Gaylon Embrey

s you good and well know by this time, in the Dictionary of Denominationalism "the Church" is usually identified institutionally. It is thought of almost exclusively in an organized sense, and is "preached" accordingly. This is especially true among those who have a Church of Christ/Christian Church background. In fact, the Organization of the Church has traditionally been proclaimed as one of the primary identifying marks of "the true Church," along with its name, terms of membership, doctrine, and acts of worship. On a sermon chart the "Organization of the Church" always looks neat and uncomplicated, and it remains so until you begin to make some disconcerting discoveries. For example?

The first thing you discover is that the "scriptural organization" of the institutional Church is not so simple after all, not even in the books purporting to explain it. Take the various conditions a Local Church can get itself into organizationally. According to one author there are several possibilities. To start with, a Church can be "Scripturally Organized." This is wonderful. But a Church can also be "Unscripturally Organized." This is woeful. But then, a Church can also be "Scripturally UNorganized." This is not quite so wonderful, but is still ok. Yet a Church can be "UNscripturally Unorganized" too, which, of course, makes it totally unacceptable. In other words, there are two ways in which a Church can be "Scriptural" and two ways in which a Church can be "Unscriptural" with reference to organization. And remember that the condition a Church is in ORGANIZATIONALLY is taught to be a major item in determining whether it is, or is not, the "Tree Church", and therefore qualified to house God's children and do God's work.

Let us look briefly into these different kinds of Churches and see how clear, or muddy, the organized waters are.

A Scripturally Organized Church

This kind of Church is well known to all church blackboards, having been put on them often enough. It means a Church with Elders and Deacons. Everyone knows this. A Church that has Elders and Deacons is "scripturally organized;" any Church without Elders and Deacons is not. Right? Perhaps. But there are some questions.

What about a Church with just one Elder and some Deacons? Oh no, we are told, this would be unscriptural. There is no direct command, approved example, or necessary inference in the New Testament teaching that a Church can have just one qualified leader. There must be at least two Elders per Church. Fine. But ...

What about a Church with two Elders and just one Deacon? Is there an approved command, necessary example, or direct inference in the New Testament of any Church having just one deacon? If so, where? If not, does this mean that a Church with just one deacon would be unscriptural? What if a Church has two Elders and two Deacons, then one deacon dies? Is this Church still "Scripturally Organized?" Please note that it no longer has Elders and Deacons. It has Elders but only one Deacon. What about a Church with Elders and NO Deacons? Is this a "Scriptural" organizational pattern for a New Testament Church? If it is, then a Church of Christ that is only halfway organized is as legal as one that is fully organized. This means, however, that a Church does not have to have Elders AND Deacons in order to meet the "organization" mark of the True Church. It can get by with just Elders. Can it get by with just the other half of the sacred staff? That is to say...

What about a Church with Deacons and no Elders? This would be entirely unscriptural, we are told, presumably because it would then make the Deacons the highest ranking officers in the Organization. Yet the only place in the New Testament where "deacons" were ordained (assuming this is what they were) is in Acts 6, where as far as the record reveals there were no Elders at all. The Elders show up later. But, of course, we would not dare follow the New Testament example in this case.

Does having a "Scripturally Organized Church" include The Minister as one of its Officers? For your information I note that a major book on the subject of biblical Elders and Deacons contains an organizational chart of the True Church. When the outline gets down to the Local Church it has a circle with THREE names on the list other than regular members: Elders, Deacons, and Preachers.

Another well circulated chart identifying "the Church of the Bible" contains, under the heading of "Organization'', these THREE: Elders, Deacons, and Evangelist. Think this over. Does this mean the Local Preacher, along with Elders and Deacons, is a necessary part of the organization of a "Scriptural Church?" If not, then how did he get on the list of Church Officers? Whether he is on the list or not, we may as well acknowledge that he ought to be. For the Local Preacher is normally THE most visible and vocal Church-person on the premises. If anybody qualifies as an OFFICIAL spokesman for the Organization, the Preacher does. Is he therefore a Church Officer? Should he be?

