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Can we be the church of the New Testament?
Yes, if church leadership complies with the New Testament
“Christ is head of the church”
(Ephesians 5:23). To be the church of the New Testament, we must be
led by Christ.
“Speaking the truth in love,” we must “grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from 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” (Ephesians 4:15, 16).
The head directs the body. It is not enough to
have Christ as figurehead, He must be our real Head, He must be the
captain. We must submit to His authority. We can be the church of
the New Testament if our congregation is directed by
We must be led by the one Shepherd. Jesus said,
referring to Gentiles, “Other sheep I have which are not of
this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and
there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John
10:16). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they
follow Me” (John 10:27).
To be the church of the New Testament we must
follow Christ and obey His voice. “He who enters by the door
is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the
sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads
them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before
them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they
will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for
they do not know the voice of strangers” (John
Can we be the church of the New Testament? Yes,
if Christ is our Head, if He is the Shepherd we follow, if we
refuse to follow ‘strangers’.
Christ leads us via His apostles and prophets who
were inspired by the Holy Spirit in the first century to put the
new covenant into written form. Paul explains this at the end of
his letter to the Romans. “Now to Him who is able to
establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus
Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret
since the world began - but now made manifest, and by the
prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the
commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the
faith” (Romans 16:25, 26). Thus, God commanded the apostles
to make the gospel known to all nations through prophetic
Before He died, Jesus told His apostles:
“He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me,
and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke
The first-century apostles and prophets, together
with Christ, are the foundation of the new-covenant church,
“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and
prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief
cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). A foundation is laid
Our apostles and prophets today are the apostles and prophets of the first-century church (Revelation 21:14). Now we “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), we continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).
We can be the church of the New Testament if we
are led by Christ. He leads through His apostles and prophets who
were inspired to put the new covenant in writing.
For edification Christ has also given
evangelists, elders, teachers and deacons to build up and serve the
church. “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some
prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the
equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying
of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11, 12). The Philippian
letter is addressed, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who
are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians
Unscriptural leadership is one of the most
distinguishing marks of counterfeit churches. They have offices and
leadership positions which are not found in the New Testament. To
be the church of the New Testament, we may only have leaders who
are designated in the New Testament and who meet the New-Testament
Executive leadership under the new covenant resides in the local congregation. Central leadership is supplied by Christ from heaven. The next level of leadership is the local congregation. Regional, national or international forms of leadership are foreign to the New Testament. All congregations that participate in such forms of leadership are not new-covenant churches, but are in rebellion to the leadership of Christ.
According to the New Testament, local
congregations are led by a group of older men called
‘elders’ [Greek: πρεσβύτερος].
They are also called ‘shepherds’ (Greek: ποιμήν - the
word ‘pastor’ also comes from this) and
‘overseers’ (Greek: ἐπίσκοπος
- The word ‘bishop’ also comes from this).
A careful comparison of the various passages shows that these are
all names for the same group of leaders in the local congregation.
In Titus 1:5 we find elders and in verse 7, bishops. In Acts 20:17
we find elders and in verse 28, overseers and shepherds. In 1 Peter
5:1 we find elders and in verse 2, shepherds and overseers.
These men must meet strict qualifications. Paul wrote to Titus:
“For 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 - if a man is blameless, the husband of one
wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or
For 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, but hospitable, a lover of what is good,
sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding 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”
(Titus 1:5-9; see also 1 Timothy 3:2-7).
The task of the elders is to “take care of the church of
God” (1 Timothy 3:5); “to shepherd the church of
God” (Acts 20:28); to “shepherd the flock of God which
is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Peter
New and small congregations, without men who are
qualified to be elders, are led by the men of the congregation. At
Antioch, where no mention is made of elders, we read “the
brethren ... determined” (Acts 15:1-3). Women are excluded
from leadership since they are not permitted to have authority over
men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).
In most false churches, one person functions as
head of the local congregation, or the group is led in some other
We can be the church of the New Testament if our elders are appointed and provide leadership in compliance with the New Testament.
The word ‘deacon’ is a
transliteration of the Greek word διάκονος
which means ‘servant’. The context indicates whether it
refers to a servant in general or to a servant appointed by the
Deacons serve in the local congregation under the
oversight of the elders. In the church at Jerusalem, seven men were
appointed to take care of the daily assistance given to needy
widows (Acts 6:1-4).
Appointed servants must meet specific
qualifications: “Likewise deacons must be reverent,
not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money,
holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let
these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being
found blameless. ...”
“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their
children and their own houses well. For those who have served well
as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness
in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12,
The wives of elders and deacons must also meet
qualifications: “Likewise, their wives must be
reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things”
(1 Timothy 3:11).
To be the church of the New Testament, the
servants in the local congregation must be appointed and must serve
according to the New Testament.
Evangelists (also called preachers)
proclaim the gospel.
The task of an evangelist is to “Preach the
word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince,
rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2
Timothy 4:2), to “give attention to reading, to exhortation,
to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13).
In the New Testament, the words
‘evangelist’ and ‘preacher’ refer to the
same task. An ‘evangelist’ is one who preaches good
news. A ‘preacher’ is one who proclaims a message in
In the New Testament, a preacher is not
the leader of a local congregation. The common practice of calling
a preacher a ‘pastor’ is contrary to the New Testament.
Only elders are ‘pastors’ (shepherds) in the New
Testament. Churches which are led by the “pastor
system” where a preacher is the head of a congregation, are
not New Testament churches. This also applies to churches that are
led by a priest, since the new covenant does not have a separate
priest class; all Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:9). The use of
distinctive clothing and religious titles, such as reverend and
father, is specifically forbidden by Jesus (Luke 20:46; Matthew
We can be the church of the New Testament if our
evangelists preach and serve in compliance with the New
Teachers give instruction in the
For edification, Christ also gave teachers to His
church (Ephesians 4:11). Whereas ‘to preach’ is to
proclaim in public, the word ‘teach’ refers to the
transfer of knowledge. Both elders and preachers must be able to
teach. But a teacher does not have to be an elder or a preacher.
Teachers are important in the church. To be the church of the New
Testament, we need teachers who give instruction in the doctrine of
Women give instruction to women (Titus 2:3-5) and
to children (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15) but do not teach or lead men
in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).
Can we be the church of the New Testament?
Certainly, if our leadership complies with the New Testament: if we
are guided by Christ through the Scriptures, if our congregations
are led and served by qualified elders and deacons, and if our
preachers and teachers faithfully proclaim and teach the New
Testament of Christ,
we can be the church of the New Testament.
The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson
Permission for reference use has been granted.
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