Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Over at TheOoze.com my article "Exploitation or Empowerment" is sparking a few interesting conversations.

I just posted a rather lengthy response to a friend who asked some questions and raised some objections there so I thought I'd re-post my comments here for further discussion.

Essentially, my friend Paul is questioning whether or not all are called to be leaders in the Church and raises some good points about the Church Fathers. He also questions the idea that there was no hierarchy in the early church.

Here's my response:

First, the Apostles were commanded by Jesus to call no one Father, not to be called Teachers themselves and to treat everyone as brothers. (See Mark 10: 42-45).

Jesus also modelled a leadership structure whereby the leader would wash feet, humble himself and serve the others as an equal and a brother or sister in Christ (see John 13) and he commanded those disciples (soon to be Apostles) to do the same.

The Apostles did not execute a leadership style or structure that you and I would recognize...and I mean that in a good way.

When we look at NT passages where the church is commanded to "submit to the authority of elders" (found in various places throughout the NT) it is in the context of submitting to them as they instruct in the Gospel. It is not a submission to them as authoritarian leaders but a submission to them as they lead us to follow Christ. Of course, if those leaders lead people away from Christ or the Scriptures one would not be required to submit to their authority.

I agree that there were Apostles, Elders, and Deacons in the early Church but they were not authoritarian leaders, they were average people who were filled with God's Holy Spirit and who sat alongside their brothers and sisters as equals on a daily basis. It was an authority based on maturity in Christ (at least at first).

Also, isn't it curious to you that those NT Epistles were not addressed to "The Pastor of the Church in Corinth" or "Ephesus", etc.? I find it fascinating that those letters are written to the believers themselves - directly to those same believers who were the Body of Christ - not to the leaders who would then work it into a weekly sermon.

I think when you move so quickly into the idea of Bishops and Church Hierarcy you assume that this was always the case and it most certainly was not. Until Cyprian and Ignatius began to influence the Church in this way these concepts were not accepted or practiced. Constantine provided the final piece to that shift away from the Priesthood of the Believer, but it was a process, not something that was present in the first 200 years of Christian life and practice.

Simply because we see words like "Leadership" and "Elder" and "Authority" it does not automatically follow that the practice of leadership and authority looked like what we're used to in Modern Christianity today. I would argue that it did not.

Peter and Paul and the other Apostles argued often that there was a new way of worshipping and experiencing God outside of a temple (building) and without the need for a secondary priest to mediate for us. Instead, the Gospel included the radical concept that you and I (as followers of Christ) are the new Priests of God. Shocking, yes, but clearly demonstrated throughout the writings of our Apostles in the NT.

The Gospel message also included another radical idea that had not existed previously - that the worship of God would not require a building/temple because you and I (as followers of Christ) are the new Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. This was a radical teaching of inclusion for anyone and everyone to become a Talmidum or Disciple of Jesus and participate in a way never before imagined by the common folk of the day.

You suggest that "all are not leaders" and I would agree. But just because some lead and others are not leading this doesn't mean that not everyone participates. Clearly the idea behind 1 Cor 12 is that everyone in the Body of Christ has a purpose and a function and a very, very critical role to play in the operation of this Body. Name a part of your body that you would be ready to cut off and live without. Other than your appendix or your tonsils, maybe that extra kidney, none of us would want to live without our body parts--because they're all esssential to the health and function and well-being of the Body!

Did God plan to have all 28 spiritual gifts flow through one man? You've been a pastor and you know (and have seen) the crushing weight of trying to be the single person through whom the gifts of encouragement, prayer, teaching, administration, counseling, discernment, etc. must flow. The reason so many pastors burn out and give up is because this is not the way God envisioned it. His plan was to distribute everything the Body needed through each and every member. This means that participation is essential. It means you need everyone. It means if you don't obey Jesus and love one another then you're not the Church that He designed…and you can't be because all the spiritual gifts must operate in love. (Which is why everytime Paul mentions gifts he follows with an instruction on love. Everytime).

I mean, they sit and listen once or twice a week and go home until the next meeting. You ask me, "Is the level of participation higher in the house church?" - YES! In fact, if there was no participation we'd all sit and stare at each other in silence week to week. It wouldn't work. And beyond the participatory nature of our gatherings, we have "deputized" each and every member of the house church to "be the church" and that means loving their actual neighbors, making disciples, leading others to understand God's Word, take the Gospel to their workplace, etc.

HOW DO I ACCOUNT FOR HISTORICAL CHRISTIANS WHO WERE ADVOCATES OF ORGANIZED CHURCH?The short answer is that they were products of their environment and I understand this because for most of my spiritual journey I was in the same boat as they were.I'm not saying I'm better than them because of this. The truth is there are certain areas of faith where Luther and St. Francis were giants and other areas where they were very small and just plain wrong.

Where Luther was right about indulgences he was wrong about the Jews. Where Mother Teresa was right about the poor, she was wrong about praying to dead people. Where Calvin was right about the depravity of man's soul, he was wrong about man's inability to "want" to do good.

Perhaps I need to write another article more explicitly about the kind of leadership that we see in the NT and how it looks nothing like what we see in pulpits around the World today?

Wait for it...



paul said...

