There is some interesting discussion around the blogosphere at the moment about the role of elders pastoring the church. Dave Black has once again linked to a number of interesting blog posts on the subject here and here. Dave is passionate about seeing the role of elders fully released to govern the church, and often posts about how the modern tradition of having one pastor head the church isn’t biblical.
Dave’s pedigree as a New Testament academic and missionary is such that when he makes such a statement, we should actually stop and listen to what he says. Though I have disagreed with him in the past about pastors / elders not being paid… Paul did say to Timothy
1Ti 5:17 Elders who handle their duties well should be considered worthy of double compensation, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
1Ti 5:18 For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox while it is treading out grain,” and “A worker deserves his pay.”
Once again I would like to contribute to this ongoing discussion on the following verse, as a wise man asked me about it this morning over a cuppa.
1Ti 5:19 Do not accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported “by two or three witnesses.”
I have seen many abuses of this scripture where it has been taken out of context. Many church organisations hide their paedophiles behind this, asking for the extra witnesses to come forward. Fully knowing that the perpetuator was being very careful to ensure there were no witnesses. The question to ask is just what is this passage saying and not saying.
Within the context of the ancient Roman culture, its quite an astounding passage. Women, slaves, children were considered to be the goods of the master of the house. Or if you like, the elder of the house. They had no rights. Slaves by law were not allowed to marry. Any children born into a union of slaves were also considered to be the property of the master to do with what they liked. And also wives and children had little to no course of action, but had to accept what ever their ‘owner’ said or did to them.
Within this backdrop, Paul makes an astounding statement in that everyone: male / female, Jew / Gentile / slave or free had rights. They had a right to make a claim of mistreatment. Simply put, this is an amazing statement and freedom for the era in which it is made. Paul says to the Ephesians to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Eph:5:21 In one sweeping statement, he shows that the eldership role is not one of hierarchy and absolute rule; instead it is one of mutual submission within the body.
Today we have to acknowledge that we live in a vastly different era then it was 2000 years ago. We have different cultural and traditional norms. We have vastly different rights and expectations within and through society, then what they did back then. Many of these societal rights and expectations are much better than before; while many may argue that we are worse off with them, then before.
So then what are we to do with this passage in our era. Firstly we need to acknowledge that the sheer essence of this passage is talking about mutual submission to each other. Its talking about the mutual honouring and respecting of each other in the body. It calls for the eldership to actually make more of a concerted effort to live a life and to govern in such a way that it doesn’t allow for any criticism. It’s not an hierarchical position of power, rather its one that governs in a manner that is best for all, and takes into account the needs for all and not just a few.
James says the same. He says that no one should take on the position of a elder / teacher lightly for they will be doubly judged. Jam 3:1. This double judgement is one that comes both from God and those they teach and govern; for the judgement not only comes from the body they govern, God also is watching over them to ensure they look after His people in a just manner, making Godly decisions and living in a Godly lifestyle, which is reflected through mutual submission to the body of Christ.