What is Church?
Church means “Gathering; Assembly; Called-out ones.” When you see the word “church” in the Bible, it is the Greek word ekklesia. In the Bible, this word is first used by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 “ And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The church is not a specific place, but it is a people. The church is not just any people, but it is the people who have been redeemed and reconciled to God, by the Holy Spirit, because of Jesus’ perfect work on their behalf- His life, death, and resurrection. The church is made up of all those that God has saved.
There are 2 basic ways we look at the church: 1) The Visible Church, made up of all living members of many local churches all throughout the world. There are saved and lost people in TVC. TVC is made up of many varying denominations, church-governments, and are a part of the body of Christ. 2) The Invisible Church, made up of those who have truly repented of their sin, put their faith in Jesus Christ, and are a part of the one universal church; i.e. The Bride of Christ. TIC is made up of all those who are living and dead in Christ, no single denomination, the entire body of Christ, and of which Christ is the only head. (Revelation 19:9, 1 Corinthians 11:23, Matthew 16:18)
What is the Function of a Local Church?
The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. They have been reconciled to God and to each other, through the work of Jesus Christ, and are given a new life with God and each other. In obedience to the Bible they 1) organize under qualified leadership, 2) gather regularly for preaching and worship, 3) observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, 4) are unified by the Holy Spirit, 5) are disciplined for holiness, 6) and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment (to love God and man) and the Great Commission (to make disciples of all Nations) as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy. The local church exists to make much God, through the gospel, in salvation, in life, and in mission, and to plant other local churches that are committed to the same mission.
Jesus – Ultimate Authority of the Church
How do we know if we’re allowing Jesus to be the ultimate authority in our church? 1. We hold to Scripture, the 66 books from Genesis to Revelation, as having ultimate authority over the church because Scripture is the Word of God. We study, pray, and meditate over the Scriptures seeking for God to reveal to us His truth. 2. By prayer and supplication, we remain sensitive to the leading and voice of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sent believers His Spirit after He ascended to heaven. In fact, Jesus said that it is better that He goes away so that the Spirit would come and 1) Convict us of sin 2) Draw us to repentance 3) and empower us to follow Jesus which brings glory to God forever.
Jesus lived, died, and rose to reconcile sinners to God as believers and to each other as the church (Eph 5:25). Jesus is the ultimate authority and head over the church (Eph 1:9. 19-23, 4:15-16, 5:23). Jesus is the Apostle who plants a church (Heb 3:1). Jesus is the Leader who builds the church (Matt 16:18). Jesus is the senior Overseer and Chief Shepherd who rules the church (2 Peter 5:4). It is ultimately Jesus who closes churches down when they have become faithless or fruitless (Rev 2:5). It is extremely vital that we as a church, and all churches for that matter, love Jesus, obey Jesus, imitate Jesus, and follow Jesus at all times and in all ways, according to the teaching of the Scriptures. Everything, including church leadership, is about Jesus.
Human leadership in local churches is little more than qualified believers who are following Jesus and encouraging other people to follow them as they follow Jesus. Because of this, church leaders must be good sheep who follow their Chief Shepherd Jesus well before they are fit to be shepherds leading his sheep. This is in large part what Paul meant as he said “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Serving under Jesus in formal church offices are Overseers, Deacons, and church Members, all of whom are ministers of God’s reconciliation; i.e. the gospel (2 Cor 5:11-21). Philippians 1:1 illustrates church leadership well – “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints (church members) in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” Jam packed into one verse we discover the three kinds of leaders who take responsibility for the health and progress of the local church. Overseers, Deacons, and Members.
Pastors/Elders/Overseers – Entrusted Leaders of the Church
Overseer (Greek – episkopos) means “a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian or superintendent.”
