Shortly after I began blogging in 2012, I happened across another blog that caught my attention. Somehow I landed in the English section of a Hungarian blog, keskeny út – narrow way by Sándor Abonyi. Though most of his blog was unintelligible to me, being written in Hungarian, I felt a deep connection with what I was able to read in the English section. I decided to follow. Shortly thereafter, Sándor began to follow my blog as well, and in 2013 he contacted me about the possibility of posting a number of articles onto his blog that I had written and which he desired to translate into Hungarian. From that point on, we began a regular email exchange which developed into a long-lasting, mutually edifying, friendship.
In the near future, I plan to highlight in a post (and permanently host in the Resources section), a book which Sándor wrote: Which Way is the Church Going To?. This is an excellent resource on the practical expression of the church according to Christ, as revealed in the New Testament.
As a way of introducing my dear brother and friend to you, I’d like to first share a volley of emails that we exchanged several years ago concerning the matter of church leadership. I feel this is a very substantive and edifying sharing on this matter and a good example of “iron sharpening iron” as we each expressed our unique perspectives and came to a greater sense of clarity, balance, and unity in our understanding as a result. I trust that you will be edified as you “listen in” on that conversation!
I will begin the exchange in this post with Sándor’s initial email and my initial response. I will follow that up shortly with the subsequent exchanges in additional posts.
And so, without further ado, here is the initial volley of our exchange:
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You are working before the Lord on the Christcentering Church. What do you think about the one pastor system in the churches versus eldership?
Do you have any articles about this question? I think this question is important similarly to fastening of first button on a coat (right or wrong).
I am interested in your vision after the Word. Can we discuss about this?
I will try to get a few thoughts down on this matter of eldership versus the one pastor system as I see it. Sometime I would like to write more fully on this, and maybe this is the spark to do so. For now, here are a few seed thoughts that outline my thinking.
First of all, I believe we need to approach this subject, and the Word of God in regards to this subject, from a Christ-centered, Christ-preeminent perspective. What I mean is this, the form and function of the first century Church came about with only one Pattern in view…the Person of Christ. They did not have a manual on how to do church, or how to structure it, or what it was to look like. They simply had Christ, and He was their Pattern. He was central, He was supreme, He was Head, He was all spiritual fullness and blessings, He was unity, He was Life, He was all in all. As they gathered around Him, and in Him, and on Him, and under Him, and for Him, and through Him, they became the expression of the Church that we read about in the New Testament.
The New Testament Scriptures are the record of a church that was radically Christ-centered, and all form, function and fruitfulness came out of that single reality. That is the Root of the tree. The most important thing that we can learn from the New Testament is that Root! If we can get the Root right, then the tree will be right, and the fruit will be right. If we try to make the tree right and the fruit right without truly getting the Root right, however, we end up with a dead religious system that outwardly may resemble certain aspects of the New Testament Church, but has no life and power. So, in reality, there is a “first button” on the coat that precedes the matter of church governance and leadership. The “first button” is CHRIST, central, supreme and all-sufficient!
Church leadership is possibly button number two! If button number one is in place, then button number two, three and four will follow in place. When it comes to the leadership of the church the number one principle is the Headship of Christ. That is the over-arching, all-dominating principle. All other aspects of leadership, governance and oversight must bow before that principle. That is the supreme “governance principle” of the ekklesia!
So, with that button firmly in place, we need to ask, how does the Headship of Christ operate and function when it comes to the human leadership of the Church?
First of all, there is a need for spiritual maturity in order for there to be a humble submission and yieldedness to the Headship of Christ in the leadership position. Leadership is to take the attitude of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” It takes those who are “descending” in nature according to the nature of Christ (Philippians 2), not “ascending” in nature according to the nature of Lucifer (Isaiah 14). Leadership must be humble, submissive, servant-leaders.
It also takes more than one person to manifest the fullness of Christ’s ministry as Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher. Therefore, when the Headship of Christ is the ultimate issue, a plurality of mutually submitted, diversely gifted, spiritually mature men is the only fitting form of leadership that will be able to lead the church under the Headship of Christ. That is what will naturally develop and come forth. No other form facilitates the Headship of Christ as that form. It must flow out of and facilitate the Headship of Christ, not supplant it, however.
From studying Church history, the transition from a plurality of elders to the single bishop rule of the church came about by the middle of the second century. What seems rather clear from that transition is that “the first button” changed. Because of the Roman persecutions from without and the rise of multiple heresies within, the Church turned to a single man, the “bishop”, to be the solution. HE replace Christ as the Head of the Church and her unifying Foundation. The church gathered around and under the Bishop as the center, head and foundation of the church. The elders and deacons were the second and third levels of leadership under the bishop. This was the Old Testament priestly order of high priest, priest and Levite brought into the church. The entire Roman system developed from this seed and dominated the earth for 1500+ years.
The Reformation “re-buttoned the coat”, but instead of getting the first button right with the restoration of the absolute centrality and supremacy of Christ restored, they put the Word of God button into the first hole. This brought about major changes to certain doctrines, but the structure of the Church remained fairly much in tact. With the Scriptures now central and supreme, the Catholic priest was given a Reformation makeover and became the Protestant Pastor/Preacher who ruled over the church. With a movement now built around the interpretation and preaching of Scripture as the supreme thing, and a single pastor over each assembly, the Protestant movement splintered into a hundred thousand divisions and denominations, each claiming to have a sharper “sword” than the next.
The single pastor system is as much a left-over of Catholicism as elaborate pointy buildings called “churches” are. (That’s a whole other discussion though!) The Anabaptists went beyond the mainline Protestant reformation and sought to restore a more Biblical vision for and expression of the Church itself. These tended towards a return to a plural eldership to oversee and shepherd the flock. Their history is worth studying in this regard. The error that some of these and subsequent groups tended to fall into, however, is looking at the PATTERN of the new Testament Church as the “first button”. This, however, only leads to a new form of legalism, which much of their history has been marked by.
We have to get back to what lay underneath all that we see in the pattern, form, function and fruit of the New Testament Church and recapture THAT as our “first button”. THAT is JESUS CHRIST in all of His fullness, glory, authority, centrality, all-sufficiency and supremacy. When HE is returned to His rightful place, everything else will come into place even as it did in the first days of the Church.
When that happens, I believe a plurality of elders will happen as naturally as the grass grows. But we can’t get the cart before the horse.
That in a nutshell is how I see it. It is a very rough sketch, but I hope it helps to give an idea.
I’d be interested to know your thoughts as well, Sandor!
As always, if there are words or phrases that are difficult to understand, please let me know and I will try to help with them!
Love to you and your family,
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Sandor’s (substantive) reply will follow in the next post…Please stay tuned! 🙂
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