By Leon Bahrman
Write the vision, and make it plain… that he may run that readeth it.
– Habakkuk 2:2b.
The modern church today is a far cry from what it was in the first century. Remember when the first Christians turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6)?
Today’s mega-churches are a huge stage for entertainment and rote teaching. Pastors give tours through the Bible in a non-confrontational way. The hearer is not asked to do anything with his or her life. Or, a church can be a frightening place that holds its members to some impossible standard. It has also become common place for a church to be overly political. You’re expected to vote for some candidate or espouse some view.
Church leadership can be controlling and authoritarian, lording it over God’s flock. Or they’re perpetual babysitters always feeding immature Christians.
What we have today is a powerless Church where the miraculous is only a story in the Bible. This is a mockery to the world around us, who are desperate for something real.
The problem with the modern church schema
For the sake of focus, we only concern ourselves with Evangelicalism.
There are no apostles, but missionaries without authority. There are no prophets. Almost all churches have a single—pastor system. The bigger churches may have a church board or denominational oversight. They may have subordinate pastors, or a board of elders with a senior pastor above them. An evangelist may be an occasional minister who comes to preach revival meetings. Many churches have deacons. There are ministers who teach, but not itinerate teachers.
False apostles and prophets
There is the so called New Apostlic Reformation. But if there are apostles and prophets, they are often false. Why do I say this? We are to try those who claim to be apostles, prophets, or who prophesy (1Cor 14:29-32; 2Cor 11:13; 1Thess 5:20-21; 1Jn 4:1; Rev 2:2). The telltale sign is that they structure themselves in a pyramid power scheme (Mk 10:42-45). Instead of doing apostolic work, they ‘lord’ over God’s flock, ruling and controlling them.
Where is the Holy Spirit?
There is a denial, by doctrine or practice, of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, shown by speaking in tongues. There are several Pentecostal / Charismatic churches, but the gifts are not always encouraged. When have you heard a word of knowledge given to someone? Or, do you know the difference between personal and prophetic tongues? Have you heard prophetic tongues in your church? Have you heard one speak out its interpretation? Did it feel like God speaking to the church? How about physical healing? How about miracles?
The atmosphere of a worldly Church
The atmosphere of today’s church is one of entertainment and unchecked worldliness. The materialism of the Western world has seeped into the churches. The Church has also become hyper-political. There is an us-versus-them mentality toward the world, not to convert, but to condemn. There is a judgmental intent to win arguments rather than win souls.
The single-pastor system is the most blatant clue that what we have is a far cry from what Christ ordained. A cursory reading of the New Testament and Church history shows this abandonment. The single-pastor system is prone to abuse, personality cults, control and manipulation. How often is a church split or destroyed when that one pastor has a severe moral failing?
Ancient church ecclesiology
It is evident that church government was far different at the Church’s beginning than it is today. And this isn’t because we’ve advanced so far from the Church in its infancy. Rather, we’ve moved away from the model and pattern shown by Christ to the original apostles.
The biblical view of church structure
First we will look at what the Bible says about proper church government:
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers…
…after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. -1Cor 12:27-28.
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men… And he 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… – Eph 4:8, 11-16.
(See also Didache chapters 11, 12, and 13).
For the plurality of elders, who are also called pastors and bishops: Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1Tim 5:17-20; Tit 1:5-9; 1Pet 5:1-3. For extra-biblical sources, see Did 15:1-2; 1Clem 42:4-5; 44:1-6; 47:6; 54:2; 57:1; Herm 13:1; 104:1-3).
We need to appreciate itinerant versus localized ministers here. There were both roaming and stationary ministers in the first century Church. Apostles, prophets, teachers and evangelists were itinerant and roaming. The localized ministers were the elders and deacons.
There was a difference between the work and the church. While they complimented and supported each other, they were neither confused nor conflated. What apostles and prophets did, in comparison to elders and deacons was different. In the Didache, prophets and teachers, could become resident ministers in a church. There were strict guidelines to regulate the behavior of roaming ministers, including apostles. And there were instructions on how to tell the true from the false. This was all for protecting the local churches.
There were apostolic and prophetic teams supporting the churches begun by their ministry. The apostles ordained a presbytery of elders for each church.
Things changed by the early second century. Polycarp and Papias (both disciples of John), and Ignatius were each single-bishops. The local church government became a three-tier system of bishop, presbytery and deacons. This was a change from the two-tier system of bishops (elders) and deacons. Also the apostles, prophets, teachers and evangelists had by-and-large disappeared!
These changes crystallized into what we see today within Roman Catholicism. And even in Protestantism we see this same phenomenon, as the single bishop became the pastor.
How did the single-bishop become an office separate from the presbytery?
