Part 6 of 12

 Structure of the Local Church

The “church, which is the body of Christ,” which we read about only in Paul’s epistles was organized in a very simple way. A general pattern was to have two or more qualified men overseeing each local congregation or church. These men are referred to as the “eldership.” Each man must meet several high qualifications which the Bible lists here below in 1Timothy 3.2-7. Elders are the spiritual leaders of a congregation. They also watch out for the souls of the members like a shepherd.

Each local church bore these characteristics.

  1. Christ is “the head” of every local church body. There is no human head of the church.
  2. The Bible is the only written creed for each local church, rather than a man-made written creed.
  3. Each local church is autonomous and self-governing. No outside interference from others.
  4. There is No organizational tie between local churches.
  5. The ground of locality: Note that Paul wrote his epistles to “THE church” at Ephesus , Rome , etc., not to the “Churches.” This is because there was and is only one church in a particular locality. Note that Paul addresses “the churches” in Galatia (Gal 1:2) because Galatian was as a region or a state in which there are “local churches.” In fact, the only ground of division among believers is the ground of locality.
  6. The Bible uses the word “Elder, Overseer, Bishop, Shepherd, Pastor” interchangeably, all referring to a single function in the local church. Elders were not the deacons whose job it was to care for the physical needs of the assembly.
  7. Local churches appoint their own “plurality of elders” using 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1:5 as guidelines for the qualifications.
  8. Elders have spiritual authority only in the local church, not relating to members from outside the local congregations. They may function also as “sent ones” to carry the word outside the locality.

By contrast, the institutionalized church (Roman or Protestant) typically takes “one man” and sets him above the others, whether the Priest at the Roman mass or the Pastor at “the service” of the Protestant institutionalized hierarchical denominations. This “one-man” service of the Pastor or Priest in place of every member functioning is the system of the Nicolaitans. Jesus said; “... thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I (Jesus) also hate.” (Rev 2:6).

Nicolaitanism Defined:

The Greek Nico means “conquer,” and laitan refers to lay people, or “laity.” Hence, Nicolaitan is to be taken to mean “lay conquerors” or “conquerors of the lay people”

C.I. Scofield, American Theologian (1843-1921); in his Notes on the Bible, following dispensationalist thought, suggests that the Seven Letters in Revelation foretell the various eras of Christian history, and that Nicolaitans refers to the earliest form of the notion of a priestly order, or ‘clergy,’ which later divided an equal brotherhood into ‘priests’ and ‘laity.’”

The “deeds of the Nicolaitans” that Jesus hated had come to full fruition through Constantine establishing his “state church of the Roman Empire – a clergy/laity system of a hierarchical mediatorial clergy system that he controlled. Any hierarchical religious system that essentially places a man or men between the believer and God is anathema. Constantine rendered “the body of Christ” impotent when he reinforced the system that separated and elevated the religious leaders as a mediatorial class above the laity or common believers.

After the fall of the Roman Empire itself in 476AD, most of these same practices of Roman Church continued in both its western and eastern church. The Roman church today still bears the major influence of Constantine in its hierarchical structure, doctrines, practices, vestments, ceremonies, rituals, and buildings. Some of this has been carried over into the practices of Protestantism by the Reformers, even unto this today.

Constantine had mixed pagan tradition with some degree of the historical Biblical truths in order to make it easier for the Roman Empire ’s pagans to swallow. This mixture and compromise may be likened to Jesus’ warning in His day - “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees”; they were the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees had mixed tradition and manmade laws with God’s law. The “unleavened bread” of Israel ’s Mosaic feasts represented God’s unadulterated truth. But Constantine followed the “leaven of the Pharisees” of Israel ; mixing in pagan practices in order to make Christianity all the easier to swallow; e.g., Constantine called for an Ecumenical Council at Nicea (outside Constantinople) in 325AD resulting in the pagan Winter Equinox feast becoming Christmas, and the Spring Vernal Equinox feast became Easter.

Many unbiblical heathen customs and practices crept into “the state church of the Roman Empire .” The pagan images and statues were still honored, but they were given “Christian” names such as Peter or Mary. Artemis (Greek) /Diana (Roman) worship was changed to Mary worship. In the 4th century, the Isis cult was absorbed into the Christian Madonna cult. All the early pictures and statues of Madonna and child are actually those of Isis and her infant son, Horus. Worshippers of Isis called her “the Great Virgin” and “Mother of the God.” Some surviving ancient images of Isis holding the child Horus are in a pose very similar to that of some early Christian Madonna (Mary holding the infant Jesus). The Isis cult in Rome was a template for the Christian Madonna Cult.

Some heathen temples were consecrated and changed into churches. Heathen feasts were given Christian names. So it was just the same old paganism and heathenism under a new name - Christianity! The church had not conquered the world. The world had conquered the church. My wife and I visited the Pantheon in 1994, a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome. Since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs.” In 1584 The Pantheon’s original roof was stripped of bronze for use in making Bernini’s baldacchino, the large Baroque sculpted bronze canopy over the altar at St Peters Basilica, simulating the Roman Empires “Canopy of State.” The Latin word “basilica” is derived from Greek, Royal Stoa, the tribunal chamber of a king; it was originally used to describe a Roman public building.

The genuine Christian Church and faith had been based upon the truth of the Bible, but the Roman Emperor Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity resulted in obscuring the Bible’s core truths and practice by overlaying them with all the Empires external grandiosity and pagan influence.