Uniquenesses of a New Testament Local Church (4)

Walter Gustafson

6. Their only leadership is a plurality of overseers

In Acts 14:23 R.V., we read that Paul and Barnabas "appointed for them elders in every church", not an elder but elders. In Acts 23:17 Paul called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to Miletus. He addressed them in verse 28, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost (Spirit) hath made you overseers,..." The same men who are called elders in verse 17 are called overseers inverse 28. In Philippians 1:1, Paul writes to "...all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." In Christendom there is one bishop over several congregations, but that is foreign to the Word of God. Hare we read of several bishops in the one local assembly. The Greek word translated "bishops" is the same word translated "overseers" in Acts 23:28. In Titus 1:5 R.V. Paul instructs Titus to "...appoint elders in every city", not an elder in every city but elders.

The assembly of Hebrew believers or assemblies of Hebrew believers to whom the epistle of Hebrews was written was evidently a second generation assembly or assemblies. Three times in Hebrews 13 we read of "them that have the rule over you". Inverse 7 it should be in the past tense (when they were a first generation assembly or assemblies). In verse 17 and 24, when they were a second generation assembly or assemblies, they still had a plurality of overseers. The evidence is overwhelming throughout the N.T. that the leadership of N.T. assemblies was shared by a plurality of overseers.

I heard the late brother J. J. Rouse tell about when he first got saved. He had an ambition to become a one man minister. He heard the late brother Donald Munro. After the meeting, brother Munro could see that this young man was truly born again and he learned of his ambition so he challenged him, "Young man, you won’t be able to find one verse of scripture in the N.T. to justify one man ministry." Mr. Rouse said, "I had the audacity to tell him, ‘I won’t find just one verse, I’ll find lots of verses to justify one man ministry’." But he went on to say, "I have been searching for the last 40 years and I haven’t found one yet." That is really no wonder, because there is none in the N.T. to be found.

7. Their only head recognized is their risen Head in heaven

In Revelation chapter 2 and 3, the seven churches of Asia are likened to lampstands. Each assembly had its own golden base. Each was directly responsible to the risen Lord Jesus. Each local church is autonomous, self-governing. Maintaining the autonomy of each local assembly will be our preservative in delicate issues. In Matthew 18:15-17 in the case of a personal trespass, if it comes before the whole assembly, the judgment of the assembly is the end of the matter. The highest authority is the local assembly subject to the Word of God. The personal trespass wasn’t to be taken to a central elderhood because there is no scriptural support whatsoever for this. There are magazines that circulate among the assemblies of varying degrees of help. They are published in various cities of North America and Great Britain. Not one of those cities is the earthly headquarters of the assemblies. We recognize no head of the assemblies but our risen Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

(To be continued)