Monday, April 27, 2009

The Senior Pastor - NT Evidence: a final word

As we discussed earlier, it would seem that, not only is there no command or direct teaching in the New Testament with regard to a senior pastor figure, but also the passages used to support a senior pastor position seem to require some level of eisegesis to provide evidence for such views. Before evaluating the Old Testament support offered for the necessity of a senior pastor, an additional New Testament question also has to be raised. Proponents of all four views would agree that the three Greek terms, pastor, elder, and bishop, are all used to describe one single office, yet proponents of the traditional view and the leader of leaders view seem to identify the pastor as a separate or special elder. They see the Eph 4:11 pastor-teacher as "a distinct role among the elders,"[1] even though all elders should be "able to teach."[2] Since Eph 4:11 is a passage concerning spiritual gifting and not an office in the church, and since it is not a strict singular reference,[3] it seems more logical to conclude, as White does, that "since there is only one office of elder, as far as eldership itself is concerned, the elders would be equal to one another,"[4] or as Hammett states, "in the New Testament terminology, the pastor is an elder, and all the elders are pastors."[5]

In the next post, we will look to see if there is any Old Testament support offered for the necessity of a senior pastor. In the meantime, what do you think: is there a such a thing as "a distinct role among the elders"?


[1] Dever, 23 and Akin, 65.

[2] 1 Tim 3:2 (NKJV).

[3] The reference is actually in the plural, but due to the context of the "one body" of Christ (Eph 4:4) it should not be interpreted as a prescription of multiple pastors and teachers in the local body of believers.

[4] James R. White, “The Plural-Elder-Led Church: Sufficient as Established – The Plurality of Elders as Christ’s Ordained Means of Church Governance,” in Perspectives on Church Governance: Five Views of Church Polity, eds. Chad Owen Brand and R. Stanton Norman (Nashville: B&H, 2004), 280.

[5] Hammett, 185.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Senior Pastor - NT Evidence: James and the Jerusalem Council

In the last post we looked at the role played by the reference to the angel (singular) of the church of ... in the book of Revelation in our journey to determine which senior pastor view constitutes the better New Testament model. We concluded that due to the weakness of the evidence, any direct New Testament argumentation, therefore, must come from the interpretation that James was in essence the senior pastor of the Jerusalem church. 

This supposition is usually supported with two arguments: the role he played in the Jerusalem council and the singular mention of his name in various Scripture references. When analyzing the Acts 15 passage, Cowen pointed out that "one man presided over the meeting and led them to a decision. That man was James, the brother of Jesus. Though there were many elders, there was only one leader. . . . One might call James the senior pastor of the Jerusalem church."[1] F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on the book of Acts, states that "if the elders of the Jerusalem church were organized as a kind of Nazarene Sanhedrin, James was their president, primus inter pares."[2] Both men seem to take this position because of the fact that when James spoke and pronounced his judgment, the apostles, the elders, and the whole congregation were quick to "recognize his leadership"[3] and subsequently follow his judgment. It seems that much is made of an incident where a prominent figure, respected by the congregation in Jerusalem "due more to his personal character and record than to his blood relationship to the Lord,"[4] presented his consideration[5] at the council. Acts 15:13 states that "after they had become silent, James replied." This statement could portray a traditional senior pastor who, at the appropriate time, spoke his verdict. It could also portray a leader of leaders type of senior pastor who spoke his personal verdict, but which required a later acceptance by the rest of the elders. It might portray a first among equals elder who, because of his personality and charisma, happened to say the final word.[6] But, it is also very possible that all James did was see an opportunity to summarize the debate and bring it to its logical conclusion. This does not necessitate his being the senior pastor in Jerusalem.

Grudem, quoting Strong, also points to the fact that proponents of the position that James was the senior pastor of Jerusalem point to the singular mentioning of James in Acts 12:17; 21:18; and Gal 2:12 to confirm the leadership status of James.[7] Again it seems that much is made of the fact that James was a prominent figure in history and a prominent figure in the Jerusalem church. The same could be said of Peter, yet, while some argue that Peter was the first pope, few would argue that Peter was the pastor of the Jerusalem church. One would further think that if James were the main pastor of the Jerusalem church, in the letter to the Galatians, James would not have been mentioned as one of three pillars of the Jerusalem church, along with Cephas (Peter) and John,[8] but rather as the (singular) pillar of the church. It is only logical to think that people like Peter, James, and John stood out because of who they were, not because they had been appointed to a special position.

