Who is in charge of Jesus’ Church? That simple question evokes just about as many answers as there are churchgoing people in multitudes of local churches and church denominations around the world. Is there an answer? Is there one simple answer? I believe there is—and I’ll be responding to that question in this teaching.
However, I’ll begin by furnishing definitions of one word and one term I’ll be using throughout this teaching. First, here’s the definition of the word “church” I’ll be using: “All persons everywhere and everywhen in whom Jesus lives forever in his unbodied form of Holy Spirit.” To sort of “flesh out” that definition, I’m adding the following clarifying information. That definition includes everyone in past generations in whom Jesus has lived, everyone presently living this mortal life in whom Jesus resides, everyone yet to be born in whom Jesus will live…and all those who have died, in whom Jesus forever lives in their immortal state of being in his Kingdom of Heaven.
The words “church” and “churches” occur 118 times throughout the New Testament. However, Jesus Himself only mentioned his church a couple of times. The remaining instances of the words church and churches are mentioned by Paul, Peter, John, and other writers of the New Testament. Essentially, Jesus mentioned only the birth or formation of his church; it seems He left it to his first followers to add more detailed information about his church for approximately the first 30 – 35 years of church history.
What we know as local churches in a given community, locale, or area are simply local “segments” of that “universal,” timeless church being built by Jesus. I mean by a local church a tiny segment of the worldwide church; for example, a local Baptist church, Methodist church, Roman Catholic church, Lutheran church, and so on.
Our second definition: Do I really need to define who Jesus is? Okay, I will try to define the indefinable… He is the God-man who was born of the virgin Mary—fully God and fully human—and lived a sinless life for 33 years; with God’s foreknowledge, Jesus died a very cruel and painful death to save all humanity from sin and ultimate death, and then replace sin and death with his own eternal LIFE; He was brought back to life from death by the power of God the Spirit, ascended back to Heaven, and is presently seated at the right hand of God’s throne in Heavenly Realms. As He stated very simply on one occasion: He has ALL authority and power on earth and in Heaven…including in his church. (Matthew 28: 18 – 20) He exercises that power through Holy Spirit, Who is in one sense “God in action.” No other created being has any power except delegated, derivative power given to that being by Jesus.
Okay, those are the two definitions I’ll be using throughout this teaching.
Jesus Gives Birth to His Church: A Living Organism, NOT an Organization
Now, let’s begin at the beginning. Jesus said on one occasion,”…this truth of who I really am will be the bedrock foundation on which I will build my church…” (Matthew 16: 18) Let’s briefly examine that simple statement by Jesus. First, He said He alone will build his church; it does not state or imply that He will “subcontract” or delegate that building process. He is personally building his church all by Himself. Second, He states that the church is his church; Jesus “owns” his church; He has not “sublet” it or delegated it to any other created being. Jesus’ church does not belong to anyone else. Those two points are essential to understanding Jesus’ relationship with his church. Matthew 18: 15 – 17 gives us our first insight into some of the practices in Jesus’ church. That’s all Jesus ever said about his church while He was here on earth as the God-man.
Approximately 30 years after Jesus said that He would build his church, Peter wrote these words that serve to clarify what Jesus meant. “So keep coming to [Jesus] who is the Living Stone—though he was rejected and discarded by men but chosen by God and is priceless in God’s sight. Come and be his ‘living stones’ who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God.” (1 Peter 2: 4 and 5, paraphrased) Humans are the “living building materials” with which Jesus is building his church. Jesus’ church is a living organism, NOT an organization! Jesus alone is building his church, and He alone has the right to define what that should look like or how it should be built and conduct itself. Other writers of the New Testament give us more information about how Jesus is “constructing” his church. You can look up those 118 references using any good Bible concordance.
Most businesses, educational, commercial, and other enterprises in the natural world often prominently display organizational charts drawn up in some detail about how authority and “power” flows through that organization; such charts are often shaped like a pyramid with the owner, boss, CEO, Board of Directors, or the like at the top of the pyramid, then a second tier under them showing various assistants or deputies, then another lower level showing managers and supervisors, and so on down to the bottom of the pyramid showing the “worker bees” or all those who are the underlings.
