Pastors and Deacons

I am convinced that many churches today possess an order and government foreign to the New Testament. A quick glance at many local churches in the United States will reveal models of government guided by modern business models, tradition that has gone off the rails of Scripture, or western dispositions of individualism and pragmatism. God’s Word provides the unchanging direction and examples that church health and unity require.

The apostle Paul, directing the church at Corinth in the proper manner of church services stated, “for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints…But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). That requires that we must allow God’s officers to govern in the way that He intends. But how does God intend for them to govern? How does God intend for a church to be ordered? Below, I present another portion of a more practical than usual project for one of my doctoral seminars. May God bless you and your church as you seek to follow His will for His people gathered.

Congregation Governed

A Biblical church will be congregation governed, pastor led, and deacon served. God’s intention has been to call a holy nation of priests to Himself (Ex 19:6). As Israel failed to be that holy nation of priests, God promised to make a new covenant in which He will write His law upon His people’s hearts so that they know Him and He has forgiven their sins (Jer 31:31-34). Jesus’ death inaugurated this new covenant (Matt 26:27-28) and to those who surrender to Him in faith, He gives the Holy Spirit. They become part of His holy priesthood-kingdom where by every citizen receives spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7) so they can offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:4-10). Therefore, every member of a local church serves as a minister and no member acts as a mere spectator.

Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to His apostles (Matt 16:19) who, along with the prophets, are the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20). The keys transferred, not to bishops, but to local churches and enable the churches to share the gospel (binding), recognize false gospels and practice discipline (loosing). Jonathan Leeman makes a convincing argument that church member is an office with responsibilities for everyone who holds it. He states,

Jesus gives all believers, when gathered as congregations, the authority to administer their priestly and kingly duties with the keys of the kingdom. The whole kingdom employs these keys—through the ordinances—to make formal declarations concerning the what and the who of the gospel.[1]

Every member not only serves in ministry, but participates in governing the church.

The New Testament reveals that God has given authority to the local church to govern herself under the headship of Christ. New Testament churches practiced discipline (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5), baptized new believers and added them to their membership (Acts 2:41), selected and ordained deacons (Acts 6:3), appointed and sent missionaries (Acts 13:2-3), and recognized and corrected false teaching (Acts 15:22). A New Testament church is a church who governs herself under the headship of Christ. However, a New Testament church will also submit to the leadership of her appointed leaders.

Pastor Led

As Jesus gives gifts to every citizen of His Kingdom, He gives some men gifts to serve in the office of pastor-teacher (Eph 4:11). The New Testament exclusively shows the pattern of each local church led by a council of pastors rather than one pastor.[2] The model of one pastor serving one congregation is an unbiblical and unfaithful development of the second century. The New Testament authors use the terms pastor, elder, and bishop for the same office (Acts 20:17-35; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 3:31-7 with Titus 1:5-9). Each designation indicates a different nuance to the responsibilities of the office.[3]

The office of pastor has five responsibilities. First, the pastor’s primary responsibility is the ministry of the Word. The New Testament reveals that as the church spread and as the apostles died, some, but not all, aspects of the apostolic ministry transferred to pastors.[4] The apostles, led by the Spirit, directed the church of Jerusalem to ordain deacons so that they could be free for the ministry of proclaiming God’s Word publicly (Acts 6:4). As the apostles spread out, pastors shared this relationship with the deacons where by the pastors preach while the deacons serve (Phil 1:1). Paul tells Timothy that for a man to be considered to serve as a pastor, he must be gifted to teach (1 Tim 3:2). Every pastor must hold fast “to the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Tit 1:9). While some pastors may teach more than others, all still must teach in some capacity (1 Tim 5:17). Therefore, pastors must give most of their time and efforts to preaching, teaching, sharing the gospel, and studying to do these works.

The second responsibility of pastors is the ministry of prayer. Likewise, the pastors received this ministry through the apostles as they did the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). While all Christians will pray, pastors have a special ministry of prayer. Indeed, James calls the sick to call upon the elders for prayer and anointing in the name of the Lord (James 5:14). Therefore, a pastor must give a significant portion of his time to praying for his congregation and seeking God’s guidance for the church.

The third responsibility of the pastor is leadership. The term for overseer, episkopos, carries this idea. As Daniel Akin states, “The title ‘overseer’ indicates the function of oversight or supervision of the church. It implies a spiritual responsibility to ‘manage’ God’s church (cf. 1 Tim 3:4–5)…It is an office charged with ensuring the welfare of God’s people through the loving watch- care of their servant leaders.”[5] Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that their leadership over the church was not appointed by man, but by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). Peter instructed the elders to exercise oversight voluntarily “according to the will of God” (1 Pet 5:2). Corresponding to this, the writer of Hebrews instructed the church to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb 13:17). While the church governs itself in certain areas, the day-to-day direction of the church belongs to pastors. The leadership of a pastor should reflect the leadership of Christ: proclamation of truth, giving direction, and seeking the welfare of those under His leadership with a deep concern for them.

