Spiritual Leadership of God's People: Past, Present and Future
It is clear from what is written in the biblical record that the Creator God (Jesus Christ) established both a civil and spiritual system through which the Israelites were to be governed. This system was designed so they could live together in harmony and perform the work they were given 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 also 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 Israel were held personally accountable to the Creator for the performance of their responsibilities. Even Moses and King David were severely punished for improper behavior. 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 separated for service and leadership 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; 15:1-19; 1.Cor.5:1-13; 1.Tim.1:18-20.
This chapter provides foundational information which is necessary in order to understand the past, present, and future leadership of the Father's elect in the context of various aspects of authority, responsibility, and accountability.
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 congregations should be led. Moreover, congregational governments range in form from anarchistic, autocratic, democratic, republic, and mixtures of these.
Today, we find great division and confusion among the Father's elect about exactly what constitutes the organized body of Christ 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 the elect today would disappear. However, total unity among the various congregations of the elect is unlikely to occur during the end of the age because of what is revealed in prophecy about the seven churches which will exist shortly 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 before all who are called to salvation from now until Christ returns concerns how to obtain peace, harmony, and a common purpose among and within the various congregations of the elect so that there will be an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth and the fulfillment of the work of the church.
Much of what is written in this book about the organizational and governmental structure of congregations is 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 body of Christ before he returns.
Since the demise of the early church, Jesus Christ has 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. In fact, the history of the church shows just the opposite. When the early church disappeared as a powerful entity, so did most of its dynamic spirit-filled leadership.
Carefully read and study what follows concerning the demise and disappearance of the early church, because without this background information, what is presented in this book about church authority and government will make little sense.
Please keep in mind as you review this book that much of it was composed in the year 2013, and that conditions and circumstances in the world and in the body of Christ today may be dramatically different from when this book was first 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.
SHEPHERDING OF GOD'S PEOPLE
The biblical record shows that, before and during the establishment of the early church, God's chosen people were to be shepherded by spiritual leaders of his choosing, which will also be the case after Christ returns.
Adam to Noah
We know from the Genesis record that the Creator God taught Adam and Eve his sacrificial system of worship. We also know that Cain and Abel were taught God's system of worship as well (Gen.4:1-7). Second Peter 2:5 tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness who had authority from the Creator 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.
Noah to Abraham
Noah was a preacher of righteousness; therefore, some form of organized spiritual leadership representing the true God was in existence before Abraham. In Genesis 26:1-5, the Creator tells Isaac about his promise to Abraham of national greatness. He then promises to also bless Isaac because Abraham obeyed him and practiced his commandments, laws, and statutes, which means there must have been men sanctioned by God to teach and guide his people in his ways from the time of Noah to the time of Abraham.
Abraham to Moses
From Abraham to Moses, little is recorded in the biblical record about how righteous individuals worshiped and served the Creator. However, what is recorded clearly documents that a worship system was in place through which the Creator could be worshiped and served.
Moses to Jesus
From the 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 a 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 matters. When one reads the biblical records about the establishment of national Israel, it becomes clear that the system of civil and spiritual government the Creator God gave them was highly efficient, extremely fair, and just.
After the Israelites entered 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 governmental system he had given them and added a king as their 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 layman). See Matt.26:3,57,59; 27:41; Mk. 14:53; 15:1; Lk.22:66). The High Priest and those who served under him as members of the Sanhedrin during Christ's lifetime predominantly belonged to the orders of Sadducees and Scribes.
Jesus accepted this tribunal as the official civil and spiritual authority of the Jews during his lifetime and said that the Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. See Matt.23:1-2.
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 God's worship system to national Israel under the Mount Sinai covenant. See Lev.10:8-11.
After Christ Returns
After Christ returns and establishes the Kingdom of God on earth, the scriptures show that the descendants of Zadok will rule the Levitical Priesthood and administer God's sacrificial system of worship from Jerusalem similar to the way 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.
THE LEADERSHIP OF THE EARLY CHURCH
In order to 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.
It is also likely that the ministry of these converted priests was needed, because there were many thousands among the Jews who believed the gospel message (Acts 21:20). It seems plausible that these converted priest 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." From Sabbath to Sunday by Samuele Bacchiocchi, page 151.
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 returns, 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.
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 which governed all of the followers of Christ. This council of apostles and elders under the presidency of James was in direct opposition to the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Nazarenes 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 governmental system with which to exercise authority, responsibility, accountability, and jurisdiction over all believers at home and abroad until Christ returns.
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 which 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. 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 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 made by the council of elders surrounding the issues put forth in Acts, chapter 15 reveal that the elders did not have the right to act independently of the rest of the eldership, and that they were 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.
DOES THE CHURCH EXIST TODAY?
Does the church Jesus built exist on earth today? If the church does exist, are the Father's elect 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 an organization does not necessarily make it a part of the Body of Christ. The Ekklesia (the church) which would exist during the gospel age of salvation was established by Jesus on the Festival of Pentecost after his crucifixion and resurrection (Lk.24:49; Jn.14:26; 16:7; Acts 2:1-27).
