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In this series, we have been covering the Church that Jesus Christ promised to build. He told the apostle Peter (three times) to “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). But how is this done? Who carries the authority—God’s authority—to do it? Are all ministers equal? Who introduces doctrine? Do members have a voice in this and other decisions?
The Christ of the Bible does not lead the world’s churches—its people do! But how exactly does Christ head His Church? How is it governed? And what prophecies, large and small, does God’s Church, and no other, correctly understand and teach? Part 3 of this series brings the plain answers.
God’s ministry leads, organizes, protects and feeds His flock. In the Church built by Jesus, there is careful, vigilant oversight under God’s form of government. Numerous verses explain that God gives His ministers necessary authority—so they are better able to teach and defend His flock. God’s Church has and teaches the truth about His government, and the scriptures supporting it.
Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My Church”—His Church. Everything about this Church is Christ’s—including its government. How Christ governs His Church has everything to do with what it is built upon.
Let’s return to Matthew 16 and read the whole passage for background: “And I say unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (vs. 18-19).
To learn the meaning, we must start from verse 13. Jesus asked the disciples, “…Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” Peter answered, “…You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (vs. 16). Christ went on, “…You are Peter [petros, which means “a piece of rock or pebble”], and upon this rock [petra, meaning “a mass of, or great, rock”] I will build My Church…” (vs. 18).
John 1:42 is helpful in explaining Peter’s name. Let’s read: “…when Jesus beheld him [Peter], He said,
You are Simon the son of Jona: you shall be called Cephas [an Aramaic word], which is by interpretation, A stone.” This is petros again, the same word used for Peter in Matthew 16:18.
Many people—and one huge church—assume Jesus meant He would build His Church on Peter, a mere pebble next to Christ. But this is not what it says. Jesus Christ—not Peter—is the giant “Rock” upon which the Church is built. Peter, a piece of stone, is not a massive rock—but Christ is!
Matthew 16:13 says Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi. His choice of site to describe His Church is significant! Here is why.
This city is in the far north of Israel, about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. I have stood on the spot where Jesus spoke. This is what I saw—and what anyone would see: Immediately above where one of the three main branches of the Jordan River springs directly out of the base of a cliff is a massive rock outcropping that dominates the topography. Its presence literally towers over the landscape. None who were present could possibly have believed Jesus was talking about building on Peter, whom He compared to a little rock. The enormous size of the immense cliff directly above Him reinforced the message that He was building the Church on a giant Rock—HIMSELF!
Let’s understand. Jesus was the God—the Rock!—of the Old Testament! I Corinthians 10:4 is just one proof—and it is impossible to misunderstand: “And [ancient Israel] did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock [petra] that followed them: and that Rock [petra] was Christ.” Deuteronomy 32:15 and 18, as well as Psalm 18:2, are just some examples of how the Old Testament God is commonly referred to as a Rock.
Yet, theologians and religionists routinely place Christ in conflict with—in opposition to—the God of the Old Testament. Ridiculous! He was the God of the Old Testament—the Rock of Israel!
Let’s summarize. Jesus was telling Peter that He (Christ) would soon build the New Testament Church on Himself—that He would be its Head—as well as remain with it always—Matthew 28:20—meaning never leave nor forsake it—Hebrews 13:5—which is why the gates of hell could never prevail against it—with all of this continuing just as He had been the Rock of, and had led, the Old Testament “church in the wilderness,” referenced in Acts 7:38.
Matthew 7:24 instructs individual Christians to build their personal “houses” on a “Rock” (again, the word is petra). No one would suggest a house could be built on a small stone or pebble. This alone eliminates the Church being built on Peter.
Christ also said, “I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt. 16:19). “Keys” is symbolic language describing giving His leaders the knowledge of how to enter God’s kingdom—the way of life a Christian must follow to achieve salvation. In Luke 11:52, Christ reproves lawyers for hiding or suppressing this key of knowledge, and thus preventing themselves and others from entering God’s kingdom.
Grasp this! By no definition was Jesus appointing Peter and his so-called successors to be His earthly replacement, or vicar, meaning “in place of”! Peter was simply not the first pope given “keys” authorizing him to change God’s laws and teachings at will, binding men’s rules and traditions in their place, supposedly making these decisions on Christ’s behalf.
Do not misunderstand. Jesus Christ, and no one else, heads His Church. Let’s see this: “And [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body…” (Eph. 1:22-23) and also “[Christ] is the Head of the Body, the Church…” (Col. 1:18).
Let’s even better understand Christ as the Rock His Church is built upon. Since Christians are to build on this Rock, we must learn what this means. But let’s turn this subject around. Notice what Peter said about Christ: “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture [in Isaiah], Behold, I lay in Zion a Chief Cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believes on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the Head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock [petra] of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient…” (I Pet. 2:6-8).
Peter was quoting who and what the prophet Isaiah long before knew, and foretold, would come: “Therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation…” (Isa. 28:16).
These verses further demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the Rock—the God—of both the Old and New Testaments!
