We are to be present in the body of Christ – not just spiritually
As the body of Christ we are supposed to come together physically so that we can edify each other in various ways, like praying and prophesying for each other. (If we can of course, and if there is a decent assembly to join.) The Bible tells us that we are different members of the same body, and the body is likened with a human body. All are not an ear, an eye, a knee, etc. If all would be an ear, then something would be utterly wrong with the body of Christ. The Bible tells us for example that all are not teachers, so it’s wise to not let anyone rise up to teach in Church. The greatest risk to end up with false doctrines would be if we let unqualified teachers do the teaching in a teaching situation within a christian assembly.
1 Cor.12:27Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28And 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. 29Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all TEACHERS? are all workers of miracles?
Rom. 12:6Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that TEACHES, onTEACHING;
We should of course always be prepared to share the word of God and try to make disciples in various ways, but in an assembly we should let the teachers do the main teaching. This doesn’t exempt us from our responsibility to always act like the Bereans and compare all that we hear with scriptures (and test all things), and we must be prepared for that qualified teachers could still be wrong. Peter was an elder who exhorted other elders. Even if all of us are not teachers, we can still contribute in an assembly in many ways. We are encouraged to speak in tongues if there is a translation, make prophesies, share revelations, sing songs, pray for one another, heal someone if we have this gift, etc. But all must be done in order! Just because we are encouraged to share, it doesn’t mean we are allowed to jump off from our seats and burst out in a song or make a comment whenever we feel like it. That would be very annoying both for the teacher and for the listeners.
Some could be better used for teaching than serving tables. But also those who were appointed to serve tables in Acts. 6 must be qualified for it. They would have to be of honest report and full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom:
Acts 6:2Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3Wherefore, 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. 4But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 5And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
Jesus himself gave some to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers:
Ephesians 4:10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
And for what purpose?
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
For how long?
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ
What would be the benefit of not allowing other people to be teachers?
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine
2 Peter 2:1But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
With other words there is a risk that we will be caught up with false doctrines if we let unqualified people teach. We should be on our guards! When listening to a teacher we should show him much respect. Most churches that I have attended have allowed people to say ”amen” or ”hallelujah”, and making brief questions and comments even in the middle of the preaching. Thankfully the comments never got out of hand, but I’ve heard comments which should have been made after the sermon instead of in the middle of it. We must always show respect both to the teacher and to other listeners so we won’t disturb anyone. Who would like to be constantly interrupted when having a little lecture? If there are 50 listeners and half of them have a question, then the teacher would be forced to deal with 25 questions and could easily lose his thread. That could very well lead to chaos and that is exactly what Paul warns us against. He even says:
1 Cor. 14:34Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. 35And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home:
James tells us to NOT be many masters (teachers, instructors), and when we are sick we are asked to call for the ELDERS so they can pray and put oil on the sick person:
James 3 1My brethren, be not many MASTERS, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
James 5:14Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders (presbyterous) of the church (ekklesias) ; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
There are special rules, compared to others, when it comes to accusing an elder for something, and if he is caught in a sin.
1 Tim. 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. 20Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
Peter seems to focus on exhorting the elders instead of exhorting the entire flock, since it’s the elders of a church who are supposed to be shepherding the flock in the right direction and feed it. The elders are compared with shepherds (so naming an elder ”pastor” makes perfect sense) and in a Church we are NOT supposed to take turns to be the shepherd. The elder/shepherd must be qualified and confirmed for this position, and no others should be elders. It would be great if there were more than one elder per church, but if that isn’t achievable then we would have to settle with one. The younger are asked to submit to the elder:
1 Peter 5 :1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. 5Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder
We don’t need to be qualified teachers in order to share something from the Bible also within an assembly, but I’m referring to the actual ”teaching” here. There are of course loads of examples of churches where the pastor is teaching falsehood, but this only means he should never have been confirmed as an elder in the first place. Thankfully ALL churches don’t work in the wrong way. It’s possible that people with an aim to be ”democratic” would like to open up for others to do the teaching, but if we don’t follow Paul’s instructions about elders and teachers, there is a risk for deception and that is why many churches don’t work as they should:
Titus 1:10For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.
