The Authority of "Ministries" (Part I)

Stanley L. Morris


This article is written to show what the New Testament has to say about the authority of "ministries." In Part One I will examine the roots of the original model of the first century very closely. Part Two (forthcoming) will present a few timely observations about current religious "leadership."


God Delegated His Power of Christ

When discussing any question of authority, it is important to state one's bedrock assumptions at the beginning: According to the entire Bible, God is viewed as the ultimate Authority. God is also over Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). God the Father sent Jesus with full authority. Jesus spoke the words of God (John 3:34). At first, Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the household of Israel to preach the kingdom of God, and "to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18). God sent His Son to save the whole world (John 3:17). Accomplishing God's will was Jesus' mission, and, ultimately, he was our sin-offering (1 John 4:10), so that we could live eternally through him. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

Christ's Authority and Power

During the ministry of Jesus, God anointed him with the Holy Spirit without measure and with power (dunamis). He taught people as one having authority (exousia). He had the right to forgive sins on earth. Jesus commanded unclean spirits to come out, and he was in control of the elements. Governor Pilate had no power over him (John 19:10,11). Christ had the power to lay down his life as a sacrifice voluntarily and to rise from death (John 10:18; cf. I Cor. 6:14). He destroyed the Devil's power (kratos) through his own death and resurrection (Heb. 2:14). So, at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus said, "All authority (exousia) has been given to me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). And, he will come again with power (dunamis, Matt. 24:30). Christ is the power (dunamis) of God (1 Cor. 1:24), i. e. the preaching about the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18), which is where our faith should rest (1 Cor. 2:5). He now lives forever by the power of God (2 Cor. 13:4; Heb. 7:16). At the end of time, Jesus will have subjugated every other kind of rule (archee), authority (exousia), and power (dunamis) (1 Cor. 15:24). Every knee will bow to him (Phil. 2:10).

Various Roles of Christ

Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Acts 4:12 says, "There is salvation in no one else, because there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." And, there is only "one Mediator between God and men--the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 2:5).

Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), who laid down his life for the sheep. Sometimes the people were like sheep without a shepherd. He yearned to bring Israel and "other sheep not of this fold" into one flock with one Shepherd (John 10:16). He is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). He is the Lamb shepherding us and guiding us to the springs of the water of life (Rev. 7:17).

Jesus is the Head of the ekklesia (Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:15; 5:21-23; Col. 1:18, 2:19; Heb. 3:4, 6), both locally and world-wide. Believers are members of his body (Rom. 7:4; 12:4, 5; I Cor. 10:17; 11:29; 12:12-30; Eph. 4:4, 12, 16, 5:30; Col. 1:24; 3:15). Similarly, Jesus is the Vine and individual Christians are the branches (John 15:1-10). Jesus is our adopted Brother, i. e. we are fellow-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). He is the Bridegroom (Matt. 9:15, 25:1,6; John 3:29; Rev. 21:2) and the ekklesia is his bride (2 Cor. 11:2, Rev. 19:7; 21:2; 22:17). Christians are united to him (Rom. 7:4; I Cor. 6:15; I John 2:24).

Jesus is Lord. He was above the holy Sabbath (Matt. 12:8). He is the Head of every male, who are over the females (1 Cor. 11:3ff). Christ is "the Head of all principalities and powers" (Col. 2:10, 15). All angels, authorities, and powers have been made subject to the ascended Christ (1 Pet. 3:22). Jesus is the King. Jesus is our only High Priest. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Foundation, the Chief Cornerstone.

The Early Disciples of Christ

Jesus set the right example: He is the Messianic Servant in Matt. 12:18, quoting Isaiah 42:1-4, one of the Suffering Servant passages. He took upon himself the form of a slave and was made in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7). He came to serve (diakonein) and not to be served (Mark 10:45). For example, he washed the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-15). Even though he had no sins, he so identified with us, that he allowed himself to be immersed because it was proper "to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). Jesus Christ was a "minister" (diakonos) to the Jews on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises which were given to their forefathers (Rom. 15:8). As High Priest, he is the "Minister" (leitourgos) of the heavenly Sanctuary and of the true Tabernacle (Heb. 8:2). He left the true example for every Christian to follow "in his steps" (1 Pet. 2:24). He taught that greatness comes through serving (diakonein) in Matt. 20:26-18. Jesus said, "If any man serves (diakonee) me, let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant (diakonos) will also be. If any man serves me, my Father will honor him" (John 12:26). So, following Jesus is equivalent to serving Jesus.

