II. The Local Congregation
by Norman Manzon
In our last Shofar, we examined those declarations of our Statement that refer to the universal body of Messiah. In this edition, we'll examine those that apply to the local congregation. Each applicable sentence will be examined in detail, though not in its order of appearance; but first, let's review the entire Statement.
The Body of Messiah
The Bible encourages informal fellowship, but even a fellowship that meets regularly for mutual ministry is not a full-fledged local congregation by biblical standards. Local congregations have organization, authority, responsibilities, and safeguards in place that informal fellowships do not. Modern evangelistic organizations, mercy ministries and other such groups, valid as they are, may not be considered local congregations either. It is important to distinguish between the local congregation and other groups of believers in order to rightly divide those portions of the Word of Truth that have to do with these matters, some of which will be discussed in this study.
2. The Local Congregation or Church as Distinguished from the Universal Body of Messiah
Now, to examine the applicable sentences of our Statement:
I. "We believe that the purpose of the local congregation is
"The purpose of the local congregation is to glorify God"
"The local congregation is to glorify God through worship"
Acts 24:14 (Paul to Felix): But I confess this to you, that after the Way which they call heresy, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things that are written in the Law and in the Prophets.
1 Corinthians 14:25: And so the secrets of his heart become revealed. And so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
Philippians 3:3: For we are the circumcision who worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Messiah Yeshua....
"The local congregation is to glorify God through... instruction"
1 Corinthians 4:19: yet in a congregation I desire to speak five words with my mind, so that I might also teach others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
1 Timothy 4:9-11: 9. Faithful is the Word, and worthy of all acceptance. 10. For to this we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the preserver of all men, especially of those who believe. 11. Command and teach these things.
"The local congregation is to glorify God through... accountability"
b. to its elders
d. to a brother or sister we've offended
"The local congregation is to glorify God through... discipline"
Matthew 18:15-17. 15. But if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16. But if he will not hear you, take one or two more with you, so that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the congregation. But if he neglects to hear the congregation, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax-collector.
1 Corinthians 5:3-5: 3. For as being absent in body but present in spirit, I indeed have judged already as though I were present concerning him who committed this thing; 4. in the name of our Lord Messiah Yeshua, when you are gathered together, with my spirit; also, with the power of our Lord Messiah Yeshua; 5. to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Yeshua.
"The local congregation is to glorify God through... fellowship"
Hebrew 10:24-25: 24. and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, 25. not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
"The local congregation is to glorify God through... outreach"
Acts 8:4: Then, indeed, the ones who had been scattered passed through, preaching the gospel, the Word.
II. "We believe that the ordinances of the local congregation
Two acts that the Lord commanded fall into a category of their own: water immersion and the Lord's Supper. Some theologians have designated them "ordinances," some "sacraments."
Dr. Fruchtenbaum offers this definition of an ordinance: "An ordinance can be defined as a rite or ritual or practice prescribed by the Messiah to be performed by the Church, as an outward sign of the saving truth of the Christian faith" (mbs 108, p. 8; mbs 109, p. 5. See endnotes).
Scripture presents them each as a portrayal or representation, not as an act of substance in itself; nor does it present either of them as an agent of grace, which may, in this context, be defined as unearned, freely bestowed spiritual blessing from God. Those who believe that water immersion and the Lord's Supper are means of conveying grace refer to them as "sacraments"; but because they do not convey grace it is best to refer to them as "ordinances."
Dr. Fruchtenbaum also writes, "The best way of determining the qualifications of an ordinance is to apply three tests," and presents them as follows:
The fact that the Lord saw to it that a particular act was recorded in the Book of Acts and expounded upon in the epistles indicates the seriousness with which He wants us to view them.
Only two acts meet these criteria: water immersion and the Lord's Supper. They are the two ordinances of New Testament scripture, and only believers may partake of them, as we shall see.
The qualifications of water immersion as an ordinance are:
Some dispute the term immersion because it demands complete submersion in water. They prefer the term baptism because its perceived non-specific meaning allows for sprinking or affusion, the latter of which is the pouring of water on the head. However, the fact is, the meaning of the Greek word translated baptism means immersion. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,
John the Baptizer immersed his disciples. John 2:23: And John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. He wouldn't have required much water if sprinkling or affusion were his method.
After Yeshua was baptized, He came up immediately out of the water (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10). After Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, they had come up out of the water (Acts 8:39). Yeshua, Philip and the Ethiopian had to first be in the water before they came up out of it.