Much to respond to, Keith. Yes we should have coffee. For now, I can only say that there are many historical errors you cite. Yes, some NT letters were "open letters"; others were written to the leaders (i.e., Timothy, Titus). Paul distinguished based on the DIFFERENCE between laity and leaders. You seem to have problems with the term "authoritarian leader" and prefer "servant leader"--as if these are mutually exclusive concepts. Jesus displayed both by rebuking, calling, and organizing. He also served and washed feet. Yet his followers submitted to him because they understood the biblical concept of submission. The same was true with Paul and the other apostles. The church has followed in that Jesus tradition for 2,000 years. "Authority based on maturity in Christ"? Peter was known for his maturity in Christ? Also, "they were the products of their environment"? So all believers adhering to traditional forms of hierarchy know no better? Like Dallas Willard (who attends a Vineyard church), or the the literally countless names of spiritual heroes, most of whom worked from within traditional/hierarchical church structures? I find it hard to write words to refute what seems to be your thesis--that none of them understood the way church was "really" supposed to be. Gotta go. I love you too, Keith. I'll call. Pau

Keith Giles said...

Paul - Please show me where Paul distinguished based on the difference between laity and leaders. It's my understanding that in the NT church there was no clergy class of believer to be found. Some taught, some encouraged, some prayed, but no one held special office.

Jesus is still the head of the church and he still rebukes and calls people to follow Him. I'm not so sure that I agree that Jesus ever "organized" anything. Can you give me an example of this? It seems to me that nearly everything Jesus did just happened along the way. Maybe we could point to the sending out of the disciples as an example of "organizing" but it was sparse - Team up with another disciple and go out into a village nearby. Knock on doors until you find someone willing to welcome you inside. Don't take any money or food with you. Preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. - Not a lot of preperation or training there just "go for it".

The NT shows us a "mutual submission" because it commands us to "submit to one another out of love". The "one another" is for everyone.

You and I know that the formalized clergy class didn't arise until the late 2nd century. A good NT Historian like Dr. Bartchy would verify this to us in great detail I am sure.

Peter's "maturity in Christ" was displayed by his humility, not by his authority. If you think Peter wasn't mature in his faith then why would Jesus have made him an authoritarian leader in the clergy class? (assuming that there was one)

It really doesn't matter to me how Billy Graham and Dallas Willard worship on Sunday morning. My basis for worship is found in the Bible, not in the practice of those heroes of the faith. I'm following Jesus (or trying to anyway), not Dallas Willard or St. Francis.

Isnt' this what Paul was warning Christians against when he tells them not to allign themselves with this Apostle or that Evangelist? He corrects this error and reminds them that we are all of Christ.

Paul also instructs the early church to avoid leaders who love to dominate the conversation and take control. (Can't remember the exact reference off the top of my head but I'll find it and add it later).

The leadership I see in the NT is relational, not hierarcichal.

The Apostles were the foundation and that doesn't need to be laid down again, instead authority comes down from Christ, not a position. It has nothing to do with titles or structure. It has everything to do with demonstrating a love for Jesus and others (see 1 cor 16:15; phil 2:29; 1 thess 5:12-13; heb 13:7-17; etc.)

This is a good debate. Thanks for the chance to more fully explain my thoughts.


Paul said...

Thank you, Keith.

Paul said...

Well...quickly. There were special offices (I don't like your term "clergy class"). Paul is the best example. He had authority and he exercised that authority to lead, encourage, organize, and rebuke. If we can't agree on this fact, we're at an impasse.

The NT terms "apostle," "the disciples" (referring to the 12), "deacon," "elder," "overseer," show a very clear difference between a person using a spiritual gift (i.e., prophecy) versus one being anointed, or ordained, for a special office. This is the idea of Paul in 1 Cor. 12..."are all called to be apostles?" Also, why do you think Paul's introductions to Timothy and Titus are different to those addressed to the churches at Corinth or Galatia? If there wasn't a special class of leaders, why did Paul write distinct letters to these leaders.

Also, what do you do with the many passages, such as Acts 15:22:

"Then the APOSTLES and ELDERS, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas..."

Why the distinction here between apostles, elders, and the whole church in these passages? Again, I'm not sure about your term "formalized clergy class." But as a matter fact, since Jesus called the 12 2,000 years ago, there has been a very clear distinction between leaders and laity--both theologically, and in practice.

But this fact does NOT destroy the notion of the priesthood of all believers. What it says is that all believers are called to minister according to the gifts given to them by God.

But all are not called to be apostles, bishops, priests, pastors, overseers, deacons, or elders.

You rival the notions of leadership based on "relationship" versus "hierarchy." There should be no dualism between the two. You are wrong that NT leadership was based solely on relationship. This is a popular idea today, but factually false. Paul had no relationship with those who heard those open letters being read in Corinth or Galatia. But those who did not know him--who had no relationship with him--followed his teachings. Again, not because of relationship, but because of hierarchy.

I'm honestly not sure how one could claim, as you do, to "follow Jesus" while ignoring the lineage of spiritual greats that link us to him. I guess this is main point of our disagreement.

I'm not so confident in my theological insight that I could simply toss-aside the views (with respect to this issue) of those who have gone before me. Hundreds of spiritual heroes have disagreed on hundreds of issues--virtually all of them agree on the vitality of church government, hierarchy, and organization.

