A Sacred Trust

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has
made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood
.”  Acts 20.28

Certificate of Ordination

A woman I had met once at a conference called one day and asked of me a difficult request.  She asked, “Would your ministerial fellowship provide for her a “Certificate of Ordination.” She went on to say that she had the permission from her pastor.  It seems she was enthusiastic about serving the Lord but felt she needed some official documentation or papers to lend legitimacy to her ministry.  We could not comply to her request and I was not sure she would understand.  The main reason was not because we couldn’t do it.  It is easy enough to simply download a certificate over the internet, endorse it, and mail it to her, or have her come to receive it with our prayers and with the laying on of hands.  But, the real reason was because we wouldn’t do it.  In our estimate such certificates hold little value and often provide a false pretense.  And, we could not, and would not, usurp the authority of our Lord in any calling and setting into ministry. It is of the Spirit. We would first have to observe her ministry over a period of time and bear witness to the anointing upon her life.  Then, and only then, in the witness of her local pastor, elders, and the church, we would come, pray, lay on hands, and ordain her…without the need for a certificate of ordination.

The fact must be fully understood that any particular ministry, regardless the seemingly greater or lesser importance to the Church, is a sacred trust and cannot be gained or granted by human methods or common means.  It is spiritual!  It is the same unwritten spiritual endorsement and ordination received by Peter, Paul, Barnabus, Mark, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila, and many others.  It is written even of the chief apostles, Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.”  Acts 4.13    Would such uneducated  and untrained men be accepted into the hierarchy of the church today?  I think not.  But their sufficiency was from a different source—they realized they had been with Jesus.

Not that we are *sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our *sufficiency is from God, who also made us *sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  2 Cor. 3.5-6     (* being fit, competent)

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves” Paul makes this statement to guard against the appearance of being self-confidence and self-promoting.  He wanted it to be clearly understood that any success in his ministry did not come himself or his own strength, or by the conferring of such powers by man.  Paul, as well as all true able bodied servants of Christ, know well that they have no such self-sufficiency or independency; and would not insinuate, in the slightest manner, to be invested by self or man, or any institution with any such competence (sufficiency).  All must bear in mind Jesus’ strong affirmation, ““I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  Jn. 15.5   The sufficiency flows from the person of Christ as its source; it originates with Him into and through the one in union with Him.  If man is to be involved in the ordination process the overseers of the Church must discern such a calling into ministry and confirm it before the Church in the laying on of hands and prayer—God wills and the Church confirms.  That is the sole order of things.

“Not of the letter.”  The first level of understanding “the letter” is represented by the Law of the Old Covenant; it was initiated by God writing part of it on two tablets of stone—the Ten Commandments.   The rest of the Law, and all of the prophets and Psalms are the letter written on all sorts of parchments, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  All of it is physical in nature, in that one can see it, hold it, and recite from it.   Therefore one may also involve the mind by memorizing, learning, and becoming obedient to it.  This all constitutes the letter and the proper response of the flesh to the letter.  

Be on guard though, the very nature of this response to the letter is known as religion, which is simply “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship God. There are many religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.”   Therefore beware; the writings of the New Covenant can be merely treated in the same manner, as the practice of Christianity but be void of its spiritual life.  This letter of the Law is external to the soul of man and must be gained by natural means of` discipline, learning and training.

 “But of the Spirit.”   Concerning the Gospel dispensation of the New Covenant, the word (or letter) is written on the tables of the heart by the Spirit—as though God is writing His word directly onto the soul of man.  It is an inward grace of the Holy Spirit permanently marking the soul for Christ.  The Gospel and letters (epistles) of the New Covenant are recorded on parchment paper as the Bible New Testament.  The true ministers of the Gospel of Christ do not try to form a religion from these writings, but truly endeavor to communicate a full view of the Gospel; beginning with the atonement in the blood of Christ and the new birth, to the upward call if God in Christ Jesus, to “ít is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” Gal 2.20,  to the anticipation of the resurrection, the second coming of Christ and eternal judgment. These are the spiritual essence of the Bible.

