In Reply to Critics in The Journal


Eric Snow


            Not without surprise, I’ve discovered that my letter (June 30) defending (moderate) hierarchy in church government against Mr. Havir’s arguments for congregationalism has drawn three critics over the past two issues (Ron Murphy, Bryn Hendrickson, and David Roe).  Having but limited space and two people to reply to in defense of hierarchy in church government (for space precludes me from doing justice to Ms. Hendrickson’s thought-provoking questions), it’s best that I get on my way . . .


            Taking the last letter first, Mr. Murphy’s foundational mistake is to believe that having equality in God’s sight eliminates all hierarchical relationships between believers through an apparent allusion to Gal. 3:28:  “Mr. Havir has recognized that in our faith there is neither servant, slave, master, owner, men nor women.”  But, as I showed in my initial letter, the New Testament authorizes with God-given authority hierarchical relationships between human beings.  He does so even when those on both sides are Christians!  Hence, the fact that a husband and a wife may both be believers doesn’t cancel out the authority of the husband over the wife within the context of marriage, or else Paul couldn’t have written “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). 


Paul even allowed for Christian masters to rule over Christian slaves, which the Letter to Philemon itself plainly shows, but Eph. 6:9 constitutes sufficient one-verse proof:  “And, masters, do the same things to them [your servants/slaves], and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Eph.  6:9).  Naturally enough, this should make us all squirm, especially given America’s historical treatment of blacks in particular.  But this verse exemplifies the model of altruistic paternalism described in my first letter.  Masters rule in an unequal hierarchical relationship over their slaves/servants, but they’re supposed to be self-sacrificing towards toward those under them.  The fact that God isn’t partial between slaves and masters doesn’t mean masters couldn’t order slaves to do things they didn’t want to do.


Asserting that “obey” doesn’t mean “obey” in such texts as Eph. 5:22+, but merely “make yourself accountable,” simply reads in the desired watered-down definition.  Peter didn’t agree with this definition when writing:  “For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.  Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (I Pet. 3:5-6).  The “military sense” appears here indeed.  Does anybody seriously propose that the hierarchical relationships described and authorized by God in the New Testament, such as husband-wife, parent-child, human government-citizen, master-slave, aren’t indeed unequal and involve someone obeying someone else?  It appears modern feminist ideology is influencing Mr. Murphy’s interpretation of I Tim. 2:11-12 and other texts describing the husband/wife relationship.  He has to be given credit, however, for consistency, for he tries to make his model of church government congruent with the New Testament by redefining this major social relationship as (nearly) non-hierarchical, instead of pushing for egalitarian democracy in church government, and leaving other human social relationships unequal and hierarchical.  But those well acquainted with the New Testament ought to know that this effort won’t succeed.


A classic example of eisegesis occurs when Mr. Murphy attempts to say Acts 14:23 concerned Paul and Barnabas only nominating elders for the congregation to vote or confirm.  But what does the text say?:  “They [Paul and Barnabas] had appointed elders for them in every church.”  Where does it say the local church took any action at all in this process?  Furthermore, the word translated “appoint,” “cheirotoveo,” means “appoint, install,” as Bauer (p. 881) explains, “This does not involve a choice by the group.”  After all, congregationalists will attempt to evade pro-hierarchy texts by finding alternative meanings for terms that can mean “submit,” “obey,” “rule,” etc.  Any possible ambiguity here similarly eliminates this “proof-text” for congregationalism, since the word certainly can mean “install” or “appoint,” not just “choose, elect by raising hands.”  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!


Like Mr. Murphy, David Roe feels the need to challenge Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon as biased, etc., largely because his scholarship doesn’t agree with their theology on church government.  But his charge against Bauer’s scholarship falls short concerning the word “proistemi” found in I Tim. 5:17.  Concerning such texts as I Thess. 5:12 and Rom. 12:8, he (p. 707) says that this word could have the “be concerned about, care for, give aid” definition, but he then denies (“Certainly”) any ambiguity for I Tim. 5:17’s possibly not meaning “be at the head (of), rule, direct.”  Given these concessions, if he had believed there was “wriggle room” that “proistemi” didn’t mean “rule” or at least “manage, conduct” in I Tim. 5:17, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have admitted it.  There have to be syntactical/grammatical reasons for the difference in treatment (which also appears in the NASB’s translation of these three texts), not mere theological bias.


Mr. Roe’s analysis of I Tim. 3:4-5 assumes that “ruling” and “caring for” something are mutually exclusive acts: “He must MANAGE his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to MANAGE his own household, how can he CARE FOR God’s church?”  Here Mr. Roe mistakenly assumes all hierarchical relationships are necessarily abusive.  This idea certainly would have surprised Paul, who believed a husband’s authority over his wife coexisted with his requirement to show agape (self-sacrificing) love to her (Eph. 5:22-29 again).  Must a mother’s or father’s authority over her son or daughter (Heb. 12:5-11) be abusive?  Hence, the overseer keeps “his children submissive and respectful in every way,” (I Tim. 3:4, RSV) for their own good, not merely his own.  The overseer/elder is to “manage, conduct” the people under him in the congregation in ways analogous to his home life, which includes the authority of a father over his children and a husband over his wife.


 The ideal pastor should be a servant-leader who is as self-sacrificing towards his congregation just as he is to his own wife and children.  He is given authority over them, but he is to be unselfish and kind.  He should promote the development of their God-given talents through evangelization and other congregational works of service.  This is the model of self-sacrificing paternalism fits the New Testament far better than the model of egalitarian democracy/congregationalism, which describes no major human social relationship found in the New Testament.  Such a favorite proof-text of the independents as Luke 22:24-27 and its parallels merely condemns ABUSIVE hierarchical authority, not hierarchical authority per se, or else it would contradict such texts as Rom. 13:1-7 or Eph. 5:22-29 (yet again).   So then, why do many independents/congregationalists accept the idea of non-abusive, loving authority when it comes to family life, but can’t concerning church government?