The fourth responsibility of the pastor is the ministry of shepherding. The shepherding motif directs pastors in this function whereby they imitate God as shepherd, caring for His people (Ps 23). Jesus came to shepherd His people by providing abundant life and protecting them from thieves, wolves, and the false sense of protection of hired hands (Jn 10). Therefore, pastors serve as undershepherds, imitating the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:2-4) by shepherding the whole flock of God (Acts 20:28). This kind of shepherding involves spiritual protection, provision, and care in applying God’s Word to the lives of the congregation. The primary goal is not to provide therapy, but to provide for sanctification.[6]

The fifth responsibility of the pastor is the ministry of modeling the Christian life. The qualifications for elders and overseers in First Timothy chapter three and Titus chapter one reveal this pastoral role.  Regarding these qualifications, except for the ability to teach, God calls every believer to possess them. This implies that pastors must set the example. Likewise, the pastoral designation of elder or presbuteros “communicates the maturity, integrity, and dignity a church leader should possess.”[7]

Deacon Served

God has provided so that every local church should have her own deacons. In the Bible, there are two clear passages that refer to deacons (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8-13), one which likely speaks of deacons or proto-deacons (Acts 6:1-7), and one questionable passage (Romans 16:1). The term diakonos speaks of one who waits tables; one who serves. English translators render the term deacon, minister, or servant. Philippians 1:1 sets apart the offices of pastor and deacon as the norm for a local church.

Deacons have four main responsibilities. In Acts chapter six a division arose. The church was providing food for widows. Yet, the church neglected the widows of the Hellenistic Jews who had relocated to Jerusalem. The apostles would have neglected their God-given responsibilities if they had met the need themselves. Therefore, they told the church to select several men who were above reproach and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3). This instance guides the church’s understanding of diaconal ministry. First, deacons must protect their pastors’ ministries of Word and prayer. Second, deacons care for the physical needs of the church. Third, deacons prevent divisions in the church. Fourth, deacons set the example of godly living (cf. 1 Tim 3:8-13). The scarcity of information on the diaconal role in the Scriptures may be intentional to allow for flexibility in its functions. Concerning women deacons, the Biblical evidence is vague and controversial. If Acts 6:1-7 speaks of deacons, the Biblical pattern does not obligate a church to have women deacons.

[1] Jonathan Leeman, Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 67.

[2] Benjamin Merkle presents strong evidence for this claim in 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 161-165. Also see Benjamin Merkle and Thomas Schreiner, eds., Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014).

[3] See Bruce A. Ware, “Putting It All Together: A Theology of Church Leadership” in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 289-290.

[4] Benjamin Merkle makes this speculation after noting that Luke speaks of the Apostles and Jerusalem elders working together in Acts 11:30 but as Acts progresses, the Apostles are mentioned less and the elders more. in Shepherding God’s Flock (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 61

[5] Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace, Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 153.

[6] See Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 32-35 where Purves explains that the priorities of shepherding are preaching forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ and assisting people to find God’s grace in their lives.

[7] Daniel L. Akin and R. Scott Pace, Pastoral Theology: Theological Foundations for Who a Pastor Is and What He Does, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), 154.

Preparing for Lord’s Supper

Lord’s Supper has become a very misunderstood act. Some traditions believe that the act imparts grace while others see it as a mere symbol. To many, it has become a time of shame and guilt while others see it as an inconvenience. The practice today is sadly individualistic. The Lord intended greater blessings than these views offer.

Image result for free Lord's Supper pics

Much like my last post, I am presenting a small portion of an unusually practical project for my last Doctoral seminar intended to help local churches develop policies and practices concerning certain issues. I have also included a guide to help a worshiper prepare to celebrate Lord’s Supper. I prepared and recently distributed this guide to our church members the week before we celebrated Lord’s Supper and some of them found it very helpful to increase their spiritual health and the significance of Lord’s Supper.

What is the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is an ongoing ordinance of the church which Christ instituted as a remembrance of salvation whereby the elements represent His sacrifice and the church celebrates their salvation in unity.  Jesus instituted the Supper at Passover, the night of His arrest.[1] The Supper represents the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. As the believer receives the bread and cup, he receives them as signs of what Christ has accomplished on his behalf for his salvation.

