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Bishops, Deacons, and the Church
by Carol Berubee

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Matthew 23:6-12 says, “[The Pharisees] love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' But you, do not be called 'Rabbi;’ for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here, we see that our Lord commanded that no one is to be called Teacher or Father or Master. For many centuries now, we have seen that the false teachers of the Roman Catholic religion love to be called ‘father.’ Clearly, this is a false system of religion and is to be avoided (for many reasons, only one of which is the failure to comply with this simple command in the text before us). But what about teacher? Who is called teacher? We have seen that the bishop or shepherd has the role of pastor-teacher. What man has done is create a system in which certain men are elevated (or they elevate themselves) to the office of Pastor. Notice that most ‘pastors’ do not stop anyone from calling them Pastor. Today’s ‘pastor’ does not correct those who mistakenly believe that he is greater than they are. He fails to tell them that, although he may have some different tasks than they, he is a fellow slave, no greater than they. Indeed, in verse 8, Yeshua says, “…for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.” The true bishop understands that he serves in humility and is simply one of the brethren.

In Revelation, our Lord tells John to write to seven churches that were in Asia Minor. In speaking to the church at Pergamos, Yeshua says he hates the doctrine of the Nicolaitans in that church (2:15). The word Nicolaitan comes from two root words, one being ‘Nicolas,’ whom, it is presumed, was chief among the Nicolaitans. Nicolas means, ‘conqueror of the people.’ The other root word comes from the word ‘Laodicea.’

You may recall Yeshua's words to the church at Laodicea: "...[B]ecause you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:16). The Laodicean church thought it was just fine. They looked upon themselves as ‘rich,’ not necessarily in the monetary sense (although wealth is not precluded in this context), but primarily in the spiritual sense. They thought they knew the mind of God. They thought they were ‘doing church right.’ They thought that they were the blessed ones because they were the ‘right’ ones. Yet, Yeshua says they are lukewarm. They say the right things, but they do not do the right things.

What does the church at Laodicea have to do with the Nicolaitans in Pergamos? The Nicolaitans were those who ‘held the pre-eminence,’ who ‘lorded it over’ others. The Nicolaitans were those who rose to the top by any means necessary so that they could have control over others. The Nicolaitans were those who wanted others to think of them as ‘spiritual,’ as having attained a higher position. It is not a coincidence that the lukewarm Laodicean church today is also one that produces Nicolaitans, just as the church at Pergamos did in Asia Minor.

John speaks of a Nicolaitan in one of his letters. In 3 John, we see a man named Diotrephes, whom John says is not saved (v. 11). Diotrephes was very controlling. He did not want other Christians to speak to, or teach, ‘his flock.’ He would not allow his flock to receive other Christians who were travelling through. He wanted the flock to see him as the supreme authority.

Contrast Diotrephes with Gaius, to whom this letter is written. John says that Gaius is faithful, loves the lost, and loves the Church (v. 5-6). John also commends Gaius in sending out those whom Gaius has taught (v. 6-7). Here, we see that Gaius is a faithful servant, not afraid to build up others in Christ and send them out, whereas Diotrephes keeps the people dependent on him, a sure sign of immaturity, both in Diotrephes and his flock.

How many Gaiuses are there today? How many bishops or pastor-teachers today refuse to be elevated and called ‘Pastor’? How many are true slaves and see themselves as just one of the brethren? How many are not afraid to build up and encourage others without fear of the others coming to more knowledge than they have? How many are not afraid to teach others who they are in Christ with no fear that these others may receive ‘larger ministries’ than they have? How many are not afraid to teach others who they are in Christ with no fear that these others will no longer be dependent on them? How many are willing to give up the big building and the large flock for the sake of the true Gospel and true discipleship? How many are willing to give up their regular paychecks and trust the Lord?

There are ‘churches’ being led by pastor-teachers who are not equipped or called to be bishops. They may be able to teach intellectually, but are they doing so for the sake of the brethren, or for their own gain? The true bishop wants nothing more than to see the saved grow and grow quickly, lest they fall into error on the way. The true bishop will do everything he can to see his brothers and sisters in true ministry, ministry that is built on the proper foundation of Christ. The true bishop will be glad to send off the mature brethren and not worry about his flock dwindling. The true bishop will be glad for the day when the people do not come to him for milk but for solid food, and then not to have to come to him at all, but instead be the givers of the food to another flock.

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