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IS AN ORDAINED MINISTRY A NEW TESTAMENT DOCTRINE?

Norman S. Edwards' Church Government Doctrines Revisited

By Eric V. Snow

The doctrinal upheaval in late 1994 and early 1995 in the Worldwide Church of God concerning the law, the Sabbath, and the Holy Days caused many to leave it. However, since the implementation of these doctrine changes was made only possible by a system of church government characterized by extreme centralization and one-man rule, these changes have unleashed much debate and dispute over correct church government in recent months among those who have left the WCG. Even such diehard former stalwarts of the old WCG system, such as evangelist Roderick Meredith, who furthermore was one of the chief architects and creators of the old system, have called out for reform, and seek to junk one-man rule. However, many wished to go significantly further than Dr. Meredith has, which was a major factor in the creation of the United Church of God--AIA. Its system of government amounts to a representative republic among the elders, with an elected Council of Elders. In this environment, we find some who find even the UCG--AIA system unsatisfying--although its level of decentralization and republicanism would have been nearly unimaginable to almost any of its members if it had been proposed as recently as two years ago in the WCG. Heading up the "left wing" (if this term is somewhat dubiously defined as being for decentralization and against hierarchy) of the forces publicly arguing for church government decentralization is surely Norman S. Edwards, who (until very recently) had organized an independent literature ministry called The Friends of the Brethren, and who publishes The Servants' News. Most of his basic views on the subject of church government are found in his publication "How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?" While this essay has many good points, and is surely more correct than incorrect, it is an overcorrective, and pushes the pendulum too far in the other direction, especially in its attack on the concept of an ordained ministry.

 

IS ORDINATION OF THE MINISTRY A FALSE DOCTRINE?

His most important conclusion on church government is: "'Ordination' Doctrine Forced into Bible. Most people understand an 'ordination' to be a decision made by the Eternal that is marked here on Earth by a ceremony, or by 'the laying on of hands' or possibly just witnessed by believers. You cannot find this in an original-language Bible." His argument is that no Greek word exists that by itself routinely means "ordain." The 13 different words in the KJV translated "ordain" are translated other ways as well. This argument's principal problem is that we believe in many doctrines which don't get a simple name referring to them in the Greek or Hebrew. Such doctrines get deduced from examining many words or statements in the Bible. For example, the Bible never says, "God is a Family." Instead, this doctrine is deduced by noting that the Father and the Son are both God, and that humans are sons of God who are going to be born again. Similarly, the term "conditional immortality" is never found in the Bible. But this term is a theologically precise way to refer to the teaching that humans are not eternally tormented and don't go to heaven or hell instantly upon death. This term may never appear in the Greek or Hebrew, but it is an accurate term for describing the Bible's teaching on this subject. The mere fact these 13 Greek words that may be translated "ordain" are translated also other ways does not mean they can't ever mean "ordain." The doctrine of ordination can be deduced from the Bible in the same way (with the mind guided by the Holy Spirit, of course) the God Family and conditional immortality doctrines are.

 

DEFINING ORDINATION

First, let's remind ourselves of a standard definition for "ordain" taken from Webster's: "3. to invest with the functions or office of a minister, priest, or rabbi." Does the concept of a hierarchical priesthood exist in the Bible? Of course! There was an ordained ministry in the Old Testament--the Levites with the capstone of the priesthood. True, their special position was passed down by heredity, but nevertheless they had a special position in God's sight for service. Hence, if God worked with some people chosen by Him to have a special, higher role among men for service to them and Him in the past, this could also be the case for today (re: Heb. 13:8). Of course, the Levitical priesthood has been abolished (Heb. 7:12, 18-19), but it may be the principle of it lives on in an altered form. For example, the Greek word "kathistemi" is found in Heb. 5:1; 7:28: and 8:3 in reference to the position of the high priest (compare Ex. 30:30; 40:13-15). For example, Hebrews 5:1 reads: "For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." Then note Heb. 8:3: "For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices." This word is translated in a number of cases in the KJV concerning someone having been made the ruler over something (Matt. 24:45, 47; 25:21; 23; Luke 12:42, 44; Acts 7:10, 27, 35; note also Luke 12:14). The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich (B-A-G) Greek-English Lexicon (p. 390) defines one of "kathistemi"'s main meanings as "appoint, put in charge . . . authorize, appoint." What's particularly damaging to Mr. Edwards' case here is that it is this Greek word that appears in Titus 1:5 and Acts 6:3 in reference to the ordination of elders and deacons ("servants") respectively. Just because this word ("kathistemi") sometimes isn't translated something that means "appointed" or "put in charge over" doesn't mean it can't have those meanings in the right contexts.

While 13 New Testament words are said to be translated "ordain," many of these never refer to installing someone as a deacon, minister, overseer, etc. Only four of the 13 have this potential meaning of "ordain" at all: "kathistemi," "poieo," "tithemi," and "cheirotoneo." The first of these has been discussed above, and it most certainly does mean "ordain," judging from the references to the high priests in Hebrews. "Poieo"--"to do, make" as Young's (p. 722) puts it, refers in Mark 3:14 to Jesus choosing the 12 apostles. Mr. Edwards' objection here is that the word normally only means "do" or "make." However, the KJV translation of "poieo" (it's "appointed" in the NASB) in Mark 3:14 picks up backing from the Scripture "tithemi" appears in reference to the apostles/disciples being chosen by Christ, which is John 15:16: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain . . ." That Christ chose them for a special role in God's sight should not strike us as some strange idea, obviously! While "tithemi" has a range of meanings, such as "put, place, lay," nevertheless, the B-A-G lexicon (p. 816) says this word in reference to John 15:16 means: "make someone someth., destine or appoint someone to or for someth." It cites other ancient literature for this translation. This same word appears in Acts 20:28: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God . . ." This word also appears in I Tim. 2:7: "And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle . . ." This word also could mean "ordain," although, unlike "kathistemi," it never appears in context of the laying on of hands.

 

CAN MINISTERS BE VOTED INTO OFFICE BY THE LAITY?

