GOD MOVES AND PLANS IN PLURALITY
In Gen 1.28 the Creator spoke and said, “Let us make …
Within this simple statement, there began the revealing of a principle concerning the creative nature of the Lord God and how He moves within His creation. He is manifestly triune and is seen to move in plurality.
This concept has for us a guiding principle, which when applied to the corporate life of the church will be for us all a guard against the pathway to iniquity, which has in the generations of the church been the downfall of many who have started with such promise to answer the call on their individual lives.
Fruitful and often wonderful ministries, great world movements, spectacular evangelism, but in the roots a seemingly minor deviation from the principle of plurality we are about to discuss leads to downfall.
Open rebellion is not the only cause of failure, as many a well meaning and sincere believer has discovered. More times than enough loss of blessing and ending up with second best has its roots in our lamentable tendency to make excuses, or to relegate portions of Scripture to the status of being unimportant, or not so important, and so move them all to the mental backburner. These are the things that like the little foxes, they chew at the roots of the vine and poor fruit results.
Zachariah 4:10 For who hath despised the day of small things?
(A good question to ask ourselves in this matter?)
Song of Songs 2:15 Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines [have] tender grapes.
The thinking and attitudes that we have held for years without number are the ones most likely to entrap us. Constant re-examination of our ways in the light of Scripture is the only safeguard.
THE CALL TO PLURALITY
When considering the way God moves in His creation and relating it to the church we might well begin with these Scriptures.
2 Corinthians 13:1 This [is]; the third [time]; I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel [is], the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors [there is]; safety.
Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.
Proverbs 24:6 by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors [there is] safety.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Consideration of these extracts shows us the way in which the Lord desires us to stand and resist the wicked one. Clearly we are to stand together, seek counsel one of another and share the responsibility and spiritual tasks of the church.
Strange, but it seems to be the last thing we wish to do, or allow to be done in the church.
JUDGES OVER ISRAEL
The book of Judges tells how the Lord gave to Israel men to judge the actions of the people, to dispense justice and to guide the nation. Under their guidance each man in Israel did what was right in his own eyes.
This could have meant that each lived carelessly, but a more likely interpretation is that each accepted the responsibility for his/her walk before the Lord and took up the spiritual priesthood for his household.
Judges 21:25 In those days [there was] no king in Israel: every man did [that which was] right in his own eyes.
Being human however man finds it difficult to continue in the steadfast way. It is oft times difficult to see how this tedious behaviour can get us anywhere. We didn’t do this in the old days … or perhaps a new idea will be better, anything but steadfast obedience.
How typical of modern man were these people of Israel. Even recent history shows mankind loves to have dictators, kings, emperors and unitary gods. (as the heresy of Arianism shows)
Sadly, Israel persisted in this egocentric desire to do it their way …
1 Samuel 8:19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
The story of Saul and his rule over Israel was a poor second to the guidance of the judges, who were the Lord’s preferred leaders.
1 Samuel 8:7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
Even the elders of Israel grew tired, it seems, of the burden of self-responsibility.
When the sons of Samuel became perverted in their ministry of judgement the elders sought not after new men to continue the work God had ordained, but they also cried out for a new way (method) to guide the people. This is always the great danger in such crises and it is so today. New ways and ideas are fine but they must conform to the Word of the Lord, neither be against it, or set it aside in those moments of enthusiasm.
So often the church finds the way of the Scripture too hard and turns to the worldly ideas and begins to copy the many successes which ” good” men bring to pass in the world. The multiplicity of “Christian” organisations ” specialising” in some aspect of ministry typifies this falling away from the church’s true calling and specific ministry structure.
Then again, at the other end of the spectrum is found man’s ideas on how to manage the church. These range from the one-person pastor to the monolithic Roman system with its pope. (who is looked upon in the same manner as an emperor, after the pagan tradition of Rome of Constantine’s day.) All from the neglect of simple, seemingly unimportant Scriptures! An end time fulfillment of Israel’s cry for a king?
Yet for all this endeavor by man, the basic and all-important instruction has little or nothing to do with the building of empires, be they big or small. The words of the Master still echo down the years …
I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Was this remark addressed to all of the saints or a special “clergy” class. This is another illustration of being very sure we know and obey the Word rather than make up rules to suit our idea of propriety.