The goal of all ministry is for the realization and experiencing translation and transformation of all believers,  that is,

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated (conveyed) us into the kingdom of the Son of His love;”  (Col. 1.13)  and,  

 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.´ Rm. 12.2

“But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”  2 Cor. 3.18

So you see, this is a just and sacred call to the ministry of the Gospel and cannot rely upon man made credentials and human means of attaining those credentials and ministry. Nor can it rely on religion to produce true believers.  The apostle Paul had all the credentials to minister the letter of the Old Testament Law.  He studied under Gamaliel, an acknowledged and noted scholar of the Law; and, he had credentials among the Pharisees to function with high levels of responsibilities and authority within Judaism. But regarding the call and mark of Christ upon His heart he proclaimed,

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…”  Phil. 3.7-8  

Thus, Bible schools, seminaries, and even online courses and programs may augment a calling and give intellectual growth to the understanding, but without the true call of Christ upon the soul, things like certificates, diplomas, official titles or bestowed credentials are all meaningless and have no value in the Kingdom of God.  Are these hard words to hear? Sure they are. And many will reject them. Why, because these words cut directly across the grain of human nature and the normal reasoning of man. The sad truth is that too many churches today find their basis in Christianity as a religion without a true understanding of the spiritual “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”  Phil. 3.8   Knowledge of the reality of Christ brings about spiritual growth which in turn brings about character change.

Elders

Without doubt, the Biblical N.T. elder is the most misunderstood and under revered position in the Church today.  In most of today’s churches, the elder may represent a kind of spiritual leader or just be a title of honor and duty to someone who serves with specific duties in the church.  Sometimes a church’s Board of Directors is also considered the church elders. In some instances being an elder is a reward for seniority, secular skills, and faithfulness.  As we shall in see following writing, these are not scriptural reasons for elders.

Also, in most instances of today’s churches, there exists an unbiblical hierarchy of authority.  For instance, one having the “title” of bishop is deemed to have authority over a region of churches. Even though the term bishop really means overseer, which implies a ministry or function, it is more often used as a title for authority.  In such thinking, the bishop is over the pastors and congregations of those churches. Bishops and pastors represent the clergy, as opposed to congregation, another dreadfully unbiblical concept.  The elders are seen as non-clergy laymen or at best kind of a hybrid between layman and clergy, with responsibilities within the church.  Deacons are then considered as laypersons with specific ministries of helps in the church.  

I would that, by the Spirit of God, these notions be flushed from our minds and understanding given to the true nature of the functioning Church as the Body of Christ.  The Church as the Body of Christ is not synonymous with congregation. The first is a living, spiritual organism and the latter is simply an organized gathering together of believers. 

This hierarchy of titles and offices within the church is not Biblical and is not ordered in the scriptures.  For example, Peter, James, and John were esteemed to be pillars in the Church because, as ‘apostles,’ they had spiritual insight and authority and were the main support to the Church, but not because they occupied the office of ‘Apostle.’  (see Gal. 2.9)   The elders who were with them in the Church at Jerusalem actually met with them to decide important issue, as with the important meeting with Paul and Barnabus to determine Paul’s credibility to preach the Gospel to uncircumcised Gentiles: Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to select men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.”   Acts 15.22   

In the Church, which is the Body of Christ, there is one Head, even Jesus Christ, and the remaining responsibilities or ministries are distributed among the Body as the God sees fit, to function as a body, some members having greater use and overall importance. My heart and thumb are both parts of my body but the heart is of greater importance; I can still live, but at a diminished capacity, without my thumbs, but die immediately without my heart. Elders of the Church most often occupy these crucial ministries.  Apostles and prophets always seem to be Biblically presented first in importance as functioning ministries in the Church.    

Perhaps the two greatest facts regarding true church elders are: 1) that the term elder was never meant to be a title but a function in the Church, and 2) that the weight of consideration for a church elder is solely spiritual maturity and has absolutely nothing to do with age, seniority, talent, or social status..  