Overseers (also called Elders and Pastors) are the male leaders of the church (1 Tim 3:1-7). By the term “male” we are not meaning any old guy, but simply manly men. By manly men, we don’t mean those who can punch the hardest, grow the most facial hair, bench press over 300LBS, make the most money, argue the best, or get their own way no matter what. The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that manly men are those who have strong prayer lives (1 Tim 2:8), are a clear example of being a servant (1 Pet 5:2-3), and are practically responsible in leading their homes and in the work place (1 Tim 3:4-7). The following is why we believe that Scripture teaches only the best of Jesus‘ men should serve as Overseers.
- God made humanity male and female, which means that men and women are equal yet different (Gen 1:26-27).
- The senior spiritual leadership of God’s people in the Old Testament was comprised of male priests.
- Jesus chose twelve men as his apostles, although he befriended, loved, taught, honored, healed, and included women in his ministry, he did not place them in a senior position of leadership.
- In 1 Tim 2:11-3:5, Paul first states that women should learn doctrine and theology which was brand new in the days of the early church. Apparently, the women in Ephesus were behaving in a disrespectful fashion during church gatherings. They were much like their Christian sisters in Corinth (1 Cor 14:33-35) whom Paul likewise commanded to be respectful toward church leadership. Paul added two requirements for the Ephesian women who wanted to learn theology and doctrine; quietness (not silence) and submissiveness (respect of the church leadership carried out by the male Overseers).
- Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, emphatically commanded that women should not teach or have authority over men in the church. Thus, ruling out women from the position of overseer- who’s job includes such things as, ruling and leading the church, managing the church, rightly exercising authority in the church, teaching the bible correctly, preaching, teaching sound doctrine and refuting false teachings (these last 3 do not mean only Overseers can preach, teach, and refute false teachings. It means preaching, teaching, and refuting false teachings from the authoritative stance of leading the church), disciplining unrepentant Christians within the church, and developing other leaders and teachers. These are just some of the qualifications which are impossible to carry out without having authority over some and being able to teach them. Thus, by the scriptures, we conclude that only Jesus’ best men are to be Overseers in the church.QUALIFICATIONS
According to the Bible, former theological training is not required for Overseers though such training can indeed be beneficial. A salary is also not required though Overseers are worth an honorable wage (1 Tim 5:17-18). Overseers are not ultimately nominated by committees or congregational votes but called by God himself. Paul tells Overseers that “the Holy Spirit has made you Overseers.” (Acts 20:28). Once called by God, a man must then examine his own life and family to see if he meets the qualifications. If he does not, an appropriate season of growing, studying, repentant living, and transformation is required before there is any talk of him becoming an overseer. Typically this will be done under the mentoring of the Overseers as he serves in ministry roles in the church.There are two major parts in scripture that gives us the qualifications for Overseers, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.Primarily, these passages are dealing with the overseer being a good Christian who follows Jesus with every aspect of his life. This is what we are all called and empowered to do. Unfortunately, many Overseers/pastors/elders sacrifice the health of their families, wives, personal relationship with Jesus, relationships with neighbors, etc at the expense of being a good overseer. Simply, this is sin. You are not a good overseer by sacrificing following Jesus at the expense of proclaiming the gospel and training others to follow Jesus. This does not and will not work in the church.DUTIES OF OVERSEERS
Pray and study Scripture (Acts 6:4)
Ruling/leading the church (1 Tim 5:17)
Managing the church (1 Tim 3:4-5)
Caring for the people in the church (1 Pet 5:2-5)
Live exemplary lives (Heb 13:7)
Rightly using the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28)
Teaching the Bible correctly (Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:2)
Preaching (1 Tim 5:17)
Praying for the sick (James 5:13-15)
Teaching sound doctrine and refuting false teachings (Titus 1:9)
Working hard (1 Thess 5:12)
Rightly using money and power (1 Peter 5:1-3)
Protecting the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17-31)
Disciplining unrepentant Christians (Matt 18:15-17)
Obeying the secular laws as a legal ruling body of a corporation (Rom 13:1-7)