Now notice what the apostle Paul recorded: “And [the saints] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Christ is the Head (or Chief) Stone of the Church and its true—as well as only—foundation. The apostle Paul continues: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11).
So Peter, and any man after him, fails the test.
In the Church that Jesus leads, a related subject must be addressed: How is peace, unity and organization maintained? What is the entity that permits these qualities to thrive and everything to be done “decently and in order”?
The answer: Government!—God’s form of government.
Government is central to everything in life. It is the glue that keeps things together. Families cannot properly function without it. Neither can nations, armies, institutions, companies, churches, schools, teams, organizations or clubs—nor virtually any entity of more than one person. Where there is no government, there is no order—only chaos, confusion and everyone doing “that which [is] right in his own eyes,” as the book of Judges records in chapter 17 verse 6. Institutions without at least some kind of governing body do not and cannot last for long.
Think. God preserves His entire creation through government and law—and both the Earth and the entire universe reflect this. Government, in the right form, brings structure, order, organization, stability, peace, protection, guidelines—right boundaries—and a host of other benefits to groups of every kind!
If government is central to everything in life, it should not be a surprise that Jesus designed and established a specific form to lead His Church.
The very greatest hallmarks of the true Church are (1) that Jesus Christ built it and (2) He is its Head—He leads it. As its Founder, He is at the top of the governmental structure. This is not the case in other churches. Since Jesus built but one Church, then men must have built all other churches in existence today.
Men have devised various means to govern their organizations. Naturally, this includes their churches. The top leaders in the large mainstream churches are elected by lower ministers, and many of these ministers are hired and fired by deacons or members under them in the organization they purport to lead.
There are different ministerial offices in the Church. Let’s read what Paul wrote: “And He [Jesus] gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith…” (Eph. 4:11-13).
Paul added this: “And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers [evangelists, pastors and elders]…” (I Cor. 12:28).
Combining these passages, some points emerge. There are specific ministerial positions in the Church, and the words “first, secondarily” and “thirdly” show each office carries a different level of authority. Apostles are first, directly under Christ, followed by prophets, who are second, then evangelists, third, and so on. Each office is subordinate to those above it. Apostle carries the most authority of any human office in the Church. Authority and teaching of truth flow from Christ, through the apostle, and then down through the other offices. The goal is always unity in the faith.
These scriptures also reveal that Jesus Himself calls and appoints some, after necessary careful training, to the various offices (or ranks) in His Church. As Head of the Church, Jesus has the authority to do this. As the Father calls people into the Church, Christ calls members into the ministry—His ministry. It is not up to individual members to decide whether to become a minister.
Lay members and ministers alike in Christ’s Church recognize that God’s government is from the top down, not the bottom up, as is found in all democratic governments of men, where the people are ultimately in charge.
Most know the phrase “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” The true Church is different. While its government is certainly for the people, it is not run by the people, nor is it of them—it is by and of Christ, on Whom it stands! For the Church to operate smoothly and efficiently, no other way would work.
Peace, unity, harmony and doctrinal purity cannot be maintained under a government that rules from the bottom up. Christ must be the Head! Just because a church may operate from the top down, and have some correct ranks of the ministry, does not mean it is God’s government—and His Church. Christ must be in charge—and He can lead only one organization, or He is divided!
To prevent separate, independent and competing factions, which would lead to confusion and division, driving many out of the Body of Christ, God has organized government in His Church. This is the government of God, and it results in teamwork, not division! God knows that cooperation multiplies and competition always divides.
The Church is the kingdom of God in embryo, meaning members are being formed—daily preparing—in the womb of the Church, which is also called a Mother. They are begotten, but not yet born, into the kingdom. God’s government is similar—it is now only present in the Church, not yet over all nations.
Here is an overview of the functions of each office. Space precludes full descriptions.
Apostles are charged with announcing Christ’s gospel to the world, and supervising the proclaiming of that message. This office also oversees the entire Church and all administrative functions within it. Peter simply was designated as the apostle in charge, nothing more.
Prophets foretell events before they happen. Their mission in the first century was to receive messages or prophecies directly from God, and to convey these to the apostles. Two extraordinary prophets, the Two Witnesses, will arrive just before the Great Tribulation.
Evangelists are senior ministers who proclaim the gospel to the public and in some cases raise up local churches. Working under an apostle, they can supervise a number of congregations, or hold executive duties at Headquarters.
Pastors generally serve locally over one or more congregations and oversee day-to-day operations. This responsibility is central to the overall unity, stability and spiritual growth of congregations individually, and the whole Church collectively. In fact, certain parables given by Christ, such as the “wheat and tares” and the “sheep, wolves and hirelings,” center on laborers in the field—pastors!
The word “teachers” generally refers either to an evangelist, pastor or elder, but the apostle Paul also referred to himself as a teacher. The word means “an instructor, doctor, master, teacher.” So a teacher is simply one who dispenses spiritual knowledge.
An elder is under a pastor in a particular congregation, and assists in overseeing it.
Deacon is the only physical office in the Church. These men and women assist with physical needs. Acts 6:1-6 details how this office came into existence and some of the qualifications for it.