2 Tim. 4:2Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. 3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves TEACHERS, having itching ears; 4And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry
It’s possible that people are terrified for anything that might smell like hierarchies in Church, and while the NT does not support an assembly where people are of different levels of importance, we can’t get way from the fact that we are different parts of the same body, resulting in that not all are apostles, teachers, elders or shepherds. The shepherd is equal in value compared to the flock, but the shepherd is still supposed to guide the flock and not the other way around. This does not mean we should follow the shepherd blindly. All members of the flock have a free will and a responsibility to follow God (the Bible) more than man.
Below is an example of an issue which could not be settled in the local church but had to go ”up” to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem so they could settle the matter. The apostles and the elders had the authority to give instructions, decrees, exhortations and confirmation of churches:
Acts 15:2When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders (presbyterous) about this question. —6And the apostles and elders came togetherfor to consider of this matter.— 22Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas, chief men among the brethren:—25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,— 30So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:—31Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
Paul and Silas delivered decrees for the assemblies to keep, which were ordained by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. We are not able to read that the assemblies complained about this procedure, as though it would be unfair that some people can decide which rules others should keep. You might call this a ”hierarchical system” and therefore something that should be forbidden, but we are to submit to authorities (if they are godly). If we had all obeyed those instructions at all times from the beginning, then the apostles would be able to teach a group of people and confirm them, who could teach another group of people and confirm them, and so on. Clearly we have not always obeyed the instructions concerning elders because today there are some assemblies where the elders have many shortcomings – in traditional churches and particularly in Home churches. Each one should make sure to ”lay hands suddenly on no man” (confirming someone to be an elder) as Paul also instructed Timothy:
Acts 16:4And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.
1 Timothy 4:14Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the HANDS of the presbytery.
1 Timothy 5:22 Lay HANDS suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.
Paul gave Timothy instructions to make sure the assembly in Ephesus teach ”no other doctrine”. Timothy should also make sure they would not give heed to fables. Hopefully the assembly in question accepted Timothy’s authority and didn’t tell him” Who do you think you are, trying to teach us all those things and exhorting us? Mind your own business because we can take care of ourselves, thank you. We don’t need anyone over us and we don’t believe in a hierarchical system”:
1 Tim 1:2 Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. 3As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. 6From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; 7Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
Timothy was to reprove, rebuke and exhort, and the reason was the risk for false doctrines which might sneak in:
1 Tim. 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)6Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Read the above concerning some of the instructions for an elder. We are told that if his children don’t behave well, it’s doubtful he could keep the flock in the church of God. Being a pastor/elder in a church is likened with being the authoritative Father in a household. In a household a Father doesn’t take turns with his children to be the authority and the Head of the family. He should always be the authority! This of course does not give him the right to run his household in any way he wants, but he should always treat others the way he would like to be treated himself . Neither does it mean that he could not give his children a certain amount of liberty and responsibility. But it’s never the children who decides how much freedom and responsibility to give to their Father, but it’s always the other way around.
The above verse is also yet another verse which confirms that a church gathering is often 1) away from home and 2) in a building and 3) RULED by someone. Here the church of God is CONTRASTED with a home, just like so many other verses. We don’t always take the church with us, but we can GO to a church, and we can even be thrown out of a church by a person who is not even a true believer:
3 John 1: 9I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
The Holy Ghost has made some people overseers over a flock, to feed the church of God. Paul knows that after his departure grievous wolves will enter in among ”you” (the listeners here were the elders in the church of Ephesus, but this concerns all of us) and that’s why he wants them to take heed.
Acts 20:28Take heed therefore unto YOURSELVES, and to all the FLOCK, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made YOU OVERSEERS, to feed the CHURCH OF God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.29For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in AMONG YOU, not sparing the FLOCK.