In the end, I care deeply (and follow with reverence) the way Saint Francis and Dallas Willard view the church. And I believe it dangerous to establish "my own" views on matters of such importance. That is how cults get started.

Last quick thought. The emerging church trend has renewed this loathing of organization, structure and authority. And for some good reasons!. But, heck, even an informal house church has organization and structure (i.e., announcements, meetings times, delegation of funds, etc.). I would even argue that they all have hierarchy (though the conveners often try to run away from THAT.)


Keith Giles said...


Great stuff! Let me attempt to state my perspective.

To your first point, yes Paul was an Apostle with the authority to rebuke, teach, etc. but do we have these sorts of leaders today? And would you say that a Pastor (as we understand the term) in today's church now has the same authority of an Apostle such as Paul or Peter?

I would argue that Pastors in today's church's do not have this same authority.

Even so, Paul's use of this authority was quite interesting. Read Philemon and see how he asks that Onesimum be pardoned as a brother, even though he acknowledges that he "could command" it - He doesn't. Instead he operates in humililty- something lacking in today's hierarchy.

Secondly, you say: "The NT terms "apostle," "the disciples", "deacon," "elder," "overseer," show a very clear difference between a person using a spiritual gift (i.e., prophecy) versus one being anointed, or ordained, for a special office."

Of course there are those in the Body who have different giftings and callings, but these, I believe are discovered, not granted or "ordained". The idea of ordination came later and historical Church records reveal this to be the case.

It's the Holy Spirit who gives some to be Teachers, Preachers, etc. not us.

Next you ask me: "why do you think Paul's introductions to Timothy and Titus are different to those addressed to the churches at Corinth or Galatia? If there wasn't a special class of leaders, why did Paul write distinct letters to these leaders?"

Paul wrote to encourage the elders of the churches he had helped to plant. Nothing wrong with that. The question is whether or not Timothy or Titus were "Pastors" who exercised authoritarian control over their church. There was no class of clergy and the idea of "leadership" doesn't necessarily imply hierarchy. That's my point.

Where are the letters to the "Leaders" of Corinth and Galatia and Ephesus? Those churches had serious problems. Why doesn't Paul tell their "Pastor/Elder/Leader" to get them in line? Instead he writes to them as a Body and a Family and urges them to do what is right and to continue operating relationally (as we see in 1 Cor 12).

The most amazing passage you cit is this one: "Then the APOSTLES and ELDERS, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas..."

You focus in on the "Apostles and Elders" (even bolding them so I'll notice) and forget the "with the whole church" part. Isn't it incredible that these authoritarian Apostles and Elders make a decision "with the whole church"? They could just decide on their own, can't they? Why do they include the whole church in this decision? Maybe it's because they valued and practiced a relational, family-centered style of worship and ecclessia? I think so.

I have to disagree with you when you say: "Paul had no relationship with those who heard those open letters being read in Corinth or Galatia. But those who did not know him--who had no relationship with him--followed his teachings. Again, not because of relationship, but because of hierarchy."

Really? When I read Paul's letters to the Corinthians I see a man who loves these people, and who knows them by name and who is intimately acquainted with their lives and who they are. It's not a generic letter to some people he does not know or love, it's a letter to his family in Christ who happens to be in Corinth. Again, it was about relationship, not hierarchy.

You say: "In the end, I care deeply (and follow with reverence) the way Saint Francis and Dallas Willard view the church. And I believe it dangerous to establish "my own" views on matters of such importance. That is how cults get started."

Cults get started when people add to or take away from the Biblical account and add in something that wasn't there before. I am conviced that we have added into the Scriptures the idea of a clergy class and an imposed priesthood which wasn't there in the NT.

You can't have the priesthood of the believer AND a formal system of priesthood. One will naturally cancel out the other, I believe, and Paul and Peter are constantly urging the followers of Jesus to understand that they are the royal priesthood, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is why they didn't establish a formal, man-made priesthood and also why they had no need for physical temples.

Finally, you suggest that even house churches have hierarchy and while that may be so, I am personally doing all I can to distance our group from this and embrace the idea of "being the Church" where everyone shares and takes ownership.

Love ya,

paul said...

Paul's open letters were read publicly by church elders. He wrote 1 Corinthians during his ministry in Ephesus. The majority of the Corinthian believers who heard those letters being read, had never met him! One cannot (can they?) have relationship with a person they've never met!

Historically, cults arise via misguided views of well-intentioned people. The common thread is the straying-away from the church's commonly held positions (i.e., things like the person of Christ, or the resurrection).

Of course, we all interpret scripture. There are issues of dispute, many which are ultimately insignificant. But some are significant. Your views on church polity are significant. They dismiss the viability of virtually ALL current and traditional church models (Episcopal, Presbyterian and congregational). In doing so, your ideas implicitly reject the basis of all church gatherings held today, and throughout history.

Specifically, by arguing against the biblical basis of these these distinct models, you reject all who endorse them (to name a few, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, Rock Harbor, Mariners, The Crossing, Soul Survivor...).

I believe it prudent to recognize the biblical basis of EACH model. Yes, including the house church model! I'm an Anglican. I endorse episcopal polity on the basis of scripture, church history, and because of respect for the intellectual minds of my spiritual heroes who endorsed this hierarchical structure. But I also respect the others models. All of them. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, both in terms of their governmental viability from a biblical perspective, and in terms of their respective abilities to teach, train, and encourage.