In actuality, titles have no place in the Body of Christ, e.g., Pastor John, Elder Robert, Bishop Jones, Prophet Smith, etc.  Even the word Brother or Sister, most often used as a warm greeting, may also be used as titles instead of implying a special relationship in Christ.  Personally, when writing, I never use the expression Apostle Paul but only as the apostle Paul.  You may ask, “what is the difference?”  Quite simply, a title, such as Pastor Dan, is descriptive of an office held with a level of authority with responsibilities to specific tasks or duties.  I recently heard a particular congregant was upset because the Pastor failed to visit him in the hospital.   That seemed to be part of his duties, as much as preaching, counseling, leading worship, and teaching. Whew!  In the military a title, Captain Kirk, represents a level of hierarchy authority, with assignment over a portion of the armed forces, with responsibilities and oversight—much like a Bishop in a denominational system.  However, a title speaks nothing of character, true spiritual capabilities, or, in terms of the Church, of Holy Spirit anointing. All too often it represents years of service, training and certificates and badges of accomplishments. 

One does not rise through the ranks to become an elder, or by seniority earn the post of an elder.  Nor does one become an elder having received a certificate or diploma.  Elders are like boiling dumplings or gnocchis, when ready they will rise to the surface.  God raises them up and the Church confirms.   They are acknowledged to be elders on the basis of spiritual maturity and character. Elders tend to be stable, well grounded in the word, able to teach, and possess a level of insight and discernment. We all acknowledge the fact that only one is the Christ and is fully possessed with all the divine nature reflected in the fruit of the Spirit. (See Gal. 5.22-23)  Elders should possess a recognizable measure of that stature of Christ.  (See Eph. 4.13)   

So, do you see, that on one hand we can be part of a church fashioned after the institutions and corporations of the world with a hierarchy of authority and offices, well organized and structured, schooled and trained; or we can be a part of a spiritual church that functions as a living organism, something alive and vital, with every member supplying from the same spiritual source, who is Christ.  Denominationalism is the easiest and most common path, but the latter takes much time, prayer, spiritual discipline, discernment, and proper teaching.  Sadly, many of today’s “pastors” avoid the latter more spiritual church because they fear the loss of authority and function. 

Should such an organized church suddenly become spiritual and begin functioning as a living organism, two things will become readily apparent.  First, the role of the “pastor” will become greatly diminished as other ministries such as teachers, administrations, helps, evangelists, psalmists, and additional pastors will arise and assume their proper place in the church.  Secondly, authority in the church will be seen in a body of elders and not one man.  A pastor will then function as a true pastor caring for and mentoring families and individual members of the flock.  

ACTS 20 Elders

“From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.”  Acts 20.17

I believe this is the first super-conference recorded in the Bible.  First of all, note that it was the elders (plural) that were called together.  He did not call the apostles, pastors, prophets, evangelists and teachers together,  (see Eph. 4.11) it was simply the elders.   Pastors, prophets, teachers, etc. are particular ministries of the elders.  Elders are the umbrella of the Church, and ministries are its individual ribs (spokes).  An elder may function in more than one ministry;   (See 1 Cor. 12.29 for more ministries) and a church may have more than one of the same ministry—even as the natural body has two arms, two ears, and two lungs.  A church having two teachers, even two pastors would not be uncommon.  A church needs the input of many individual ministries to properly function as a body of believers. 

 There needs to be a seeing of the Church through the eyes of its Head, even Jesus Christ, and not through the eyes and reasoning of man.  Man sees a sophisticated organization with structure, formalities, offices, and rituals.  Christ beholds His body as a living organism formed of many members, each part functioning according to its calling and purpose. Many call this the early “primitive” church when compared today’s “modern” church.   When in reality, it is the “true” church and that today’s structured church is but a shadow of its former greatness.   May we have a renewing of our minds on this important matter.

Set Ministries

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.”   1 Cor. 12.18

This often neglected verse of scripture is of primary importance when considering the functioning together of the local church.  The scripture states clearly, “God has set” each and every member, regardless of seemingly importance of calling, into the “Body as He pleases.”   The word for set is used elsewhere as: to put, place, lay, set, fix, or establish.  This is not a personal matter of ambition or wants, nor is it a matter of talents, certificates, seniority, social status, election, or any such worldly qualifications.  God wills and man confirms!  It is a spiritual matter to be considered maturely by the Church and embraced by faith by every believer.

