by C. Parker Thomas

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the July-August 1987 issue of the Midnight Cry Messenger.)

In our desire to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), we find many things in the present day church that are not according to the New Testament pattern. These are things that have to be changed if we get back to God’s original plan for his church.

They are not only unscriptural but a hindrance to the normal function of the church as Christ’s Body. Error in doctrine leads to error in judgment and practice. In fact most of the ills of the modern church can be traced to departure from the faith in some area.

For this reason we need to indeed contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. To do this we need to search the scriptures and determine from them what the New Testament Church was like.

What about the traditional concept of one minister to the church or parish whether they be called pastor, elder or priest? Do we have any scriptural substance for this practice? The truth is there is not one single scripture in the New Testament that even suggests such a method. All of this is part of the apostate religious system that had its beginning with the papacy and the church of Rome.

The early church knew nothing about a one man ministry over the local assembly. To the contrary the local church had a multiple ministry made up of elders or bishops who were part of the assembly. Acts 20:17, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:5.

These were proven men appointed or ordained by foundational ministries.

Foundational ministries went beyond the confines of the local church. These ministries not only helped bring the local church into existence, but they set in order and ordained elders according to the need. Titus 1:5. Old Testament prophets along with New Testament apostles were especially endowed by the Lord to do foundational work. Eph. 2:19-22.

Although prophets, teachers and evangelists were active in the establishment of New Testament churches, that was uniquely the work of an apostle. Apostles were especially anointed men whose gifts varied, giving them greater ability to cope with the problems of the church as a whole.

It is evident the apostle Paul had all the ministry gifts residing in him. He was a great teacher writing fourteen books of the New Testament. His revelation of the church, the doctrine of grace, sanctification, the Godhead and endtime events were unsurpassed.

In addition to all this he had the burden and care of all the churches and won men to Christ even in prison. However, like all other ministries the ministries of apostles vary with no two being exactly alike.

A ministry such as an evangelist or teacher may go to a certain place and do a specific work but they would be limited in what they could do. An example of this is Philip’s ministry to the Samaritans followed up by Peter and John. Acts 8:5-16. Ministries also grow in grace and knowledge as well as other Christians. Philip and Stephen started out as deacons and later became mighty preachers of the word. Acts 6:1-5, 7:1-60, 8:5-8.

All ministries are considered elders in relation to the local church. Although Peter was an apostle he considered himself an elder along with others in relation to the local church. I Peter 5:1-4. The difference between local elders and traveling ministries is their ability to help the people.

Local elders are for the most part low key ministries that complement each other in meeting the needs of the people. In fact, some of them may not have a public speaking ministry at all. They may simply be good dependable men who have a burden for the church. They may exhort occasionally or contribute a word of wisdom during times of deliberation by the body.

All local elders are bishops or pastors, which means overseer or shepherd. It is their responsibility to watch over the flock, and I might add, each other. In addressing the elders of the church of Ephesus, Paul said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Acts 20:28.

Although some local elders might be more apt to teach or evangelize than others, all of them are pastors. Pastor simply means shepherd. They are shepherds together whose duty is to watch over the flock, caring for the spiritual needs of the people. This includes visiting the sick, witnessing to the lost and dealing with problems in the church.

The language of Peter in I Peter 5:1-4 makes it clear that the elders were under-shepherds whose duty was to watch over and feed the flock of God. In contrast, Jesus is the chief shepherd that will reward them when he comes.

Local elders are local men with families who work on jobs and contribute to the church in their spare time. However, some develop and emerge in process of time as full time workers whose ministry goes beyond the confines of the local church. It is up to the local assembly to recognize those the Lord has his hand upon and encourage them in their calling.

There is also a difference in the major prophet of the Old Testament and the New Testament Prophet. The Old Testament Prophet was God’s number one representative in the earth in his day. Numbers 12:6-11. Where the New Testament Prophet was often limited to the ability of a seer (Acts 21:10-11), the Old Testament Prophet was a mighty preacher of the word that expounded the law and received direct revelation from the Lord. The Old Testament Prophet as well as the law gave way to the apostle and the day of grace. Luke 16:16.

It is a great mistake to compare the ministry of a local elder with that of an apostle. The apostle has an anointing and insight into the word that completely overshadows other ministries. Ministries are gifts of Christ given to his church when he ascended to the right hand of the Father. Eph. 4:7-16.

We must accept and honor ministries as they are given to us. Better still we need to recognize these ministries as an extension of Christ himself through the anointing. It is by and through the anointing that he is in our midst. Matthew 18:20.

