Appendix 1: Follow You, Follow Me
Some thoughts on pastoral
care in young ecclesias
Many readers of these words will have heard the Truth through studying a book or correspondence course. Their first contact with us was through a leaflet or advertisement. They were baptized, and then their family and friends responded to their preaching, with the result that world-wide there are now a growing number of isolated groups of Christians. Often they are below ten in number. The tendency can be for such groups to simply rely upon Western visitors, Western magazines and books for our spiritual feeding; to assume that visiting brethren will sort out all the pastoral problems which arise. However, there is within the Bible repeated emphasis on the fact that we are each members of the one body, and as such have a definite responsibility for each other. We all have more influence on each other than we may think. Quite naturally, the Thessalonians imitated the ecclesias of Judaea and also Paul personally (1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14). And in turn, they became models to all the believers in Macedonia (1 Thess. 1:7).
Whilst in many ways I would say that between us we are doing pretty well at converting people world-wide, I do seriously worry that many who are baptized do not have enough sense of responsibility to those others who are baptized. We seem to realise our responsibility to the world, but perhaps not to each other as we might. And I include myself as guilty here in some ways. One of the unique things about the us is that we don’t have a head office that dictates belief and practice, nor a system of paid pastorship or priesthood- quite simply, because we’re all priests. As it was God’s intention that Israel were to be a nation of priests to the rest of the world, so the new Israel likewise are to all discharge the priestly functions of teaching their brethren (Ex. 19:6 cp. 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6; 5:9,10). Under the new covenant, we should all teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16). Indeed, God told Israel [unrecorded in the historical records]: “Ye are gods [elohim] and all of you are sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82:6 RV). Further, Ps. 96:9 makes the paradigm breaking statement that even the Gentiles could come before Yahweh of Israel in holy, priestly array- they too could aspire to the spirit of priesthood (Ps. 96:9 RVmg.). Moses spoke of how all Israel should pray that God would establish the work of their hands (Ps. 90:17)- but this was in fact his special request for the blessing of Levi, the priestly tribe (Dt. 33:11). Ps. 135:19,20 parallels all Israel with the priestly family: “Bless the Lord, O house of Israel: bless the Lord, O house of Aaron: bless the Lord, O house of Levi: ye that fear the Lord, bless the Lord...praise ye the Lord”. All Israel were to aspire to the spirit of priesthood. Indeed, the Psalms often parallel the house of Aaron (i.e. the priesthood) with the whole nation (Ps. 115:9,10,12; 118:2,3). Paul speaks of us each one partaking of “the table of the Lord” (1 Cor. 10:21), a phrase used in the LXX for the altar (Ez. 44:16; Mal. 1:7,12)- the sacrifices whereof only the priests could eat. This would have ben radical thinking to a community used to priests and men delegated to take charge of others’ religious affairs. Hebrew 3:13 gets at this idea when we read that we are to exhort one another not to turn away, situated as we are on the brink of the promised land, just as Moses exhorted Israel. It was accepted in Judaism, as well as in many other contemporary religions, that faithful saints [e.g. the patriarchs, Moses, the prophets etc, in Judaism’s case] could intercede for the people. Yet in the New Testament, all believers are urged to intercede for each other, even to the point of seeking to gain forgiveness for others’ sins (1 Thess. 5:25; Heb. 13:18; James 5:15). They were all to do this vital work. The radical nature of this can easily be overlooked by us, reading from this distance.
And yet there is ample evidence in the New Testament that there were elders and deacons in the ecclesia, just as within the ‘nation of priests’ there were some who had a specific priestly function. The problem is, how to articulate this in our small groups, scattered world-wide, mainly comprised of newly baptized converts? These are the kind of issues I want to have a look at in this study.
We’re All Equal
We are all parts of the same body, branches on the same vine, bricks in the same building; we are all strangers and pilgrims, lacking any rights of a citizen (1 Pet. 1:17 Gk.). We are all members of the same priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5), with equal responsibility to offer up acceptable sacrifice. Don’t miss the power of this to New Testament Jewish ears: the special responsibilities of the priests were now applied to every believer. Paul speaks of his preaching work as offering up the Gentiles, as if he is a priest (Rom. 15:16)- and in the same figure, Peter is encouraged to preach to Gentiles by killing and eating animals in a peace offering (Acts 11:7). The command that they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel is referring back to how the priests had no material inheritance but lived off the sacrifices (Num. 18:11). And for us, the honour and wonder of preaching Christ should mean that we keep a loose hold on the material things of this life. And as we are all priests, we are all preachers.