Many churches have composed and drawn such organizational charts, too, with the Priest, Pastor, Elders or church Board (or Vestry) at the top, then the assistants, the secretaries, the leaders of various outreaches (such as Church School Director, Missions Director, Music Director, etc.) below them, and finally the “lay members” at the bottom. All such church charts are not correct and do a great disservice to Jesus’ worldwide church.
Although Jesus is the Head of his body, the church, He does not “rule” from the top down. In a very real sense, He rules his church from the bottom up as its Supreme Servant or, in a manner of speaking, from within his church where He permanently resides…to every person who comprises his church that He alone is constructing. If there were such a chart, Jesus’ “organizational chart” for his church is pyramid-shaped, too: but…it’s an upside down pyramid with all the power at the bottom!
True, Jesus, God the Son, the Head of his church, is seated in Heaven at the right hand of the throne of God the Father, but in just as real a sense, Jesus is seated on the “inner throne” of each of our lives, ruling inside each of us from that throne of supreme authority in the Person of God the Spirit. In a very real sense, Jesus is “bi-locational.” As we shall consider later in this teaching, Jesus speaks to us from inside us. That is how He leads, guides, directs, speaks to each of us, and administers his church, his living body on earth. Jesus is the Servant of all, living inside all his followers, speaking to them from within where He resides in our spirits—not from above, as a natural or worldly organizational chart would indicate. We must not superimpose natural organizational charts upon a spiritual organism!
Thus far, if you believe what the Bible’s New Testament teaches, would you agree with me that for all practical purposes the present church on earth is thought of by multitudes of people both in and out of the church as an organism that through time has somehow devolved into mostly an organization? At this point, I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong; I’m simply asking if you agree that’s how most people perceive the church. If that is true, however, when and how did that change begin to occur for the church historically?
How did the church go from being considered an organism being constructed by Jesus with living building materials, to being an organization with much delegated human authority and leadership and with specific, designated buildings in which to worship and serve God and one another? Except for a few instances in the Old Testament, God has never resided in dwellings humans have constructed to house Him (Acts 2: 48 and related references), yet multitudes of human-constructed church buildings have “perpetual lights” always burning in them to show that God is permanently dwelling there.
On two occasions in chapter two of the Book of Revelation, the risen glorified Jesus spoke of a group named “the Nicolaitans” which he detested in his early church—only about 30 years+ after He began to build his church. Who were the Nicolaitans?
First, the Bible itself does not define Nicolaitinism, although the Greek language in which the word was written seems to mean “conquering the laity.” They seemed to be a group within the church claiming some sort of superior status over the rank and file of the church. That’s really all the Bible seems to say about the Nicolaitans.
For more information about them, we must study some teaching about the Nicolaitans found in various early writings outside the Bible. There is a lot of controversy about who they were, and I personally have not come to any final conclusion because there is so much controversy. I’m simply going to give you my studied opinion about them based upon my current level of understanding and present state of awareness…and I could be wrong.
In brief, it seems to me that most of the historical evidence informs us that the Nicolaitans were a group of people within the early church who promoted separating people in the church between the leaders and the others, placing the leaders in charge, and the remainder of churchgoers “under” the leaders or submissive to their authority and leadership. This was likely the first attempt at dividing the church into two groups, the clergy and the laity. Again, there is much controversy about that conclusion. But, in my opinion, that’s when the church began to devolve and morph from an organism into an organization.
Now I’m going to offer you another conclusion way before I actually conclude this teaching—and then attempt to explain my premature conclusion. Since the time of the Nicolaitans in the very early church, in every generation there have been attempts to superimpose a “business or leadership organizational model” from the natural world upon the church. As time passed after Jesus began to build his church, more and more people began to see the church as a natural, worldly organization rather than a spiritual organism—and began to superimpose manmade organizational models of doing business upon a spiritual organism. There began to be leaders in charge, and people “under them” who were supposed to submit to their leadership and authority. They began to feel that the church could only conduct its worship and work primarily in specific “church buildings” built and set aside for the church.