In the purest sense, the church Jesus said he would establish is a spiritual entity 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). These individuals either gather together as a group or separately worship their heavenly Father seeking to learn his way of life, work out their salvation, and perform the work they have been called to do.
Most Quasi-Christians of today believe the church Jesus established is a very efficient organization with buildings, facilities, and all the trappings of corporations and businesses. However, the early church was not a wealthy organization, owning buildings and vast land holdings. It is pictured as a fluid organization that cared for its own, supported its spiritual leadership through offerings, shared wealth and material goods among its membership, and met in homes and public places to fellowship and worship the Father.
Quasi-Christian churches and most of the true congregations of the elect today are very different in organizational structure from what Jesus had in mind when he said, "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 Jesus built is comprised of individuals God the Father has called out of this world's societies to be a part of his earthly family of king-priests (the church, 1.Cor.1:1-31).
The collective church is not a corporate business entity or a building. An organizational structure is only the modality through which a collective work can be performed to proclaim the Father's good news message and to perform the function and responsibility of the ministry to guide, teach, and protect the elect as noted by the apostle Paul. See Matt.28:19-20; Eph.4:11-16.
Regardless of what some believe, physical corporations or organizations are not what Christ built. The reality is that the Father's elect (i.e., the church) 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. Each individual selected by the Father to become a firstborn son of his new creation has a function and responsibility in his earthly family.
THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH
There are primarily four reasons for the establishment of the elect as congregations:
1. To proclaim the Father's good news message to the world as a witness and a warning:
"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 teach the message of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ, repentance, and obedience to the Sovereign Father's laws, precepts, and principles:
"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 Christ rule this world after his return:
"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 the Father calls to salvation (Jn.6:44; 65) to grow in grace and knowledge (2.Pet.3:18) and learn and perfect the Father's ways in their lives so they will be able to fulfill the purpose for being called to salvation during this gospel age. (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 which 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, especially verses 11-13.
The word faith (Greek: pistis) in verse five 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 congregations of the elect scattered throughout the world with many differing opinions as to how to accomplish the proclaiming of the gospel message and one's spiritual walk with the Father and Christ.
It should be apparent to anyone that our associations always have either a positive or negative impact on us. This is especially true of our spiritual associations. Therefore, if you are truly seeking to obey the Father and Christ and grow toward spiritual maturity, you will desire to be with people who are truly moving forward spiritually.
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 show that each individual called to salvation during this age should be extremely careful with whom they associate on a spiritual level.
MANY DIFFERING CONGREGATIONS
If there is only one Body of Christ (Eph.4:4-7) to which the elect belong, only one spirit, and only one faith, why are the Father's earthly children separated into various congregations which 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 Isa.30:9-10; 66:3; Ezk.20:12-13). It is a sad fact that many of the Father's elect are in rebellion against him and his Son today.
Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites, snakes, liars, and deceivers, because they were not teaching total truth. Instead, they were teaching Jewish traditions and their own philosophy and interpretation of God's laws, precepts, and principles, which constituted rebellion:
"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.). See also Matt.23:13-33; Jn.8:44-55.
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 and their spiritual leaders are in rebellion. If this were not true, there would be unity among the elect.
The apostle Paul's warning to Timothy also applies to this present age of the church:
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (1.Tim.4:1-2 NIV).
"Preach God's truth at all times and reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all patience and doctrine. For the time will come when they [some of the elect] 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.).
Many of the Father's elect will do as they please and follow ministers who preach things which 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 the Father's children in order to fulfill their own sinful lusts and desires. And there are those today who perpetuate this same evil upon the elect. See Rom.16: 17-18.
Rebellion comes in many forms and always separates the rebellious from the Father and Christ. Today's divided elect are an example of people's desire to obey their own self-will rather than their Father's will.
Another reason for disunity and division among congregations of the elect is Satan's deception. In the early days of the church, Satan began his plan to destroy the Father's elect from within the church. 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 congregations of the elect who claim to be ministers of Christ are truly deceived themselves. But, 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).
Study The Bible
There are two important ways to gain the knowledge and understanding with which to determine what is or is not truth and who is or is not a servant of God: 1) study the Bible; and 2) prove all things.
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness" (2.Tim.2:15-16 NKJV). See also 1.Thes.4:10-12.
In order to be equipped to determine what is or is not truth and who is or is not of the elect, you must seek this knowledge and understanding through a diligent study of the biblical record.
Prove All Things
"Test all things; and hold fast that which is good" (1.Thes.5:21 Para.). See also Rom.12:2.
A person can only know what is good if they diligently study and meditate on what is written in the biblical record where the difference between good and evil is defined.
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Therefore, many of them believed . . ." (Acts 17:11-12 KJV).