It would seem that, not only is there no command or direct teaching in the New Testament with regard to a senior pastor figure, but also the passages used to support a senior pastor position seem to require some level of eisegesis to provide evidence for such views. Before evaluating the Old Testament support offered for the necessity of a senior pastor, an additional New Testament question also has to be raised. This will be the topic of my next post.



[1] Cowen, 16.

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, rev. ed. , NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 292. Like Bruce, Strong also uses the term "president of the church" to define James' position (Grudem, 929). Note that Bruce here uses the Latin terminology of "first among equals" used by Strauch to point to a senior pastor figure, again pointing to the fact that one needs to be careful not to attribute too much meaning to these titles.

[3] Bruce, 292.

[4] Ibid.

[5] BDAG offers "to make a judgment based on taking various factors into account, judge, think, consider, look upon" as the possible meaning of the Greek krinw (Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., ed. Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000), 568).

[6] Strauch actually mainly points to Peter (Strauch, 45-6) as the leader of the Jerusalem church, and considers that James was "one of the chief spokesmen" (note the plural) (Ibid., 131) and not the main spokesman.

[7] Grudem, 929.

[8] Gal 2:9.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Senior Pastor - NT Evidence: the angel to the church at ...

We continue our journey to analyze all views on the senior pastor, and evaluate them to determine which view constitutes the better New Testament model. In the last post we introduced two New Testament passages that are the center of much discussion in the literature: the role of James in the Jerusalem council as recorded in Acts 15:13-21, and the addressing of letters to the messenger (singular) of the seven churches in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation.

With regard to the latter one, the comment is often made[1] that the angel (singular) or messenger of the specific churches in the book of Revelation could very well be the senior pastor of these churches. This interpretation could be correct under a couple of different circumstances. It could point to a hierarchical-archbishopcy as advocated and practiced in the Roman church, where there is one single bishop over several churches in a single geographical area. On the other hand, it could also point to a single citywide mega church with a senior pastor. These are the only views which I deem logically acceptable since, if the church at Ephesus, for example, was a collective of multiple smaller groups which, together, were called the church at Ephesus, and each had a single pastor, as some would purport, and there was no hierarchical-archbishopcy, then the passages in Revelation could not have been written to the (single) pastor of the (single) church in Ephesus. The letter would have had to be addressed to the pastor of a church in Ephesus, or to the pastors of the churches in Ephesus, or to the pastors of the church in Ephesus.

The hierarchical-archbishopcy scenario is problematic for several reasons. It is assumed that the term bishop is synonymous with the terms elder and pastor, and that it represents an office in the local church, therefore not allowing for a bishop to represent this extra level of structure outside of the local church. One could argue that the hierarchical-archbishopcy office does not have to be connected to the term bishop, but then one would be at a loss to find any term, except possibly for the term apostle (not the gifting mentioned in Eph 4:11, but the role the twelve played and which was limited to their lifetimes), which Scripturally prescribes, or even describes, this scenario. Nevertheless, the hierarchical-archbishopcy office could only have had an indirect influence in the eventual creation of today's senior pastor office, therefore even if the reference in the book of Revelation could furnish Scriptural evidence for a hierarchical-archbishopcy, it does not furnish direct Scriptural evidence for a senior pastor.

This leaves us with the single city wide mega church scenario as the only acceptable option to justify a senior pastor interpretation of the Revelation passage. Since at least two of the proponents of the first two views, who consider this as possible evidence for a senior pastor, are also proponents of a collective of multiple churches resulting in multiple pastors, as explained above, this should render a senior pastor interpretation of this passage problematic and forced for them. It should also be noted that the 'first among equals' view could hardly justify the writing to a single pastor with such a title, since their perspective does not identify him by a title, and that the last view finds no need to understand the term angel as anything other than a messenger.

