Book 1: Understanding the Church

Teaching Goals for Book 1

Before we can move into the particulars of biblical teaching on the church and our role in it, we have to understand correctly what the church is.

In this book we will be studying:

  1. The origin of the church and its relationship to the Old Covenant.
  2. The use of the word "church" as it applies to the universal and local church.
  3. The pattern of church government, or leadership in the early church.

Later, we will be studying why these areas are important to church life today.

The Origin of the Church and Its Relationship to the Old Covenant

Teaching Goals:

  • To understand the biblical basis for viewing the church as a distinct program from Israel.
  • To understand the practical importance of viewing the church as a distinct program from Israel.

The foundational question in formulating our doctrine of the church is: Which part of the Bible will we use? Should we use the material in the Old Testament? What about the gospels? Our answer to these questions have a number of important implications, as we will soon see.

Our answer to this question depends on our understanding of when the church began.

Protestants have tended to answer this question in two basic ways: Some define the church as comprising all believers from Adam on. Accordingly, they feel the freedom to include some of the Old Testament material in their understanding of the church. This is also the position of Roman Catholicism. Others define the church as comprising all Christians from Pentecost on. They therefore see the church as a distinct program from Israel. According to these, the primary biblical materials which define the church are Jesus' explicit teaching on the church (e.g., Mt. 16:18; 18:17; 28:18-20), Acts, the epistles, and Rev. 1-3.

Those who believe the church began on the day of Pentecost justify their idea from Scripture following way:

  1. The church is Christ's body. (Col. 1:18)
  2. The baptism by the Holy Spirit is the means by which believers in Christ are incorporated into his body. (1 Cor. 12:13)
  3. The baptism by the Holy Spirit began on the day of Pentecost after Christ's resurrection. (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 11:15-17)
  4. Therefore, the church began on the day of Pentecost after Christ's resurrection.

Confusing the Old Covenant and the church

Because some churches feel the freedom to use Old Covenant material in their understanding of the church, they have an inherent tendency to incorporate Old Covenant structures into church life. Consider the following examples.

Tabernacle/Temple

Past Purpose: The tabernacle was a prophetic picture of God's intent to dwell in his people; his presence dwelt in the building in a unique way. The symbolic events conducted in the tabernacle explained why God could not indwell his people (because of their sins) and how he would one day overcome this problem (by making atonement for their sins through his chosen substitute).

Present Error: Now this prophetic picture has been fulfilled. God dwells in every Christian and in the church corporately; the church is the temple of God. (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:4,5) Thus, it is no longer proper to regard any building as the place where God dwells in a special way.

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Possible Answers: Most people view the church as a building rather than the people indwelt by God. Many people superstitiously believe the church building (or the sanctuary therein) is "God's house" in that his presence is localized there more so than anywhere else. For this reason, people often speak in hushed tones when entering a sanctuary, even when no one else is there! Parents tell children not to run or play in the sanctuary because "this is God's house." Not only does this suggest God is anti-fun; it also communicates that God is still unable to indwell us personally as we come to him through Christ.

Priesthood

Past Purpose: The high priest was a type of Christ. (Heb. 3:1; 4:14) For this reason, he alone was permitted to enter into God's presence with a sacrifice for the people's sins. The other priests were a type of Christians in that they could draw near to God and communicate the knowledge of God to the people. The rest of the people were essentially passive participants in the service of God.

Present Error: This clergy-laity distinction which was valid in the Old Covenant period is now invalid. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, all believers have equal access to God and equal privilege to communicate the knowledge of God to others. ((Heb. 10:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:9)

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Possible Answers: The effect of the clergy-laity distinction has usually been to discourage unordained Christians from ministering in significant ways. Church members often think it is the minister's job to reach out to others, teach the Bible, give spiritual counsel, etc. With no significant ministry purpose to pursue, many church members by default become enmeshed in materialism, which offers a counterfeit significance. This is a tragic squandering of the resources of the church.

