The above verse points out that brotherly love should be what guides our interactions with each other (cf Jn 13:35). As I have said in the past, it is the attitude that is uppermost in God’s mind whenever it comes to how we treat one another – and that includes church government.
It’s the Attitude
17Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17, King James Version)
Again, there should be an attitude of obedience towards those placed over the church.
Who’s In Charge?
Who is placed over those in the church?
First and foremost, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.
20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
22And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
(cf Ep 4:15; Col 1:18)
What About Elders?
In the OT, Israel had elders that were over clans and families that made decisions for their particular group (Nu 11:16; 2Sa 5:3; 17:4). We see this same tradition taking place in the early Church (Ac 14:23; 15:2; 1Ti 5:17; Jas 5:14). Some have tried to make a distinction between an “elder” and an “overseer”, but it appears that Paul thought they were the same thing:
1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
~ 1Pe 5:1-4 (NIV)
1. Peter considered himself “a fellow elder”. An elder is a generic term for those placed in charge, and it includes apostles.
2. How an elder is to “serve” as an overseeing “not lording it over” others. Or, as the NKJV puts it:
1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly,a]’>a]’>a]’>a]’>[a] not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Do All Have the Same Job?
At minimum, not all can have the same job, though. While you would expect the majority of elders to be teachers and/or ministers, it helps to remember that “elder” is a generic term, much as we would say the word “leader” today.
After stressing that there is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father, Paul writes:
11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-13, King James Version)
So, we see different job descriptions and we see different goals for these positions. They aren’t necessarily a one-to-one correspondence, and some probably overlap. After all, what is the difference between a pastor and a teacher? Is there a huge difference between a prophet and an evangelist? These are not necessarily so differentiated as our 21st century minds tend to specialize occupations.
Are these ranks? Some would suggest that they are. If this verse alone had this order, then it would seem to be seriously reading into the text, though. There is another similar passage, though, in 1 Corinthians.
28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
29Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
You have to admit, the above sounds a lot like a hierarchy. The words “first”, “secondarily”, etc., would lend support for this interpretation.
There are a couple of problems with this, though:
1. In context, Paul is likening the different jobs and responsibilities to different parts of the body. Saying the hand is in charge of the foot seems a little silly, doesn’t it? Or, is the eye in charge of the ear? We already have one Head, so is someone really going to go for that title? I suppose there are some bold enough to do so, but I would highly advise against it.
2. The list is very similar, yet it is nonetheless different. Apostles and prophets head both lists. Evangelists are totally left out of the second list, as are pastors. If these were meant to be hierarchical ranks, wouldn’t they be the same?
In context, 1 Corinthians 12 is addressing spiritual gifts. In fact, it is leading up to the “better way” described in 1 Corinthians 13. While I think it is undeniable that apostles are placed over other ranks (even Jesus is called an apostle in one passage), the others seem to not be as strictly delineated. Is one “gift” any better than another? Is a particular spiritual “gift” higher than another?
In summation, there does seem to be a precedence for some type of hierarchy, but it seems to be a very loose definition at best.
The question is at this point if we are placing the proper emphasis upon priority items or are we in the COG circles tend to be guilty of majoring in the minors? After all, “the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.”
It should go without saying, but it cannot, that we can get caught up in such minutia that we often overlook the obvious.
Take, for example, verse 28. “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles”. Note the plural.
Again, where is the Biblical foundation for the idea of a “one man rule”?
Again, it does not exist. Or, should we just rip this passage out of the Bible because it does not jive with someone’s preconceived notions? If someone really believes that a group of apostles, a council, a board, a committee, or just a gaggle of Godly men should not be in charge Biblically, then they really need to provide a logical explanation (i.e., not one pulled out of someone’s fancifal thinking) for this passage.
Many of the examples that people give to support the idea of “one man in charge” are actually false examples. I hope to illuminate a couple of these in the future.
Israel Wanted One Man Rule
In fact, I would even go so far as to argue that the model of governance in the NT is a very flat hierarchy similar to the flat government structure we see in the Book of Judges. The judges presided over all civil matters in their region, and they were only accountable to God and, to some extent, the high priest. Some of the judges were contemporaries of each other, serving in different parts of the nation. God was their king.
But, Israel wouldn’t have it. They sinned. How? By asking for a king – one man that would lead them in their battles. They sinned by wanting a one man rule.
Why don’t more in the COGs see their sin and arrogance by asking for their own little king to rule their lives?
It always comes down to attitude, no matter how you slice it and dice it. Sin can be the attitude of those who would seek power and desire to be in charge rather than server, or it can be the attitude of the people who seek out a man to lead them rather than Jesus Christ.