The Local Ecclesia,
Its Gifts and Government

by A.E. Knoch

EACH LOCALITY had its own ecclesia, in the Scriptures. We read of that in Antioch (Acts 11:26), of Ephesus (Acts 20:17) in Cenchrea (Rom.16:1), in Laodicea (Col.4:16), of Thessalonia (1 Thess.1:1; 2 Thess.1:1). The plural is used only when large districts are mentioned, as Galatia (1 Cor.16:1; Gal.1:2), the province of Asia (1 Cor.16:19), and Macedonia (2 Cor.8:1). Is it not evident that, when physically possible, the saints got together in each place to form one "called out" gathering, to accord with their spiritual unity? To have more than one would have indicated division and dissension, as it is today. Had the cities been as large as some are today, or the numbers of saints in each as numerous, perhaps the physical necessities of the case would have called for more. Yet this is seldom the case. I know of one large congregation which comes from all over one of the greatest cities in the world. Is it not a disgrace and a cause for deep humiliation that great cities claim their hundreds of Christian churches? Surely it should never be the cause for vain boasting.

The gifts seem to have been given to the ecclesia as the body of Christ, hence are not confined to a local ecclesia (1 Cor.12: 27) even though they are called members of a part, which we may take to be the local company. In the foundation the apostles were for all. They moved about among many ecclesias, and had authority in many. The prophets also may have had an influence outside their own local ecclesia. But these gifts belonged to the past, and there were only a few of them. Teachers have continued (1 Cor.12:28; Eph.4:11), and are with us today. Their field of service does not seem to be limited to one ecclesia. Paul was a teacher of the nations (1 Tim.2:7; 2 Tim.1:11). He taught in every ecclesia (1 Cor.4:17), though he may not have been personally present in all. Timothy and other teachers went about freely among the ecclesias. There seemed to be no reason why a teacher could not go wherever he was led by the Lord. So it is today also. The great teachers God has raised up are not confined to their home ecclesia, but may serve the saints wherever He sends them.

Nor is the number of teachers in a local ecclesia limited to a single one. In Antioch there seem to have been at least five (Acts 13:1), to accord with the ecclesia. In Corinth Paul found it necessary to remind them that not all are teachers (1 Cor.12: 29). In these days of unscriptural extremes some ecclesias leave all the teaching to one man, while in a few every member demands the right to have his say. Nor is it scriptural to divide the saints into small classes, and appoint a teacher over them. If these teachers are actually gifts from God they will be a blessing, but then they should speak to all. Of course this has no reference to Sunday schools, and like work, which are primarily evangelization for unbelievers.

The evangelist, like the teacher, does not seem to have been limited to his local ecclesia. Timothy, who went about among all, was exhorted to exercise this gift (2 Tim.4:5). Indeed, except in the capacity of a teacher, instructing the saints in the evangel, the evangelist need not minister in the ecclesia at all. His service is for unbelievers. I doubt if anyone who really has this gift from God will be content to keep on, year after year, preaching the gospel to the saints, who cannot profit by it. He will insist on reaching unbelievers. I have seen far too much evangelization of the saints, when no unbelievers were present, simply to keep to a prepared program.

Pastors are really shepherds, and are concerned with the welfare of their flock. From the figure we get the idea that this gift is to be exercised locally. As a shepherd knows his own sheep and looks after them, so God has given this special gift to each ecclesia, to care for its individual members, especially when they stray. I have known some men, especially in Germany, who had it laid on their hearts to visit the saints, to entreat and console, and to keep them in the joy of the Lord. I have neither the gift nor the time for such work, but I am glad to recognize this grace in others.


Government in the ecclesia should be kept entirely distinct from gifts. Gifts may be given to the young, who are not qualified for governing. Age and experience and reputation are called for in government, rather than a special spiritual endowment. It may be that a single person has all the gifts, like Paul, but this will occur very seldom. But even so, this is no basis for government, which demands entirely different qualifications. The gifts are given, the qualifications for government acquired. It is a great pity that we do not keep these more distinct, and leave each to its own function. The gifts today are evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph.4:11). Besides these each ecclesia should have supervisors (Phil.1:1) and elders, who preside over the ecclesia (1 Tim.5:17). There may be only one gifted brother in the ecclesia, but it seems that supervision and eldership always are exercised by more than one. No one man should ever seek to govern an ecclesia.

