does God govern his Church? Does God work primarily through one man? Is the
true Church structure like a pyramid?
For years most of us
with a Worldwide Church of God (WCG) background were taught that government in
the Church is hierarchical in form. Our understanding of hierarchical
government in the Church was that God worked primarily through one man and one
man alone. We believed God directed the Church by directing the top man and
everyone else through a descending chain of command. All power was invested in
the top man and delegated at his sole discretion. No doctrine, ordination, or
major decision could be made in the Church without authorization from the
The structure of
government in the Church took the form of a pyramid. The "earthly
head" was at the top of the pyramid. Underneath the "earthly
head" responsibility was delegated to men of lower rank, captains
thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. This structure, we were told, was
according to the instructions given to Moses in Exodus 18. Exodus 18 stood as
the primary example of how the Church should be organized according to the
Worldwide Church of God.
It was thought,
therefore, that Moses was at the top of the pyramid and that underneath him
were the captains of thousands, captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, and
captains of tens in descending ranks. This structure was transferred to the
New Testament Church by saying that "the Apostle" (Herbert
Armstrong) sat in Moses' seat as the "earthly head" of the Church.
Underneath "the Apostle" in rank were evangelists. Underneath
evangelists in rank were pastors. Underneath pastors in rank were preaching
elders; then elders; then local church elders; then deacons and deaconesses;
and beneath all of these ranks were the "lay" members "the
PRIMARY BUILDING BLOCKS of the Church" (Carl McNair, "How
The Church Functions: Roles and Duties of Members, Hosts, Deacons and
Elders," Global Church News, July-August 1994, p. 6). It
was taught that this structure was supported by Ephesians 4:11 and
In this paper, we will
examine the above-mentioned scriptures, along with others, to see the type of
Government God has used. We will prove that God does not primarily work
through one man. Instead, God always desires to have a direct relationship
with his people. God's government is not structured like a pyramid with
descending ranks. God uses the vine as the structure of government
in His Church.
How God Governed Israel in the Old Testament
To begin, let's look at how God governed the Church when he brought Israel out
of Egypt. In Exodus 18 we read about the institution of captains of thousands,
hundreds, fifties, and tens. Was this the beginning of government
in the Nation of Israel? Was this the institution of a government structure at
We generally tend to
read this chapter out of context as if Israel was in a total state of anarchy
prior to this incident. However, by taking note of the context first, we
immediately notice that prior to Exodus 18, there was government in Israel.
Israel had a natural form of tribal government -- the elder system. The elders
of Israel served as elected representatives of the families, tribal
sub-divisions, and tribes in the government of Israel. This representative
type of government was non-hierarchical and non-pyramidal. Elders served their
families as representatives and leaders giving counsel and guidance. They were
representatives of their families and tribes, not lords.
The elder system of
government differed vastly from the European hierarchical structure of lords
and serfs. Lords owned all the land; they had total power and made unilateral
decisions. In a hierarchical structure, authority and responsibility is
delegated downward. Lords are not accountable to those beneath them.
In the elder system,
however, every family owns their own land and therefore every family is a part
of the decision-making process. The elders are chosen
by the families in each family branch to represent the family at meetings of
tribal leaders. Each tribe of Israel subdivided into family branches. At the
time of the Exodus, the 12 tribes were subdivided into a total of 70 major
family branches. The elected elder of each of these family branches was one of
the council of 70 elders that went up with Moses on Mt. Sinai to see God
(Exodus 24:9). Though we are not given exact details, it is reasonable to
conclude that each of the 70 major family branches subdivided further into
smaller family groupings lead by elected elders.
In the elder system,
responsibility and authority is passed onto the representative from the
individual family units. This system therefore is not hierarchical; nor does
is divide the nation into ranks. Contrary to a hierarchical system, elders
are accountable to the family members who elect them.
Scriptural proof of
this is found in Exodus 3. In this chapter God calls Moses and sends him to
the elders of Israel. This verse establishes the fact that Israel had an elder
system of government; and God used this form of government to communicate with
the children of Israel. He did not abolish this tribal form of government. By
the way, this form of government is still practiced in many African nations.