There may be several reasons why. And though we may not have enough historical data, we have enough information to theorize:
1. The love of power.
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not… Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words:
…neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. -3Jn v.v.9-10.
There was a tendency in the original apostles of presuming superiority over others (Mt 18:1-6; 20:20-28). Christ denounced the Gentile power structures, which are pyramidical, as incompatible for the Church. ‘Pyramid’ power structure means that the lesser are subservient to the greater in a hierarchical structure. Christ overturned this scheme to where spiritual governance is more an inverted pyramid. This is where the capstone is on the bottom and the base on top. The greatest among us serve all. This is why apostles and prophets, though first in Church governance, are foundational.
and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone – Eph 2:20.
The apostles and prophets support and serve the superstructure, while remaining invisible.
Diotrephes and his like are at fault. Because they, loving to have preeminence, wanted a single-bishop system.
2. The fact of preeminence.
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine – 2Tim 5:17.
Within the presbytery of a given church, all are of equal authority as far as the office itself goes. Nonetheless, it is natural that there will be preeminence. It is right that someone will be first in knowledge or spiritual experience. While among a presbytery, all are equal in office, one will stand out as worthy of double-honor. While all meet together to decide church affairs, there will be someone the rest look to as an arbiter.
The wrong wasn’t that Diotrephes was preeminent among his co-elders; but that he ‘loved’ it. If we are what we are by the grace of God (1Cor 15:10), what of it? Only that we are not to assume ourselves to be something above others. Nor are we to create a separate office not sanctioned in Scripture to exalt our ego! If we’re first in some sense, let it be. Lead others with grace and humility. Recognize that even the least of the brothers and sisters have voice and can provide wisdom to the presbytery.
3. The exstinction of apostolic and prophetic offices.
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? – Ps 11:3.
It would not take long to fnd more apostles in the New Testament than the original twelve. Some claim that the apostle Paul was a legitimate replacement for Judas Iscariot. They reject as inccorrect the choosing of Matthias through lot casting (see Acts 1:23-26). But, lots were the method for dividing the Promised Land among the twelve tribes of Israel. It was also sanctioned by God for the settling of disputes (Josh 18:10; Prov 16:33; 18:18). Regardles, besides the original twelve, several others in Scripture were also apostles:
Paul (Ga 1:1),
Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14; 1Cor 9:5-6)
James, the Lord’s brother (Ga 1:9)
Timothy (1Thess 1:1; 2:6)
Titus (2Cor 8:23; Tit 1:5)
Apollos (1Cor 3:22; 4:6, 9)
Silas (1Thess 1:1; 2:6)
Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25, Gk. ‘messenger’ is apostle)
Junia (Rom 16:17, Gk. ‘messengers’ is apostles)
and others unnamed (2Cor 8:23, Gk ‘messengers’means apostles)!
Nonetheless, by the early second century, there were no more apostles. Of course the Twelve were gone, most martyred, except John (died of natural causes in Ephesus). The early church looked to the original apostles and their disciples, for guidance. This was in a world of secular persecution which was increasing in severity. There were also many false versions of Christianity springing up, as we will soon see. As the first apostles faded from the scene, what did the early Church rely on? They looked toward tradition and the emerging New Testament scriptures for stability.
In 70 A.D., Jerusalem fell. Antioch and Ephesus, which were also regional hubs, failed to produce more apostles. Missionary activity continued, but the form of it changed. And rather than apostles establishing presbyteries, instead they installed single bishops. This was with subordinate priests, handpicked by whatever head diocese under Rome.
Missionaries lost their biblical authority, and this unbiblical wineskin hardened (Mt 9:17).
What about the prophets? These, the Didache sanctioned and supported, had all faded away by this point. The spiritual gifts were less and less exercised or promoted. Were they afraid of false prophets like the Gnostics? When prophets did emerge, like the Montanists (3rd century), others dismissed them. And it didn’t help that they developed into a personality cult!
4. The lack of apostles working close with church presbyteries.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. – 2Tim 2:2.
The apostle Paul wrote the above to a fellow apostle, Timothy. He was Paul’s understudy, as was Titus and others. Paul worked with many apostles and coworkers. And their ranking was according to their level of maturity, and were more or less close to Paul. He intended that Timothy find and raise up younger disciples, apostles able to carry on his work. These faithful ones would have to be able to pass on what they learned. This self-perpetuating thing was to span generations. The things listed here disrupted this plan. We can say, “Religion happened”. Rome happened, heresy and legalism happened: institutionalism is the result.
The above was an ensuring that a generational replication of their ministry occurred.