Ultimately, since this sub-discussion is all based on the possible interpretation of the identity of the angel, which both Cowen and Dargan, who are on opposite sides of the issue, consider unresolved,[2] this passage should not be given much weight in the context of this study. Any direct New Testament argumentation, therefore, must come from the interpretation that James was in essence the senior pastor of the Jerusalem church, which will be the focus of my next post. In the meantime. What do you think: who are these angels?



[1] See Cowen, 15; and Patterson, “Single-Elder,” 151-2, for a couple of examples.

[2] Cowen, 16; and Dargan, 53.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Construction in Community - take two

Alleluia! Thanks to several friends who came to help on April 18th, the siding on the east side of our home is basically finished! We still have to finish the siding on the little storage room, but the daunting, huge wall is done. Well ... the vent at the top is rotten, so we will have to fix it (we'll probably have to use a 40' ladder for it; does anybody have access to one we can use?), but ... the siding on the daunting, huge wall is done!

Here is a montage of people worshiping God by serving others. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Senior Pastor - New Testament Evidence (intro)

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I am on a journey to analyze all views on the senior pastor, and evaluate them to determine which view constitutes the better New Testament model. As Paige Patterson stated during the question and answer session of a recent Baptist distinctive conference,[1] the term senior pastor, as used in current evangelicalism, is not found in Scripture. Not only is the term not found in Scripture, but, as he states in an article entitled "Single-Elder Congregationalism," "there simply are no 'commands' on this issue."[2] Dever similarly agrees when, in the section entitled "Relationship of the Elders to 'The' Pastor", he states: "If you ask the question, 'Does the Bible teach that there is to be a Senior Pastor-figure alongside, or inside the eldership?' I think that the answer to that question is 'No, not directly.'"[3] Nevertheless, the discussion on the issue has to begin with Scripture. Therefore I will begin the discussion by analyzing various passages of Scripture, both in the New Testament and the Old Testament, which might give some insight on possible Biblical patterns on the topic.

Much discussion in the literature is centered on two passages in the New Testament: the role of James in the Jerusalem council as recorded in Acts 15:13-21, and the addressing of letters to the messenger (singular) of the seven churches in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. My next two posts will look at these two passages. In the meantime, can you think of any other NT passages with which people support the office of the senior pastor?



[1] Paige Patterson, “Observing Two Ordinances” (paper presented at Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church conference, Fort Worth, TX, September 26, 2008), available at http://www.swbts.edu/events/conferences/UponThisRock/conference_audio.cfm. (accessed Fall 2008). During the question and answer session after presenting his paper on the two ordinances recognized by Baptists, while talking about other pastors baptizing and the senior pastor not baptizing, Patterson states: “… other pastors who aren’t the quote senior pastor, find that terminology in the Bible.”

[2] Paige Patterson, “Single-Elder Congregationalism,” in Who Runs the Church?, gen. ed. Steve B. Cowan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 150-2.

[3] Dever, 23.

[4] See Cowen, 15; and Patterson, “Single-Elder,” 151-2, for a couple of examples.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Senior Pastor - Introduction

Many people have written numerous books supporting differing perspectives on the organization of the local church and the biblical offices[1] found therein. In modern Baptist churches, and in many non-denominational churches, the predominant organizational model is congregational church governance[2] coupled with a single pastor, or a pastoral staff which is usually composed of a senior pastor and a variety of associate pastors or ministers who have different roles and levels of authority. The focus of this series of blogs is to study the office of the pastor, and more specifically the office of the senior pastor. In the literature and in practice, there are multiple views of the role of a senior pastor. These range from a strong leader figure to the absence of a human senior pastor altogether. While proponents of each view seek not to contradict Biblical mandates, one has to wonder if any single view best represents the New Testament model. It is therefore the intent of this series to analyze all views and evaluate them to determine which view constitutes the better New Testament model.

