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What’s Wrong With Our Churches?

False preaching is always a serious issue but it is not the fundamental, underlying problem in today’s churches. It is the entire clergy-laity system that is faulty. In contradiction to Scripture, it interposes human authority between Christ and Christian family heads. The rightful and immediate Head and Lord of the body is Christ and Christ alone. (Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:23-24).

Peter referred to elders as teachers:

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:1-3)

This passage has been used in support of the clergy-laity structuring of the body of Christ. We should notice, though, that the reference is to elders that are elected by the ecclesia to lead them. As was the case in the synagogues, they were typically the more senior members that were recognized as capable individuals that the family heads respected and trusted. They presided over and coordinated the activities of the community; they functioned as judges that adjudicated between differences and disputes; but they were not lords over God’s heritage. In these roles, they did not rule but rather served the community; they did so with the continued concurrence of the people they shepherded.

To take oversight does not mean to rule over, but to be concerned with the overall welfare and conduct of the body. They were to do so, not because they were forced to (by constraint) or for pay, but willingly. The apparent assumption here is that being a shepherd was a tedious task and not one that was generally desirable. This must be understood in relation to the teaching of Scripture with regard to the role of the natural leaders and teachers in the congregation.

An analogy might be a group of businessmen that periodically meet together to discuss issues that relate to their affairs. They appoint a few of the most capable of their number to conduct and lead their meetings. These “leaders” are not rulers, they are servants of the membership as a whole. They might be recompensed for the time and effort involved in carrying out their assignments but in no sense are they rulers.

Consider also these words of our Lord:

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: (Matt. 20:27)

But be not ye called Rabbi:  for one is your Master, even Christ;  and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth:  for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters:  for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased;  and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matt. 23: 8-12).

And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:44)

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. (Luke 22:25-26)

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord:  and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet;  ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (John 13: 12-17)

We see from these passages that the kingdom of God is very different from the kingdoms and nations of this world. There the strong tend to pride while the weak tend to submission. Both these tendencies are incompatible with the kingdom of God and must be resisted. The Holy Spirit tells us in these passages how to combat this form of sin. Humility is to replace pride; there are to be no rulers in the ecclesia community—this is how we progress! Jesus, the second Person of the Holy Spirit, demonstrates the great need for humility by stooping down to the menial task of washing their feet. How can we, His creatures, be so presumptuous as to exalt ourselves and attempt to rule over one another?

Each believer stands alone before his Master, Christ the Lord. He may receive much help and support from his fellows but his only Master (or instructor), the only One he obeys, is Christ. The most capable individuals are to see themselves as servants whose task is to build up the weaker members of the body of Christ. They are not to take the lead and use the weaker members as followers that do their bidding; nor can they attempt to do all the work themselves, a task far to great for them and utterly beyond their ability to fulfill. Their task is to build up and strengthen the weaker members so that the entire body can carry out the great work of rebuilding and renewing the world, the work God has assigned it (Matt. 28:18-20). This leads to a lasting victory, one that sustains itself in perpetuity and does not lose its original sense of purpose. The entire body, even the least of its members, should see themselves as individuals that receive their marching orders from Christ and Christ alone.

Such an army is extremely powerful and resilient. Its strength lies in each individual and operates precisely where it is needed, as it is needed, and without delay. It is exerted by every believer applying God’s law in whatever situation arises. It penetrates into every stratum and niche of society, wherever Christians are found. Also, since Christ is the only ruler, it is impervious to leadership corruption, a failing not uncommon in many Christian groups today.

A verse that has been used in defense of the establishment of a higher body within the community of the faithful is:

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Tim. 4:14)

The word translated presbytery here is “presbyteriou,” meaning seniorship or eldership. It refers to a body composed of elders, which are presumed to be elders of some of the ecclesias that were meeting together. The assertion is that they formed what is today known as a presbytery, a higher body within the Christian community. The difficulty with this conclusion is that this body imparted, by the laying on of their hands, a gift of prophecy to Timothy. This is something that only apostles were able to do; so the word “presbytery” in this instance could only have been a reference to a group of apostles. There is no contradiction here; the apostles often referred to themselves as elders (presbyters). Peter did so in the verse cited above (1 Pet. 5:1-3). John said: “I also am an elder” (3 John 1). There is no support here for the formation of institutions that introduce hierarchy within the body of Christ.

Another verse that some claim supports the hierarchical, clergy/laity structure and places rulers over the saints is:

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves:  for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief:  for that is unprofitable for you. (Heb. 13:17)

Here the difficulty is with the English language translations which were formulated only after several centuries of clergy rule. The key words are: obey, rule and submit. They are given as a guide for the relationship between the clergy and the laity. It appears to give the clergy considerable authority. They are to be obeyed; they rule over the congregation that must submit to them. These words hark back to the priesthood of medieval Catholicism and seem to be in conflict with the general tone of Scripture where we see that leaders are told to be servants. Consider for example Paul’s words:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (Phil. 2)

And the servant of the Lord must not strive;  but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;  if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; (2 Tim. 2)

We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (2 Cor. 6:1)

Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…(2 Cor. 10:1)

How can we reconcile this tone of service, meekness and gentleness with the wording of Hebrews 13:17? The answer lies in the translation. When we look at the original Greek in the Textus Receptus (from which the King James version was derived) we see that “peithesthe,” the word translated obey, is not in the active voice that could possibly justify “obey” but is in the middle/passive voice and should be translated as “be persuaded.” Likewise, the word translated “rule” is best taken as “ones-leading” and the word translated “submit” means “be ye deferring.” The verse with these words substituted then reads as follows:

Be persuaded of them that are your leaders and defer to them: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief:  for that is unprofitable for you. [1]

This rendering is in keeping with the general tone of Scripture. Believers are not inferior to their teachers; rather it is the teachers that, as the Apostle Paul did, should beseech them in the meekness and gentleness of Christ.

Scripture does not give us a clergy class; it is a natural development that arises from;

  1. lack of discipline to do God’s work God’s way even when alternatives seem better;
  2. depreciation of the importance of developing the weaker members of the body;
  3. a tendency to follow the natural leaders – the discomfort of standing alone;
  4. recognition that some are more capable than others;
  5. a desire to utilize the advantages of the division of labor – specialization;
  6. impatience on the part of the leaders – they want to get things done;
  7. pride of some;
  8. sinful laziness of many.


[1] See: “peitho in Hebrews 13:17” by Jason Dulle