If we ALL are being spoken to here then ALL must teach and baptise. (And that does put a cat among the pigeons doesn’t it) If only a “clergy” are addressed, then all the rest of us can have a rest and let them get on with it.
Examples of such clergy specialization are found where the so-called lay person in many denominations cannot preach from the pulpit or preside over a communion service.
Matthew 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway,[even] unto the end of the world.
These words that we all know so well as the great commission, need to be seen against the backdrop of Matt 16:1 above to keep our hearts and minds guarded against the thought that we are in the building organisations business. It is still true that …
Psalms 127:1 [Except the LORD build the house], they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh [but] in vain.
In particular the word teach needs our attention. It is “matheteuo” which is more effectively translated “to disciple”. That is, to cause to abide in the teaching and follow after its instruction.
“To observe” in verse 20 is “tereo” to watch over and keep, and points to the stewardship responsibility in regard to the teachings of Jesus.
Not a select few, but all of the saints, are to be watching over the doctrines and keeping them safe. These broader understandings open up a much wider canvas to the teaching and shepherding mission and a greater participatory responsibility comes to rest on each individual in their walk with God.
The church is to disciple its members and this involves a far greater intimacy in their day to day lives. EACH member partakes in the responsibility of teaching one another (discipling) while at the same time each has a duty of learning (being discipled) by another. Mutual dependence and mutual helping is basic to the growth of the whole.
Ephesians 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:
Each and every one is called to climb the ladder of growth in “all things I have commanded you”. A special call devolves on the local eldership as they seek to provide a framework that will supply the needs of the flock in their care.
But be aware that this does not mean that in some unique way this call sets those same elders apart as clergy. We have in days past made far too much of words such as ordain, pastor, minister, clergy and laity and the like. The words ordination and its verb “to ordain” do not appear in the New Testament. The meaning appoint is more correct in most cases.
Yes, it is true that there are some who by virtue of their God given skills and talents are led by the Holy Spirit to guide and teach those not so well endowed. But the end products, i.e. the peoples of God, must have constantly demonstrated to them, that they are also to desire to grow towards a discipling and shepherding ministry, at whatever level the grace and blessing of the Lord brings them to. Growth comes not by following after a king (or a pastor/elder) but by being themselves a Royal Priest unto our God. Stewardship and leadership is for all to practice and keep in their hearts, (tereo = a watching over and keeping function).
It is essentially true that anyone appointed to do the work of an elder has as an objective mature sheep. That is mature sheep who as Royal Priests can, and do, walk in a daily teaching and discipling ministry.
This preparing and building up should be seen as an enabling or facilitating function, so that each and every sheep may grow up into the great commission.
The wise Elder does not do the work for the sheep, (and this can include ministry in the Word, prayer, teaching and in fact all functions in the Body.) but devotes the time primarily to teaching the sheep how to do it for themselves.
Within that concept we must remember that elders are sheep also and must be seen to be so. Function within the body of Christ must never be seen as a title or a lordship over the flock.
In this overall picture of the discipling task in the local church thought is also needed as to the interplay of the pastoral and teaching task. The commitment of the heart as against the intellect, attitude interacting with knowledge, the place of inner self and learning of the nature of creation all are called forth in our response to God.
To answer all these needs calls for a return to the concepts underlying God’s appointment of judges in the days of old. A realisation that we are called to a plurality of ministry in all parts of the church. The dominant error that has arisen in the oversight of the church is found in the setting aside of this concept. To fulfil the New Testament pattern a plurality must be evident and demonstrated by and to the people of the local church. Particularly among those appointed to oversee ( bishop = overseer) and shepherd (pastor = shepherd) the flock. Nowhere can support be found for the concept of some elder being called ” the Pastor” and setting him over the local church in solitary splendour.
Unfortunately this is the typical pattern. Many and varied are the types of structure based on this one man at the head principle, and they all find a host of problems arising. Take for example the very human problem of an individual’s need to have one person to whom they can relate at a personal level. Someone, that is, who has a shepherding function in their life. Almost inevitably this need focuses on the unfortunate elder who has been burdened with the erroneous title of “Pastor”. (or priest, or Father, or Captain, or whatever.)
