THE SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP OF GOD'S PEOPLE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
It is clear from what is written in both the Old and New Testaments that the Creator God (Jesus Christ) established both a civil and spiritual system through which his people were to be governed. This system was designed so that they could live together in harmony and carry out the work that God gave them to do. Moreover, it is also clear that when Jesus Christ returns he will establish a civil and spiritual system through which national Israel and the entire world will be governed.
Under the first covenant with national Israel, the priests, judges, prophets, and kings who were placed in positions of leadership were given the authority and power to judge a matter, render decisions, and impose and enforce punishments. Along with this authority came tremendous accountability for how they performed their responsibilities to lead and govern the people who were placed under their care and protection.
The Ministry Before and After Christ
The Creator God required those placed in the various positions of authority and responsibility to execute their duties in a fair, righteous, and merciful way. All the leaders of God's people were held personally accountable to him for the performance of their responsibilities. Even Moses and King David were severely punished for improper behavior before God's people. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land after leading the Israelites for forty years, and David was punished severely for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah.
Under the first covenant with national Israel, those who were separated for service and leadership among God's people were authorized and empowered in order to carry out their responsibilities. After Christ's death and resurrection, we also see authority and responsibility given to the apostles and elders to govern the early church, make judgments, and pronounce sentences. See Acts 5:1-11; 8:9-24; 18:15-19; 1.Cor.5:1-13; 1.Tim.1:18-20.
This study will investigate the type of spiritual leadership and organization that Jesus established within the early church and attempt to answer important questions concerning various aspects of authority, responsibility, and accountability that God's elect children have inside and outside of the congregations of God.
Since the establishment and eventual demise of the early church, much of the understanding pertaining to the authority and responsibilities of those who are in positions of leadership among the various congregations of God has been lost. Today, there are many different views and philosophies of how the congregations should be led. Moreover, congregational governments range in form from anarchistic, democratic, republic, and dictatorial to various mixtures of all of these.
Today, we find great division and confusion among the elect of God concerning exactly what constitutes the organized body of Christ that is pictured in the New Testament. What we find today are many differing groups of true Christians who only faintly resemble the early church in governmental and organizational structure.
The various congregations of the early church were not distinctly different from each other when it came to doctrinal views on how to worship God and obtain salvation (1.Cor.1:13). Moreover, if all true Christians submitted to God's rule in their lives, disunity among the various congregations of God today would disappear. However, total unity among the various congregations of God is unlikely to occur during the end of the age because of what is revealed in prophecy concerning the seven churches that will exist just before Christ's return. Nonetheless, there is still hope for any who will listen and heed what the spirit says to the churches about abolishing disunity (Rev.3:22).
A major question that is before all who are called to salvation from now until the return of Jesus Christ concerns how to obtain peace, harmony, and a common purpose among and within the various congregations of God so that there will be an atmosphere that is conducive to spiritual growth and the fulfillment of the work of the church.
Much of what is said in the rest of this study concerning the organizational and governmental structure of the congregations of God is written in the context of the early church, because only time will reveal how much of the original governmental system of the early church will be practiced within the congregations of God during the end of the age.
Since the demise of the early church, Jesus Christ has obviously sanctioned or allowed certain individuals throughout the centuries to lead his Father's children as stewards of the truth. However, this does not mean that any of these individuals have been elders in the same sense as the spiritual leaders of the early church were. In fact, the history of the church shows just the opposite. When the early church disappeared as a powerful entity so did the dynamic spirit-filled eldership that led it.
Carefully read and study the following section concerning the demise and disappearance of the early church, because without this background information, what is presented in this study concerning church authority and government will make little sense.
Please keep in mind as you review this study that it was composed in the year 1998, and that conditions and circumstances in the world and in the body of Christ today may be dramatically different from when this study was published.
Also keep in mind that, although today's circumstances are different from those of the early church, the empirical spiritual values and judgments that Jesus Christ established for the members of the early church and its spiritual leaders have not changed and many of these same principles can be applied today because they are timeless.
HISTORICAL REVIEW OF THE SHEPHERDING OF GOD'S PEOPLE
Biblical history clearly shows that, before the establishment of the early church, the people of God were shepherded by spiritual leaders of God's choosing.