Exodus 18 must be
understood in light of the fact that Israel already had a system of
government. The time setting of this chapter is also significant. Many assume
the events of Exodus 18 took place prior to the events of Exodus 20; but this
is not true. Exodus 18 is an inset chapter. This is proved by comparing Exodus
18:1-3 and Exodus 19. In Exodus 18 we read that Jethro meets with Moses at the
foot of Mt. Sinai. However, in Exodus 19 we are given the chronological
account of Moses' ARRIVAL at the foot of Mount Sinai. Thus we know that in
time sequence, the events of Exodus 19:1 occurred prior to the events of
Exodus 18. Furthermore, in Exodus 18:7 we find Jethro, after fully realizing
that the God of Israel truly is God, offering a sacrifice to the Eternal upon
the altar with Moses and the seventy elders of Israel. This could not have
been done prior to an altar being established at the foot of Mount Sinai. The
altar was not built until after Pentecost (when the law was given in the ears
of all Israel) and after Moses built the altar which we read about in Exodus
24. The day after Pentecost, Monday morning, Moses woke up early and built the
altar (Exodus 24:4). He then invited the seventy elders to a sacrifice with
God on Mount Sinai. Jethro's sacrifice to God would, therefore, have occurred
after this event.
With this background,
we can better understand the events that followed Jethro's sacrifice. It says
in Exodus 18:13
it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the
people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening."
What day was the next day? Why did the people come to Moses for judgment?
Verse 16 states,
they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and
another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws."
Notice, Moses was
judging the people in solving disputes. The reason people were coming to him
was due to the fact that they had just received the laws, the statutes, and
judgments from God on Pentecost. The day after Pentecost they offered
sacrifices, and the next day (the morrow), the Israelites came to Moses so he
could judge and solve disputes.
when God spoke to Israel, a carnal people, they did not want God to speak
directly with them. They asked Moses to be a mediator. God
yielded to their request, allowing Moses to stand as the mediator of the Old
Covenant. Moses therefore held a position unique in human history for he
typified Christ in a way that no other human ever would. No other human has
ever stood between God and man except Christ. As Moses was the mediator of the
Old Covenant so Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant and all have access
to Christ directly, not through a hierarchy of men.
Since the people did
not have a direct relationship with God, they needed Moses to judge them and
to solve their disputes. However, Moses could not judge the entire nation of
Israel by himself, so Jethro recommended the establishment of a judicial
system to solve disputes. Though this system was structured with captains of
thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, the system was non-hierarchical. In a
hierarchical system directives flow from the top down through a chain of
command. Thus in a hierarchy, the superior initiates contact with his
subordinate. However, in Exodus 18, we do not see the judges initiating
contact with those who had a disputes. Rather the reverse was true. When two
people had a dispute, they took their matter before the lower court, the
captain of ten, to have the matter resolved. If the captain of ten did not
know God's judgment in the matter (for all judgment was based on God's law and
the will of God), then the matter was carried to a higher court, captain of
fifty. This system prevented the smallest matters from going before Moses.
However, it was not a system that gave the captains of fifties power to direct
the affairs of those who were captains of tens. Neither did it empower those
who were captains of tens to direct the affairs of those they judged. They
simply made known the express will of God when a judgment was needed. These
judges also provided leadership because they were chosen from among those who
were already serving as elected elders.
Speaking of election,
it is also interesting to note that these judges were elected by the people; they
were not chosen from the top down by Moses. Notice this in
"How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your
burden, and your strife? Take you wise men, and understanding, and known
among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you."
Though Moses initiated
the judicial system and gave the judges their charge -- the judges were chosen
by the children of Israel from among those who were already serving as elders
(known wise men) in Israel.
So when we examine
Exodus 18 in its proper context, the events do not support hierarchical
government at all. Exodus 18 recounts the establishment of a judicial system
in the nation of Israel, not a government system; and the judicial system was
non-hierarchical. The idea that God established a pyramid form of government
in Exodus 18, by which he ruled Israel for all time is simply not scriptural.
This is further disproved by the very fact that God never
ordained successors to the seat of Moses with one typical and one actual
exception. That being the exception of Joshua as a type of Yeshua (Jesus).
Moses' mission was to
bring Israel from Egypt to the Promise Land. Yet, because of sin, Moses could
not complete his mission. The lesson for us is that with Moses alone we can
never enter the Promise Land. We need Yeshua to bring us in. This was typified
by Joshua (same in Hebrew as Yeshua) who was allowed by God to fulfill the
latter part of Moses' mission by leading Israel into the Promise Land. In that
one sense alone, Joshua sat in Moses' seat.