Sabbath and Festival Calendar

Past Purpose: God gave the Israelites a full calendar of "holy" days. The Sabbath and the prescribed festivals were largely prophetic pictures of the salvation which Jesus would accomplish. (Col. 2:16,17)

Present Error: Now that Christ has paid for our sins, every day is holy in the sense that salvation has occurred once and for all. Paul makes it clear in Rom. 14:1-5 that only those Christians who are "weak in faith" ascribe intrinsic spiritual significance to the observance of the Sabbath. In Gal. 4:1-11, he says that Christians who go back to observing the festival calendar are regressing rather than progressing spiritually.

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Possible Answers: Many people erroneously believe that what matters to God is that we go to church on Sundays, or at least on Christmas and Easter. The effect of this formalistic approach to God is to reinforce the impression that an impersonal relationship with God is what he desires.

Liturgical Worship Service

Past Purpose: The Old Covenant worship of God was highly ritualistic. This was because it was designed to be an elaborate predictive picture of the work of Christ. (Heb. 8:5) The content and order of this ritual observance was highly regulated because it taught that we must come to God in the way he prescribed - by faith in his Substitute.

Present Error: Now that these pictures have been fulfilled, they are obsolete. (Heb. 8:13) Not only does the New Testament not describe or command a worship service for the church; there is also a positive reinterpretation of this whole concept (see section on "Worship in the New Testament"). Also, the number of prescribed rituals has been drastically reduced (from hundreds to two) and the regulation of how to observe them has been minimized.

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Possible Answers: Those who subscribe to the necessity of liturgical worship invariably communicate an impersonal relationship with God when the way is now open to have an intensely personal relationship with him. Also, it is all too easy to continue to observe ritual even when the reality of the relationship is not there. This is why we have so many ritualistic churches today where the members do not know God personally. This ritualism is a turn-off to those who long for personal contact with God.

Infant Circumcision

Past Purpose: Infant circumcision was a ritual given by God to Abraham and his physical descendents. (Gen. 17:9-14) Circumcision was to be the sign that Israel was God's people. It was also a symbol of their need to be liberated from the bondage of their sin- natures. (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4) God predicted that when Messiah came, he would "circumcise your heart . . . to love the Lord your God." (Deut. 30:6)

Present Error: The symbolism of physical circumcision has fulfilled in the death of Christ through which he disarmed the authority of our sin natures. (Col. 2:11) In spite of the fact that all clear examples of baptism in the New Testament are adult believers, many churches see infant baptism as the church's counterpart to infant circumcision. Roman Catholic doctrine states that it removes the guilt of original sin, thus teaching that spiritual regeneration comes through baptism. Many Protestant denominations erroneously believe that passages like Rom. 6:4 and Col. 2:11 refer to water baptism, and thus almost seem to teach baptismal regeneration.

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Possible Answers: When asked if they will go to heaven, people commonly answer "yes" because they were baptized as infants. Infant baptism has the effect of de- emphasizing the necessity of personal conversion to Christ. Instead, it communicates that salvation is something entered into on the basis of parental decision or ritual observance. This is a formalistic definition of Christianity which leads to whole churches full of nominal Christians (in name only).

Emphasis on the Law

Past Purpose: The Old Testament law code was a national contract with Israel which stipulated the conditions by which they could enjoy the land of Canaan. (see Deut. 28) It also had a spiritual value in that it showed them their need for God's grace which would be given when Messiah came. (Gal. 3:22-25) For both of these reasons, it was entirely proper for Israel to have a "law emphasis."

Present Error: The church is not a national entity living in Canaan, but an international community. Furthermore, now that Christ has come, we have access to new ministries of the Holy Spirit, making it possible for us to serve "in the newness of the Spirit rather than the oldness of the letter." (Rom. 7:6) The emphasis of the church should therefore be on the good news of God's grace, not on the Law and the threat of God's judgment.

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Answers: Many denominations emphasize the Ten Commandments more than the grace of God. The effect is that many people grow up with the view that God is primarily a God of judgment rather than a God of love who has provided a way to forever escape his judgment. Some respond to this emphasis by running from God altogether; others become self-righteous. In either case, the unchurched person does not get the impression that Christianity is about the grace of God.

