Office Encyclopedia


Three Spheres of Christian Activity. What God has asked the believer to do (i.e. Christian activity) can be largely divided into three spheres: office, gift, and priesthood. When all of these spheres are maintained in their proper order, the result is the God is glorified and His people are blessed. There is a danger of confusing the various spheres of activity, and this can lead to serious trouble.

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New Testament Office. The subject of office is connected with that of the house of God. God’s house is that sphere of on earth which professes the name of Christ, and carries a testimony to the world of God’s character. God will have order in His house, and to that end, He has established offices in the house.
  • The Son. The highest office in the house of God is Christ Himself, who is “son over his own house” (Heb. 3:6). Ultimately, the Son presides over His own house, and will do as He sees fit. All other offices answer to the Son, who in all things has the preeminence. Although Christ was always the Son, the position of son over God’s house is an appointed position, which only Christ could fill; “Who was faithful to him that appointed him” (Heb. 3:2).
  • Apostles. Those who were sent forth by a risen Christ are called “Apostles”, which means ‘sent ones’. There were the twelve commissioned on earth, but also those that Christ sent after His glorification, like the apostle Paul and Barnabas. Apostleship is both a gift and an office, which sets it apart from the lesser offices of overseers and deacons. Paul’s apostleship comes forth on a number of occasions, but especially in Corinth where he threatened to come with a “rod”; i.e. to discipline with apostolic power. Another thing we find apostles doing in an official capacity is choosing overseers in local assemblies (Acts 14:23). Their commission was to establish the foundations of the church (Eph. 2:20). Since we no longer have apostles today, we no longer have this office. Another thing that distinguishes apostles from other offices is that apostles were not limited to one local assembly. Their sphere was the whole church of God. Read more…
  • Apostolic Delegates. There were several individuals that were chosen by the apostles as delegates. These ones carried apostolic authority for a specific mission. Two such men were Timothy and Titus. For example, Paul writes to Titus, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5). He wrote to Timothy, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, etc.” (1 Tim. 1:2-3). These delegates also had the authority to appoint overseers in local assemblies, but only when it fell within their specific commission. But since we have no apostles in the present day, we no longer have apostolic delegates.
  • Overseers or Elders.

    The world for overseers is 'episkopos', which means 'those looking on'. It is translated 'bishops', and 'overseers', referring to the office itself. The word for elders is 'presbuterous', and means seniors or older ones, and refers specifically to the persons who occupy the office. Note that the word 'elder' can mean 'older ones' in a general sense, depending on the context, as in 1 Peter 5:5; "Likewise ye younger, be subject to the elder". But in other places 'elders' are those who occupy the office of an overseer, as in Acts 20, where Paul spoke to "the elders of the church", saying, "...all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God" (Acts 20:17, 28). Those who fill this office have the care of the local assembly, to feed and shepherd them. We find that the office of an overseer was local; "elders in each assembly" (Acts 14:23), contrary to the Church's practice of setting up "bishops" who preside over vast regions. More details on elders will follow. Elders are always mentioned as a plurality, never a single man over an entire congregation.

  • Ministers or Deacons.

    Those who occupy the office of a deacon are merely "ministers" or "servants". Overseers care for the spiritual needs of the assembly, but deacons care for the material needs. We get the appointment of deacons in Acts 6:1-6, where the assembly would "look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we [the apostles] may appoint over this business". Deacons would be chosen by the assembly, but could only be officially appointed by apostles. Without apostles or their delegates today, we cannot have officially appointed deacons, but we do have brethren the Lord has raised up to function in that capacity. These ones have the confidence of assembly, to take care of various practical needs. The functions of a deacon are distributing to the poor saints, counting and carrying funds, taking care of practical arrangements, etc. The qualities of honesty and wisdom are especially important when it comes to choosing deacons. Notice that natural aptitude or educational in finances are not required, but rather one who is spiritual; “full of the Holy Ghost”. Further requirements for deacons are given in 1 Tim. 3. There is much in common between the qualifications of a deacon and those of an overseer, but those of the latter are even higher, just as spiritual needs are more vital than material needs. Notice also the plurality of deacons. When the cares of the assembly are involved, it is never just one man deciding for the whole.

The making of elders. How does one become an overseer? Contrary to the popular practice of the church members electing their own elders, we never read in scripture of the assembly choosing its own elders.1 We read of apostles choosing elders (Acts 14:23) and of apostolic delegates choosing elders (Titus 1:5). We also read of a man desiring to do the work of an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1), and of them being "willing" and "ready" to do it (1 Peter 5:2). We also read of the Holy Spirit making men overseers (Acts 20:28). We are also given the list of things that qualify a person for oversight in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. How can a person become an elder today? There are no more apostles or apostolic delegates on earth. Therefore, no man today should claim the official title of elder or bishop, because there is no means of officially appointing them. However, there are still elders today. How does this happen? First, the man must be willing to do the work of an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). This is not easy work, and rarely is it rewarding. They are not to do it because others want them to, or because they are getting some kind of gain (1 Peter 5:3). It is a work that is motivated by love. Second, the man ought to meet the qualifications listed for an overseer (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). Third, the Holy Spirit must give them that place among the flock of God (Acts 20:28).
  1. In scripture, authority always flows down from above. The relatively modern notion that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (United States Declaration of Independence) is not according to scripture, which instead teaches that "there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom. 13:1).