Although the one man ministry or pastor is not according to the New Testament pattern, God has used some sincere men and churches limited to this concept. God’s grace has ruled and overruled many things that have not been according to divine order. This in no wise justifies error but it does exemplify an aspect of God’s condescending grace that has followed the church.

However, the one man pastor concept needs to be corrected. The church can never function as it should or enter into its true inheritance apart from divine order.

David’s first effort to take the ark back to Jerusalem is a perfect example of trying to do a good thing the wrong way. II Samuel 6:1-11.

In spite of all the impressive fanfare, the new cart, the marching band and the personal attendance of David and other dignitaries the first attempt failed. It failed because the priests who were ordained of God were not carrying the ark. All the noisy display did not take the place of divine order.

Realizing God’s displeasure in what he was doing, David had the ark carried aside and placed in the house of Obed-edom. This was a case of expedience rather than divine order.

Although the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom because he took care of the ark of the covenant after the Lord smote Uzzah, this was only a temporary provision. The ark belonged in Jerusalem. After David sought the Lord and discovered what was wrong he was able to carry the ark back to Jerusalem, its rightful place. I Chronicles 15:1-20.

Many one man ministries like Obed-edom have been blessed of the Lord because they have done the best they could under the circumstances. However, it is time for the priests of the Tribe of Levi that have been ordained of God to take up the ark and carry it back to Jerusalem.

The first effort that failed typifies a presumptuous spirit that motivates the natural religious man. It was also typical of the do-gooder spirits that think they are doing God service regardless of their method or conception of things. The religious assembly lines and the do-gooder organizations are flooding the world with Satan’s counterfeits. Rev. 12:15-16.

But Praise God! We who are part of Christ’s church which is built by revelation (Matthew 16:17-18), can thank God for his sovereignty in permitting this diversion. Although these satanic counterfeits are designed to deceive and snare God’s people they are working for our good.

The earth that is opening her mouth and swallowing the flood is a type of the natural earth man, devoid of spiritual discernment. I Cor. 2:14, 15:47. It is actually a means of diversion that keeps Satan’s forces occupied, thus relieving God’s people from having to bear the full brunt of Satan’s fury.

“Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” Rev. 12:12.

Those who dwell in the heavens can rejoice because they have ascended above the carnal realm of warfare, strife and diversion. The inhabiters of the earth are those living in the earth realm controlled by their base sensual appetites. Their state is one of misery and woe because they have no defense against Satan and his demonic hosts.

There are several reasons for the evolution of the one man ministry. No doubt it had its beginning with strife and division in the early church. Even today some think that one man with authority is better able to cope with divisive problems than a plurality. This may be true where a low spiritual ebb or carnal condition exists and the one man ministry has a benevolent disposition.

And it is also true that the ministry of an apostle had the anointing and authority to deal with problems that might arise in a local church, but God never intended for every local church to have the ministry of an apostle on a permanent basis.

The average congregation likes the one man pastor system because it relieves them of their responsibility. They had much rather have someone do their work for them. They had much rather have someone do their praying, their bible reading and their witnessing. The only time they want the preacher or the church is when they get into serious trouble. Even then, they had rather consult their doctor, lawyer or psychiatrist. There is very little difference in their spirit and those who go to the fortune teller when they want help.

Having a pastor today, especially one with a degree, has become a status symbol. The average congregation, like the children of Israel in Samuel’s day (I Sam. 8:4-7), wants a king (Pastor) like all the other nations (Churches).

They like the hire and fire method which enables them to vote for one that will tickle their ears and against the one that crosses their wills. The way you tickle their ears is by preaching what they want to hear, especially their doctrine and traditions.

No doubt selfish aspiration was a factor in the development of the one man ministry concept. Man by nature wants to be chief and not just an ordinary Indian. The one man concept gives the average pastor rank and authority that he could not have otherwise. At best, most of the pastors working in the religious system of today would have a hard time qualifying as an elder in the primitive church. I’m afraid most of them need to be born again. Of course the real author of the one man ministry for every church is Satan. Like all error it is a means of hindering and frustrating the progress of the church. Too many men become tyrants or little Napoleons when left to themselves.

The balance and check of the multiple ministry is necessary to prevent this. One of the greatest causes of gullible souls being led into spiritual bondage and oblivion is one man ministries that have been led astray by seducing spirits and doctrine of devils. I Tim. 4:1-3. A good example of this is the Jim Jones tragedy that took place in Guyana.

