The Moses Model?
I was raised in the congregational rule of the Christian Church. I later scuttled that model for the more Scriptural model of presbyterian rule – a collegial model. I easily dismissed the Episcopal model as being too open to abuse by aberrant personalities. I was dismayed when Pastor Chuck Smith outlined an episcopal ecclesiology (please note the small ‘e’). It rattled me to hear him speak of the authority of the pastor as being superior to that of the elders.
Pastor Chuck did outline a positive role that elders play and the relationship between pastor and elders – and the Christlikeness that should govern that relationship. But when push came to shove, no one could push and shove the pastor.
As I thought through the issues related to church government and the more I gave consideration to Pastor Chuck’s understanding of how authority is to be exercised in the context of the local church, the more I found myself comfortable with and coming into alignment with a Biblical view of episcopacy as related to the exercise of authority in the local church. This is a huge question: Who has authority and how is this authority wielded?
Authority, and the hierarchy of authority, is built into the very fabric of the cosmos, from the Godhead to human government to business to sports to marriage to the church. Anarchy, an attempt to destroy or escape hierarchy, is a rebellion against the very structure of the universe. Hierarchy literally means ‘the rule of priests’, but it is used pragmatically for any organization that has established authority and lines of accountability. Headship and authority are implicit within the structure of the created order because they are implicit within the structure of the Uncreated Order. What follows are several lines of reasoning supporting the practice of episcopacy, i.e., pastoral authority within the Calvary Chapel family of churches.
There is hierarchy in the Trinity. There is an economy within the Trinity whereby one member of the Godhead is submitted to another member of the Godhead for the purpose of accomplishing the intentions and plans They have jointly decreed.
He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. John 14:24
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. John 16:13
We see the Son not doing anything apart from the command of the Father who sent Him. The Holy Spirit is submitted to both the Father who sent Him and the Son whose ministry He applies to the hearts of humankind.
There is hierarchy in the home –
But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Eph 5:24
There is order in the home and family. This order is not established by the notion of equality, but through the notions of headship and submission.
There is hierarchy in the workplace. If there is no headship in business, in government, in the home – order breaks down. The plans and intentions of that business, government, home will never be realized apart from headship and submission implicit in hierarchy.
Many, at this point, will call attention to the fact that the terms “elder” (presbyter), “overseer” (episcopos), and ‘shepherd’ (pastor) are all used interchangeably with no hint of hierarchy within the servant leaders of the church. See Acts 20:17 & 28; 1 Pet 5:1-2.
In these two passage we find that an elder is an overseer is a pastor. A presbyteros is an episkopos is a poimainos. If one is equal to another, from where do we cull the principle of hierarchy? If, in the description of these offices there is no distinction between these offices, how does one rise above another?
Please note: along with the description of church government we also see the practice of church government in the NT Scripture. In the application of authority to the life of the church there emerges a very real and defined hierarchy. Consider the following situations as reported in Scripture –
- Paul gave decided leadership to his apostolic band – a very definite hierarchy. The notion of a democratic approach would have struck Paul as odd.
- In Acts 15, it was James, the brother of our Lord, who stood up after much debate and counsel among the elders and apostles and gave the definitive statement concerning the place of the law in the life of the Gentiles who had come to Christ. The gathered leadership deferred to and agreed with him.
- Both Timothy/Titus exercised pastoral authority over the churches in which they were ministering. They exampled hierarchy.
In the NT we have a picture of local churches/ministry teams where an explicit hierarchy emerges every time. You cannot find one example in the NT of a collegial group of men where one does not emerge as the recognized leader to whom the others defer and follow.
The New Testament model of church government takes into consideration the full scope of both the descriptive passages and those detailing the practical application of these ministry offices in actual experience.
In further support of hierarchy as a pattern for church government we have the seven angels of the churches in Revelation 2-3. The line of reasoning here is very simple. John addresses each letter to a single individual, the angel of the church. No doubt, this is the pastor of the church. Without argument, the whole church is in view, yet only one individual is being addressed and singled out for the bulk of the warnings, promises, and exhortations.