By that, I mean church leaders began to conceive of themselves as “bosses,” CEOs, COOs, supervisors, upper, mid, and lower level management, superiors, boards of directors, stockholders, etc., and translate those into religious terms and models such as popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, pastors, church boards or vestries, elders, overseers, and many similar titles all assuming leadership and authority over the non-leaders. At various times throughout church history, such authoritative leadership even devolved into inquisitions, witch hunts, church trials, excommunication, church splits, torture, banishment, and even death for those within the church who either questioned or disobeyed the wrongly assumed authority of the leaders.
Even the concept of eternal punishment in an ever-burning hell grew out of such devolved leadership, but that’s another story altogether. Someone has said that “hell was created by church leadership to keep church members in line through fear.” Yes, the Bible teaches there is a lake of fire, but that’s yet another story. If you’re interested in such matters, I invite you to read two others teachings on this website titled FIRE and Hope In Fire. I also invite you to read a small paperback book titled Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin, available on amazon.com.
In brief, certain people throughout 2,000+ years of church history have propagated the false belief that Jesus alone is not capable of ruling his church, but must have human help within the church to assist Him in ruling the church. That is a lie. Jesus alone is perfectly capable of leading, guiding, administering, and ruling his church in his unbodied form of Holy Spirit. He is perfectly capable of speaking to any member of his church—if we are listening.
Jesus’ Model for His Church
Now let’s take a quick look at Jesus’ “model” for leadership in his church. The best instance of that model is found in chapter 22 of Luke’s Gospel. “[Jesus said to his disciples], ‘the kings and men of authority in this world rule oppressively over their subjects, claiming they do it for the good of the people. They are obsessed with how others see them. But this is not your calling [in my church]. You will lead by a different model. The greatest one among you will live as one called to serve others without honor. The greatest honor and authority is reserved for the one who has a servant heart. The leaders who are served are the most important in your [and the world’s eyes], but in my kingdom [including the church], it is the servants who lead. Am I not here with you as one who serves?’” (adapted from the Passion Translation (TPT); brackets are mine )
That was Jesus’ model of servant-leadership then…and most likely it still is his model for leadership in his church on earth today. Those in church leadership lead by serving others—NOT by authority, not by telling others what to do, not by decrees, not by religious dogma and rules and regulations, but only by serving others. Jesus is the supreme authority—the only authority—in his church. He was at his church’s beginning, is now, and ever will be! He will always be his church’s sole, Servant-leader. Any other model of church is false.
In this regard, you might want to consider such references in the Bible as Matthew 15: 6, Mark 7: 13, Colossians 2: 8, and 1 Peter 1: 18 and 19. Taken together, these references (and others) state clearly that the doctrines and traditions of humans (including church models and patterns of leadership and authority) imposed upon the church render the words of God null, void, ineffective, and powerless—resulting in theobabble, religious gibberish, pointless philosophical and metaphysical confusion, and aimless wanderings of the mind.
James 1: 8 adds to this that if people are “double-minded,” they become unstable in all their ways. Confusion and double-mindedness about who is in charge of Jesus’ church leads to all sorts of problems that have plagued and weakened the church since Jesus first began to build it as an organism. Much healing could occur if we simply allow Jesus alone—only Jesus—to be in charge of his church!
Let’s Examine What The Bible Says
Now I want to examine and comment upon a few of the 118 references about church in the New Testament. Obviously, we can’t examine all 118 references in this brief teaching, but I hope I’m being honest in examining a few that are most representative of Jesus’ model for his church. I have tried not to select random “proof texts” to convince you of my own views. These references were written by Paul, Peter, John, and others whom Jesus used when He began to construct his living church with living building materials.