No follower of Christ is greater than Christ or the Father. Matt. 10:24, 25 says: "The disciple (matheetees) is not above his master (didaskalos), nor the slave (doulos) above his lord (kurios).It is enough for the disciple that he be like his master, and that the servant be like his lord" (Compare also John 13:16; 15:20). But Jesus told his apostles:

"Hereafter I am not calling you 'slaves' (douloi), because a slave does not know what his master (kurios) is doing. Instead, I have called you 'friends' (filoi), because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You have not chosen me; I have chosen you. I ordained you, so that you can go and produce fruit, and so that your fruit will last, that whatever you ask for from the Father in my name, He will give it to you" (John 15:15, 16).

Jesus sent out his apostles into Israel and into the world with authority from God.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

The Father and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the people through the apostles and other key individuals (Luke 24:49; John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Acts 1:4, 5, 8; 2:18; 1 Thess. 4:8). John was a witness of the tradition passed down by the Holy Spirit (John 19:35; 21:24; i John 2:27).

Two Kingdoms

Although "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Psa. 24:1, Satan has invaded it (Matt. 13:38, 39). He is called "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2) and "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). He offered "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" (Matt. 4:8; Luke 4:5) to Jesus. His is a world of darkness (Luke 22:53) where many rule by force and more are dominated by dictatorial authority. However, Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. Otherwise, his servants would have been fighting for him (John 18:36; cf. 2 Tim. 2:24). In the world, kingdoms rise up against kingdoms (Matt. 24:7). There is constant turmoil merely to maintain political power (Matt. 12:25; Mark 3:24; Luke 11:17, 18; 19:15).

On the other hand, the full-blown kingdom of God was a long time in coming. When Jesus began his ministry, it was imminent (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 12:28; Mark 1:14, 15; Luke 4:43; 10:9, 11; 11:2,20; 16:16; 17:20). This is what Jesus and his disciples taught and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God (Matt. 4:23; 9 35; Mark 1:39; Luke 9:2, 11, 60). The kingdom of heaven was being taken from the Jews and being given to Gentiles (Matt. 8:11, 12; 21:43; Luke 13:30); some of the Jewish leaders had barred the way (Matt. 23:13). The disciples were taught to pray that God's kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10, 33; Luke 12:31). They were told that they could have ownership of this kingdom (Luke 6:20; 12:32). However, even John the Immerser was not a part of this glorious new kingdom (Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28). Jesus predicted that it would come "with power" (Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). Jesus was preparing the people to enter into this kingdom. One Jewish scribe was "not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for it (Mark 15:43). People were in suspense (Luke 19:11; 21:31). It was worth the sacrifice (Luke 18:29). And, it was the Father's good pleasure to give it to His true followers (Luke 13:28, 29).

Even after the resurrection of Jesus, his apostles held a basic misconception about the nature of the kingdom: "Lord, is it at this time that you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Jesus had already said: "the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21). The thief on the cross understood the spiritual aspect of the kingdom better than the apostles when he said: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom! (Luke 23:42).

Jesus' kingdom will never end (Luke 1:43). It was in the mind of God since the creation of the world (Matt. 24:34). Jesus prepared his apostles for the Pentecost event on several occasions. On Pentecost (Acts 2) the kingdom of God became a reality (Acts 8:12; 14:22; Rev. 1:9). It was Paul's message everywhere he went. God "has delivered us from the power of darkness and He has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son" (Col. 1:13). God's kingdom is now something that we can enter or fail to enter (Acts 14:22; I Cor. 6:9, 10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; 2 Pet. 1:11). Christians have now received a kingdom which cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). Those who are rich in faith can be the heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him (James 2:5). At the end of time, Jesus will deliver up the kingdom of God to the Father, having totally subjugated everything to Him (1 Cor. 15:24; cf. Rev. 11:15; 12:10), where Satan is being overcome by the blood of the Lamb and through the victory of his saints.