Giving account to God for the church (Heb 13:17)
Developing other leaders and teachers. (Eph 4:11-16; 2 Tim 2:1-2)FIRST AMONG EQUALS
The Specific responsibilities of the team of Overseers will vary according to gifting and personality. We believe there should be one man who is the leader of the Overseers, the “first among equals” overseer. We see this in Scripture by the role that Peter fulfilled among the apostles (Acts 1:15-22; 2:14-40; Matt 16:18). Many resist seeing leadership as a team effort, while others resist believing leadership within the overseer team is biblical. We believe that for any overseer team to function effectively, it must have a called, qualified, gifted, devoted, humble, and competent senior leader who leads the overseer team and helps guard the gate for new Overseers joining the team to ensure unity and success. To do his job, that man must not be offered blind obedience or given complete unaccountable authority. Rather, he must have the freedom, trust, authority, respect, honor, and support of the Overseers and other church leaders to actually lead the church. If not, there can be no leadership; leaders will no longer lead the entire church working on behalf of the best interests of the gospel, but they will become representatives of various agendas, departments, factions, and programs in the church. Without a senior leader, dissension will come as people fight over resources; there will not be decisions but compromises, which are the death of a church. As a general rule, the best person to hold the position of first among equals is the primary preaching Overseer. 1 Timothy 5:17 says “Let the elders (greek- episkopos) who rule well be considered of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” While all Overseers deserve respect and honor, the primary preaching Overseer is worthy of double honor. The pulpit is the most visible place of exorcised authority in the church and is where most criticism and opposition is focussed.Deacons – Appointed Servants of the Church
The word Deacon (Greek – diakonos) means “servant; attendant; minister; waiter; one who serves food and drink; one that runs errands” and it is both masculine and feminine. Unlike Overseers, the New Testament says very little about the function of Deacons.
A PROBABLE START
We believe that the first Deacon’s were appointed by the Apostles (Overseers) of the early church in Acts 6:1-6.
In Acts 6:2 Peter says “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables.” That word serve (greek – diakoneo) is the verb form of Deacon. Much as our verb form of servant is serve. We know that part of the definition for a Deacon is “one who serves food and drink”, thus we conclude that this is the birth of Deacon’s- “appointed servants of the church.”
We see in Acts 6:1-6 as the early church outgrew the oversight of the Apostles, discrimination of the widows began to occur. The Apostles could have given their time to that need and organization, but only if they neglected essential Overseeing duties, particularly time for prayer and Bible study. Therefore lead servants were appointed by the Apostles to serve alongside Overseers and to focus on the care for the church- especially the widows and the poor. We believe it is clear in Scripture that the Deacon’s work alongside the Overseers, both serving and loving the whole church, with the same gospel focus but different responsibilities. Deacons are mentioned in two specific places in The New Testament. Both occasions are in relation to Overseers because the two groups of leaders work so closely together. Practically, Overseers and Deacons work together like left and right hands, with Overseers specializing in leading by their words and Deacons specializing in leading by their works. Deacons are the appointed servants in the church who are appointed of overseeing and caring for God’s people by qualifications that are nearly identical to the Overseers- minus the teaching and preaching abilities. They must clearly know doctrine and theology with a clear conscience and that is true to Scripture (1 Tim 3:9). Deacons are appointed only after they have proven themselves to the Overseers as faithful and mature church Members (1 Tim 3:10).
WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF DEACONS?
While the duties of Overseers are clearly articulated throughout The New Testament, the duties of Deacons are not. We see the first Deacons were appointed to serve the widows and to care for the physical needs of the church body, but other than that, we see no clear duties. Therefore, in light of the literal translation of Deacon being “servant, etc…” and God has not given us specific duties for them to abide by, we believe that is left to the following of the Holy Spirit’s leading by the Overseers of the church. The specific duties will, by God’s grace, be ever-changing as the church grows larger and larger and more people come to worship Jesus.
WHO CAN BE A DEACON?
