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 it. If
this pastor hasn’t learned to submit to his board, he certainly will
learn now. This is one
modern day scenario when it comes to church boards.
other scenario concerning church boards is that the board gives the
pastor a good measure of autonomy and authority.
In this case the pastor is the guy in charge.
He’s a one man leader and what he says goes.
In 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 over the years and centuries then it can evolve into whatever we feel it should be to best fit our day and age. If church life isn’t evolutionary in nature, then where should we find our pattern for church?
believe we should follow New Testament teaching.
To make it clear, I’m saying we should follow New Testament
teaching, not New Testament church practice.
Some New Testament churches, like the church at
do admit that times do change and some things have to change.
For example, the Apostle Paul spent many days walking from place
to place. Pastors drive cars
today. Churches in Paul's
days didn’t have computers to use.
We do, and I'm sure Paul would have loved a computer.
Church should keep up with the times, but, there is a basic
pattern to church structure found in the New Testament, and I think we
should follow this structure.
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.
goal in this endeavor is simple. I
will prove that there is a body of men the New Testament teaches that
should lead the local church. In
the King James Bible there are five different titles given to this body
are; elders, pastors, overseers, shepherds, and bishops.
I will also prove that all five of the titles are
interchangeable. I point
this out because in our modern church a pastor is not a bishop and a
bishop is not an elder, and so on.
I've said, the New Testament teaches plurality of leadership which I
will explain later. History
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 him.
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 is true.
supremacy of this one man grew to the extent that by around 150 A D 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.
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 Catholicism.
summary, the first generation church had a group of elders caring for
them, with one “possible” exception and that was the
100 AD there was a group of elders, of which one elder was more
important than the rest. He
was often called a bishop. Then
by 150 A D the bishop become God’s spokesman to the church and by 200
A D the bishop was becoming the vehicle by which men and women could
to plurality of leadership and five important English words and three
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. The Greek word
"poimen" is translated as shepherd and pastor.
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
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
are two simple points I want to make here. 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 Timothy 3:1 (KJV) is a poor translation and reflects
more of the thinking of 17th century
I want to show that these words are used in the plural form.
That is to say, the New Testament speaks of leaders, not a
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
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 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
also tells these men that they have been made "overseers".
This is the Greek word "episkopos".
So in these two verses we have all three Greek words used, and
three of their English equivalents.
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 three of these words are used for the same body of
men. Also, all three of
these Greek words are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament.
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. Just to remind you,
most church denominations today hold to this old English concept of
Paul equates elders and bishops
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 oversigh"”, 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 five. The word
"pastors" is added to the list.
Thus by the Transitive Law, overseers, elders, pastors,
shepherds, and bishops are five different names for the same group of
men. In the list of verses
we’ve looked at so far, all these five 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 three 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 three 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 church 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 to see James
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”.
In 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. 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
simply see from the New Testament, as I've just pointed out, that a body
of men who were mostly called elders, care for and lead the local
church. I see this as a
fundamental teaching for church to follow today.
I wished we'd follow it.
- All Scripture that has been quoted above has been taken from the King
James Version of the Bible.