But the real danger Keith, again in my view, occurs when one elevates HIS model and condemns all the others. Here, I proclaim "my way" to be "the way."

Paul rebuked such a divisive mentality in 1 Corinthians 1. Here, believers were publicly using slogans to prove, to others, the superiority of their alliances.

Paul said to stop such practice. It was dividing the church then. It is, sadly, doing so now.


Keith Giles said...


You know that I am not part of, nor am I inspring, any cult.

Hopefully you and I can have this conversation without throwing this accusation around?

What I am talking about IS Christianity. It's what Jesus taught and inspired and it's what the Apostles promoted and practiced. If some of us today have strayed from this practice we have the option of returning to it.

Previous to Martin Luther would you say that the Catholic church was practicing Biblical Christianity? Wouldn't Luther's attempts to introduce new ideas which contradicted the commonly held traditions of the church mark him as a cultic figure by your definition?

Obviously, it is possible for Christians to get off track and history bears this out. The faith has need of reformation from time to time and this always brings us back to the Scriptures and trims away the man-made traditions that we have added on.

What I find amazing is that you've started this very long and involved discussion with me about the house church modality and the priesthood of the believer as the result of an article over at theOoze.com which had nothing to do with this at all. In fact, the article was all about empowering and encouraging people to fulfill their God-given calling in the Body of Christ as gifted by the Holy Spirit.

Can we not accomplish this in the traditional model? I would suggest that it's nearly impossible, but my article didn't talk about modality or house church - it spoke about the need for churches to stop controlling and exploiting people. It's curious to me that we've spent so much time on this topic when this wasn't an issue in the original article.

Nevertheless, here we are.

Honestly Paul, I do struggle with this topic because on the one side I do have an opinion about God's design for His Church, but at the same time I have a lot of friends who are pastors at traditional churches and family who attend traditional churches, etc.

So, it's not easy for me to share what I'm learning as I study scripture and church history on the subject of ecclessia, but I also can't withold the truth I am learning about God's plan to make every believer a priest of God and every believer His Temple. That is not something I can compromise on and I do not believe that I have crossed any doctrinal or Biblical lines in my communication of this fact. If I have please rebuke me here and I will repent openly.


Paul said...

Thanks for your humble response, Keith. I am not deeming you to be a cult leader, by any stretch. I see you as a loyal, committed and humble follower of Christ. I have tremendous respect for you and Wendy. Please know that this is not about you, but about some ideas that I believe to be problematic.

I can't devote the time to this now. I will write some thoughts later.

But I would ask you to humbly consider all those churches--hundreds of thousands of them, worldwide. And their pastors. Moreover, the tens of thousands of theologians throughout history.

Could they ALL have been wrong? The intense scholarship within theological institutions, for centuries, has upheld the traditional model of church and spiritual authority. Your views represent a fraction of a percentage--many of these distanced themselves from The Body, becoming their own interpreters. This is not a criticism, but a true fact.

Without respecting tradition, we throw-away the work of those who have gone before us. Big names, including Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards. I can't imagine that they ALL had it wrong.

Anyway, thanks for your honesty and staying true to your convictions.

I love you, Keith.

Lionel Woods said...


May I ask then who was right?

Luther or the Papacy?

The Donatists or the Constatianist (who taught that the gospel could be spread and should be spread by the sword).

The Anabaptist or the Reformers (who felt is was commanded that a man be brought under the Lordship by the sword or by being "liquidated")

You can't say both because they were diametrically opposed! It seems that the "sword" availed in each case.

No one is ignoring 2000 years of theological history but I then must ask your statement would oppose Luthers stance against Rome, the same stance you are using for a theological foundation.

So again was Rome wrong? If so you are negating 1200 years or history by that very statment. Was Luther, Calvin and Zwingli wrong for drowing, beheading, and even putting man in the fire because they refuse to recant their theological positions?

If your answer is yes, then why can't Keith be right and another reformation be on the horizon? Would that be to far of a stretch giving Church History?

Paul said...

Thanks, Lionel. I think these are, respectfully, false dichotomies. As I say earlier, thousands of scholars have disagreed on thousands of issues.

The issue in this conversation has to do with church polity. Keith asserts that there is but one biblical model.

Consequently there is a rejection of ANY form of earthly authority. Nobody you cite believed in anarchy!

Perhaps Weseley had it best. He upheld the biblical viability of four kinds of authority: scripture, reason, personal experience, and tradition. Yes, the Roman church elevated the latter. So Luther comes along. But the result of the reformers, in the least, was not the rejection of structure and authority. So Weseley proposes this: scripture as the final authority, but is wise to underscore the viability of personal experience (making Charismatics happy!), reason (making us philosophers, giddy!), and tradition (recognizing the amazing minds of those who have gone before us).

All I suggest is a balanced view, in Weseley's framework. To argue that--with respect to this single issue, church polity--2,000 years of tradition had it totally wrong, is a bit on the arrogant side for me.

I respect Augustine, Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, Calvin, Edwards (and I could write a very long list here) too much to reject their views on this issue.


Anonymous said...

This is the quite the interesting debate you guys have going here, and it's been interesting to read your diverse, yet well argued, thoughts on all of this.