No matter how carefully the structure is planned, anyone else but the “Pastor” is felt to be second best by distressed sheep. This is a state of affairs to be deplored and avoided.
The concept of co-equality of elders can hardly be disputed. That every elder is an overseer, bishop and shepherd (pastor) is clearly taught in Scripture, as is plurality of elders in governing the local church.
Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds (Pastors) of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
1 Peter 5:2 Be shepherds (Pastors) of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers, not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;
Keep watch over yourselves first, then the flock.
Notice the plural of overseer and the singular of flock. These and other Scriptures show that all elders, men/women, are bishops in terms of their office, and their work is shepherding or pastoring. Hence their status is Elder or presbyter; their duty is Bishop or Overseer; their function and work is Pastor or Shepherd.
These people do not have titles … They are brethren (brothers and sisters).
If this understanding of the place and function of elders is accepted as being correct in terms of the Scriptures, the churches have need to re-examine much that is commonplace in today’s oversight structures. In this area are some of the little foxes mentioned at the beginning of this discussion.
E.g. Consider these propositions; are they correct?
i. There should not be any person in the local church titled “Pastor”, “Father” etc
(Mat 23:8-10 NIV) “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.
ii. ALL Elders/Pastors/Bishops should be seen to be shepherds and have reality to the flock, as pastors and overseers of equal status.
Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds (Pastors) of the church of God,
iii. One Elder/Pastor cannot constitute adequate oversight of the local church.
2 Corinthians 13:1. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
iv. A “Senior” Elder/Pastor as chief/Bishop etc. is not needed since this is a “Saul” relationship with the people of God and not God’s perfect will (1 Sam.8:7). The implication is that he/she is in some way more authoritative in oversight than other Elders and Scripture does not support this.
There is much to be argued in favour of the above propositions. A minimum of three persons might well be an appropriate standard for oversight of any church.
When Paul and Barnabas travelled to Jerusalem to discuss circumcision with the Elders of the Jerusalem church Scripture supports the importance of Eldership as multiple oversight.
Acts 15:6 (NIV) The apostles and elders met to consider this question.
(Eph 2:20 NIV) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
This is the way such matters should be dealt with in the local church. A meeting is called between the ELDERS who were the oversight of the church and the APOSTLES who are the establishers of doctrine.
It is significant that Pastors, Teachers or Evangelists are not mentioned.
THE SET MAN FALLACY
What is often termed “the set man” or the “senior pastor” or some similar title needs to be carefully re-examined. We can indeed mount very convincing argument by analogy from other times and other Scriptures for this concept but the idea is not clear cut and definite by any means. It could be that a different approach to this often vexed question might avoid much of the idolising and “we want a king over us” that is evident in many, many churches in this day and age.
One could cite as an example numbers of world famous persons who have great organisations with their personal names emblazoned upon them or through them. Advertisements are seen where a picture is seen of “The Pastor” Some local churches also are headed up by some name to whom people turn adoring attention, but the result is the same in all, and the cause identical. If there is no such king, there is no such danger.
No matter how great the ministry, submission one to another is written into the structure of the local church. A name such as the “Bill Smith Ministries” is not submission but self glorification.”
Even death of a great minister of God cannot upset the continuing life of the flock IF the people have always related to him/her as one of a number of elders in the midst.
We need to be aware also of cultural influences, as many nations are strongly based on the idea of a single person heading up a clan, a tribe or a group and this orientation can carry over into the life of the church.
The church is not like the world wherein a man becoming a king makes his wife a queen. An Apostle’s wife is not necessarily an Apostle, or a Pastor’s wife a Pastor, or an Elder’s wife an Elder. Such an assumption is a serious Scriptural error. The reverse is also true. For example, a Prophet’s husband is not necessarily a Prophet
Note that Theocracy is God rule, not God’s representative ruling.
But how could this be organised one might well ask? One quite simple beginning would be to make the first full time appointment in any local church that of an administrator. He/she may, or may not be, an elder, preferably a deacon in fact, and given that there will be always a plurality of elders responsible for spiritual matters eldership could then carry on with their function, free from the administrative constraints that burden many a valuable oversight ministry.