Outreach Strategy

Past Purpose: God's strategy for reaching Gentiles in the Old Testament period was centripetal. As the Israelites stayed in the land and followed the Law, God granted them national security and material prosperity. Foreigners would notice this, and some would thus adopt YHWH as their God. (Deut. 28:7-14; 1 Kings 10:1-12) The main reason for this "stay in the land" strategy was that the Holy Spirit was not operative in the same way he is today, so the Israelites needed to be a separate culture to prevent complete apostasy.

Present Error: Since the coming of the Holy Spirit, the God's outreach strategy has changed from centripetal ("stay in the land") to centrifugal ("go into all the world" - see Mt. 28:18; Acts 1:8). God's people are no longer to be a distinct culture, but rather are commanded identify culturally with those that they seek to reach (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Also, whereas material blessing was at times a legitimate national indication of Israel's obedience to God (although see Deut. 8:11-14;31:20; Prov. 30:8,9; Neh. 9:25.26; Hos. 13:6), this is not the case in the church (see 1 Cor. 4:9-16; Rev. 3:14-19).

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Possible Answers: Churches commonly emphasize "witnessing by your lifestyle" instead of teaching that every Christian is to actively reach out to the lost through verbal evangelism as well as through an attractive lifestyle. Many churches also have developed their own sub-culture which effectively isolates them from non-Christians. In addition, many churches affirm the Old Covenant view of wealth and thus passively (or even actively) condone materialism. These features are clearly at odds with God's present strategy.

Relationship Between Church and State

Past Purpose: In the Old Testament the nation of Israel was both a spiritual and national entity. The government of Israel was originally a theocracy, eventually replaced by a theocratic-chosen king. God needed a nation where he could preserve the witness he was accumulating about himself. It was entirely in order for God to call on the government of ancient Israel to operate the nation in a just and godly way.

Present Error: In the New Testament, the church is not expected to function as a nation state. On the contrary, the program is clearly different as witnessed by the call to submit to, and obey the Roman government--one of the most godless and brutal governments in history. (Rom. 13:1) The New Testament is devoid of any call to take over society or to run society God's way. Unfortunately, many Bible interpreters continue to read the Covenantal promises and warnings addressed to Israel in the Old Testament as though they apply either to the church, or to the United States (or other countries). 

A very common example of this confusion is the often quoted passage in 2 Chronicles 7:13 "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." It is a mistake to apply this passage to the United States? It refers to the cursing/blessing section in the book of Deuteronomy. The people who are called by God's name are Israel. There is in fact no such promise extended to other countries. 

One qualification is needed on this point. In the ancient world, there was no opportunity to vote on government issues or candidates. We do not know what God would have said if there was. Probably, a good ethical case can be made for Christian activism in politics as long as it falls short of attempts to establish a Christian state.

Discussion:

What effects would we expect from this error?

Possible Answers: History is full of examples of catastrophic results when the church has concluded that it is to run the state. A nation state often has to operate in the area of compulsion, punishment and even war. All of these things are inappropriate for the church. The church needs to keep crystal clear loyalties, excluding any non-biblical insertion into Christian doctrine. 

Manipulators use values similar or even identical to those in the Bible to get Christians to back their agendas. For instance, no two themes are more universal in world religions than the sanctity of the family and the sacredness of the given cultural-national heritage. Oriental religion often actually worships parents and ancestors. Islam views the state as expressly a religious entity. Most oral religions are one and the same as the government of the tribe. This has tended to be true of Christianity as well in Europe. The medieval church was convinced that the state was to operate under the spiritual authority of the church. 

Linking the universal appeal of blood and soil values with patriotic values and religion leads to the formation of a civil religion which is sometimes only nominally Christian. For instance, the implication of a prominent evangelical leading whole football stadiums in prayer before games is clear- -all or most of those present must be Christians. It is easy to see why people begin to believe that Christianity is synonymous with American citizenship or church membership. 