John records how the Lord called us friends (Jn. 15:5), and it is John who uses this title in addressing his brethren (3 Jn. 14). He reflected how the Lord saw him as his friend. And John realised that this was how he should see his brethren; and so must we. John saw himself as their partner rather than the one above them (Rev. 1:9); repeatedly he describes himself and all believers as fellow-slaves (Rev. 1:1; 2:20; 6:11; 7:4; 19:2,5; 22:3,6- quite some emphasis). All Christians are disciples, ‘learners’ (Acts 11:26); the twelve men who followed the Lamb of God around Galilee, with all their misunderstandings and lack of faith, were and are symbols of us all. The focus was upon Him, not each other. We are all learners of Christ, taught by He Himself (Eph. 4:20,21). And we are to make all men into disciples (Mt. 28:19 RV); to make them learners of Jesus too. Paul can say that he has not yet become complete (Phil. 3:10-14) and yet he seeks to present each of his converts “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:29). He recognized that he too hadn’t got to where he was seeking to take his converts.
Our preaching and teaching of each other should have this aim: not to simply get more members for our group, to prove others wrong to the point they capitulate and join us. No. Our aim must be to make men and women sit at the Lord’s feet and learn of Him themselves. Discipleship is to be what we are all our lives. Consider the contrast: ‘disciples’ in the schools of other rabbis expected to one day graduate and become teachers themselves, with disciples at their feet. But no, the Lord saw all of us, including those who have learnt of Him the longest and deepest, to always be disciples. For this reason we shouldn’t call our teaching brethren ‘rabbi’, in the sense of a teacher in his own right. Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree when the Lord called him- and this was apparently the classic place where trainee rabbis sat and studied. If this is indeed the case, then the Lord’s calling of him to be a disciple / follower was saying: ‘Don’t seek to be a rabbi. Be a disciple / follower of me, as a way of life, always’.
We are all brothers and sisters, each of us adopted into the Divine family, each of us freed slaves, rejoicing in that pure grace. Most times the NT speaks of ‘brothers’, it is in the context of tensions between people (see Mt. 5:21-24, 43-48; 7:1-5; 18:15-35). We can’t separate ourselves from our brethren any more than we can from our natural families. Once a brother, we are always a brother. No matter what disappointments and disagreements we may have, we are baptized into not only the Lord Jesus personally, but also into a never ending relationship with each other. We cannot walk away from it. It doesn’t only exist in the flurry of congratulations we received when we were baptized. Being a Christian cannot be just another town along life’s road. I wonder whether we realise this as we ought. The Lord implied that those who did God’s will were closer to Him than His physical mother or sister or brother (Mt. 12:48-50). It has been observed that “in a kinship-oriented society like Israel, it must have been startling for people to hear of a bond that was even deeper than that of the natural family”. And so it is in many parts of the world today. Responsibility to our natural families can easily take precedence over those to our spiritual family. This should not be so. It shouldn’t be that we allow attendance at family functions to stop our regular attendance at the gatherings of our spiritual brethren. And just because we are all brothers, actually something more than physical brothers and sisters, we are not to call any of us ‘Master’, because if we do, it will distract us from our personal looking to Jesus as Lord and Master (Mt. 23:8). This is why anything that even suggests a personality cult built around leading brethren, no matter how wonderful they are or were, really must be avoided. For it takes us away from the one and only Lord and Master.
It is why Paul never speaks of an ecclesial ‘elder’ but of elders in the plural. The same can be said of “bishops (overseers), see Phil.1:1; Acts 20:28. Our groups may have secretaries or teachers, but this individual must never be seen as the elder. There is only one author [Gk. ‘pioneer’] of our faith: the Lord Himself, who worked in our lives to bring us to Himself. This is stressed in Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2. This raises the question as to whether we should refer to some brethren as ‘pioneers’ of the truth in an area. Elders don’t have power- the power ought to reside with the brethren and sisters. Even in the era of Holy Spirit gifts, this was the case. Thus the ecclesia is the body that has power to disfellowship, not individual elders (Mt. 18:17). In Acts 15 the representatives of the ecclesias reported to the whole church at Jerusalem, not just the elders. There seems to have been a series of meetings: initially, the group from Antioch who raised the problems being discussed met with the elders (Acts 15:4), who met together in a second meeting to consider it all, involving “the whole assembly…the whole church” (:6,12,22). Then there was perhaps a third meeting where “the whole assembly” was also present. And this is why “the apostles and elders with the whole church” (Acts 15:22) agreed a solution. It wasn’t a top down decision imposed upon the congregation. They all participated. This parallel between elders and the assembly is even found in the Old Testament- e.g. “Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people, And praise him in the assembly of the elders” (Ps. 107:32). The “assembly of the people” and that of the elders is paralleled.
