“Thus the entire Body is furnished by an inner energy according to each member’s gift, each one a part contributing to the Body’s growth and maturing as it is built up in loving concern.”
[Ephesians 4:16 NCMM Paraphrase]
For many people who have suffered under a controlling religion the word “organization” has become a nasty idea. Some of such persons, having left a controlling organization, have dreamed of some kind of association free of control and organization. Conflicting ideas and theories on how groups of people govern themselves are as old as humanity.
Virtually all smaller tribal peoples have been economically communist where everyone contributed their work to the good of the whole. These small groups recognized that not all persons can produce the same quality and quantity of work. As long as they tribes are composed of a few families the leadership has either been a leading group of men - in some rare cases, women - most often the elders or older and more experienced persons in the commune. Of course, as they tribes grow and become “nations” with borders the problems of rule, organization, and control also become more complex.
The most efficient form of government has always been a monarchy where one single person made all of the important decisions. Some monarchies also include a republic with a democratic body of senators who share in some of these responsibilities, with the final decision made by the monarch. The benevolent monarch -- who always has kindly concern for all his or her subjects -- has proved to be an effective way for a society to function.
However, back to this word “organization.” Is organization a good idea or a bad idea? It is obvious that to understand this we must first know what the word “organization” means. Anyone may consider the English word in a dictionary and see. Webster’s defines the word as: “a body of persons organized for some specific purpose.” The word organization is rooted in the Greek word ERG meaning “work.” In physics an ERG is a unit measure of work. Thus, the main thrust of the word organization involves work. One could list the several factors that must be involved for an organization to exist: work, a body of people, purpose, and, unity. It is obvious that the word organization itself is not a bad word.
The smallest unit of such an organization is the human family which begins at first with two people - a husband and a wife. Here the “body” is composed of two and later as more are added, three, four, five, etc. The “work” is obvious and in most cultures the male has his socially or biologically assigned work, as does the female. Unity is a must, but this depends on - at first - the husband and wife. In most cultures throughout history the male has been the “head” or leader and ultimate decision maker, though in a more casual manner they may work as equal partners. And in the best case scenario, they have a unified view on their common purpose. Thus, all marriages and families are an “organization.”
Whether this “organization” proves to be good or bad will depend on several factors: how the working unity is formed and maintained. If the leadership is self-centered and greedy, then even if the end results produce something useful, the organization itself may be termed bad, and not good. For in the process or being organized some harm is brought to others, while a small minority satisfy their self-centeredness and greed. So an organization, whether a monarchy, a democracy, a republic, or a communistic form will all be bad when the leadership seeks their own interests and when their greed harms others. This manifests itself when the hierarchy, or ruling body, live materially better than the poorer members of the organization. Ultimately the vast majority of the organization end up working for the unified purpose of maintaining the rulership in a more prosperous and privileged lifestyle.
How does the individual Christian, as well as any Christian group of any size, approach this matter? Reject all forms of organization? Just have individuals worshipping God alone without any fellowship? For as soon as a handful of people agree to meet regularly they have become an organization whether they like it or not. As long as this organization remains small, the problems will remain smaller. Though a single self-centered and greedy person can destroy even such a small group.
Was Jesus an organized person? Did he form an organization? Did the early Church maintain an organization?
Did Jesus the Nazarene start an “organization”? Did Christ create a working body with a unified purpose? Indeed, he did. First he hand-picked a dozen male Jews who had been baptized by John the Baptist. They followed him in his early ministry and got to be eyewitnesses of how Jesus went about his ministry. In other words, he taught and trained them first before actually forming them into a specific group. Mark 6:7 records, “Then Jesus summoned the Twelve and started to send them forth two by two.” [NCMM] He gave them specific instructions on what to say, how to go about this ministry, and when to terminate a specific mission. Not long after Jesus also organized another group of seventy and in a similar manner he gave them instructions.
