A New Series on the Church

This past Sunday night I began a new sermon series on the structure of the church. Though I’ve covered these topics many times in the past, there is a need to cover this material as we are on the verge of ordaining a new slate of deacons. The first sermon was more of a Bible study than a sermon. In this Bible study I sought to provide an overview of the rest of the series (see below) and merely walked/talked through key passages which will be explored in more depth as the series progresses. The messages which follow in this series will be expositions of key texts on these topics. Below are my brief notes from Sunday night:

Ekklesia is the Greek word translated church in the NT. It means a “called out assembly” which is a compound word of the proposition ek and the verb kaleo. The verb kaleo means “call” and is used in the NT for God’s sovereign call of individuals to salvation. Therefore ekklesia or church is a people, not a place. This building is the place where the church meets.

Definitions of the church abound. One from the Reformation era is particularly helpful. The reformers described the church as present wherever the Word of God was preached and the sacraments/ordinances administered properly. This is a good definition, but for the purposes of this series I’ve developed another working definition for us to work through for the purpose of teaching this series on the governing structure. This definition will no doubt be revised to be made more clear as the series progresses. In other words, I am not entirely happy with it. Any suggestions given would be appreciated! Anyway, here’s what I came up with for didactic purposes:

The church is a body of regenerate baptized believers who are ruled by Christ through His Word, with spiritual leadership provided by the bishops/elders/pastors and whose temporal needs are served by the deacons, and it is with the congregation that the final responsibility for doctrine and membership rests.

The word ekklesia is translated church somewhere between 109 (Hammett) and 114 (Dever) times in the New Testament. It can refer to both the local congregation (visible) or the universal (invisible) church. But the overwhelming majority of times (90+) it refers to local churches.

In other words, the New Testament does teach the concept of the universal church (made up of all believers chronologically and geographically), but its overwhelming emphasis is upon local congregations.

After giving these brief words of introduction, I proceeded to walkie-talkie through the following which is the basic outline of the remaining series:

I. The Church is Ruled by Christ Through His Word, Colossians 1:15-19; Ephesians 2:19-22.
II. The Church is Led by Elders, Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Philippians 1:1-2; Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
III. The Church is Served by Deacons, Acts 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
IV. The Church is a Congregation of Regenerate Baptized Believers with Whom the Final Responsibility for Doctrine and Membership Rests, 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:6; Galatians 1:6-9.


  1. Elders or elder?

    “…it was the Apostles Judgment and great Care that every Church have an Elder:”
    —Hercules Collins, The Temple Repair’d.

  2. Jerome,

    I am arguing for a plurality of elders.

    Hercules Collins was combating a situation in which churches had no one ordained and holding the position of elder. He is saying that it is necessary to have at least one. The whole burden of the work seems to be calling on churches to develop the ministers which God has given them, which would lead naturally to a plurality of elders.

    I do not believe that a church should be required to have more than one elder. But where God has obviously blessed a church with a plurality of men gifted for spiritual leadership, it is healthy for a church to recognize those men as God’s gifts to the church.

  3. I like your characterization of an abundance of ministers as a blessing. Too often, the “plurality of elders” idea is treated more like a rigid quota.

    Many churches who are so blessed with gifted men send them out as missionaries and church planters..

    “where a church is small , and has only one person answering the character the scripture requires, and is orderly brought into this office, that such churches need not make themselves uneasy, concerning order, for they are properly organized: For a church had certainly better have one officer answering the scripture character, and giving himself wholly unto the work of the ministry, than many that do not , and so are incapacitated to fulfill it. Nay, and I cannot but think, that it is the duty of a church, who has two persons in her community qualified for this office, to part with one of them to them who have none, if the needy desire it, and ask for it.”
    —Charles Whitfield, The Form and Order of a Church of Christ, 1775, pp.59-60.

    Is being an elder a vocation or an avocation?

    “If..a plurality of [elders] be required, why is not a plurality of them supported? The office of elder in those churches which are partial to the system is little more than nominal: for while an elder is employed like other men in the necessary cares of life, he cannot ordinarily fulfil the duties of his office.”
    —Andrew Fuller, On Church Government and Discipline.

    “be exhorted that as your Ministers take care of your Souls, you would take care of their Bodies and Families:…God hath made it your Duty by a Divine Command; Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel”
    —Hercules Collins, The Temple Repair’d.

Join the conversation . . .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s