WHERE DID CHURCH HIERARCHY COME FROM?

In New Testament times, local churches were led by teams of elders, and there was no one man in charge. 

The words PRESBYTER (elder) EPISCOPOS (overseer) and SHEPHERD (Pastor) were used interchangeably. 

The ministry of Pastor is mentioned only once in the entire New Testament.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the SHEPHERDS and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV) 

  • There is no New Testament text indicating that one preacher dominated the ministry of a local church. 

Ephesians 4:11-12 does not define a pastor as an office holder who governs a congregation or dominates its teaching and preaching ministry.

The Apostles were missionaries, evangelists, teachers and church planters. When the Apostle Paul planted a church, he stayed for a while and then moved on without appointing office holders or official leaders. Later he would return and appoint elders. These pioneer churches were small networks of house churches. 

  • No text tells us that Paul put one man in charge. 

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he addressed serious problems of sin and disorder but he did not address his letter to a leader or leadership group. 

1 Corinthians 1:1-2 (ESV) Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 

 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 

Paul addressed his letter to the whole community of believers. 

It was up to the community of believers to work out how to make decisions, who should be delegated to exercise leadership, how to manage their affairs. 

  • Paul was very conscious of his spiritual authority but he was clearly against authoritarian hierarchy and micro management. 

Some years later, some preachers had set themselves up as religious rulers over the Corinthian church. The Corinthian believers submitted to the domination of these leaders and Paul was not happy at all.

2 Corinthians 11:19-21 (NIV) You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 

  • In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 
  • To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! ….

Paul calls dominating preachers FOOLS and he sharply criticises the Corinthians for submitting to them.

Paul’s approach to leadership was very different and he ironically calls his own leadership “WEAK”. 

  • But today we see many churches ruled by a rigid patriarchal hierarchy. Many leaders are like the FOOLS and BULLIES described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11.

Where and when did the church abandon the free brotherhood and sisterhood of Paul’s time? 

Between 100 AD and 250 AD, bishops became the absolute rulers of the churches. They claimed to inherit the absolute authority of the first Apostles but unlike Paul, they practised extreme authoritarian micro management. 

  • Only a bishop or an ordained priest was allowed to celebrate the Lord’s supper or baptism. 

Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage from around 248 to 258 AD.

  • “He taught that a bishop had no superior but God. He was accountable to God alone. Anyone who separated himself from the bishop, separated himself from God.” (Pagan Christianity. Viola and Barna p.114)

But Jesus said to the first Apostles.

 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 

  • And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 
  • Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. Matthew 23:8-10 (NIV) 

In Paul’s farewell address to the church leaders in Ephesus, he gave this warning:

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. Acts 20:29-30 (NIV) 

Are all senior pastors wolves or dictators? Far from it. Many are wonderful men or women of God and some lay down their lives as the first apostles did.

Nevertheless, a good pastor must remember he may be a leader but he is above all a fellow disciple, a brother or sister in the Church.

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