Whereas I completely understand where you are coming from on this Keith, I must say it seems like throwing out 2,000 years of Church history is a bit much, and I have to agree with Paul that it seems a tad arrogant to just throw out people like Augustine, Aquinas, Francis, etc.

Also, you are completely right to note that a majority of people that attend Church 'sit back and do nothing'; but ironically enough, it seems as if the Church you tend to be most critical of (Roman Catholic) has a liturgy in which every member of the Church gets to directly participate in the most important point of the liturgy, the Eucharist. When correctly understood, traditional liturgy offers all members of the body to participate in the most important Christian act, the consumption of the body of Jesus.

Thus, while I agree that your critique applies to a majority of American evangelical churches, it falls short (both historically and theologically) when critiquing the Roman Catholic tradition.

Important debate none the less!

Anonymous said...

Gee, I haven't studied theology or church history and I feel so stupid.

I thought the Holy Spirit leading me through God's Word was enough.

Lionel Woods said...


You said:

"But the result of the reformers, in the least, was not the rejection of structure and authority."

I will ask you and Michael, could they be wrong at all? Or at least lets do this. The type of authority that we see today, that we saw in the Reformers and that we saw in Rome, does that type of authority exist in the scriptures?

I agree that this is an issue of polity, but can I ask with all honesty can we say the Reformers moved far enough? Especially given their history with the Anabaptists and their refusal to sperate the Church of our Lord Jesus witht the State. Zwingli, Calvin and Luther, not to mention their minnie me's all fell prey to the same thing Rome fell prey to correct? Yes they got rid of pennance, purgatory and popes, but they just moved lateraly they never changed the heirarchy much.

Then might I ask you brothers. Is what we have today much of what we see in scripture. Is our current structure producing disciple making disciples? My answer to that would be no. We have switched the power of disciple making from the disciple and given it to the "pastors/elders". Church discipline now rests in the "leaders", instruction now rests in the "leaders", the direction and vision of the gathering now rests in the "leaders", vistiting the sick, providing for the needy, and the like all rests in the "leaders".

I have to ask do you believe that this is what the elder of the New Testament would have looked like? Would he look like a "Minister of all Gifts"? Today the "Minister is full of the Church" and the Church is passive participants in all that happens. You guys must at least admit that our current structure not only initiates this but it sustains it as we knock down wall and get bigger, thus encouraging more disciples to join this shadow of what we see in the Holy Scriptures.

Let me know what you think. I agree there are elders and deacons and prophets and apostles, evangelists and other giftings that is put in place to lead the body towards maturity, but Paul says Jesus gave "gifts to man" and all of these gifts were to be employed to edify the "Church" today these gifts are more passive than active and the most active gift is that found in the "leaders". I am not for anarchy friends. I believe the "leaders" were to be leaders to equip disciples but that equipping I believe is to make more "leaders" thus spreading the Gospel to the whole world. Today these leaders make perpetual infants who all most come and take their feeding from these "leaders" for the rest of their lives. The only way out is to go to seminary and join the ranks. That is very close to Rome my friends

Like a Mustard Seed said...


Your comments together fall back on several of the assumptions that the institutional church is built upon....

A couple of them are:

1) That a rejection of a hierarchical system leads to anarchy and/or heresy. If you look at any of the pseudo-Christian cults, you do not see a flat, organic leadership model, but the opposite. Cults are usually MORE hierarchical than any denomination, not the other way around. Consider Mormonism, Jehovah's witnesses, even the Roman Catholic Church (yes, I venture to call it a cult too...) The idea that a strong hierarchy is what protects truth is totally flawed. At best, followers only believe the right things because that's what they're told to believe, not because they understand the truth themselves. If those in authority teach something false, then those underneath them blindly swallow lies. If the few people in positions of authority are led astray, then a whole mass of people is led astray. How many times has this been exemplified in "christian" colleges, denominations, and other "christian" institutions? If you take an honest look at history, MORE heresy has been perpetuated by hierarchical systems than by people advocating a church without a building or a clergy.... Apparently, to those whose livelihoods are bound up in such things, this idea that all we need is Christ, and not any man-made system, is the only "heresy" to be really concerned with....

2) That the hierarchical religious systems that are recorded throughout the centuries are the only real ways that Christians have exercised fellowship. The fact is that there have been plenty of non-hierarchical forms of fellowship throughout history, but, because of the very nature of "organic" kinds of church gatherings, they are not meticulously recorded in the ways that religious institutions are. Actually, there are almost never recorded at all. I mean, do you keep a record of people that you have over for dinner? Of course not. That's just living life. (which is what many of us are beginning to understand following Jesus to be all about...) These kinds of gatherings of believers have occured, and are occuring, all over the world, but they go almost completely unoticed save for those who are immidiately involved in them. I suppose that has something to do with the aversion that many people have with this kind of gathering. It doesn't get the kind of attention that a building, or a program or an institution does....

Great conversation...
In Christ,


Michael O'Neill Burns said...

Although I wish I could respond more fully right now, I must say one thing. Calling the Roman Catholic church a cult is utterly absurd and a bit ignorant.

Also, it seems to me that some of the most organic faith communities in the world right now are the base communities in Latin America which were started by...wait for it...the Catholic Church! I can't think of a better exemplification for the type of church you seem to advocate than these rural (mostly poor) christians who meet together, read the scriptures, take communion, and develop local projects to fight social injustice. And all this from the most 'hierarchical' church in the world.