Even in large churches the only organisation of elders needed might be to have one of them act as chairman of elders to give some order to the decision making process .(this function need not/should not be permanent.)
The concept that some kind of Moses or David figure is needed to head the local church is I believe not suggested by Scripture. (Remember that Moses & David were first shepherds, then kings) They foreshadowed and were types of the great shepherd king, the Lord Jesus Christ. They cannot be used as a type supporting the idea of a “chief elder”. Israel was baptised “into Moses” in the same sense believers are baptised “into” the Lord Jesus Christ. This further confirms Moses as a shadow of the Lord Jesus Christ..
1 Cor 10:2 (NIV) “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
The idea of having such a “Moses/David” headship does wonders for the building up of a professional clergy but is that really the thrust of the great commission? An argument often heard in this regard is that the people and visitors “need” someone to relate to in a leadership role. Exactly what Israel said about their cry for a king. (“We want to be like the rest of the nations!”(churches?))
1 Samuel 8:20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
This is the ultimate avoidance of individual responsibility and unwillingness to accept the role of Royal Priesthood that EVERY believer is called to.
We who are the called out ones need to keep the wonder of the vision spoken of by John, constantly before us, lest we fall back into the pattern of Saul and Israel again.
Revelation 1:5_6 And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,  And hath made us KINGS AND PRIESTS unto God and his Father; to him [be] glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
(the capitals added for emphasis. N.B. The “US” means ALL of us.))
The headship of the local church rests in the hand of Jesus, the Lord of the universal church. The management is given to the elders who are guided by the Holy Spirit and who keep in submission to one another, and acknowledge Jesus as Lord over the local church in all things. The priesthood is given to each and every believer.
THE TRIUNE NATURE AND LEADERSHIP
One exegetical point of view in regard to leadership centres on the idea that there is a leadership order in the Godhead. The Father is suggested as being first and hence in some way higher or having headship. Consider the following Scriptures in this regard.
Gen.11:7 The Lord said,”Let us” Note not; the Father said,”Let us”
Gen 18:1 The Lord appeared as three men. No indication of a “headman“
Is. 9:6. Jesus called everlasting Father.
Acts 2:36. This Jesus has been made both Lord & Christ.
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Everlasting Father … Lord
Prince of Peace … Jesus
Counsellor … Christ
and He will be called The Mighty God.
This is He who is appointed to be head over everything for the church.
Ephesians 1:22 And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church,
There is need to be very careful in using the triune Godhead as a type for church government. It is not the man Jesus who is head but the fullness of the Godhead bodily. The man Jesus submitted to the will of His Father during His stay on earth as a man. He was at all times God but there is need to remember that He came to be an example to us as a man, that we might follow His example. He laid aside His prerogatives to act as God, and became dependent upon the Father’s will for any exercise of these attributes. In this state He was like dependant man.
In this state the type is appropriate and Jesus may then be likened to the eldership. (i.e. dependent, under authority and submissive to the Father’s will) But this was only for a season and those divine attributes were taken up again.
Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly,that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
The concept we are considering is triune in nature and speaks of completeness. There is a wholeness aspect to be seen in examples of oversight that is more appropriate than seeking heirachy. e.g.
|Function||In the Godhead||In the Church||In the Family||As a Type|
|Light source||The Father||Lord Jesus Christ||Father||Sun|
In line one above are the providers of all things needful. They have headship and spiritual authority.
The next level has spiritual authority because of and through the headship of line one, They guide, nurture, shepherd, bring to birth and so reflect the headship.
Line three gives expression to this by multiplying its effect in and through their service to the headship.
THE DUTY OF OVERSIGHT
The difficulty with hierachy is that ” all ” elders are instructed to take the “oversight” of the “whole ” local church.( Not part of it.)
A typical multiple level system, ( e.g. Senior pastor, Associate Pastor, Ass’t pastors, Junior pastors, Senior Elders, Elders) may have many such levels. The elders at the bottom level rarely have oversight. They are so far down the pecking order that any real contribution to “oversight” is lost in the multiple levels. Being a man made system the almost inevitable ladder climbing pressure lurks in the background waiting to corrupt the balance of authority.