But what about the relationship between the apostles and the presbyteries they founded? My feeling is that there was a disconnect somewhere. It was right for the churches to be self-governing, headed by the presbyters or elders. The apostles were always to serve the local churches, not the otherway around. They were foundations, not capstones. It was also right for an apostle, after planting a church, to move on to a different city or town in a given region. But did the apostles return? Paul and Silas did go back over his established churches and strengthen them. He often sent other apostles like Timothy, Titus, and others to perform this. Apollos was also associated with Paul. There were also other apostles besides Paul and his school, like Peter, and later John, who worked similarly.
Travel was also difficult back then, the harvest being plenteous, but the workers few (Mt 9:37-38). It is apparrent that not enough apostles were being raised up in the regional centers. This was a failure of Christ’s mandate to make disciples among the nations. The Great Commission starts with apostolic ministry, and includes ordaining presbyteries. In making disciples, the ministries of apostles, prophets or other offices, will arise. With travel and communication as instantaneous as they are today, what excuse do we have?
There must’ve been a failure in the apostles maintaining relationship with the churches. There was only one ‘Paul’. When he was gone from the scene, he left behind a vacuum of authority. And over time the institutional superstructure emerged to fill the void. Churches continued springing up, but without enough apostolic guidance toward their presbyteries. The roaming apostles were too scarce to cover enough ground. What suffered was their relationship with the elders of local churches. True, the apostles were never meant to lord over the elders, or run church affairs. But these relationships could have kept the apostolic and prophetic offices relevant. This would’ve innoculated the Church against the centralized power emerging in Rome.
5. To safeguard against the false teachers.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples… – Acts 20:29 -30.
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them – 2Pet 2:1a.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists… They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us – 1Jn 2:18a, 19.
Heavy persecution was ever increasing from Rome. Within Christian communities, false doctrine threatened to redefine the Gospel. The legalistic Ebionites denied the divinity of Christ, and the licentious Gnostics denied His humanity. While the Church had yet to work out key doctrines, the enemy exploited this to corrupt the Faith.
Itinerant preachers, apostles and prophets, were less trusted. Why? Because there were also many who traveled about teaching all manner of heresies. False apostles and prophets being discovered as such by churches testing them, is well known. That’s the danger from without. What of the dangers from within? There were church splits happening. Diotrephes refused the apostle John (and other apostles) himself! There were also two members of the church in Corinth who ousted two of their own elders, as attested to in 1Clement.
The presbytery was too weak, vulnerable to the dangers of false teaching and schisms. The view was to keep the presbytery, but promote one to be the single bishop, responsible for the entire flock. A single bishop too, was easier for Rome to control. Later on, Protestantism had their version of this with the single pastor system.
What is the purpose for this blog article? Because this is what God has given me as a burden and vision for the last days Church. What follows is the vision of Leon Bahrman Ministries and an introduction to what we call Vision 153. These things are my calling, in that God has given me these desires over the years.
The five-fold ministry
We intend to bring about the modern application of the ancient five-fold ministry. How? By fulfilling of the Great Commission: preaching the Gospel and making disciples.
What is the five-fold ministry? The gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11; 1Cor 12:28).
In brief, let’s define what each of these offices are:
1. Apostles (Gk. for sent ones) are missionaries with authority. These sent ones travel in groups of at least two. They start and support churches, and establish presbyteries (elders) within a geographical region. They may have a team of other apostles and co-workers working with them.
2. Prophets are individuals who operate under special gifts of foresight. They are like the pre-Christian prophets or seers of Israel. Except these, under grace, prophesy to comfort, teach, exhort or encourage the Church. They may either travel solo or with a prophetic team. They’ll use their gifts to help a local church to exercise the gifts of the Spirit.
3. Evangelists will have a single purpose of converting others to Christ. They may minister to an individual or to an entire group of people. Revivalists like Charles G. Finney, Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Wesley, operated as such. We may include the healing evangelists of the 40’s – 60’s, like Oral Roberts or Kathryn Kuhlman.
4. Pastors, which means shepherds, describes exactly what they do toward the flock. They are always plural in number within a local church. Only Christ is the Chief Shepherd and Head of the Church (1Pet 5:4; Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). These terms are the same office: 1) bishops (overseers); 2) elders; and 3) pastors. And they’re always seen as plural in a church (cp. Acts 20:17, 28; 1Pet 5:1-4). There is no ‘head pastor’, but the preeminent elders, in terms of word and doctrine, are weightier among them (1Tim 5:17).
5. Teachers were itinerant ministers who would teach the churches scriptural doctrine. They’ve worked with prophets, and by the Spirit released apostles into the ministry (Acts 13:1-3). Teachers rank ‘third’ after prophets in 1Cor 12:28, but are ‘fifth’ after pastors in Eph 4:11. This is because they have freedom to travel as do the apostles and prophets. But once they visit or reside in a local church to teach, they’re subject to that local presbytery. The Didache also speaks of travelling teachers (Acts 11:22-26; 13:1; Did 11:1-2; 13:2).
