I have been haranguing on the clergy/laity dichotomy in my recent posts. So let me anticipate the next question. Am I proposing some sort of radical egalitarian existence without church structures or hierarchy? Certainly not. I do think we need to rethink how we think about structures and hierarchy.
I wrote about Ephesians 4 yesterday where Paul wrote that the Church was given apostles, prophets, evangelists, and preacher/teachers as gifts to the church. Paul goes on to list leadership gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. There is a glaring omission if one brings the lists together. The idea of priests, mediators between God and humanity, would still have been very much a part of the Jewish Christian’s mindset concerning religious authority. God did not give the church priests!
Matthew 23:8-12 records the following as part of Jesus commentary about leadership:
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father -- the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (NRSV)
There is a distinction in the social sciences between power and authority that I suspect comes straight from the Bible.
Power – The ability to compel compliance to the leader’s will, even against the will of followers.
Authority – The strong inclination by others to submit their will to the will of the leader out of a firm belief that the leader is acting in the followers’ best interest.
The one who leads based on power loses authority. People come to trust such a leader less, which requires the exercise of more power to gain compliance. Generally, the less one uses power in leadership to gain compliance, the greater becomes their authority.
The one who leads based on authority must occasionally resort to the use of power for the greater good of the persons affected. However, as just stated, a reliance on power will destroy authority. The more one is able to lead by authority the less the need for exercising power.
God calls people to positions of authority among the body of Christ. The positions listed in Ephesians 4 are a sampling of authority positions. But from where does this authority come? It does not come exclusively by a discerned call of the one seeking a position of authority. It must also come out of a discernment of the people that a prospective leader is exhibiting authority commensurate with the position they are considering.
The clear message I take from scripture is that, post-Pentecost, each of us has direct access to Christ without the need for any mediator. The head has direct connection with every other part of the body. It does not need to tell the kidney to tell the finger what to do. It does not need the toe to tell the lung what to do. However, God has ordained that some parts of the body are to be focused on the integration and health of the individual body parts. We call these specialists elders, some of whom are even more specialized as pastor/teacher elders (Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PCUSA.) They equip the body in the sense I wrote yesterday: Fix what is broken, bring back in to proper alignment, and supplement that which is missing. Equip them for what? To answer God’s call to ministry in whatever aspect of creation stewardship, kingdom service, or exercising gifts God desires of them.
No one elder does all aspects of equipping well. However, if an individual does not exhibit giftedness at doing at least one of these well, they are not called to be an elder.
More on this tomorrow.