First Century Congregational Structure-Part 2

What we are going to do now is assess a few things and try to do it without being critical. In Christianity today, there are two types of churches, Evangelical and Liturgical. In an Evangelical church, what type of message would you expect to hear? A three point sermon and an altar call to become a believer. The service lasts for an hour or so because they don’t want to “wear people out” and the message will be exhorting people to believe, but it only goes so far. It is like eating a candy bar in a marathon, it won’t get you far enough.

The one component lacking is true biblical knowledge. Congregations were not to be salvation centers, the people were to go out and give that message. The goal of a congregation was to teach the people to know every verse of the Bible, every letter and concept. However, congregations today major on minor points and minor on major points. They are given to convenience. They complain if a message goes too long or the music wasn’t right. They are concerned about numbers and not teaching properly the people who are there.

A major factor in what brought the Holocaust was the Reform Movement in Judaism. They taught the doctrines of the Sadducees which believed in no Messiah, no resurrection, no kingdom, they were not eschatological and the Torah was perverted to fit what they wanted, to adapt it to there own lives and times. We are in the same situation today, but the people don’t know as much as the Sadducees knew. Todays Liturgical churches are pagan in origin. Read books like “The Two Babylon’s” and you will be shocked to know where many practices originate. But we shouldn’t get discouraged when we learn about this, God will deal with all that. Our attitude is what is important. We should be saying “Show me the truth so I can deal with it.”

The church model today is not what is in the Scriptures, and that is why we need to study and learn what applies so we can move on with the Lord, and many times you will be doing that on your own. If you come to this website and learn and it stops here, you aren’t being taught. You need to use this study as a “diving board” to jump in and apply the things you learn, gleaning from other sources as well.

In Jewish communities, there will be “elders” called “zekenim” and there will be at least three on the governing board. The same with synagogues because they were set up like them. If you do a study on Jewish communities and how they were set up, it will help you understand the synagogue. Now, you needed at least three elders, but you could have 5, 7, 12 depending on the size. One would serve as a “nasi” or president. We see in Acts 15 the Messianic community in Jerusalem had elders, with James (Jacob) being the nasi, president or spokesman. The term “elder” does not mean they were older, but they had to be a scholar.

In the Haggadah of Passover, in the portion “Maggid” it talks about a rabbi named Eleazar Ben Azaryah who was the Nasi in Jerusalem of the Sanhedrin, and he was just 21 years old. Age had nothing to do with being a “zekan” or elder. Knowledge of the Scriptures and the anointing to convey the understanding found in them was most important. The Nasi was not higher in authority or status, but he was the spokesman or chairman. The term “nasi” comes from the Hebrew word “n’si’im” which means “rain clouds.” Rain waters the earth and it determines who will have good crops. A zekan may not be paid, and they were also called “roehim” which means “pastor.” They were not paid because there was a problem. We are told that we are not to boast in anything except in the fact that we know the Lord (Jer 9.23-24).

Jer 17.9 says that our hearts are wicked. Moses stood before God and he put his hand in his bosom, and his hand was leprous, but God restored it (Exo 4.1-7). This was an illustration that we are greedy and undercutting, and God knows our hearts. Pastors today “take positions” and offers from other congregations. They submit counter-offers and it has become a profession, and they are hirelings, and they will go to the highest bidder. Money should not be a factor.

A zekan or a roehim (pastor) should be there because the Lord called them there, period. In Deut 17.17-19 the king was to have a personal Torah scroll in his possession, not silver and gold (Psa 119.72). We know from the Scriptures that the priests stopped teaching, which was one of their functions. They eventually became Sadducees and the upper level of priests became chief priests and high priests. Caiaphas should never have been a high priest because the function of a high priest was for life, but in the first century the position was bought and sold within families. They got their money from the Temple sacrifices by robbery.

The Romans kept the garments of the high priest to sell to the highest bidder. Now, some will say “we don’t have these things happening” but we do. Churches are dictated by wealthy givers who “buy” their leaders. If they don’t like their pastor, they “fire” him and look for someone else they can control. If the Lord spoke from heaven in a “bat kol” and said “You are not to pay your pastors” what would happen? A “pastor” can tutor and do other things to be paid, but not for being a zekan/pastor. If two brothers or family members were zekanim, they would only have one vote so that families can’t control the congregation.

The book of Acts needs to be studied, besides the Torah, to find out what the understanding of the people was at the time. In Jerusalem, zekanim were over the congregation of believers there. For example, in the “galut” or dispersion, a question arose about circumcising Gentiles who were coming into the faith (Acts 15.1). The zekanim were called together and James was the “nasi” or president. They reached a decision about the matter, and Paul was sent out to the Gentiles as a “shaliach” or apostle with authority from the governing council in Jerusalem to reach the nations with their decision on what to do with new Gentile believers.

In Titus 1.5, Paul sends Titus as a “shaliach” to appoint zekanim in congregations. These zekanim were not “elected” because the majority of the people he was going to were “am ha eretz” and didn’t know the Scriptures. The people might “vote” someone in according to what the people wanted and that could lead to disaster. Saul was picked by the people as the first king of Israel and we know how that ended. There is too much voting going on in churches today. Our thinking is “it is not fair” if you don’t have a say in your leaders, but that is Hellenistic thinking.

There are certain qualifications for a zekan, and there is a cost to being one. Desiring to be a zekan is a good thing (1 Tim 3.1) but the question is “Does he know the Scriptures. Is his Bible “worn out” from study and usage? Does he “meditate” on the Scriptures all day and does he know the verses? Titus would appoint at least three zekanim in a congregation, and could appoint as many as needed. Leadership was in a group, not in an individual. They were “overseers” to the purposes of the congregation, which included the teaching, who got to speak and overall spiritual life. They also knew about the distribution of funds to the needy, alms and the finances of the congregation. They made sure the widows were taken care of (Acts 6.1-7) and the needy in times of famine (Acts 11.27-30). Paul gave alms in Acts 24.17. They were to give to those in need, not the lazy. The people were to be ready to give. When you went to the Temple, you looked for the needy.

There were designated places where the needy were to gather, especially at the gates (Acts 3.1-10). The needy “presented” themselves for this. If they didn’t, it was considered prideful on their part. We talk in more detail on this in our teaching “Tithing and Biblical Giving” on this site. They were to have the “chachmah” (wisdom) of God to guide them in giving and the “menachem” (comfort) of God in helping, led by the Ruach Ha Kodesh (the Holy Spirit). Tithing did not deal with money, but biblical giving did. They were to let the Lord lead them in giving.

Today, much giving is driven by hype and showboating. Even in Israel today this hype goes on. The Temple Institute will call to verify a ministry because certain Christian ministries would raise money for them, but then they would only give a part of what they would raise to the Institute.

In Acts we see that all things were in common (Acts 2.44) and the acquisition of property and the selling of it was done in accordance to how they were led by the Lord (Acts 4.32-37; 5.1-10). If one had two houses, and the Lord prompted him, he would sell it and he could give the proceeds to a person called the “Gabbai Tzedakah” or keeper of the charities, but there was no requirement to do it that way. They didn’t sell all they had, but the “extra” was sold to help the needy and the Lord led them to do so.

In Part 3 we will pick up here and begin to discuss the role of the synagogue/congregation in the community as we learn more about the first century congregational structure.

Posted in All Teachings, Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Questions, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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