GOD'S STANDARD FOR THE CHURCH AND OUR LIFE
The Bible teaches that the local church, which we should attend, will have certain essential characteristics. The organization of the church has significant impact upon the work and activities of the church, so it should be considered when determining which church to attend. However, before we study such an issue, we must first recognize that there is indeed a pattern for the church that God expects us to follow, and we must also understand some basics concepts about the church. In this article, we will try to summarize the many complex issues related to church organization, which include cooperation among local churches and with other institutions.
What Is Meant by "Organization"
The term "organization" of the church refers to how the church is set up, or organized. Should it have committees, or boards? Or, may it use societies of cooperation or outside institutions to achieve its work? Can local churches be part of a larger, earthly structure that is governed by men? Who picks the local preacher, deacons, and elders? How do local churches cooperate to achieve common goals? All of these questions are addressed in a study of God's plan for the church's organization.
What this Question is Not About
Since this question is addressing organizations such as missionary societies and orphan homes, some people may accidentally mistake this article's intention to oppose taking care of orphans or spreading God's Word. However, this article is most certainly not against these actions. In fact, the Bible teaches that these are essential characteristics of a Christian’s life (James 1:26-27; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 10:29-37). Therefore, please do not mistake this question to be whether we or the church should be involved in such works; rather, the question is how the work of the church should be accomplished.
The Heart of the Matter
Fundamental to this study is the proper understanding of New Testament examples in establishing authority. Since most of the Bible commentary on church organization are the examples of New Testament churches operating under the approval of God, it is imperative that we determine the authority that is inherent in these examples. This article will adopt the conclusion that was reached in the writings on "Examples and the Pattern", which is that all examples are binding until sufficient reason is found for dismissal.
As we study the Bible to determine the nature of the church's organization, we will find two reoccurring themes, or points that are at the heart of the matter. First, organization of the church begins and ends with the local church, and it should be entirely autonomous of all other organizations, including other local churches. Second, the New Testament churches did not participate in collective cooperation, but they did help each other through a form of cooperation that never violated their autonomous independence.
The Bible does clearly endorse a type of cooperation. However, we must determine if the cooperation in which our local church participates is conducted according to the pattern. Some misunderstanding may arise through people using the same word in different ways in different contexts. Therefore, to help us clarify the use of the word "cooperation", we will divide the Bible teaching on church cooperation into three distinct categories, which we will define and discuss:
Independent Distributed Cooperation
Independent Conjunctive Cooperation
Although these words are not found in the Bible, we can use these labels to help us categorize and recognize the different ways in which churches can cooperate. However, we will find that some of these forms of cooperation may be found in the Bible, while others may not.
Independent Distributed Cooperation
This category is best demonstrated through the work in which many churches participate to further the gospel. Many congregations support a local preacher. Some support preachers in new areas. And, hopefully all promote the gospel through the efforts of their individual members. Each of these churches could be acting independently and in complete ignorance of the others, and yet each would be cooperating in the fulfillment of a common goal. It is only through this form of cooperation that the universal church ever works or operates.