The supervisor must be irreprehensible, the husband of one wife, sober, sane, decorous, hospitable, apt to teach, no toper, not quarrelsome, but lenient, pacific, not fond of money, controlling his own household ideally, having his children in subjection with all gravity--Now if anyone is not aware how to control his own household, how will he care for the ecclesia of God?--no novice, lest, being conceited, he should be falling into the judgment of an adversary. Yet he must have an ideal testimony also from those outside, that he should not be falling into the reproach and trap of the adversary (1 Tim.3:2-7). When Titus was sent to Crete to constitute elders, Paul prescribed that the supervisors were to be unimpeachable, the husband of one wife, having believing children not accused of profligacy or insubordinate--for a supervisor must be unimpeachable, as an administrator of God, not given to self- gratification, not irritable, no toper, not quarrelsome, not avaricious; but hospitable, fond of that which is good, sane, just, benign, self-controlled; upholding the faithful word according to the teaching, that he may be able to entreat also with sound teaching and to expose those who contradict (Titus 1:5-9).

We set forth these points at length, so that it may be clear that government is not to be in the hands of the gifted, but those of established and tested character. An evangelist, pastor, or teacher may qualify for supervisor, but not on account of his gift. He will probably exercise his gift alone, but, as supervisor, he must consult others. A single elder or supervisor is not contemplated in the Scriptures. This is probably so arranged as to supplement the incapacity of one man, and to keep him from usurping authority beyond what is right. The older and most respected members of the ecclesia should govern, irrespective of their own gifts or those of others. The evangelists, pastors, and teachers should be subject to them. Under no circumstances should one man undertake to do all the governing, or exercise all the gifts, or both, unless no other course is possible. Even then, he should encourage the development and exercise of these functions in others. Each member of the body is needed by all the others. Christ alone is our Head.

Let elders who have prescribed ideally be accounted worthy of double honor, especially those who are toiling in word and teaching, for the scripture is saying: You shall not be muzzling the threshing ox, and, Worthy is the worker of his wages. Be not assenting to an accusation against an elder outside and except before two or three witnesses (1 Tim.5:17-19). It will be seen from this that the ecclesia is not a democratic institution, in which all are to be accorded the same privileges and honors. There is to be compensation for work, and there must be recognition of those Who govern. We read of nothing as to the support of pastors. We are not warranted in extending the figure to all the privileges of a shepherd, who is entitled to the milk and meat of the flock. But we know that the Lord has prescribed that those who are announcing the evangel are to be living of the evangel, that is, while they are doing it (1 Cor.9:14). And one who is instructed in the word is to contribute to the instructor in all good things (Gal.6:6).

Now we read that elders who preside over the affairs of the ecclesia should be doubly compensated, especially if they exercise the gift of teaching. What havoc it would make of the present unscriptural organizations, if the pastor's salary were withheld and given to the elders! But so it is in the Scriptures. By its nature, the pastorate is local and is concerned with care of the ecclesia. It seems to take for granted such resources as make compensation unnecessary. But evangelization and teaching, as well as supervision, are entitled to a living wage.

More than this, an elder should receive twice the respect accorded to others in the ecclesia, not omitting the evangelists, pastors, and teachers. In these days this is seldom given. A young, modern minister takes nearly all upon himself, evangelization, shepherding, teaching, and the actual supervision, not excepting the dignity of age, even if there is a board of elders, and expects thrice the honor and salary. It is not easy for us, in these days, to return to the sober, scriptural viewpoint in the government of the ecclesia, but we may at least try to approximate it. Almost all organizations have fragments of truth. The Presbyterians have elders who do some supervising. The Baptists give the local ecclesia an independent place, more than some others. The Episcopal churches have "bishops," but they oversee the "pastors" rather than the people. All is in confusion. Let us start with giving each gift and governing function its correct and proper name, at any rate.

Now that there are no apostles, government is restricted to the local ecclesia. The great organizations, denominations, unions, synods, conferences, and whatever else the federations of local eccelesias may be called, seem to be expedient and essential, but there is no scriptural warrant for them. This should suffice us. We have often been urged to organize those who hold concordant truth, and so greatly increase our efficiency and resources. But we prefer not to usurp the place which belongs alone to Christ. We are already an organism in Him, together with all living members of His body, and our own organization of a few of these would only reflect unfavorably on His competence and power, and exalt our own. Let us refuse to make a unity outside the living one that unites us to all saints and to Himself. We are glad to forfeit all advantages in order to accord Him His place as our Head and Lord.