The Lord’s Supper represents the believer’s regeneration through Christ as He revealed that this Supper would commemorate the New Covenant ratified by His blood. In this covenant, God will write His law on His peoples’ hearts, He will be present with His people and know them intimately, and He will forgive their sins.[2] As the believer partakes of the supper, he is reminded of His reconciled relationship with God and His new life in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is an act of worship and obedience. Jesus commanded the church to do so “in remembrance of Me.” (1 Cor 11:24-25). The believer partakes of the Supper in adoration of Jesus. Therefore, when a local church takes Lord’s Supper, they are obeying Jesus and worshiping Him as God in the flesh.

The Lord’s Supper is an act of anticipation. Jesus told the disciples He would not drink it of it again until He did so in the Father’s Kingdom. (Matt 26:29). Paul said that when believers partake, they “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26).  Therefore, when a local church celebrates Lord’s Supper, they celebrate and remind each other of the future return of Jesus.

The Lord’s Supper is an act of unity. It is an ordinance which one must only observe with the gathering of the whole local body recognizing and loving each other as Paul said, “rightly judging the body” (1 Cor 11:29). Therefore, the practice of Lord’s Supper by couples, families, small groups, para-church organizations, or any other portion of the church is inappropriate. One must examine himself before partaking, making sure that he is a true believer who is repenting of sin, baptized, and in good standing and fellowship with his respective local church (1 Cor 10:20-22; 1 Cor 11:27-34).

A Guide to Preparing for Lord’s Supper

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a very special time for a church family. It is a time when we remember the substitutionary death of our Lord on the cross. It is a time when we worship Jesus by obeying His command to observe this rite. It is a time when we celebrate the victorious return of our Lord. It is a time when we express our unity with one another as the body of Christ. As such, it is helpful to spend the week prior to the celebration preparing. Here are some recommendations.

Monday

Read and Meditate upon Mark 15.

Thank God for sending His Son to die for your sins in your place.

Tuesday

Read Exodus 20 and ask God to reveal to you any unconfessed sin.

As He does so, repent of it.

Wednesday

Fast one meal to spend extra time with God in prayer and Bible study if possible.

Read John 15 and ask God to help you abide in Him, love your brothers and sisters in Christ, and help you to remain faithful and testify about Jesus.

Thursday

Read the Good News Baptist Church covenant (included below, but make sure to read your respective church’s covenant) and Acts 2:36-47.

Ask God to show you how you might be a more faithful church member.

Friday

Call a brother or sister with whom you need to strengthen or reconcile your relationship.

Saturday

Read Revelation 20-22. Ask God to give you a hopeful anticipation for the return of Jesus.

Try to go to bed early enough to allow for a spiritually alert yet peaceful Lord’s Day morning.

Sunday Morning

Wake early and spend a few minutes in prayer to prepare your heart for worship and Lord’s Supper. You may want to come early and spend this time in the Worship Center.

Good News Baptist Church Covenant

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior; and, on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we so now, in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most seriously and joyfully enter into covenant with one another, as one body in Christ.

We agree and commit, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and grace; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations.

We also agree and commit to maintain family and personal devotions; to educate our children in the Christian faith and the Bible; to seek the salvation of our family, friends, and acquaintances; to walk wisely in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our actions and attitudes; to avoid all gossip, unkind remarks, and excessive anger; to encourage and support each other in sustaining God’s design for marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime; to refrain from all sexual immorality and avoid living together intimately with another person outside of Biblical marriage so that the Bible’s instruction for singleness is upheld; not to participate in homosexual, bisexual, or transgender relationship(s) or actions, as well as any other unbiblical sexual state or behavior as recognized as contrary to Biblical teaching by this church; to abstain from pornography, drunkenness, illegal drugs, the abuse of prescribed medication, and from all practices that jeopardize our own or another’s Christian faith; to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior;

We further agree and commit to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian compassion in action and speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the commands of our Savior, to obey them without delay.

We moreover agree and commit to be faithful in attendance to this congregation’s meetings; to willingly submit ourselves to the discipline of this church as described in the Bible and this church’s constitution while holding this church, its leaders, and representatives harmless; and that when we relocate, we will as soon as possible unite with some other Biblical church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

 

[1] See Matthew 26:20-35, Mark 14:12-31, Luke 22:1-23, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-34.

[2] See Jeremiah 31:27-40, Ezekiel 36:22-38, and Matthew 26:27-28.

Church Discipline

The following is a section of an Ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) project required in one of my Ph.D. seminars. The project was intended to be more practical than other assignments in order to design doctrinal statements that would help a church develop her policies regarding different matters.