Whatever leaders or organisers we have, we are to call nobody our ‘father’ in a spiritual sense (Mt. 23:8). The wonder of our relationship with the Father ought to mean that we never do this. Above all, we are all brethren in Christ. John refers to himself as the brother of the congregation (Rev. 1:9), and the leading apostles were addressed as ‘brother’ just as much as anyone else in the ecclesia (Acts 21:20; 2 Pet. 3:15). There may be leaders among brothers (Acts 15:22), but we are still essentially brethren. The intimate inter-connectedness of the family must ever remain; which explains why Paul is called ‘Paul’ and not a longer form of address. Likewise I’d suggest that the practice of calling each other by our first names, with the prefix ‘brother’ or ‘sister’, is healthy; and, indeed, a privilege. Reference to a brother as ‘Dr.’ or ‘Mr.’ seems to me to be quite at variance with the family nature of our relationship.
We’re All Leaders
After the leadership of Moses, there came that of Joshua. When he died, Israel expected that another such leader would be raised up: “After the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first?” (Jud. 1:1). They expected a man to be named. But instead, they were told that the whole tribe of Judah must go up. The reality would have sunk home- no more charismatic leaders, now the ordinary people must take responsibility. Each of us should build up his neighbour (Rom. 15:2)- and ‘neighbour’ is usually to be understood in the NT as our neighbour within the ecclesia (Eph. 4:25; James 2:8; 4:12). Leadership is essentially a process of influence, rather than a brother standing up and lecturing others. But the Lord used images such as salt, yeast and light to describe all who are in Him. They speak of indirect, constant, transforming influence rather than a frontal assault on the unspirituality of others. By baptism into the body, we are called to participation in a wider community, rather than to just hold in our brains certain propositions about doctrine. For our many isolated members, this is hard to realise. But try to read the magazines, especially the news from others, and pray for them; write your news for Gospel News and other magazines, and try to write an article; get to Bible Schools if you can; even consider moving nearer to your brothers and sisters. In some way contribute to the rest of the body; for we make increase of ourselves, edifying ourselves in love. We are all priests, a community of them. This is why Paul writes to whole ecclesias rather than just the elders. 1 Cor. 5:4,5,11 make it clear that discipline was the responsibility of all, “the many” as Paul put it in 2 Cor., not just the elders. Even in Philippians, where bishops and deacons are specifically mentioned, Paul writes to “all the saints”.
The churches around us can easily affect our perception of what we expect from an ‘elder’ or leader in our community- especially if we belonged to them before our conversion to the Truth. We can come to expect an elder to be an inspirational, visionary individual with an ability to ‘perform’ on a platform. If we think this is what an ecclesial leader should be, then we may think we don’t have any work to do because we aren’t like that; and it may be that we therefore adopt an all too human view of who we look to for leadership in the ecclesia. And if this is our expectation, it can lead those who are elders to concentrate on fulfilling what is expected of them; and thus ecclesias turn inwards on themselves, rather than being outward looking towards how we can win the world. Indeed, such expectations can seriously damage those who are leaders. The Pharisees saw themselves as only teachers, not pupils. The Lord had diagnosed this problem, for He told them as a teacher would tell a pupil: “Go ye and learn what that meaneth...” (Mt. 9:13). He sent them away to do some homework. And there is a warning for speaking brethren here; the repeated experience of teaching can take away from the eternal sense of student-ship which the true believer will ever feel. Again seeking to challenge the prevailing views of leadership, the Lord invited His humble fishermen-followers to see themselves as the great prophets of old being persecuted by a wicked Israel (Mt. 5:11). The style of leadership / control known in this world isn’t to be exercised by the elders of God’s flock (Mt. 20:25,26; 1 Pet. 5:3); ecclesial organization shouldn’t reflect the structures and practices of big commercial organisations, e.g. Leadership is to be based upon spiritual attributes and the ability to change and convert the lives of others, rather than secular skills such as fund raising, computer literacy, management etc. Yet sadly many ecclesias and Christian organisations seem to confuse the difference between management skills and spiritual leadership. The two things aren’t the same. An executive director of a company may very well not be the right brother to lead an ecclesia.
Thus the Lord’s image of leadership was very different from that of the world. He saw all of us as exerting influence on each other. Platform speaking in any case is, it seems to me, very very limited in what it achieves. It is personal influence, talking privately to the heart of each other (all of us ‘exhorting’ one another daily) which is what has power. In the words of another brother, leadership is about holding things up from beneath rather than ruling from the top down. ‘Top down’ leadership was never very effective in Israel; repeatedly there is evidence that the reforms of Judah’s good kings had little effect upon the people. They practised idolatry at the very same time as the reforms took place, and publicly returned to it as soon as the King was dead. Zephaniah’s prophecy is full of exposure of Judah’s sins- which were going on at the very time of Josiah’s apparently sweeping reforms. The way that “all” in Asia turned away, after all Paul’s work there, is proof enough that one good leader, no matter how charismatic and sincere (as Paul was) will not necessarily develop a faithful community. Salvation is, in the frequent term of bro. Roberts, “an individual matter”. Again I stress: leadership is from the bottom up, not the top down. It’s all to do with influence and example, rather than pressurising or barking words from a platform; with holding the whole thing up from the bottom rather than ruling from the top down. Those who are of a low social position can feel that they have nothing to contribute. But remember that the men Jesus chose were working class. Don’t have too low an opinion of yourself, nor of other ‘lowly’ members of the ecclesia. Don’t assume only the university educated can ‘lead’; it’s just not so. The wisdom of this world is if anything a disqualification. And for all of us: let’s not have too low or too familiar a view of each other. All our brethren are royal priests, full citizens, victorious athletes, fruitful branches, valued fellow-workers, precious friends...
