The issue of proper church government is made difficult by our various personal backgrounds and philosophies. One man’s sense of order is another man’s tyranny. One man’s freedom is another man’s anarchy. If we proceed from the assumption that we must have strong leadership and rules to live by, we will be understandably drawn toward a system of strong oversight and a ‘chain-of-command’ structure. This will result in a class system in which ministers become dictators and commandments are constantly trickling down from “the top”. If on the other hand we are excessively libertarian, we may become a law unto ourselves and become separated from needed fellowship, missing many important opportunities to serve one another; both to be taught and to teach. New Testament Christian Church is founded upon the beliefs of R.W. Davis, who approaches life from an authoritarian perspective. Believing strongly in the need for leadership and the enforcement of standards, he has erected an authority structure that operates very efficiently for the man at the top, is destructive to the lives of those dwelling at the bottom, and is quite far removed from any Biblical pattern.
Jesus only granted direct authority to the original Apostles, and he did so for a very specific reason: they saw him, heard him, watched him die, witnessed his resurrection, and beheld his ascension. In delegating authority to them he sought to ensure the declaration and preservation of the truth, not to guarantee obedience to the opinions of the twelve. It was the message, not the men, that carried the weight of importance.
When Jesus taught his disciples what manner of men they ought to be, he rigidly adhered to a servant model. He reinforced this idea repeatedly. He made a point to illustrate the contrast between his idea of “leadership” and the practices of earthly rulers. He explained the top-down exercise of power that men habitually command, and told his followers that “it is not to be this way among you.” He demonstrated that his pattern for them was to be a chain-of-command turned upside-down. The least was to be the greatest, and the greatest was to be the servant of all. His very last lesson on the night of his crucifixion was an illustration of servitude.
The behavior of the Apostles as recorded in the book of Acts is very telling. There were many Jews in Jerusalem in those days who believed the gospel and were saved. These people were outcast from their families and from Jewish society. Most of them had no place within the Roman citizenry and were largely excluded from the Roman economy. Among these were many who were both persecuted and poverty-stricken. Many were aged widows and some were orphaned children. The saints, both within and outside of Judea, as much as they were able, took up voluntary collections to help these people, and food, money and clothing were distributed among those in dire need. And who do we find waiting tables and serving this food to the widows and orphans? The twelve. Meanwhile, when they weren’t serving food, they were teaching, going from house to house to minister the Word of God, presumably partaking of meals subject to the hospitality of their hosts.
Then something happened. The twelve realized that they could no longer continue to do this every day. They saw that they would have to leave the widows and orphans to someone else while they continued to give their energy to teaching. Why was this? Groups like New Testament Christian Church, which are authoritarian and preacher-centric, assert that the Apostles were misguided in their ministry, that “the preacher’s job is not to clean up dirty dishes; the preacher’s job is to preach, and your job is to listen”. But a more blatant misunderstanding of the text can not be imagined. Why were the Apostles disinclined to continue as before? It was not because they were wrong to wait on tables, but because of the sheer numbers of those who needed care and attention. The needs of hundreds of orphans and widows resulted in the neglect of the message. For this reason alone, seven servants were chosen and appointed to minister to the needy on a daily basis, so that those who had witnessed Jesus’ life, death and resurrection could spend more time in prayer and teaching. They were responsible to set a spiritual table, yet they never ceased to view themselves as waiters and dishwashers.
What does this say about so-called “church government”? Do we often have things backward because we establish the local body along the lines of a corporation or some other form of human organization? Do not forget: It is not to be this way among you. It may come as a shock to many of us to know that there were many Christian churches in the First Century that are never mentioned in the book of Acts or in the Epistles. Thousands of believers spread the gospel throughout the Empire. Some of them were Gentiles, and some were Jews, and most were people whose names we do not know. They established churches having no contact whatsoever with the twelve. These were local assemblies that loved one another like family. These groups were usually rather tiny, they met in homes and enjoyed a very joyful, loving, independent fellowship.
The churches mentioned in scripture are those with whom the Apostles had a direct personal connection. Paul won converts in various cities, leaving them there to win others and to help them spiritually. The contact he had with them was very sporadic and conspicuously lacking in any sort of control mechansim. The only thing about which he concerned himself was the message. He enforced nothing but the truth of the Word. All the while Paul was exorting local “leaders” to be servants, not to be Lords, to feed the flock of Christ (His sheep, not theirs), to have a humble spirit, and to be an inspiration and an example. There were times when specific needs were made known that called for cooperation, such as a voluntary collection for persecuted saints, but the churches of that day were strictly localized and independent in character.
We know what resulted during the Dark Ages when the Roman Church exercised all authority over the lives of men. The abuse of power and the sinfulness of the hierarchy made a worldwide mockery of Christianity that dogs our steps to this day. The evangelical reform instigated by Martin Luther was based upon the priesthood of the individual believer and local church independence. It developed as a response to authoritarian power amplified and exasperated by the controlling doctrines of a privileged ministerial class who placed before the people a series of obnoxious barriers to salvation. In spite of this fact, R.W. Davis, in his stalwart defense of NTCC and its abusively authoritarian structure, has stated flatly on many occasions, “I would join the Catholic Church before I would become an independent”. This can only mean that, in his controlling mind, organization is more important than the Truth; a fact that becomes obvious when this group is examined up close.