Before his ascension Jesus gave new instructions to his apostles: “Go your ways and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing persons in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy Pneuma. Teach them to observe everything I commanded you." [Matthew 28:19, 20 NCMM] The apostles were obedient to this command and as a result the preaching of the Gospel spread all over the known world. But, did these apostles remain organized? Did they actually expand on this organization?
The book of Acts records this growing organization as a single unified body of working people. We see the apostles organizing the financial matters of the first members of the Church of Christ. We see them making appointments of qualified men to care for matters beyond their physical abilities. [Acts 2-6] When problems of a doctrinal nature came up these were settled by the apostolic body in Jerusalem. [Acts 15] When a decision was made by the Christian apostles and elders, a notice of this was sent out by hand to the congregations. Acts 16:4, 5 records the results of this centralized arrangement: “As they traveled through the cities, they delivered to [the congregations] for observance the dogma that had been reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the congregations were strengthened in the faith, and they daily increased in numbers.” [NCMM] The word “dogma” here is from the Greek DOGMATA and is also rendered “decree.” This demonstrates that the local Christian groups were not autonomous or independent of the apostolic body in Jerusalem, or other men Jesus sent forth. The rapid growth of the Church was due in part because it was so organized.
As shown above an organization is a working body of people who are unified, or have a common purpose. No Bible verses demonstrate this better than Ephesians 6:12-16 where all the elements exist in the word “organization.” Read the following and see if you can identify “work” and “body” and “unity.”
“These ‘gifts’ given to humans include apostolic representatives, prophetic spokesman, missionaries of the good news, pastoral shepherds of congregations, and teachers within the Church. The purpose of these “gifts” is to rearrange and perfectly equip all the Saints for the work of service to others; and, for the upbuilding and strengthening of the whole Body of Christ. And this until all of us attain a perfect unity of faith and a heightened relationship with the Son of God. Until we all together grow into perfect maturity measured by the full stature of the Christ. So we no longer remain babies, tossed here and there by (doctrinal) waves, carried aimlessly by every wind of teaching. By the deceptive slight of hand always engaging in methodical plans. Rather, these ‘gifts’ aid all of us to maintain loving truth, constantly growing in Christ in every way. Christ is the Head, the one from whom the whole Body is perfectly joined and fitted together by means of every connective muscle and tissue. Thus the entire Body is furnished by an inner energy according to each members gift, each one a part contributing to the Body’s growth and maturing as it is built up in loving concern.” [NCMM Paraphrase]
All the elements of “organization” are here. There is a “head” of the corporate Body with his representatives as “gifts” - apostles, prophets, missionaries, shepherds, and teachers. Even the root word of “organization” is present in the Greek word ENERGEIAN which means an inner working in cooperation. The whole purpose of this organization is two fold: instruction in Truth, and encouragement in love. Never can the organization itself becomes the reason for existence, but rather the congregational growth in truth and the communal development in love - every single member contributing their own effort and talents and blessings.
The word organization is often associated with the word “control.” Was there a degree of control within the early Church? Well, let us ask: were certain types of people not allowed within the fellowship of the Church? Consider the following verses:
1Co5:11 However, now, I write you not to associate with anyone called a “brother” [who is] sexually immoral, a greedy person, an idolater, a reviler, a drunkard, or an extortioner - not even eating with such a person. 1Co5:12 For is it for me to judge those outside [the congregation]? Do you not judge those within [the congregation]? 1Co5:13 And The God judges those outside [the congregation]. “Remove the evil person from your midst!” [Deuteronomy 17:7 LXX] … 1Co6:9 Or, do you not realize that the unjust will never inherit God’s Kingdom? Do not be misled! These will not inherit God’s Kingdom - the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, persons who abuse themselves with others, men who lie with men, 1Co6:10 thieves, greedy persons, drunkards, slanderers, extortionists. 1Co6:11 And you all used to be these sort of persons.” [NCMM]
A degree of control by the elders, as well as the peer pressure of the majority o the congregation, were necessary to maintain the chaste and virtuous reputation of the Christian Church.