This nominal Christianity is one of the most deadly threats to real Christianity for two reasons. In the first place, it causes people to believe that they are Christians when they are not, and secondly, it misrepresents Christianity to the secular world. Instead of seeing real vibrant spiritual living on the part of the church, society sees a Christianity that is plagued by confusion and mediocrity. 

Francis Schaeffer has argued, "If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society is absolute." Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live? (Old Tappan NJ: Fleming H Revell Company, 1976), p. 224. What does this statement mean, and do you agree with it? What absolute should judge the state, and what if the majority don't agree with that absolute? Should the Bible dictate morality even to non-Christians?

Conclusion

From these examples we can see why it matters what biblical material we use in constructing our understanding of the church! If we answer this question wrongly, we are far more likely to go astray in setting the whole tone for what Christianity is like.

The New Testament Definition of a Church

What is the Universal Church?

Definition: The Universal Church derives its definition from the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit. The key verse on this is 1 Cor. 12:13,"by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." We see from this passage that the church is like the physical manifestation of Christ, i.e., his body. 

Other passages which use the same imagery are Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:11,18,27. The point in all of these passages seems to be that anyone who has experienced this baptism is automatically a member of the body of Christ.

Words used for the church in the New Testament

Church
The word translated "church" in the English Bible is ekklesia. This word is the Greek words kaleo (to call), with the prefix ek (out). Thus, the word means "the called out ones." However, the English word "church" does not come from ekklesia but from the word kuriakon, which means "dedicated to the Lord." This word was commonly used to refer to a holy place or temple. By the time of Jerome's translation of the New Testament from Greek to Latin, it was customary to use a derivative of kuriakon to translate ekklesia. Therefore, the word church is a poor translation of the word ekklesia since it implies a sacred building, or temple. A more accurate translation would be "assembly" because the term ekklesia was used to refer to a group of people who had been called out to a meeting. It was also used as a synonym for the word synagogue, which also means to "come together," i.e. a gathering. "Body of Christ" Since believers have been united with Christ through spiritual baptism, they are sometimes corporately referred to as the body of Christ. (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:11,13,18,27; Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:30) The idea seems to be that the group of Christians in the world constitute the physical representation of Christ on earth. It is also a metaphor which demonstrates the interdependence of members in the church, while at the same time demonstrating their diversity from one another. (Rom. 12:4; 1 Cor. 12:14-17)
The Temple of God
(1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:21,22; 1 Pet. 2:5).
The Jerusalem From Above or The Heavenly Jerusalem
(Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22). Both of these terms (as well as "temple") illustrate how the Old Testament notions of outward sanctuary have been replaced with the literal dwelling of God in his people.
Bride of Christ or Christ's Betrothed
(Eph. 5:25-32; 2 Cor. 11:2). These titles refer to the love and loyalty existing between Christ and believers.

What is the Local Church?

In this discussion exercise, ask the students to describe the scope or area encompassed by each of the following references. The point is that in each reference, the word "church" is in the singular. Since the scope of what is meant by each reference is different, we can draw conclusions about what constitutes a local church.

Discussion exercise:
For each of the following verses, answer the question: "What geographical area is being described?"

  1. Col. 1:18
  2. Acts 9:31
  3. 1 Cor. 1:2
  4. Rom. 16:5,10,11,14

Answers:

  1. Col. 1:18 the church throughout the world
  2. Acts 9:31 the church throughout a region
  3. 1 Cor. 1:2 the church in a city (compare 14:34)
  4. Rom. 16:5,10,11,14 several house churches within one city

Question: What are some implications can we draw from these four passages concerning what size or structure a group must have to be considered a local church?

Answers: The word "church" is not a technical designation of a local group of any particular size or structure. Instead, it apparently described any extent of locality under discussion.

Therefore, in answer to the question, "What constitutes a local church?" the scriptural answer is that any part of the universal church which is somehow local can be said to be a local church. We would suggest this holds even down to the level where ". . . two or three have gathered together in my name. . . " (Mt. 18:20) This seems to be Christ's version of what is necessary to have a local church. 