The fourth word that could mean "ordain" is "cheirotoneo," as found in Acts 14:23, which merits a separate discussion because it is one of the main scriptures that is used to attempt to prove elders were ordained into some office through the voting of the congregation. Mr. Edwards maintains:

Voting References Suppressed. The Greek cheirotoneo literally means 'stretching forth the hand.' In earlier Greek literature it certainly meant 'selecting by show of hands'--this author could not find an applicable reference work that disagreed with this. However, some references concluded that the word had changed meaning over the years to simply 'appointed.'

The principal problem with this interpretation is that Acts 14:23 refers to the ordination of elders to some office NOT by the congregation, but by Paul and Barnabas when the context is examined (verses 14, 20). Let's note the text itself: "And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had appointed elders for them [the disciples--v. 22] in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." An "electorate" of two men--apostles, at that, not laymembers--doesn't make for much of an "election." Here the context is devastating against congregationalist contentions that this proves the voting in and out of ministers by the laity is legitimate. Note first what the B-A-G (p. 881) has to say about "cheirotoneo" in Acts 14:23: "On the other hand the presbyters in Lycaonia and Pisidia were not chosen by the congregations, but it is said of Paul and Barnabas . . . This does not involves a choice by the group; here the word means appoint, install, w. the apostles as subj." Thayer's (p. 668) is not much more favorable: "c. with the loss of the notion of extending the hand, to elect, appoint, create . . . Acts xiv. 23[.]" Without this text, there is never a case of an elder being ordained to anything by anyone voting, hence its loss to the congregationalist case is serious.

 

ARE MINISTERS, ELDERS, OVERSEERS, AND DEACONS DIFFERENT OR THE SAME?

Mr. Edwards notes quite properly:

Ministers and Deacons Not Different. They are both servants. Most KJV uses of the word 'minister' are translated from the Greek diakonos (noun) or the diakoneo (verb meaning "to minister"). All occurrences of deacon and deaconess are translated from these same words--the New Testament writers could not possibly have had two 'offices' in mind and then used an identical word for both of them!

The problem here is that while "ministers" and "deacons" may not be different, "elders" or "overseers" are potentially. "Elders" is from "presbuterous" while "overseers" is from "episkopous." These two terms get used almost interchangeably in Scripture in three places. First, note Titus 1:5-7: "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward . . ." Then we have Acts 20:17, 28: "And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. . . . Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Finally, note I Peter 5:1-2, where a word closely related to "episkopous" is used (NKJV): "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ . . . Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, nor for dishonest gain but eagerly . . ." Hence, if we see the duties of a deacon, as outlined in Acts 6:2-4 relative to that of the apostles, as being different from that of an elder/overseer, it can be legitimate to raise someone from the position of a deacon to an elder.

For the Greek word "diakonos" can't mean the same thing every time it is used, or else women suddenly can take on roles in the church that have been prohibited. Notice that Phoebe is a "diakonon" in Rom. 16:1: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant ('deaconess,' NASB margin) of the church which is at Cenchrea . . ." Yet Paul made it clear women were not supposed to be teachers with authority over men (I Tim. 2:11-12): "Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." Similarly, we find I Cor. 14:34-35: "Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak [i.e. to the group as a whole, such as by using tongues, etc. in particular], but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." Hence, this Greek word translated "deacon" or "minister" or "servant" can't have the same meaning always, or else women could take on public roles in the church that have been proscribed to them. Unquestionably, there would be ways (say) Paul would have served--"ministered" to--the church which would have been ways prohibited for women, including Phoebe. For example, by lot a replacement apostle was chosen after Judas Iscariot's suicide, for either Matthias or Joseph (Barsabbas) "to occupy this ministry and apostleship" (Acts 1:25). Similarly, in II Tim. 4:5, Paul tells Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist, [to] fulfill your ministry," which would involve activities a straightforward interpretation of Paul in I Cor. 14:34-35 or I Tim. 2:11-12 would prohibit to women. Hence, "to minister" or to be a "minister" (i.e., servant) simply can't have the same meaning each time, or women would be allowed to serve in ways Paul indicates elsewhere they should not.

 

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEACONS AND ELDERS/OVERSEERS

Mr. Edwards also maintains that (p. 17): ". . . the Bible in its original languages does not support the concept of an 'ordained ministry' or a separation between 'physical' and 'spiritual' servants." This view runs into the major problem of Acts 6:2-4, where a clear distinction is being made between the spiritual work of the apostles and the physical duties of caring for the widows being done by the deacons being selected:

And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

Here the apostles looked for those willing to do a physical task to serve the church (assembly), and then performed the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6): "And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them." This distinction need not be kept if God moves those so ordained to do spiritual tasks, such as Stephen's bearing witness to the Sanhedrin that Jesus was the Messiah. Similarly, today in the various churches of God, deacons do spiritual duties such as giving sermonettes--not as dramatic as Stephen's defense and martyrdom, but still a spiritual duty. However the Spirit may move someone to serve God, physically or spiritually (or both!), the fact remains that this basic distinction was originally made when the first deacons were chosen.

Acts 6 is also controversial, for it points to a degree of laymember involvement in choosing deacons that traditionally did not occur in the WCG. For example, Dr. Meredith states:

As you read Acts 6 carefully, notice 'that twelve' summoned the multitude of the disciples for counsel on appointing deacons. 'They' wanted advice, they said, about whom 'we may appoint over this business.' It was a collective sort of leadership. The responsibility for directing the Church was not then invested in a sole individual on earth. The decision was clearly through 'multitude of counsel' (Prove 24:6 KJV), and then by 'appointment'--not voting. ALL the apostles listened to this counsel and then decided, together, whom to appoint.

However, this raises the issue of exactly how the multitude made their preferences clear, especially when they appear to have picked out a group of men, and then presented them to the apostles to lay hands on. A more wide-open situation seems to be evident, as Mr. Edwards observes:

Does anyone remember an example where a hierarchical church tried to follow this example? Did they ask a congregation to put forth a number of people for possible 'ordination' and then 'ordain' a few people from that congregation's list? It seems most people remember surprise services where the members and the person(s) being 'ordained' did not know it was going to happen until it did. If Acts 6 is inspired, why don't we must the Eternal that it will work?

Hence, both Roderick Meredith and Norman S. Edwards point to active laymember involvement in choosing the deacons in Acts 6, which is more than existed in the WCG traditionally.