And let each of us also be subject to those who are qualified to govern in the ecclesia. In the many years of my connection with an ecclesia as a teacher, there was always a tendency on the part of my brethren to defer to my wishes. But I have always insisted that all such things as the hour and place of meeting, all financial matters, the choice of speakers, the help of the poor, disciplinary proceedings, and all which belongs to supervision and demands mature judgment, be left to the elders, of whom there were several. The oldest member of the class could have the floor at any meeting and discuss business with the whole class, if he desired to do so. I think I may say with a good conscience that I took less upon myself in such matters than my position warranted, being myself also an elder. It would be well for us all if those gifted as evangelists, pastors, or teachers would make a special point of being subject in matters of government.

As to ecclesias in other places, I have taken pains never to interfere. Even when asked to do so, I have tried to avoid going out of my own sphere. No gifted members in an ecclesia, nor any supervisors or elders outside of it, have any jurisdiction in any of the eccelesias of the saints. Of course the elders may ask for advice, or call for counsel from those in other places, and this should be freely given, especially to the new or inexperienced. But there is no need of any confederation of ecclesias, and especially of no supervision from a distance, either over those who preside or over the rest.

Though often asked to direct or approve the course of a fellow slave in Christ, I refuse to take an executive position, except where my own assistants are concerned. But when a request comes, and I can be of help, or smooth the path of another, I am glad to do so. I seldom object, even when I do not approve fully. Not very long since I was consulted concerning the trip of an evangelist, seeking my approval. Knowing that one brother was set against it, I feared that he would make trouble, so withheld my approval. Nevertheless the evangelist went. He found the field as I had anticipated. Yet he had grace to bear with the conditions. I am glad that my wishes were not heeded. In fact, if I had given my approval, I imagine that the situation would have been still more difficult. He had, I think, the cooperation of the elders in most places, so was on scriptural ground, even if some others opposed his work.

When there is one brother of outstanding ability the danger is very great that the ecclesia will fail to function, and leave all ministry and supervision to this brother. This is one sad result of the modern system of training men for the ministry. Nothing like this is to be found within the covers of God's Word. Of its apparent expedience these is no question. But it seems to react unfavorably on both the "parson" (to use an unbiblical term for an unscriptural office), and on the people. One is loaded with work for which he is not fully fitted, having neither experience nor all the spiritual endowments, and the members of the ecclesia, though gifted and having men of ripe judgment, become atrophied for want of exercise. God has not set one man in each ecclesia to do its religion for it. Let us be thankful for every brother of exceptional ability, but let him recognize his own gifts from God and refuse to intrude upon the functions of other members of the body.

This article has been in my mind for many years, but I have hitherto feared that it might give, offense or cause stumbling, so it was never written. And even now I am concerned that it does no harm. I am not advocating any revolution in the methods of our meetings. I do not expect any of them to be perfect in these days. I do not advise any sudden changes, which may do more damage than good. I only wish to put the ideal before us, so that we can aim in the right direction. If I mistake not, we are drifting in the wrong direction, into the errors which have swamped others, and will soon have class distinctions, clergy and laity, if not priests and people. This, it seems to me, is most unworthy of the grace of Christ which saves us all alike, and counteracts the operations of God's spirit in giving gifts to be used for all, and turns God's order into man's imitation.

I would also exhort each member of the body of Christ to seek to find its own peculiar function and to exercise it. Not only this, but let us also recognize the gifts given to others, and not seek to fill a function for which we are not fitted. How many believers there are in these days who consider themselves quite the equal of anyone in teaching, yet cannot claim the gift, and do not want to recognize it in others! I have definitely decided that I am not gifted in some lines, so I not only avoid doing these things, but try to recognize others who are spiritually endowed for them. It is a relief to the spirit to realize that no one is the body or its Head, but each one is only a member, having perhaps only a single function, and no one is called upon to do aught else than that for which God fits him. Let us not all seek to teach or evangelize, or shepherd, or supervise, but let us seek to recognize those whom God has fitted for these activities. This is the practical recognition of God and His spirit in the ecclesia. In doing this we may be sure of His approval.

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