A church of two or three may not be a very good church in that it is not able to fulfill all of the functions that are appropriate for a local church according to the New Testament, but this does not mean that it is not a church. A distinction must be made between that which determines the "being" of the church versus the "well-being" of the church.

The Local Church in the New Testament

While the definition of the local church is based upon our understanding of the universal church, the imperative passages about church life usually refer to the local church (i.e., Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12,14; Eph. 4).

The significance of this is that if we try to apply principles like the inter-working of the members of the body as taught in 1 Cor. 12 to the universal church, we move away from the intention of the author to focus on the interaction of members on each other in Christian community.

Likewise, no structure or polity is given for the universal church except the unifying influence of the apostles who planted the local churches. There is also an example of a council of leaders from more than one local church meeting to resolve differences in Acts 15. We cannot say what the biblical pattern of extra-local church government was, since it is not given.

Optional discussion: It is customary in many theologies to construct a restrictive definition of what constitutes a local church. Sometimes several conditions, such as the proper observation of the sacraments, the presence of duly established clergy, a formal government, and ministry to all ages are given before a group can be called a church. What might be the motive for constructing such added conditions?

Leadership or Polity in the Local Church

Polity refers to the government of the church. Although there is no reason to think we are limited to the forms of polity used in the New Testament era, it is instructive to see how they ran their churches as a beginning point.

How were New Testament churches led?

There were two offices evident in the New Testament church: elders and deacons.

Elders

Elders vs. Bishops: The office of elder is synonymous with the office of bishop. (See Acts 20:17,28 and Titus 1:5,7 where the two terms are used interchangeably). "Elder" comes from the word presbeuteros which means an older man, and therefore describes a person who is relatively mature spiritually. "Bishop" comes from the word episkopos which literally means an overseer. Therefore, this term describes what the person does (i.e. oversees the local church). 

The New Testament church appears to have consistently established a plurality of eldership in each local church.

  • Acts 14:23 - ". . . appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). . . "
  • Titus 1:5 - ". . . appoint elders (plural) in every city (singular). . . "
  • 1 Pet. 5:2 - ". . . shepherd the flock (singular) of God among you (plural). . . "

The qualifications for elders

These generally fall into two categories:

He must be functionally effective in spiritual leadership

Just as Jesus said sheep would know the voice of their shepherd, (see John 10:4), it seems likely that those considered for eldership in the early church had already demonstrated the ability to lead. This is probably why Paul waited for a while after starting the churches in Ephesus and Crete before he had Timothy (ch.3) and Titus (ch. 1) appoint elders.

It took time for the true leaders to naturally emerge. 

The ability to lead others in spiritual matters is also implied by the fact that the elder must be "skilled at teaching" (1 Tim. 3:2), or, "able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). A teacher is not skillful unless his students learn. Learning includes how to do God's will, not just how to know it. (James 1:22-25) Finally, elders and deacons had to "hold fast the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim. 3:9) which would not be possible if they were guilty of sins of omission (see also "above reproach" 1 Tim. 3:2). 

All of these references imply that elders had to be practitioners of the Word, not just theoreticians.

He must be morally upright and consistent.

The emphasis in the Bible is on character even over and above function. You can study a list of the qualifications for elders along with suggested definitions for each.

Deacons

Likewise, Deacons were required to have functional and character requirements before they could serve. You can study a list of qualifications for deacons along with suggested definitions.

Qualifications for Elders

Paul emphasizes spiritual maturity and character over gifting. It is possible to be very gifted and knowledgeable, yet immature or carnal. Immature people often get into leadership, where they do the church much harm (see Diotrophes 3 Jn. 9). There is nothing wrong with the desire to be a Christian leader (1 Tim. 3:1), but it must be for the right reason.

