Archive for December 4th, 2008

Introduction and Objectives

I am currently on a writing hiatus, but the circumstances necessitating my hiatus have actually prompted this writing. I hope that this will be the first of several posts that I will make on the very broad subject ‘theology of church leadership.’ Of course I don’t mean in any way to suggest that I will be writing a comprehensive theological treatise on the church or church leadership, but that the things I do write will necessarily be a theological position in the tradition of ‘working it out in public.’

These posts will be written against the backdrop of my own denominational history. I am, and have been since the Methodist church rejected me because I wanted to wear blue jeans to worship, an active member (and preacher) in the so-called Restoration churches, and in particular, the not-a Capella Church of Christ. I fully recognize that there are other traditions within the greater scope of the church and I am not arguing that one is preferable to another. I also fully recognize that other traditions do things (having interpreted Scripture in a different way) differently. My objectives here are modest, to be sure, and do not include the uplifting of one tradition at the expense of others.

The major goal in this series of posts is to be a student. I want to learn from those of you who may have gone through similar situations that I am going through and grow in my understanding of what Biblical leadership looks like and how it acts. My current congregation has been without elders for around 6 years (in my opinion, this is a dangerous and unbiblical position). I have not been without accountability tools, but this has been a very trying time for me personally, and I think it has also been detrimental to the congregation as a whole. I am currently studying and preparing some sermons that are designed to explore the biblical pattern of church leadership in the anticipation that such leadership will be soon implemented. The minor goal is to encourage conversation that will hopefully cause all of us to see the local church and local church leadership as necessary and vital and, to a certain degree, all that is necessary to govern (shepherd, guard, raise, feed) the church.

In this installment, I will explore the risk of local church autonomy and extrapolate the idea to demonstrate the absolute meaninglessness of online discernment.

The Apostles and Elders: Perpetuated Leadership

Alexander Strauch wrote in his book Biblical Eldership,

“Church elders hear and judge doctrinal issues. They help resolve conflict. They protect the church from false teachers. They bear responsibility for the doctrines taught by the members of their flock. Elders, therefore, must be men who know God’s Word. In a hostile world filled with satanic lies and false teachings, churches desperately need shepherd elders who are sound in judgment and possess the knowledge of the truth” (130).

This is profoundly true—perhaps more than we can imagine.

I considered the book of Acts, chapter 15, where we learn that there was a great controversy in the church over the matter of circumcision. It seems that some folks from Jerusalem had gone to Antioch and were teaching ‘unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This caused a fight in the church. So what did Paul and Barnabas do? They went to Jerusalem to see, catch this, ‘the apostles and elders about this question.’ I struck me as rather odd that with apostles still on the earth (that is, those who fit the Acts 1:21-22 standard) and with Paul himself alive (and involved!) that they had to go up and talk with the apostles and elders. What more could these elders add to the equation, to the conversation, that the apostles could not provide on their own? If nothing else, this elevates the importance of elders in the church.

What is interesting also is that as the apostles died, the elders would remain. In most traditions of the church (I don’t think that is too broad a statement), apostolic succession is non-existent and Scripture seems to make no provision for it because no one meets that Acts 1:21-22 standard. On the other hand, the Scripture makes plenty of provisions for the gift of elders to be perpetuated (see Titus and Timothy among others). Thus it falls to the local church elders to be the guardians of truth for each local church. The manual for this guardianship is the Scripture. I grant that this is a rather quick leap, and might need further explanation later, but as I see it in Scripture, no other provisions have been made as no one else is given such specific lists of qualifications and responsibilities in Scripture as are elders and deacons.

The Ephesian Elders: Guard the Flock

This is, to be sure, a dangerous proposition. This necessarily means that there might be, and folks might see, different traditions found from church to church, from town to town (or congregation to congregation within the same community) even while concluding that each local congregation is still very much a congregation within the church. It was wisdom, it seems to me, that took the authority of interpretation out of Rome and put it back into the hands of the local pastorate (by this I mean, eldership which is necessarily plural). The apostles (and I think Jesus Christ too) entrusted the flock to the local shepherds and no one else. I think this is significant and risky (for reasons I’ll not later.)

When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem (for the last time?), he called for the elders of the church in Ephesus. He met with them on a beach, gave them instructions, prayed with them, and wept. Among the teachings he entrusted to them are these words, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit is has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from among your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (20:28-30).

What is profound about this is that the apostle gave these instructions to the elders of the local church. He didn’t call in the other apostles, the general congregation, popes, bishops (in the modern sense), cardinals, archbishops, or, interestingly enough, members of other congregations. He told the Ephesian elders to guard the Ephesian flock. He called in the elders of the local church he was concerned about and he entrusted the local church to their care and protection. He told the Ephesian elders to guard their own flock. He didn’t tell them to go around and guard other flocks or to pry into their business. Isn’t it enough to be concerned for one flock? “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and given you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Jesus among the Church: The Chief Shepherd

In one of the letters that Peter the apostle wrote he noted, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them…And when the Chief Shepherd appears…” (1 Peter 5:2, 4). Peter seems to be saying that Jesus, too, is a Shepherd who guards his flock and he is, then, the model shepherd for those under-shepherds who are responsible for each local congregation. I think John gives us another picture of this in the book of the Revelation when he writes, “And when I turned I saw the seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…” (1:12-13).

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