Paul describes Him as ‘God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords.’ 1 Timothy 6:15. As king He could declare, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Matthew 28:18.

Furthermore, we read, ‘And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.’ Colossians 1:18.

Since Christ, the only head of the church, is seated at the right hand of the Father, Hebrews 10:12, we may conclude that the headquarters of His church is with Him in heaven.

As previously suggested the word ‘church’ is used in the Scriptures in both the universal and congregational senses. However, no universal organisation is mentioned in the New Testament.

When congregations were organised, each was absolutely independent in the conduct of its affairs and was responsible only to the reigning monarch, Jesus Christ.

We might suppose that a system devoid of synods and conventions would produce religious anarchy. Such was not true. Since all congregations were bound by the teaching of Christ, all taught and practised the same things.

But while there was no organic relationship among these congregations, they were united by the strongest tie of all – love. Hence, they co-operated with one another that the Lord’ work might be advanced.

In the absence of written guidance (the New Testament was only then being written) the early church was instructed in doctrine by the apostles. We have the same direction today in the New Testament.

Jesus had appointed twelve apostles before His crucifixion, and when Judas, who betrayed Christ, committed suicide, he was replaced by Matthias, Acts 1:26. Other than this, the original twelve had no successors.

When James was killed, Acts 12:2, we do not read that anyone took his place. Paul was a special apostle with a commission to go to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15, but his apostleship should not be confused with that of the twelve. When the last of the apostles died, the apostolic office died with them.

An apostle was required 1. to have accompanied Jesus in His personal ministry, and 2. to have been a witness of His resurrection, Acts 1:21-22. No living man can meet these qualifications.


In the first century each local assembly was under the guidance of men known as elders. Sometimes they were called bishops, overseers, or pastors, but all of these terms refer to the same office in the church.

They were elders because they were older, especially in experience; bishops or overseers because they ‘oversaw’ the work of the church; pastors because they shepherded the flock.

They were ordained by evangelists. (The word “ordain” means to appoint and does not necessarily imply a special ceremony.) As spiritual shepherds, they led the church and directed its teaching. The Scriptures indicate that there were a plurality of elders in each congregation.

The qualifications of bishops were very strict. When Paul writes, ‘A bishop then must be blameless, etc.’ 1 Timothy 3:2, he clearly implies that one who does not possess the listed qualifications cannot serve in that capacity.


The word deacon means servant. While the function of deacons is not described, the title indicates that they were servants of the church. They served under the guidance of the elders. Nothing in the Bible indicates that they were to direct the church in its spiritual affairs.

The seven men appointed by the apostles in Jerusalem to care for the needs of widows, Acts 6, have been called deacons, although this term is not specifically applied to them.

Whether or not they were deacons it appears that the work of deacons included the service performed by these men. The qualifications of deacons were similar to those of elders, one of the major differences being that a deacon was not required to be able to teach.


Another important function in the early church was performed by evangelists. The word evangelist means ‘a preacher of the gospel.’ The young preacher Timothy was told, ‘do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.’ 2 Timothy 4:5.

In this ministry he was to ‘Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.’ 2 Timothy 4:2.

Timothy was not ‘the’ minister, but ‘a’ minister. Since minister means servant and every Christian has a service to perform, every Christian is a minister, although not every Christian has the ministry of publicly preaching the gospel.

But while every disciple of Christ is a minister, not all are evangelists because these men have the responsibility of preaching the Word, establishing churches, appointing elders, etc.

An evangelist is any gospel preacher, whether he works for a long period in one community or travels from place to place in his labours. It should be noted that preachers were not called pastors. The shepherds of the flock (pastors) were the elders, not the preachers.


Paul once wrote, ‘if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.’ 1 Timothy 3:15.

Since the church was the pillar and ground of the truth, its primary responsibility was to make the truth, the word of God, known to men for the salvation of their souls.

In the apostolic age the work of preaching was done through the church rather than by a separate missionary society.

Each Christian was to realise his personal responsibility as a worker for Christ. Thus, when Christians in Jerusalem were scattered by persecution, they ‘went everywhere preaching the word.’ Acts 8:4. Every disciple was a preacher, not publicly of course, but each taught his friends and neighbours as he had opportunity.

The church existed to serve as well as to save. Therefore, when Paul travelled among the congregations in Greece and Macedonia, he took up a collection in each for the poor in Jerusalem.

Of the responsibility of serving, Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’ Galatians 6:10.

James admonishes, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ James 1:27.

It should also be observed that the message of salvation is often presented through the ministry of service.



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