 

ARE ALL WCG-PERFORMED ORDINATIONS INVALID IF MR. EDWARDS IS RIGHT?

But the bibical basis for laymember involvement in ordination leads us then to a very touchy subject: Does this mean now in the UCG, with its "new beginnings," that all those ordained under the old WCG system have invalid ordinations? Should the congregation's laymembers VOTE to reconfirm or change those presently in charge of the local church through being elders or deacons? For if Mr. Edwards' views are correct, and "ordination" is not even a valid biblical concept, and the deacons and elders should be (or at least were sometimes) voted on, then is not every position in the local church potentially up for grabs? (Of course, supposedly, "up for grabs" as the Holy Spirit would direct, instead of through church politicking--campaigns saying "vote for me for reasons x, y, and z"!) If such views are believed in by the powers that be in a local church and/or many of the laymembers, they have the potential for a round of upheaval worthy of the initial split off from the WCG if the all old offices or positions are ruled as being invalid in God's sight, necessitating reconfirmation and/or replacements for those in them. The radical implications of Mr. Edwards' essay are obvious for all to see, if consistently (and non-hypocritically!) implemented by the parties involved.

Several issues clearly arise over whether such "reconfirmations" of "ordinations" (if the latter is denied to be a legitimate concept) are necessary. One, if there was no clear voting in Acts 6 or elsewhere in choosing deacons or elders, but extensive counsel from the laity was sought first (theoretically, Dr. Meredith's view), then a full round of "reconfirmation" votes wouldn't be necessary. Second, it could be in many cases elders were chosen to be overseers without any such votes or deep consultations with laymembers. It has already been crushingly shown above that Acts 14:23 had nothing to do with laymembers voting to ordain elders into some office, but involved two men--apostles, at that--choosing the men in question. Similarly, Titus 1:5-6 mentions nothing about laymember involvement in the appointment process for elders/overseers, nor Acts 13:1-3 concerning the choosing of Paul and Barnabas as apostles, the latter being a revelation from God. Three, building upon this last cited scripture, if we REALLY believe God was behind many of the personnel decisions made in the old WCG, even though mistakes were made and various ones left or got removed from the ministry, then such ordinations reflected His will once they stood the test of time. For we shouldn't get so caught up in the idea of laymembers choosing the clergy that will serve them such as to think only the "will of the [majority of the] people" can reflect the will of God, when it is equally possible a small group of men could also be reflecting the will of God in being inspired by Him in the past to choose those who would serve Him in special roles. Aren't we willing to think God was there when various ministers prayed and fasted, perhaps asking for the advice of a few local laymembers or deacons for help in choosing those for ordination? Or, is He only now going to be among us, if we do it the way congregationalists say it should be done, in choosing such people? If we think God was with us when choosing men (and women) in the past for various church offices, we can simply for the future seek more laymember involvement as a means to derive God's will better, but still accept those in the positions chosen while with the WCG under the old system of church government through a type of "grandfather clause."

 

DOES II COR. 8:19 PROVE LAYMEMBERS CAN VOTE FOR MINISTERS?

Another text urged upon us for voting for people to have certain positions is II Cor. 8:19 (here quoting from verses 18-20):

And we have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has also been appointed ("cheirotovetheis") by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself . . . taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift . . .

Now--what exactly is going on here? Paul discusses an unnamed man who will be accompanying Titus (v. 16), and who will be distributing a gift to help Christians in Jerusalem suffering from serious want. This man was chosen by several congregations to help Paul administer this gift, so his honesty couldn't be questioned. The problem congregationalists face here using this text for their case is that it basically involves a physical duty, similar to that of anyone transporting goods such as a trucker, not the work of an overseer performing the duties of spiritual leadership for a congregation. One might say it had the meaning of "selected by show of hands," but here one is back at the situation of Acts 6 and how those who performed physical duties for the congregation when first chosen involved a significant level of laymember input. This isn't the same as choosing elders/overseers. Further, it isn't clear whether this involved actual voting or not. It could well have been several from each congregation said "such and so" should do it--there's nothing here that clearly indicates every member of these congregations voted, or that voting even occurred. As the SDA Commentary, vol. 6, p. 892, observed: "Although the word means, literally, 'to stretch out the hand,' and thus 'to elect,' its usage leaves uncertain the manner in which this companion of Titus was appointed." After all, if the Flint/Lansing/Ann Arbor churches together needed to choose one person for some physical duty, convening a general meeting after a lot of travelling would strike me, at least, as a rather clumsy, inefficient way to do this. For as the above analysis of Acts 14:23 indicates, this word clearly did not have to mean literal voting by this time in the history of Greek's evolution.

 

WHAT DOES THE GREEK OF HEBREWS 13:17 REALLY MEAN?

Now Mr. Edwards maintains a number of verses which are translated in a way that says the ministry of Christ has authority to order laymembers to do things are poorly translated. For example, note this interpretation of Heb. 13:17 by Mr. Edwards:

Hebrews 13:17 Does Not Create Hierarchy. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account . . ." (Heb 13:17 KJV). The Greek peitho ("obey") is usually translated "persuade or "trust"--it contains the idea of becoming friends, cooperating. . . . The Greek hegemoai ("rule") is more often translated "count" or "think" and here means "leaders" or "those that must give account." The Greek hupotasso ("submit") is the same word use for "people submitting to civil authority" and members "submitting to each other" (Rom 13:1-5, ICor. 16:16, Eph 5:21, 1Pet 5:5). If hupotasso meant "under absolute authority," how could the believers be "under absolute authority" to each other?

Hence, this analysis amounts to "Hebrews 13:17 proves nothing because all the Greek words can be translated other ways or interpreted to mean other things."

