I ended the previous post by asking “So what should the leadership of a community of broken eikons undergoing transformation look like?” The answer? At the risk of being simplistic, it should look like whatever structure most effectively creates maturing eikons and “breathes” them out into the world.
The Roman Catholics understand Jesus to have established Peter as the first pope and they see an unbroken line of bishops down to the present. The Anglican and Episcopal world generally accepts the development of the church up to about the fifth century, which includes the emergence of clergy and laity (probably by about the third century) and the development of a hierarchy of bishops. The Orthodox traditions likewise consider evolving Church tradition and practice authoritative. Personally, I do not consider Church tradition to be authoritative to the degree, and in the same ways, these traditions do. Thus, dialog about church structure within this context requires extensive dialog about the role of Church tradition and that is beyond the scope of this discussion. So I will simply leave it here, noting the divergence.
Protestants have evolved differing forms of government that can loosely be grouped into three categories: Episcopal, Congregational and Presbyterian. Episcopal types are overseen by a hierarchy of bishops. The bishops provide oversight for churches and pastors under their jurisdiction. Congregations are appointed a minister who works in conjunction with leaders of the local congregation. The United Methodist Church and several African-American groups follow this model.
The congregational types see the congregation as the determinative authority. They call their own pastors and make their own decisions by democratic procedures. The may link up with other congregations in affiliations, associations or “conventions” for mutual ministry but these larger organizations do not have the same level of authority or power over congregations that high levels of church structures have in other bodies. The pastor is usually a member of the church and leads along with a group of deacons or elders. Baptist, congregational and free churches would be typical examples.
The Presbyterian model is somewhere between these two. Congregations have a session (board) made up of ordained elders. Congregations are grouped in presbyteries. Pastors, who are considered specialized elders, locate their membership in a presbytery and then serve in a congregation when the pastor, the presbytery and the congregation agree about a call. PCUSA Presbyteries consist of a 1-to-1 ratio of pastors and elders from all the churches, while some other Presbyterians use different ratios. Nevertheless, the congregation is understood to be overseen by team of elders of whom the pastor is a specialized member. Above the congregation are the presbytery, the synod, and the general assembly in that order and they are all balanced using a ration between elders and pastors. Most of the American bodies with “Presbyterian” in their name would be of this variety including some others with that have made modifications.
My take is that you can neither fully justify nor fully discredit any of these models from scripture. As much as some try to find it, there is no prescribed structure for the Church. That is not to say there is no guidance. For instance, we see in Ephesians Chapter 4 that the primary mission of the leadership, however they were configured, was to equip the people for ministry and building up the body of Christ. We find elders being appointed by Paul to congregations in some instances (Acts 14:23) and we find Paul delegating the appointment of elders in others. (Titus 1:5) It appears that some churches may have selected elders based on the synagogue model. There was specialization among elders as some devoted themselves to preaching and teaching. (1Timothy 5:17). Deacons were formed in order that the physical needs of the body could be better addressed and the elders could be freed for the study and teaching of the Word. (Acts 6:1-7) People with prophetic messages regularly spoke out in gatherings as alluded to in several of Paul’s letters. There were leaders of whom higher standards were expected. (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, James 3) And is evidenced throughout the New Testament letters, there were mechanisms for ordering ministry and exercising discipline. But there was no prescribed structure for ordering ministry.
One of the aspects I have appreciated about the Emerging Church Conversation is the willingness to work from mission toward structure. Now some seem to conclude that having any structure should be resisted and I find that more than a little naïve. Two or more people doing anything together create a structure. The only question is how intentional are the parties going to be about the type of structure they create. Places like Korea have developed massive cell church movements with a fairly authoritarian and hierarchical structure. It is in keeping with their culture. Other places like China have developed more fluid and less hierarchical structures because of the oppressive circumstances under which they must exist. Emerging Church folks suspect that we may need new structures for mission as Western culture becomes increasingly post-Christendom and postmodern. I think they are right. The challenge is to do what works best in the context without unwittingly bringing in modes and mindsets that are foreign to the Kingdom of God.
The bottom line for me is not in bringing the Church into conformity with some (nonexistent) prescribed Biblical model. It is in understanding mission in context and then equipping the entire body of Christ to be priest, prophet and king as they do creation stewardship, Kingdom service and employ gifts in dispersion throughout the community, and as they gather together for corporate worship, ministry to each other and exhibit the Kingdom of God through larger coordinated efforts.
We are almost ready to return to the question of economics but before I do, I think we need to do a reality check on the resistance to truly becoming the priesthood of believers. And I am not talking about the people standing behind the pulpits on Sunday or folks working in denominational offices.