So as to simplify our discussion, when the office of the pastor is referred to in this series, several things will be assumed. The office of the pastor is assumed to be one of only two offices[3] found in the New Testament. Therefore throughout this series, even though the term pastor will be almost exclusively used, Scriptures referencing any of the three terms mentioned above will be used to gain a better understanding of the role of this office, and when at times the other terms will be used, it is understood that they all refer to one and the same office. Another assumption that will be made in this series is that, in the New Testament, and some would say in earlier Baptist life, the plurality of pastors is found to be more the norm than the exception to the rule. This assumption has recently been much debated,[4] especially since many Baptist churches are setting up elders in a Presbyterian ecclesiological fashion,[5] but while there are issues with the Presbyterian model, plurality of elders can exist and has existed in non Presbyterian ecclesiology. Nevertheless, since the issue of the necessity of a senior pastor is nonexistent if there is only one pastor, for the sake of this series, a plurality of pastors will be assumed.[6] Finally, when talking of pastors, it is also assumed that they possess the characteristics found in the New Testament passages: 1 Tim 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Having stated these assumptions, a discussion of the differing views of the senior pastor can now ensue.

A brief literature research of the topic leads to four views of the role of a senior pastor. The first view is the most common one: the senior pastor is the leader (some may even say 'head' or 'under-shepherd') of the congregation. The other pastors, usually called associate pastors or ministers with specific designations, help him in the work of his ministry. He is the main shepherd of the flock and the main preacher for the congregation. While talking of congregational rule, when there is room for pastoral decision making and vision casting, his decision is the final decision. He might seek advice from the other pastors and be very open to their thoughts and suggestions, but ultimately 'the buck stops with him'. Throughout this series, this view of the role of a senior pastor will be referred to as the 'traditional' view.

The second view is similar to the first one: the senior pastor is still the leader of the congregation with associate pastors helping him in the work of his ministry. He is still the main shepherd of the flock and the main preacher for the congregation. However, in view number two, unlike in the traditional view, when there is room for pastoral decision making and vision casting, his vote counts as only one among equally weighted votes with the other pastors. He could be seen as a moderator or 'president' of the 'pastor board'. He is officially designated as the senior pastor, and possibly the people see him as their main pastor. This view will be referred to as the 'leader of leaders' view and seems to be the view advocated by Dever who states "that we can discern a distinct role among the elders for the one who is the primary public teacher of the church."[7] This view seems to separate the pastor-teacher as a special elder in title and role, but not in authority. One could see it as a variation of the first view, where the senior pastor sees the benefit of having a 'board' of pastors to work with and therefore relinquishes his sole authority to this group. In both of these views, the senior pastor is specifically identified as such, distinguishing these two views from the next two views.

The third view is called by Strauch the 'first among equals' view.[8] Strauch pictures the difference between the senior pastor and the other pastors as being one of function, not title. The senior pastor is "the natural leader, the chief speaker, the man of action;" he challenges, energizes, strengthens, and ignites the group.[9] In this view there is the sense that this leader is the leader because of his personality and outgoing attitude. He is probably the most outspoken of the pastors and possibly the main teacher also, but he is not officially designated the senior pastor. Note that the difference between views two and three can be very subtle. While it seems that the outworking of both views is similar, the fundamental difference is in the need to officially name this separate office and the implications which develop because of it.

The fourth view is one void of a human senior pastor altogether.[10] In this view, all the pastors are equal in the eyes of the people and equal in practice. Some advocates of this view will purport that Jesus Christ is the rightful senior pastor of any congregation.

In future posts, we will look at scriptural evidence, Jewish tradition, the writings of the church fathers, and common justification presented in favor of a senior pastor to try to analyze all views and evaluate them to determine which view constitutes the better New Testament model.



[1] The author notes that he is not comfortable with the use of the term office. For a discussion on the problems with the term “office” see Edward Schweizer, Church Order in the New Testament, trans. Frank Clarke (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1961), 171-180. In it, Schweizer points out that the Greek term for office (archv) is only used for “Jewish and Gentile authorities” (Schweizer, 171) and that the more appropriate New Testament term is the Greek term for service: diavkono". He then adds that “official priesthood, which exists to conciliate and mediate between God and the community, is found in Judaism and paganism; but since Jesus Christ there has been only one such office – that of Jesus himself. It is shared by the whole Church, and never by one church member as distinct from others” (Ibid., 176). Thus to identify some specific gift as an office runs the risk of setting up a clergy-laity division which is only seen in the New Testament when referring to the Jewish and Gentile priests. As he states: “it is nowhere forgotten that such renunciation of titles, honors, and offices testifies to the Church’s newness in contrast to the old religious or secular order” (Ibid., 178). Unfortunately, even though the author is not comfortable with the term "office" and has adopted the term "role" instead, due to the common usage of the term "office" in the literature, the author will use the term "office" throughout the series.