A Policy for the Exercise of Church Discipline

Church discipline is a process commanded by Jesus for maintaining purity in the church and the reformation of the disciplined. This process necessitates regenerate church membership which was the exclusive practice of the New Testament church.[1]

The authority to practice church discipline within the local church comes from the headship of Jesus.[2] After Peter declared that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”[3] (Matt 16:16), Jesus declared that He would build His church upon Peter, and by extension, the other apostles. The apostles served as the foundation for the church by spreading their eye-witness account of Jesus’ person and work as the Messiah.[4]  Jesus tells the apostles that He will give them the keys to the kingdom of heaven and that they will practice binding and loosing in response to the binding and loosing which happens in heaven. This metaphor refers to sharing the gospel that people may be bound with Christ and His people while practicing discipline upon those who give evidence that they have not been genuinely bound to Jesus.[5] The church submits herself to the headship of Jesus as she continues to be built upon the foundation of the apostles in the act of binding and loosing.

Matthew connects chapter eighteen closely with chapter sixteen in two ways. First, Matthew eighteen contains the only other use of the term church in the gospels. Second, Jesus used the metaphor of binding and loosing in the context of discipline. This shows the headship of Jesus who builds His church on the foundation of the apostles.

In Matthew eighteen, Jesus revealed a three-step process of dealing with sin in the church. First, one must go to the offender privately and show him his fault. If the offender repents, the process of discipline ends there. However, if he does not repent, the one who noticed the sin must include one or two other members of the church[6] and confront the brother again. If the brother repents, discipline ends there. However, if he still does not listen, the witnesses must present the matter before the church so that the church may warn the offender. If the offender does not listen to the church, the church must excommunicate him, treating him as an unbeliever.

Paul also commanded the Corinthian church to practice discipline upon a man who is having sex with his step-mother. (1 Cor 5:1-13). In First Corinthians 5:2, Paul revealed that mourning over sin should be the attitude of the church who disciplines. Elsewhere, Paul included the need for a “spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). In First Corinthians 5:4, Paul taught that the final stage of discipline must happen in the assembly of the church. In First Corinthians 5:5 he revealed the nature of discipline as an act of “deliver[ing] such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.” Church discipline removes the offender from the spiritual protection of the church fellowship.

Paul provided two reasons for church discipline in First Corinthians 5:5-8. First, the church practices discipline “so that [the offender’s] spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Church discipline is Jesus’ means for communicating the need for salvation to someone who shows evidence of being unregenerate. It is, in fact, a ministry of reconciliation in which the goal is to restore the brother to fellowship with God and the church.[7] Second, Paul used the metaphor of leaven spreading through a lump of dough to reveal that the church must strive for holiness in Christ. Paul ended his discussion by reminding the people “not to associate with immoral people” (1 Cor 5:9) and to “[r]emove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor 5:13). After the Corinthian offender repented, Paul encouraged the church to forgive, comfort, and reaffirm their love for him (2 Cor 2:6-8). This again displays the goal of reconciliation.

In First Timothy 5:19-20, Paul spoke of practicing discipline upon an elder of the church with a public rebuke for continuing in sin. In Titus 3:10-11, Paul warned to reject a factious man after two warnings. With these, and the above passages, the following guidelines should be exercised in church discipline. First, the church must practice discipline as an act of obedience to Jesus. Second, the church must practice discipline with a three-step process of rebuke: privately, with witnesses, and before the church assembly. Third, the church must practice discipline with an attitude of grief over sin and gentleness toward the offender. Fourth, in the practice of discipline, the church must seek the repentance and restoration to fellowship of the offender. Fifth, the church must use discipline to seek purity and protection of her reputation and therefore should practice discipline in an exclusive assembly of members. Sixth, the church must discipline for sins that are intentionally rebellious, public, and divisive in nature. Seventh, the church must end discipline when the offender repents of his sin.

[1] See Acts 2:37-42 where those who heard the gospel were commanded to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name and three-thousand were added to their membership upon repentance and a trust in Christ displayed in their baptisms.

[2] See Colossians 1:15-20 and Ephesians 5:22-23 for statements of Jesus’ headship over the church.

[3]  All Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[4] In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul teaches the Ephesians that those who follow Jesus are God’s household built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the corner stone. Also see Matthew 28:16-20 where the apostles are commanded to make disciples of all nations.

[5] Greg Allison defines church discipline as “a proleptic (or anticipatory) and declarative sign of the divine eschatological judgment, meted out by Jesus Christ through the church against its sinful members and sinful situations.” This recognizes the idea that the church is acting upon what God has already declared and what He will do in His Sovereignty and omniscience. See Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 181.

[6] Jesus references Deuteronomy 17:6 where an accusation must be substantiated by two or three witnesses and disallowing a conviction to be made on the testimony of one person.

[7] See Galatians 6:1.