The Offices of the Church
Another important and fundamental aspect of a local church are its various offices and roles. God established and directed these offices by His wisdom; therefore, it is essential that a local church understand and fill these positions with qualified men and women. A thorough study of the New Testament will reveal the following positions and roles, which we will seek to understand in this study: High Priest, King, Head, apostle, prophet, teacher, minister, evangelist, elder, pastor, bishop, deacon, saint, and Christian. As we will find, these labels serve more as a description of the work accomplished than as an actual title.
Christ's Gracious Gifts
As we observed in our study of the work of the church, Jesus provided the universal church with certain "gifts" to aid the completion of its work (Ephesians 4:7-16). This gift is partly comprised by the abilities that are graciously given to those who fulfill the offices and roles described in verse 11:
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." Ephesians 4:11
However, as we read through the Bible, we run across other labels and special roles, such as; bishop, elder, minister, Christian, saint, prophet, High Priest, etc. What do all these titles mean?
As we investigate and compile these various references, we will find that many of the labels are used interchangeably. Many of the labels describe a unique facet of the office or role that they represent. For example, Christians are referenced by many different names, each describing an different aspect of their lives. Therefore, these titles serve more as labels, distinguishing the different works and roles rather than serving as a title. However, some of these labels are indeed made in reference to a special office. When we compile a complete list of the offices and roles found in the New Testament church, we discover the following list of offices in the church, along with the following synonyms:
- Apostle, ambassador
- Evangelist, minister,preacher, teacher
- Elder, bishop, pastor, shepherd, presbyter
- Christian, saint, priest, children of God
Of course, no study of the offices of the church would be complete without first examining the one who died for the church and by whose name it is called - Jesus Christ. He alone holds all authority over the church, filling many positions: Savior, High Priest, King, and Prophet.
The supreme office of the church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the one from whom all authority and revelation flows (Ephesians 1:20-23; < span class="ref">John16:13-15). However, we see that Christ has submitted Himself to God the Father, and it is from the Father that Jesus received the message that He proclaimed (ICorinthians 15:24-28; John12:49-50; Hebrews1:1-2).
The Bible uses several different terms to describe Christ's supreme position, each term illustrating a unique facet of His role. The book of Hebrews speaks of Christ being our High Priest (Hebrews 7:26-8:6; 9:1-15) because He offered a sacrifice, Himself, for the sins of the whole world. His work in this regards is similar to that of the Old Testament high priests, who offered animal sacrifices for the whole nation of Israel (Leviticus 16:1-34; 21:10-17). This explains His unique role in offering a sacrifice for all people and entering the "Most Holy Place" (which is in heaven, before the Father's throne) to make atonement for our behalf.
Further illustrating His ultimate position, Jesus is also spoken of as a King and His people are referred to as citizens of His kingdom (Colossians 1:3; John 18:33-37). This reference denotes the authority of His position and office. He is the ultimate authority for us today, therefore; it is imperative that we never disobey His directives at the beckoning of any other man. Moreover, we must be vigilant to compare all human directives with the Bible - the words of Christ.
In the recordigns of Acts, Luke commended the people of Berea for their diligence in checking the teachings of the apostle Paul against that of the Old Testament scriptures (Acts 17:10-12). Therefore, in our effort to obey Christ, Who is the head of the church, let us likewise "Test all things; hold fast what is good" and be sure that we "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1). As head of the church, He is the supreme authority on all matters. This calls upon us to diligently study the Bible and adhere to Jesus' will, while bewaring the traditions of men that are substituted for God's Word (Matthew 15:1-14).
It is vital that we understand the various roles and offices that are a part of God's design for the New Testament church. We must be careful that we do not become guilty of "adding to" God's pattern by adding creating more offices. However, we must also fill the appropriate positions with qualified people, lest we be part of church that still has things "wanting" before God (Titus 1:5). In addition to being disobedient to God's will, perversion of His pattern for the church generates additional temptation, pressures, and finally, corruption that would not be present if we would "build all things according to the pattern".
Next: The Apostles
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