However, after Joshua
God appointed no successor -- proving that God never intended to
work through just one man. If God's government was hierarchical
and structured after the model of a pyramid, God would always have to appoint
someone to the top human position in order to lead his people. The very fact
that God appointed no one shows that God does not work through pyramids. Pyramids
are pagan structures built by civilizations who neither knew nor worshipped
the true God.
God allowed Moses to be
a mediator as a type of Christ, but even then God (Jesus) was Israel's king.
The mediation was meant to be temporary and even during the time of mediation,
God visibly led the entire nation by a pillar of cloud in the day and fire by
night. Every Israelite was expected to follow God. Once Moses died, God
expected them to follow him directly. They were to look to God as their
leader. That God expected this is clearly seen in 1 Samuel 8 in the account of
Israel asking Samuel for a human king. God's response to their request was:
unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have
not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over
them"(1 Samuel 8:7).
Patterns of God's Government
God's structure of
government follows a pattern or model evidenced in nature and in life. An
example of this is seen in our solar system by the relationship of the sun and
the planets that orbit around the sun. The sun's connection with each planet
is independent of the sun's connection to other planets. The sun has a direct
connection with each planet regardless of each planet's proximity to the sun.
The solar system is non-hierarchical. Yet the sun is clearly the ruling body.
Likewise in the human body, the head rules the body but not through a
hierarchy. We cannot say that the eye is over the hand because it's closer to
the head or a part of the head. Nor could we say that it is more important.
Every part of the body is equally important.
The same is true in the
Church. Jesus Christ (God) is the living head of the Church. He expects us to
look to him and to him alone and to follow Him. We are not to follow men.
Since we have God's Holy Spirit, we should not fall after the same example of
disobedience that we read about in 1 Samuel 8 by asking God to give us a man
to lead us. We should be content to follow God through his spirit.
In fact, we are warned
not to follow men in Jeremiah 17:5. Here the Eternal says,
be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart
departeth from the LORD."
God does not require
his children to have to trust men and what they tell us. That's why he has
given each one of us access to His Word. We have direct access to God.
The New Testament Church is a spirit-led church. It is not a human
organization. It is a spiritual organism where the living head is Jesus Christ
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"
God uses the vine to
typify organization of the Church. In God's model, every member is
a branch. Every member in the true church is connected directly
to Christ with no intermediaries. By using the vine, Jesus showed us that
God's government does not take the form of a pyramid. He did not give us the
idea that members are connected to him through a descending chain of command.
The structure of the church is not a tree structure. It is a vine structure.
The Apostle Paul
outlines the only chain of command that exists in 1Corinthians 11:3. He says,
I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head
of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."
The chain is from the
Father, to Christ to each family. Each family reports directly to Christ, not
through a chain of human leaders. Paul did not say the head of every man is
his local minister and the head of every minister is the local evangelist, and
the head of every evangelist is his apostle and the head of the apostle is
Christ. Such a structure would in fact contradict the very first commandment
because when we have men standing between us and God, we are guilty of
The scripture says no
man can serve two masters. Paul said, there is One Lord (Eph 4:5). Yet, in
hierarchical systems, those on lower levels have more than one Lord, for they
must answer to those who are above them in rank. Each rank exercises lordship
over those under them. To operate successfully in such structures, each person
learns to please the man above him in rank. But Paul said,
seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant
of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
You can't be a servant
of Christ and at the same time be required to follow the dictates of men.
There is only one true head that we need to submit to and that head is Christ.
all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to
the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in
all" (Eph. 1:22-23).
committed all judgment unto the Son: ... And hath given him authority to
execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man" (John 5:22-27).
We don't have to answer
to men. We are not accountable to the dictates of men. For this reason Paul
why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy
brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ"
structure of government hinders the leadership of Christ in the Church. As if
through a funnel, the works of Jesus are thought to be channeled through one
man, and from him they are thought to trickle down to the rest of the
congregation as delegated by the one man. In this model of government, Jesus
is thought to only communicate to members through the one man, who for the
church stands in the place of Christ. An example of this would be seen if God
were to give an unordained member the gift of healing or gift of prophecy. In
Churches using the hierarchical structure, such a member would not be allowed
to use the gift in the church without first seeking approval from the
ministry. In most cases, if a member claimed to have the gift of prophecy, he
was told that the spirit speaking to him may not be of God, but could be a
Recently, a long time
evangelist, trained by Herbert W. Armstrong, said that he would not accept
anyone who said they were a prophet unless God spoke to him first and told him
so. He even suggested that he may one day choose on his own to ordain someone
to the "rank" of prophet.
