Thursday, July 03, 2008
PAGAN CHRISTIANITY—REVIEW PART FOUR
It might seem axiomatic to most persons that having 'pastors' is a Biblical thing. I mean after all, we even have three letters in the NT called the Pastoral Epistles in which Paul gives instructions not only about Timothy or Titus doing pastoral ministry, but appointing others to do so as well.
But the authors of Pagan Christianity, while admitting that pastors are mentioned once in Ephes. 4.11, think that the institutional church has blown this whole 'pastor' thing way out of proportion. Their particular concern is that they are unhappy with the 'pastor superstar' model of a single figure being the head honcho in a local church.
Now I have to say, I also have a lot of problems with the cult of personality approach to leadership in the church. This has more to do with our own modern cultural preferences than anything Biblical. However, Barna and Viola are dead wrong in various of the things they say about 'pastors' in the Chapter found on pp. 105ff. in the 4th printing of this book, and so we need a little deconstruction of their deconstruction. First however I must share with you that I had forgotten that it was not Frank Viola who asked me to do this critique, it was several other 'pastors' (Frank, are you smiling-- I just called you a pastor). Frank kindly offered to send me copies of the relevant titles including Pagan Christianity. When you get 100 emails a day some days, its easy to forget who asked me to do what. But on to the issue at hand.
Let's deal with a preliminary issue first, and a good deal of the underpinnings for what is said is based on the work of folks like Richard Hanson who want to make a hard and fast distinction between 'function' and 'office' when it comes to things like the role of a pastor, or an elder, or a deacon. This however is a false dichotomy. If someone is appointed to do a task regularly and repeatedly, they have both a function and an office. And here is the important point. Certain persons certainly were appointed to regularly do certain functions in earliest Christianity. That is what the Pastoral Epistles not merely imply but say, and Timothy and Titus are clear examples of this. Of course this goes strongly against the 'everyone gets to do anything they feel led to do since they are part of the priesthood of all believers' approach, but then, as I have said, the priesthood of all believers language has nothing whatsoever to do with deciding who gets to be teachers, prophets, elders etc. Those issues are determined by whom the Spirit gifts and graces for such tasks, and whom are recognized by the church to have such gifts and graces.
If we are to starting talking about shepherding meaningfully then of course we need to start with the Good Shepherd Jesus, and his under-Shepherds, the 12, and particularly Peter. But Jesus when he talks about shepherding he is drawing on some of the material in the OT, for example, the critique of the bad shepherds in texts like Ezek. 34. There is good shepherding and bad shepherding, but in no case are all Christians called and gifted to do shepherding. This is why, for example, in two of Paul's gift lists he refers to the gift of kubernesis or steering, often translated administration. Not everyone has such a gift. This term comes from the nautical realm and refers to the job of the captain or helmsman who steers the boat. Where would a ship be if it had 12 helmsmen and none to tend the sails, pull up the anchor, cook the food etc. Similiarly when Paul talks about the various parts of the body as an anology with the body of Christ he makes perfectly clear that different parts of the body should and do have different functions. The hand cannot say to the foot, I have no need of you.
Jesus, according to Mt. 16 founded his church on a leader named Peter. He was given the keys to the kingdom and the power of binding and losing. And lest we think that was only for during the ministry of Jesus we have the powerful scene in John 21, which somehow fails to come in for any real treatment in this book's discussion of pastors, which I find amazing. Jesus reccomissions Peter in particular to feed and tend his sheep. They are Jesus' sheep, but
Peter is assigned the task of being the under-shepherd who oversees, watches out for, and feeds (presumably by the Word), but the younger and older Christians, both the lambs and the adult sheep. This task is not given to everyone, indeed in John 21, it is not even given to all the 12. AND THIS SCENE TRANSPIRES AFTER EASTER AS PART OF THE COMMISSION FOR JESUS' LEADERS AFTER HE IS GONE. So let's go back and look at Ephes. 4.11 again, according to Barna and Viola.
