About Jesus Steve Sweetman
our modern day Evangelical church, a young man may grow up, hear God’s call on
his life, go to
this now older man finds himself in the big city church in which he is employed,
he begins to carry out the plans and programs of the board of directors who
hired him. This board has the authority to hire and fire anyone who works for
them. If this pastor hasn’t
learned to submit to a board, he certainly will learn now.
This is one modern day scenario.
other scenario is that the board gives the pastor a good measure of autonomy and
authority. In this case the pastor
is the top guy in charge. He’s a
one man leader and what he says goes.
both of these scenarios we see no Biblical basis. The question thus arises,
“do we need a Biblical base for our church life or is it evolutionary in
nature”? If church life is to
evolve then it can evolve into whatever we feel it should be to best suit our
day and age. But if church life
isn’t evolutionary in nature, then where should we find our pattern for church
sure you know where I stand on this issue. I believe we should follow New
Testament teaching. To make it
clear, I’m saying we follow New Testament teaching, not New Testament churches
because some of these churches had their own problems.
Bible has a lot to say about this subject and in this article I will zero in on
just two aspects of church leadership. I
want to show that the New Testament teaches plurality of leadership and not the
one pastor as leader concept. And
just to note, this group of leaders looks nothing like our modern day church
board. Also, I want to show
that there are 5 different titles given to these leaders in the King James
Bible, and all these titles speak of the same group of men.
Bit Of Historical Perspective
shows us that soon after the first generation of Christians passed on, plurality
of leadership began to evolve into something else.
By the end of the first century, among this group of leaders who were
called elders, one man rose up to be a lead elder, or the bishop as many called
reason for this change was based mostly on the need for unity in the church
because of doctrinal differences.
The church was experiencing divisions.
In response to this, certain leaders promoted the idea that unity in the
church could come through strict obedience and submission to the one man, the
bishop or the head elder.
will not get involved in the details, but if you read such men as Ignatius,
church leaders who taught near the end of the first century, you’ll see this
supremacy of this one man grew to the extent that by around 150 AD the local
bishop was beginning to be seen as the spokesman for God to the ordinary
Christian in the church, assuming there is such a thing as an ordinary
Christian. This meant that the
individual in the church heard from God through his bishop.
The idea of an individual hearing from God himself was beginning to be
severely damaged at this point.
Then by the end of the second century, around 200 AD, the bishop evolved into an intermediate person, a mediator between his people and God. This meant that the individual in the church could only come to God in a real way through his bishop. At this point the priesthood of the believer was really being threatened if not lost altogether. This is part of the foundation of the Catholic Church.
In summery, the first generation church had a group of elders caring for them, with one "possible" exception and that was in the Jerusalem church where James appeared to be a head elder. The reason for this possibility in my opinion is due to the fact that James and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem did not leave their Jewish heritage behind them to the same extent as Paul and others did.
100 AD there was a group elders, of which one elder was more important than the
rest. He was often called a bishop.
Then by 150 AD the bishop become God’s spokesman to the church and by
200 AD the bishop was becoming the vehicle by which men and women could approach
Now to plurality of leadership and 5 important English words and 3 important Greek words.
the Greek New Testament (the language it was written in) there are 3 words that
are translated into five different English words in the King James Bible
denoting church leaders. The Greek
word “presbuteros”, is translated as elder.
The Greek word “episkopos” is translated as overseer and bishop.
And finally, the Greek word “poimen” is translated as shepherd and
simply means, an older man, or when it is used in the plural tense as it always
is, means a group of older men.
This word is translated as “elder”
in the New Testament.
literally means to watch over. It is
made up of two Greek words meaning, “to watch” and “over”.
Thus we get our English translation of overseer, and also bishop.
means one who feeds a flock. Thus we
derive our English word shepherd, and also pastor.
there you go. There are 3 Greek words that are translated into 5 English words
in the King James Bible, the translation I’m using for this article.
are two simple points I want to make. Point
one is that all 5 of these English words refer to the same group of people.
They are not separate groups of men or separate individuals. Let me also
say that this group of men is not seen as an office of the church in the Bible,
as in “office of the bishop” as seen in 1 Tim. 3:1 in the King James Bible.
The phrase “office of bishop” in 1 Tim. 3:1 KJV is a poor translation
and reflects more of the thinking of 17th century
I want to show that these words, especially the most common word is always used
in the plural tense. That is to say,
the New Testament speaks of leaders, not a leader.
show you these things we will look at just a few passages of Scripture.
We could look at many more, but these will show my point quite clearly.
20:17 and 28
20:17 and onward is the account of Paul speaking to the Ephesian elders for the
last time. He’d never see them again. This
was one sad good-bye. Verse 17
says, “And from
28 reads, ”Take heed therefore
unto yourselves, and to all of the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made
you overseers, to feed the
that the elders “feed” the
people in the church. The Greek word
for feed is translated from the Greek word “poimen”, from which we get our
English word “shepherd”. Paul
also tells these men that they have been made “overseers”.
This is the Greek word “episkopos”.
So in these 2 verses we have all 3 Greek words used, and 3 of their
you remember the Transitive Law that you learned back in your high school days?
