The purpose of all patterns and types in Scripture is to declare the glory of God through metaphoric form. The pattern of order for the Church to follow is for this purpose—it declares God’s wisdom and grace in the Church (Eph. 3:9-11). God is presently using the Church to teach humanity and spiritual beings alike about His holy character and eternal purposes. What does God want to convey to the world about Himself through Church? A following sevenfold pattern is suggested.
1. That Christ is the Head and Center of the Church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18; Acts 20:7)
By breaking bread each week in remembrance of Christ, the Church declares to all who observe that Christ is the gathering focus of the Church (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:42; 20:7). God the Father is honored when the Church worships His Son (John 5:22-23). The Church is to worship God, and to adore Christ as its Head. Elected church officials and earthly headquarters undermine this truth. Christ is the head of the Church which is His body, but aside from this authority, believers are to gather in autonomous groups according to the order commanded in Scripture. Local churches are to be interdependent on each other, but no group of believers has the authority to control any other local church.
2. The Unity of All Believers (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:3-4; John 17:21-23)
The Lord affirmed the oneness and equal-standing of all believers when He told His disciples, “For one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brethren” (Matt. 23:8). Christians are identified by biblical names such as Christians, believers, saints, and brethren. No denominations, cliques, or separate followings should be found in the body of Christ—Christ cannot be divided (1 Cor. 1:13). In the practical sense, Christian fellowship (what we share together in Christ) is dependent on how much we determine we have in common with other believers in doctrine. While it is true that we will not be able to have the same degree of fellowship with all believers, we should strive to walk as far as we can with all those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.
3. The Priesthood of All Believers (Rev. 1:6; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 2:5, 10)
All believers should engage in Spirit-led worship and service (Eph. 5:18-20). All believers are equipped with spiritual gifts to serve and edify the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:4-7; Eph. 4:15-16). Only when all believers obey their God-given callings and use their spiritual gifts with the full measure of faith that God gives will the Church be fully functional (Rom. 12:3; Eph. 4:12). The New Testament reveals ministries and offices that individuals were associated with, but no believer was given a personal title as part of his or her fulfillment of these. There were apostles, elders, deacons, evangelists, pastor-teachers, etc. in the early Church, but no disciple of Christ was referred to by such titles before his or her name. Clergy-led services, ministry by “professionals,” church traditions, and empty rotes distort the priestly role of believers within the Church. The believer’s allegiance is to Christ alone: we are His priests, His brethren, His friends, and His bond-servants.
4. Family Life of the Church, the Household of God (Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15)
Christians continued in activities such as teaching, prayer, fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42). The Church is a living body composed of many members who may enjoy divine fellowship with each other. Such body life will be manifested chiefly within the local assembly, but it is not restricted to it (1 Cor. 10:16-22). Local churches were commanded to receive other believers who desired to take part in the privileges and responsibilities of church fellowship (Rom. 15:7) and those received into the local church fellowship were instructed not to neglect it (Heb. 10:25). New converts (after baptism), relocating Christians (via letters), and traveling workers, who desired to be an active part of a local church were added to the fellowship. These had a profession of faith (Acts 2:41-42) and were morally sound in life (2 Thess. 3:10-11; 1 Cor. 5:11), and in doctrine (2 Thess. 3:6, 14; Titus 3:9-10). Unfortunately, many churches do not practice reception or imposed the unbiblical doctrine of church membership, which results in a mixture of saved and lost individuals in the local church.
5. Sanctity of the Genders (Gen. 1:27, 2:24; 1 Tim. 2:11-14)
God instituted creation order over the genders when He fashioned the first man and then created the first woman from that man to be his helper (Gen. 2). In God’s plan, men are to be loving leaders and women are to be willful helpers. God’s creation order is further depicted in biblical authority structures for other spheres such as home order (Eph. 5:22-33), civil order (Isa. 3:12), and church order (1 Tim. 3:1-2). God has assigned different roles and practices within the Church to ensure that a distinction of gender is maintained. Only men were appointed apostles of the Church and to be appointed elders and deacons in local churches (1 Tim. 3). The commanded head covering practice of 1 Corinthians 11 ensures sanctity of the genders. The uncovered heads of men and the covered heads of women during spiritual exercise form a visible salute to God’s order and authority. Women are to cover and conceal all competing glories (themselves —man’s glory and their hair—their glory), while men, who represent God’s glory are to have uncovered heads. This earthly activity patterns the heavenly reality where only God’s glory is to be observed and spiritual beings cover themselves in His presence.
6. The Plurality of Leadership (Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23)
There is no God-honoring example of one individual overseeing a specific local church in the New Testament. Rather, just the opposite was true; the oversight of each local gathering was to be plural and masculine in nature (Acts 14:23; 15:6; Tit. 1:5). Those in leadership were called elders (presbuteros) and overseers (episkopos). This church position was not given at spiritual rebirth, but gained as a result of spiritual maturity, divine calling, and public recognition. A third Greek word, poimen, is normally used to speak of the shepherding work in which both elders and non-elders engage (these are gifted individuals given to the Church by Christ; Eph. 4:11-12). Thus, the pastoral gift remains within the recipient throughout his or her entire lifetime, regardless of where he or she may take up residence. The gift poimen is not gender-specific, nor can it be equated directly with the office of elder, though certainly many elders will have this spiritual gift.
7. The Great Commission—Reaching the Lost for Christ (Matt. 28:18-20)
All believers are to be witnesses for Christ in the world (Acts 1:8) and evangelists help equip us for that task (Eph. 4:12). The Church is also to send out workers to reach lost people groups (Acts 13:3). Such workers were sent out, supported, and supervised by local churches, not mission boards or parachurch organizations. The missionaries in Acts did not raise funds in order to be sent; rather, they were sent and the Lord provided for them as they went (Acts 13:1-5; 14:26; 15:40). They were to live by faith and, when necessary, work with their own hands (Acts 18:3). The Great Commission demonstrates God’s great love for the lost and that He desires as many as possible to be redeemed by the blood of His Son (2 Pet. 3:9).
Just as God used the tabernacle to teach the Israelites about heavenly things, God is using the Church to teach powers and principalities about His authority, character, and goodness. To this end, the nature and order of the Church are patterned after God Himself:
- Christ is the center of attention in heaven; the Father is honored when His Son is honored.
- Just as God is one, all believers are one in Him.
- God alone is to be worshipped and all believers are able priests who are to worship Him.
- God is the source of all good things; those who truly compose the family of God will bask in His goodness forever.
- In heaven, God’s glory, and its reflection in others, will be the only glory seen.
- God is masculine, plural in persons, and perfectly unified in all that He does.
- God is merciful and desires heaven to be full of redeemed people from every nation, tribe, tongue, and kindred. The Church is an outpost of heaven on earth and by the power of the Holy Spirit is to reveal God to those who desperately need Him.