Through His Church, Jesus is training people to fill positions in God’s future world-ruling government. Members understand that to be born into the kingdom of God and to rule with Christ, they must first obey God and follow His government now. God will not hand ultimate divine power and authority to those who have not built righteous character under God’s government in His Church.
Paul gave further instruction regarding Christ’s government. He told the Hebrews, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (13:17), and “Salute all them that have the rule over you…” (vs. 24).
He said this to the Thessalonians: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you” (I Thes. 5:12). Admonishment is strong correction, and this means people must know who has the authority to do this—who they are supposed to listen to and who they are not!
It is the ministry of the true Church that forms these boundaries.
These are basic scriptures, and there are others, that members in the churches of men largely ignore. But in the Church of God, Christ actively works through offices that He has placed for its good.
Even the all-powerful Christ submits to the authority of the Father—the supreme in command. Notice this example of ultimate submission: “And being found in fashion as a man, He [Jesus] humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). As a result, “Wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (vs. 9-10).
The Father has always been supreme in command, and Christ has always been number two.
Jesus Himself had to first submit to power and authority—God’s government—before He could qualify to rule during the Millennium, and after. Would anyone think that Jesus’ servants are exempt from what He had to do? Of course not! True, Spirit-led disciples follow His example and come under His authority. They submit themselves to the government of God now—in His Church. The whole world will do this later!
Now notice what Christ had received from the Father, and would shortly give to His soon-to-be-apostles. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, states, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The end of Jesus’ statement that authority would come to the disciples—He had “all authority,” and thus could give it—carries a promise that He would be with them always. Not only would His authority be with them, but there is clear evidence that very real power would accompany it. The Greek word translated “authority” in this passage means both power and authority. In fact, the King James Version states, “All power is given unto Me…” (Matt. 28:18).
Both of these most crucial elements in the apostles’ ministry were to be given to them on the day of Pentecost. On this day, the Holy Spirit was to be given for the first time to large numbers of people. Imagine the administrative challenge of managing 3,000 converts (plus children) arriving on the Church’s first day in existence. There would be an immediate need for responsible authority with God’s power to be in place over the governance of the Church, as well as in the enormous task of preaching the gospel in surrounding regions. Pentecost symbolized this remarkable beginning, as Christ built the New Testament Church, with the appearance and use of special, miraculous power evident from the beginning. He had to simultaneously give His Church the two most important elements to its survival through the ages—His power and His authority!
God’s government would be necessary throughout the existence of His Church!
Let’s look at an even bigger part of the picture. Its Christ-backed government is what permits the true Church to take the gospel to the world and the warning message to the modern nations of Israel effectively. But the Church cannot do this unless God has granted it special understanding of the one-third of the Bible that is prophecy, history written in advance. Many events—some of them earth-rattling!—are foretold to occur before and during the Return of Christ. It is crucial that these things also be correctly understood and taught—in all cases to the Church, but in others to the world at large.
Consider just a few. The true Church understands and teaches how the white horse of Revelation appears, as well as when and why the red, black and pale horses appear and accelerate. It is able to identify and harmonize the events leading up to what is the final head of the Beast of Revelation. It also understands the Great Tribulation and the planet-shattering Day of the Lord, as well as the many events that precede them. And it understands a myriad of details about the 1,000-year reign of Christ that follows.
The Church can answer questions such as “Are we in the Last Days?” and explain how and why the pride of power of today’s nations of Israel will be broken.
Other time periods are understood, such as “the famine of the word,” and the central, biblically revealed intervals of the 1,335, 1,290 and 1,260 days before, and counting down to, Christ’s Return. This includes prophecies that speak of the Church’s special, divine protection through all that is to occur.
The Bible describes a time when Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies, and a figure the prophet Daniel called the “King of the North.” What do these mean? And what is the “Abomination of Desolation”? Who “measures the temple” in Revelation 11, and why, with this occurring just before the Two Witnesses appear—whose purpose and timing are also understood? Who are the “144,000,” and when are they sealed?
Again, for more information about all of the above topics, be sure to explore our books, booklets and articles throughout our vast library of literature.
The true Church also understands Matthew 24:14 and how the true gospel must be preached in all nations before Christ’s Return, as well as when this duty ends, and why. It understands all of these things.
Many other prophecies can be explained—and in detail—that no other organization or church can even begin to explain correctly. Yes, God’s Church understands the outline of what the future holds. Under Christ’s direction, it has correctly pieced together the complex “jigsaw puzzle” of prophecy.
As we near the end of this series, some may still wonder if the Bible is clear—absolutely plain!—that Jesus has and works through only one Church organization. God’s Word is unequivocal—and the scriptural proofs are many. This series would not be complete without them, and Part 4 will address a number. We will also look at how the true Church is protected from false doctrine and false ministers—at how it is kept—how it remains—one. Do not miss it.
Finally, many ask us every day about how they may attend with and become part of the Church built by Christ. You may contact us by email or letter at addresses found in this magazine and on our websites. We have trained ministers all across the world who will be happy to answer your questions.
Be sure to read our thorough book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History!