Since these qualities describe spiritual maturity, they are helpful in that they describe the character that the Holy Spirit is seeking to produce in all of our lives. Not surprisingly, most of these qualities are prescribed elsewhere in the New Testament for all Christians. If we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into a man or woman of God, we can be sure that God will put us into the roles of leadership that he has prepared for us.

Optional Discussion:
The Holy Spirit uses passages like this to turn up "blind spots" in areas so that we will allow him to change us over a period of time. As he convicts you, how should you respond?

Answers include

  • Acknowledge to him your lack, along with how you see this lack concretely manifesting itself in your life currently.
  • Agree that you want him to change you in this area.
  • Agree that you cannot change yourself, but that you believe that he can change you in this area, no matter how deeply entrenched it is.
  • Ask him to give you practical steps of faith to take.
  • Look for those who are strong in this area, observe how they exhibit this quality, and talk with them about how they developed it (Phil 4:9; 1 Cor. 11:1; Heb 13:7).

Regular Discussion:
As general roadmaps to what spiritual maturity looks like, these lists of character requirements are directly applicable to our own lives.

  • Why are each of the following character traits important in Christian living and ministry?
  • How can we cooperate with God to supply us with each requirement?

Above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6,7) - anepilempton: unaccusable; anegkleton: unreprovable

  • This is the summation of all other characteristics.
  • Not only the absence of disqualifying factors is in view, but positive things are evident
  • A good reputation spiritually (Acts 6:3; 16:2).

Husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2) - mais gunaikos andros: "one-woman man"

  • This probably does not refer to polygamy (which was not common in the Roman empire), but rather that sexual morality is an established life-style.
  • This qualification does not exclude divorcees; present life-style only is in view (as with all of the qualifications).
  • This includes flirting, porno habits, inappropriate "counseling" of the opposite sex, etc.

Temperate (1 Tim. 3:2) - nephalion: sober

  • This is the opposite of being mentally and spiritually dense. It is linked with alertness in 1 Thess. 5:6 and 1 Pet. 5:8.
  • The person has a clear perspective on life, and a correct spiritual orientation.

Prudent (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8) - sophrona: thoughtful, self-controlled, sane

  • The person is mentally healthy (Mk. 5:15; 2 Cor 5:13).
  • He has an honest evaluation of himself which involves neither arrogance nor self-hate (Rom. 12:3).
  • The person evidences the ability to be reasonable, sensible, able to keep one's head (Titus 2:6; 1 Pet. 4:7).

Respectable (1 Tim. 3:2) - kosmion: well-ordered

  • A habit of orderliness and stability has been established (see 1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:4).

Hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8) - philoxenon: "lover of strangers"

  • The person takes a genuine interest in new people. This would include both an outreach orientation and the willingness to open his home to others (Heb. 13:2).

Able to Teach (1 Tim. 3:2) - didaktikon: skilled at teaching

  • The elder must understand Scripture well enough to be able to effectively exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9).
  • This does not necessitate being a gifted large-group teacher.
  • "Grounded in the Word" means that the elder can explain and apply biblical concepts in your his words, and discern error when he hears it.

Not Addicted to Wine (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7) - me paroinon: "not lingering over wine"

  • The person has a demonstrated freedom from drunkenness, or substance abuse. There is no dependence on alcohol or other drugs.
  • Able to give up freedom to avoid stumbling a weaker brother (1 Cor. 8)

Not self-willed (Titus 1:7) - me authade: not a usurper

  • This is linked with rebelliousness in 2 Pet. 2:10, and with usurpation of rightful authority in 1 Tim. 2:12.
  • There should be a proven ability to defer to others.
  • Avoids a "my way or the highway;" attitude.
  • To "defer" means that you actively get behind the others' way and help it to succeed.
  • Implies he is able to apologize

Not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7) - me orgilon: not inclined to anger

  • The person is not vengeful or violent, brooding or bitter (see Eph. 4:29,31), especially when he doesn't get his own way.
  • When Moses struck the rock (Num. 20) he was refused entry into Canaan. When leaders misrepresent God by making him seem more angry than he really is, it's a serious thing (Jas. 1:19,20)
  • Leaders may get angry, but they should be slow to anger rather than having a short fuse.
  • The leader must be under control, avoiding violent outbursts
  • Elders must be able to drop offenses, not hold onto them