Was there a degree of control over what was taught within the early Church? Indeed, there was, for Paul and other apostles did not tolerate “every wind of teaching” blowing through the congregations. Indeed, compare what Paul wrote:
6 I marvel that you are so readily leaving Him who called you by the grace of Christ, and are adhering to a different Good News. 7 For other "Good News" there is none; but there are some persons who are troubling you, and are seeking to distort the Good News concerning Christ. 8 But if even we or an angel from Heaven should bring you a Good News different from that which we have already brought you, let him be accursed. 9 What I have just said I repeat--if any one is preaching to you a Good News other than that which you originally received, let him be accursed. [Galatians 1:6-9 Weymouth Translation]
9 But hold yourself aloof from foolish controversies and pedigrees and discussions and wrangling about the Law, for they are useless and vain. 10 After a first and second admonition, have nothing further to do with any one who will not be taught; 11 for, as you know, a man of that description has turned aside from the right path and is a sinner self-condemned. [Titus 2:9-11 Weymouth]
8 So be sure not to lose what we have worked for. If you do, you won't be given your full reward. 9 Don't keep changing what you were taught about Christ, or else God will no longer be with you. But if you hold firmly to what you were taught, both the Father and the Son will be with you. 10 If people won't agree to this teaching, don't welcome them into your home or even greet them. 11 Greeting them is the same as taking part in their evil deeds. [Contemporary English Version (1995)]
This apostolic control acted as a “restraint” against a full-blown apostasy breaking forth too early in the history of Christ’s Congregation. [2 Thessalonians 2:3-11] Paul warns in the same spirit of 2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 4:1 -- “For lawlessness is already at work in secret; but only until the man who is now exercising a restraining influence is removed, and then the Lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will sweep away with the tempest of His anger, and utterly overwhelm by the awful splendour of His Coming.” [2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8 Weymouth Translation]
Paul urges the appointed apostolic elder Titus to maintain that control which descends from the Head, Jesus: “Continue to speak and encourage all these things. Also reprove with every command. Permit no one to disregard you.” [Titus 2:15] Titus provides an example for modern elders. It is curious to examine contemporary teachers whether they teach these things. Titus is assured of his apostolic authority with the words, “reprove with every command.” That is, KJV: rebuke with all authority; GDSP: urge and insist upon; GDSP: full authority; NEB: speak with authority. This is no shrinking violet. Even Jesus was recognized because he “taught with authority.” [See notes on Matthew 7:29.] He is not without solid opinions and convictions regarding the “doctrine.” He was not to permit any disrespect or “belittle you.” [WMS] How does one do this? If Titus is treated lightly as to his authority he must demonstrate that he, in fact, has such apostolic authority. [1 Timothy 4:12] If necessary he will rebuke in public.
One of the ways this apostolic control or restraint did not turn into authoritarian tyranny was by appointing men who met all the qualifications Paul laid down for Titus. These are found in Titus 1:5-9. [For details see notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000 on Titus.]
“This is the reason I left you in Crete so that you should correct the defective things and appoint elders in every town, just as I ordered you. If anyone is --
What kind of man is this? Is this not a marvelous human being, a noble Christian man of great character? A man any group of people would want to lead and guide them? If this man were a king any people would want him to rule over them. For more details on the character of any man who would be an elder see Nazarene Commentary 2000© on 1 Timothy 3:1-11.
The above is a brief examination of what the New Testament [Christian Scriptures] says about the organization of the early Church, first under the physical leadership of Christ, and later under his spiritual headship. Thus, the word “organization” is not an evil one. What becomes evil or harmful is the abuse of power and authority. What becomes evil and harmful is when appointed men begin to insist on controlling every facet of human behavior and spiritual fellowship. The reader would find it interesting to read Will Durant’s description of John Calvin’s form of Protestantism in his scholarly historical work The Reformation in “The Story of Civilization.”
Though the 1st Century Church was an organization - a working body of people with a unified purpose - all had to remember who the Head of the Congregation was, Jesus Christ. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “We are not the lords of your faith, but co-workers for your joy.” [2 Corinthians 1:24]
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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