THE LEADERSHIP IN THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING
The New Testament leadership in the Gospels was a person. That person was the Lord Jesus Himself. But from Acts to Revelation, the unique New Testament leadership became the teaching of the apostles. Thus, neither Peter nor Paul controlled any church, but their teaching controlled. We can see this in 1 Timothy where Paul exhorted Timothy to remain in Ephesus in order that he might charge certain ones not to teach different things other than the economy of God (1:3-4). Different teachings are teachings which are different from the apostles’ teaching concerning God’s economy. This teaching is the unique leadership.
The apostles’ teaching is our constitution which governs us. Peter and Paul did not govern the churches. It is the teaching of the apostles, the teaching concerning God’s economy, which governs. John told us that if anyone goes beyond the teaching concerning Christ, the New Testament teaching concerning Christ’s person and redemptive work, we should not even greet this one (2 John 9-11). Such a person is a heretic who denies the divine conception and deity of Christ, as today’s modernists do. According to John’s word, we should not have any contact with such an evil person. All of this proves that the governing leadership, after the time of the Lord Jesus, is not a person but the teaching of the New Testament.
THE ERRONEOUS TEACHING OF IGNATIUS
With the Lord Jesus and with the early apostles, there was no organization. Soon after the time of the early apostles, however, the wrong teaching of Ignatius brought in the human thought of organization. Ignatius said that the overseers, or bishops, are higher than the elders. In other words, the elders are local, and the overseers are regional. But Acts 20 shows that the overseers are the elders. Paul called the elders to come to him, and he told them that the Spirit had placed them as overseers (vv. 17, 28). The overseers and the elders are the same persons, not two different classes of people.
History tells us that Ignatius was a very good brother, but he made a big mistake by introducing the wrong concept of overseers, or bishops, being above elders. He brought in the thought of organization, which ruins the church. His erroneous teaching eventually issued in the Catholic Church, a religious organization according to a hierarchical system of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope. The erroneous teaching of Ignatius was also the source of the episcopal system of ecclesiastical government. The state churches and the private churches in Christianity have also adopted certain aspects of an organizational system of control. This is to follow the customs of society. Because we were raised up in Christianity and influenced by the practice of Christianity, we may understand the appointment of the elders in an organizational way. We need the light to see that even the appointment of the elders is organic.
(Elders' Training, Book 09: The Eldership and the God-Ordained Way (1), Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)