When Does Authority Trump Equality?

On October 31st I celebrated something other than Halloween. I celebrated Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of a Catholic church in Germany and what we now call Reformation Day.

One of the biggest pieces of emphasis from Luther was changing the wide gap that was present between clergy and the congregation. He wanted the church to be a place that allowed for the priesthood of all believers to take place in equality.

It is a common thing to hear about a new church being planted and people explaining it as getting back to the early church as found in Acts 2 and 3. Nobody my age wants to do “modern church” they want to do “vintage church” or “emerging church.” But I have one major problem with all this: we’re still picking and choosing what church means to us from those passages in Acts.

What am I getting at you ask?

This statement is fairly common in Acts: “they had everything in common.” It is a statement that speaks to the equality that the early church had in their meeting together. The problem is that churches today are still run the same way: by one key leader. When churches speak about equality they must be referring to only those in the seats because we have a similar barrier between clergy and congregation as Luther fought against.

Today’s churches have bought the lie that hierarchical leadership is the most effective model for churches. Hey it works in the business world right?

I love what J.I. Packer said about the authoritarian style of the senior pastor model of church leadership:

“Authoritarianism is evil, anti-social, anti-human, and ultimately anti-God (for self-deifying pride is at its heart), and I have nothing to say in its favor.”

So we want to do church like the early church, but we want to ignore the whole equality thing. We can just mask the importance of it by being good servant leaders right? Wrong.

Alex Strauch nails this:

“Church organizational structure matters because structure determines how people think and act.”

No church will ever be able to push the idea of the Priesthood of All Believers until they recognize the need for equality between the church leadership and those who make up the body of the church. We need to work toward further realizing the dream Luther had back on Halloween in 1517.

Any thoughts on how the priesthood of all believers relates with the senior pastor model of church leadership?

tyler Tyler Braun is the Co-Director of Praise Bands at Sunset Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon. He can be found on his blog at www.manofdepravity.com.

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8 Comments

Filed under Culture, Questions

8 responses to “When Does Authority Trump Equality?

  1. I don't have an issue with the Senior Pastor model if it is done right. There was a book that I read years ago called "The Seven Churches Not in the Book of Revelation". Kind of cool to get a view on how churches are "doing church".

  2. Chad Harvey

    I agree with the conclusion of your thoughts, however, throughout the New Testament you see the importance of a 'key leader'. Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, for example, seem to place importance on a strong leader within the local body of believers. There is also an obvious distinction between church elders (overseers) and the rest of the congregation. This is not a question of equality, but rather responsibility and role within a church.

    I think the phrase "everything in common" had little to do with their roles within the church and much to do with how they lived life together. In the home, children are subject to their parents and the husband (father) ultimately is responsible for leading the family. There is an obvious, God-ordained hierarchy within the family dynamic. Even with this structure, the family is still living life together and looking out for the best interest of those around them. Each individual is willing to make a sacrifice in order to benefit another member of their family. I believe that the early church understood that this principle was to be lived out within the Body of Believers.

    Just a couple cents of mine…

    • I think all those are fair points Chad and I don't necessarily disagree with you. It is a fine line between valuing a key leader and creating a wall between them and the church. I think we are, in some cases, moving more toward a clergy-valued system than we have in the past few hundred years. We have many senior pastors who travel the country speaking.

      This only further adds to the class distinction between clergy and congregation. That is probably my biggest point. We put these men and women on pedastals, even in the emerging church, and yet we desire those churches to model the early church.

      As much as Paul talks about key leaders, I think he talks even more about a plurality of elders who provided shepherding and decision making for the church.

  3. Josh McKenney

    Authoritarian can definitely be bad. Authority however, done biblically, is awesome. Jesus has authority over elders, elders have authority over members, men have authority with wives (I'm talking Christ sacrificing himself for the church kind of authority)… That's our model. Equality? Absolutely. Deference and leadership/authority? Without a doubt.

  4. A few years back, I served as an Associate Pastor at a church in California. This church was part of a particular denomination (not a huge fan of denominations, but I'll spare my thoughts at the moment) and there were two things in particular with their doctrine that I couldn't fully agree with. One was their lack of emphasis on what is commonly called the "Five-fold Ministry" derived from Ephesians 4:11: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (or the four ministries if you combine pastorate and teaching). And the other was concerning their take on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I didn't have a problem that this denomination believed what they did, but, I wasn't going to teach on these particular topics out of respect for the denomination and my role as one of the pastors.

    That being said, a year into our ministry there, the senior pastor took a position elsewhere and the church went looking for a new senior pastor. Several months later the new pastor was instated and it soon became evident that our two ministries styles greatly differed. I sat in his office, on several occasions, having to defend my thoughts on the two previously mentioned topics – both topics he seemed to be passionate about in the opposite extreme. It finally came to the point where I just asked the question: Why don't we see this type of ministry (five fold ministry) being displayed within the body of our church? His answer struck me: Why do we need to? Why can't the senior pastor encapsulate all of those characteristics?

    It's clear what his philosophy of ministry was. To me, this is very unfortunate. The pastor has a distinct role within the church – that is evident through scripture. However, his role isn't solely important or more important than that of the other gifts/ministries within the local body of believers. Authority, responsibly, leading, structure – all of these are important. But when one ministry within the body is elevated amongst all others, we see disconnect and discouragement and ultimately we lack in spiritual growth. I think if we focused more on equipping the body to display and develop ministry, the gap will decrease as the amount of ministry is increased.

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  6. Betty Carle

    Bo I really like your comments and agree with you. Scriptures talk about how each part of the body needs each other and can't be complete with all the parts.

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