Let's make this interesting. Suppose a local Church were to put out literature showing on the masthead Elders, Deacons, and Cardinal. I sort of feel like some brethren would jump right out of the chair and declare that the New Testament does not say anything about the position of "Cardinal" in the Local Church, and that the very presence of such a Personage makes a church "unscriptural" in organization. But really now, where do the Scriptures describe the role of the modern Minister?

What is the point? Mainly that the theory of a Scripturally Organized Church possessing only the TWO officers, Elder and Deacon, is just that a nice theory that does not exist in fact. Shall we be honest for a change? The most important "Cog" in the organizational make-up of any "True Church" in this country is "The Minister." And even if you eliminated him (which some folks might think is a good idea), there are still problems with the pat theory that there must be a plurality of Elders and Deacons in every Church to make it "Scriptural."

A Scripturally Unorganized Church

This simply refers to a situation where brethren have presumably "started a Church" but have not yet outfitted it with Elders and Deacons. This Church may have a Minister, but remember, the Minister does not count. Or does he? Anyway, some Churches do not have any "ordained" Officers known as Elders and Deacons. Yet they evidently exist in the eyes of God as legitimate "Churches" without ANY organization that can be detected.

Some brethren are reluctant to admit that such a Church can exist. Yet in the end they must. For in Acts 14 there were churches in Lystra, Antioch and Iconium for a period of time BEFORE there were any Elders, or presumably any Deacons. Whether there were EVER any Deacons is a matter of guesswork. In any case, it is conceded by most everyone that at least temporarily (no one ever says exactly how long) a bone fide Church can exist in this unorganized state without having its license revoked by God.

But here is a problem. If one Church can be "Scripturally Organized" while another Church can be "Scripturally UNorganized," yet both be pleasing to God, this means that the True Church does not have a single organized form that must be met in order to satisfy God. Apparently two Churches can differ with reference to organization, yet both be acceptable. Is this correct? Let me say it another way. If you find a Church with Elders and Deacons you have found (on this point anyway) the True Church. Right? But if you find a Church with NO Elders or Deacons, you have also found the True Church. Right? But again, what about that Church which is somewhere in between these two, say with Elders and no Deacons? Is this situation scriptural also? It does make one wonder, doesn't it?

An UNscripturally Organized Church

This is a Church having men serving as Elders or Deacons who are not qualified. It also includes any Church that has Officers not mentioned in the New Testament, such as Steward, Rector, or perhaps Cardinal. In other words, any church that has any Officer other than an Elder or a Deacon is organized all right, but UNscripturally so. This makes sense.

This makes sense, that is, until someone inquires again about our "Local Minister." Oh, but the Preacher is no problem at all. We can explain him away. He is the Official who is not really an "official." Although he is IN FACT the most prominent person in the whole organization, the only one with his name on the marquee out front, (not even the Elders are so prominently identified), we insist that he does not count either for or against the Church as far as its "Scriptural Organization" is concerned.

Another interesting thing. Exactly how "unscriptural" does the organization of a Church have to become before it loses its credentials as a Divine Institution? If there are five Elders and one of them has grown to be "unqualified" due to advancing senility (everybody in the congregation knows this but no one wants to make an issue of it) is the entire Church thereby UNscriptural? If so, is the "worship and work" of that Church automatically rejected by God on that account? Suppose one Deacon out of ten is a dud (in qualifications anyway). Is this Church no longer a True Church?

An Unscripturally UNorganized Church

Now it is getting tricky. This kind of Church is one that has been around long enough to get itself Scripturally Organized but has not done so. Perhaps it has men who are "qualified" to be Elders and Deacons but no one is brave enough to ordain them. This is a Church that is "unorganized" but ought not to be. As such, it is displeasing to God. Therefore it is said to be UNscriptural. Or so goes the theory.

