Church Organization and Unity
Memory Text: “‘Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave’” (Matthew 20:26, 27, NKJV).
This week’s lesson is important to understand, in that as we all believe in the Gospel Message of Salvation by the grace of Christ, through faith in what He alone has and can accomplish for us, a free gift, a miracle of spiritual rebirth, an incredible and unspeakable act of humility, love, surrender, and servanthood for the entire human race.
The Gospel bears fruit in the life, in character, and in our working relationship with others in the church, church authorities, church boards, and many other areas of service.
To start the study, I would like to share an experience I had recently. A person in my area has “impressions from God” that they were to take over a ministry from someone else nominated by their church’s nominating committee to do that particular ministry, and that therefore it was all right to move the person out of the ministry, because that person should be a “servant” and allow others to take over. Is that right thinking?
In the story of the rebellion in Heaven, and in the story of Korah’s rebellion, we see a “spirit” of exalting self and replacing God or God’s called leaders, and we also see God’s longsuffering and love, but ultimate strong response, as such behavior reflects the mind of Satan. God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. A right understanding of leadership as it relates to the whole issue of the character of Christ and the principles of Christianity leads to humility, cooperation, surrender, a spirit of restoration, respect for the responsibilities leaders bear, an avoidance of a critical spirit, and the sensitivity to know what gifts and ministries God has called you to, instead of coveting a higher position. Many “feel” called to a position. Or they make the claim that they are able to do it as well or better than someone else. Korah implied that he could replace Moses, and he ended swallowed up, literally, and spiritually by his own pride and rebellion. A “call” must be substantiated by the Bible, and not based on impressions, feelings, personal preference, cultural trends, or the desire to exalt oneself. If a person has a desire to do a ministry, that does not prove that they were called to that ministry. In fact, if a person demands to do a ministry, they disqualified themselves from that ministry.
The lesson states “the church is God’s creation, and God placed it here for us, not as a means of salvation but as a vehicle to help us express and make manifest that salvation to the world. The church is an organization that Jesus created for the spreading of the gospel into the world. Organization is important insofar as it solidifies and enables the mission of the church. Without a church organization, Jesus’ saving message could not as effectively be communicated to others. Church leaders are important, too, in that they foster unity and illustrate the example of Jesus.”
God works through order, and the Godhead itself is a model of the way we should seek to provide servant leadership, as the three members of the Godhead, who are equal, nevertheless are submitted in the plan of Salvation and in the government of the universe, showing the humility and heart of service that is the result of the foundational principle of God’s Kingdom, namely, agape love united with justice, righteousness, mercy, and holiness.
The Laodicean condition of self-righteousness can lead to anxiety and coveting to “do more” in order to “justify oneself” by works, which God condemns in Matthew 7:20. The Gospel of Grace leads to peace and the knowledge of acceptance by God in the reconciliation and forgiveness that it brings to us, as well as the ongoing experience in growth in character, love, faith. “When a man thinks He is something, when He is nothing, He deceives himself.” “I must decrease, that He will increase.” “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” The glory of God becomes our focus when we finally respond to the redeeming love of the Cross and experience the power of recreation brought to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. We continually need to remember the lesson of the Centurion. “Speak the word only, and my servant will be healed.” Such an understanding of the role and power of faith and the miracle it brings to us, as we cooperate with God’s will, brings to us a surrendered peace and freedom from the bondage of a works salvation.
Waggoner, in Glad Tidings, p. 128 writes “Mark those words, ‘when he is nothing.’ It does not say that we should not think ourselves to be something until we are something. No; it is a statement of the fact that we are nothing. Not merely a single individual but all nations are nothing before the Lord. If we ever at any time think ourselves to be something, we deceive ourselves. And we often do deceive ourselves and thus mar the work.”
A simple principle of leadership, that contributes greatly to unity is “You cannot be a good leader until you are a good follower.” I have responsibilities as leader in my work. I have a leader to whom I am accountable, and owe him my respect and loyalty. We have government leaders who we are told to pray for and respect. When the 1888 Message Study Committee makes decisions, we who have identified with them cooperate with them, because they deserve our loyalty and respect. To God be the Glory. And this message of Grace is the message to be proclaimed. We are to “deny ourselves, pick up our crosses daily, and follow Christ.” Luke 9:23 We are merely empty vessels given the incredible privilege of seeing “Christ in us.”