Not pugnacious (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim. 3:3) - me plekten: not a striker

  • The person is not prone to physical or verbal abuse (i.e. slander, put-downs, etc.)
  • Not a fighter

Gentle (1 Tim. 3:3) - epieike: gracious, forbearing

  • The person is not unduly rigorous or legalistic in his treatment of people.
  • He is kind, empathetic and patient with all people.
  • The opposite of quick-tempered, or pugnacious.
  • People are fragile. We need to consider how our words and actions will affect them. See 2 Tim. 2:24,25; 1 Thess. 2:7; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 4:3; Col. 3:12,13; 1 Tim. 6:11; Gal. 5:22,23; Jas. 3:17.

Uncontentious (1 Tim. 3:3) - amachon: peaceable

  • This means not looking for ways to disagree or oppose; not loving to fight or quarrel.
  • The person possesses a positive and constructive point of view.
  • This is the opposite of being self-willed.

Free From the Love of Money (1 Tim. 3:3) - aphilagruron: not greedy

  • This means the ability to be content with what one has materially (1 Tim. 6:8).
  • The person is not motivated by financial considerations in ministry goals (see Acts 20:33)
  • True love for Christ and his work will become eclipsed by greed (see Mat. 6:24). Our day is replete with newsy examples of the error of money-love in the church.
  • See 1 Tim. 6:6-11,17-19. Mature elders should give away much to others, and should live a simple life-style in order to curb temptation.

Manages own household well (1 Tim. 3:4,5; Titus 1:6) - prohistemenon: to stand before; manage; to lead, used of an army commander standing before his men

  • This is a demonstrated ability to lead spiritually and effectively in marriage and/or a rooming situation
  • The elder's family should respect him and voluntarily follow his leadership
  • Examining one's family life tends to ensure that the person is spiritually authentic and not two-faced.
  • Christian leader's first responsibility is to their own family. Prioritizing and practicing biblical principles with family and home is crucial in cooperating with God

Not a new convert (1 Tim. 3:6) - me neophuton: "newly planted"

  • The person has been a walking Christian long enough to be tested by God (see 1 Tim. 3:10)
  • The person should have experienced success without becoming conceited

Having a good reputation with those outside (1 Tim. 3:7) - exothen: used by Paul for non-Christians (Col. 4:5)

  • Non-Christians are unable to discredit the person.
  • They speak well of him generally, and accusations are easily exposed as false (1 Pet. 3:16).
  • The person is spiritually authentic and not two-faced. This is has important, obvious implications for evangelism.
  • The elder resists a Christian ghetto mentality, and fosters a constant awareness of the watching world

Loving what is good (Titus 1:8) - philagathon: loving good

  • The person's lifestyle demonstrates that God's way is enjoyed (see Rom. 12:2)
  • There is no questionable dichotomy between the person's recreational life and ministry

Just (Titus 1:8) - dikiaon: righteous

  • The person is fair and impartial in his dealings with people (1 Tim. 5:21).
  • When favoritism and particular biases are adopted, the biblical concepts of righteousness and goodness fade, and with that, God's agenda and priorities.
  • To gain victory in this area, one must be well aware of what his own bias tendencies are, and must resist those in favor of biblical truth

Devout (Titus 1:8) - hosion: Practical seriousness and zeal for God's will

  • A single-mindedness for God and His work.

Discussion:
What kinds of things would you expect to occur in the case of an elder who meets the functional requirements, but not the moral requirements? 

Now Flip the coin: what if the elder had the moral, but not the functional requirements? Of the functional requirements and the moral requirements, do you think one is more important than the other? Why?