Confronting such an interpretation raises a major issue of exegesis, especially among us who can't read Greek (or another Biblical language): When given a choice of different meanings for various Greek words, can we choose whatever ones fit our fancy at the moment to prove whatever doctrine we've set out to prove? Is translating/interpreting the Bible something like a cafeteria, where whatever meanings to the Greek (etc.) words in question we find listed in a lexicon or word dictionary (such as Vine's) we don't like we can reject as convenience indicates? For example, if a given Greek word has five different possible meanings, but one of those we dislike in certain scriptures, can we dogmatically say it can't ever have that one meaning in this or that text? Of course, here we may have to admit the raw ambiguity of Bible on certain questions when a multiplicity of meanings are possible in this or that context for a given Greek word. Hence, considering this point alone, and bringing no other texts to bear on the subject, those who maintain Heb. 13:17 means what the WCG traditionally taught couldn't prove their case, but then neither could Mr. Edwards: A priori (before the facts), both sides could be right. The mere fact a given Greek word more commonly may mean something else doesn't prove it can't ever mean a less common meaning in a text where our preconceived theological ideas indicate it shouldn't be.

Nevertheless, ambiguity in possible translations from the Greek into English can be reduced. The most basic way is to go systematically through the scriptures, using the Bible to interpret itself, while attempting to come up with an explanation for all the texts in question without creating any contradictions between them. Furthermore, limits do exist on the possible translations in a given context based upon syntactical/ grammatical structure or the immediate context in which the word appears. For example, above it was shown the context of Acts 14:23's use of "cheirotonesantes" couldn't have meant a whole congregation voting to choose the elders for whatever position they received, since only two men--apostles--did that. A similar issue, involving the syntactical/grammatical structure's constraints, occurs in Hebrews 13:17 concerning the word translated "obey" ("peithesthe"). Evidently, according to the B-A-G (p. 639), the correct interpretation of this term agree with the WCG's traditional interpretation of this verse:

3. pass[ive], except for the p[erfect].--a. be persuaded, be convinced, come to believe, believe abs[solute]. (Pr 26: 25) Luke 16: 31; Ac 17: 4; Hb 11: 13 . . . b. obey, follow w. dat[ive] of the pers[on] or thing . . . Ro 2: 8 . . . Gal 3: 1 t. r.; 5:7; Hb 13: 17; Js. 3:3; . . . c. Some passages stand betw. a and b and permit either transl[ation], w[ith] dat[ive] be persuaded by someone, take someone's advice or obey, follow someone Ac 5: 36f, 39; 23:21; 27:11 . . .

James 3:3 is interesting in this context for its use of "peithesthai": "Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well." The other texts cited under "b." above involve obeying the truth or something else similarly abstract. Hence, the grammatical structure constrains this word being translated "obey" into meaning just that--"obey."

Another word worthy of examination is "hegemoai," which is translated "rule" in the KJV, and "leaders" in the NASB. According to the B-A-G (p. 343), "hegeomai" means:

1. lead, guide; in our lit[erature] only pres[ent] p[articiple] . . . of men in any leading position . . . ruler, leader (opp[osite] . . . the servant) Lk 22: 26. Of princely authority . . . Of high officials . . . Of military commanders . . . Also of leaders of religious bodies . . . of heads of a Christian church Hb 13: 7, 17, 24 . . ."

Thayer's (p. 276) has a similar view of "hegeomai" and whether the meaning of it in Hebrews 13 falls under the "ruler" meaning or the "consider, deem, account, think" meaning:

1. to lead, i.e. a. to go before; b. to be a leader; to rule, command; to have authority over: in the N. T. so only in the pres[ent] [participle] . . . a prince, of regal power . . . a (royal) governor, viceroy, . . . chief, Lk. xxii. 26 (opp. to [o diakonon]); leading as respects influence, controlling in counsel, . . . among any, Acts xv. 22; with gen[der] of the pers[on] over whom one rules, so of the overseers or leaders of Christians churches: Heb. xiii. 7, 17, 24 . . ."

While Thayer's is somewhat more favorable to Mr. Edwards' viewpoint, both lexicons still avoid putting "hegemoai" as it appears in Heb. 13:17 under the "consider, think" meaning. This choice implies grammatical/syntactical reasons exist for translating it the way it appears in the KJV ("that have the rule over") or the NASB ("leaders"). The latter translates it as a noun (i.e. "leaders"), not as a verb ("think"), despite it is a present participle (an "-ing" word) linked up to an implied preceding pronoun ("those" or "ones"). The mere fact this word is more often translated in the KJV as "count" or "esteem" or "think" doesn't prove it means that also in Heb. 13:17, since (evidently) the grammatical form it appears in rule (please pardon the pun!) those other meanings out.

Finally, in regards to Heb. 13:17, Mr. Edwards' statement concerning "hupotasso" needs analysis. The word here actually is "hupeiko," which is a different word from "hupotasso." "Hupeiko" only appears once in the New Testament--just here!--making comparative use within Scripture impossible. The B-A-G (p. 838) says "hupeiko" means: "yield, fig. give way, submit to someone's authority . . . w[ith] dat[ive] of the pers[on] to whom one submits . . . Hb 13: 17." Thayer's (p. 638) is slightly more favorable to Mr. Edwards' cause: "fr[om] Hom[er] down; to resist no longer, but to give way, yield, (prop[erly] of combatants); metaph[orically] to yield to authority and admonition, to submit: Heb. xiii. 17." Both lexicons concur in saying some are being told to obey others over them in spiritual authority.

As for the word "hupotasso" itself, this word as it appears in Rom. 13:1 and Eph. 5:21, 22, 24 is VERY unfavorable for trying to prove Christians have no special duty to obey others in the body of Christ. In the Romans passage, it's the word used to express our need to submit to the state (chapter 1, verses 1-2): "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is not authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." Paul would have denied the American/French/English revolutionaries' "right to revolt"! The only explicit exception to this principle need to obey the state appears in Acts 5:29; 4:19, which concerns a law which makes us disobey God, such as worshipping a false god (Dan. 3:14-19). Similarly, this word is used for a wife obeying her husband when compared to the church obeying Christ (Eph. 5:24): "But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything." The text (v. 21) where believers are to submit to one another is connected grammatically to the Scripture where (again) wives are told to obey their husbands (v. 22): "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Does v. 21 cancel out the husband's authority over the wife in v. 22? Obviously not--it just means in context that a husband should go out of his way to consider his wife's feelings and desires, and avoid ruling like an arbitrary tyrant. Nevertheless, the final decision-making authority lies with the husband on family matters (admittedly, an unpopular notion these days!) Hence, Mr. Edwards' citation of "hupotasso" is really a point against his own case, as a casual glance at this word's meaning in the B-A-G (p. 848) makes clear, since this word concerns becoming subject or subordinated, or obeying others, period.