Pattern for church planting as apostolic not pastoral
Many ministries today practice church planting. But the person sent isn’t considered an apostle, but a pastor.
God blesses the sending and the going despite who’s doing it, or what they call themselves. But the starting of a church is evidence, not that the one sent is a pastor, but rather an apostle! What should then occur is that the sent one ordains a presbytery of elders in a local church, and then moves on to the next city or town.
That is what this ministry intends to do. Once we start a church in a city or town, our apostolic team moves on to other areas. On our return journey, we come back to the original church(es) we started. Then, after prayer and fasting, we choose out three or more to be elders of that church. Once ordained, they become the bishops, pastors or elders of that church. This body of elders is a presbytery, and an elder is a presbyter, according to the Greek.
In avoiding past mistakes, an apostle remains close to the elders to train and work with them. This is a supportive and not a controlling role. The presbytery governs a local church, not the apostles, not even the founding ones! This may be different in regional apostolic centers (such as were Jerusalem, Antioch and Ephesus). Here, the apostles may also serve as co-presbyters along side the elders (1Pet 1:5). The local churches have the right to choose their own destiny and direction. What motivates our relationships are both authority and fellowship, by the Spirit.
The return of the presbytery
The presbytery is the body of elders in a given church. This has nothing to do with the denomination of the same name (the Presbyterians). These are the gatekeepers of a local church. They are the shepherds and bishops who oversee and guide the congregation. They’re not tyrants, lording over God’s people. They’re not to control people’s lives, but rather to be examples to the flock.
Do they teach and preach? Yes. In fact, as Paul wrote, that such are worthy of double honor who labor in the word and doctrine (1Tim 3:2; 5:17-18; Tit 1:9). But while not all elders need to teach in every service, they will always be prepared to.
They will all oversee while the congregation ministers to itself in the Spirit. Also, they will keep order in a church service, when the gifts operate, or prophets minister (1Cor 14:26-40).
Prophets supportive of spiritual gifts
This mysterious office is supportive or foundational in nature. We have some New Testament examples of this (Acts 11:27-28; 13:1-3; 15:32; 21:10; 1Cor 14:29-32). We also see the company of the prophets in the Old Testament. Notice what happens when Saul comes into contact with the prophets. He begins to operate in what are later to become known as spiritual gifts (1Sam 6:10-13; 19:20-24). As we can see, the function of the prophets is to lead a church into operating the gifts of the Spirit. All believers can pray for each other to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And all ministers can teach on the gifts. But it is the prophets who may teach a congregation to practice them by example.
They also may go on special assignment if they have a word for a particular church or apostle. The Didache honors this office, calling them high priests. It dictates that first-fruit financial offerings should go to them. Or if there are no prophets, to give that money to the poor (Did 13:3-4).
They may operate in supernatural ways. This may include visions, words of knowledge, words of prophecy, or act as a sign to the Church.
Their job is to always exhort, encourage and build up the Body of Christ. They are to never to use their office for personal gain, or to control others.
A sample of a church service schedule
Let’s provide an example of a local church service to encourage a vision of how this ministry could look:
Sunday – Elder led church service, the Lord’s Table.
Tuesday – Free
Wednesday – Congregation and prophets meeting (1Cor 14:26-40).
Thursday – Free
Friday – Free
Saturday – Elders Meeting (on church affairs: spiritual and practical)
*Church services may occur in various homes (house to house). But the elder led service (Sundays) to occur with the whole church together (public).
**Other meetings either regular or occasional:
Revival meetings (visiting evangelist)
Teachings (visiting teacher)
New converts meeting (Heb 6)
Apostles teaching (visiting or regional)
Love feast (potluck)
Conferences (church wide, fellowship wide)
The mandate given to Leon Bahrman Ministries, as you can imagine, is way beyond me as an individual. There are several considerations which would make this an impossible dream. But there are several throughout history who, against all odds, started a revival or a move of God. Why not us?
At the time of this writing, I am waiting on God to move in bringing this vision about in His time. Fruitfulness, and the precious timing of revival are all things in His hand. When God opens doors, arranging spiritual relationships, this vision will go from concept to birth.
This undertaking is way beyond me, let’s face it. But I know what God put in my heart, and know that in His time He will bring it about.
What about you? Did you feel a calling while reading this article? I’m looking for partners who will feel Christ say, “Follow Me.”
Feel free to Contact Us, and let’s see what God will do!
A First Century Pattern