Revelation 2:2-4 is a representative passage illustrating this fact:
I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
The bolded words ‘your’ and ‘you’ in the foregoing reflect 2nd person singular verbs and pronouns. This pattern is followed in each of the letters to the seven churches. The Lord is holding the pastor responsible for the spiritual condition of the church. In contrast to this, please note the grammar of Revelation 2:24
But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them–I place no other burden on you.
The bolded ‘you’ in the foregoing translates the 2nd person plural pronoun. The Lord is speaking to a single individual, the pastor, and then, when He intends to address the larger church, the grammar itself reflects this change of address.
If exegesis means anything, we have to account for the alternation of grammar in the passage under study. The use of person in the verbs and pronouns in the seven letters to the churches in Revelation support the hierarchy of episcopacy in church government.
God holds the pastor accountable for the spiritual health and direction of the church because the pastor holds the responsibility for these things.
It is noteworthy that the early church immediately following the generation of the apostles found themselves gathering around the bishops of the church. Hierarchy is an inescapable principle in the cosmos. We see it in the Uncreated Order, in the created order, and in the redemptive order – in the church. Yes, hierarchy can be abused and has been abused – but so have the congregational and presbyterial models. The weakness isn’t with the model, but with ungodly men who will corrupt any model. Though many practice collegial and congregational forms of church polity, hierarchy as episcopacy has impressive Biblical credentials.
The practice of this episcopacy is not expressed in arbitrary, oppressive, abusive, unaccountable leadership. New Testament episcopacy is not opposed to collegiality, mutual submission, and team wisdom – but that is matter for another article.
This is an awesome article, Tim. Whether people agree or not, you make a good case without being rash or trite. “The weakness isn’t with the model, but with ungodly men who will corrupt any model.” That’s a strong and true statement. “The practice of this episcopacy is not expressed in arbitrary, oppressive, abusive, unaccountable leadership. New Testament episcopacy is not opposed to collegiality, mutual submission, and team wisdom – but that is matter for another article.” That’s another strong and true statement. Its hard to strike the balance of not being a lone-ranger who thinks they know everything, and yet be willing to act when you know God is speaking in spite of opposition you may face. But nobody said the job would be easy.
Hi, Kellen – you’re right, leadership is not always an easy job. I get your point that leadership is acting on what God has shown you in spite of opposition you may face. And I am sure that you would agree that leadership is also seeking to teach and explain and persuade in order to achieve a consensus among those we lead so that the opposition is evaporated.
“John addresses each letter to a single individual, the angel of the church. No doubt, this is the pastor of the church.”
I mean, I’ll have to look up a lot of these terms you’re throwing around like a college professor at some specialized conference… but that’s just a stretch. You break down the grammatical nuances, 2nd person singular, 2nd person plural and I’m thinking, where’s the Spirit of God in all of this? Isn’t He supposed to lead us into all truth, but now I’m dependent on someone potentially corruptible to tell me what the hidden grammatical influences show?
I took a quick peek at the mechanics of ‘angel’, ‘pastor’ just curious… and strangely, how blue letter bible defines angel more closely resembles how it defines ‘apostle’ not pastor… not that I rely on it’s definition any more than I rely on yours.
Earlier today I came across John 4 again, woman at the well, where Jesus corrected her perception where one really should worship God… He saying that God desires worshipers to do so in spirit and truth… yet you seeming to be more caught up in the mechanics of the passage/word than the spirit being conveyed.
Seems only fitting you would quote the verse from Revelation where Jesus mentions having left your first love.
Hi, Greg – there’s nothing hidden about the grammar – it’s there for anyone to see and study. If it doesn’t mean what it says, what does it mean? Loving and seeking out the details of the Word of God is not incompatible with understanding what the Spirit is saying. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit who superintended the writing of Scripture and He is responsible for the grammatical details. You seem to pit the Word of God against the Spirit of God. If grammar doesn’t matter to you, why do you read the Bible in the first place? Frankly, Greg, your post confuses me.
