Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Advanced Was Early Church Government?

It has been claimed that 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus could not have been written by Paul because the church government pictured there is more developed than it would have been in Paul's time. Now this comes from applying the Theory of Evolution from biology to other disciplines without any justification. The truth is, organizations develop at different speeds and it is impossible to predict how quickly they will develop.

There are three titles mentioned in the letters in question: overseer (or bishop), elder, and deacon. It is my understanding that overseer and elder are really two names for the same office (Acts 20:17,28; Titus 1:5,7), but there are at most three offices mentioned. It is rare to find an organization without at least three offices. Even a bridge club or a chess club generally has at least three offices. Once the church became too big for the apostles to  personally govern directly, we would expect some structure to be created. This is, of course, what the New Testament claims (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1), but it is also what would be normally expected. Notice that these offices are mentioned in regards to local congregations, which suggests rudimentary leadership. Further, the idea of elders was already present in Judaism, so this system is not a total innovation (Luke 22:66; Acts 4:5; 23:14). 

It is claimed that the early church was run by charismatic leadership. Now I have been acquainted with various charismatic churches, including ones that might be considered extreme. I have yet to find one that does not have established leadership. Nor am I acquainted with any other group without continuing leadership and would be interested to know how they work, if they exist. The basis of this claim of charismatic leadership is 1 Corinthians 14. But this is not talking about leadership, but order in the service. And it very clearly implies someone in charge who can say who speaks next and make sure people take their turns. A charismatic system requires strong leadership to keep those involved under control. 

Also, this idea assumes that the Christian church is not a creation of God. Which is to assume the point at issue. But if the Christian church is from God, it can be made as complicated as He wants it to be. In fact, based on the description given, I would conclude God did not intend to prescribe a specific form of church government. Rather, He has given us broad principles but leaves the specifics flexible, allowing considerable freedom. But if God had commanded a detailed system with bishops, archbishops, patriarchs, and a pope at the top, it would not be a problem. In fact, it is not a clear difficulty for such a system to develop quickly on a natural basis. But I do not see how the system given in the New Testament is a problem on any grounds at all.

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