One Man Pastors, Just Say NO!
If anyone ever tells you that they have a "New Testament" church, ask them a simple question: "Who's the pastor?" If you get a title and a name in response (for example, The Right Reverend Holy Father John Doe), you may respond with sublime confidence: "Oh, no you don't have a New Testament church!"
We've got a surprise for you, folks. In the New Testament and in the early church up till about 150 A.D, THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS "THE PASTOR!" We highlight this bold assertion, because there is nothing in radical house church Christianity that offends the unscriptural American church order so much as attacks upon the holy, sacred, and venerable institution known as "The Pastor." But we want to hammer this truth home despite the difficulty that many will have with it. So, here it is again: in the New Testament and in the early church up till about 150 A.D., THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS "THE PASTOR!"
Ironically, radical house church plural-elders government is probably the one thing in our movement with which the status-quo church order has the most difficulty. Yet, the principal of plural-elders, no-one-man-pastor church government is the easiest thing in the world to show scripturally. We will do so in this issue. When we are finished, you will see that the case for plurality of elders is ironclad, ineluctable, and beyond cavil.
We will start with scriptural proof of plural-elders church government. We will then look briefly at the early church before about 150 A.D. We will finally look at the testimony of several scholars, all of whom are within the American church system, but who all agree that in the New testament and in the early church up till about 150 A.D., THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS "THE PASTOR!"
There ain't no such thing as "THE Pastor." There just ain't!!!
In studying the Scriptures concerning pastors, it is necessary to note first off that pastors are called by three different words in the New Testament: pastor (Greek: poimen), elder (Greek: presbuteros), and overseer (KJV: bishop, Greek: episkopos). All three words refer to the same office. A pastor is an elder. A pastor is an overseer. An elder is a pastor. An elder is an overseer. An overseer is a pastor. An overseer is an elder.
The above can be established by showing two fundamental identities in Scripture: first, ""elder" = "overseer;"second, "elder" = "pastor." Once these two identities are established, it is thus proven that "overseer" = "pastor," on the principle that two things that are equal to a third thing must logically and of necessity be equal to each other.
First, to prove that "elder"= "overseer." Paul instructs Titus to "appoint elders in every city" (Titus 1:5), and then tells Titus that the overseer must be above reproach" (Titus 1:7), thus proving that elder" = "overseer." (Cf. I Tim 3:2 with I Tim 5:17. Also, see I Pet 5:1,2; where Peter equates "elders" in v. 1 with "oversight" in v.2. In addition, see Philippians 1:1, where Paul addresses the "overseers" and "deacons," instead of "elders" and deacons. Paul obviously was referring to the elders of the church in Phil 1:1, and yet called them overseers." Also note that the eminent scholar Lightfoot states that "in every one of the extant commentaries..., whether Greek or Latin, this identity [of "overseer" and "elder" ] is affirmed."
Second, to prove that "elder" = "pastor."Note that in v. 2 "pastor" is often translated "shepherd." The Greek word so translated is "poimen," which means "to feed, to shepherd, to pastor."
Now, since we have proven that "elder" ="overseer," and "elder" = "pastor," it logically and necessarily follows that "overseer" = "pastor." Think about it: two things ("overseer" and "pastor" ) which are equal to a third thing ("elder" ) are necessarily equal to each other (i.e., "overseer" = "pastor"). This means that if you ever hear anyone say "I am an elder, but I'm not a pastor," you are justified in asking him to break out his Bible and please explain to you how such an erroneous statement could ever be justified scripturally.
Now that we have established the fundamental identity of "pastors," "overseers," and "elders," we ask the next essential question: how many of such men governed a local church? Here is where the fun begins. If you can show scripturally that the first church was governed by "pastors," (plural), or "overseers," (plural), or "elders," (plural), you have completely demolished the sacred cow of American institutional Christianity: the "one-man pastorate." We will now proceed to do just that. If you have any ecclesiastical or financial ties to the one-man pastorate, we suggest you stop right here, read the Surgeon General's warning, and put this copy of NRR down, because the arguments we are about to give are utterly unanswerable.
ONE BILLION DOLLAR REWARD!!!