Baptism by immersion was a Jewish ritual long before John's baptism. Here's a description of how it was performed:
To this day, Jews practice no form of baptism other than immersion.
From Old Testament days to the present, the key significance of water immersion is identification. The proselyte to Judaism identified with Judaism by means of immersion. Those who identified with John's the Immerser's message showed it by being immersed. Those who receive the Gospel are to ritualistically identify with it by immersion.
Water baptism is symbolic of the true baptism, the one baptism of Ephesians 4:5, which is Spirit baptism (1 Corinthinans 12:13), the dynamic of which is described in Romans 6:3-5: 3. Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Messiah Yeshua were baptized into His death? 4. Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Messiah was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5. For if we have been joined together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection;
Immersion into the water represents the crucifixion, death and burial of the old man into and with Messiah, and coming up out of the water represents the resurrection of the new man in and with Him. (Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Messiah, and I live....) Immersion and coming up out of the water picture this clearly, but sprinkling and affusion do not picture it at all. It is immersion that Yeshua commanded in the Great Commission: Going, then, make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.... (Matthew 28:19).
Water immersion is only for those who understand the Gospel and actively exercise faith in Messiah, eliminating infants and all others who do not meet these conditions. Acts 8:36-38 makes this clear: 36. And as they passed along the way, they came on some water. And the eunuch said, See, here is water, what hinders me from being baptized? 37. Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, it is lawful. And he answered and said, I believe that Messiah Yeshua is the Son of God. 38. And he commanded the chariot to stand still. And they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch. And he baptized him.
The qualifications of the Lord's Supper as an ordinance are:
The Lord's Supper is described in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26: 23. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Yeshua in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; 24. And giving thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of Me." 25. In the same way He took the cup also, after supping, saying, "This cup is the New Covenant in My blood; as often as you drink it, do this in remembrance of Me." 26. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you show the Lord's death until He shall come.
At this last seder (Passover service and meal) before His death, the Lord commanded that His disciples eat and drink the traditional seder elements, the matzoh (unleavened bread) and the wine, to commemorate His death until His return, meaning that it is to be done by all of His disciples throughout the Church Age. We are to eat the unleavened bread to remember the sinless Lamb whose body was broken for us on the cross (leaven represents sin), and to drink the wine to remember His shed blood, the price of the New Covenant (1 Peter 1:18-19). The Lord said of both the matzoh and the wine, do this in remembrance of Me. He referred to them as memorials. If they actually became His body and blood, they would not be memorials, but the real thing, and the partaking of them would constitute a re-crucifixion of the Lord, whereas the Scripture says that His body was offered once for all time (Hebrews 10:10, Analytical-Literal Translation). There is no more reason to believe that the elements actually become the Lord's body and blood than there is to believe that He became a door when He said, I am the door (John 10:7, 9). He was simply speaking metaphorically.
Consistent with its meaning, the Lord's Supper is only for believers. 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 reads, 27. Therefore whoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. 29. For he that eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body. These words were written to believers. If a believer can be unworthy to partake, how much more would one be unworthy who is in a state of unbelief concerning the Gospel?
III. "Its eldership is open to men who fulfill the qualifications
The formally ordained spiritual leaders of the local congregation are called its elders or presbyters, pastors or shepherds, or overseers or bishops, and they are one and the same. (Compare Acts 20:17 with 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:2 with 5:17; Titus 1 with 5 and 7; 1 Peter 5:1 with 5:2.) The common practice today is to have one pastor and a group of elders (often mistakenly called deacons) under his authority. This is not the biblical practice. A search of the Brit HaChadashah (New Testament) will reveal that all elders worked as a plurality, though they may have operated in different capacities.
Elders must minimally meet the qualifications for deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-12) as the deacons are the helpers of the elders. Above and beyond that, they must meet the qualifications laid out specifically for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). The qualifications noted in both passages are very similar. Titus 1:5-9 reads, 5. For this cause I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you, 6. if anyone is blameless, husband of one wife, having believing children, not accused of loose behavior, or disobedient. 7. For an overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not full of passion, not given to wine, not quarrelsome, not greedy for ill gain; 8. but hospitable, a lover of good, discreet, just, holy, temperate, 9. holding fast the faithful Word according to the doctrine, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convict those who contradict [sound doctrine].