NTCC refers to itself officially as an Episcopal organization. This word simply makes reference to “oversight”, and relates accurately the method of government employed. This is a mode of organization in which all authority is vested in one man who places himself over the entire group, and whose word is the final arbiter in all matters of doctrine and practice. Beneath this head are several men who answer directly to him, and who in turn have both responsibility and authority over various departments. It is instructive to point out that this authority manifests itself in an almost papal esteem of the highest office.
R.W. Davis was a preacher in his thirties when he began to have personal visits with God (so he claims), who instilled within him (so he claims) a vision of the organization God would use him to build. Actually, this so-called vision was imparted by the opportunity he witnessed while in the association of William Gaylord, who was working with U.S. Air Force enlistees in the Far East, and demonstrated the “home-away-from-home” model that was to become the backbone of NTCC. In the early seventies, Davis was forced to leave his pulpit under curious circumstances, but took with him some young men who looked upon him as a prophet of God. He infused in them the belief that he was called of God and separated to be His special servant, God’s one primary agent to the world for this Age. He taught them to promote him as a holy man, as God’s Apostle, and as a man to be obeyed by all who wished to be saved. He said that all other church organizations of any significance had compromised the gospel, as evidenced by the fact that women in the churches were cutting their hair and wearing pants. He saw himself as the man to put a stop to this rebellion, and to tell the world what sin really is. Therefore, beginning with young men sent to him through the agency of W.K. Gaylord, Davis began to build a team of excited young preachers to follow his example.
Davis inspired these young men through fear, filling them with dread that he might humiliate and embarrass them on a whim. He encouraged the belief that only through obedience to him could they maintain a right standing with God. They learned to jump on command, to shout agreement along with his preaching, and to call him by his title and last name ONLY. They washed his car “as unto the Lord”, took care of his personal errands “as unto the Lord”, and shined his shoes “as unto the Lord”. They became his personal servants, ready to perform at a moment’s notice. He bellowed, and they quaked. In gratitude, they surrendered to him ten percent of their income “as unto the Lord”. Many of those who had known Davis during the sixties knew that here was a master manipulator, who ruled through intimidation, whose claim was that the Lord had spoken to him and said “I’ve made your head harder than theirs”. They knew that Davis was determined to build an earthly ecclesiastical kingdom, and wanted no part of it.
Davis’ method of maintaining the cohesion of his organization is that of absolute authority in a pyramid structure, in which commandments go down and money goes up. Utterly ignoring the servant model laid down by Jesus, he rules as do the kings of the earth. Pastoral authority is unlimited. The scriptures are wrested to err always on the side of authority. Scriptural exhortations to obedience are always interpreted as commandments to obey the leadership NO MATTER WHAT. Veering wildly out of bounds, they teach the need for loyalty to the organization, loyalty to the leadership, and uniformity. Those who disagree are intimidated into silence. Abuses carried on by local pastors are covered up in order to maintain solidity and “protect the ministry”. Local church members have no recourse or outlet by which to obtain a hearing or a regress of grievances against those in the pulpit who take advantage of them, because Davis does not receive their “accusations”. He sits in authority as on a throne, and everyone caters to his needs. Everyone knows what kind of coffee he drinks, how it is to be prepared, and that he will not touch it if it is not correct. Local pastors and ministers enjoy similar treatment, having taught their congregations to “take care of the man of God”. They are called “sir”, their wives are called “ma’am”, and they answer to their title and LAST NAME ONLY.
When churches within a given region gather for “fellowship”, the church members are not allowed to eat at the same restaurant with the preachers and their wives. Ministers are taught to command respect, to teach people to give “so they can be blessed”, to keep a healthy distance from church members, not to get too close to them, and to maintain aloofness. If they were Christ-like, the preachers would be serving the food to the church members and leaning up afterwards. Try suggesting this if you want to know what a stoning feels like.
Those in the churches are typically taught to obey their pastor in all things, even when he is wrong. People are pushed into marriage, discouraged from marrying those of whom the pastor does not approve, encouraged to divorce spouses who are not loyal to the group, pushed into the ministry, forbidden to attend secular colleges, forbidden to take jobs that would decrease their church participation, and continually pressed upon to produce results in the form of money and attendance. Those who do not conform are accused of having a “heart problem”. Nobody can ever disagree with the pastor without receiving the label of “rebellious”.
Is R.W. Davis such a poor teacher that these various local pastors under his direction are ruling over people without his knowledge and in spite of what he has said? Are they all just rogue warriors giving a bad name to a good organization? Or are they faithful disciples, doing exactly as they are taught? Indeed it would seem that Davis’ most ardent and devoted emulators are the very worst manipulators. He teaches them management skills straight out of leadership books. He teaches them that “your church is a business”, and “you’ve got to get invoved in people’s lives; people need to be told what to do”. If this kind of environment sounds unhealthy to you, beware of what you say. Like their Leader, these pulpit cowboys are fond of screaming “If you don’t like it, GET OUT!” Many did not, and have.