FROM ADAM TO THE RABBIS
From Adam to Noah
We know from the Genesis record that the Creator God taught Adam and Eve his sacrificial system of worship. We know also that Cain and Abel were taught God's system of worship as well (Gen.4:1-7). Second Peter 2:5 shows that Noah was called a preacher of righteousness who had the authority from God to pronounce blessings and curses (Gen 9:25-27). Therefore, it can be assumed that, from the time of Adam and Eve to the time of Noah, there were men who were sanctioned by God to teach and guide his people in the path of righteousness.
From Noah to Moses
Genesis 14:18-20 shows Abraham being blessed by Melchizedec who not only had the authority to bless Abraham but also had the authority to receive tithes from him. The scriptures say that Melchizedec was a priest of the Most High God and Noah was a preacher of righteousness; therefore, some form of organized spiritual leadership that represented the true God was in existence before Moses.
From Moses to Jesus
From the very beginning of the nation of Israel, God sanctioned prophets, priests, and judges to guide and teach his people in the ways of righteousness. They were first taught through Moses who was the civil and spiritual leader; then, the Creator separated Aaron, his sons, and the tribe of Levi to serve him and his people as spiritual leaders. Moreover, he chose some of the people to serve as judges in civil maters. When one reads the books of the Bible that concern the establishment of national Israel, it becomes clear that the system of civil and spiritual government that God gave them was highly efficient, extremely fair, and just.
After the Israelites entered into the promised land, they rebelled against the rule of the prophet Samuel and wanted a king to rule over them. Therefore, God adjusted the original government that he had given them and added a king as the civil ruler. However, the king had to remain subject to the spiritual leadership of the priesthood and its authority over Israel. This is an important point, because it shows that, although the civil authority passed from the priesthood and judges to the kings of Israel, the authority and responsibility for teaching God's laws, precepts, and principles and the performing of all rites and sacrifices always remained with those specifically chosen by God for this purpose.
During Jesus' Lifetime
During Jesus' lifetime, the Levitical Priesthood were the spiritual leaders of the Jews, and the Sanhedrin was the Supreme Council and highest Court of Justice in Judah. The Sanhedrin had great independence and power under Roman rule; they had the power to arrest and to judge all types of cases, even those involving capital punishment.
Although the origin of the Sanhedrin is obscure, Jewish tradition traces it back to Moses and the seventy elders mentioned in Numbers 11:16-25. According to the best evidence, the Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one members: the high priest as its president, some of the high priest's close relatives, scribes (professional lawyers), and elders (chief men among both priest and laymen). See Matt.26:3,57,59; 27:41; Mk.11:27; 14:53; 15:1; Lk.22:66). The High Priest and those who served under him predominantly belonged to the orders of Sadducees and the Scribes and Pharisees; thus, these were the two predominant sects of Judaism represented in the Sanhedrin.
It is important to note that Jesus accepted this tribunal as the official civil and spiritual authority of the Jews during his lifetime. See Mk.15:1.
From Jesus to the Jewish Rabbis
In most cases, it is unknown whether or not the Rabbis of the present Jewish sects are descendants of Levi. If the Rabbis are not descendants of Levi, and there is no officiating Levitical priesthood to give them the authority to teach, they have no authority to act as spiritual guides to Israel, because the Levites were the only ones with the authority to administer the worship system of God to national Israel under the Mount Sinai covenant. See Lev.10:11.
After Christ's Return
After Christ's return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the scriptures clearly show that the descendants of Zadok will rule the Levitical Priesthood and administer God's sacrificial system of worship from Jerusalem in a similar way that it was administered under the terms and conditions of the first agreement with national Israel. See Ezk. 40:46; 43:19; 44:15: 48:11 and our studies about God's two major covenants with national Israel.
THE LEADERSHIP OF THE EARLY CHURCH
In order to clearly understand what is said in the New Testament about the organizational and governmental structure of the early church, it is helpful to review some of what is recorded by secular historians about God's people who were called the Nazarenes before and after 70 A.D..