If you look at the influence of all the 'non-hierarchical' churches in Latin America you see the opposite; the importation of American culture, the preaching of the prosperiety gospel, the support of neo-conservative policy, and the degredation of the social role of women. Now I know the picture looks different in the States, but seeing as the church is a global community, and seeing as the Church is actually growing in Latin America right now, these examples are important.

Sorry to seem like a 'Catholic apologist', but it seems like Rome often ends up being the straw man in these sorts of 'organic church' conservations, so someone needs to represent the picture a bit more accuratley.

Also, re: your comment on heresy, how would a church even deal with heresy without some sort of hierarchical structure? And to say that more heresy comes from hierarchical churches doesn't strike me as very believable considering the thousands (if not millions) of sectarian groups founded on heretical belief. It seems as if the best guard the church has against heresy is the creeds, and last time i checked, it seems like the hierarchical churches (catholic, anglican, methodist, et al.) are the ones who affirm these creeds every week; not as some fetishized once a month spiritual activity, but rather as affirming orthodox faith over and over to avoid heresy.

Paul said...


You misunderstand me. My point was to describe how heresy starts, leading to the formation of a new cult. I’m not interested in discussing cults, but the impetus for their creation. Cults start with rebellion. Theological error is not possible when one subordinates one’s theological views to church tradition, and learns from the literature; it happens when one says “I don’t give a damn what THEY think, I have my Bible and I will decide what it says myself.” Paul’s emphasis of “being of one mind” was to prevent this form of schism. Here I’m not talking about disagreement on the endless peripheral issues for which today’s denominations were birthed, but the central tenets of faith, from the ages. I’m talking about core issues: the person of Christ, justification by faith, the biblical viability of various modalities for Christian worship. In other words, as an Anglican, I disagree with many of my friends’ reformed views on the Lord’s Supper. I believe that more is happening than simply remembering what Jesus did for us (non-substantiation). But though I disagree with most of my friends on this issue, I have no reason to become incensed with their views. We agree to disagree. We also disagree on issues of church polity. Most endorse the Congregationalist view—that independent, non-denominational models are supported by scripture. I disagree. I see the Apostles exercising oversight throughout the New Testament. I believe that to be the biblical model (and I’m very happy to have the support of most of my faith heroes). But again, we can agree to disagree.

The topic of this conversation is about a rejection of ALL THREE models of church government. Do you understand these models (Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational)? A popular trend today in the emerging church is to reject these historical models. So we have now adjectives to the noun “church”; these new voices have inserted, pejoratively, “institutional” or “traditional” to speak of "the church." We even have support groups for those who have burned by "the church"--as if it was an institution versus an individual which was responsible. The result of these adjectives looks a heck of a lot like 1 Corinthians ("Cephas Christians," "Christ Christians" etc.) It, in my view, is back-hand to all those who align with 2,000 years of church polity. Even those who once fought wars now agree in the the viability of hierarchical polities. (It really is astounding to me just how formidable this group is. It includes every spiritual hero of today and yesterday, and virtually every church gathering where hierarchy is practiced. I want to begin a list right now and talk about all of us traditional/institutional types. I won’t.)

Your comments about “being” the church through general fellowship like meals are popular today. (As an aside, I have no aversion to those kinds of meetings!) I’ve heard emerging church people put fourth this idea: “we need to be the church, not go to church.” I’ll refrain from a philosophical lesson here on how existence doesn’t necessitate function. Let us all agree with this. Jesus had a mission. So did his followers. These early leaders set-up a bunch of new gatherings. They would meet on the first day of each week. There was an order to the meetings: to learn, pray, sing, give and have fellowship. They also went outside to help the economically poor or sick. And there were leaders for these meetings, and leaders like Paul over many of them. Centuries later, the beat goes on. Pretty basic and even “mere” (cf. Lewis). Having dinner with friends, or a drink with a buddy are wonderful ways to fellowship. But we both know the very significant difference between church (gatherings) and, as you call them, “non-hierarchical forms of fellowship.” These are not the same.

Back to my main point then. One steps onto a slippery slope when a doctrine contradicts what tradition has established. And to claim that tradition—ITSELF—fails to understand how church is “really” supposed to be, has the malodor of ignorance.

It is usually a matter of pure fact that those that stray from tradition are theologically untrained, especially in hermeneutics. So a common error is to take passages out of context to substantiate a position which is usually advanced in a contemporary trend. For example, I meet people that don’t understand the difference between “prescriptive” and “descriptive” scripture. I’m sure you know that the former entails scripture that is universally applicable, seen throughout the scripture, and adopted as timeless (i.e., not murdering, the golden rule). The latter entails historical description within a certain particular setting(i.e., Jesus telling a rich man to sell all he has to give to the poor). Untrained “teachers,” ignorant of this distinction, will preach on how Jesus wants ALL Christians to sell all their belongings and give them to poor people. Those trained can see this error due to a lack of training. There are many such errors.

In our current conversation, it is being argued that hierarchy and special offices were “man made,” hundreds of years following the death of Jesus (as if Jesus had no idea of what would happen)—that hierarchy, structure, and organization were the result of, again, “man made” errors that happened after the first century. But the scriptures don’t bear this out. No major scholar has ever thought so, including Luther. The Old Testament clearly advanced a system of leaders. More importantly, the New Testament tells of people with special callings to lead and teach those without that particular calling.