The Strategy Of Jesus
The Lord Jesus worked through individuals. His strategy was not so much to win the multitudes for His cause as to firmly found the faith of a few women and 12 men who would then take His message to the world. The men He chose were like us- impulsive, temperamental, easily offended, burdened with all the prejudices of their environment. Their mannerisms were probably awkward and their abilities limited. But He prayed for them, as we should for those converts the Lord grants us, “not for the world” [perhaps, not so much for the world as for] those few whom the Father had given Him out of the world. Everything depended upon them, for “through their word” the world was to believe (Jn. 17:6,9,20). With all the powers of the universe at His command, the Lord could have chosen a programme of mass recruitment. But He didn’t. They were to follow Him, so that later they would become fishers of men on a larger scale than He chose then to work on (Mk. 1:17). They would later bear witness because they had been with Him from the beginning (Jn. 15:27). In the few years they were with Him, those men learnt of Him. During that time, they showed a reluctance to learn the spirit of lowly servitude for the sake of others, they bickered amongst themselves as to who was greatest, they showed an indignant spirit with James and John, intolerant of their evident weakness; they were unnecessarily harsh in their judgment of those who did not agree with them (Lk. 9:51-54), impatient with the women who wanted their children blessed…and yet Jesus patiently endured with them. And it was a totally different group of men who then took the Gospel to the nations. He not only taught them doctrine, but urged them to commit their lives to Him who was the doctrine in flesh. Their role model was Him more than a set of propositions. He let them watch Him praying to His Father. He wanted them to learn the power of prayer from His own example. He taught the multitudes more, it seems to me, from a desire to teach the disciples something. He rejected the rich young man and then went on to explain to the twelve the difficulty of riches. Initially they simply watched Him. And only on His third tour of Galilee did He send them out two by two to preach themselves. In our desire to develop communities world-wide ready to meet the Lord when He returns, surely this approach should be used by us too. We need to focus upon who the Lord gives us, develop them, deepen their faith, in the belief and hope that they in their turn will take the message to far more than we ourselves can reach.
Paul’s strategy appears to have been similar. He constantly sets himself up
as an example to his converts; and whenever he bids them ‘follow me’,
it is in the context of his example as a preacher (Phil. 3:15-17; 4:9;
1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Cor. 4:16; 10:31-11:1; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess.
3:7-9). This perhaps accounts for the otherwise surprising lack of specific
encouragement to his converts to preach which we observe in Paul’s writings.
He understood his role to be initiatory- he speaks of his preaching as
planting (1 Cor. 3:6-9; 9:7,10,11), laying foundations (Rom. 15:20; 1
Cor. 3:10), giving birth (1 Cor. 4:15; Philemon 10) and betrothing (2
Cor. 11:2). His aim was for his converts to also preach and develop self-sustaining
ecclesias. “Paul’s method of shaping a community was to gather converts
around himself and by his own behaviour to demonstrate what he taught”,
following a pattern practiced by the contemporary moral philosophers(1).
Thus Paul’s personal example could hardly be distinguished from the gospel
he taught (1 Thess. 2:1-12)- he was his message, just as the Lord was
His word made flesh. This is why ‘authority’ and respect are things which
are earnt naturally in a community by those who have converted the community.
It is hard to impose these things from outside the conversion experience.
Elders, Deacons, Bishops
There evidently were leaders of some sort in the first ecclesias; and so there ought to be in our groups those who are in positions of respect and thereby leadership. But let’s be clear about one thing: human beings naturally seek to have leaders, to have someone to shoulder the responsibility for their decisions, someone to tell them what to do, how to believe… hence the amazing popularity of the Catholic church. Yet there are Biblical ‘leaders’ in the ecclesias we read of in the New Testament; but it can’t be that our leaders today are leaders for us in the sense that people naturally desire leadership in order to offload the burden of personal decision making and exercising of our own conscience. Recall how in the time of the Judges, Micah asked the young Levite, who was “unto him as one of his sons”, to “be unto me a father and a priest” (Jud. 17:10,11- note the paradox), resulting in others likewise asking him to “be unto us a father and a priest” (Jud. 18:19). The point is, no matter how unqualified a person may be for the job, they may be pressed into being leaders because that’s what nominally religious people so desperately need.
