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.


Alan Knox said...

Alan Bandy covers this from a different perspective (but same results) in his post called "The Angels of the Seven Churches: Human or Spiritual Beings?".

I agree with Alan. There are many problems in interpreting these angeloi as human messengers, whether or not they are "senior pastors".


Steve Sensenig said...

It's always been my understanding that word usage elsewhere in the same author's writing (either the immediate context of the book in consideration, or other books by the same author) helps to shed light on the usage in question.

With that in mind, does John ever use "angel" to refer to humans? In the rest of the Revelation, no. In his epistles, not that I'm aware of. In his gospel, again not that I'm aware of.

Furthermore, nowhere else in the NT can I recall "angel" being used for a human.

So to apply it to humans in this passage seems to be problematic at best.

I'm enjoying this series, Mael! Thanks for writing.

Maël said...

Alan, thanks for the link to Alan Bandy's post.

I do agree with both you and Steve (hi, Steve) that there are some issues when interpreting these angeloi as human messengers. So then the question is: why do so many try to?

Alan Knox said...

Well, I think its a case of a doctrine looking for a scriptural basis. We are much more comfortable attempting to justify our current beliefs than allow Scripture to change our beliefs.


Aussie John said...


I,too, share Alan and Steves, doubt about the traditional interpretation re the angels.

I know I don't seem very original, but, I also concur with Alans last comment.

Join my blog network
on Facebook