Although Hebrews 13:7 poses somewhat weaker threat to a congregationalist viewpoint than v. 13 does, it's still a problem: "Remember those who led you ('them which have the rule over you'--KJV, 'hegoumenon'). The same word appears in v. 24: "Greet all of your leaders ('them that have the rule over you'--KJV, 'hegoumenous') and all the saints," which also draws a distinction between the laity and its leadership in a single text. Again, the text discusses those considered to be in charge of the flock who, in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation, are "governing" those in their charge. The basic problem Hebrews 13:17 poses to congregationalists is that in the KJV it has three words some would object to as the function of an elder over laymembers--"obey," "rule," and "submit." It strains credulity to say all three of these rather redundant words in a single verse mean nothing substantive about authority of ministers concerning the flocks in their care.

 

DO ELDERS "RULE" OVER THE LAITY?

Presenting potentially serious problems to Mr. Edwards' case, the texts using the word "proistemi" about elders and their role of authority in the congregations of God must be examined. Note I Tim. 5:17: "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." Then there's I Thess. 5:12: "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction." Also of interest is I Tim. 3:4-5: "He [an overseer] must be one who manages ('ruleth,' KJV) his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage ('rule,' KJV) his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)." This word "proistemi" has two basic meanings, as the B-A-G (p. 707) informs us: "1. be at the head (of), rule, direct . . . 2. be concerned about, care for, give aid . . ." So now--which one applies to I Tim. 5:17? Do we get a choice? May ambiguity reign? May we have what we want? The B-A-G denies us a free choice for syntactical/grammatical reasons:

1. be at the head (of), rule, direct w[ith] gen[der] of the per[son] or the thing . . . manage, conduct . . . I Tim. 3: 4f. . . . vs. 12. Of officials and administrators in the church . . . So perh[aps] (s. 2 below) . . . [for] I Th. 5: 12 and the abs[olute] . . . Ro 12: 8 (s. 2). [but, NOTE!>] Certainly . . . I Ti 5:17

Thayer's (p. 539) confirms this:

1. in the tran[sitive] tenses to set or place before; to set over. 2. in the [perfect pluperfect] and 2 [aorist active] and in the pre[sent] and imp[erfect] mid. a. to be over, to superintend, preside over, [A.V. rule] . . . I Tim. v. 17; with a gen[der] of the pers[on] or thing over which one presides, I Th. v. 12; I Tim. iii. 4 sq. 12.

Importantly, I Th. 5:12 or Rom. 12:8 may be ambiguous, but this uncertainty is DENIED for I Timothy 5:17. This difference in translation is well reflected in the NASB (quoted above), which uses the stronger translation "rule" for I Tim. 5:17, but other words for Rom. 12:8 and I Thess. 5:12. If indeed overseers are to "rule" over us--for our good, as servants to us, not abusing their authority--Mr. Edwards' case takes a major blow.

 

CAN ELDERS DISFELLOWSHIP MEMBERS WITHOUT THE ASSEMBLY'S APPROVAL?

Confirming that the ministers of Christ have authority over others (for the latter's good), various texts mention the apostles giving orders to others. For example, Paul orders the man having a sexual relationship with his [step?]mother to be disfellowshipped in I Cor. 5. The local brethren didn't take a vote first, but Paul instead said (v. 2-5, 13):

For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. . . . Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

This definitely is not a "mother may I" approach to the laity! Paul meant business, and he wasn't going to brook contradiction (or a theoretical majority voting to keep the man committing incest in their midst!) Although Matt. 18:17 points to the assembly or congregation ("church" is translated from "ecclessian" here) in disfellowshipment cases as the final authority, the example of I Cor. 5 shows a minister of Christ can excommunicate by his sole authority as well. Clearly, this particular "assembly" in Corinth had totally fallen down on its job to police itself, whether by its local elders/overseers or others in the congregation, necessitating Paul's excommunication order. Similarly, in I Tim. 1:20, Paul doesn't mention any group or church board as being responsible for the disfellowshipment that occurred: "Among these are Humenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme." Although the Corinthians had to gather together before the disfellowshipment order was implemented, this reality doesn't overthrow the fact that Paul was giving an order, nor deny that (noting I Tim. 1:20) a minister--overseer--could disfellowship someone on his own authority alone. The Corinthians gathered together merely to ratify what they were ordered to do was purely a formality.

Matthew 16:18-19 has been a battleground for centuries between Roman Catholics and Protestants due to whether the Rock ("petra") was a reference to Peter or to Christ. Like Protestants, Mr. Edwards properly observes: "The Greek shows His assembly or 'church' is not built on Peter but on the Messiah." The word for Peter--"petros"--means a fairly small stone, but "petra" means a huge, giant rock or crag (compare I Cor. 10:4). Ironically, even Catholic church father St. Augustine near the end of his life came to agree with what later became the standard Protestant (and WCG) interpretation of the "petra."

But verse 19 of Matt. 19 adds something of note about the high authority of the ministry of Christ in God's sight: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Now, what does this exactly mean? Using the Bible to interpret itself--we needn't guess or speculate--we turn to Matt. 18:17-18 and see it concerns the power to excommunicate: "And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church ["assembly"]; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." When comparing Matt. 16:19 to 18:17-18, it seems that both the ministry and assembly have the power of disfellowshipment. Christ gave Peter in particular this power in Matt. 16:19, while the "church" or congregation in Matt. 18:17-18 is asserted to have it also. However, "assembly" may not mean merely (unorganized) "laymembers" here, but a larger constituted, organized body including elders/overseers, which may explain the initial seeming inconsistency between these two texts. It is not just any group of Christians--a mere gathering or crowd of people--doing the disfellowshipping, but an organized body with recognized shepherds following in Peter's footsteps (John 21:15-17) involved in leading it. Hence, private disfellowshipment can be a legitimate act by the local minister alone, which has the advantage of avoiding the sideshows familiar to those who have attended controversial school board meetings or city council gatherings that may erupt in a local congregation if votes had to be taken on such acts by the laity.

