On Church Leadership (an email exchange with Sándor Abonyi of Hungary) – Pt.1: “The First Button”

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:

~ ~ ~

Sándor wrote:

Dear David,

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?

Blessings,
Sándor

I replied:

Dear Sandor,

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,
David

~ ~ ~

Sandor’s (substantive) reply will follow in the next post…Please stay tuned! 🙂

~ ~ ~

Related posts:

Centrality and Balance

Tradition, Scripture and the Church – Pt. 4: “Tradition and Apostasy”

Affirmations (5) – Christ the Uncontested Head of the Church

The Greatest Among You (3D post)

About David Bolton

Following Him who is the Way; Learning of Him who is the Truth; Living in Him who is the Life. - John 14:6
This entry was posted in Christ-Centered Restoration, The Ekklesia and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to On Church Leadership (an email exchange with Sándor Abonyi of Hungary) – Pt.1: “The First Button”

  1. Elisabeth Rio says:

    This seems to be a healthier form of church leadership to me, less prone to problems, caused by one person wielding too much power and influence. Having a group of wise, tried and humbled elders who hold each other accountable, no one seeking promotion, but, working together as equals under the headship of CHRIST alone. The one leader/pastor is giving one man too much power, too much responsibility, and ultimately, too much temptation to abuse the position.

    Liked by 2 people

    • David Bolton says:

      Very well said, my sister. Many instantly object to this form of leadership because they cannot imagine not having one man at the top. It seems to them that the church would be a “many-headed monster”, and that “the flesh would make it impossible.” (I’ve heard these things said.) If it is looked at merely from the earthly perspective, that would be reasonable to conclude, but the point is that when there is a plurality of elders walking in humility, mutual accountability, and unity under the Headship of Christ, there is one MAN at the top, one HEAD, CHRIST, and the flesh in those leaders must be continuously brought to the cross so that it does not dominate and divide. It is the highest safeguard against pride, deception, control, and spiritual “hero-worship.” If the practical headship of Christ is not the ultimate objective, however, then the mere outward form of plurality will undoubtedly become a mess, and you might as well have “a king to rule over us like all the other (denomi)nations.” 🙂

      Thanks for your great comment, Elisabeth! All blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi David, I agree with you about the single pastor system and that it takes more than one person to manifest the fullness of Christ’s ministry. I have a query about this statement though: “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.” Am I to take it from this that you believe in male only leadership in the church?

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Bolton says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      Blessings to you! First of all, thank you for reading, commenting, and affirming those things that you are in agreement with in this post. Amen! My apologies, also, for not getting back to you sooner. We’ve had out of state family visiting and our schedule has been very full.

      As to your question, the whole subject of gender and leadership, as you know, is a very weighty, hotly-disputed, and widely divisive one in the Body of Christ. There are good, truth-seeking people, both male and female, who hold different perspectives on the various sides of the “debate”. It is very important, then, how we approach a discussion of it so that God’s ultimate objective of us all coming into “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” (Eph.4:13) is not derailed or thwarted in the process. To stick with the “button” analogy, this matter, in my opinion, is further down the coat than the unity button, which is further down the coat than the Christ and cross buttons, etc… If we get our buttons in the wrong holes, we end up with a pretty funky looking coat!, wouldn’t you say?! 🙂 So, I believe we must endeavor to keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, while simultaneously “speaking the truth in love” so that we may “in all things grow up into Him who is the Head!” (ref. Eph.4:1-16)

      As for this particular sentence that you have highlighted, I knew it might evoke a response or question as you have raised. In fact, Sandor and I discussed it considerably ahead of time. One thing I said in my communication with Sandor was, “That one sentence was a bit of a problem for me because it touches on a very contentious matter of gender roles in leadership, and no matter how I worded it, it would not convey my full understanding on the matter. The matter of gender roles was also not the main point of what I was trying to communicate…” We even floated the idea of doing a series of posts following up on this very issue at a later time.

      So, your question is a valid one, and one that I would like to share on extensively at some point. I cannot give a simple answer to it, however, especially in a comment reply, for, from the intense debate on the subject, it is pretty obvious that simple answers do more to polarize and shut down healthy discussion than to clarify and keep us moving closer to God’s unified mind on the matter.

      The most important issue (the “first button”), as you know, is the headship of Christ, and that will only come about as He increases and we all learn to “decrease” before Him, and in honor towards one another. In my experience, where there is no “I will ascend” spirit, the rest of the buttons more readily fall in place. My priority and pursuit is focused there!

      With love,
      David

      Like

      • Thankyou for your detailed response David. I have no intention of pursuing a debate on gender in this forum. I will simply make this one comment on the article above and leave it at that.

        You first state: “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?” Given that the first button you speak about is the headship and centrality of Christ (no disagreement there), you then soon move on to the statement I asked about: “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.” It seems to me that your starting point for discussing the nature of leadership, after establishing button number one, has a base point of male leadership. This would leave many, including myself, wondering how a discussion on church leadership can progress credibly when half the church is potentially already excluded at the base point.

        Though it may not have been your intention, the phrase ‘spiritually mature men is the only fitting form of leadership’ (which I presume is your own), has already introduced the leadership/gender issue by the choice of wording.

        I do think you have answered my question in any case. Thankyou.

        Liked by 1 person

        • David Bolton says:

          Cheryl, I think you would agree that the egalitarian/complimentarian debate is one of the greatest challenges facing the Church in our day with sincere, truth-seeking people holding various positions within it. The things that seem to be commonly left out of the discussion, however, and which apply no matter where one falls in that spectrum, are, I believe, some of the matters that Sandor and I discuss in this exchange. Aspects like the headship of Christ, the principle of the cross as it relates to leadership, the organic nature and development of the church, and the principle of plurality are, in my mind, prerequisites to any gathering of believers being able to work towards a common understanding as it relates to this question of gender and leadership. My hope for this series of posts is that the main things would remain the main things and that all who read it, regardless of their varying perspectives would glean from it what God has for them where they are presently at. I trust that it will serve that end by God’s grace.

          With love,
          David

          Like

  3. traviskolder says:

    David
    Loved the imagery and back and forth in this exchange. Thank you so much for sharing and introducing us to Sandor!

    Like

    • David Bolton says:

      Thanks, bro., and you’re welcome. It’s encouraging to connect with brothers and sisters around the world and find a true unity of spirit that only comes from the Lord. Glad we’ve also connected in this way! I pray all is well with you and yours! Blessings Travis!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Old and newer King James Versions and other translations #4 Steps to the women’s bibles | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

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