Information provided by Luke reveals that the congregation of God at Jerusalem was composed mostly of Jewish converts of which a great many were priests (Acts 6:7). Luke gives no hint that their conversion from Judaism to Christianity conflicted with their duties in the temple. Therefore, it is highly likely that some of them continued their ministry for some time after their conversion (Acts 2:20).
It is also likely that the converted priests' ministry was needed, because there were many thousands among the Jews who believed the gospel message (Acts 21:20). It seems plausible that these converted priests and the elders assisted James and the apostles in the administration of the church according to the familiar Jewish model of the Sanhedrin. (Acts 15:4,22,23; 16:4; 20:17,18).
In his research on the history of the early church, Samuel Bacchiocchi finds that the early church leadership and membership were greatly influenced in the way they administered the church by their past religious experience in Judaism:
"The foregoing analysis of the New Testament sources regarding the Jerusalem Church has firmly established that the primitive Christian community there was composed primarily of and administered by converted Jews who retained a deep attachment to Jewish religious customs such as Sabbath-keeping. It is therefore impossible to assume that a new day of worship [i.e., Sunday] was introduced by the Jerusalem Church prior to the destruction of the city in A.D. 70. We might add that in view of the enormous influence exerted on the Church at large by the Jewish Christian leadership and membership."
W.D. Davies, a well-recognized researcher on early Christianity, concisely summarizes the religious situation of the time:
"Everywhere, especially in the East of the Roman Empire there would be Jewish Christians whose outward way of life would not be markedly different from that of the Jews. They took for granted that the gospel was contiguous with Judaism; for them the new covenant, which Jesus had set up at the Last Supper with his disciples and sealed by his death, did not mean that the covenant made between God and Israel was no longer in force. They still observed the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles; they also continued to be circumcised, to keep the weekly Sabbath and the Mosaic regulations concerning food. According to some scholars, they must have been so strong that right up to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they were the dominant element in the Christian movement."
The seemingly excessive attachment of the Jerusalem Church to the temple and its attending worship system may be perplexing to some; however, it is important to remember that, after Christ's return, a new temple will be erected in Jerusalem and the sacrificial system will be established again as a part of the next phase of God's plan for the salvation of humanity. See the Book of Ezekiel and our study concerning the new agreement with National Israel.
The apostles and the Jewish converts viewed the acceptance of Christ as the fulfillment of their Messianic expectations that enhanced their religious life; they did not view acceptance of Christ as the destruction of their religion.
The Nazorean Council at Jerusalem
It is clear from secular records and the Book of Acts that, prior to 70 A.D., the Nazarenes had established a council at Jerusalem that governed all of the followers of Jesus. This council of apostles and elders under the presidency of James was in direct opposition to the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Nazarene's saw themselves as loyal Israelites who gave their allegiance to Jesus Christ as the Messiah and rightful king of Israel. Therefore, they felt justified in creating a government that exercised authority, responsibility, accountability, and jurisdiction over all believers at home and abroad until Christ's return.
The appointment of James to the presidency of the Nazarene's council seems to be partially a political appointment, because he was of the royal bloodline of King David (he was the son of Joseph and the brother next in age to Jesus). This might explain why he had been chosen over Peter. Moreover, Acts 15 shows him officiating over the council of elders after the manner of the ancient priesthood. Because the disciples expected Christ to return in their day to set up the Kingdom of God on earth, it would be quite natural to have one of Jesus' relatives (Gal.1:19) in the position of the presidency representing him as the ruler of the spiritual nation of Israel.
A great deal that appears obscure about the early church's organizational and governmental structure becomes clear when it is understood that, before and after 70 A.D., there was a Nazorean council of elders that functioned much as the original Sanhedrin and this council exercised authority over the entire body of believers throughout the world.
In Acts 15 the apostles and others act exactly like the Jewish Sanhedrin in making decisions concerning the body of the elect (Acts 15:16). This council sent out men to supervise new groups of believers; Peter and John were sent to Samaria, and Barnabas was sent to Antioch. They dispatched a delegation to Antioch to investigate the admission of Gentile converts to the church. They adjudicated disputes and rendered doctrinal decisions (Acts 15:13-21). And they directed the collecting of money and other gifts from among the congregations and distributed them to those in need.