This type of hindrance
is common place in churches that are organized in a hierarchical manner. Such
structures stop Jesus from directly leading the Church. In effect, an
organization that incorporates an hierarchical form of government is telling
God that you cannot lead these members except through me.
How God leads
His Church: The Book of Acts
Now let's notice in the
book of Acts how God leads the Church of God by His Spirit. The true Church of
God is a Spirit-led Church. It is not the church of men or a man, but in every
sense the Church of God.
After Jesus was
resurrected and after he was seen by many in the space of about forty days, He
instructed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem and,
for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For
John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy
Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:4-5).
Before the arrival of
the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the disciples were all together in one place,
number about one hundred and twenty all together (see 1:15). Peter then
discusses with the entire group the need for a replacement for Judas. From
this discussion we learn a couple of things about the structure of the Church.
First, every disciple
was involved in the decision making process. When it says,
they appointed two ..." (v. 23),
it is apparent that
the entire 120 members participated in making this appointment. If
this had taken place in the days of WCG, the man at the top of the pyramid
would have made the decision and would not have involved the general
membership in the process.
Second, we see from
this example the true qualifications of an Apostle. True Apostles were in
every Biblical case, eye witnesses of the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Apostleship was a special gift given to the Church to bear witness that Jesus
rose from the dead according to the scriptures. This gift was given so that
the New Testament could be written. This is why Paul was inspired to write
that the Church was
upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself
being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20).
Third, we notice that
the saints did not seek their own will in this decision. Neither did they look
to any man for direction. They wanted God to make the final decision. Since
they did not yet possess the Holy Spirit they cast lots so that God's will
would be made know. However, once the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they
did not need to cast lots any more -- for God was in them and directed them
through His Spirit.
In Acts 2, we read
about the birth of the New Testament Church through the outpouring of God's
Holy Spirit. Contrary to the hierarchical structure, the spirit
was given directly by God to every member present. If God's form
of government was pyramidal, He should have given the Holy Spirit to Peter
alone, who in turn would have given it to the other Apostles, who in turn
would have laid hands on the rest of the one hundred and twenty to give them
the spirit. But it didn't happen that way.
God dealt with everyone
the same way. God acknowledged no ranks. Every saint received
the Holy Spirit; and every saint was given divine utterance and spoke in
tongues. God revealed that he planned to speak through all of the saints, not
just a special few.
In Acts chapter 6, seven men were chosen to serve in the Church. This incident
also reveals a lot about government in the Church. Notice first of all that
the Apostles did not choose the servants themselves. Instead, they said,
brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the
Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (v.
mirrored that which took place in Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1:13.
Secondly, we notice that the men who were chosen were charged with the moral
oversight of the food being distributed daily to the widows in need. Nowhere
in this chapter were they referred to as deacons. They were ministers in every
sense of the word, and were actually chosen as elders in the Church. Their
selection and the subsequent laying on of hands of the Apostles served to
confirm what God was already doing through them and to give them special
charge and oversight in the local Church.
These elders did not
take orders from the 12 Apostles. They were directed by Jesus Christ. Stephen
didn't have to seek permission from Peter to teach in synagogue -- he was
empowered by Christ (v. 8-10).
After Stephen was
martyred, we see that all of the saints were involved in preaching the gospel
and that they were not looking to men for instructions. We read,
at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at
Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of
Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles .... Therefore they that were
scattered abroad went every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:1,4).
From these verses we
clearly see that everyone was preaching the Gospel. The work
of God was not a one man show.
As the history of the
early Church continues in Acts 8:5, we are given the account of how one
disciple who was scattered by the persecution preached the word. We see
Philip, who was one of the seven going into Samaria preaching the gospel,
healing sickness and casting out demons. As a result of Philip's preaching,
almost everyone in the city got baptized. Philip didn't have to seek
authorization from "headquarters" before baptizing, he simply did
whatever the Spirit led him to do. Had he been a part of WCG, he would have
been disfellowshipped for acting without authorization.
when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received
the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:[this proves that
Philip acted without seeking approval from men, for they heard about it
after the fact] Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they
might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them:
only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they
their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts
The Apostles were given
a special gift to back up the witness they were giving of the resurrection.