Usually only the “pastor” goes to ministry conferences, contacts other churches, speaks intimately to other ministers etc. and he/she makes the “real” decisions, and the other elders end up going along with them as a matter of convenience, expediency or follow the leader mentality.
An examination of any big church having a senior pastor will show this to be substantially true. No amount of elders meetings or such, changes this to any degree. Any competent leader if appointed as head of a heirachy must lead, and this implies and requires imposition of authority. Our thesis is that in the church, no one man has that right, such authority is vested in multiple Elders.
FIRST AMONG EQUALS
A catch phrase has crept into the church to try to justify single leaders in the church. i.e. “First among equals.” This is a logical nonsense and just another way of saying, in very inaccurate English that we want someone to be the authority figure.
It is also the custom to say that this person is in submission to his/her fellow elders. This is another piece of polite fiction. In most cases it means, I’ll listen to them and truly consider their opinions but if “I” feel before God” or “in my opinion they are wrong” I’ll decide my way.
However, logical reality says that to submit means you can be over-ruled, that the group can and does lead, that the best decision is NOT a one-man choice. It also means that one shepherd in the local church is an impossibility.
SIZE AND EFFECTIVENESS
In all these thoughts about church government one problem has not yet been examined. It is outside the theme of this paper but suggests itself as an important question confronting the church of the last days.
A simple question. How big can a local church become before it becomes unmanageable by multiple elders or turns into a bureaucratic hierarchy which makes them ineffective in their oversight of the whole church.
Perhaps like the human body the principle of size and effectiveness we are seeking has more to do with variety than rigid rules. There are many parts to the universal church and they all work in a multitude of different ways.
Nevertheless in regard to these different ways there still remain basic fundamentals in the Word of God that cannot be denied or ignored.
Only after these are obeyed may individual liberty create contemporary styles and ways to fulfil the Lord’s work. May we be first obedient to His Word then and only then, wise enough to be pliable in His hands as we seek to answer the needs of our present day society.
THE I AM
Consider the experience of Moses. When he asked who shall I say sent me the Lord replied, “Tell them the “I am” sent you. Perhaps we are meant to be always “we” and are bound into the pattern of relationships which necessitates plurality, be it in leadership or any other service the Lord calls us too. Saying “I am”, the leader, the pastor, the senior etc may be a matter to be re- thought lest we usurp the place of the real head.
THE APOSTLE / PROPHET PLURALITY
It is also written that the foundation of the church (churches?) is to rest upon the doctrine of the apostle and the prophet. This is plurality also and has implications for the local church structure.
Eph 2:20 (KJV) “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;”
THE USE OF TITLES IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
Titles are often discussed in the church and in most cases we go around the mountain again and again with little change. It is after all very comforting to have a title.
Then there is the stranger in our midst. How could one such know who we are, if there is no title to reassure them? After all it is not the man we are acknowledging, it is the position he/she holds ? These are some of the ways we use to justify titles. But are they needed ?
The church at large has a vast collection of these titles. Archbishop, Bishop, Pope, Vicar, Deacon, Pastor, Reverend, Father, Cardinal, Monsignor, Captain, etc and the worth of them in building the kingdom of God is rather suspect to say the least.
It may be reasonably contended that in the local church governed by multiple eldership all these titles are superfluous. Certainly if the example of the Apostles was to be followed we are more correct in addressing ministering brethren by their first name. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles always began; Paul … then he gave his calling as an apostle. I doubt that he and all the others asked to be addressed by any title!
It was so in the days when Jesus walked the earth. Among the Jews in particular. They loved to have titles. One such was derived from the word “rab” which primarily meant master in contrast to slave. This was extended to rabbi that meant my master. It was supposedly a courteous form of address but grew to become a title and a source of pride and wrong relationships. It then extended to a title for a member of the clergy.
This is the problem with titles. We start off in a well meaning way but being flesh pride begins to threaten and adoring lambs add fuel to the fire. Jesus knew about this problem. In Matt. 23:5_12 He forbids the disciples to covet or use this title. Jesus rightly points out that they are to be servants and have only one master. This element of “being master” is what creeps in with titles, be they Pastor, Vicar or any other.
(Mat 23:8-10 NIV) “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.
Throughout the New Testament the disciples avoided titles and were known by the ministry they showed forth before the saints.