The Nazorean Council at Pella
After the martyrdom of James (Jesus' brother) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., secular history shows the leader of the Nazarenes to be Simeon, the son of Cleophas, who is mentioned in Luke 24:18. Simeon's father, Cleophas, was a Galilean and a descendant of David. Moreover, he was said to be a cousin of Jesus because his father was Joseph's brother. After 70 A.D., history shows that the Nazarenes were in Pella with Simeon as president of the Nazorean Sanhedrin.
According to Hegesippus, the blood relatives of Christ continued in the presidency of the Nazorean council until the time of Tarjan Caesar. Hegesippus also says that Eusebius and Epipanius bore witness that the Nazarenes were persecuted when they lived in the East after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and that many Jews joined them.
It is clear from secular history that the apostles established a council of apostles and elders similar to the Jewish Sanhedrin. Even if this were not true, it does not negate the fact that the early Church had an organizational and governmental system in which the apostles and elders were in authority.
Authority with Limitations
The decisions that were made by the council of elders surrounding the questions put forth in Acts chapter 15 clearly show that the elders did not have the right to act independently of the rest of the eldership, and they were to be subject to the rule and counsel of a governing body composed of other elders. However, it is evident that this situation is not likely to exist throughout the entire Body of Christ during the end of the age, because chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation warn that there will be division among God's people. See our study concerning the prophetic congregations of God that will exist during the end of the age.
DOES THE CHURCH EXIST TODAY?
Does the Church that Jesus built exist on earth today? If the church does exist, are the elect of God doing the same work he commissioned the original church to do?
What Is a Church?
In order to understand the congregational structure and government as set forth in the New Testament one must first understand what the Body of Christ is and the purpose for it being established.
The English word 'church' is translated from the Greek word 'ekklesia', which means 'calling out' (i.e., a popular meeting, an assembly, especially a religious congregation). The word 'church' simply means a group of people meeting together. Attaching the word church to a group or organization does not necessarily make it a part of the Body of Christ. The Ekklesia (the church) that was to exist during the gospel age of salvation was established in 30 A.D. by Jesus on the Festival of Pentecost after his crucifixion and resurrection. He established the church when he sent the holy spirit to dwell within repentant believers.
In the purest sense, the church Jesus said he would establish is composed of people who are called out of this evil world by God the Father (Jn.6:44;65) to believe what Jesus taught and submit to his rule in their lives (Jn.14:15-24).
Most Quasi-Christians of today believe the church that Jesus established is a very efficient organization with buildings, facilities, and all the trappings of corporations and businesses. Quasi-Christian churches and most of the true congregations of God today are very different in organizational structure from what Jesus had in mind when he says, "I will build my church" (Matt.16:18) and "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst" (Matt.18:20).
The church that Jesus built is the people that God the Father has called out of this world's societies to be a part of the collective Body of Christ ( the church, 1.Cor.1:1-31). Each individual member is an integral part of the whole. The church is not a corporate building or organization. The church is composed of God the Father's children who either gather together as a group or separately worship him seeking to learn his way of life.
Today, the reality is that the elect of God are scattered throughout the world. Some are organized into collective groups and some are alone and separated from fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Body of Christ is a spiritual organism. Christ is its head, and the body is composed of those called by the Father to salvation during this gospel age. Many people think that because they are a member of an organization called a church and believe that God exists, they are Christians. This is a very dangerous assumption to make, especially when one's eternal life depends on the way a person worships and obeys God. Each individual selected by the Father to become a first-born son of his new creation has a function and responsibility in the body of Christ. Some are set aside to fulfill the function of leading and shepherding the elect of God.
THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH
There are primarily four reasons for the establishment of the congregations of God.
1. To preach the Father's good news message to the world as a warning and a witness:
"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt.24:14 Para.).
2. To preach the message of repentance:
"Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy spirit, and teach them to observe all the things I have commanded you" (Matt.28:19-20 Para.).
"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the holy spirit" (Acts 2:38 Para.).