Whomever they laid hands on received the Holy Spirit in a visible way. A
tongue of fire would fall on their head and they would speak in tongues. That
these visible signs were manifest is attested to by the fact that Simon the
that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given ...
" (Acts 8:18).
This special gift was
not given to the Apostles to prevent others from performing baptisms, but to
enhance the preaching of the Apostles' witness. God backed them in a special
way. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit given to all who repented, and were
baptized according to the scriptures (Acts 2:38). Peter said,
are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God
hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5:32).
Once Philip had
completed what God wanted him to do in Samaria the Spirit led Philip toward
the South unto Gaza where he met a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great
the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near and join thyself to this
chariot" (Acts 8:29).
Notice how the
Spirit was leading the Church
Those who teach the
hierarchical structure love to quote the next few verses which read,
Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and
said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except
some man should guide me? " (v. 30-31).
From this they say that
we need a man to guide us. However, they tend to forget that this conversation
took place while the eunuch was yet unbaptized and without the Holy Spirit. As
we continue reading though, we see that Philip preaches Jesus. As they passed
by water the eunuch asked to be baptized.
Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he
answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he
commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the
water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were
come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that
the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing."
Once baptized, the
eunuch didn't need a man to guide him anymore. The Spirit took the man away.
From henceforth the eunuch would be led by the Spirit. Jesus Is
The Living Head of His Church.
In Acts 9 we read about
the calling of the Apostle Paul. If the Church was structured like a pyramid,
then Christ should have revealed to Peter the "supposed chief
Apostle", that He was going to call Paul. In fact, Peter should have been
the one sent to Paul instead of Ananias. But God didn't reveal Paul's calling
to Peter at all. God called Paul and Paul began preaching immediately without
any mention of Peter. In Galatians, Paul elaborates on this fact to show that
his Apostleship was not from man. It's also interesting to note in Acts 9:20
that as soon as Paul was converted, he began preaching Christ. This would
never be allowed in a hierarchical structure. If a person came into WCG and
began preaching, even if he said God told him to do it, it would not be
allowed, and the person would be disfellowshipped if he persisted.
In Acts 10, God uses
Peter to bring the first Gentiles into the Church. In chapter 11:2 we find the
members contending with Peter for letting them come in. This proves that
Peter, like the elders of ancient Israel, was accountable to those he served.
He was not above the other saints in rank. He couldn't threaten to
disfellowship anyone who dared question him. Nor did he at any point attempt
to prove he was right by virtue of his "position" in the Church, for
there are no ranks in the body of Christ. Rather, Peter explains that God
revealed this to him in a vision, and based on what God was doing, and the
vision that Peter received "they held their peace"
In Acts 13 God speaks
directly to a small group of prophets and teachers. None of the original 12
were present. No instruction came to this group through a chain of human
leaders. The Holy Spirit simply said,
Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called
them" (Acts 13:2)
Again, by this example,
God clearly illustrates that His church is not organized in a pyramid
hierarchical manner. Once they were instructed by the Spirit, they did what
God directed them to do. If God tells you to do something, what more
approval do you need?
Acts 15 illustrates how
a doctrinal problem was solved. Notice that when this problem arose, Paul
didn't try to "pull rank." If he was at the top of a pyramid over
the Churches he served, there wouldn't even have been any need for a
conference. The fact that they held a conference, proves that there were no
ranks in the Church. It's also important to note that everyone in the Church
at Jerusalem participated in the discussion. In verse 4 we see,
were received of the church and of the apostles and elders, and they
declared all things that God had done with them."
Afterwards, the certain
Pharisees rose up and raised the dispute. Then they all got together to
resolve the issue with all the Apostles and elders. We know that the entire
Church was involved in the discussion because the multitude is referred to in
verse 12, and when James summarized the conclusion, we read,
pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church ... " (v.
We often quote Acts
17:11, but we don't often focus on the anti-hierarchical nature of the verse.
Starting in verse 10 we read,
the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who
coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble
than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all
readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things
were so" (vv. 10-11).
If Paul were at the top
of a pyramid, his word would carry some weight. But Paul didn't expect anyone
to accept his word. He had no authority of himself. Paul confirmed that all
authority rests in the Word of God. If each member of the Church must prove
everything from the Word of God himself, then each member need only follow the
Word of God. The Word of God is the Head of the Church. We don't have to
Men can guide us to the
words of Christ. Men may have gifts that enable them to see things others may
not of themselves clearly see. Nonetheless, such men must not strive to be the
authority themselves. Their role is simply to help people see the expressed
will of God. Every member of the Church must be following God.