Each member means “every member!” Once a believer views him or herself as having been set into the Body of Christ by God, their view of relatedness changes from being an independent member to that of being united to others each contributing to the welfare of the Body as the Head, Jesus Christ, sees fit.  Independence is a sickness to the Body of Christ causing the Church to function in a diminished capacity.  Even if a pastor or teacher or prophet sees themselves functioning in important ministries to the Body but also consider themselves as independent from the Body, the effectiveness of their ministry and the body welfare is compromised.  And, if the weakest member of the church considers themselves independent and/or insignificant, then there is a furthering weakening to the Church, the Body of Christ, even as it is written,

“But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” 1 Cor, 12.20-22  

Christ and His Church form one body, as Head and members. All believers become members of this body by their baptism into Christ. (Rm. 6.3)    It is by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3.5)  that we are made functioning members of Christ’s body.  Is it not by communion with Christ at the Lord’s supper that we are strengthened and equipped, not by the eating of bread and drinking of wine, but by the eating and drinking into one Spirit.  Each member has his form, place, and function.  But in such eating we acknowledge the value, and place, and oneness of every member partaking of the supper. We must not take this lightly, but break bread together soberly for it is ‘the Lord’s’ supper. Consider the following ominous scripture:

Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”  1 Cor. 11.27-30

It is not the Lord’s body of flesh put to death on the cross in reference here.  It is Christ’s Body, the Church.  To discern the Body, is to come to the right estimate of one’s relationship with others in the Body.   It is not an individual indulgence, isolated from other members, but members of a corporate whole united under one head.  Certainly the idea of “we” must displace the concept of “I.”

There must be a distinction of members in the body, so each has a different enablement and different placement.  We should do the responsibilities of our own place and not murmur, or quarrel, or emulate other members. All the members are useful and necessary to each other.  There is no member that is insignificant or un-useful.  As in the natural body of man there is that constituent which holds all its members together to function as one, so too in Christ’s body.  “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.”  Col. 2.19   

All organizations formed by man are inanimate, they are without life. Each member is connected with others by a particular job function with skills obtained by much training and learning, and all possess a common goal—some form of natural gain.   However, in Christ all the Body must form an organic (living) unity, a oneness—not in word only, not just in common agreement with an “amen” response or nodding the head, but in the fullness of faith putting into practice acknowledging and encouraging that element of life in one another.   Make it a matter of prayer.  And therefore, the body grows with the increase which God gives, and which matures into His likeness.

Oh how soberly we must approach our faith in Christ.  The Church, the Body of Christ, is a most holy, sacred living organism.  And each and every member called to therein must reckon they too are sacred and holy.  Both words, sacred and holy denote someone or something “set apart” for God, His worship and service, but holy (the stronger word) implies an inherent or essential character.  A believer is thus “set apart” for God’s purposes; he is also set apart for the infusion of God’s own holiness.

The Sacred Mandate

“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.“  Acts 20.28

The apostle Paul has gathered together the elders, the overseers, of the Church at Ephesus for a final charge before departing.  He knows he will never see their faces again, nor be able to support them in times of dire need.  He is positive that, For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”  Acts 20.29-30   Paul is placing the life of the Church of Ephesus into the care and oversight of the elders

So he makes the bold charge, Take heed to yourselves.  Take heed, beware, take caution, stay alert, be on guard, be steadfast, do whatever it takes to care for the flock.  Be keen eyed, inspecting, diligent, persevering, and unrelenting. In the Old Testament Nehemiah was charged with restoring the temple at Jerusalem.  His first task was to establish a wall around the entire city which became no easy task. But when completed he then set his brother Hanani and Hananiah charge over the wall, to guard and protect the inhabitants of the city.  He was to carefully select sentries and set them in place.  What was Hananiah’s qualifications? it is written, “he was a faithful man and feared God more than many.”  Neh. 7.2   His selection was not based upon any other worldly qualifications.  

  “To all the flock”.  Showing no preference or bias, or prejudice as is seen in the world.  Never showing the slightest favoritism or neglect based upon race or color, male or female, slave or free, rich or poor, young or old, strong or weak, healthy or sick.   “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Gal. 3.28   To reemphasize, “you are all one in Christ.”   One does not earn a “seat of honor” or special recognition by any earthly standards.  Let the only measure or standard be that of Christ.