3. To prepare a people to help Jesus Christ rule this world at his second coming:
"And [Christ] has made us to our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev.5:10 Para.). Also see 1.Thes.3:13; Rev.3:21; 20:4-6.
4. To assist those called of the Father (Jn.6:44) to grow in grace and knowledge (2.Pet.3:18) and learn and perfect his ways in their lives so they will be able to fulfill their great calling (Rev.5:10).
One Body and One Spirit
Contrary to what most people believe, Jesus Christ does not sanction the many divergent beliefs among the congregations of the elect. He wants all his Father's children to be in conformity to the pure word of truth that is above and beyond one's personal beliefs and opinions:
"There is one body, and one spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph.4:4-6 Para.). See also 1.Cor.12:1-31, and especially verses 11-13.
The word 'faith' (Greek: pistis) in this verse is especially important because it means belief. For there to be a unified body, there must be unity in the things that the body of believers hold to be true:
"And 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: Till we all come in the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:11-13 KJV).
It is true that there is only one collective body of Christ in existence today (Eph.1:22-23; 1.Cor.12:12-13); however, there are many differing congregations of God with many differing opinions as to how to accomplish one's spiritual walk with God. It should be apparent to anyone that one's associations always impact one's life for better or worse. Moreover, this is especially true of one's spiritual associations. Therefore, if one is truly seeking to obey God the Father and Jesus Christ and grow toward spiritual maturity, one will desire to be with the people who are truly spiritually moving forward.
The warnings to the churches in chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation and the warnings Jesus gave to the elect in many of his parables clearly show that each individual who is called to salvation during this age should be extremely careful with whom they associate on a spiritual level. See our study concerning the seven churches that will exist in the end of the gospel age.
WHY SO MANY DIFFERING CONGREGATIONS OF GOD?
If there is only one Body of Christ (Eph.4:4-7) to which the elect belong, only one spirit, and only one faith, what are the reasons that the Father's elect children are separated into various congregations that are generally antagonistic toward each other? Why are there so many different opinions as to what is truth? And what is the correct organizational structure of the Body of Christ?
Adam and Eve rebelled against the Creator God in the Garden of Eden. The children of Israel rebelled against him in the wilderness, after being delivered from the slavery of Egypt. Mankind has been in a condition of rebellion from the time of Adam to today (See Ezk.20:12-13; Isa.30:9-10; 66:3). And it is a sad fact that many of the elect of God are in rebellion against God the Father and his Son today.
Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites, snakes, liars, and deceivers, because they were not teaching total truth, but they were teaching Jewish traditions and their own philosophy and interpretation of God's laws, precepts, and principles. This constituted rebellion against God:
"You hypocrites, Isaiah correctly prophesied of you, saying, This people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt.15:7-9 Para.).
Jesus' reprimand to the Jews and the spiritual leaders of his day for their rebellion against truth is just as appropriate today as it was then. Not only are the Jews and their spiritual leaders in rebellion against truth today but also many of the Father's elect children and their spiritual leaders are in rebellion. If this were not true, there would be unity among God's elect.
The apostle Paul warned the young evangelist Timothy:
"Now the spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times saying that some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; telling hypocritical lies; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1.Tim.4:1-2 Para.).
"Preach the truth of God at all times and reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they [some of God's people] will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables" (2.Tim.4:2-4 Para.).
Notice that many of the Father's chosen people will do as they please and follow ministers who will preach things that are pleasing to hear, but lack spiritual truth.
"And from Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. . .Take heed, therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the holy spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his blood. For I know that after I leave, grievous wolves will come among you, that will not spare the flock. Also among you shall men arise, speaking perverse things, in order to draw away disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:17, 28-30 Para.).
Paul's warning to the elders at Ephesus has come true. Throughout the centuries, evil men and women have risen to positions of leadership within the Body of Christ and abused and manipulated people in order to fulfill their own sinful lusts and desires. And there are those today who perpetuate this same evil upon God's people. See Rom.16:17-18.
Rebellion can come in many forms and it always separates the rebellious from God the Father and Jesus Christ. Today's divided elect are a classic example of people's desire to obey their own self-will rather than God's will.
