Regarding the Church
The Elder’s Edition two weeks ago considered the Session and its function. Last week’s edition addressed the roles and responsibilities of the two key offices that function as the Session of the local church. This edition will look at the nature of the church and the officers who serve her.
The Greek word ‘ekklesia’, translated into the English word ‘church’ simply refers to those who are an assembly of those who are ‘called out’. The Old Testament gathering of those who were called out are referred to simply as the assembly (‘qahal’ in Hebrew). Those who were assembled did so to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26).
Those who call upon the name of the Lord are distinct from those who do not. While this statement may seem obvious, the distinction is profound. Those who call upon the name of the Lord do so because they recognize the Lord as sovereign over all that he has made. Those whom the Lord has called out from the powers of darkness, he entrusts with his oracles. The Lord gives to those who have been so entrusted gifts, inclinations, and opportunities to exercise each respective calling.
The Lord defines his people (the church) as an assembly or gathering. Many today view the church as a building or as an organization. The Church is the faithful covenant people of God. It consists of all who as adults convert to the faith of the covenant-keeping God, and also those adults who embrace with understanding the faith of covenant-keeping fathers. Infants born into the church are members of the Church under training in great encouragement to follow Jesus for all of life. They are expected to be holy and in that holiness to obey and follow their Lord.
Mount Zion, the mount of the Lord, was near Jerusalem. Zion is often used to refer to the city of Jerusalem. Zion was the location of the Old Testament temple of the Lord. The term Zion means marked or distinctive or differentiated. Zion was known as the place where God dwelt with His people in a very close relationship. No false god has ever lived in and among his people. False gods are a fiction of an overly rebellious mind.
The book of Judges makes reference to the congregation in several places (Judges 21:5, 21:10, 21:13, 21:6), and also of the assembly (Judges 20:2, 21:8). Deuteronomy 31 instructs the people to gather so that they may hear, learn and fear the Lord, and observe to do all the words of His law.
Officers of the Church
We have already seen (BCO FG Chapter III:1) that the power which Christ has committed to his church is not vested in the special officers alone, but in the whole body. It is a privilege of membership in the local church to call, prepare for office, and to elect men to serve in ordinary and perpetual offices in the church for the ministry of the Word of God, of oversight, and of mercy.
Those who share in the oversight or rule of the church may be called elders (presbyters), bishops, or church governors. Those who minister in mercy and service are called deacons. Those elders who have been endued and called of Christ to labor also in the Word and teaching are called ministers (BCO FG Chapter V:3). Paul says he became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to him for the God’s elect, to make the word of God fully known to them (Colossians 1:25). He went on to describe this as a perpetual gift to God’s people through the appointment of men to the office of overseers to assure their well-being.
Paul described the qualifications for the office as those who are: “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
Paul urges the church to be imitators of God, as beloved children. To walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, and to be a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2). Hebrews 13:17 urges the saints to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
Godly leaders accurately present only the authority of Jesus Christ – they must not act out of self-interests, and they have no authority in and of themselves. The authority of church officers is derivative of Christ, it is vested in their office, not in the individuals who fill an office. Only the Word of God has authority. Christ is the Head of the Church, and He mediates  His rule in the Church through His Word.
We see from the above discussion that believers in common within the church exercise great responsibilities in calling men to serve the body/gathering to lead them to Jesus Christ, to nurture and nourish them in the Word. As a member of the local church great responsibilities must be exercised with extreme care and diligence by all members, for the well-being of the congregation.
Next week: The nature of the offices of the church and the processes that govern ordination and installation to serve the church.