“If it doesn’t mean what it says, what does it mean?” To the angel of the church of… write… Angel, not pastor… but you said ‘no doubt this is the pastor of the church’ And though you establish interchangeability between pastor, elder and overseer, there is none for pastor/angel, leaving me to conclude you relied on a greek translation to bridge that chasm, or some such thing.
Honestly, I don’t know the grammatical terms of everything I read… but for the most part, I understand the spirit of what is being said, who is intended/indicated… and if I don’t, I ask the Lord for wisdom and understanding.
Pitting the Word of God against the Spirit of God… the best way I can explain is looking at John 6 how many were offended by His assertion that unless His flesh is eaten and His blood drank, no one would have life in them. Perfectly sound speech, structure… but they were offended because they didn’t understand the spirit of what He was saying to them. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.”
So, yes grammar is plain to those who can see it, just as it was to those who were offended at Jesus’ words… and yet, they still missed what He was saying….
Loving and seeking out is incompatible if you’re not relying on the Spirit to bring the understanding. You study the structure to understand the Spirit; what He’s saying is flip that around so that you start with the Spirit to give understanding into the Word.
Hi, Greg – the majority of commentaries agree that the angel (Greek = messenger) is the pastor of the church. Even if he is the apostle of the church (whatever that means)it is still a single individual being addressed. It’s good to hear that you are a diligent student of the Word.
Tim, as you’ve shown, just because a word is the same, it can clearly have two different meanings – distinguish between one or many.
It’s kind of interesting, seems that Jews rely more on commentary than Scripture… or the former to clarify the latter…. (instead, teaching as commandments the doctrine of men Matt 15:9).
Good food for thought. I would classify myself more on a shared leadership model, but with a first among equals. But your points challenge me.
The grammar isn’t unimportant. It’s actually very important. Thought and meaning are communicated through words, those words are not randomly chosen, but are presented orderly which requires rules. Maybe a couple examples will help me explain.
In John 19:30, on the cross Jesus said “It is finished.” Anyone with any level of grammar can read that and say that this means that Jesus finished his work 2000 years ago. But if we learn more about grammar we can learn that this phrase is in the ‘perfect tense’. You will only learn it’s in the perfect tense from the Greek (tetelestai), which means part of a richer study is to refer to something like a language commentary. The perfect communicates past action with present effect. In other words, when Jesus says “It is finished” he is speaking of a completed action that continues to the present right now. My confidence in Christ (because of the grammar) is strengthened because the grammar explicitly tells me that what Jesus finished on the cross, has effect in my life right now. It didn’t have a sell-by date.
Another example, in Eph 5:19, Paul tells us to “be filled with the Spirit”. This is meaningful to any reader (as with John 19:30 above), but if we learn something of the grammar, the meaning intensifies. What is Paul actually saying? The word “filled” is ‘present passive imperative 2nd person plural’. That means that “be filled” is a command (imperative) that is to happen to us not by us (passive), in other words, we are not commanded to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. We easily forget that the Spirit fills us, not we ourselves. It is for now (present) and since it is a ‘now command’ (present imperative), that means that being filled with the Spirit is not a one time thing, but continual. It’s more the idea of “be being filled continually with the Spirit.” And since it is 2nd person plural, it’s a continual command for every believer. This ancient command of the Apostle Paul applied to me when I came to faith in Christ, as well as right now as I type on the computer. I can never rest in past filling for current need. Knowing the grammar here helps me remember that my orientation towards the Spirit is less like a battery that goes flat now and again and needs a recharge, and more like a lamp that is plugged in with a cord. My empowering comes as I am continually being empowered by the source.
Grammar is a tool to help us know what the words are saying. The more of this we know, the more our diligent study of Scripture is amplified. But if we stop at grammar, we lose.
I certainly appreciate your fear of the Scriptures being turned into some dead corpus that we dissect. This would be a fatal flaw. But it’s not understanding language tools that endanger us, but rather our own sinful hearts. All study is partnership (fellowship) with the Spirit. We pray continually (present imperative -1Thes 5:17), relying on God’s Spirit to grant us understanding, while not neglecting the Scriptures that are given to us in written (grammatical) form.