Apart from the result of selfish motivation that was instrumental in bringing the one man ministry into existence, there are other evil results from this practice.

It is very difficult for the average man to carry the burden of the church by himself. He is actually expected to do more than he is capable of doing. When he fails or comes short he condemns himself and is condemned by others. Very often accusing fingers point immediately to the pastor when something goes wrong.

If he is considerate and long suffering he is accused of being weak and vacillating. If he is firm and diligent he is accused of being a dictator or tyrant. If he deviates from the hallowed tradition of his group he has departed from the faith and becomes a heretic.

He is the easy and logical target when things go awry in the church. When the position is shared by others it is far more difficult for Satan to zero in on one man.

When the position is shared, the involvement of so many people — including families, kindred, and friends — makes it more difficult to blame the leadership. There is more of a close-knit tie to the leadership and consequently more tolerance and understanding. This results in a greater reluctance to accuse and condemn when something goes wrong. The elders themselves become more considerate of each other because they are in the same boat together.

The one man ministry not only works hardship on the man, but his wife and children are made to live in a fish bowl. Several years ago there was an article in the Reader’s Digest on the subject of ministers and their wives and their vulnerability to nervous breakdowns. This article went on to say that ministers and their wives suffered more nervous breakdowns than any other group of professional people. Anyone identified with God and his kingdom is subject to be the target of Satan and his demonical forces. Satan likes nothing better than to cause preachers to fail or become a sorry spectacle before the world. This includes his wife and children. And the way this is accomplished is through the people. Sad to say the people he uses most adeptly in this evil work are religious people.

Another potential danger resulting from the one man ministry is the exaltation of the man. Men by nature are idolaters. This is why we have so many hero worshippers. During the days of Rome it was the gladiator. Today it’s the gridiron, the baseball field, the tennis court, the movie star, the race car driver and the boxer.

In the religious world you have the same type of idolatry. Some have worshipped Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, William Branham, Father Divine, Reverend Ike, Pope John Paul, Jim Jones and many others. They are heroes to some as surely as O. J. Simpson is to millions of football fans.

It is too easy for the congregation to get their eyes on the man instead of Christ. When the position is shared it is more difficult. The multiple ministry, which is usually less dynamic, causes the people to recognize and look to Christ as head of the church.

This situation is ideal in that the people feel more responsible to pray and look to Christ as the head of the Church. This dependency on Christ causes the people to exercise their faith and honor Christ as head of the church. This act of faith enables the captain of the Lord’s hosts to take his place as head and lead the people in the way they should go. Joshua 5:13-15. The end result of this is the brethren dwelling together in unity and the Lord being in the midst. Psa. 133:1-3, Matt. 18:20.

When we analyze the result of the one man ministry it is actually a clever trick of Satan to take the leadership of the church away from Christ and put it into the hands of man, and if that man can be deceived and led astray Satan becomes the head of the church through corrupted man. This is actually what has happened in millions of religious movements and churches.

Although God never intended for the church to be ruled over by a one man ministry called the Pastor, neither did he intend for the church to be a democracy.

A democracy is a rule of people with every individual having an equal vote. The so-called democratic way of life may sound good to much of this generation, but it is not the form of government God has ordained for his church.

Democracy supposedly recognizes everybody regardless of their inspiration or lack of it. Satan likes the democratic form of government because it enables him to gain control of the elective process and put his man in the driver’s seat.

God’s government is a theocracy. It is Christ’s rule by and through the anointing. The only people that will have this form of government are those who have been brought to birth by Christ through anointed ministries. These people have experienced something that enables them to cry Abba Father. Romans 8:15.

The reason there are so few that want the theocratic form of government is because they have been begotten by another Jesus, another gospel and another spirit. II Cor. 11:3-4. There are many perverse spirits at work in religion using the name of Jesus. The same spirit that caused Israel to reject the rule of God through Samuel and desire a king like other nations is often responsible for the one man rule or pastor concept. Samuel 8:4-7.

This is also why Paul would not build on another man’s foundation. It is much easier to start a church where the people haven’t been corrupted by apostate Christianity.

We must also realize there are two types of people in the earth that are different in their attitude and response toward God and his word. The Cains, Ishmaels and Esaus may put on a cloak of religion but they hate true righteousness. Gen. 4:3-14, 16:1-12, 25:23.

I believe most religious people are in this category. Gal. 4:22-31. They are blind and deaf to anything different or contrary to their own particular brand of doctrine and religious traditions. It is a very small remnant that can hear his voice. Isa. 1:9, Matt. 7:13-14, Rom. 9:1-13.

