God is Restoring Apostolic Government to the Church.
No such order or government is either delineated or prescribed in the New Testament. The New Testament writers, in fact, show very little concern for church offices and organizational structure. This is why New Testament specialist, Dr. Gordon Fee, says that the New Testament is full of surprises, “but none is so surprising as its generally relaxed attitude toward church structures and leadership.” He and others point out that, excepting Phil. 1:1, Paul never addresses himself to a leader or group of leaders in any of his letters to the churches (Fee, 120). Even in Corinth where there are so many problems, Paul appeals to the entire congregation rather than to a specific leader.
John Wesley, who as an Anglican minister initially held to the episcopal form of church government, found his views refined in the fires of the 18th century Methodist revival, which he spearheaded. Through his diligent study of the New Testament and after observing the Holy Spirit raise up powerful ministries from the ranks of the common people outside the Anglican Church hierarchy, he declared that ”neither Christ nor his apostles prescribed any form of church government” (Wesleyan Theological Journal,116). In his classic work, The Primitive Church, Professor Burnett Streeter asserts,
Whatever else is disputable, there is, I submit, one result from which there is no escape. In the Primitive Church there was no single system of church order laid down by the Apostles. During the first hundred years of Christianity, the Church was an organism alive and growing—changing its organization to meet changing needs. Uniformity was a later development (Streeter, 267-68).
Streeter is correct as is borne out by the fact that the New Testament itself bears witness to a variety of church forms and order. The order of the church in Jerusalem is different from the order of the church in Antioch. The order of the church in Corinth is different from either Jerusalem or Antioch, and the order of the churches of the Pastoral Epistles are different still. Commenting on the diverse forms of order and ministry in the New Testament, Michael Harper says it only makes sense, “If you view them as the ad hocpromptings of the Holy Spirit amidst the most taxing circumstances.” David Scholer, late professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote,
The patterns of authority in the early church are varied and fluid. There are no fixed patterns, terms or offices. No single church structure and/or pattern of authority or office is validated by the New Testament. The patterns of authority in the early church are determined and described primarily by the functions they served within the church (Scholer, 28).
Why does the New Testament reflect such diversity in outward form and order? The answer seems clear. The New Testament writers are obviously more concerned with the inward life of the Church than with the outward form through which that life is expressed. After all, Jesus came to bring us life, not a particular ecclesiastical system (John 10:10). We might also recall the words of the angel to the New Testament apostles when, in Acts 5:20, he freed them from jail and instructed them to, Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.
If life rather than order was the emphasis of the New Testament Church, should it not be the emphasis of the Church today? Should not the churches today, therefore, be seeking a revival of New Testament life rather than an elusive apostolic order that cannot be found in Scripture? And if, in the first century, this life of the Spirit was expressed through a variety of outward forms, should we not expect it to be expressed through a variety of forms today?
The insistence on a particular church order may, in fact, be the major hindrance to the life of God being expressed through genuine revival in the Church today. Professor James L. Ash, Jr. says that virtually all historians of early Christianity agree that the institutionalization of early Christianity (the implementation of a rigid order) was accompanied by the loss of Spiritual gifts and power.
Both the New Testament and church history indicate that the key for the church in the 21st century will not be found in an outward order or form, but in an inner attitude of faith in Christ and an openness to the wind of the Spirit that blows, not where He must, but where He wills. Commenting on the fact that early Christianity was not tied to a particular outward form for its expression, Professor Streeter says:
It is permissible to hint that the first Christians achieved what they did because the spirit with which they were inspired was one favorable to experiment. In this—and perhaps in some other respects—it may be that the line of advance for the Church of today is not to imitate the forms, but to recapture the Spirit of the Primitive Church (Streeter, 267-68).