I have noted a mantra from the organic church sympathizers. Any critique of their priesthood-of-all-believers, no-hierarchal-structure, anti-clergy/laity split, all-are-leaders-and-thus-none-are-leaders theology receives this: “Well, show me from the New Testament anyone with a modern pastor job description.” I want to respond, “Show me your thorough-going American egalitarian, democratic, consensual decision-making polity in the New Testament.” It just ain’t there.
I admit that the modern pastor job description isn’t there, either. Yet, the modern pastor job description, while culturally informed, has deep, deep roots in 1st and 2nd century church polity. In their fine book The Pastor: Readings from the Patristic Period, Philip L. Culbertson and Arthur Bradford Shippe present the shape, nature and expression of pastoral ministry and care. We are talking pastoral ministry in the 150s-early 200s AD. That is not that long after pastor/apostle John went to meet his Maker. Yep, there are solo pastors over churches. Ironically, and encouragingly, the writings of these early church pastors/fathers present issues you would find discussed at the “modern” National Pastors Convention in San Diego. And since these early pastors are not spinning pastoral ministry out of thin air, we assume they are continuing pastoral ministry shaped by The Didache itself.
But, John, the church fathers are not inerrant and The Didache isn’t either. I agree. Yet, pastoral ministry emerged in a specific shape very early on by leaders deeply committed to the New Testament (and Old Testament) text. Recognized leaders emerged, taking oversight of the church and directing its affairs and disciplining its members. Teaching in line with apostolic doctrine was a priority and calling people to a kingdom-of-God morality was emphatic. We don’t see groups sitting around waiting for the Spirit to move and incite either teaching or moral accountability. We see pastor-teachers aggressively engaged in the care of the flock of God. Yes, there were some pneumatic groups who spawned heresy, but that was dealt with, too.
I am stunned that there is a movement that actually is trying to erase pastors and pastoral authority and care from the church. I do not question the fine intentions of those in the movement, but I do wonder about their discernment.
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