The second reason for disunity and division among the various congregations of God is Satan's deception. In the early days of the Church, Satan began his plan to destroy the elect of God from within. The apostle Paul warned the elect at Corinth to be aware of this threat to their eternal lives:
"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (2.Cor.11:13-15 KJV). See also Deut.13:1-5; Jer.23:21-22.
Yes, Satan has many ministers disguised as true ministers of God (Rev.2:9; 3:9). Some of these individuals within and without the congregation of God who claim to be the ministers of Christ are truly deceived themselves. However, some are not. These individuals actively try to destroy the unsuspecting, the ill informed, and the naive. Jesus knew this would happen and warned his followers to be aware of those who were not sent by him to shepherd his people:
"Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ: and shall deceive many" (Matt.24:4-5 KJV).
THE THREE CHURCH AGES
The gospel age of salvation seems to be broken down into three different ages of the church:
1. During the early church age, Jesus empowered a people to build a foundational body upon which all of God's faithful children could build their congregations.
2. During the age that followed the early church, the church lay dormant for centuries without great power or numbers, and had only the most basic of spiritual truths to sustain its spiritual growth.
3. The end-time church age will exist a few short years before Christ's return. It is during this last age of the church that God's people will be given great spiritual truth and power and will proclaim the Father's good news message and prepare the world for his Son's return.
I Will Build My Church
Jesus says, "I will build my church; and the gates of hell [hades: the grave] shall not prevail against it" (Matt.16:18 Para.).
This is the scripture, which most often used to prove that the church that Jesus established still exists today. However, this is not what Jesus said; he was assuring his disciples that the church he would build will neither be destroyed nor cease to exist, it will endure. He did not promise enduring power throughout the ensuing centuries or unity and prominence until his return.
Jesus has kept this promise; his church still exists, but not in the form that most associate with the churches of today's world. Jesus did build his church (a group of true believers) and it does exist today. Some of its members worship the Father alone and some worship in various collective groups. However, during the end-time age of the church many of the elect will come together in unity of belief and do a powerful work of proclaiming the Father's good news message.
The Commission to the Elect
"Go you 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 always, even to the end of the world" (Matt.28:19,20 KJV).
The Promise of Power
"And these signs shall follow them that believe. In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak in various languages; They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands upon the sick, and the sick shall recover" (Mk.16:17-18 Para.).
THE FIRST AGE
At the conclusion of Mark's Gospel, he says,
"And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen" (Mk.16:20 KJV).
After the Feast of Pentecost in 30 A.D., God's elect did go forth evangelizing and spreading God the Father's good news message of salvation and the Kingdom of God. Their spiritual zeal literally changed the course of history. However, it was not in the plan of God to save the world during Jesus' lifetime or during the apostolic era of the church. If this had been his plan, he would have done it (Isa.6:8-10; Matt.10:34-36; 13:10-15; Mk.4:11-12; Lk.8:9-10).
Authorizations of Power
Few people realize the awesome power that Jesus placed at the disposal of the early church as a unified body and the discretion with which they were authorized to use this power. There are at least 21 distinct authorizations of spiritual and physical gifts noted in the New Testament that were given to the organized, unified Body of Christ. Each of these authorizations was to be used to build the Body into a powerful and dynamic force:
"For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body" (Eph.4:12-12 KJV). See also 1.Cor.12:8-10,28-30; Rom.12:3-8; Eph.4:7-11.
In the New Testament, there are many accounts of the elect using their powerful authorizations to perform the commission that Jesus gave the church (see Acts 3:43; 5:1-15; 6:8; 13:8-11; 15:12). The apostles and others performed miraculous works at their own discretion; however, as dynamic and powerful as these people were, they ceased to exist as a dynamic, unified, powerful entity.
Although Jesus foretold that the elect would be persecuted for their adherence to the truth of God (Jn.15:20; 17:14-17; Acts 8:1; 2.Tim.3:12) and teaching the ways of God, this is not the primary reason that the early church disappeared as a powerful, unified, spirit-filled entity.