There is much dispute as to whether a woman can become a Deacon. Much of this debate centers on Paul’s qualifications for Deacons in 1 Timothy 3:11. Paul begins the list by speaking of the greek word “gune.” This Greek word is translated either “women” or “wives.” Various translations of the English Bible opt for one or the other, usually with a footnote that explains the other option. We believe it is best translated “women,” meaning Deacons who are women. If the verse were giving qualifications for male Deacons wives, then we would have to ask why there are no requirements for the wives of male Overseers. It would be absurd to believe that male Deacons are held to a higher standard than male Overseers, who hold the highest position of human authority in the church. Therefore, we believe that the verse cannot logically be accepted as an additional requirement for the wives of male Deacons.
If understood this way, the Scripture flows quite nicely as the requirements of 1 Tim 3:8-10 being both for male and female Deacons- indicated by the word “likewise” in the following verse (1 Tim 3:11), which applies those qualifications to women. Verse 11 goes on to list additional requirements for female Deacons, while verses 12-13 list the additional requirements for male Deacons.
Further evidence for female Deacons is found in Romans 16:1, where Phoebe is greeted first, which denotes honor; she is called a “diakonos” (same word for Deacon) which likely indicates she was a Deacon in the church of Cenchrea. Additionally, other women whom Paul honors for their assistance to him may have also been female Deacons. Among them are Mary (Romans 16:6), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Romans 16:12), and Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3).
Lastly, most churches have women in positions of leadership and service, even if their roles are restricted to administration, women’s ministries, and children’s ministries. Unless the church calls such women by the biblical title of Deacon and holds them accountable to the biblical qualifications for their leadership, they are forced to invent titles such as “director” and such. This is problematic because it has no biblical precedent.
Therefore we believe and will operate with male Overseers who are the senior human leadership in the church, but who are free to appoint both male and female Deacons as assistants and lead servants as needed.
Members – The Covenant Body of the Church
In addition to Overseers and Deacons, within the church are non-Christians (those who have not yet believed in Jesus Christ) in the process of sorting out their relationship with God and the church Members already calling Ekklesia Muskogee their home and taking responsibility to ensure it’s health and growth. Church Members are Christians (those who have believed in Jesus Christ) whose eyes are capable of seeing beyond themselves to the well-being of the whole church. They realize that Jesus died not just for them but also for their church (Acts 20:28). They also realize that he calls them to selflessly give of their money (2 Cor 8:8-15) and abilities in order to build up their church (1 Cor 14:12); just as Jesus has selflessly given us his riches (by becoming a man, pouring out himself to death, and giving us his righteousness by grace through faith) and abilities (by paying for our sin on the cross, which only he could pay and by sending us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live lives we were created to live). It all goes back to the gospel, as it always does.
WHO SHOULD BE A CHURCH MEMBER?
Some Christians question whether they need to have a church home in which they participate as official church Members. But the illustrative imagery of the church through The New Testament includes the fact that Christians are to work together as a family (1 Tim 3:15; 5:1-2) or as the parts of a body (1 Cor 12:16-17). The early church had a notion of Membership that included numerical records (Acts 2:37-47), records of widows (1 Tim 5:3-16), elections or the appointing of Deacons (Acts 6:1-6), discipline (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5; Gal 6:1), accountability (Heb 13:17), and an awareness of who was a church member (Rom 16:1-16). We believe obedience to New Testament teaching requires that a Christian be a member of a local church, since most of the epistles open with “to the church,” which is speaking to the Invisible Church but it was first delivered to the Visible Church.
When the Bible speaks of church Membership it does not take it lightly, but does so with all seriousness in relational terms. Christians are to work within their particular church for the cause of the gospel (Rom 12:4-5; Eph 2:18-19). Therefore church Members are, in a sense, leaders of and servants in the church who serve according to their abilities in accordance with Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor. This shows up not just in what they feel but largely in what they say and do. The church Members must be trained and released to use their spiritual gifts in various ways so that they too are leading the church, behind the Overseers and Deacons, as the priesthood of believers that Scripture speaks of throughout The New Testament. Inside the church and outside the church, all Members are called to lead believers and unbelievers to the gospel of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ by the power of God the Holy Spirit.