The more noble people were those who were serious about knowing and understanding God's truth; therefore, they diligently studied the scriptures in order to prove to themselves what was correct before God.
There are many excellent books which have been written containing historical, archaeological, and scientific facts about the Bible. However, when attempting to understand what is actually written in the biblical record, Bible commentaries and other informational sources have a limited value. This is true because, the vast majority of these books were written by individuals without the indwelling of the holy spirit and therefore give little insight into doctrinal issues concerning the elect. Moreover, one should exercise caution using these sources and measure the information in them against the empirical standard of the Bible itself.
THE THREE CHURCH AGES
The gospel age of salvation seems to be broken down into three different ages of the church: The early church, the dormant church, and the end-time church.
- During the early church age, Jesus inspired the recording of a foundational body of knowledge upon which all subsequent true and faithful believers could order their lives and build congregations.
- 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.
- 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 some of the Father's earthly children will be given great spiritual truth and power to proclaim his good news message and prepare the world for his Son's return.
I Will Build My Church
Jesus said, "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 is most often used to prove that the church 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 (i.e., his Father's elect) still exists, but not in the form that most associate with the churches of today's world. Jesus did build his church 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 on the sick, and the sick shall recover" (Mk.16:17-18 Para.).
THE FIRST AGE
At the conclusion of Mark's Gospel, he writes the following about the work and power of the early church:
"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 establishment of the church in Jerusalem, the Father's elect did go forth evangelizing and spreading his good news message of salvation and the Kingdom of God. Their spiritual zeal changed the course of history. However, it was not in the Father's plan 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 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 supernatural and physical gifts noted in the New Testament which were given to the organized, unified Body of Christ. Each of these authorizations were 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 KJV). See also Eph.4:7-11; Rom.12:3-8; 1.Cor.12: 8-10, 28-30.
In the New Testament, there are many accounts of the elect using their powerful authorizations to perform the commission Jesus gave the church (Acts 3:1-9; 5:1-15; 6:8; 13:8-11; 15:12). The apostles and others performed miraculous works at their 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 God's ways, this is not the primary reason that the early church disappeared as a powerful, unified, spirit-filled entity.
Jesus warned that many of the elect would be deceived by false prophets:
"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 and Jude also warned 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).
"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 the elect worship and serve his heavenly Father? See Deut.5:29; 12:29-32; 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 the Father is a God of order, not confusion (1.Cor.14:33). He is an orderly being. Look at the order of all that exists. From the balance of the universe 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?
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 wrote the following to the Galatians and to Timothy about individuals perverting the true gospel message and those who would depart from the faith, and begin speaking and teaching many things which were not true, and that a time would come when most of the elect would reject truth:
"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.
"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 congregations of the early church would not accept sound teachings. They sought out teachers who taught things which were pleasing, but did not require them to diligently pursue a righteous lifestyle. These teachers deceived the elect who were gullible and spiritually lazy. Soon, a counterfeit of the Father's worship system came into being and surpassed the true church in size and influence and became confused with the worship system Jesus had established.
The Demise and Disappearance
The dynamic, powerful, organized entity Jesus established on the Festival of Pentecost ceased to exist and almost disappeared from the historical record. The answers to the perplexing questions about the demise and disappearance of the early church as a powerful entity 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 the prophecy recorded by Zechariah, 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.
This is an extremely important prophecy because the few words Jesus did not quote gives us the key to understanding why the apostolic church ceased to exist as a powerful entity.
"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 [the elect]" (Zech.13:7 KJV).
The little ones mentioned in verse seven are the Father's elect 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 Jesus would turn against the little ones is that 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 recorded is that it was a different prophecy, which would be fulfilled at a different time. The prophecy recorded by Zechariah would begin its fulfillment during the apostolic age of the church and continue until a time shortly before Christ returns.
THE SECOND AGE
The Father's children have not been destroyed from the face of the earth, they are not in hiding, they do exist on earth, and the Father's plan and purpose for his elect children 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 this, the elect disappeared into obscurity (See Jn.16:1-3).
The concentrated supernatural 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 which 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 Father's elect have continued to exist in relative obscurity, without losing the understanding of the most basic truths 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.
THE THIRD AGE
The prophecies which 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 message and the coming Kingdom of God to earth. These people will be unified in belief and filled with dynamic supernatural power. God the Father and Jesus Christ will use this unified body of believers 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 laws of the physical universe with their supernatural power. Moreover, no physical or spirit-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 issued 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 spoke of these people when he said the following:
"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 the Father's elect who will live just before Christ returns 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. However, the elect who do this great work will not be comprised of all the congregations of the elect, 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 the hope of saving them from the second death in the Lake of Fire.
"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 liars—I 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 Father's elect 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 during the climactic end of human rule on earth. For their obedience and faithfulness, they are promised protection from the awesome final events that will culminate in Christ's return.
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.
The information in the following chapters 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 B. L. Cocherell, Vernon. O. Jones, C.E. Barrett b8w5