Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ecclesiastical hierarchy

by John D Ramsey
And through covetousness
shall they with feigned words
make merchandise of you

2 Peter 2:3 (KJV)
Did anyone read the AP headline about the former Indiana pastor and his sons who allegedly scammed 11,000 people by securities fraud? Really? The marks thought they could make money by purchasing bonds for church building. Really? Is anyone truly surprised? Don’t say Peter didn’t warn you.
Peter says that because of them, “the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 2 Peter 2:2 (AB) It is maddening that people use positions of respect to manipulate and devour the naive. Peter spends the rest of the chapter describing the severity of God’s judgment against such men. He calls them “slaves of depravity” (NIV), and compares them to a “dog having returned unto its own excrement.” (AB) Most translations soften the object of the preposition saying, instead, “vomit,” like that’s so much better. The Greek is rather direct, however.
The notion of an ecclesiastical hierarchy exacerbates the problem of frauds within Christendom, whether they be shysters or sexual predators. People implicitly trust so-called Christian leaders. In reading my Bible I can find no basis for such obeisance. Peter warned of false prophets and teachers in 2 Peter 2. Paul warned of “grievous wolves” in Acts 20 who would “draw away disciples after them” (AB). John warned the elder Gaius, in 3 John, about Diotrephes, “the one enjoying being first.” In Revelation 2, the Lord Jesus condemns the practices of the Nicolaitans, or “conquerors of the people.”
The Apostle Paul, did teach an ecclesiastical hierarchy. Nevertheless, the hierarchy Paul taught was consistent with the words of Jesus,
But you are not to be called Rabbi,
for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.
And do not call anyone on earthfather,’
for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
Nor are you to be calledteacher,’
for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

Matthew 23:8-10 (NIV)
Modern churches mostly ignore the concept of equality among the brethren. In so doing, they ignore Paul who scolded the Corinthians for causing divisions within the body. Most translations, especially the NIV, strain to justify the favoritism the Corinthians practiced, but Paul told them that because of their divisions they did not celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but their own. He went on to say that because their practice did not recognize the body of the Lord, many were weak and sick and others had died. The church, the body of Christ, consists of many members, but only Christ is the head.
The concept that Christians should organize in hierarchies is un-Biblical. Paul taught a ecclesiastical hierarchy, but it is rather shallow. He says,
But I want you to know,
that the Christ is the head of every man;
and the head of the woman is the man;
and the head of Christ is God.

1 Corinthians 11:3 (AB)
Modern Christianity largely rejects or ignores Paul’s statement that the “head of the woman is the man.” It’s a free country, and they’re welcome to start their own religion. Nevertheless, what I see within this paragraph is simply this, if Christ, being God, and equal to God, can submit to the Father, then a woman, being equal to the man, can submit to her husband without incurring any inferiority. Women are equal to men, according to Galatians 3:28; their submission is only for the purposes of orderliness. It certainly reflects the character of Christ and the natural divine order designed by God. Moreover, in this ecclesiastical hierarchy every woman is only three from the top which is much higher than organized Christianity puts most anybody.
The simple beauty of this passage is that “the Christ is the head of every man.” No Christian leader stands in any position of ecclesiastical authority over any other man. In fact, Paul takes it further and says, “Every man praying or prophesying having anything on his head, disgraces his own head.” 1 Corinthians 11:4 (AB) Many scholars obfuscate this passage to make it sound like a man must not wear his ball cap at the table while saying grace. Yet clearly, Paul is saying, Christ is your head; do not cover yourselves with any other presumed spiritual authority.
If no man can have ecclesiastical authority over you, then you also have no ecclesiastical authority over him. As Jesus said, “You are all brothers.” 
When any so-called Christian leader touts his credentials, beware. He is deceived and likely a deceiver. The only valuable credentials he can possibly have is that Christ is his head. Those credentials are no more valuable than your own, if you belong to Christ. Even Paul called his vast credentials foolishness in 2 Corinthians 11. He sarcastically tells the Corinthians that he knows they will indulge his foolishness because they “put up with anyone who enslaves [them] or exploits [them] or takes advantage of [them] or pushes himself forward or slaps [them] in the face.” 2 Corinthians 11:20 (NIV)
Although no man holds ecclesiastical rank over another, the truth is always authoritative. That is why Paul preach authoritatively and could also compel Titus saying, “These things speak, and encourage, and reprove with all command! Let no one speculate about you.” Titus 2:15 (AB) Titus did not have all authority, yet the message he delivered was authoritative. Similarly Peter proclaimed, “If any speaks, let it be as oracles of God.” 1 Peter 4:11 (AB) As each of us declares the truth, we should do so with authority.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul outlined what a church service should look like. Very briefly, the assembly of believers was designed to be interactive. One speaks, others discern. If one stands up to speak, the one speaking sits down. All things were to be orderly. No one leader emerges, yet all lead as the Holy Spirit directs. Each brings something that builds up the body.
In modern Christianity, we idolize the authors, the orators, and the entertainers. We elevate the credentialed and ordained. In so doing, we ignore the truth that only Christ is our head. We open the doors for the ravenous wolves, those who seek a following for themselves. We enable those who by “feigned words make merchandise of” us. By ignoring our lofty position with respect to Christ, through false humility, we deny him.
Knowing that only Christ is our head should compel us to know him better. As brothers we are told to respect and defer to those who are older—this is the natural order. We are also supposed to submit to one another while avoiding those who love being first.
When we begin to see believers as equals and not superiors or inferiors, and when we begin to see only Christ as our head, then it should become easier to spot those who assert themselves or attract fan clubs for themselves. These are certainly not believers, because by elevating themselves, “They have turned from the holy commandment delivered to them.” 2 Peter 2:21 (AB)

1 comment:

  1. I found this essay today, and I thought it spoke to this issue more bluntly than I had done in this post. The Epidemic Among Us