We err, not when we study diligently (in partnership with God’s Spirit who grants understanding), but when we do not heed what Scripture teaches us. We err when we take ‘imperatives’ like the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20 which calls all believers to go and make disciples, and turn them into ‘relatives’ (the great suggestion), and say, that doesn’t apply to me.
We need to be humble students (disciples).
Good words, Matt. Grammar is important and it seems like you have a good grip on that.
As to polity – I would describe the polity at CC Fremont to be as described in the article I posted – but the practice of this polity feels more like ‘first among equals.’ But you can have strong ‘firsts’ and weak ‘firsts’. Though you practice a shared leadership model, in the phrase you bring to the table, ‘first among equals’ there is the notion of hierarchy, someone to whom others defer. When you write ‘shared leadership model’, do you mean ‘shared authority’? Yet if someone is ‘first’, don’t they have more authority? And if so, your leadership structure is in line with the things I wrote. Your leadership style and practice can (and should) diffuse that authority within and to the leadership team, but it is still hierarchical in structure. What do you think?
Good stuff, Tim.
Great points re: the importance of grammar, Matt.
Just last night in a Greek class I am taking with Miles, our instructor breached the subject of the “Perfect Tense” in the Greek.
‘tetelestai’ has that much more of and efficacious potency and tangibility that is available in the present moment for all of mankind! I always held to the spiritual ramifications of that most powerful and final moment in time…but last night understanding more fully the grammar that was sovereignly chosen to communicate the spirit of the letter has me stunned at the goodness of God, the power of the cross, the impact of His death for all of mankind, and it’s unhindered potency in the very present!
Forget about it!
Grammar rocks! Jesus demonstrated the resurrection of the dead through the present tense indicative of the verb ‘to be.’ “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The whole weight of His argument to the Sadducees rested on the tense of a verb!
If it brings such clarity, why cite ‘a majority of commentaries’ to connect angel/pastor instead of Scripture as was done with elder/overseer/pastor? And if the commentaries are so sound, so clear, why not cite them?
You talk about the greek bringing clarity, revealing the hidden… okay, do a word search on angel as Tim cited from Rev. Then look up apostle, prophet, pastor see which definition fits best. Then look up the prophecy concerning John the Baptist which Jesus cited ‘Behold I send My messenger..’ Luke 7:26-28 and then over to Hebrews 1 where Jesus is contrasted to the angels… and then tell me how you clearly, without doubt, say that the angel of the church in… is talking about the pastor of the church in… from the greek.
This neither Tim nor the rest of you have done.
Matt, you talk about a lamp and where it draws it’s power from. Yet if the wiring to that lamp is too small a gauge it can pose a fire hazard if too much current flows through it.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light”
Hi, Greg – maybe I can clear up some misunderstanding. My conclusion that ‘angel’ in Rev. 2-3 is the pastor of the church is not based solely on insight into the Greek language or into Greek grammar. It is based on the elimination of the alternatives. It is based on logic, and not grammar only. Grammar establishes that this is a single individual. To say otherwise would be to contradict what is written.
Could ‘angel’ mean ‘a disembodied holy spirit’? I guess it could, but it would make no sense. Why would Jesus have John write a letter to a disembodied spirit? Could ‘angel’ mean prophet or apostle? I guess it could, but prophets and apostles exercised authority over many churches and didn’t confine themselves to one church. The ‘angel’, the individual being addressed in each church of Rev. 2-3 is the one whom Jesus holds responsible for the health and the goings-on of that church. Who else other than the pastor? Who do you think the ‘angel’ is and what do you base your conclusion on?
Tim, okay… not based on grammar/greek only, but logic. Where’s the logic in setting aside all the tools you say give insight, clarity and force in something that doesn’t fit using those very tools? If there was a connection between pastor and angel/messenger, then make it as you did pastor, elder, overseer.
You dismiss ‘angel’ because that would make no sense… when Jesus told the disciples to feed the 5000, that made no sense… when He said that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they’d have no life in them… that didn’t make any sense. Nicodemus with being born again… enter a second time into the womb? What sense does that make?
