Dear Elder Adams,
Should you have that mind, I would that you write an article concerning the order of the church.
My reason is that some good brethren seem to think that the order of the church was gotten up by men, and should not be adhered to as a rule in the church. This idea never has appealed to me, since I believe the true order (of the true church) is spiritual and only manifests the spiritual guidance in maintaining good order. Without good order, how can you or anyone else tell where the church is?
Yours in hope,
(Elder) Sanford A. Bradshaw
(January 8, 1964)
I agree with Brother Bradshaw that the true church of Jesus Christ is recognized by the doctrine (and order, contained in the doctrine) as set forth by the Apostles and Prophets. Paul, in writing to the church at Ephesus, said to the Gentile Brethren that they were “Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ, Himse!f, being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Eph. 2:20-22.
The visible church is composed of baptized believers, those who have evidence of pardon, peace and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ for their sins and transgressions. “Him (Jesus) hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince, and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, (spiritual Israel) and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 5:31.
Baptism by immersion was the mode which was practiced by the Apostles. John baptized those who brought forth the fruits meet for repentance in the river of Jordan. John baptized Jesus. It is recorded, “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.” Matt. 3:16. Philip baptized the eunuch. “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the spirit caught away Philip that the eunuch saw him no more.” Acts 8:38-39. The above scriptures are sufficient proof that baptism by complete immersion was the example laid down by Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Supper (that is, the bread and wine) is an ordinance to be observed by all baptized believers from the crucifixion on Christ until He comes again, the second time. Paul said, “For as often as ye eat this bread, (symbol of the body of Christ) and drink this cup, (symbol of the blood of Christ), ye do shew the Lord’s death til he come.” 1 Cor. 11:26. Paul said, “But now once in the end of the world, (the end of the legal dispensation) hath he appeared to put sin away by the sacrifice of Himself” Heb. 9:26. “And unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Heb. 9:28.
The Elders of the first churches were ordained by the Apostles. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” Acts 14:23. A presbytery of two or more performed this service. Paul said to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” I Tim. 4:14.
The Apostle Paul penned down the qualifications of those whom the churches should recognize as true servants of God. See 1 Tim. 3:1-7. Much care and precaution was to be taken before ordaining a man to the work of the ministry. He said to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” I Tim. 5:22. It was sometime after the organization of the earliest churches before any deacons were appointed. Perhaps it would be better to say, “And in those days”, collecting for the poor of the flock and distributing to the needy, serving tables and preaching the gospel became too strenuous for those who administered the word. For this reason it seemed necessary that they should have some relief.
It is said, “And in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, Brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-4. The seven deacons were chosen whose names are recorded in verse 5; “And when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.”
In 1 Tim. 3rd chapter, beginning with the eighth verse, the Apostle was more specific in giving the qualifications of deacons than ministers. After setting forth the qualifications of bishops, or elders, he began by saying “Likewise must the deacons be grave, (which means men who are serious minded, solemn, not having men’s persons in admiration, that is the natural man). See Jude 16; but rather those who believe in upholding the true principles that govern the church of the true and living God and know no man (after the flesh), not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” I Tim. 3:8-9. In verse ten, the Apostle said, “Let these also first be proved.” In verse 14 and 15 he continued, by saying, “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Deacons who possess the above qualifications purchase to themselves, as Paul said, “A good degree and great boldness in the faith.” They render an invaluable service in holding the unity of the church, in the bond of peace, advising brethren (in the spirit of love) should there be any discord or divided opinions in local matters. By so doing, they relieve their pastors of many burdens.
Paul did not overlook the importance of making mention of the deacons’ wives, and their qualifications. He said: “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, (meaning subdued, humble, sedate or modest and careful of what she says), faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” 1 Tim. 3:11-12. The Apostle drew out at length on the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in I Timothy, knowing that good counsel is of utmost importance to the well being of the churches in maintaining good order and keeping in the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. In urging further precaution in ordaining ministers, the Apostle wrote to Timothy saying: “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” His reason for this is that “Some men’s sins are open beforehand going before to judgment; (not before the judgment of God, who knows the thoughts and intents of the hearts of all men), but going before the judgment of the church. Of course, Timothy nor the church would approve of ordaining a man whose sins are open beforehand; but there is danger in this: “some men they follow after.” That is, some profess to have a call to the ministry, but they may have secret sins which do not appear on the surface, but are made manifest after they are ordained, and give the church great trouble, like Hymenaeus, and Philetus, as well as Alexander, men of corrupt minds, whose words the Apostle said, “Will eat as doth a canker - who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is passed already; and overthrow the faith of some.” II Tim. 2:17-18, also I Tim. 1:20. Where the evidence is clear, there is no reason for delay, but “They that are otherwise cannot be hid.” I Tim. 5:25. Their secret sins will, sooner or later, be made manifest and brought to light.
The above is good order to be observed in churches, all of which is based on scriptural records. The true church of Jesus Christ is seen or recognized by following the precepts which were taught by Him and His Apostles. Those who are blessed to follow the pattern and adhere to the true principles are compared to A CITY that is set on a hill that cannot be hid. See Matt. 5:14.
Quantity is not preferred at the expense and sacrifice of quality. Those who are gathered together in the name of Jesus, are the manifest children of God. There may be many or few. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matt. 18:20. A tree is known by the fruit it bears. Jesus said, “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:18). The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. See Gal. 5:22. The works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, and revelings. The Apostle said, “And such likes of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Gal. 5:19-21.
Paul separates the meek and humble followers of Jesus Christ who endeavor to live a Godly life in honoring the profession which they have made by an orderly walk and a pure conversation, from those who bring a reproach upon the cause of Christ and His church by engaging in evil things to satisfy the lust of their flesh. With reference to the above, the Apostle said, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother, (Paul did not say that he is a brother, but if he is called a brother), be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” I Cor. 5:11. That is: Have no dealings with such an one.
Again, we are not to overlook the gospel rule when one brother trespasses against another. Jesus said, “Moreover, if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: (to pursue any other way would be dishonoring to the teachings of Jesus). If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” Matt. 18:15. If he will not hear thee, then follow, the procedure in verses 16 and 17, known and called “Gospel Order”.
Accusations against an elder must be proven by two or three witnesses. Paul said, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” I Tim. 5:19. For he that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds.” II John 9-11.
Dispensing with disorder is good order. If a church persists in holding to disorderly members whose conduct ceases to be a virtue, I agree with our inquirer, Elder Bradshaw, and I quote him, “Without good order, how can you or anyone else tell where the church is?” Unquote.
Much care and precaution should be exercised in dealing with offending members. Correct an erring brother and you manifest love and interest for his welfare. James said, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth and one convert him, let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, (not a corporal nor eternal death, but a spiritual death relative to his church. That is, he is saved to the fellowship of his brethren,) and shall hide a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20.
Our inquirer said, “Some good brethren seem to think that the order (or Decorum) of the church was gotten up by men and should not be adhered to as a rule of the church.” The order of the church and rules by which she is to be governed were written by men of God who were inspired by the Holy Ghost. It is true that we have Rules of Decorum in which no specific scriptures are made mention of and this may be what the brethren which he referred to, had in mind. Yet, these Rules of Decorum are essentially in accord with the laws governing the church and are necessary for the church while in the transaction of business, while in conference. We must maintain and pursue an orderly course to be in keeping with what Paul said, “Let all things be done decently and IN ORDER.” 1 Cor. 14:40.
Elder T. Floyd Adams
February 1, 1963