Jesus warns that the majority of those in the body of the elect would be deceived by a counterfeit Christianity:
"And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (Matt.24:11).
"Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many will go into that gate and in that way: Because straight [difficult] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few will find it" (Matt.7:13-14 Para.).
Peter also warns that many would be misled by false teachers who would come among the elect and bring in heresies:
"And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2.Pet.2:2 KJV).
Jude says that every true Christian should "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ . . . These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the spirit" (Jude 3,4;19 KJV)
Confusion and Division
"Now I [Paul] beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been told of you, my brethren, by them who are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that every one of you says I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Then Paul asks: Is Christ divided?" (1.Cor.1:10-13 Para.).
It is absurd to think that Jesus Christ is not quite sure what the elect should believe in regard to truth or how they should function as a united body. Does Jesus Christ care how his Father's children worship and serve God within the congregations? See Ex.20:5; Deut.5:29; 12:29-32; 13:1-4; 30:15-16. Yes, he does care and he will punish those who refuse to hear what the spirit says to the churches. See chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation.
God is not the author of confusion (1.Cor.14:33). He is an orderly being. Look at the order of all that exists. From the balance of the galactic systems down to the smallest atomic structure, all of the physical creation shows great order; it is not in confusion. Because God created the physical existence to function in an orderly manner, doesn't it make sense that he would have his people worship him in an orderly, structured way?
The Seduction of the Apostolic Church
Jesus warned that the early church would be seduced into disobedience and false worship:
"Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ: and shall deceive many" (Matt.24:4-5 KJV).
"And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt.24:11,12 KJV).
The elect of the early church were continually warned and admonished to keep the Faith Once Delivered and to be on guard against those who wanted to destroy them.
Paul says to the Galatians, "I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel: Which is not another; but there is some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal.1:6-7 KJV). See also 2.Cor. 11:13-15
Paul warns Timothy, "Now the spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1.Tim.4:1-2 KJV).
"For the time will come when they [the Elect] will not accept sound teaching . . .. And they shall not pay attention to the truth, and shall turn away it, and shall turned instead to fables" (2.Tim.4:3-4 Para.).
Many who fellowshipped in the local congregations of the early Church would not accept sound teachings. They sought out teachers who, for the sake of money, taught things that were pleasing. And these teachers deceived these gullible people. Soon, a counterfeit of the Father's worship system came into being and surpassed the true Church of God in size and influence and became confused with the true worship system that Jesus had established.
Peter and Jude warn, "And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2.Pet.2:2 KJV).
Jude told the elect to earnestly fight for the faith that was once delivered because there were men who were turning the grace of God into lasciviousness and denying God the Father and Jesus Christ (Jude 3,4. See also verse 19).
The End of the Age
The dynamic, powerful, organized entity that Jesus established on the Feast of Pentecost in 30 A.D. ceased to exist. The answers to the perplexing questions concerning the demise and disappearance of the early church are answered in part by the warnings of Jesus and the apostles. The rest of the answer is found hidden in the prophecy of Zechariah.
The Prophecy of Zechariah
Matthew, Mark, and John all record Jesus quoting Zechariah's prophecy, which foretold the scattering of Jesus' disciples after his death:
"All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered abroad" (Matt.26:31 KJV). See also Mk.14:27; Jn.16:32.
"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd [Jesus], and against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep [the disciples] shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand upon [against] the little ones [God's elect children]" (Zech.13:7 KJV).
This is an extremely important prophecy because the few words which Jesus did not quote give us the key to understand why the apostolic church ceased to exist as a powerful entity.
The little ones mentioned here are the elect of God as noted in many scriptures (see Matt.8:12; 18:3-10; 19:13-14; Mk.9:42). But, why would Jesus Christ turn against the little ones? And why did Jesus omit this prophecy? The reason that Jesus would turn against the little ones is because they would turn against the Faith Once Delivered and cease to be zealous for truth. The reason that Jesus did not quote the rest of what Zechariah said, is because it was a different prophecy, which would be fulfilled at a different time. The prophecy in Zechariah would begin its fulfillment during the apostolic age of the church and continue until a time shortly before Christ's return.