The Transitive Law says, if A equals B, and if B equals C, then A must
equal C, and in fact A,B, and C are all equal to each other.
You didn’t think you’d get a math equation in a Bible study, did you?
I make this point for a reason.
to the Transitive Law, and by the context of this Scripture, we see that elders
equal overseers, and overseers equal shepherds.
In fact all 3 of these words are used for the same body of men.
Also, all 3 of these Greek words are used interchangeably throughout the
1:5 to 7
1:5 to 7 says, “For this cause left I you in
like to comment on the cultural significance for the insertion of the word
“bishop” but I won’t. I’ll
only repeat what I’ve said earlier and that is that the King James translators
inserted the word “bishop” with its 17th century meaning, but
this meaning does not reflect the
meaning Paul had in mind.
Paul equates elders and bishops as the same in these verses.
So once again, according to our Transitive Law, if bishops equal elders,
then bishops also equal overseers and shepherds.
We now have 4 out of the 5 English words equaling each other.
Note again, that the word elders is in the plural form.
There’s still one more word to go to complete my point.
Peter 5:1 and 2
Peter 5:1 and 2 says, “ The elders which are among you I exhort, … feed the
flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by
constraint, but willingly…” Here
once again all three Greek words are used, “presbuteros” translated as
“elders”, “episkopos” translated as “taking the oversight”, and
“poimen” translated as “feed” (as a shepherd feeds his sheep).
Once again 3 Greek words used for the same group of men. And notice again
the word “elders” is plural.
4:11 says, “ He (Jesus) gave some
apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”
Here the word “poimen” is translated as “pastors” plural.
In every other place in the New Testament ”poimen” is translated as
shepherd, or, to feed as a shepherd would feed his sheep.
We now have English word number 5. The word “pastors” is added to the
list. Thus by the Transitive Law,
overseers, elders, pastors, shepherds, and bishops are 5 different names for the
same group of men. In the list of
verses we’ve looked at so far, all these 5 words are used interchangeably.
my math is correct, here is an interesting side note.
The word “pastors” is only used once in our King James New Testament
while the word bishop is only used 3 times in reference to this group of men.
this, why does our modern Evangelical church use the word “pastor” next to
exclusively when speaking of a church leader when it’s only used once in our
New Testament. Also, why is the word
bishop used so much when it’s only appears 3 times in the New Testament.
The word “elders” is by far the most common word
used in our Bible for this group of men but one of the least used words
in our vocabulary today. Overseers
and shepherds are both used as well, both in their noun form and their verb
forms. Wouldn’t you think that we should adopt the word “elders” since
it’s used more than any other word in
the New Testament. Why we don’t is
beyond me, but that’s only my viewpoint.
Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double
honour, especially they that labour in the word and doctrine.”
Do I need to point out the plural form of the word “elders” again?
The second phrase of this verse sheds a little light on this group of
men. Paul tells Timothy that those
elders who rule well, and especially those who labour in the word and doctrine
should receive double honour. Look
closely at this phrase. If we are to
give double honour to those who labour in the word and doctrine, this implies
that not all labour in the word and doctrine. They must labour in some other
way. From this I conclude that this
body of elders are made up of men with different callings and different talents.
Not all are preachers or teachers. Each
man has his own gifting. One man is
not gifted to do everything. Here is
a group of men working together, all with their individual talents and callings.
What one man can never do, a group of men can.
my introduction I said that by the end of the first century one man rose up
among the elders to become the lead elder, or bishop as they became to be known.
There is only one hint of this happening in the first generation of
Christians. James appeared to be the
one leader among the elders in the
12:17 says, “...and he (Peter) said, go
show these things to James and to the brothers…”
James is distinguished from the rest of the brothers therefore some
say this distinction suggests that he’s a lead elder.
Acts 15 the apostles and elders at
in Acts 21:18 Paul went in unto James and the elders to talk with them.
This may imply James as being a leader among leaders.
Yet if this is really so, beyond the
repeat what I said before concerning James, he did not give up his Jewish
heritage to the same degree as Paul. It’s
quite possible that in the back of his mind, whether he realized it or not, he
viewed himself as a “high priest”.
conclusion, plurality of leadership is nothing new in the world of Christendom.
It appears to be what the first generation of Christians taught and
practiced. It is not necessarily
what twenty first century Christians teach and practice.
We may find security in the one pastor situation, paying him to do many
things we should be doing, but it
wasn’t so in the beginning days of the church, I see a group of men called
elders caring for a full-functioning body
of believers. Each person in the
body had their part to play. The
elders were there to care for, feed and oversee,
but never to do all the work for the people, and never to dominate them
in arrogant tyranny that came to be the norm in centuries following.
believe what I have said is New Testament thinking, yet it is obvious that we do
not follow such thinking in most of our North American churches today.
The question remains, “do we follow what the New Testament teaches, or
do we believe the church is evolutionary in nature”?
If you choose the latter, that’s your choice, but don’t call it
Biblical teaching. And if you do
believe the church should evolve into something altogether new and different,
then I ask, “how important is the
Bible in your thinking and practice, and is it really God’s Word to live by,
or just a book of suggestions ”?
- All Scripture that
has been quoted above has been taken from the King James Version of the Bible.