On p. 107 we are told that the term shepherd/pastor is a metaphor to describe a particular function in the church. It is not an office or title, they say. In fact it is a term referring to particular persons, not just functions-- hear again the verse "God gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, and some as pastors and teachers". The Greek allows the conclusion that pastor-teacher might be a hyphenated term here, but it could also refer to do different persons. But the crucial point is that the term 'some' means 'some persons'. Secondly, to deflect the normal interpretation of this verse Barna and Viola say--- "The word is used in the plural. It is pastors. This is significant. For whoever these 'pastors' are, they are plural in the church, not singular. Consequently there is no biblical support for the practice of sola pastora (single pastor)." (p. 107). This deserves a bit longer response as it is wrong in several ways.
Firstly, Ephesians is a circular document written to multiple churches. It is not a situation specific letter like, say 1 Corinthians, written to a particular congregation. Paul is not referring here to what is the case in a particular local church, he is saying that God has appointed apostles, prophets, and pastors and teachers to the church in general. Here the discussion is about the church of God as a whole and what is true of the church as a whole (notice the other universal aspects of the discussion in Ephes. 4-- one Lord, one faith one baptism etc.). So it is absolutely not warranted either by the Greek of this verse or its large literary context to say "there is no biblical support for a single pastor in a church". This is false. And thank goodness it is false or else various small congregations would have no pastors at all. If we go on and study not only the Pauline gift lists, which again remind us that different gifts are given to different people, and then go on to the Pastoral Epistles where there is indeed a discussion, as there is in the Petrine epistles, about shepherding, church managing and adminsters, it should be noted that it is particular persons who are said to do this. Not just anyone. So while of course it is true that a congregation may well have more than one pastor, nothing in the NT suggests they need to do so, or that a church would be defective if it only had one. This is simply false. It is true enough that the terms shepherd, overseer/bishop elder could sometimes be used interchangeably, but it is interesting that only some elders are also singled out to be overseers in the Pastorals (see my Letters and Homilies of Hellenized Christians Vol 1, on the Pastorals). The terms apparently were not simply synonyms, and what is especially clear is that they were not simply describing roles or functions just anyone could assume.
But lets talk for a moment about the issue of paid ministers. Should ministers be paid, or let's be more specific, do they have a right to be paid, while of course also having the right to refuse a salary or support? Well actually the NT is clear on this-- the answer is YES. Let's deal the principle first, and then we will deal with passages thought to dispute this notion. The basic principle, first enunciated by Jesus himself, and then reiterated by Paul and others is that "a workman is worthy of his hire". Let us start with Mt. 10.10 and par. Here Jesus is commissioning the 12, the leaders in training amongst his followers, to go out 2 by 2, and he quite specifically tells them not to take this or that money with them. Why? Because he expects them to rely on the system of standing hospitality and let others provide for them. This is why he says "a workman is worthy of his hire/keep" and also why he tells them NOT to take any copper or gold or silver in a money bag with them. They should not expect to pay their own way. They are those commissioned to spread the kingdom, and they deserve to be paid for their work. Where then does the idea of 'no-pay' ministers, or faith based missions where you pay your own way come from? It comes from a rather bad misinterpretation of 1 Cor. 9 and 2 Cor. 11, which texts we need now to consider.
As usual, social context is crucial to understand these texts. But even if we knew nothing about the patronage and clientage system in operation in Corinth and its connection for why Paul particularly chose in Corinth to offer the Gospel free of charge without receiving patronage or fees for speaking, 1 Cor. 9.14 is Paul's reiteration of the principle of Jesus first enunciated in Mt. 10.10. Here is Paul's way of putting it "the Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel, but I have not used any of these rights.."
In fact throughout this passage Paul insists he has a right to such support, a right to be paid, a right to be supported and taken care of. But voluntarily he has chosen not to take advantage of that right. Why? You have to understand the whole social situation, and its difference from our own.