Yet without leadership, our groups will lack direction and vitality, and there would be a fruitless anarchy amongst us. A leader, like a father, can and should make others feel valued, and give focus for the sense of family which there should be in the group. The universal servanthood of us all and the essential focus which there must be on the headship of Christ shouldn’t be allowed to alter this. Nor should ‘elders’ be seen by the congregations as servants whom they expect to organise things for them and care for them. We are all servants of all. Respect must be earnt by elders, never demanded. Their way of life is the basis of their authority (Heb. 13:7); in this sense, we have the choice whom to consider as our elders, whom we will respect and follow. Jesus taught as one who had authority, unlike the scribes (Mk. 1:22). Yet the Scribes had authority in terms of their position, and yet they were not respected; and hence they couldn’t teach with authority as Jesus could.
Paul in Gal. 2:5 speaks of how he refused to “give place by subjection” to some who claimed to be elders, even though they “seemed to be somewhat” and were [in the eyes of some] “in repute” (Gal. 2:6 ASV). The same Greek word translated “subjection” is found in 1 Cor. 16:16; Tit. 3:1 and 1 Pet. 5:5 about submission to elders in the ecclesia. Paul’s example shows that merely because an elder demands subjection, this doesn’t mean we should automatically give it- even if others do. We should be “subject” to those who are in our judgment qualified to demand our subjection (1 Cor. 16:16); and “subjection” in Paul’s writings usually refers to our subjection to the Lordship of Jesus. Our subjection must be to Him first before any human elders.
Nehemiah’s brother Hanani was given “charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man”- not just because he was the boss’s brother, which is how the nepotism of those times would have usually required (Neh. 7:2). It can be that human qualification, e.g. being a successful businessman, or the brother of a leading brother, is related to positions of eldership amongst us. Yet the Nehemiah passage shows that although sometimes there may be overlap between both spiritual and human qualification, it is the spiritual qualification which must be paramount. Because of this the ‘leaders’ of a healthy ecclesia will not need to give any justification for their authority. They will naturally be respected for who they are, just as a father in a healthy family. This is why the NT gives all of us guidelines on how to decide whether a brother should be respected as an elder or not. Even though some may be shepherds, they are still sheep; and they are leading others after the Lord Jesus, “the chief shepherd”, not after themselves. And they should remember that Gal. 6:6 requires “him that is taught in the word” to share back his knowledge with his teacher. This is possibly the meaning behind the enigmatic Eph. 3:10- the converts of the church declare the wisdom of God to the ‘principalities and powers in the heavenlies’, phrases elsewhere used about the eldership of the church. The shepherd is to learn from his sheep- a concept totally out of step with the concept of leadership in 1st and 21st centuries alike. The flock isn’t theirs; it is their Lord’s. Any who teach others are themselves disciples, learners at the feet of the Master. It is simply so that some have more ability to organise than others; the Lord spoke of how each believer is given differing amounts of talent to use in His service. But before God, we are one in Christ.
The Greek language is full or words containing the compounds kata- and arch-, implying power over others, as part of a hierarchy. The leaders of the Roman world used these terms (Mt. 20:25), as did the synagogue leadership. But never does scripture use these kind of words about those who are ‘elders’ in the true ecclesia. It’s a pointed omission. On the other hand, there are many sun- prefixes: fellow-worker, fellow-citizen, fellow-soldier, fellow-heir etc. The New Testament emphasis is certainly on what we have in common rather on the fact that in practice some are more capable of organising, or deserve especial respect for their evident spirituality and “for their work’s sake”. And the teaching of the Lord Himself was more concerned with how to follow Him than how to lead others. Likewise, there were many contemporary Greek words used to describe religious gatherings, e.g. heorte, synodos, koinos. But instead the word ekklesia is used, meaning a gathering together of town citizens with equal rights to discuss a matter. This is how the word was understood at that time.
Bishops And Elders
The commands relating to bishops (overseers) stress that he should only be treated as such if his own family is in order (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12). This could suggest that he was the one who had converted others; for the image of our converts being our spiritual children is a frequent one (1 Cor. 4:14,17; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 4:19; Tit. 1:4; Philemon 10; 1 Pet. 5:13). In the same way as a father ought to be respected by his children, so converts ought to respect those who converted them. The fact Paul had made converts and founded ecclesias was used by him as a proof that he deserved at least some respect- they were his ‘seal’, the hallmark that showed him genuine (1 Cor. 9:2). My sense is that the first century Gentile ecclesias were very similar to many Christian groups throughout Africa, Europe and Asia today; somebody was converted by a visiting preacher, and they in turn converted a group of their associates. Such groups need leadership, and the logical leader is the one who converted. This is why elders are defined in Heb. 13:7 as those who preached the Gospel to those they lead. Yet there can be a tendency for groups of converts to forget the eternal debt they owe to those who brought them to new life in Christ, just as there can be a forgetting of responsibility to our natural parents. The respect afforded to such leaders should, however, be qualified by their meeting of the standards Paul lays down: e.g. their own natural children should be well led by them. The integrity and manner of life of those who converted us is what inspires us to carry on. Thus Paul urges Timothy to “continue” because he knew “of what persons” he had been taught them (2 Tim. 3:14 RVmg.). The image of a father leading his children is essentially a gentle image. Note how the episkopoi were overseers in the flock, not over it (Acts 20:28 Gk. Cp. AV). It should be noted that the bishop’s qualification is that he knows how to rule his own house (1 Tim. 3:5). It may be that as with Samuel and other elders, their children or converts do not ‘turn out’ well. If this is because there was a lack of spiritual leadership, this disqualifies a brother. But if he knew how to rule, but they rebelled, then he is not thereby disqualified. Fathers cannot be held responsible for the spiritual failure of their children in all cases (Jer. 31:29,30; Ez. 18- and the example of Yahweh with Israel). Likewise, Paul was clearly a bishop and yet was single. “A bishop must be the husband of one wife” therefore requires us to again read in an ellipsis: ‘[If he is married he must be…] the husband of one wife’.