I’ve never really thought about it before, but having been forced to with this conversation, I pretty much asked the Lord what you did… ‘Why would You have John write to an angel?’ ‘Who is he, what is his purpose? Why write it to him?’
Why would He give oversight to an angel? “He will give His angels charge concerning you…” other questions springing up from that.
Pr 3:5,6; Pr 4:7; Pr 2
Hi, Greg – the Greek word for angel usually refers to a disembodied spirit. In the following passages it refers to a human – Mt. 11:10; Mk. 1:2; Lk. 7:24; Lk. 9:52; James 2:25 and Rev. 2-3.
Another reason why the ‘angels’ of the churches aren’t disembodied spirits is that the context both in Psalms and the Gospels and Hebrews is that of angels giving individual assistance and protection and not not exercising pastoral care over a local church. This is something foreign to the NT, theology, and church history.
Further, the ‘angels’ of the churches in Rev. 2-3 are fallible and charged by Jesus for failing in their ministry. Jesus tells the angel of the church of Ephesus that he has left his first love. Jesus uses 2nd person singular pronouns in speaking this. He is speaking to an individual, not to a group. He holds the pastor responsible for his care and oversight of that church. He says to another ‘angel’ (again using 2nd person sing. grammar) that he tolerates the woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess. Jesus, in saying this, is speaking to an individual, not a group. To say otherwise is not to contradict me, but to contradict what is written. I don’t think that you would say that the angels of God (the invisible ones) sin against God as they minister to people.
God bless you, Greg. Hope this makes sense to you. Encountering an unfamiliar line of reasoning can be a disconcerting experience.
Greg, the word translated angel (angelos) also means messenger. Understanding the messenger as a pastor would fit the context well.
Matt is absolutely correct. In interpreting any piece of literature or saying, a word’s meaning is more determined by the context in which it is used than by its primary definition.
Wait, wait, wait… so greek and hebrew/original languages and grammatical structure is so amazing in it’s clarity and insight that without it I won’t understand what is really being said. Yet, when you can’t connect pastor/messenger using those same tools, suddenly you shift to soft-focus/diffused lighting by looking at the much larger context. If that’s the case you could say that a bird was a messenger (Eccl 10:20) The heavens and earth (Ps 19) as they declare the glory of God and His handiword… day unto day utters speech, night unto night declares knowledge… how broad do you want to cast your net?
Tim, the word I looked up on BLB, same whether for angel or messenger. And I don’t know anything about disembodied… the angel that roused Peter was solid enough to strike him and raise him up. Acts 12:6,7
And please don’t worry, it’s not the word swap that’s bothers me the most (I’ve actually been able to make a circuitous, tenuous connection between pastor/messenger, something no one here was able to do. Though it still doesn’t work in Rev.)… it’s more that you don’t hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Josh, very true!
Tim, for myself I would view the first amongst equals as a personal authority (influence). Those elders that lead in preaching/teaching would be more influential given the make up of their role. If they lead in teaching, they need to lead in vision and direction as well as that is delivered through the teaching. Maybe it would fall under weak firsts (if I get your distinction between weak and strong right).
Hi, Matt – thanks for this. You write that first among equals is a matter of personal influence (if I read you right). I know what you mean, and I think that that kind of dynamic is worked out organically. But there is also an authority that is conveyed to and through position. I don’t know your situation, but if you are full time, paid staff and the rest of the elders are ‘lay’ leaders, your authority is greater in the eyes of the people. They see you as first even as you see yourself as first. If one of your elders begins to see himself as first, you are going to have trouble. There is a functional and personal authority and then there is a positional authority. What you write is very true of the church I serve – there is shared ministry and authority and vision – yet I am ‘first’ – there is no question as who the pastor is and where the buck stops.
Tim, I hear what you mean. My situation is vastly different. We are church planting and working to raise up elders, but we aren’t there yet. At present, the buck starts and stops here 😉 But I trust God will spread that out a bit as elders are appointed in due course. One aspect I feel is really important (which underlines the word ‘shared’ for me in shared leadership) is the opportunity for co-elders to keep me in check. I know this can happen in a more pastor-led model, but it really depends on the pastor’s willingness to be corrected/redirected.
