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.

1 comment:

Alan Knox said...

You forgot about Diotrephes in 3 John. Surely he's a good example of a senior pastor. Oh... wait... nevermind.


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