The following words sum it all up: “Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasises the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even although these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly…the bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire”(2) . Thus who we are makes us a father / leader- not the fact we were or were not voted in to an office. If too much focus is placed on the fact an elder has been ‘appointed’ as such, then we run the risk of the congregation and the elder becoming totally out of touch with each other. A status quo mentality develops rather than real growth; the ecclesia becomes stuck in the mire of mediocrity and even division, because the elder isn’t inspiring it forward in the way that only a true father can do.
However, despite all we have written in this study about equality of responsibility amongst us, there is Biblical reference to various forms of leadership position in the ecclesia. A deacon means literally one who serves at table. We must all serve [deacon] one another (1 Pet. 4:10; Eph. 4:12). And yet there were clearly specific ‘deacons’ in the New Testament ecclesias. Clearly they were officially doing what was in fact the duty of everyone to do. And so it is with us. There may be brethren whom we appoint to teach us; but we should all in some sense be teaching and influencing each other in the Lord’s way. Likewise there was an office of ‘evangelist’ (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5), but none would doubt that we are all evangelists. Elders are not to be domineering but to be examples, typoi (1 Pet. 5:3); but we are all typoi to each other (1 Thess. 1:7). Paul and Timothy were vessels used by God (Acts 9:15; 2 Tim. 2:21); but so are we all (2 Cor. 4:7) This means that nobody can claim they have a right to certain types of work which others in the congregation can’t do. For they are only doing officially and publicly what in spirit we are all seeking to do. We may respect them to the extent that we let them do the public work, but this doesn’t mean that we are freed of our own responsibilities, nor that they can lord it over us.
“We were gentle...”
Paul says he was gentle with his Thessalonians, as a nurse with her own
children (1 Thess. 2:7 RV). This is a touching figure- a wet nurse giving
that extra special attention to her own child (as 2:11 RV a father
with his own children); and like children, they mimicked him
(1 Thess. 1:6 Gk.). This was quite different to Paul’s background culture,
where “boldness and abusive scolding were considered essential by many
of the wandering philosophers if their teaching was to have any impact”
(3). Many a Pentecostal pastor likewise
scolds his flock for their lack of faith; but the leaders of our groups
shouldn’t be like this. There should be gentleness, an appeal for love’s
sake, rather than shouting and criticism. Paul dealt with his converts
“as a father with his own children”, encouraging, comforting, ‘dealing
with each one [individually]’ and urging them to live a life worthy of
God’s grace (1 Thess. 2:11,12 RV). Note in this context how Paul says
that he cares for them as for his own babies, as both the father and mother,
and yet reminds them that “We were babes among you” (1 Thess. 2:7 RVmg.).
His appeal to them was on the basis of the fact that although their parent,
he was also essentially like them. Only as their spiritual father could
he ask the Corinthians whether they wanted him to come to them with a
whip or with a loving appeal. He could exercise the discipline
of a father, out of his affectionate concern for them; but he chose, wherever
possible, a better way. He normally uses the father:child image to show
his closeness to them, rather than to impose his authority upon them.
And so it should be with the true spiritual father or mother in our groups
today. He asks them to copy him; his method of shaping the community was
to present himself as the pattern. This was especially necessary amongst
largely illiterate converts (4)- one could
not direct them merely to independent study of the text of Scripture.
Paul even likens himself to a woman breast feeding a child (1 Cor. 3:1-3;
1 Thess. 2:7). And yet such wet nursing was considered to be an occupation
for the very lowest of women in the Roman world; it was common for
even a respectable slave woman to pass her baby over to such a woman to
breast feed (5) . But no, Paul himself, as
their leader and converter, as it were breast fed them himself. This very
nicely shows the link between unashamed, self-abasing humility and
true leadership. And again, the Spirit chose ‘shepherd’ as an image of
ecclesial leadership, when the surrounding Rabbis despised shepherds as
dishonest (6). It’s just the same as the
Lord Jesus describing Himself as the humble King- a very contradiction
in the terms of the contemporary culture. There is an intended juxtaposition
in Zech. 9:9: “thy King cometh...lowly, and riding upon an ass”.