2. The Scriptures
3. The Underlying Theological Principles
The key principle is that of subjection. The Greek words used are hupotage and hupotasso. According to Strong's Concordance, hupotage means: subordination. According to Young's Analytical Concordance, it means: subjection, submission. Hupotage appears in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in the context of the need for women to quietly receive instruction with all submissiveness, to refrain from teaching men, to refrain from exercising authority over them, and to maintain silence in the congregation. According to Strong, hupotasso means: be under obedience... be in subjection to, submit self unto. According to Young, it means: ... put in subjection unto, put under.... It is used in 1 Corinthians 14:34 in the context of the requirement of silence for women in the congregation. It is also used in Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1, all in the context of the need for wives to submit to their husbands' leadership in the marriage. The principle of the subjection of women to the men in the local congregation may also be found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which deals with the requirement of women, perhaps only married women (mbs 106, p. 42. See endnotes), to wear a headcovering in honor of male headship. The passages dealing directly with congregational eldership are consistent with these, and must logically be viewed as relevant to the general requirement of the subjection of the women to the men.
The specific fundamental underlying theological reasons that are given for the necessity of the subjection of the woman to the man are these, which I have listed in a logical order:
4. How May the Theological Principles Be Applied Today?
All things considered, this writer cannot help but conclude that, in order to preserve the requirement for the subjection of women to men in the congregation throughout the Church Age no matter what the culture or circumstance, men must be in the positions of spiritual headship over the women, and no woman may be in spiritual headship over a man. An elder must be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6), a man (1 Timothy 3:5). If a woman is in a missionary situation, leads adult males to the Lord and begins to disciple them, it behooves her to bring them under capable male leadership as soon as possible either in a congregation that has already been formed, or that a properly ordered congregation may be formed.
5. Women Assistant Pastors and Pastors' Wives as Pastors
An even stranger form of "logic" may be found today. In many churches, particularly charismatic churches, when a man becomes a pastor, his wife is automatically crowned pastor as well, and functions as one! Not only is she is not a man, but neither is she scrutinized as closely as her husband as to character, background, strategy and capability. Where in the Word is such a practice to be found? This is not treating the Word of God with reverence, but frivolity.
6. An Afterword
IV. "The Scriptures encourage the active participation and regular assembly of believers in the local body"
Hebrews 10:23-25. 23. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised), 24. and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, 25. not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
This passage cautions us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and tells us why: that we may provoke one another to love and to good works, and to be exhorting one another. Such interrelationship cannot be carried out in front of a TV, computer or radio or other non-face to face medium no matter how good the service. And though we are to minister the Lord's love, truth and godly counsel to one another in informal fellowship, and though an informal assembly may carry out many of the functions of a properly constituted congregation, it is not such a congregation unless its leaders are ordained by an elder who, himself, has been appointed by a properly ordained elder. Only such an elder has the biblical authority to determine if the group's leaders meet the qualifications for eldership and if the group will, indeed, carry out the functions of a properly constituted congregation.
Functional congregations existed in Crete that did not have ordained elders, and they met no rebuke; yet, Paul told Titus, For this cause I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you (Titus 1:5). Just as Paul appointed Titus to a position of spiritual oversight (overseer) over Crete, Titus was to appoint elders in functional congregations within the area in which his authority to do so was expected to be recognized. It is true that Titus was given spiritual authority over a given geographical area, and that in most non-missionary locales today such a situation does not exist. Nevertheless, it is reasonable that a congregation that seeks to function with as full authority as possible conferred by God and by man - both are biblical - ought to follow the principle of having its leaders examined by a recognized elder for ordination if they qualify. It is also reasonable that members of an assembly that is not fully constituted also consider being members of one that is, for only such an assembly and its elders have passed the examination of already recognized elders.
It is the formally organized local assembly with properly scrutinized and ordained elders that has been ordained by God as the forum in which believers might exercise their spiritual gifts and coordinate their efforts under spiritually mature oversight, guidance, judgment and discipline to accomplish all the purposes that the local congregation is biblically required to fulfill.
24. and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works,
* Many important issues and valid questions remain unanswered in this brief study. I therefore highly recommend Dr. Fruchtenbaum's Messianic Bible Study 106, "The Local Church," which may be obtained from Ariel Ministries in various formats. It's thorough, carefully thought out, packed with detail and scripture, and inexpensive.
Here are some further recommendations, also from Ariel Ministries:
Messianic Bible Studies by dr. arnold g. fruchtenbaum:
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