[2] For this reason, while the content of this series could be applied to other models, congregationalism will be assumed. For an explanation of congregationalism and an explanation of the various other models see: Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 923-36; and Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Baker 2004), 1079-97.

[3] The other office found in the New Testament is the one of the deacon, which is clearly not within the scope of this series.

[4] See Chad Owen Brand and R. Stanton Norman, eds., Perspectives on Church Governance: Five Views of Church Polity (Nashville: B&H, 2004) and Steve B. Cowan, gen. ed., Who Runs the Church? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) for two examples of recent works where the issue of church governance and specifically the issue of multiplicity of pastors is debated.

[5] Obviously this is not the view of elders presented in this series.

[6] When referring to this plurality, it is important to understand that the author does not envision a Presbyterian model, which differentiates teaching pastors from ruling pastors.

[7] Dever, 23.

[8] It is important not to attach too much significance to the title of these views. They are sometimes used interchangeably in the literature. For example Akin, while defending the first view, refers to the pastor-teacher as 'first among equals' (Akin, 65).

[9] Strauch, 46.

[10] This view is alluded to by Grudem (Grudem, 933) and can also be found in the writings of the New Testament Restoration Foundation (Steve Atkerson, Ekklesia, (Atlanta: New Testament Restoration Foundation, 2003), 119). Among other places, it is being practiced currently at Messiah Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Living out my doctrine - some thoughts on Thiselton's The Hermeneutics of Doctrine

I recently had to read the first two parts of Thiselton's The Hermeneutics of Doctrine. In it, Thiselton attempts to rescue "doctrine from its marginalized function and abstraction from life, and deliver it from its supposed status as mere theory" (xvi) by using hermeneutical theory. One way he does this is by continuously directing the reader to the practicality of doctrine and to the essential intertwining of intellectual belief and the believer's action. Looking at historical confessions of faith, Thiselton points out that they were "practical, participatory, [and of a] first person nature" (9). Thiselton states that these confessions not only "declare a content, but they [also] serve to nail the speaker's colors to the mast as an act of first-person testimony and commitment" (13). Therefore doctrine was not and should not be just theoretical, but practical. "The test of a 'real' belief, in contrast to what we may merely claim to believe, lies not in whether such a belief lies consciously in the mind, but in the course of action, or in the habituated actions, which proceed from the belief" (28). As Käsemann states: "In the bodily obedience of the Christian, carried out as the service of God in the world of everyday, the lordship of Christ finds visible expression, and only when this visible expression takes personal shape in our lives does the whole thing become credible as Gospel message" (47). This is why, according to Thiselton, Paul, in 1 Corinthians, focuses on God having lordship over our bodies; bodies which "give currency to what our beliefs, attitudes, values, and doctrines actually amount to" (50). Think of what would happen if all Christians actually lived out their doctrine. Lord, help me to live out my doctrine!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Raleigh's TEA Party

We tried something new today: we participated in our local Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party. We went to downtown Raleigh where what looked like 1000s of people gathered to avail themselves of their first amendment right. Here are some pictures of things we saw.







Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Construction in community

On March the 28th, several of our brothers and sisters in Christ gathered at our home to help us work on it. People started to come by at 8:00 AM and the last ones left sometime after 7:00 or 8:00 PM. Throughout the day, the main focus was putting on siding (you can see before, during, and after pictures below), but Cindy had some people help her accomplish other tasks. We are very thankful for all who came, and for the ladies who provided lunch and supper for all of us. This was a great encouragement to us.

Have you encouraged your brothers and sisters in Christ lately?


While we were working, our neighbors' real estate agent came by. He talked to Paul, Cindy, and Alan. While talking to Alan, he asked if all the people working were part of one church. When Alan answered yes, the man made the comment that you don't see people getting together to help each other much anymore. So, while people served God by serving us, they glorified Him and proclaimed His transforming work in their lives to our community at large. 

Have your actions proclaimed God's transforming power in your life lately?

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