For Scriptural evidence of:
Arguments Against a One-Man Pastorate
1. "Nowhere in God's word to we find anyone referred to by name as a pastor." (Watchman Nee)
2. Not one New Testament letter is addressed to "The Pastor." If you wrote a letter to a local church today, to whom would you address it. "Pastor So-and-so," of course. Wonder why they didn't do that in the New Testament? (Cf. Phil 1:1)
3. Look at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas weren't received by "The Pastor," but rather, the "apostles and elders" there. Was "The Pastor" on a mission trip, or something? (cf. Acts 15: 2,4,6,22 to see how many times "elders" is mentioned, but not "The Pastor.") And quite interestingly, Paul went to the Jerusalem Council, but afterwards, reporting on it to the Galatians, Paul showed he didn't even know who "The Pastor" in Jerusalem was! In Galatians 2:9, he says that James, Cephas, and John were "reputed" to be elders. (Apparently, there were no titles for leaders, but we'll get to that in a later issue.
4. The apostles appointed "elders" (plural), not "The Pastor." (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5)
5. The poor-relief collection was brought by Barnabus and Saul to the "elders" (plural) of the church in Jerusalem, not "The Pastor." (Acts 11:30)
6. It's the "elders" (plural) who are to be rewarded with double honor for ruling well, not "The Pastor." (I Tim 5:17)
7. It's the "elders" (plural) who are exhorted by Peter to shepherd the flock, not "The Pastor." (I Pet 5:1,2)
8. This last argument is the clincher. It is the paramount plural-pastors proof. There ain't nobody that can dodge this one. You just have to remember two verses: Acts 20:17, and Acts 20:28. Remembering that "elder" = "overseer" = "pastor," read those two verses. In v. 17, Paul invites the Ephesian "elders" (plural) to Miletus. In v. 28, he tells these same "elders" (plural) that they are "overseers" (plural), and that they are to "pastor" the church of God. Since a "pastor" is an "overseer" is an "elder," and since "elders" and "overseers" are plural, it follows that there were plural "pastors" in Ephesus doing the "pastoring" (i.e., shepherding) in v. 28.
If someone tells you that his church only has one pastor, look at him as if he is entirely off his nut, and then innocently ask: "But, brother, where is that in the Bible?"
The Scripture is clear. What about the testimony of church history before about 150 A.D.? It is just as clear. There was no such thing as a one-man pastorate. Below are quotations from famous early church fathers.
The Shephard of Hermas (middle second century)
"Read it to this city [Rome] along with the ELDERS that preside over the church."
First Epistle of Clement (c. 95-97 A.D.)
Clement was one of the early elders at Rome. Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity states of his epistle that there "is no trace of a single ruling bishop; instead the leaders of the church are called either bishops and deacons or ELDERS (presbyters)." (p. 125).
Polycarp's letter to Philippi (115 A.D.)
This letter was addressed to ELDERS.
The Didache ("Teaching of the Apostles")
"Appoint for yourself OVERSEERS and deacons. (Didache 14:1 - 15:1)
Let's beat the dead horse with the testimony of respectable scholars. These are mainstream people, they are not weirdos who meet for church in living rooms on Sunday mornings. (The emphases are mine.)
Philip Hughes (a Roman Catholic, for crying out loud!), A Popular History of the Christian Church, p. 14, footnote 3: "before that date [the end of the first century] it is likely that the churches were ruled by colleges of BISHOPS."
Unger's Bible Dictionary, "Elders," p. 296:
"Consequently we meet it [the presbytery] everywhere in the plural, and as a corporation at Jerusalem."
Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God's Program, a Moody Press publication), p. 148
"The evidence of the New Testament points to a plurality of ELDERS in a church. Each time the term appears it is plural."
If the evidence in this issue has not convinced you of the proper form of New Testament church government, than nothing will. However, it is entirely likely that many will ask: if plurality of elders is so obviously scriptural, why isn't everyone doing it? That's a good question. We'll take a look at that next issue. Meanwhile, if someone tells you that his church only has one pastor, look at him as if he is entirely off his nut, and then innocently ask: "But, brother, where is that in the Bible?
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