In Acts 18, we read
about a certain Jew named Apollos. Apollos was teaching in the synagogue
knowing only the baptism of John. He didn't have to wait for an
"ordained" minister to authorize him to teach. He wasn't even asked
to take a back seat, in spite of his incomplete understanding of the gospel.
Instead, Aquila and Priscilla, simply pulled him aside and expounded unto him
the way of God more perfectly. And immediately they encouraged him to keep
right on preaching, even sending him forth with a letter of recommendation.
Clearly, from all that
we've examined, scripture does not support a hierarchical
structure of government in God's Church. The scriptures
consistently show that God works directly with each member through the written
Word, and through the Living Word by His Spirit.
Yet, some would argue,
if we don't have hierarchy, won't we have anarchy?
Anarchy literally means
"no head", for the root word "arch" means head. The prefix
"hier" means "priests" (see Webster's
Dictionary). In a "hier-archy"
the priests have become the head of the Church. This is obviously contrary to
the structure God has placed in His Church, for God has placed Christ as the
head of the Church. The true structure of government in the Church is not a
hierarchy, it is what we might call a "Christ-archy," "christocracy,"
or simply a "Theocracy" -- "Theos" of course
being the Greek word for God.
In God's Church, He is
the Head. When men let Christ lead, we don't end up with confusion and
anarchy. Christ is capable of leading his Church, and the book of Acts gives
ample testimony to this fact.
commanded his disciples not to use a hierarchical form of government. In
Matthew 20:20-26 we read of an incident where the mother of James and John,
along with her sons, lobbied for the "top" two positions in the
Kingdom under Christ.
Jesus tells her, "Ye
know not what ye ask" (v. 22). She obviously didn't understand
God's structure of Government. In the Kingdom of God, everyone will sit with
Christ in his throne. There won't be any "top" positions under
Christ. We will all rule with Christ as a family. Jesus promised,
him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I
also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev.
Everyone who enters
God's kingdom will share in the rulership of the world. We will lead the
nations as a family, as a Kingdom of priests. All who sit with Christ on His
throne will be given
over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the
vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of
my Father" (Rev. 2:26-27).
After Jesus explained
that he could not give them such a position above the other saints whom he had
called, the other ten Apostles, having overheard the discussion,
moved with indignation against the two brethren" (Mat. 20:24).
Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the
Gentiles exercise dominion over them [the Greek term translated
"exercise dominion" is "katakurieuo", which means
"downward lordship" or "hierarchical control"] and
they that are great exercise authority [Greek "katexousiazo"
meaning "downward control"] upon them. But it shall not be so
among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your
minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister,
and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mat. 20:25-28).
The command not to
exercise hierarchical control over others is as direct as any of God's
commandments. Jesus said, "IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU! "
In Matthew 23, Jesus
adds to this instruction by upbraiding the Pharisees for attempting to
exercise hierarchical control. He says,
scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of
Moses" (Mat. 23:2, New American Standard version).
This is obviously the
correct meaning of the Greek, for Jesus never suggested that the Pharisees had
authority from God to direct the lives of anyone. All throughout the Gospels,
Jesus instructed his disciples to disregard the teachings of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees thought they were above the masses, but Jesus showed that they
were above no one.
Speaking of them he said,
all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their
phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the
uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and
greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be
not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are
brethren" (Mat. 23:5-8).
Jesus told us not to call men Rabbi because we are all brethren. The only one
over us is Christ. Jesus is our Master. Everyone else is on the same level. There
are no ranks in the body of Christ.
Jesus continued saying,
call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is
in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even
Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And
whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble
himself shall be exalted" (v. 9-12).
Though we abstained
from using the title "Father" in reference to the ministry, we did
use the title "Mr." which is an abbreviation for "Mister"
which according to Webster's Encyclopedic dictionary of the
English language is a variation of the word "Master."
We used "Mr." as a religious title and broke the spirit of Christ's
instruction -- creating a division in the membership. In the WCG members were
divided into two classes -- clergy and laity. This division is contrary to the
scriptures. According to Christ, we are all brothers with no class divisions.
