Which Church? New Testament Churches Were Instructed By A Number Of Preachers

Which Church?

In Christendom, a system has developed that we call the clerical system, in which one man has almost the sole responsibility of preaching to a congregation week by week. That practice is not based on the teaching of the Bible. In New Testament times, in each local church, a number of men had responsibility for ministering to God’s people. Indeed, every believer had some part to play, for the assembly is likened to a human body with each member playing a vital role. Every believer has been endowed with a spiritual gift that has to be employed for the good of the whole body. To pay one man to bear almost the whole responsibility of helping God’s people is a contradiction of the ‘body of Christ’ aspect of the local church, 1 Corinthians 12:27.

The word ‘minister’ in the King James Version, e.g. Colossians 1:7, is a translation of the Greek word diakonos. Elsewhere it is rendered ‘deacon’, just an anglicised form of the Greek word. It simply means a ‘servant’. Some of these men preached the Gospel, Colossians 1:23, and others were teachers of God’s people, 1 Timothy 4:6, but there was always a number of them in each local church, Philippians 1:1. In the church at Antioch there were five preachers, Acts 13:1. This number increased, so that later there were ‘many’, Acts 15:35. There is no hint that these men wore distinctive clothes, as do the clergy today. That practice is a relic of Judaism in which the priesthood was distinct from the people, their very appearance making the distinction obvious. In Christianity, every blood-washed believer forms part of the priesthood, 1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:5-6. As far as the teaching and preaching were concerned then, in each assembly a number of appropriately gifted men shared that responsibility. They had no formal college training for the task, but simply used the spiritual gift that God had given them.

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4 comments

  1. They had no formal college training for the task, but simply used the spiritual gift that God had given them.

    Some things to consider which I no doubt would get roasted for.

    There is this idea that goes around that since we have the Holy Spirit, we have no need of tough theological training and teaching–not saying that this is what you’re saying; simply addressing something that someone might read into this. Often, added to that, is a verse pulled out of context (1 John 2:27). But some historical concerns and practical concerns have to be mentioned.

    First: Although there was something like colleges in areas of the ancient world, they weren’t like the colleges/seminaries of today. Teaching was more in the form of one to disciple training.

    Paul, exceedingly well-versed, learned at the feet of Gamaliel and his studies included Greek Philosophers. Timothy was very studied–learning at the feet of Paul. And Paul tells Timothy to instruct faithful learner/teachers. If you will, all 12 of the disciples spent three intense years in teaching and training with the best teacher ever. These guys were definitely trained, even before receiving the Holy Spirit.

    Second: Instruction that was given back then within the assembly is diametrically different from the quality of instruction given today. Today the thinking of teaching is tied to a slot of time during X-day. To find a place that offers a day-to-day training today with the intensity of training of the early church without being the college seminary is a rarity.

    Third: Yes Christ gives gifts to individuals, but he also gives gifts to the church–some of which are teachers. That’s not to say that they weren’t teachers before. They may very well have been. But now their work has been co-opted by the kingdom for the King’s service.

    Fourth: Until churches wake up, seminaries will most likely continue to be necessary.

    • Thanks Rey for your comment, and don’t worry no one (not me at least) will roast you for your comments. Actually, I agree with most of what you have written, but with a different take (or way of expressing it maybe?). So, let me respond to each of your points:

      First: Agreed. Universities and colleges of today are drastically different then those of 2,000 years ago. Your description of a ‘one to one disciple training’ model is accurate. The conclusion that I draw from this would not be a defense of modern day seminaries, but rather support a one to one discipleship type form of learning… much like the Paul/Timothy relationship – 2 Timothy 2:2.

      Second: Agreed. Much IS lacking today. Local assemblies (churches) need to ‘step up’ and become serious in the teaching of the Scriptures and discipleship. One of the qualifications of elders is ‘apt to teach’1 Timothy 3:2, one of the three aspects in the Great Commission is to teach ‘them to observe *all* things..’ Matthew 28:20

      Third: I’m not so sure I understand the distinction you are drawing between gifts to individuals and gifts to the church.

      Fourth: I agree that assemblies need to wake up and get serious with the need to ‘continue steadfastly in the apostles doctrine” Acts 2:42. This requires a tremendous amount of effort by the assembly.

      Personally, my biggest problem is the prevailing mindset in Christendom today that a man MUST have seminary training to preach and/or teach. Sure, most churches allow non-seminarians to teach a third grade Sunday School class or ‘facilitate’ an adult small group. But it is VERY rare in Christendom where those who do not hold a seminary degree are allowed to preach or teach doctrine. This is unfortunate, as many gifts are going unused.

      • Sorry it took me forever to respond; haven’t checked some of my comment subscriptions.

        I’ve made a case regarding the local church and what I think should be happening in lieu of seminaries but I can’t see it being implemented.

        On the Third point my distinction is one of 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. In 1 Corinthians 12 it underscores the individual gifting within the unified body for the mutual edification of the body; in Ephesians 4 it underscores Christ’s gifting to people (not individuals) via the gifting of people.

        So Eph 4:7 depicts Christ giving gifts to people plural and then the plurality is depicted in verse 12: his people who are the body. But it contextually explains what those gifts are—it’s not tongues, healing, administration (et al.) in this context: it’s individuals who establish the body on Christ. Eph 4:11 has Christ giving gifts, just as previously stated, but they are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

        This isn’t saying that this or that gift is or isn’t in operation (ie: apostleship) but it is saying that these gifts were given to the Church as a whole and the Church as a whole benefits from these given individuals no matter what point in time.

        So we can happily say that Paul, as a teacher, evangelist and apostle, was a gift to the Church of the 1st Century and of the 21st Century—and an important gift he was. We don’t have very many writings of the original 12! Apollos was a gift, even while gifted. CS Lewis was a gift, even while gifted. Same thing with other people who have been teachers before salvation, get saved, then become powerful teachers in the Church.

        I hope that clarifies my comment.

      • Thanks Rey…. this is helpful