The gospel is not only for conversion; the gospel is for life.
HOW CAN SOMEONE BECOME OF COVENANT MEMBER OF EKKLESIA MUSKOGEE?
To become a church member of Ekklesia Muskogee one must first be a Believer in Jesus Christ who has met the requirements of membership established by our Overseers. Those things include being baptized at some point as an outward demonstration of what and who you have put your faith and trust in, namely, Jesus perfect life for righteousness, death on the cross for sin, and resurrection from the dead for salvation- which is our only hope for salvation; also to show that we believe because of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, He has washed us clean and our sin remains no more. Members must have had at least two scheduled meetings with one of the Overseers to discuss the Doctrine of Ekklesia Muskogee, which helps us be confident in the Members commitment to the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and also provides the would be Member an opportunity to ask the Overseers questions about the church. Finally, Members must sign a written church covenant with the Overseers to serve in the church, pray for the church, give financially to the church, read their Bibles regularly, love their brothers and sisters in Christ in word and deed, respect the authority of church leaders including submitting to church discipline if necessary, attend church gatherings both small and large, and share the gospel with others in word and deed.
Also, at Ekklesia Muskogee we will ask Members to fill out an annual financial pledge- showing what they feel Jesus is telling them to give to His local church. We will send out quarterly giving updates to each member. Pledges help us set our annual budget based on a credible estimate of what our giving income will be for that year. Pledges also help Members to have a plan as faithful stewards.
As functioning Members of Ekklesia Muskogee will be given some extra privileges that we do not extend to other people in general. For example, we will operate with an open books policy for all Members, so they may be able to see where the church’s money is being spent and given. Also, we as Overseers and Deacons will lead out in seeking to meet the needs of the church Members that arise financially. We believe this is a way to put into practice what we see in the early church, speaking of church Members: “And they were selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Acts 2:45. We will not, however be able to meet all of the needs of people who simply attend but will not make the covenant of membership and officially join. This may seem harsh to some, but this is how the Overseers of Ekklesia Muskogee will be able to guard the flock entrusted to them and to effectively take care of one another as a family. It is our desire to see all regenerated believers who are not plugged in to a local church do so. We believe it is biblical, and it is the best way for a group of Christians to actively live out the gospel as a family and the body of Christ. Additionally, only Members are allowed to oversee certain areas of ministry as primary leaders. Nonmembers are encouraged to continue to gather in Community Groups and Worship Gatherings, to grow, and to invite their saved and lost friends to do the same. They are encouraged to serve as a connecting point for the lost to come, see, and hear the gospel which is the only lasting hope for all humanity. Nonmembers are also encouraged to take the steps to become covenant Members of Ekklesia Muskogee. This is encouraged so that we may all be confident that everyone is on the same page in ministry and with living out the gospel as the church. When we maintain the balance between healthy, respected, mature leaders and active, worshiping, serving Members, the church will excel as the living body of Christ.
Ministers – Every Regenerated Believer
Although there are different levels of authority in the church, we are all called to share the gospel, disciple others, worship God, and serve others. We believe that every regenerated believer, that is, every person who has received the saving benefits of Christ’s work on the cross, is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. 2 Cor 5:17-20.
It is not the Overseers job alone to proclaim the gospel and lead people to Jesus, but all believers in all of life. It is not the Deacons job alone to serve, but all believers in all of life. We are all called to be ministers of the same reconciliation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the Church:
Jesus is the ultimate authority.
Overseers are the entrusted leaders.
Deacons are the appointed servants.
Members are the covenant body.
Ministers are all regenerated believers.
The church, purchased by Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, reconciled to the Father, work together as ministers of the same reconciliation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21