Nowhere is there a sharper contrast between the ways of the world and Jesus' way than in Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-20; cf. also 2 Cor. 1:23, 24. There was a dispute about who would be the greatest in the forthcoming kingdom of Christ. They were jockeying for the "best" positions. They still possessed wordly conceptions of power in their minds. However, Jesus calmly answered: "It will not be among you." He stressed the importance of service and sacrifice as the true path to greatness. Earlier, he had taught them that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are those who behave submissively, like children (Matt. 18:1-4; 19:13-15; Mark 10:14-16; Luke 18:15-17). If people claim to be following Jesus, yet they still adhere to the power structures of the world, then they are self-deceived!

There are three key passages which describe the initial structure of the early ekklesia in considerable detail:

(1) "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the Cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling in God in the Spirit." (Eph. 2:19-22);

(2) "And God has appointed in the ekklesia, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, various kinds of languages. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?" (1 Cot. 12:28-30);

(3) "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists (evangelistas), and some as pastors (poimenas), and teachers (diakonias), to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ, so that hereafter we are no longer children." (Eph. 4:11-14).

The Apostles, the First Leaders

The apostles were hand-picked ambassadors (presbeuein) as representatives sent by Christ to recruit others on his behalf to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit (Parakleetos) to teach them everything and to remind them of everything that he had said (John 14:26). The Spirit of truth would guide them into all revealed truth (John 16:13). He would testify to them about Jesus (John 15:26). Jesus told them: "Peace be to you. As my Father has sent me, even so, I am sending you." And when he had said that, he symbolically breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22) The apostles became ministers (diakonoi) of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), which is the ministration (diakonia) of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:8), and the ministration of righteousness (2 Cor. 3:9). When Judas forfeited his place among the original twelve apostles, one was chosen to replace him (Acts 1:26). However, when each apostle died later, there is no indication in history that any attempt was made to replace him. The only hint of succession seems to be the conferring of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit through the hands of apostles (Acts 6:6; 8:14-19; 2 Tim. 1:6). The prophet Joel predicted that the Spirit of God would be poured forth upon all mankind, upon all of His servants (Joel 2:28, 29). This happened on the day of Pentecost in 30 A.D. (Acts 2). The apostles were the first to receive the immersion of the Holy Spirit, but others received the gifts of the Spirit soon afterward through their hands.

Paul was a special case (1 Cor. 15:8). Besides being the apostle (apostolos) to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15, 16), Paul had other roles: He was a slave (doulos) of Christ (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:100; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1), and a servant (eduoloosa) to everyone (1 Cor. 9:19; 2 Cor. 4:5; Col. 1:25). He was appointed a preacher (keerux) of the gospel (evanggelion) and a teacher (didaskalos) of the Gentiles (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). Paul was a minister (hupeeretee) and a witness (martur) especially chosen by Jesus for the purpose (Acts 26:16). The gospel was committed to his trust, and he was very thankful that Christ had put him into the ministry (eis diakonian) (1 Tim. 1:10-13). The Holy Spirit had separated him out for "the work" (diakonia) (Acts 13:2). He regarded himself and Apollos as only servants (diakonoi) of the gospel through whom people came to faith in Christ (1 Cor. 3:5; cf. 2 Cor. 6:4; Eph. 3:6, 7; Col. 1:23). However, he magnified his ministry (diakonia) (Rom. 11:13). He wanted to be sure that nothing would discredit the ministry (diakonia) (2 Cor. 6:3). On one particular occasion regarding the gift for the saints in the Jerusalem area, he was "the minister. (leitourgos) of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering (heirourgountas) the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:15, 16). He was going there to minister (diakonon) to the saints, both physically and spiritually (Rom. 15:25; cf. 2 Cor. 9:1). Paul's sense of mission is best expressed in Acts 20:24:" that I can finish my course with joy and the ministry (diakonian) which I have received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel (diakonian) which I have received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel (to euaggelion) of the grace of God." And he was successful in doing that (2 Tim. 4:6-8; Acts 21:13). Paul had always served (worshipped, latreuein) God (Acts 27:23; Rom. 1:9) with a pure conscience (2 Tim. 1:3).

