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jesus the radical pastor | exploring the life and mission of the 1st century Jesus for our 21st century » Blog Archive » Styrofoam Theology: Part 3- Authority


The nature of the church has been an enduring conversation through history. What is ‘church’? How do we ‘do church’?

In view of the first two posts on ‘styrofoam theology’ and the resulting comments, I need to temper my viewpoint and write this:  Not all organic church proponents have a skewed view of a pastor nor do all seek to eradicate the pastor from ecclesiology.

My concern in this post is to push back against the deconstructionism that permeates a segment of the organic church movement.  In view of the postmodern wave that many are riding, we have to admit the prevailing suspicion of all things authoritative. I am not so sure that the idea of ‘pastor’ is questioned as much as any attendant authority that comes with the idea and/or position or function of pastor. In some organic church thinking, you must locate all authority in Jesus the Head and all authority in his body, i.e., in all Spirit-filled believers equally.  And we are told that this is exactly what the New Testament is getting at, what Jesus wants, and what Paul’s letters espouse.

There seems to be an advanced, evolved being in the organic church: the totally non-authoritative leader. But, as this new, oxymoronic creation is explored, we discover that actually all in the church are non-authoritative leaders. The only legitimate Leader is the Head: Jesus. The “priesthood of all believers” in the lexicon of this organic church thinking results in a flattened organizational chart.  Any questioning of this organic thought invites the accusation that the questioner has bought into the “ways of the world” or “the way the gentiles rule” by lording over others, not serving them. Thus, any and all hierarchy is heretical in ecclesiology. The “priesthood of all believers” is yanked from its contexts and infused with meanings of alleged authority that would shock Peter and John. Yes, the phrase means all believers have access to God without any other mediator. Yes, it means that each believer is to offer his or her life and praise as sacrifices to God. But to conclude that we can add to these biblical realities the idea of egalitarian authority in the church is a blatant error. It just isn’t in the phrase. Luther, who resurrected the phrase from the rubble of the deformed expression of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, was an authoritarian leader bar none.

I have a good friend who is a well-respected New Testament scholar. He informed me of this (his words):  “No such thing as non-hierarchical ancient world; no such thing. Anywhere. Ever.”

Jesus was born into a hierarchial world from a hierarchial nation (Israel) and lived a hierarchial life and discipled a band of apprentices who would sit on thrones and judge others (!) and Jesus founded, don’t miss this, a hierarchial church. The issue is not hierarchy because without hierarchy, you have anarchy. Of course, church leaders/pastors can sin and lord it over others even when they are commanded not to. But you do not get rid of “lording over” by magically and postmodernly getting rid of pastoral leaders, leaders with authority.

Authentic, Jesus-like pastors have authority through the gifting of the Spirit to “author life” in others (which is what authority means). Authority does not mean possessing raw power. This I think is the error of the postmodern mindset. Do only pastors have this authority? Of course not, but they do have it and are accountable to God for the lives of the people of God they serve. This is a serious reality.

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