The ministry of Christ does have authority to select elders as Titus 1:5: "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set to order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed ("I ordered"--Kingdom Interlinear) you." There's nothing here about some group electing the elders here, but Paul is giving an order to Titus, and then Titus alone is appointing the elders to be overseers. While presumably Titus would have asked to advice and counsel from laymembers as to whom to appoint, this doesn't change how the final decision, in the Lord, rested with him.

Now Mr. Edwards objects to the view that Christians had to obey Paul's orders by citing the cases of Barnabas' disagreement with him about taking Mark along with them (Acts 15:36-41) and "Apollos who rejected Paul's command (1Cor 16:12)" However, Paul's dispute with Barnabas involved a fellow apostle--someone with authority equal to Paul's in the Church of God. This case can't be germane for a laymember\overseer conflict. I Cor. 16:12 says: "But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged ('I entreated'--Kingdom Interlinear) him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity." It doesn't sound like Paul was giving an order here, in contrast to I Cor. 5! Of course, such authority would be limited to commands "in the Lord"--a minister couldn't legitimately order someone to break the Sabbath or to lie, for example.

The ministry of Christ does have authority over the flock. For example, Titus (2:15) was told: "These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority ('command,' NASB literal translation, margin). Let no one disregard you." Peter's rebuking of Simon the sorcerer doesn't sound like mere exhortation either, but a clear "repent or get lost!" command (Acts 8:20-23). The shepherds do have authority over the flock, but for its good, not their own (Mark 10:42-43; John 10:11-16).

 

ACTS 15-16 AND TOP-DOWN GOVERNMENT IN THE CHURCH

One standard congregationalist claim is to say the first century church was made up of self-governing, autonomous local congregations. Hence, no minister would have authority over more than one congregation in the manner that (say) Catholic archbishops do. However, this claim is effectively denied by the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and its aftermath in Acts 16. Note in Acts 15:1-2, the response to the Pharisaical element was not, "You can do what you like in your congregations, and we'll do what we want to do in ours." Instead, in v. 2, the response was, "We'll send Paul and Barnabas up to the headquarters/mother church at Jerusalem, and have all the apostles and elders there look into the issue." At least as a group, the apostles and elders at Jerusalem had authority over all the local churches/assemblies, in a manner somewhat similar to the council of elders in the UCG today (minus the apostles, of course!)

A very interesting demonstration of top-down church government on doctrinal matters is found concerning how the Jerusalem Council's decision of Acts 15 about circumcision was passed down to the local churches (Acts 16:4): "Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees, which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem for them to observe." It would NOT have been a good situation if, say, some local congregation dominated by the Pharisaical element (re: Acts 15:5) could go off and deny the decisions made in Jerusalem by the consensus of the apostles and elders together (not just by one man) by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

ARE "ELDERS" JUST "OLDER MEN"?

One important issue is whether elders were just older men, or also men ordained to specific positions. Mr. Edwards writes: "Elders are not listed because this is not a gift that the holy spirit grants--men naturally grow older and become elders." Furthermore, was being an "elder" an office itself, or were elders ordained into other positions? It becomes evident that not all elders--older men--necessarily had spiritual authority over the flock. Using an Old Testament example, 70 of the elders of Israel were chosen to worship God from a distance with Aaron and his sons (Ex. 24:1, 9, 14). Presumably, in a group of some two to three million, there were a lot more "older men" than just 70! Some principle of selectivity operated here. Obviously, passages in which "older men/elders" are contrasted with "older women" or "younger men" exist (I Tim. 5:1-2; Titus 2:2-4; I Peter 5:5). However, three cases in which "overseer" and "elder" get effectively equated appear (Acts 20: 17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; I Peter 5:1-2, NKJV). This correlation indicates the likelihood that (ordained) "elders" and (unordained) "older men" exist side-by-side. The SDA Commentary (vol. 6, p. 38) maintains on this general subject:

It must be noted that in the early church these two titles ["presbuteros," elder and "episkopos," overseer, "bishop" in the KJV often] did not designate two different offices. The fact that they were applied interchangeably to the same office is shown clearly in Acts 20:17, 28, where the elders of Ephesus who met Paul at Miletus are called both elders and bishops or "overseers." The same exchange of terms is found in Paul's letter to Titus, ch. 1:5-9, where in describing the qualifications for the leaders of the church, the terms "elder" and "bishop" are used synonymously. . . . Why then the two terms? It is clear that they designate the same activity. "Elder," or "presbyter," is evidently the title of the office; "overseer" is used to name the function of the office.

After all, did Paul call all "older men" to meet with him in Ephesus (Acts 20) or just the elders who were overseers? Not all the "older men" in the church necessarily would live up to the qualifications of an "overseer" in I Tim. 3:1-7, yet they would still be Christians. Although Mr. Edwards correctly states that being an "older man" isn't a spiritual office, nevertheless, the way Scripture seems to nearly equate being an overseer with an elder at times points to a distinction being drawn among those who are "elders."

Mr. Edwards also maintains: "The Bible never gives qualifications of an elder or states that a person becomes an elder by the laying on of hands." "We cannot find a verse where a person becomes an elder through an appointment or some other process. Nor do we find a procedure whereby eldership can be removed." The potential problem for these statements is that if "elders" and "older men" are separate categories, with the former nearly equated to overseer at times, then "elders" could be removed from office or become so by the laying on of hands. After all, an "older man," removed or suspended from office for his sins, doesn't cease to be an "older man" physically speaking, but he then does cease to be an "elder" (having an overseer position in the congregation). Note I Tim. 5:22 in particular: "Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin." The preceding context (especially verses 17-20) shows this isn't generic advice about who to give the Holy Spirit to after baptism, but concerns (ordained) elders. As the SDA Commentary (vol. 7, p. 314) remarks:

Paul may be referring either to the hasty ordination of an inexperienced and untried man (see on ch. 3:6, 10) or to the hasty reinstatement of an elder after he has been under discipline. The latter view is more in harmony with the immediate context (see on ch. 5:20, 21). The office of elder was too sacred and important for a hasty admission or readmission of anyone who had not proved himself worthy.