New Testament Scriptures
With all this
understood, let's turn now to the other two scriptures that have been commonly
misused by those who teach hierarchical government in the Church -- Ephesian
4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28.
In both cases the
subject being discussed is spiritual gifts, not rank or office. Let's begin
with Ephesians 4:11. Earlier in the chapter, Paul reminds us that
is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your
calling;" (v. 4).
The true Church is a
spiritual organism not limited to any human corporate structure. All who have
the Holy Spirit are a part of the body of Christ.
Paul continued, saying there is
Lord (not several in an ascending chain of command), one faith, one
baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and
in you all."
words affirm a non-hierarchical structure in the Church.
At this point, Paul
begins to discuss certain gifts Jesus has given to the church to equip every
member for the work of the ministry. Paul states,
unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift
of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led
captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men" (vv. 7-8).
Clearly the positions
discussed in the following verses are the gifts that Jesus gave to men. The
gifts are listed as follows:
he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and
some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work
of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (vv. 11-12).
These gifts are not
ranks in the Church, and the order of the listing in no way implies a
hierarchical structure. This is proved by examining the gifts listed in the
original Greek and understanding how these gifts were used in the Church. For
example, the gift translated as "teachers" comes from the Greek word
Concordance #1320.Didaskalos is used
in the New Testament 58 times and most often in reference to Christ. Jesus was
a "didaskalos" (teacher). Was he under the
Apostles in rank?
is translated from the Greek word, "euaggelistes" (Strong's #2099).
This word is used three times in the New Testament. The first use of the term
is in Acts 21:8. Here we read,
the next [day] we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto
Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which
was [one] of the seven; and abode with him. "
This Philip is referred
to as one of the seven who were chosen to serve in Acts 6. Here he is called
an evangelist. Yet, nowhere do we ever see Philip raised in rank. He didn't
start off as a teacher, then get raised to the rank of pastor, and then raised
again to the rank of evangelist. Evangelism is a gift. It simply means a
preacher of the Gospel as opposed to an office of rank.
Now let's turn to 1
Corinthians 12. Immediately, we notice that the chapter starts off stating
concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant"
The subject of this
chapter is gifts, not ranks. This fact is confirmed by the last verse in the
chapter which states,
covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent
way" (v. 31).
The reason this chapter
was written was due to the fact that some in the Church thought they were
superior to others based on the gift they possessed. Paul was therefore
inspired to explain,
there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are
differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are
diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in
all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit
withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another
the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same
Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the
working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of
spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation
of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit,
dividing to every man severally as he will" (vv. 4-11).
Paul in these verses
made it clear that these gifts do not elevate one man over
another. He stressed that regardless of who had which gift, it
was God doing the work through His Spirit. Paul also stressed here that God
gave the gifts to whomever He willed. Since any member could receive any gift,
we realize that God was not in any way validating a hierarchical structure.
As Paul continues in
the chapter, he uses the body as an analogy to explain that all the members in
the Church are equal regardless of what gift they might have. Rather than
supporting hierarchy, this chapter actually refutes it.
As we approach the
often misused verse (v. 28) we read, starting in verse 27,
ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set
some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly
teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments,
diversities of tongues" (vv. 27-28).
Some erroneously assume
that this listing of gifts are actually descending ranks. Yet, we have already
proved that the context of the chapter is gifts, not ranks. Further, we see
that several of the gifts mentioned in the list cannot even be thought of as
ranks. Have you ever seen anyone ordained to the rank of
"diversities of tongues?" Can one be raised from the rank of
"healings" to the rank of miracles? Or teachers?
Nothing in this chapter
supports the notion that these gifts are offices in the Church. As Paul
continues his letter in chapters 13 and 14, he shows that love is more
important than any other gift (ch. 13), and encourages all of the members to
pray for the gift of prophecy (ch. 14). If members had to rise in
rank to receive this gift, Paul would not have encouraged them to pray for the
gift. Further, in chapter 14, we see that various members had
various gifts, and that these gifts carried with them no connotation of rank.
The Word of God is
consistent from the beginning, straight through to the end -- Jesus Christ is
the living head of the Church. He is the vine, and all the members are
connected directly to Christ in a vine structure, not through a chain of human
leaders as represented in a corporate tree structure or pyramid. As members of
the body of Christ, we have one head -- one arch.
The "arch" of the Church is Christ.