Titles like Pastor, Bishop, Reverend, Evangelist, and Worship Leader are concocted by man and such titles are of no spiritual value.  All who walk in such ministries, or any other ministry for that matter, are first and foremost, servants of Christ and of His Body.   Such ministries should be clothed in humility, seeking not the higher place, or greater honor or retribution.  One should not wear a title like a badge, or military stripes, or special robe, but to be an example in carrying out that ministry in all diligence, in righteous character and humility. Always remembering the Body has one head, and that is Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, we cannot neglect spiritual authority that comes with the ministry or the authority of the Word.  For instance, a true psalmist (worship leader raised up by the Holy Spirit) has the authority to oversee the time of worship and to lead as the Spirit leads.  I have seen too often well-meaning saints emotionally wanting to inject a song or hymn that is inappropriate at that time in worship.  A teacher has the authority to rebuke a false or errant message, and of course, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.”  1 Cor. 14.32   All too often prophecy goes on unchecked having its source in emotions or the intellect. True unblemished prophecy is rare in the Church today.

“the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”   The selection, calling, anointing, and placement of elders, as well as all callings to serve the Lord and His Body in any way, is not by man, not by schools and seminaries, not with certificates and diplomas, not with years of service, not by election, and is certainly not self-proclaimed, but is solely by the Holy Spirit and verified by the overseers of the Church—its elders.   God wills and man confirms. The elder is one in which spiritual stature and maturity is readily noticeable.  

It is evident from every part of the New Testament that there is no distinction between elders or presbyters and bishop in the whole of the Church.  All the elders were bishops , which means overseers, and set into the Church to shepherd the flock. The apostle Peter writes,

“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers (bishops), not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;”  1 Pet. 5.1-3 

“Shepherd the flock of God.”    If the Holy Spirit has made the elders as overseers of the flock, shepherds, they must be true to this sacred  trust.  They must consider their Master’s concern for the flock committed to their charge.  They become no less than their Lord, who said of Himself, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  Mt. 20.28   They must become watchmen, caretakers, guides, and leaders (as ones who go before, lead the way.)   And, by the way, the word used here twice for serve”  may be also translated minister,” as it is frequently translated elsewhere—they must become willing servants or ministers.  Minster, not as a title, as a work description, but as an action.  

Thus, an elder is the man ordained by the Holy Spirit for a purpose, his charge is as an overseer (bishop) to the Church, the Body of Christ, his position is that of a servant (minster) to Christ as his Head and to Christ’s body. His particular service may any one of a number of giftings:  apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist, worker on miracles, healing, helps, administration, interpretation of tongues, etc.  (See Eph. 4.11, 1 Cor. 12.27-30 

“which He purchased with His own blood.”    These are words of immense importance, immeasurable, beyond man’s natural mind’s ability to perceive of its divine estimate.  They are the driving force behind this sacred trust between God and man.  They are powerful as having their origin in the heart of God and emanating from His throne in the heavens.  The intensity of this statement is overwhelming.  How precious in God’s sight is the blood of His sacrificed Lamb, the Son of his love. This calling and placement into the Body of Christ is sealed in His own blood.  

The blood is altogether most holy. The blood was His as a man, yet so close is His human and divine nature—two natures but one person. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Son of Man in one soul.  If there was no man in Him then there would be no blood.  If there was no God in Him the blood is not sufficient price for the redemption of man. The best man has to offer cannot atone for his sins and his fallen nature.  This offering can be called the blood of God, for it was the blood of Him who is God.

This puts into the shed blood all such dignity and worth, and something beyond the highest imagination of man. The blood of Jesus Christ was carried into the heavenly realm and to the throne room of God by the risen Christ.  The throne is the righteous seat of God’s mercy and grace. Acting as the High Priest of His Church, Christ placed His blood on the mercy seat in the heavens, even as it is written,

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made by hands and is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.”  Heb. 9.11-12“His own blood” is emphatic.  Nothing from the fallen earthly realm can compare.  The glorified Christ, who now sits at the right hand of power in the heavens, is gathering and ruling the Church, His Body on the earth.  And, by His Holy Spirit has set members into it and elders to oversee it.  He is the supreme Head of His Church and cannot be indifferent or in any way negligent to its continued welfare and maturity in the hands of its elders; seeing He has given for it His own precious blood.  This is His sacred trust.

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