So when Acts 14:23 mentions the appointing of elders, since the other positions they were ordained to weren't mentioned, the possibility of "elder" as an office in itself is opened up, or its virtual equation to being an "overseer." It's an assumption to say "These elders were appointed to the various leadership jobs, not mentioned in this brief account." It is conspicuous how Paul in I Tim. 5 starts off mentioning older men, younger men, older women, younger women, and widows, but mentions nothing concerning church administration until later in the chapter, where in v. 17 we get a discussion of how to deal with "elders." A possible hint that we have "older men" at the beginning of the chapter, but "elders" (those older men who serve as overseers) towards the end is how Paul tells Timothy not to "sharply rebuke an older man" in v. 1, but says elders who continue in sin should be "rebuke[d] in the presence of all." Hence, there's reason to believe "elders" (an ordained spiritual position) may not be the same as "older men"--that the same Greek words get used in different ways in different texts.

 

MAY LAYMEMBERS PUBLICLY REBUKE ELDERS BEFORE THE CONGREGATION?

Mr. Edwards cites I Timothy 5:19-20 to prove laymembers can rebuke elders publicly:

For those elders that are found setting themselves up as dictators instead of servants, congregations should employ I Timothy 5:19-20 . . . This scripture has rarely been followed in the congregations. Most hierarchies want to 'cover up' a leader's sins so his congregations will not lose respect for him. In reality, refusal to follow this scripture makes it look like the person 'got away with the sin' and people lose respect for the entire organization.

I Timothy 5:19-20 reads: "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses [compare Matt. 18:16]. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all [compare Matt. 18:17], so that the rest also may be fearful of sinnning." The principal problem with this interpretation is that I Timothy was written to a minister--Timothy. Hence, the context of this scripture points to one minister--i.e., Timothy--rebuking another minister, a sinning elder. This text by itself doesn't give warrant to laymembers opening up on an overseer directly before the whole congregation, but bringing their complaints (after following Matt. 18:16 first, presumably) to another overseer who would rebuke the sinning elder before the whole congregation. Such a procedure as suggested above would really only be legitimate if one had a totally autonomous local church which had only one elder who was sinning seriously in charge of it, and only after the first two steps of the Matt. 18:16-18 "grievance procedure" had been pursued first. I Timothy 5:20 needs to be seen in context, remembering to whom this letter of Paul's was written to--a single man who was a minister, not a congregation as a whole as most of Paul's letters were.

 

THE CORRECT ORIGIN OF THE WORD "CHURCH"

Now, a correction concerning the origin of the word "church" is necessary. It has been said this word comes from "the old English circe or cyrce which is the name of a Greek goddess that turned men into swine and ate them (see Homer's Odyssey). This author prefers to use the words 'Congregation' or 'Assembly' instead of the old Catholic terminology." Two words have been confused here. According to The Random House Dictionary Of the English Language Second Edition Unabridged (p. 371) the word church was derived this way:

[bef. 900; ME [Middle English] chir(i)che, OE [Old English] cir(i)ce < < Gk [Greek] kyria(a)kon (doma) the Lord's (house), neut. of kyriakos of the master, equiv. to kyri(os) master (kyr(os) power + -ios n. suffix) + -akos, var. of -ikos -ic; akin to D[anish] kerk, G[erman] Kirche, ON [Old Norweigan] kirkja. See kirk]

By contrast, Circe, the name of the sorceress who challenged Odysseus, is derived this way (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 241): "[L[atin], fr[om] G[reek] Kirke]". Similar to the feminist misconception "history" comes from "his story" instead of the Greek word histor for "knowing, learned," mistakes like this in etymology can be avoided often by some research in various dictionaries.

 

SHOULD LAYMEMBERS VOTE ON HOW TO SPEND TITHES?

One touchy subject, as nearly always to us Americans, concerns the handling of the church's finances and who should do it. The main issue for a local congregation is whether a local board chosen by the laymembers should determine how tithes are spent or, instead, we should confine the fundamental allocation decisions to elders. For I recalled a distinction being made between spiritual and physical decisions being made based upon Acts 6 in one or two sermons I heard shortly after the Indianapolis conference in 1995 that resulted in the creation of the UCG--AIA. The idea was that decisions concerning physical affairs of the church, such as which halls to rent or the setting up of chairs, could come from bottom up, while spiritual ones, such as the content of sermons or the determination of doctrine, would come from the top down, whether local pastor and elders, or the body of elders in the church as a whole. The problem immediately faced here is whether how tithes are spent is a spiritual decision or a physical one. While the actual dispensing of funds on various items mainly a physical task, corresponding to the deacons waiting on tables in Acts 6, the basic allocation of funds is a spiritual one. How much and what methods should be spent on preaching the gospel, or building a church building, or how often and how many times the general conference of elders should meet (UCG) constitute spiritual decisions. To put the power of the purse in the hands of the laity, saying this is a physical task, ignores how the ultimate truth in human affairs that he who pays the piper calls the tunes. Such a situation inevitably results in the laymembers controlling the ministers by threatening to reduce salaries, firing them, etc. if "they" don't do as the former wish. A good precedent for the elders have general control over the finances can be derived from Acts 4:34-35: "For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need." Here the apostles, who would correspond to elders/overseers nowadays in having a spiritual position (note how Peter also called himself an elder, not just an apostle--I Peter 5:1-2) were given the general control over which direction such funds were spent, while the deacons actually performed the task of waiting on tables, which today would correspond with those actually spending funds. Hence, there's reason to see a church board's authority to spend should be put firmly under the decisions of the local elders, either by having them solely compose the board, perhaps along with the deacons, or by putting them in a position above and separate from the board, leaving the board to make decisions similar to that of the deacons in Acts 6 in the actual spending of money, but not determining the overall direction/allocation of funds.

 

IS THE UCG LAODICEA? IS THE UCG AND GCG NICOLAITAN?