We follow Christ as the Head of the Church. Although we may be hesitant with the concept of submission because of how leaders in the centuries past have abused it, the church is nonetheless to be subject to the Head, Christ, and is subject to His authority. Our acknowledgment of Christ as the Head of the church helps us remember to Whom our ultimate allegiance must belong, and that is the Lord Himself and to no one else. The church is to be organized, but that organization always must be subordinate to the authority of Jesus, the true Leader of our church. Salvation is not obtained by membership in an organization, yet if we understand the character of God, we will see the essential importance of church organization and unity to the mission of the Church. None of us is God, and should never lead in a way as to draw away attention and worship from God to fallen human beings. However, anarchy, rebellion, criticism, insolence, an air of independence is not of God, but is part of the sin problem we inherited through the Fall.
I liked one passage from the lesson. “In this concise passage Jesus presents us with two models of authority. The first is the Roman idea of authority. In this model, the elite stand hierarchically over others. They have the power to make decisions and expect submission from those below them. Jesus clearly rejected this model of authority when He stated, ‘Not so with you!’ Instead He presented the disciples with a breathtakingly new model of authority, a thorough rejection, or reversal, of the hierarchical model with which they were familiar.”—Darius Jankiewicz, “Serving Like Jesus: Authority in God’s Church,” Adventist Review, March 13, 2014, p. 18.
There is a large difference between having a hierarchical structure, which even Heaven has in a sense, and having a hierarchical attitude, of “lording it over” others. The greatest leader serves, places the others first. Heaven is based on order, and the Godhead are the “three greatest powers” in Heaven. But their greatest is seen in their submission, service, sacrificial love, and lack of “self-interest.”
“Christ was establishing a kingdom on different principles. He called men, not to authority, but to service, the strong to bear the infirmities of the weak. Power, position, talent, education, placed their possessor under the greater obligation to serve his fellows.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 550.
As part of his teaching ministry, Timothy is to convince, rebuke, and exhort. These verbs are reminiscent of the guidance given by the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16). Clearly, Timothy’s work is to follow, teach, and implement what he finds in the Scriptures and to do so with longsuffering and patience. Harsh and severe rebukes rarely bring a sinner to Christ. By following what Paul wrote, and following it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with a servant-leader attitude, Timothy would be a powerfully unifying force in the church. Unity in the church is enhanced, in part, by being faithful and loyal to the true teachings of Scripture. We do believe in unity in diversity, and thus recognize that in some areas there will never be total agreement, but there are fundamental beliefs that identify the truths of Scripture and provide our identity as a people, and they are inviolate. There are some whose beliefs, while professing membership in the church, which are in so many areas out of harmony with that church’s stated beliefs that they should in integrity leave the organization, and join one that believes as they do. It is dishonest to claim membership with disagreement with major areas of doctrinal truth.
We were warned in Scripture of “every wind of doctrine” and we are seeing that fulfilled today. The Church needs to come together and resolve doctrinal differences, and members are to trust the leaders, in world session, that as they have studied, prayed, and discussed, that God is in their midst and is leading His Church. If rebellion follows such a worldwide decision, and people still demand 'their way', it only brings in a spirit of disunity, selfishness, stubbornness, and a destruction of mission, for as the Bible says can happen, "There was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes." Such was the spirit of the rebellion in heaven.
“One of the main issues of church organization is to deal with discipline. How discipline helps to preserve church unity is sometimes a touchy subject and easily may be misunderstood. But from a biblical perspective, church discipline centers on two important areas: preserving purity of doctrine and preserving purity of church life and practice.