In first century Corinth, there would have been orators, rhetoricians, sophists, teachers for hire. Some were itinerant and would come to an agora, set out their money bag, speak or sing for a while, and then ask for money. Others, more sophisticated would engage in a longer term relationship with a patron. Paul did not do the former for the very good reason that he wanted to do church planting and stay a while. He wanted to establish relationships with those he was evangelizing. He did not want to appear to be a snake oil salesman huckstering some message he was not prepared to defend and explain over the long haul. On the other end of the spectrum he wanted to avoid the entangling alliances that were set up when you accepted patronage. So in Corinth he chose to support himself by tent-making, though he makes perfectly clear in 1 Cor. 9 that if he had wanted to, he had a right to be paid for his ministerial work. This chapter should be compared to what is said in 2 Cor. 11.7ff. Notice that he calls it 'lowering himself' making a sacrifice, when he chose to preach in Corinth fee-free. But the next verse is crucial--- "I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something...the brothers and sisters from Macedonia supplied what I needed."
Now what was the difference between Paul's relationship with the Corinthian church, and the Philippian one-- much in every way. Paul had a relationship of 'giving and receiving' as he says clearly in Philippians, with that church in Macedonia. He did not have such a relationship with the Corinthian church. Why not? Because the Corinthian Christians were immature, and those who could have supported Paul wanted him to become their client on an ongoing basis. But this would have obligated him in ways that would limit his travel. It is interesting that in Rom. 16 Paul tells us about Phoebe from the nearby church in Cenchreae. She did become his prostatis at least for a time, but she must have understood that Paul was being remunerated in this way, not obligated to an ongoing future service to the patron. In short, if you don't understand the lingo and the cultural practices, you are not going to understand what Paul says about paid ministers. There was also a further technical phrase we find in several places in the NT, including Romans and the Johannine Epistles "sending me on my way" or "sending him on his way". This refers to providing traveling money and supplies to get to the next destination. Paul says he was hoping the Roman church would provide this so he could go on to Spain. Let's look at one more important Pauline text--- Gal. 6.6--- "those who receive instructions in the Word should share all good things with their instructor." Here is a reference of course to a teacher, and the obligation of the congregation to provide for the instructor. The English phrase 'all good things' is really too general. What is meant here is monetary support PLUS providing room, board, etc (see my Galatians commentary Grace in Galatia on this important verse). Indeed, Paul believed a workman is worthy of his hire, just as Jesus said. So let us draw some conclusions:
1) is the role of pastor supported by the NT and important--- Survey says yes.
2) are specific persons supposed to exercise this function, those whom God has called and equipped to do it-- yes. And while we are at it, if you read Ephes. 4.11 in the Greek it says that it is the role of the pastor-teacher to equip the other saints who are not pastors and teachers for doing various forms of ministry. Teaching is a specific function and role in the church played by specific persons who are gifted called, and (gasp) even trained to do it. Paul is talking about that sort of training for other kinds of ministries in Ephes. 4.11-12.
3) Is it o.k. for a church to have one pastor--- of course it is, and some could hardly do other wise.
4) should a church expect to pay their ministers? YES THEY SHOULD. Paul calls it a right, not merely option. Of course the pastor or pastors may choose to forgo their salary. That's fine, but that is their choice, not one that should be made for them by the church on the basis of some pseudo-Biblical notions.
5) Is the exegesis of texts like Ephes, 4.11 by Barna and Viola in this chapter a viable option-- no I am afraid not. It is not what the text says or means, when taken in its various proper contexts social, literary, historical etc. So remember--- here is my principle for today---
A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean. There is no substitute for good contextual in depth exegesis. And to do that well without errors and anachronism requires: 1) a knowledge of Greek; 2) a knowledge of the first century social world and its culture (e.g. partronage), 3) a knowledge of how leadership worked in the ministry of Jesus, in the synagogue, amongst the apostles, in the local church, and elsewhere. In conclusion it is simply historically false to suggest that when we hear about elders, deacons, overseers, apostles prophets teachers, pastors we are only talking about functions most anyone could take on. No, we are talking about roles played by specific persons with specific gifts and graces. And dats all I got to say 'bout dat.