Following on from quote yesterday from Alec Motyer, here is another section which speaks (again) with such clarity into local church life:
“the scattered churches were not isolated. Their great link with each other was the person of the aspotle; they also shared apostolic letters with each other; and in addition there is evidence in the New Testament of a variety of travelling ministers, dependent on the hospitality and support of the churches to which they came.”
If apostolic ministry is still a legitimate ‘function’, then the picture painted by Alec Motyer must help shape our understanding and expectation of what it means to be part of a family of churches.
I’ve just started reading Alec Motyer‘s commentary on Philippians in my morning devotions. The following long-ish quotation is an amazingly clear picture that is painted of leadership in the local church. I would encourage you to read the whole quotation:
The impression we receive in the New Testament is of local churches loosely federated under apostolic authority, with each church managing its own affairs under the leadership of overseers (who are also called elders) and deacons.
Deacons were obviously a distinct office, but we are told nothing about the functions a deacon was meant to fulfil. There is insufficient evidence to enable us to identity the deacons of 1 Timothy 3:8ff. with the ‘seven’ appointed in Acts 6 to ‘serve tables’, even though the identification is not in itself unreasonable. The word ‘deacon’ (diakonos) and its related verb (diakoneo) are used too widely–of ministering the gospel as well as of ministering to bodily or social needs — for us to say what the deacons (and deaconesses, cf. Rom. 16:1) may or may not have done in the enviably flexible arrangements of ministry in a New Testament church.
The word ‘flexibility’ seems equally to apply to those church leaders who are described as ‘elders’ and ‘overseers’ (‘bishops’ in older traditions). It is clear however, that the two titles describe the same person. Possibly such an official could also be called ‘pastor’ or ‘teacher’. the title ‘elder’ expresses seniority and experience; ‘overseer’, ‘pastor” and ‘teacher’ refer to the functions of leadership, care and instruction. Indeed ‘teaching’ is the only specific function required of elders: apart from this the lists devote their attention to personal qualities rather than job-descriptions.
One thing, however, is plain: the were ‘elders’ (plural) in every church. From the first reference to apostolic practice in Acts 14:23 onwards through the uniform testimony of the New Testament, and even earlier according to the testimony of Acts 11:30, local leadership was committed not to an individual but to a group. And if we ask why their respective functions are not more closely defined, then surely the answer is this: ministry arises from the nature and needs of the church, not vice versa. The elders shared the qualities which fitted them for office. they probably shared also that one thing without which a church cannot exist: the ministry of the God’s Word. But otherwise they wrapped their ministry round the needs of the local church in which they served.”
“Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
The people of God have always sung! We sing when our eyes are fixed, not on the near horizon of our current circumstances, but the eternal joy of knowing God!
Listen to these words by Joni Eareckson Tada:
“Whatever troubles are weighing you down are not chains. They are featherweight when compared to the glory yet to come. With a sweep of a prayer and the praise of a child’s heart, God can strip away any cobweb.”
On Sunday I spoke at Kingsgate on Eldership in the local church.
“the New Testament offers more instruction regarding elders than on other important church subjects such as the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Day, baptism, or spiritual gifts. When you consider the New Testament’s characteristic avoidance of detailed regulation and church procedures (when compared to the Old Testament), the attention given to elders is amazing.”