As we already have seen, the New Testament maintains the importance of preserving the purity of biblical teaching in the wake of apostasy and false teaching, particularly at the end of time. The same goes for preserving the respectability of the community by guarding against immorality, dishonesty, and depravity. For this reason, the Scripture is spoken of as “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, NKJV). Church discipline is a Biblical concept, and of course needs to be done with patience, mercy, a spirit of restoration, humility, and accurate adherence to Biblical principles and stages of work. However, it is also wrong to ignore the issue, to feel that it should ‘never’ be done. One person told me that if two people are not in dispute, such as in a divorce, there should be no discipline. Two people agreeing to sin does not make the act righteous. Any open sin of a significant nature, without repentance, should be brought under church discipline. Repentance is the fruit God looks for, and that is first a penitent heart. Open sin is not made open by gossip, by the actual sin being evidence and known through the actions of the individual. Jesus made every effort to maintain respect, privacy, and the spirit of restoration. Yet if someone refuses to listen after long suffering and forbearance, the church on occasion needs to act to preserve the integrity of the church.
We have done a good work in presenting God as loving, merciful, gracious, sacrificial. We need to deepen our realization that He is also holy, and we have been called to a Holy Calling. Satan from the Garden of Eden spread the lie that “you will not surely die”, or, sin won’t hurt you, it actually will benefit your mind and spiritual life. We need to communicate in our actions and decisions that we take God and the Word of God seriously.
In the Great Commission, we are told to teach people “ALL things whatsoever God commanded.” He commands faith, obedience born of love, holiness, witnessing, and many other things, flowing from a heart that has responded to the Gospel. Jesus’ great commission to His disciples includes four key verbs: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. According to the Greek grammar of these verses, the main verb is to make disciples, and the other three verbs indicate how this can be done. Disciples are made when believers go to all nations to preach the gospel, baptize people, and teach them to observe what Jesus said.
As the church responds to this commission, God’s kingdom is enlarged, and more and more people of all nations join the ranks of those who accept Jesus as Savior. Their obedience to Jesus’ commands to be baptized and to observe His teachings creates a new universal family. The new disciples also are assured of the presence of Jesus every day as they themselves make more disciples. The presence of Jesus is a promise of the presence of God. The Gospel of Matthew begins with the announcement that the birth of Jesus is about “God with us” (Matthew 1:23) and ends with the promise of Jesus’ continued presence with us until His second coming.
“Christ did not tell His disciples that their work would be easy. . . . He assured them that He would be with them; and that if they would go forth in faith, they should move under the shield of Omnipotence. He bade them be brave and strong; for One mightier than angels would be in their ranks—the General of the armies of heaven. He made full provision for the prosecution of their work and took upon Himself the responsibility of its success. So long as they obeyed His word, and worked in connection with Him, they could not fail.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 29.
We won’t teach people true obedience, from the heart, and from being totally dependent upon Christ to work the miracle of the new birth in us by not taking sin seriously, or the Word of God seriously. We are “too nice” sometimes because we don’t want to be ‘judgmental.’ We are told to judge righteous judgment, and while dealing with people redemptively, humbly, and lovingly, nevertheless to deal with people when necessary. The answer is to lead them to Christ, to behold His matchless charms, to urge them to both fall in love with Him and to trust His Word and promises. We can do all things through Christ who strengeneth us. We are to allow Christ to make us, as the bride, without spot and blemish before Him in love. We hear the call to live by ‘every word’ of God, (Matthew 4:4) and to then bring the realization that without Christ, we can do nothing, and say to such high standards for unity, faith, obedience, or whatever, ‘so let it be’, and experience the freedom of total dependence on Christ, as we cooperate with Him day by day.
“There is an apparent contradiction between being a leader and being a servant. How can one lead and serve at the same time? Does not the leader occupy a position of honor? Does he not command and expect others to obey him? How, then, does he occupy the lower position of being a servant, of receiving orders and fulfilling them?
“In order to resolve the paradox we must look at Jesus. He supremely represented the principle of leadership that serves. His whole life was one of service. And at the same time, He was the greatest leader the world has ever seen.”—G. Arthur Keough, Our Church Today: What It Is and Can Be (Washington, D.C., and Nashville: Review and Herald, 1980), p. 106.
~ Tom Cusack