Paul could have boasted about the authority (exousia) given to the apostles. But the Lord gave it to them for the purpose of edifying, not for destructive purposes. However, Paul would not be intimidated (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10). Paul was fully conscious of the fact that what he was writing were the authoritative commands of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 2 Thess. 3:14). Some of his letters were later misinterpreted (2 Cor. 10:9ff; 2 Pet. 3:16). Paul did not handle the word of God deceitfully, either (2 Cor. 4:2). Likewise, before Peter died, he constantly felt the need to remind Christians of the teaching of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:12-15). He candidly reveals where he got his information (2 Pet. 1:16-21).

By trade, Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:3). He was a stellar example of self-sufficiency in spreading the message of Jesus. The exemplar for a modern-day "minister" could be Paul, the businessman. Not only did he support himself, but also an entire entourage of co-workers! He never wanted to be accused of preaching the gospel for money, though he certainly defended the right of others to receive some loving support while they were preaching it (1 Cor. 9:14). He did receive assistance from the Philippian congregation (Phil. 4:15), but only after leaving that area. Perhaps, he was establishing the principle of maintaining a proper balance with the locals. He encouraged people to get a job and work with their hands, so that they would have something to give to other whenever needs arose (Eph. 4:28). He felt so strongly about the necessity of working that he said bluntly: "If anyone will not work, neither let him eat!" (2 Thess. 3:10). He and his companions labored, working with their hands (1 Cor. 4:12). He said, "For, brethren, you recall our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed (ekeeruxamen) to you the gospel (to euaggelion) of God." (1 Thess. 2:9). Paul adds:

"And we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right (exousio) to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you would follow our example." (2 Thess. 3:8, 9; cf. 1 Thess. 4:11; I Cor. 9:15; 2 Cor. 11:7, 8).

Later, he told the Ephesian elders:

"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothing. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own necessities, and to those who were with me. I have shown you all things, how that, so laboring, you ought to support the weak and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive."' (Acts 20:33-35). One time Paul's resources were tested to the limit. While in prison in Rome, he was prevented from making money through his occupation. See Phil. 2:30, where the Philippian congregation came through for him again and again while he was incarcerated (also cf. Phil 4:14-16).

Other Workers

Paul wrote this to young Timothy: "And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach (didaxai) others also." (2 Tim. 2:2). Although there were a number of prophets inspired directly by God, the normal means of transmission was through teaching (didaskein). The continuity of links in this one chain becomes unmistakably clear: Jesus saw God. The apostles saw Jesus. And faithful Christians keep the witness alive within themselves as an anointing (1 John 2:20, 27) and by teaching the simple story to others. Because of the presence of false teachers, it was necessary to test the purity of the apostolic tradition (1 John 3:24 4:6, 13). According to 1 John 5:6-8, the chief criterion was the historicity of the Spirit's witness at Jesus' immersion (the water) at the beginning of his ministry, and the death of Jesus (the blood) at the end of his life's work.