THE SECOND AGE
God's people have not been destroyed from the face of the earth, they are not in hiding, and God's plan for his people and humanity has not been destroyed by Satan.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., following the death of John, the organized, powerful preaching of the gospel ceased. The elect were persecuted and their numbers were dramatically reduced in the great martyrdoms inflicted by the Romans after which they disappeared into obscurity (See Jn.16:1-3).
The concentrated spiritual and physical power of the holy people dissipated, which made a powerful, organized work impossible. From that time to the present there has been very little recorded about the true people of God. Until the 19th century, the only remaining records of them were those of their enemies.
Throughout the Centuries
During the centuries that followed the demise of the early church, a counterfeit gospel was allowed to grow and be established as false Christianity in order to fulfill the prophetic events that will take place at the end of this age. The true spiritual Body of Christ continued throughout the centuries, but not as a powerful organization. Though small in numbers, the elect of God have continued to exist in relative obscurity, without losing the understanding of the most basic truths that are necessary for salvation. Although the true spiritual Body of Christ never completely died, it accepted much error and made many departures from the Faith Once Delivered. This is why Jesus foretold that just before his return, an Elijah would come to restore the Faith Once Delivered. See Mal.4:5-6, Matt.17:10-13 and our study about the third Elijah.
THE THIRD AGE
The prophecies that speak of the end of the age show that, just before his return, Jesus will again establish a dynamic, powerful people to proclaim his Father's good news and the coming Kingdom of God. These people will be unified in belief and filled with dynamic spiritual and physical power. God the Father and Jesus Christ will use this unified people to bring an end to human rule on earth.
These people will manifest the authorizations of the original church and more. These are the elect who will have the ability to defy the very laws of the physical universe with their miracle working power. Moreover, no physical or spiritual power will be able to stop them from performing their God-given task.
The prophet Habbakkuk speaks of these people when he says:
"Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, you will not believe, though it were told" (Hab.1:5 Para.). See also verses 1-4.
The apostle Paul issues a prophetic warning to those of his day and the future in regard to Habbakkuk's prophecy:
"Beware, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I will work a work in your days, a work which you in no way will believe, even though you are told about it" (Acts 13:40-41 Para.).
Jesus also speaks of these people when he says:
"Truly, truly, I tell you, he that believes on me, the works that I do he shall also do, and greater works, than these he shall do; because I go to the Father. And whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the son. If you shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it" (Jn.14:12-14 Para.).
As powerful as the apostolic era of the church was in the performance of their responsibility to proclaim the Father's message, they did not do a greater work than Jesus. However, some of God's elect who will live just before Christ's return will do this greater work. They will do a greater work because they will have the kind of faith, power, and protection necessary to do a greater work (Rev.3:7-10). However, the elect who do this great work will not comprise all of the congregations of God as a whole, because Jesus himself will bring major persecution on most of the Father's elect children in order to wake them out of their spiritual lethargy in hopes of saving them from the second death in the Lake of Fire. See our study about the warnings to the end of the age churches.
"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have a little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liarsI will make them to come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you" (Rev.3:7-10 NIV).
These are the elect of God who will comprise the organized, unified, powerful Body of Christ at the very end of the age. Notice that Jesus will grant them so much power that no one can stop them from accomplishing their task.
They will perform such a powerful work and witness that vast numbers of people will be converted and obtain salvation. These individuals will devastate the religions and governments of this world at the climactic end of human rule. For their obedience and faithfulness, they are promised protection from the awesome final events that will culminate in the return of Christ.
A NEED TO KNOW
If Jesus Christ follows the same pattern in establishing a powerful unified church in the end of the age in order to proclaim his Father's good news message as he did with the early church, those who will become a part of this dynamic work should know what its organizational and governmental structure is like and how it functions.
See our other free studies about the early church and its leadership, because the information contained in them should give any serious student of the Bible enough knowledge to be able to understand the organizational and governmental structure of the early church and what one's attitude, behavior, and responsibility should be today pertaining to the organizational and governmental structure of the Church and those who govern and serve the elect through it.
By Charles E. Barrett, B. L. Cocherell, and V. O. Jones file b8w2