When Christ commissioned His Apostles to go into the world, He did not – as it may seem by the culture of Cnristianity today – tell them to go and plant churches. Christ’s command was to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).
Initially, the Apostles had not even set out to establish churches; one formed in Jerusalem, for that was the place that Christ had commanded them to tarry (Luke 24:49), and that was the place of their fellowship, and ministry. In fact, while there were intentional implementations of church governance, these were almost, rather a byproduct of their conglomerate relationship as they tarried for the promise of the Holy Spirit; an offspring of their initial vision and purpose in making disciples of all nations (Greek: ‘ethnos’ that is ‘people groups,’ i.e. tribes, nationalities, etc.).
In this context, Christ’s command to tarry in Jerusalem can be seen as tacticly brilliant; He would pour out His Spirit on them during the feast of Pentecost: a celebration in which Jews and proslytes (that is: international converts to Judaism) from all accross the known world would come to the central location of Jewish worship. Many ethnicities, all with a basic understanding of the One True God would be gathered together in one place. The mission field was coming to the early church’s door! There was only one problem. How do you communicate with people of many different languages so that you can convert them into disciples?
Ah, but the Lord had a ready solution for that dillemma, too, and the miraculous gift of tongues was given for a sign to the unbelievers: that they may hear in their own tongues the wonderful works of God!
The gathering of the Apostles, and elders required some structuring so that they could fellowship, pray together, and develop a unified vision. This had been essential, and without its occuring prior to their evangelistic work (when the Spirit was poured out), they would not have been prepared to disciple the converts that they made on the day of Pentecost.
Consider, for a moment, an hypothetical: Suppose they had not tarried in Jerusalem, as the Lord commanded, but only showed up there later for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Surely Jesus could have told them when the Spirit was coming, He could have said: ‘Be sure you go back to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit will be poured out.’ If He had done this, the necessary relationship structure that formed as they waited would not have been in place! Suppose they showed up just in time to receive the Holy Spirit, and for Peter to preach his great evangelistic message of Acts 2. They may have won many converts, but there would have been no organized body of believers in place to disciple them.
The formulation of the presbytery, and of an organized church structure was essential to the task of effectively discipling people on a wide scale. The first church was organized with a purpose, and a vision given directly by the command of Jesus Christ, which command was expressly to go and make disciples of all nations.
Remember: Jesus hadn’t commanded them to go plant churches, He had commanded them to go and make disciples of all ethnicities. The formation of the first church was almost circumstantial – a byproduct of following the fundamental commands to: 1) tarry in Jerusalem, and 2) make disciples of all people.
Due to circumstance which came through their obedience to the Word of God, the Apostles found themselves the heads of an organization. To be sure it was a godly organization, which they had developed for the twofold purpose of growth (tarry in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power), and discipleship (make disciples of all ethnicities).
Church organizationns are not the church universal. Neither are we commanded in scripture to plant churches. The organization is a byproduct of ministers establishing themselves unto a purpose. That purpose, namely, is the preperation for evangelism, and discipleship.
We live in a culture in which, frankly, churches exist in order to promulgate themselves. When we lose sight of the fundamental basis of the purpose for church (making disciples), it is easy to believe that the church organization, itself is the practice of the Christian faith. The organization, then, becomes the central force of our Christian faith, and we find that Christianity – far from being chiefly about discipling – becomes little kingdoms of church governance.
The organizations are not the basis of how we are to promote the faith, rather, they are a platform for ministers to do ministry – to disciple. The value of a church – particularly to the early Apostles (who did set themselves to work planting churches) was to gather a whole community of disciples together in one place where they could be trained, taught, exhorted, and otherwise… discipled.
But remember: Jesus did not command the Apostles to go and plant churches; He commanded them to make disciples. The reason that they planted churches is because they quickly learned that one of the most effective ways to relate, and communicate the Gospel with people was to establish a community of disciples. Once a community was gathered, there naturally had to an organizational structure just as any society, or community requires. In order to be in relationship on a community level, there must be some standardized order of civility.
The organizations, however, were the means to the ends – the ends was the ministry relationship: the discipleship of one believer-in-Christ by another.
If we lose sight of the fundamental basis of the purpose of the organization which we call our ‘church,’ then we may readily find that the church becomes our theocratic master, rather than a platform for ministry. We would be in danger of Christianity becoming a myriad of little kingdoms and empires of church structure, battling between denominations and organizations for doctrinal, or theological dominance, fighting for the hearts, and loyalty of Christians (whose hearts and loyalties belong rightly to Christ, and to no earthly organization).
If such were the case (judge for yourselves how hypothetically I speak), we would find many Christians disenfranchised from the church: realizing that they are morally unable to swear their allegiance to an organization, but seeking to obey the Word of God. There would be whole generations of believers who were unable to find their place in the body of Christ because instead of discipling them, their teachers sought to conform them to the church organization.
Many ministers wonder (and I am on the same topic I have discussed before) why so many are leaving the churches. Perhaps to some large degree it is because the organizations, having lost their fundamental purpose, have ceased to effectively be church.
Oh, Lord: help the disenfranchised, such as myself – to be afforded a place in this body of yours: and help us to find it. I pray that this revelation of understanding YOUR purpose, and desire for the church would be granted to your body. May that the body rise up, your triumphal bride, even if the chains of organizationalism seek to bind it down. Break your body free from the fear of man, and from loyalty to his decrees that we may be free to walk surely in the light of Truth, and have real fellowship one with another. Amen.