There is the implication in the New Testament that whoever lives the life of Christ will convert others to the Way. 1 Cor. 3 speaks of the converts a man builds on the foundation of Christ. They, like himself, must go through the fire of judgment, and if they are lost, then he himself will still be saved (if he has remained faithful). The implication is that all of us build up others, and our work is tried in the end. Paul laments that some for the time they had been baptized ought to be teachers, but themselves needed to re-learn basic doctrine (Heb. 5:12). He understood that we all inevitably teach the Gospel to others over time, if we are spiritually healthy. It may well be that we have children, and it is our duty to bring them up in the knowledge of the Gospel. In this sense, therefore, every brother or sister will become a spiritual father or mother to someone; what we have written above ought to apply to all of us eventually.
The spiritual leaders of the apostasy often lead their congregations into a position where they feel they must suppress any opinion or feeling which contradicts the one in authority. The leaders can’t cope with disagreement, and they impose their views rather than truly teach and father / shepherd. This all leads to the average member feeling guilty for thinking for themselves; they are made to feel that any independent thought is in fact being critical of the leader. And so they become fearful to take healthy risks, narrow minded, suspicious of others who think for themselves, because they have been taught that ‘unity’ means uniformity, agreement about everything. And this is just how cult mentalities develop. The leaders who develop this reason initially from pure motives, one assumes, that ‘the sheep can’t handle truth, they’re not mature enough’. And thus there develops a kind of conspiracy mentality between the leaders, and in time therefore, also among the flock. If the essential unity between us all was accepted and felt, if the respect given to an elder was earnt not demanded by reason of their office alone, then this won’t happen. When Jesus spoke, the people were amazed at His authority, which was not as the Scribes. They had ‘authority’ by reason of their position; He had authority by reason of who He was, and the way He made God’s word live in flesh before their eyes. Which is why the Lord Himself taught that we should not follow the words of a spiritual leader, but only the deeds which we see them actually doing (Mt. 23:3). It has been observed that in such systems the leaders often use ‘proof texts’ in order to almost bully the flock into producing certain works / behaviours. And the flock will tend to follow the leaders in using the same method, rather than more comprehensively dividing the word of truth. The ultimate teacher must be the Lord Himself, not the pastor or speaking brother. The Law was a paidogogos, a slave who lead the children to the school teacher. And the teacher, Paul says, is Christ (Gal. 3:23-25). He uses the whole body to make increase of itself in love- not just the elders.
The Servant Leader
In all ways, the Lord is our pattern. He was a servant of all, and so should we be. His servanthood dominated His consciousness. He said that He came not [so much as] to be ministered unto, but so as to minister, with the end that He gave His life for others (Mk. 10:45). In His death for Israel, He was “a minister [lowly servant] of the circumcision”, i.e. the Jews (Rom. 15:8). Yet we are His ministers, His slave / servants. The same word is used for how the women and Angels ministered unto Him (Mk. 1:13,31; 15:41), and how He anticipated men would minister to Him (Jn. 12:26 Gk. cp. 2 Cor. 11:23; Col. 1:7; 1 Tim. 4:6). But both then and now, He came and has come in order to minister / serve us, rather than to be served by us; even though this is what we give our lives to doing. Yet He is still all taken up with ministering to us. He came more to serve than to be served. We are slaves, all of us, of the lowest sort. It’s hard for us to realise the lowliness of being a Roman slave; and the sheer wonder of being made a free man, purely by grace. This is what each and every one of us has experienced. Servanthood / slavery should be the concept that dominates our lives; for we cannot be a servant of two masters (Mt. 6:24). We are to be wholly dedicated to the service of the Lord Jesus and those in Him. As slaves, we serve without expecting any thanks at all; we do what is our duty to do by reason of who we are (Lk. 17:10). The Lord spoke this in response to the disciples saying it was impossible for them to accept His teaching about unconditional forgiveness of each other (Lk. 17:5). Man’s ingratitude is perhaps one of the hardest winds to weather, and it can so easily blow us off course in our service. But as the Lord’s slaves, judged by Him alone, we didn’t ought to look for recognition of our labours; neither should we demand apologies for anything. The Lord humbled Himself to wash the feet of His brethren, even though He was their leader (Phil. 2:4-11 is full of allusion to the foot washing incident, as if there the Lord exemplified the spirit of the cross). There may be brethren who consider it beneath them to talk to others, who think it is not for them to help wash up or move furniture or all the host of other tasks that our gatherings require. But in these things lies the spirit of Christ. Paul didn’t lord it over others, but was a fellow-worker with them (2 Cor. 1:24). It is one of the finest paradoxes: that he who is the greatest must be the servant of all. When James and John asked to have the senior positions, the Lord didn’t rebuke them; he just told them that the greatest would desire to be a servant (Gk. diakonos) of all (Mt. 20:20-28). The utter degradation of the cross, and the Lord’s willing humbling of Himself to accept it, is a pattern for all who would take up His cross. The “servant of all” would make no distinctions concerning whom or how he would serve; such servanthood was a complete and unqualified act of surrender. And this is taken by the Lord as a cameo of His mindset on Calvary.