Younger men like Timothy, an evangelist (euangelistees), were crucial bridges in the early stages to insuring an unbroken succession of authentic apostolic teaching (1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14). Timothy had authority (cf. Titus 2:15), but he was not an apostle of Christ. Nevertheless, Timothy was fully endorsed by Paul as a "brother" and "co-laborer of God in the gospel of Christ" (1 Thess. 3:2; cf. Rom. 16:21;2 Cor. 1:19). He was like a son to Paul (1 Cor. 4:17, Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2). He seemed to be everywhere, helping Paul and the cause. Timothy "worked the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. 16:10). His work is called "service" in Phil. 2:17. Paul told him: "For the time will come when they will not endure healthy doctrine, but they will heap teachers to themselves after their own lusts, having itching ears. And they will turn away their ears from the truth, and will be turned to legends. But watch yourself in all things. Endure afflictions. Do the work of an evangelist (ergon poieeson euangelistou). Make full proof of your ministry (diakonia). (2 Tim. 4:3-5). Timothy was encouraged by Paul to be "a good minister" of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and good doctrine." (1 Tim. 4:6). "Good" here probably means "dependable" (cf. Heb. 3:5; Rev. 15:3). Timothy was to perform diligently like an unashamed craftsman who skillfully presents the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

In addition to Timothy, there was a whole host of very special individuals flanking the apostles. They were extremely important in directly helping God's people to gain momentum. Some of them were: Barnabas (9:27; 11:22); Philip (Acts 6:5, 6; 8:5-13; 21:8); Titus (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6, 13, 14); John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25); Silvanus (Silas) (Acts 15:22, 27, 32, 40); Priscilla (Prisca)/Aquila (Acts 18:2, 18, 26); Apollos (Acts 18:24; 19:1; Titus 3:13); Luke (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philm. 24), Tychicus (Acts 20:4; Eph. 6:21); Epaproditus (Phil. 2:25; 4:18); Trophimus (Acts 20:4; 21:29; 2 Tim. 4:20); Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15, 17); Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:16; 4:19); Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4:12; Philm. 23); Gaius (Acts 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor 1:14); Archippus (Col. 4:17; Philm. 2); Fortunatus (1 Cor. 16:17); Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:17); Sosthenes (Acts 18:17, 1 Cor. 1:1); Demas (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:10; Philm. 1:24); Aristarchus (Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2); Sopater (Acts 20:4); Secundus (Acts 20:4); Clement (Phil. 4:3); Crescens (2 Tim. 4:10); Erastus (Acts 19:22; Rom. 16:23; 2 Tim. 4:20); Artemas (Titus 3.12), Zenas (Titus 3.13), and the brother (2 Cor. 8:18-22; 12:18). They were variously called: "co-worker," "partner," "fellow prisoner," "laborer," "servant" (diakonos),"fellow-soldier," "brother," "messenger"(apostolos),"minister" (hupeeretee), "steward" (oikonomos), and "fellow-slave" (sundoulos).

Other Leaders

In my judgment, the next five categories in the list of 1 Cot. 12:28-30 probably comprise those who also shared in some of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-11; Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:7, 8). This was God's way of empowering His ekklesia until it was firmly established in the world. I interpret I Cor. 13:8-11 to mean that these miraculous gifts would gradually cease as the ekklesia reached spiritual maturity (to teleion). This view is confirmed by Eph. 4:13, 14 leis andra teleion.., hina meeketi oomen neepioi).

In keeping with their Jewish heritage, the apostles went about helping to set up a group of "elders" (presbuteroi) in each local congregation (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:22; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). These men were equivalent to "overseers" (episkopoi), compare Acts 20:17 with Acts 20:28, and Titus 1:5 with Titus 1:7. There was a plurality of them (Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 4:14). And some were supported well while they worked hard at preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17, 18). Paul urged the Thessalonian Christians to know those who labored (tous kopoontas) among them and who led (proistamenous) them in the Lord, who admonished them (1 Thess. 5:12). In the Hebrew letter, it says: "Remember those who lead you (heegoumenoon, 13:7)... Obey your leaders (heegoumenois) and submit to them, because they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief" (13:17). The Apostle Peter exhorted them to "shepherd (poimanate; cf. poimenai in Eph. 4:11) the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God, and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness, nor yet as lording it over (katakurieuontes; cf. Matt. 20:25) those allotted to your charge, but provoking to be examples to the flock." (1 Pet. 5:2, 3). Their characteristics are given in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11. It is significant that neither Timothy nor Titus were ever called "presbuteros" or "episkopos," but it is clear that good men like these helped those new Christians become grounded in the faith.