We should all be thankful for those leaders and teachers. They continue to spearhead the message of the gospel, the world over.


Keith Giles said...


Obviously you and I disagree on this issue. I've written as much as I can to explain and defend my position, and you have done the same.

I think we can safely assume now that you will not be moved, nor will I.

At this point it just feels like an exercise in testing the limits of blogger's comment software. "How long can this get before they have to go to another page?"

It's possible that you and I, over the previously promised coffee, might have better luck agreeing to disagree, but I'm getting pretty tired of reading, and re-reading, your position on this subject.

Again, Jesus commanded his disciples and Apostles not to call themselves "teacher" because they were all brothers. (Matthew 23) Peter repeated this instruction in his epistles. Paul and the other Apostles practiced this servant form of humble leadership.

The Priesthood of the Believer is what I believe we are really arguing about here, not so much modality or polity, but what the doctrine means and how it is actually lived out and practiced with the New Testament (and should therefore be lived out today).

I see a New Testament Church full of brothers and sisters who shared responsiblity for one another, shared life and property, and freely gave of themselves (and their spiritual gifts) for the common good of the rest of the Body. (1 Cor 12 & 13)

I see a New Testament Church made up of a priesthood of believers who are encouraged to remember that they are now disciples who make other disciples (or followers of Jesus who help others to follow Jesus). (Mark 16)

I see a New Testament Church that understands they are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Peter 2)

I see a New Testament Church with a new imagination for what it means to offer a daily sacrifice.
(Romans 12)

What Jesus started was something new. What the Apostles promoted was something new. It wasn't an Old Testament modality, and it wasn't a Pagan modality (temples, priests, sacrifices) it was a new modality where the people themselves were the priests, temples and sacrifices - "Holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12)

So, we disagree on all of this. I suppose we can keep the ping-pong game going as long as you like. I'm game if you are, but I really don't think we've got anything new to add here. In fact, I think we're now starting to repeat ourselves.


Like a Mustard Seed said...

I'd say Keith summed it up pretty well....

If you're gonna be devoted to an idea or concept no matter what, then it's pretty pointless to keep a conversation going that just goes in circles.

Yes, we have heard all the arguments made for the necessity of the institutional church. In fact, we've both probably made many of them ourselves to people in the past! The important thing to walk away from is that this idea of BEING the church is not just another brand or peticular "style" of church gathering, it boils down to what is really a completely different understanding of the gospel itself. It centers on the Kingdom of God, and the understanding that it is UNLIKE anything else on this planet.... If Keith has made the offer to get together, then I would encourage you to take him up on that if you live in the area, as he can explain what this is all about much better than I. It is much, much more than just sitting around having dinner with people. There is a "mission", but it is a mission that is centered around relationship, something quite intangible when compared to the idea of building an organization that can be measured and counted. The mission is simply to make disciples, not to make members. Therein lies a world of difference...

We are not concerned with appearing "arrogant" in the face of 2,000 years of tradition, as following Christ and trusting in his sacrefice alone is already considered horribly arrogant to all of the other religions of the world. It seems really strange to hear an appeal to not offend any of the traditions that have been developed in the name of Jesus, as if that itself is the basis for how we should weigh anything... Christ himself, and all his disciples in his day, were considered arrogant to stand in opposition to the religious establishment of their day as well (which was built on plenty of tradition as well..). To question the traditions of the past is not to question the individual salvation of any person, but simply to hold up those traditions to the clear message of scripture.

It is well and good to have individuals from history who are sources of inspiration and encouragement in our faith, but if any of those people ever begin to overshadow the supremacy of Christ and what He has to say about any given subject, then they are better left alone... We have really only one hero, Jesus himself. Everyone else is just a man who Christ died for...

Yes, God calls people to be leaders in his church, but they are leaders unlike any other kind of leader in this world. They are called to lead like Jesus lead, from the bottom, as an example. God calls people to "oversee" the church the same way a parent "oversees" their family, with the intent of their children growing up, to one day go out and be mature adults! What we see today as the understanding of "leadership", is so far from this, that it cannot be overstated.

I'll pray that God continues this discourse somewhere, somehow, in a profitable manner. May God's grace be on everyone...


Paul said...


In 1 Corinthians 12 the issue of leadership is very clear. Verse 29:

"All are not apostles are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?"


"All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All to not 'interpret' do they?"

Verse 29 addresses PEOPLE with the unique gift of leadership, verse 30, GIFTS which are shared by all believers.

These two passages underscore the difference between a Christian leader and a gift. Verse 28 says that "God appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers..." Moreover, Acts is a story about leaders, and the thousands who subordinated themselves to them. Two-thousand years later, that model persists. I don't think these ideas of yours (or those you're reading about) will undermine the legacy left to us by these first century heroes.

And as an aside, being a servant and having authority are not mutually exclusive concepts. Nor is being a brother and being a leader. This either/or world...nevermind.

Daniel, Referring to pastors, you write, "They are called to lead like Jesus lead, from the bottom, as an example...What we see today as the understanding of 'leadership', is so far from this, that it cannot be overstated."