[As a side note, I want to mention that people often ask me this searching question: “Bill, how do we know that the living church model you describe in this teaching was a pattern or model for the church on earth for all time? Could it have been a model just for the early church?” I honestly can’t answer such questions; God has not yet given me enough knowledge, understanding, insight or revelation. If and when He does, I’ll add my answer to this teaching. So…I invite you to visit this teaching from time to time to check on that.]
The first reference is Acts 2: 47: “Jesus added to his church daily.” Jesus is the one who adds to his church. Yes, He uses people within his church, reaching out through them to others and introducing them to Him, but it is Jesus alone who adds to his church as He continues to construct it with living building materials. Ultimately, humans cannot by their own endeavors and by their own volition add others to Jesus’ church; only Jesus can add to his church…and He has been doing that worldwide in amazing ways since Acts 2: 47. In John 12: 32, Jesus stated very clearly that if He was lifted up on the cross, He would inexorably draw all humanity to Himself because of his fully completed work on the cross. When Jesus draws any person to Himself, that person immediately becomes part of his church.
The early church first began to spread throughout the Mediterranean area and then to parts of Europe and Asia simply by church people telling other people Good News about what Jesus had done for them. People were added to the living church by inviting Jesus to take up permanent residence inside them in his unbodied form of Holy Spirit and then most often being baptized (immersed) in water to publicly proclaim to onlookers their new relationship with Jesus.
Acts 14: 23 teaches that elders were ordained (commissioned, set apart) in the early church; sometimes elders came to be called overseers or bishops. Those two words simply means that more mature believers in the church were recognized by other members as being more fit to serve and minister to others within and outside the church by reason of their spiritual maturity. They were not necessarily older physically. They were not fulltime professional church workers, and had no authority delegated them by Jesus to rule over the church. They were raised up within the local church, NOT invited in and hired from the outside! They guided their local churches and were overseers of it…by serving!
Please read 1 Corinthians 12: 28 and the following verses about certain people in the church who serve others in specific ways. Note clearly in verse 28 that it is God alone (NOT church leaders) who places them in the church. Most of Romans chapter 12 and 1 Corinthians chapter 14 are about similar appointments and placements of people by God to humbly serve Him in the church. Nowhere does it state that people appoint other people except as specifically ordered by God.
The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus gives four broad “categories” of servant-leadership as gifts to his church. 1. People-gifts as servant-leaders (Ephesians 4: 12) 2. Ministry gifts in order to serve and help others in meaningful and compassionate ways (1 Corinthians 14) 3. Spiritual gifts to serve others supernaturally (Romans 12) 4. Gifts of artistic workmanship and craftsmanship (Exodus 35: 30 – 36: 1) I added #4 for reasons of my own; I know that category is questionable because it’s in the Old Testament, but I believe it’s applicable to Jesus’ church.
On four occasions in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel in the Bible, Jesus stated that those of us who are his “sheep” (his followers in his church) hear his voice. God does, indeed, speak to us; He is speaking to us all the time, far more clearly and distinctly than we imagine. We “hear” his voice within the spirit component of our three-part beings (body, soul, spirit) by means of our inner “faith-sense.” He generally speaks to us in a quiet, soft whisper within our spirits.
The question is not, “Does God speak to me?” Rather, the real question should be, “When is God not speaking to me?” Do not be surprised at the Good Shepherd’s tender voice constantly whispering into your thoughts . . . from within you where He abides permanently in your spirit. Keep in mind, however, it’s difficult for us to hear God if we’re doing all the talking! But God is not limited to communicating with us only in a quiet, soft whisper; He can communicate with us in any manner He chooses.
However, Jesus generally speaks to us from within in five distinct and clear ways: 1. From the Bible, God’s written, LIFEgiving, transforming Word for all humanity. 2. By inserting and imbedding his thoughts and creative ideas into our thoughts. 3. By means of visions, images, pictures, our creative imaginations, and dreams Holy Spirit “broadcasts” to the “viewing screen” of our spirits. 4. By means of strong but gentle, inner impressions, nudging, and urgings that persist and won’t go away. 5. By means of speaking in tongues with the interpretation.