I like that you mentioned shared vision. It seems healthy to me for the eldership to be seeking God together for the vision of the church, rather than one guy by himself.
good article I really like the point you brought out of Revelation regarding the difference between singular and plural YOU in English if I can add my 2 cents. Paul writing Timothy in 1Tim 5:17 said “Let the Elders “presbuteros” that RULE “proistemi” literally the Elders that preside. so we do see even in Paul’s doctrinal teaching about leadership that there were Elders who had the lead among other elders. I see my role as Senior Pastor of CC Montebelluna as a presiding elder among other Elders. I’m accountable to them and they are accountable to me and one another. we do make all major decisions together after much prayer, but at the end of the day there can only be one captain of a ship. As you pointed out very well all God’s creation and every human enterprise is governed thru hierarchy. imagine a war ship going into battle with five captains shouting different orders to the crew! a perfect recipe for disaster!
Great point, Craig. Thanks for joining the conversation. Where is Montebelluna?
I think the sense of that particular verse (at least my understanding) is not that some elders rule and others don’t, but rather some elders rule WELL. The emphasis that Paul seems to be underlining is not that some rule, but rather all rule, but some rule well.
For example, in 1 Thess 5:12, the same word (proistemi) is used of elders in the local Thessalonian church who rule. In both 1 Tim 5:17 and 1 Thess 5:12, the verbal participle of proistemi is plural, so it relates directly to the elders that are mentioned plurally. Both letters are written in the context of the needs of a local church (though for the benefit of the global church), and they both connect the local elders (plural) with ruling (plural).
Much love Craig, and I pray God is blessing the ministry in NE Italy!
were in Northeastern Italy about an hour from Venice.
I think my understanding is a little different than yours, if you go on in the text Paul talks about those that preside & especially those who labour in the word & doctrine (Senior Pastor/elder) so the flip side would obviously be that there are Elders who don’t labour in the word & doctrine. My point with this is that it would seem not all Elders are created equal in a hierarchal sense. As Tim already brought out Paul & James both gave orders, commands & Paul instructs Timothy & Titus to do the same. I don’t see anywhere in the scripture where we are presented with a Plymouth brethren model of Eldership (no hierarchal Authority among Elders)neither do I find anywhere the “my way or the Highway Model” which sometimes can happen when the Senior Pastor is not a true servant.
Thanks Matt for the Prayer, blessing to you & the ministry in leatherhead!
Yeah, the difference comes from how the word ‘malista’ is translated in 1Ti 5:17. It can be translated as “especially” or “that is”. Both fit syntactically. If it’s “especially”, it suggests 2 classes/groups of elders (teaching/preaching elders and other elders), if it’s to be understood as “that is”, then it is saying that all elders are teaching/preaching (albeit they may be doing so in differing capacities). I would lean towards “that is”, meaning that part of the job of eldership is preaching/teaching, particularly if we understand the words pastor, elder, and overseer as being interchangeable.
However, I do believe in a first among equals, and this will almost certainly be a founding pastor or the primary preaching pastor.
Also, I really appreciate your point about it not being “my way or the Highway”. This is critical for us to hold onto to.
I was once an elder in a CC pastored by a “my way or the hiway” type, (the so-called Moses Model’) It worked for some time, but it was mostly by intimidation and “yes men” support when it came time for decisions to be made. Not much respect given to differing/opposing opinions of other elders. It grew for years that way till there was an “explosion” in our midst which changed everything. Much damage done to individual members of the Body… loss of credibility in leadership… division…. etc.. Over the years, I’ve come to see the genesis of the problem as one of personal insecurity; lack of confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit in others; and, largely, an enlarged ego. I wish there was a sign over the door of elders’ meeting rooms which read, “Leave all EGOS outside before entering!” Didn’t Moses rethink his leadership style and distribute authority and entrust others with confidence to lead/decide? And, wasn’t his style an Old Testament technique ? It has been many years now, and I and others are still reeling from the experience. Ralph Gaily