The Greek word diakonos has a special sense in 1 Tim. 3:8-13. It is quite possible that the seven men of Acts 6:1-6 were "deacons," but we cannot be certain. They helped with more routine matters in order to give their leaders more time to deal with higher priorities. The feminine form of the same word (diakonon) appears m Rom. 16:1. She may have only been a messenger from Cenchreae, carrying Paul's letter to the Roman Christians.

The People of God

Who are the people of God? They are not only the leaders mentioned above, but ALL those who follow Christ. There are several different modalities used in the New Testament to describe God's people:

(1) familial

One of the terms which is used most commonly is "brothers" (adelfoi). It reveals close family ties "in Christ." Jesus is the one and only (monogenees) Son of God, but believers become sons or daughters of God through adoption (Rom. 8:15). Therefore, in the family of God (Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15a), no sibling can be higher than the others. This is tantamount to a real sense of equality. Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor non-Jew (ethnic distinctions), slave nor freedman (economic status), male nor female (sexual differences), because you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Yet the same apostle also taught the wisdom of recognizing necessary cultural standards (1 Cor. 7:18-24; 11:1-16; 14:34, 35; Eph. 6:1-9; Col. 3:17--4:1-6; I Tim. 2:11, 12; 5:1-22).

(2) connective

Because believers are immersed into Christ (Rom. 6:3, 4; Gal. 3:26, 27; Col. 2:11, 12), they become members of his body (Eph. 5:30), which is the ekklesia (Col. 1:24). "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (Rom. 12:4, 5; cf. 1 Cor. 12:12). The communion bread symbolizes unity (1 Cor. 11:29). The Holy Spirit knows how to bring about a balance of diversified functions in this spiritual body (1 Cor. 12:12-30; Eph. 4:4, 12, 16; Col. 3:15). According to John 15:1-10, individuals (branches) draw their life from Christ, the Source (Vine). This is called sharing (koinoonia).

(3) organizational

The term ekklesia occurs 114 times in the New Testament. Most of the time it refers to a "congregation" of God's people in a local sense. Occasionally, it is used in a global sense (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22, 23, etc.). However, in Acts 19:32, 39, 40 it retains its classical sense of a legal assembly, i.e., a group of people regularly summoned together ("called out") for the purpose of voting. Firmly rooted in the Exodus event (Acts 7:38), ekklesia conjures up the idea of God calling His people out of the world (Egypt) to live holy lives (2 Cor. 6:17, 18)--in the evil world but not of it (1 Cor. 5:10). Christ is the bridegroom (Matt. 9:15; 25:1, 6) and the ekklesia is his bride (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7; 21:2; 22:17).

Etymologically, the English word "church" does not derive from ekklesia but from kuriakon, which means "(house) which belongs to the Lord," viz., a "church" building. Ekklesia is better translated by the term "congregation" in the autonomous sense or by "community'' in the universal sense. Besides, there were no church buildings until three centuries after Christ! They often met in the homes of Christians (1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:5; Phil 4:21, 22; Philm. 2). Perhaps, the Corinthian Christians met in a larger place for worship (1 Cor. 14:23). It is interesting to note that here it was called "the ekklesia" before it gathered. 1 Tim. 3:15 is probably the best clue to the sense of family which is inherent in the word ekklesia. Eph. 5:21-33 depicts the ekklesia as being like a good marriage--something which we have to work at to perfect.

(4) hierarchical

Although Jesus Christ is undeniably Lord and King, he is portrayed as benign and not as a demogogue. The stakes are high. One chooses to serve as a slave (doulos) of one of two masters sin or Jesus (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6, 16-20, 22; 7:6, 25; 16:18; 1 Thess. 1:9). One repays with death and the other with life (Rom. 6:23). The final victory will belong to Christ: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ. And He will reign forever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). Knowing the eventual outcome, we must lovingly serve (douleuete) one another (Gal. 5:13).

(5) sacramental

With Jesus being our only High Priest, we are "a chosen class, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a special people" (1 Pet. 2:9). He made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God and Father (Rev. 1:6). In the New Testament, the word "saints" (hago,) is used frequently to refer to many ordinary living Christians, not a few canonized dead people!