Jesus said, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Jn. 10:26-29.

Another reason the multiple ministry is so necessary for the local church is the need for more people to exercise themselves. Distribution of responsibility accomplishes this. Too many churches are simply congregations of bench warmers that don’t want to be bothered.

A church that doesn’t exercise itself can be likened to a human body that never exercised or exerted its muscles. The end result in the church is spiritual atrophy. This is also the direct cause for the lack of ability to discern between good and evil. Heb. 5:13-14. Only the Christian church that is exercising itself in spiritual matters can learn the ways of God. Heb. 3:10-11.

There is still another great spiritual benefit that results from a service which is not programized and dominated by one man called the pastor. Where one man feels responsible for the service, he is in bondage to the concept that he must have a sermon.

Whether God is leading or not he feels responsible to get his sermon ready, and it’s really ridiculous how some preachers go about getting their sermons. Some consult their commentaries or other books containing sermon outlines. Others read all kinds of religious literature seeking inspiration and the material for their sermons. I remember an evangelist I met several years ago who consulted his book called “Snappy Pulpit Jokes” for sermon material.

When the church comes together with no particular individual feeling that he alone must have the message, there is a liberty and rest that enables the Holy Spirit to take charge of the service. In such services the people as a whole are more apt to pray and look to the Lord for inspiration and leadership.

There is no doubt in what Paul is teaching the church in I Corinthians 14:26, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”

When coming together for regular church services every member should be prayed up and prepared to contribute according to his or her ability. I Cor. 12:11. This doesn’t mean that every single individual has to minister in every service. Although they should be spiritually prepared for every service, time would limit the number of people that could participate.

Although women are not to occupy positions where they teach or usurp authority over men (I Tim. 2:11-12), they can contribute to the service when the spirit of prophecy rests upon them. However, they are forbidden to do even this if their head is not covered symbolizing their God ordained subjection to the man. I Cor. 11:3-5.

There is absolutely no scriptural justification for the ordination of women as elders or leaders in the church. The spirit in the world today that is seeking to exalt the woman to the same level as the man in religion, politics and business is a perversion of God’s word.

All contributing ministries should be subject to the judgment of the body. It is the duty of the body to discern and recognize the spirit that is operating through any human vessel in the church.

The idea that one who prophecies must preface his remarks with a “Yea, I say unto thee” or a “Thus sayeth the Lord” is erroneous. The Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. Rev. 19:10. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ speaking through the vessel.

The surest way of determining whether a person is motivated by the Spirit of God or the spirit of antichrist is whether they will recognize and honor the voice of the church. Matt. 17:18, I Jn. 4:1-3. And it’s possible for the same human vessel to speak by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at one time and speak by the spirit of Satan the next time. A classic example of this is Peter in Matt. 16:13-23. This is why judgment in the church where you have body ministry is a must. I Cor. 14:29.

The fact that Satan and his demonic host will take advantage of such freedom to try and minister to the people should not intimidate or stop a church from moving in this direction.

I Thessalonians 5:19-21 says, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

Judgment in the church will also make manifest who has the revelation of the body of Christ. Those who reject the corporate wisdom of the church have the spirit of antichrist. They do not really believe that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh of his body the church. I Jn. 4:1-3, Eph. 5:30.

As I teach these things I am aware that thousands of little groups have tried to practice what they call “Body Ministry.” Much of it has ended in confusion and division. At best most of it can be compared to child’s play.

If you build a house you need to get a qualified architect to draw you a set of plans. You then need a qualified builder to coordinate the various trades and put it together. If you got a group of children you would end up with squabbling arguments and fights. The finished product would be a shack or tree house blown away with the first hard wind.

No group can get back to New Testament order without a leader that has a revelation from God. We do not get out of Egypt or the wilderness without a Moses that God has met with at a burning bush.

My advice to any group sincerely desiring to get back to any semblance of New Testament order is to simply seek God. And I mean keep seeking him until he sends you a ministry with such a revelation. Remember also that many false prophets are gone out into the world. I Jn. 4:1. Don’t be deceived by their fair speeches or lying signs and wonders.

God is in the saving, delivering, healing and restoring business. Don’t get over anxious and build your own fire and walk in the sparks of the fire of your own making. Isa. 50:10-11.

“For ye have need of patience that, after ye have done the will of God ye might receive the promise.” Heb. 10:35-36.

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