Vol.XX No.VIII Pg.7
October 1983

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner:

Were the apostles "officers" in "the church"? If so, is this "the church local, or universal?


"Apostle" means "one sent," having a special reference to chosen messengers "sent" by Christ to deliver His word to the world, and an ordinary reference to other messengers (Acts 14:4; translated "messenger" 2 Cor. 8: 23, Phil. 2:25). Jesus ruled out any hierarchal concept among His saints in saying, "One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Matt. 23:8,10). Apostles, bishops, preachers, all — brethren, with one Master.

Christ is our High Priest, and all saints are priests in His priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rom. 12:1). There is no "clergy-laity" distinction among His people. The "bishopric" system which recognizes "officers" as a superior "class" having inherent authority, is contrary to the rule of Christ as an absolute monarch. Where the K.J. says "If a man desire the office of a bishop..." office is used in the sense of work or function. Webster illustrates this use by "It is the office of the eye to see."

Brethren sometimes say, "Apostles were officers in the universal church" but this is an error. They were chosen by Christ, specially equipped to bear His message to the world; but they spoke what they were told to say by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 4:5-7). Their "authority" (10:8) was of this nature only: for "edifying," not legislating. They have an "office" only in the sense of being special "messengers." Very early writings outside the New Testament recognize the "priesthood of believers" (the right of any saint to teach, baptize, etc.) but early hints of clergy authority were rapidly developed into a "bishopric" system. It is claimed the apostles "passed" their authority to successors; and saints "under the governance of lawful pastors" became an essential part of the definition of "church." (This is why many Reformers continued to claim a connection with the Roman Catholic church — derived "authority" to function. This is why Mormons say Peter, James and John appeared to Smith and others, and "laid hands on them: — restored this "authority" to function. Exactly the same principle is involved in saying one has the right to preach only if "sent" by some church: a misuse of Rom. 10:15.)

The sacerdotal system (belief in a divinely authorized priesthood) is Judaism or worse, without New Testament authority, highly detrimental to the right of individual access to salvation in Christ through the divine word of God. The apostles are not "officers" in this sense in either the local or the universal church — and we should know the universal body of saints is not a functional organization anyhow.

Overseers, preachers, deacons, and others have various functions to perform, in keeping with qualifications and selection — a God-approved order. But "authority" remains with God, and is approached by appeal to His word, in good conscience. No man or group of men has the right to claim "infallible interpretation" or exclusive right of access to truth.