But how long can a Church be in an "Unscripturally Unorganized" condition before it loses its divine "accreditation" as a "blood bought institution"? Take a Church with one and a half-Elder-to-be. That is, it has one man who is "qualified" and another that "almost is," having only one believing child. This Church is supposedly "Scripturally Unorganized" and yet pleasing to God. Then one day the second child is baptized. Suddenly the second man is qualified. Now the Church has two men qualified. But they are not yet real Elders because no one has installed them in that office. Does this Church instantly become "Unscriptural." or does God allow a time lag before switching the label? I guess everyone would say a Church caught in between Elders is all right, if no one is qualified for the post. But what about a Church that has several "qualified men" who are not yet ordained? Is this a True Church? For how long? As you can clearly see, these are all very important, vital, profound questions, especially for "institutionally minded" brethren who must work through them and come up with an answer.

Some Observations

Perhaps all the above sounds a little picky, if not tacky. I do not intend it this way. Many of the points raised are actually serious, and I mean DEADLY seriously business among those who have institutional concepts of the Church and Church Officers. Trying to make these concepts fit with the New Testament, or vice versa, makes for some terrible problems; and trying to make it all fit in with an infinite variety of situations that exist in the real world is well-nigh impossible. SOMETHING MUST BE WRONG SOMEWHERE.

I have mentioned at least four different conditions an institutional Church can be in with reference to organization, according to current theory. If indeed this be the case, then it is possible for a Church to get itself in all kinds of shapes, organizationally speaking, in a very short period of time. So let me now describe to you, not a typical Church but a hypothetical one. You might want to read the following out loud to keep up. If so, take a deep breath.

This Church starts out as "Scripturally UNorganized" because, although it has been in existence for a number of years without any Elders and Deacons it still maintains its status as a "Divine Institution" because it only has one full-fledged Elder candidate and one half-fledged Elder candidate, the only thing missing being a second "believing child" (which really means "baptized child") for the number two man, which of course leaves the Church with several Deacons-In-Waiting who cannot yet serve the congregation because there are no Elders to tell them what to do; BUT on thc day of the baptism of the second child of the second Elder prospect, suddenly the Church turns into an "UNscripturally Unorganized Church" because it now has men who are "qualified to be Elders" but who are not serving in that capacity; therefore this Church is now "unscriptural" in the eyes of God and will remain in this state UNTIL such a time as an ordination service can be held whereby these two men can be installed into the role of Elders, at which time the men qualified to be Deacons, who heretofore have not been allowed to serve, can also be ordained and thus okayed to start sewing the brethren, THEN the Church will just as suddenly become a "Scripturally Organized Church," for it now, has at least two Elders and two Deacons, making it fully qualified to render a worship service that God will accept, and thus it continues to be a "Scriptural Church" as long as this spiritual staff holds together; BUT as bad luck would have it, in a few weeks one Elder's wife dies leaving him wifeless and the Church with an "unqualified" Elder, a situation that automatically and immediately makes the whole Church "UNSCRIPTURALLY Organized" and consequently no longer the True Church you read about in the Bible, making it necessary for this Elder who is not "the husband of one wife" to resign, which makes matters even worse because this now leaves the Church with just one Elder, who likewise is forced to resign from watching after the flock (although the tragedy really had nothing to do with him), which in turn leaves the Church with two left-over Deacons who now must resign from any service they have been rendering the brethren, all of which, I am happy to announce, makes God happy because (though it is no longer organized) this returns the Church to its divine status as a "SCRIPTURAL Church" through which Christians in the community can serve the Almighty, who nevertheless will not be completely pleased until it becomes a "Scripturally Organized Church" once again, because, although God MAY(no one knows for sure) accept worship in an "Unscripturally UNorganized Church" ever so briefly during an interim period, He NEVER accepts any spiritual effort done through an "Unscripturally Organized Church," for there are only TWO kinds of Institutions in which God will accept service, and that is the "Scripturally Organized Church" or the "Scripturally UNorganized Church," unless, praise the Lord, you count the "Scripturally HALF-organized Church" or the "UNscripturally Unorganized Church" somewhere along the way. Now take a breath.

If all of this seems to be confusing it is only because it is. As I say, SOMETHING MUST BE WRONG SOMEWHERE. Do you think it might be with our concept of "church": and its "officers?"