Qualifications for Deacons

What Deacons Do

The role of deacon in the New Testament is ambiguous. The word literally means "servant", but no further elaboration of the office is given. This word can also be translated "minister." Some argue that the deacons administrated the physical needs of the church because of the example of the six men selected in Acts 6:1-6. While the word "deacon" is used in vs. 1 ("ministry" or "distribution"), and the verb form is used in vs. 2, ("to serve") the noun form is also used in vs. 4 to refer to the apostles proclamation ("ministry of the word"). Therefore, we have no reason to believe that the usage of diakonia in Acts 6 is a technical usage, or that the ministry of the deacon is limited to administration.

We think of deacons as "under-shepherds" who were responsible for shepherding a smaller sphere of the local church or other tasks as assigned, while the elders were responsible for the overall leadership of the church. Deacons appear to be under the authority of the elders. This is evident from the fact that they are always mentioned after the elders, and also because the requirements for deacons are slightly less strict than for elders.

Gender

Deacons were both male and female. While some say the "women" in 1 Tim. 3:11 are deacons' wives, this seems very unlikely. If Paul was concerned that deacons' wives be dignified so as to avoid reproaching deacons, it is unimaginable that he would not make the same point to the wives of elders. In addition, in Rom. 16:1,2, Paul tells us that Phoebe was a "deaconess" of the church in Cenchrea, and that she held a position of considerable influence.

Differences From Elders

The qualifications for deacons are very similar to those for elders, but omit certain requirements which are expected of elders. Evidently, deacons could be very young Christians (there is no "not a new convert" requirement). However, they were still to be "tested" to ascertain that their character and service were genuine and consistent. They do not seem to need as much scriptural knowledge as the elders. They are to "hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience," which stresses obedience to what they know more than a sophisticated knowledge of the Word. They are not required to be able to "refute those who contradict" as were elders.

Qualifications for Deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-12)

The following qualifications are all of a subjective nature, and therefore must be understood as comparatively true for deacons, never as absolutely true. Also, we recognize that this is our particular interpretation, applicable to Xenos Fellowship. The English is taken from the NASB.

  1. Dignity. "Likewise" means the foregoing description regarding elders applies in principle. Dignity speaks of a respectable reputation especially in spiritual matters.
  2. Not double tongued means not insincere--not saying one thing to one and something different to another. Not a liar. Straight forward.
  3. Not addicted to much wine means no abuse or dependence on any drug--may include regular use of alcohol even though not getting drunk, if inappropriate dependence is demonstrated. There should be a demonstrated freedom not to drink.
  4. Not fond of sordid gain. Not willing to manipulate or resort to illegitimate means for personal gain, either for money or recognition, especially in the area of ministry. The person demonstrates a proper values system, including a willingness to give up money making opportunities for the sake of the gospel. This also implies that the deacon should be giving consistently and sacrificially of his/her money.
  5. Holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. "Holding fast" speaks of knowing the Word, and "clear conscience" speaks of doing the Word. This includes having a clear conscience with regard to the service being rendered to the church (i.e. sins of omission are also wrong).
  6. Tested first and beyond reproach. Deacons must have a proven ability to do the work of shepherding and service effectively and without any grounds of accusation. In other words, we don't decide that someone is a deacon, we recognize that someone already is a deacon.
  7. Not malicious gossips. They demonstrate care not to exaggerate or to abusively speak of others. This implies the ability to keep a secret where appropriate. If the failings of others are shared, it is only with those in a responsible position and for proper reasons.
  8. Temperate comes from a word meaning serious, not given to excess, self-controlled and emotionally stable.
  9. Faithful in all things indicates reliability. It implies that we don't have to worry when this person is given a job to do--the deacon will do his/her best.
  10. Husband of one wife. Literally a "one-woman man," this means specifically that there is at most one person of the other sex in the deacon's life. It means in principle that the deacon has his/her sexuality resolved and under control.
  11. One who manages his own household well. The primary application is to married men meaning that their family life is good. In the case of the unmarried, it means that they have close relationships and that those relationships are generally healthy and stable. A pattern of broken relationships suggests an inability to get along with others (especially your own family and friends) and disqualifies a would-be deacon