Using the motif of Jesus as the rock foundation of it all (Matt. 16:18; Acts 4:11; 1 Cor. 3:11), we learn that God's true Sanctuary (naos) is now His holy people and His Spirit lives in them (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:18, 19; 2 Cor. 6:16). Jesus explained the changed nature of worship in John 4:19-24. There is no special holy place on earth. We must fully realize that God never lived in a house made by human hands, like that of Solomon (Acts 7:47-50). The tabernacle or the temple only represented His presence. We are that house (Heb. 3:1-6), and we are like living stones who have been built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). And Christ acts as a singular High Priest, "a minister (leitourgos) in the Sanctuary and in the true Tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man" (Heb. 8:1, 2). Today uncompromising Christians everywhere present their bodies as acceptable, living, holy sacrifices everyday. This is the true worship (Rom. 12:1, 2 cf. the practical things of James 1:27). They continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God in the form of the fruit of their lips giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15). Paul thought of himself as being poured out like a drink-offering upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of the Philippian congregation (Phil. 2:17). Also, he pictured himself as a priest offering up the Gentiles to God as an acceptable sacrifice to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:15, 16). Someday we will serve (worship) in front of the throne of God in heaven (Rev. 7:15; 19:5; 22:3).

(6) dependent

Finally, the imagery of a shepherd leading his sheep is poignant indeed when considered with reference to the people of God. Sheep are timid, errant, defenseless creatures who are no match for the wolf (Satan). They need constant protection and care from the Good Shepherd (Jesus, John 10:1-18), who has given his very life to save them. The New Testament is replete with rich examples of the value of just one sheep (Matt. 12:11, 12; 18:12) in comparison with the whole flock (Luke 15:1-6), of the intimacy between the shepherd and his pet sheep (John 10:2-4), of unprotected flocks (Matt. 9:36; 26:31; Mark 6:34), and of our sinful tendencies (1 Pet. 2:25). Peter was told to tend the sheep (John 21:16, 17) and the Ephesian elders/overseers were urged to be ever vigilant (Acts 20:28-30).

The first-century community of God was a brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17). There were no power structures among Christians like those which prevailed in the world at that time. All were equal in Christ (Gal. 3:28). The early ekklesia understood themselves to be without rank or status, because each member (sheep) was essentially equidistant to the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls (1 Pet. 2:25)--Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). There is no evidence of any "clergy" system in contradistinction to the "laity." That is an Old Testament concept. Both Greek words (kleeros and laos) were used to refer to the same people of God (Col. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:3; Rom. 9:25, 26; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9, 10). The modern alleged distinction between clergy and laity is an artificial one and should be totally abandoned. Let there be not even a hint of it among us! This is not to say that there are not true leaders, but one should not conclude that any particular function in the body of Christ is more important than all other functions. Christ and the whole ekklesia are "priestly" together. Nowhere in the New Testament does a class of men in the ekklesia take on special priestly characteristics.

In summary, even though the early movement of the first followers of Christ was generally characterized by a certain classlessness, the divine wisdom of God saw to it that gifted leaders were in place when needed most. Leadership will always be necessary, because necessary functions will always have to be performed.


In Jesus' day, the Sadducees and Pharisees constituted the Jewish hierarchy. Although Jesus was often called "Rabbi," he was never recognized by the Jewish leaders as belonging to that official category. He was not ordained by them and neither were his followers (see Acts 4:13).

Near the end of Jesus' ministry, the Jewish "clergy" badgered him with this question: "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" (Matt. 21:23). This was only natural, because their entire religious system was being severely challenged by the implications of the message of Jesus. Not only did the content of his teaching disturb the religious establishment, but his instructional style was markedly different from the usual rabbinic form (Matt. 7:29). The question of authority for servants of God is just as relevant today for ethical matters as it was then. The position of Jesus was not popular with those in power. I suspect that my views, which, hopefully, are identical, will not be widely accepted either.