This post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide”. This month’s bloggers were encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.
If you’ve read any of my articles before, you know I’m sort of critical on hierarchical systems within the Church. There are many reasons for this, but primarily, I draw those reasons from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 20:25, 26 and Mark 10:42,43:
If these verses were to be combined and updated to modern language, it might read something like this:
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the unbelievers use their self-given authority to dominate, or ‘lord over’ others, then their higher officials exercise authority over them, and so on… It shouldn’t be that way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
Many of my theology geek friends immediately discount hierarchical structures within the church based on those passages and others. Hierarchies, ranks, chain of commands, pecking orders, levels of authority, and the like, seem to contradict Jesus’ teaching. When taken with verses like 1 Peter 5:1-4, “exercising oversight” without putting others “under compulsion,” becomes elusive and might justify the current trend against ecclesiastical hierarchy structures. Still, I think there might there be some scriptural latitude when it comes to hierarchies in the church?
Can there be hierarchy without “lording over” others or dominating them?
I might be willing to reconsider church hierarchies, if…
1. They didn’t “lord over” people. – “Because I said so.” Properly, exercising decisive control (downward) as an “owner” or “master” with full jurisdiction, or subjecting others, so as to make them passively compliant.
2. They Weren’t Educational. – “I have more schooling,” “I’ve read more books,” “I’ve taught or written about this before,” and “I have more knowledge” than you, therefore, I have authority over you. Educational hierarchies are rampant in the church today. Training certificates, degrees, or completed discipleship classes do not positionally change a church members standing amongst the body.
3. They Weren’t Experiential. – “I’ve done this before,” or “I have a lot of experience in this,” so stand back, watch, and listen. – Essentially, because one member of the church has logged more hours doing a particular thing doesn’t necessarily equate with more authority in the execution of future things.
4. They Weren’t Immediately Gender Specific. – “Well, you’re a woman.” - Gender driven hierarchies are still prevalent within the church. This conversation is, and should be, ongoing. To automatically assume a gender driven hierarchical posture may be implementing a system directly opposed to Christ’s intended one.
5. They Didn’t Negate the Priesthood of all Believers. (1 Peter 2:5) “Because I’m Clergy.” – The clergy/laity divide immediately sets up hierarchy and intrinsically cause division. Pulpits, platforms, and pontificating don’t always equal power. Whether or not there is biblical room for this type of hierarchy, I’ll leave up to you.
6. They Don’t Squash the Giftings in Ephesians 4:11,12,13. “We’re the founders and the covering.”* – Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Pastoral, and Didactic/Teacher gifts are in operation by every member of the church to one degree or another “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13 * See 7 Debilitating Lies of the Covering Doctrine.
7. They Weren’t System Dependent. “That’s the way we do things here.” – Hierarchies that are propped up by systems fall when those systems collapse. The kind of order that Jesus talks about is not based on systems, but on sacrificial service. Mark 10:44
These 7 caveats are only a few. I am sure you can think of others. My desire is to see structures within the Church that seal breaches instead of widen them, heal brokenness instead of hurt, promote inclusiveness instead of exclusivity, and seek out common denominators instead of forming more and more denominations. Lofty idealism? Maybe, but I’ll entertain the idea of a good church hierarchy if it doesn’t “lord over” people, if it isn’t informationally stacked, experientially assumed, gender restrictive, doesn’t restrict the full access to God by every believer, doesn’t squelch the giftings of Her people, and is not dependently sustained by the system which created it.
Maybe that’s too many caveats. I don’t know. Maybe a hierarchy simply cannot exist under these conditions. What do you think? Can it?
This post was part of the April Synchroblog, where various bloggers all write on the same topic. Below is a list of the other contributors this month:
The Virtual Abbess – Abi and April’s Synchroblog – Bridging the Divides
Caris Adel – Emotional Pacifism: Laying Down My Weapons
Ty Grigg – Speak Truth
Jon Huckins – Gay Marriage, World Vision, and a Unified Church?
Mark Votava – Faith Presence in the Parish
Mary at Lifeinthedport – let us meet in the borderlands
Michael Donahoe – Healing Divisions in the Body of Christ
Juliet at Still Learning – A Catholics Love Letter to Evangelical Women
Dago at Scripture Insights – Jesus the Divider
Glenn Hager – The Lowest Common Denominator
Sarah Quezada – Standing on Church Bridges
Doug Webster – Truth Is Not a Process, Belief Is
Michelle Van Loon – Bridging the Divide
Happy at Simple Felicity – are we there yet?
Travis Klassen – The Church: Coming, Going, or Being
Bec Cranford – Biblical Interpretation and Inerrancy: Moving beyond myopia to a grander vision of unity
Teresa Pasquale – Bridging the Divide: Translating Between Dialects, Culture Contexts, and Heart Stirring
Paul Meier – Healing the Divides Begins Within
Liz Dyer – You Can’t Get There From Here
K.W. Leslie – Humility
Kathy Escobar – 10 ways we can build bridges instead of bomb them
Loveday Anyim – The “non-Gospelized Rituals” of Pentacostalism
Caedmon Michael – Bridging the Divides
Carly Gelsinger – “Church Shopping” at the Wrong “Mall”: A Story of Easter Sundays
Mallory Pickering – A Splintered People
Pastor Edwin Fedex – Tearing Down Fences and Building Sidewalks