Last week my final two sentences asserted: “there must be a congregational pattern of ordered guidance, leadership, and accountability. All the ministries are to work together for the common good.” This week my focus is on the challenge of recognizing true leadership in the body of Christ. Who is responsible for this ordered accountability? How is this to be accomplished? How is it to be validated? How is it recognized?
It is well known that the Lord Jesus appointed a few to give leadership to the whole. When the twelve became eleven they chose a replacement. Then we see the twelve appointing seven others to share in leadership. By the end of the first century there is only one way leaders are recognized, and that is they are discipled and recognized by the leaders who have gone before them. And it is becoming universal, if not already so, that the leadership of the church involves three different ministry types, or orders: the overseeing pastor or bishop, the presbyters (called in English for centuries elders), and the deacons. Local leadership is universally corporate, and this early local leadership pattern was recognized as essential, not optional.
As the church grew and flourished, this pattern was replicated wherever missionaries took the gospel. All three orders were involved in new starts from the beginning, or very soon after the beginning. It was the way the church was governed, and it was always local. Without this order, something was missing. When this order was in place, the church was recognized as part of the “one body” of Christ.
At some point in time (the specific time is debated by historians but not the fact) this order broke down. Bishops came to have authority over many congregations, each with a single presbyter, and the relational unity that had existed was diluted. Deacons were now based where the bishop was “seated,” and most presbyters were distributed throughout a diocese (a word taken from a late Roman Empire political jurisdiction). Over many centuries the recognized ancient pattern evolved, with the same names, into a completely different structure. And the unity of the church suffered. At the Reformation in the 16th century, some movements and churches sought to restore a semblance of the ancient order, but the question must be asked: “Has the order of the Reformation led to effective kingdom honoring church life and mission?”
My answer must be given in two parts. Wherever and whenever the risen Jesus was returned to the center of the governing patterns, the gospel has flourished locally. Pastoral care is restored to its rightful place. But overwhelmingly the Reformation churches have defaulted to one man ministry and missionary vitality has waned. One person “ministry” can never adequately model “apostolic diversity.”
The time has come to restore a pattern, if not there already, that is universally recognized by the global church, and is taught – in principle – in the New Testament.
Next Week: 12) The Principle of Reconciliation
Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/