I certainly don’t want to limit God speaking to us in only those five ways; He cannot be limited to our finite comprehension; we cannot “put Him in a box” and limit Him in any manner, but He does graciously Self-limit his means of communication in order for us mortal humans to understand Him.
I’m not sure I need to point this out, but I will anyway. Jesus doesn’t bark out orders to his church as some military drill instructor might do as we often see portrayed in movies and on television. No, no, no! Most often He speaks in a still, small voice from within his church, not necessarily giving orders in a strict sense of the word. Instead, most often He quietly and gently leads us from behind the scenes so that we are given choices to make in given situations, gently nudging us so that we have the opportunity to make the correct choices. Jesus does not force us to make choices. The choices are ours to make, and, hopefully our relationship with Him is close enough so that we know his mind and purposes for us and make choices that will honor and glorify Him. Again, except in emergent or urgent situations, Jesus generally does not issue command-like orders to his church.
Yes, Jesus is in charge of his church and is perfectly capable of exercising leadership over his church—including speaking clearly to every person within his church—without humans attempting to usurp his leadership and authority and attempting to tell others what Jesus is saying and doing—especially in the form of prophecy that foretells by prognostication. Church prophecy is meant to encourage, build up, encourage, and “forth-tell,” NOT foretell or predict future events! (See 1 Corinthians 14: 3 and related references)
Let’s continue examining only a few representative references to church in the New Testament. Paul wrote much about the church to Jesus-believers in the city of Ephesus. In fact, he used 7 different word pictures to describe Jesus church: a body, an assembly, God’s divine workmanship, a family, a temple, a bride, and an army. He began by stating that Jesus is unequivocally the Head of his living body, the church; (also stated in Colossians 1: 18) Jesus is in charge! (Ephesians 1: 22 and 5: 23) Paul states that through Jesus’ church, God displays his manifold wisdom to the world-at-large. (Ephesians 3: 10) Finally, Paul states that Jesus deeply loves his church and to Him, his church is glorious even with its spots and wrinkles. (Ephesians 5: 25 and 27) In Colossians 1: 18 and 24, Paul again affirms that the church is Jesus’ living body—an organism, NOT an organization.
In Ephesians 4: 11 and 12, Paul wrote of various people God gives as people-gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) to the church in order that they may serve the church by nurturing and preparing other believers to do their own works of service and ministry to others in order to grow and build up the body of Jesus. God alone gives such gifts to the church; they are NOT appointed by humans, nor is there any indication anywhere in the Bible that such people are paid, part-time or fulltime “employees” of the church with specialized religious training from outside the local church.
There are many more of those 118 New Testament references to church we could examine, but I feel the few I have chosen are most representative of what the Church of Jesus is and does. Again, it’s Jesus’ church, and He’s in charge of his church. Nowhere in the Bible does it claim or assert that Jesus places in the church paid part-time or fulltime employees to be leaders in charge of local churches. Jesus is perfectly capable of being sole Lord and Master of his living body He continues to build using living building materials. He speaks to his church. He leads his church. He serves his church. He has never delegated those responsibilities to human leadership.
Jesus simply wants us to follow his lead, and in the power of Holy Spirit serve people inside and outside his church, his living Body, of whom He is the sole Head and sole authority!
[NOTE: I realize this teaching is radical and “outside the box” of typical teaching about the nature and practice of church. As of this year, I’ve been teaching the Bible and related subjects for 67 years—whatever God has asked me to teach. I feel very strongly that God asked me to write this teaching. I am NOT on a one-man crusade to change Jesus’ church; how foolish that would be. I’m merely pointing out some facts about Jesus’ church that I see from the Bible and church history.]
If only one local church somewhere in the world changes its practices and turns their local portion of the church completely over to Jesus’ leadership alone…then this teaching will have been worth it. I also know I’ll receive some very negative responses; oh well…
Revised and Updated January 2023