Thursday, January 03, 2008

32. Leadership Issues

I can remember the first time I started having questions about the leadership model of elders. Growing up in the Church of Christ, the elder/deacon model was all I was exposed to, and most of the time it just made sense to do it that way. In my tribe, elders (presbyters), Bishops/Overseers (episcopos) and Shepherds are all the same thing. They are functional words that describe the same position. Employing the "flat" approach to scripture, or should I say, fundamentalist hermeneutic, Titus 1, I Timothy 3, and the book of Acts were thrown together to make a unifying case for the elder model. The only problem with this is that there are some real inconsistencies with this approach.

For one, Cecil hook, in his book Free In Christ, highlights the fact that the two lists in Titus and Timothy are not identical. In Titus it mentions that an elder should have "believing children" but it says nothing about this in I Timothy. Neither one of them had access to each others letters, so we can assume that Timothy allowed men to be elders that did not have believing children while Titus did not. This scenario of the qualifications of elders should throw up some red flags to those who want to rush into a universalized approach to the leadership structure of the church. If the elder model was to be the only model for the church, you would think that there would be a little bit more clear and symmetrical listings of their qualifications throughout scripture.

Second, H. Von Campenhausen, in his book Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power, makes an excellent point when he points to the diversity of models in the NT documents. He notes that Acts, I Peter, James and Revelation mention only elders but not Bishops nor deacons. Philippians mentions Bishops and deacons but not elders. I Corinthians mentions none of it at all. This should spark a curiosity about why, if the elder/deacon model is the only model to be used for the church, is there not a uniform presentation in scripture about it. Why such varied spotting's in the NT?

Third, the 1st century church was thoroughly embedded in a patriarchal society that gravitated towards men for leadership "positions." This is not to say that women did not have leadership positions in the 1st century church. (This is a whole nother discussion) It is merely to say that the presence of patriarchy should immediately caustion us when attempting to take narratives like the book of Acts, and Epistles, which are written with this same historical context, and Pastorals, which are highly contextual and occasional documents, as prescriptive for all times and places. Patriarchy had an enormous effect on the church and the course it took in organizing itself for the long haul.

Fourth, the elder model was recycled from the synagogue. There, men were endowed with dignity and honor by virtue of their age. Some elders were elected to carry specific responsibilites in the synagogue, but not all elders were elected to do this. The average elder enjoyed a certain status of respect and leadership within the community. But it was organically bestowed on him by the community, not through a democratic nomination and election process. Neither was there an official ordination ceremony to induct them into an "office". This would have been so in the church as well.

Fifth, it is interesting that the only place you see lists for qualifications of elders is in Gentile contexts where godliness needed to be spelled out for the new comers into the faith.

The early church adopted the synagogue model of elders in a natural organic way. For them it was a no brainer. Sort of a self organizing dynamic if you will, with certain apostolic impulses operating in the background. If this is true, then we instantly are thrown into the discussion as to wether or not the synagogue model of elders was divine in origin. I tend to think it was a cultural manifestation of the Israelite tradition and served as midwife to the church in the preservation and stabilization of the communities of the 1st century in all their turbulence with persecution and heresy. That being said, the elder model was the seed of hierarchy, as Clement portrays, which rapidly developed in the late 1st century and early 2nd century.

All of this is a dead give away that the discussion of leadership models for the church is not a cut and dry issue. Nort is it purely a matter of uncovering the "original model". We have to give proper attention to the socio-historical-cultural context of both the letters and the 1st century church as whole. There is not a unified voice for leadership structures in the NT. So where does this leave us? That is for the next blog!


Anonymous said...

Great post! I remember sharing an article similar to what you posted. I had just loved the way the author (can't remember his name)had showed me a new way of looking and reading scripture.

I was in the coc and posted it on the website. Wow, did I get a tongue lashing from some older members. One man said, my posting was like getting up and preaching after the sermon was over.

It is sad when we no longer get excited about exploring truth. I've been reading many of your posts. Especially like the last one on the institutional church. I found it positive and edifying. You certainly have a gift for writting and interpretation. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to be as kind as I can when I say, "That may be the most illogical and non-coherent view of the eldership that I have ever read." Remember when Peter warned about twisting scripture to one's own destruction (II Pet. 3:16)?What version was Hook reading from when he concluded that Timothy and Titus didn't both included believing children as a qualification? Also, let me paste a piece of another one of your jems from Hook's book:
"so we can assume that Timothy allowed men to be elders that did not have believing children while Titus did not."
Do neither you or Hook realize that Paul wrote both letters? Titus and Timothy were both taught and trained by Paul personally, so does it really make any difference whether or not they had access to one another's letters? They had access to the original source. And who is Hook to say that they didn't have access to one another's letters anyway? Did he personally interview Timothy and titus and learn this.
The Timothy and Titus "allowing men to be elders" is sadly hilarious as well. In Acts 20:28, Paul says that the Holy Spirit had made the elders in Ephesus overseers. If there was any "allowance" of men to be elders in the 1st century church, it was by the Holy Spirit, not by Timothy or Titus.
C'mon Tim, just because you read something by someone whose book appears in the theology section at Books-a-Million, doesn't mean the content is worth the paper upon which it is printed. I'll take what you refer to as "flat" or "fundamentalist" interpretation of scripture over this head in the cloud, philosophical psychobabble you use anyday. Please re-read Galatians 1:8 again and apply it to future posts regarding-hear comes that bad, uneducated word again- fundamental, biblical truths.

Planter said...

I appreciate you being kind. This is always a good route to take. In response, I Timothy 3:4 says that the elders children must be obedient to him, not beleiving. Titus says a man whose children beleive. This is pretty straight forward difference in the list. If it was a really important qualification, why leave it out. A child can be obedient to his parents and not be a Christian.

I see your point on both Timothy and Titus being trained by Paul. But the point stands that the letters were not canonized into a uniform collection until many years later. What about other Christian communities that did not have access to either of them, or only access to one of them. the point is that if it was a specific, detailed list, they would be identical. Because they have a glaring omission in regard to beleiving children, it forces us to entertain othe roptions about the nature of the list. Because the two letters were sent to two different people in two different locations, we can assumne there was a block of time that they did not have access to each others letters. This is pretty obvious to conclude. How long that time frame was we do not know. If you were hiring a ceo for a company, wouldn't you want the application to have the same requirements on all the applications in all places? The point is, becoming an elder was not like becoming a ceo. Two totally different dynamics.

I am not sure where you are going with your point about "allowing men to be elders." If you are opting for the model in Acts 20:28 where the Holy Spirit made people elders, how does this happen in your church, I am curious. Also, where does it tell us in the NT how to appoint elders and who is to do the appointing? If there is a position to be filled, there is a process by which people come to fill that position. I am curious as to your thoughts on this process and your biblical foundation for it.

In regard to your reference of Galatians 1:8, the gospel is the Good News of Jesus, as aluded to in Galatians 1:4, not our discussion of elders. I wold read up on this one as ytou may be doing exactly what Paul is warning against in Gal 1:8 and the entirity of the warnings in Galatians as a whole in reference to another gospel and justification by faith. This is a sincere challenge on this one.

Also, I would like to know who I am conversing with. You may not have a blogger account or gmail account, so you can e,ail me at with your info.

Iti is a bit unkind to imply I am lazy or irresponsible in my processing of information. We all have blind spots in our knowledge, to imply you lack character because you disagree with me is really presumptuous at best and condescending at worst. Maybe we can assume the best about each others motives and go from there?