Authority and decision making in house churches

Many people ask about authority structures within the house churches, how decisions are made and about the role of elders and other ministries.

First in answer to the question who leads a house church? There should only be one answer, Jesus. Okay, that's a cute, but real answer, but how will decisions be made? Once again, if we all have "the mind of Christ", we should be able to come to a consensus. The Bible teaches that rather than being subject to one priest, or leader, we should all be subject to one another, and humbly allow ourselves to be persuaded by our elders.

What do we mean when we use the word "elder"? Well, on the surface we mean an older person, yet in the new Testament it also refers to a different group of people, also known as "overseers".  These "elders" are not overseers in the work place sense, sort of middle management, But rather trusted brethren who are the guardians of the sheep. Helping them when sin comes, to stop contamination and help the church together to grow in sanctity and righteousness.

They are people qualified by their reputation, see 1 Timothy 3:1 to 7 and Titus 5 to 9. They do not order the church around, but rather seek to help the saints find a unity in Christ. Another role of elders, is to oversee church discipline, as in Matthew18. Who is responsible for the restoration of those who have been subject to discipline? Who better than older Christians will have a lifetime of experiencing the love and grace of God.

I am sure that some, at this time will be asking about the role of apostles and other "leaders". I would answer, that those who have made certain assertions that these ministries are leadership positions have not fully understood the teachings of the New Testament.

The 12 Apostles were not appointed to be company directors, rather they were appointed as messengers of the kingdom, or as I have called them, God’s postmen. The so-called, fivefold ministries of Ephesians 4:11 are in no way "offices", or management positions in the church, that as we are informed in verses 8 and 12 they are gifts to the church whose role is to equip the church for the work or service. Only real servants can teach others to serve.

In the British military the officers are trained, like any other raw recruit, by sergeants. They learn from men given to serve. The gift ministries, each of which have different roles, are real servants. So apostles and prophets, as foundational gifts, equip the saints to share in serving the church by laying a firm foundation of the kingdom of God. Helping new churches to grow. Evangelists serve by equipping the brothers and sisters to make disciples. Pastors serve by demonstrating the meaning of the New Testament texts about how we should serve "one another". Teachers serve by helping others to understand the faith we share. None of these are leaders, but equippers.

So, are Apostles and Elders leaders in the church? Are they the decision makers? Well as we have already seen, the Bible says that Jesus is the head of the Church, so He should be the decision maker. But who exactly is Jesus the head of? Simple, He is the head of His body, that's us folks! In the same way that our head moves our body, and our body gives feedback to our head. That is exactly the same (or should be) in the Body of Christ. We can see this in the New Testament in Acts 6, we read of the selection of the first deacons (servants) to administer the money and property of the church.

Here we find that it was the body of believers who made the decision (using the mind of Christ), they were served by the Apostles who trained them what to look for in a good servant.

We see this again in Acts 15, where the broader church had to come to a decision about how the new Gentile believers were to be integrated into the church. First the Apostles and Elders considered the issue, but then it was put before the whole Church (verse 22) to confirm the decision and communicate it to the wider church. Thus, the whole body came together and moved as one

For me a mark of both Elders and Apostles is real humility. In Peter's first letter he wrote:

 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  1 Peter 5:1-8

Here we see Peter's exhortation to humility, emphasising that Elders are not to "nor lord it over others", but rather be examples.

Another example of the humility of the Apostles and also how others humbly relate to them, we find in Acts 18:24 to 28. Here a brother, called in Scripture an Apostle, Apollos by name, an educated Jew, but educated in the Gospel, preached but misunderstood some aspects. Two friends of Paul invited him to dinner and gently corrected his doctrine.  Aquila and Priscilla were humble and gentle in their correction, but more importantly, Apollos proved his humility by accepting their reproof and going on to powerfully minister Christ in other areas.

Each part of our body as a direct connection with head through the neural pathway. So it is with the body of Christ. No one part above another. It was Satan who tried to set himself up as an authority in God's kingdom. There is only one authority, the Lord! Men constantly seek to build pyramids of authority, yet it is the Lord who led his people out of the land of pyramids, to be free, to have an intimate relationship with Him. No hierarchy just one body, one people in Christ who is our head.

Many Blessings,
Keith Smith
© 2017 Prof. Keith W. Smith. Reprint by written permission only

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