I hear more of the same, Daniel. Damn generalities. If you and Keith are going to criticize churches, structures and pastors, at least have the moral fiber be specific. Go for it! What are their names? Which churches are you referring to? When you say "what we see today," to what, specifically, are you referring? Because what I "see" are pastors and priests who are humble, devoted and serving models of Jesus Christ. Specifically, Father Richard Menees, and Pastor Todd Proctor, and Pastor (Father) Nicki Gumble, and Pastor Neil Woodward, and Pastor Ian Stevenson, and Pastor Mike Pilavachi. I have pastor friends all over the world, and dozens in Orange County. With very rare exception, what I see is humility and care for those from whom God has entrusted them. They are Roman Catholic, Anglican, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, and non-denominational (Rock Harbor, Crossing, Mariners, Newport Mesa Church).

So I, myself, see something very different than you in today's leaders.

This is not to say that they don't fail. I worked in the Vineyard church for many years. John Wimber led with authority and strong courage. He abused his power from time to time. He had the courage to repent publicly. He was not a perfect pastor, teacher nor apostle--he was human. But oh how he worked, as most pastors do, to get his flock to "do the stuff."

Overall: Keith, I just wish you'd apologize for your many divisive comments that happened before I ever decided to defend our churches and pastors on these blogs. This conversation is not, as you would have me believe, about the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers.

It is about calling pastors derogatory names, such as "soul-less." And making dozens of discouraging comments about the church of Jesus Christ.

It's no wonder to me why non-believers get so sick and tired of god damned religiosity and divisive exclusivity found in the name of Jesus. We are called, as believers, to love and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ in the good news of the gospel--not to create blogs to attack and then inform the world how our system is the only biblical one.

I have no issue with any Christian, other than those motivated to attack Jesus' church.

If you can't grasp what I'm saying, as it seems you can't, perhaps I will now cease these comments.

But again, I think you owe all those laborers in traditional churches a big apology.


Keith Giles said...


I want to begin by saying that I have not called pastors "soul-less". I have not done that and you are welcome to re-read my article "Out of Business" and see that what I said was that the Church Jesus inspired and imagined was a family, a bride, and an organism, not a business or a soul-less organization.

To quote myself: "The Church as Jesus imagined it has always been a living organism, not a soul-less organization employing a team of spiritual experts."

Notice I do not call pastors "soul-less" here. What I do is to juxtapose what Jesus DID create (a living organism) against what he did NOT create (a soul-less organization).

Secondly, I have on numerous occasion (here on this blog and over at my Subversive Underground newsletter blog) stated very honestly and sincerely that I love pastors, that God is at work in His entire Body and Bride, that the Gospel is preached and the Kingdom is advanced in every expression of his Church worldwide. I will affirm this again here and now.

Thirdly, I disagree with your reading of 1 Cor 12. If v.29 is, as you suggest, a list of PEOPLE and v.30 is a list of GIFTS, then what do you with 1 Cor 14, v.1, where Paul says, "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." - ? In context he is referring back to v.29 of 1 Cor 12 and telling us about the GIFT (not the person) of Prophecy.

What I see in 1 Cor 12 is an emphasis on "Now you are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it." v.27 and then in v.28 and v.29 a continuous listing of the various ways that ALL MEMBERS OF THE BODY are gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach, encourage, heal, interpret, etc. It's shared, obviously.

You still haven't answered for me why our traditional forms of church today ignore this and, instead, attempt to place all of these giftings and functions upon the shoulders of one or two men rather than as the shared, relational form seen in 1 Cor 12? Why? Under what authority?

Who was the head of the Church when Jesus was here in the flesh? Jesus was.

Who did Jesus appoint to lead when He ascended into heaven? The Holy Spirit (not a man, and no, not Peter).

So, who is the head of the Church today? God is! (Not any human being).

I also find it fascinating that you can argue for the necessity of hierarchy in the Church when even the Trinity isn't hierarchical! The Father glorifies the Son, the Son magnifies the Father, the Holy Spirit points us to Christ, etc.

The Church is called to be a relational, loving, organism that shares and gives and lifts up others.

You say, "Acts is a story about leaders, and the thousands who subordinated themselves to them."

I thought Acts was a story about a group of people who loved one another so much they shared all things in common, endured persecution for the sake of the Gospel, and empowered every Believer and follower of Christ to baptize, preach, pray, envangelize and share communion with one another.

FINALLY: Let me apologize to you, and to those pastors you mention by name (many of whom I also know and love and support) if they are offended by anything I have said here or elsewhere.

My intention is not to attack or assault my brothers in Christ, and certainly it isn't to discourage those who have surrendered their lives to full-time ministry. What would be the point in that?

However, I do feel that I have a calling and a gifting from God to ask questions about why the Church today behaves as it does, and why we are so far from what the NT tells us we should be. Obviously you do not agree with my observations or insights and that is your perogative.

I welcome the dialog and the comments, even though I may not appreciate being called a heretic or a cultic leader by someone I love and respect and pray for on a regular basis, but still, I have allowed this dialog to take place freely and I have done my very best to remain civil and loving and to make myself as clear as I can on these issues.

I love you Paul. I love your family. I pray for Erica's health. I pray for your children. I pray for your work as you support your family. I love your church. I love being able to call you my friend and especially my brother in Christ.

I do not hate you. I love you and I thank you for your friendship.