In conscious allusion to this, Paul could speak of how he had become a slave of all men, that he might help some to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19). He was a slave of the Gospel, a slave of the kind who was lower than the least of all others, i.e. a slave of all (Eph. 3:7,8). He didn’t preach himself, but rather preached that he was a servant to all his brethren, for the sake of the fact that he was in Christ, the servant of all (2 Cor. 4:5). Thus he almost advertised his servant status; he preached himself as a slave. Paul wished to be perceived by his brethren and the whole world as merely a slave of Jesus (1 Cor. 4:1). In our talking to each other, or in our writing, it does us good to analyse how many personal pronouns we use; how much we are preaching ourselves rather than Jesus Christ. Any who may appear to be leaders or organisers are serving Him, who debased Himself to that depth. There can be no room at all for any sense of superiority amongst us. We are servants of all, not just of those individual brothers or ecclesias whom we happen to get on well with. The apostles in their letters usually open by reminding their readers that they are slaves of the Lord Jesus- this is how they saw themselves. Paul was called to be a slave of the Gospel (Acts 26:16; Gk. hypereten- a galley slave, rowing the boat chained to the oars). There were slaves who were made stewards or managers [‘bishops’] of the Master’s business, but essentially they themselves were still slaves. The leaders of the Corinth ecclesia were no more than a paidogogos (1 Cor. 4:15,16), a slave who had to take the little children to school, where they would be taught by the teacher (cp. Jesus). We have all been given some gift, and that is to be used in the servanthood / slavery of our Lord Jesus (1 Pet. 4:10). We can mindlessly say that yes, Jesus is Lord, quite forgetting that it implies we are His serving slaves. The magnitude of the ‘slave’ concept in the ecclesia of Christ is easily overlooked, and it was this which made it so different from others. And it is this which ought to make us different from other Christian groups; and it’s why the pattern of leadership found in our previous churches or religions is probably the wrong pattern for us to follow. The ability to lead is only given in order to prepare the congregation for acts of service themselves (Eph. 4:12). “Christianity was no slick imitation of existing ecclesiastical organisations. It made no attempt to set up a hierarchy modelled on previously existing institutions. It preferred diakonia, lowly service, to the grandiose ideas of the Gentiles” (7). Whoever serves [Gk. ‘is a deacon of’] the Lord Jesus must follow Him, and the idea of following Him is usually connected with His walk to death on the cross (Jn. 12:26). We are all asked to follow Him, it is all part of being His disciples, and so we are all asked to be ‘deacons’ in this sense. Our service is of each other; to walk away from active involvement because of personality clashes etc. is to walk away from true, cross-carrying Christianity. But I am persuaded better things of us generally. Immature we may be, and held back by a quite rightful sense of shyness and inadequacy in service, but there is evident and developing in so many of our groups a definite sense of responsibility to each other. In unfeigned humility, let us by love serve one another, and in so doing know the spirit of the Lord who served, and thereby share together His exaltation.
(1) A.J. Malherbe, Paul And The Thessalonians
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) p. 52.
(2) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
(New York: Macmillan, 1954), p. 108. (3) Derek Tidball, Skilful Shepherds
(Leicester: I.V.P., 1986), p. 106.
(4) Keith Hopkins argues that there
were about 7000 Christians by the year 100, about 30% of whom were males,
with a literacy rate amongst the males of 20%. This would have meant that
there were only around 420 literate Christians even by 100. Hopkins guesses
that only 10% of literate people were in any sense “fluent and skilled
literates”- thus there would only have been say 42 at that level in the
Christian community empire-wide. See Keith Hopkins, A World Full Of
Gods: Pagans, Jews And Christians In The Roman Empire (London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, 1999).
(5) K.R. Bradley, Slaves And Masters
In The Roman Empire (New York: O.U.P., 1987), pp. 71,72.
(6) Donald E. Messer, Contemporary
Images Of ChristianMinistry (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press,
1989), pp. 171-174.
(7) Leon Morris, Ministers Of God
(London: I.V.P., 1964), p. 35.
“We ask ourselves, " Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?" . Actually, who are you not to be? You are
a child enlightened of God’s grace. Your playing small does not serve
the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you. We are born to manifest the glory
of God that is with in us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence
automatically liberates others”.