Friday, January 30, 2009

Does An Evangelist Rule Over An Eldership?

We often note that in our society that “the tail wags the dog.” Preconceived notions often change otherwise sound conclusions in matters of policy, values and faith. Without thinking we sometimes accept falsehoods without examination. One such area very seldom examined has to do with congregational government. In one form or another, most denominations and many churches of Christ are “ruled” by one man. He may be called a priest, a pastor or an evangelist. This perceived pattern is so prevalent and is so old, most people actually think it is biblical. But…is it? Now, don’t take my word for any of this, check the book! (Acts 17:11)

First of all, there no longer is a singular priesthood, we are all priests. (I Peter 2:9) Secondly, a “pastor” is part of a plurality of elders, presbyters or bishops, all four terms are interchangeable and are never identified in a singular manner, always in the plural. (Acts 14:23)

When we come to the term “evangelist” we find that the word occurs but three times in Scripture, Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11 and II Timothy 4:5, according to Vine’s. In all three instances the word is descriptive of a function, “…a preacher of the gospel,” with no indications of either office or office holder. “Evangelist” is, therefore, a description and not a title.

Finally, when we come to the word “office,” it is used some six times in the New Testament according to Strong’s Concordance:

Romans 11:3 – Paul’s “office” as the apostle to the gentiles
Romans 12:4 – “Office” as synonym for parts of the physical body
I Timothy 3:1 – “Office” of a bishop
I Timothy 3:10 – “Office” of a deacon
I Timothy 3:13 – “Office” of a deacon
Hebrews 7:5 – “Office” of the priesthood

We can safely conclude that the term “evangelist” and the term “office” are never used together as in the above examples. The 1st century evangelist was a preacher of the gospel and not an office holder in the church.

We must now ask the question, “If a plurality of elders governed the congregations of the first century, how did the “one man ruler ship” of congregations come to be to the point of becoming entrenched for 20 centuries or more?” Alexander Strauch puts it very well:

At the beginning of the second century, many churches developed three separate offices or leadership ministries. That was the start of episcopally structured churches:

The overseer (bishop)
A council of elders
A body of deacons

At the start of the second century, the overseer (bishop) presided over one local church, not a group of churches. Thus he is called the monarchical bishop. Through the centuries, inordinate authority became concentrated in the bishop. Unchecked by the New Testament Scriptures, his role continued to expand. The bishop became ruler over a group of churches. Some bishops emerged as supreme over other bishops. Eventually they formed councils of bishops. Finally, in the West, one bishop emerged over every Christian and every church.

But in the churches of the New Testament period, there was no clearly defined, three office system. Instead, there were only two offices as found in Philippians 1:1.

The council of overseer elders
The body of deacons

This Roman Catholic leadership pattern was followed by the Reformers as well, though it was somewhat amended. Instead of a celibate singular congregational priesthood, the Protestants liked to refer to their “priests” as “pastors” and allowed them to marry. However, both Catholics and Protestants continued to require their adherents to go through a mortal man to have access to God…clearly a blatant false teaching in light of Scripture.

The New Testament teaching of a plurality of elders in leadership was largely adhered to during what we now call the “Restoration Movement” during the nineteenth century. However, during the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, many denominational churches were converted in mass…denominations one week and New Testament churches of Christ the next! Many of these new congregations did not have proper teaching regarding congregational leadership and the denominational “pastor” evolved into the “evangelist.” He continued a “one man rule” as he had before. Unfortunately, a “supporting theology” has sprung up to support the false notion that the “evangelist” is the singular “leader” of the congregation.
The “supporting theology” surrounding the preeminence of the “evangelist” centers primarily on one argument:

• Paul appointed Timothy and Titus as evangelists
• Timothy and Titus appointed “elders in every church”
• Therefore, evangelists are superior and rule over elderships, negating the need for said elderships.

Since Paul simply states the qualifications for elders to Timothy (I Timothy 1:3-7), his authority to appoint such is implied. However, Paul clearly instructs Titus: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” (Titus 1:6 (NASB) We can clearly see that Titus appoints elders, not on any authority of any “office” or because he is an “evangelist,” but on the authority of Paul the apostle.

To complicate matters further, it has become regretably popular among the so-called "mega-churches" among churches of Christ to adopt this error in stealth. These "Emergent" congregations have opted to have "senior ministers" who lead a "council of elders" that act as "deacons" because...these congregations often have no deacons. One man rule that the average person would not even notice. How convenient. These "dual track" congregations, "appearing" bibllical, fool no one, especially the Almighty.

In conclusion, we can safely say that instead of the “evangelist tail” wagging the “eldership dog,” elderships appoint and oversee evangelists…the gospel preachers of our day and time…just as it was in the first century. “One man rule” of a congregation is Romanesque, is extra-biblical and is a false teaching.