One point that needs examination is how we can use the letters to the churches (Rev. 2 and 3) to beat other Christians over the head with when we see them having a form of church government we don't like. For example, "Laodicea" is said to be a combination of "laos" and "dike" in Greek, meaning "the people" and "right (as self-evident)," "justice," "judgment." Hence, Laodicea means "justice of the people" or "the rights of the people"--that is, the rights of the laity are a top priority to be protected by their leaders. Hence, some in Global (although Dr. Meredith hasn't written this himself) maintain United is "Laodicean" since it has a republican form of church government among the elders that sets up checks and balances to prevent abuses by the ministry between each other or against the laymembers. Similarly, we have "Nicolaitan," which supposedly comes from a combination of "nicos," meaning to conquer or bind, and "laos," the people. The ones doing the binding are a clerical class who exploit and abuse the laity. Therefore, Nicolaitanism is a doctrine that creates a special clerical class--i.e., an ordained ministry--leaving the rest as laymembers to be ruled over by the priests, ministers, parsons, etc. in question. Needless to say, both of these SPECULATIONS canNOT be true simultaneously. If the representative nature of the United Church of God's church government condemns it (as well as more democratic forms of church government, such as that proposed by Mr. Edwards) as "Laodicean," partisans of a radical democratization can simultaneously condemn United, Global, Philadelphia, etc. as "Nicolaitan"--which is a LOT worse. The condemnation heaped on this error is much worse placed on Laodicea, since Jesus threatens them with destruction (Rev. 2:15-16), and they may not even be true Christians (Does this refer to Roman Catholicism?), unlike Laodicea. Evidently, this method of breaking down a longer word to extract meaning from it brings some contradictory results. Instead, maybe we should dispose of our "prophetic clubs" and stop condemning each other for disagreeing on how churches should be run, for the attitude of those with authority (Luke 22:25-26) is more important than the structure they operate within. Further, we face the issue of whether the New Testament church's EXAMPLE is a COMMAND for us today, to the extent it can be figured out to begin with. God may have given us Christians more leeway on how to organize a church than a lot of us involved in this debate like to think.

 

AVOID READING THE WORLD'S PRESENT-DAY POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES INTO THE BIBLE

Basically, the congregationalist/independent approach to church government suffers from the problem that the New Testament has very little to say about democracy, republicanism, voting, or individual rights, but it has lots to say about obedience, hierarchy, submission, and ruling. We must avoid reading the modern Western world's culture, especially that of us Americans, heirs of the revolution of 1776, into the New Testament. Although my own brand of human politics borders on libertarianism, I freely admit that the New Testament contains little to support it. For example, the New Testament says we should obey the state: "Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed" (Titus 3:1). "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right" (I Pet 2:13-15). Paul tells children to obey their parents, a notion often especially unpopular with the 'Sixties crowd: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1). "Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord" (Col. 3:20). Similarly, slaves are ordered to obey their masters, not given permission to revolt against them: "Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do you work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men" (Col. 3:22-23). "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart" (Eph. 6:5-6). "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly" (I Pet 2:18-19). Feminists today especially dislike the texts commanding wives to obey their husbands: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord" (Col. 3:18). "In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives. . . . 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, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by fear" (I Pet. 3:1, 5-6). Even Christ has to obey God the Father: "For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, 'All things are put in subjection,' it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God be all in all" (I Cor. 15:27-28). Consider this hierarchical structure in Scripture: "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ" (I Cor. 11:3). What was one reason for Jesus becoming flesh?: "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Heb. 5:8). Would this not imply we are to learn a similar lesson, since we are to follow in His footsteps? What are Christians destined to do in the world tomorrow?: "'And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father" (Rev. 2:26-27). "And Thou has made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth" (Rev. 5:10). Of course, all humans are supposed to obey God: "And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). (However, do I even need to cite any texts about this?) Since the spirit of hierarchy, ruling, obedience, and submission saturates the New Testament, trying to manipulate this or that text to establish democracy, a right to revolt, and individual rights in relationships between the laity and the ministry is totally unpersuasive. Our protection against unjust rulers (kings, presidents, ministers, husbands, parents, etc.) is to remind them of God's commands to them to be humble and loving towards the ruled (Matt. 20:24-28; John 13:12:17; Eph. 5:28-29; 6:4, 9; I Pet. 3:7; Col. 3:21). I don't write this conclusion with much pleasure: I stir uneasily politically, thinking that, when John Locke in his First Treatise of Government counterattacked Robert Filmer's Patriarchia, or the Natural Power of Kings, the weight of Scripture is (ahem) on the latter's side. The same goes for Thomas Hobbes when in Leviathan he props up his brand of totalitarianism by citing texts he surely didn't believe were literally inspired by God. The bottom-line conclusion is this: It's time to stop reading the world's current political philosophies into the New Testament to support what our human reason thinks is just.

 

THE NEED FOR BALANCE AND WHERE MR. EDWARDS IS RIGHT

Fundamentally, the mistakes Mr. Edwards makes concerning church government, especially his denial of a ordained ministry that has authority over laymembers, come from not digging into meaning of the Greek terms enough, and how the syntactical/grammatical structure or context of various words constrains the possible meanings of the words in question. This isn't to say most of what he has written is wrong--rather, a majority is right. For those caught up in the authority of the ministry in the past, thinking a minister must be closer to God than any laymember is, he reminds us of the classic (and correct) Reformation Protestant doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers." Further, his saying an "evangelist" or "pastor" are functions, not ranks, is unquestionably correct, which lays the groundwork for wiping out most of the layers of hierarchy that had existed in the WCG in the past. His emphasis on the need for ministers to serve the brethren, after the many abuses that have occurred in the WCG under Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Tkach Senior, is undeniably necessary. Even the latter and his son saw this problem to a significant degree, insisting ministers should be shepherds, not sheriffs. Mr. Edwards' war on exclusivity is useful, since we in the WCG had such a strong sense of us being the one true church it may be hard for some leaving it to let that view go. Certainly, the idea of one-man rule is false, which Mr. Edwards (and, ironically, Roderick Meredith these days) make clear repeatedly. Nevertheless, in Mr. Edwards' writings on church government we have a case of an overcorrective, where the pendulum has swung too far towards democracy away from hierarchy. As Roderick Meredith observed:

Human mistakes of church leaders never justify changing God's entire approach to church government, or His laws, or anything else. Yet when human beings find that they have been in one 'ditch,' they often leap out, run across the middle of the road, and jump into the other 'ditch'! The answer is not in going to either extreme, but in trusting Christ to guide His Church, following the pattern of church government as He clearly reveals it throughout the Bible.

 

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