Leadership in the Church: Office or Function | Introduction

by drwinn on March 1, 2015

The overall series of articles is the content of a chapter in a present book that I am working on with the working title: Gracelets: Delivering God’s Extravagant Acts of Grace to Others. Its focus is on an interpretative key that may help understand the split-level operation of the present church in its institutional form. The overall book is about the so-called spiritual gifts, which I refer to as gracelets or drops of God’s grace given through followers of Jesus to others. The overall argument in blogs is whether some of the gracelets, which refer to leaders in the church that are mentioned in the text of Scripture, are office or function gracelets. We begin with a brief discussion of primitivism, which is sometimes used to discredit the kind of material that is presented below. While I present a point of view, my hope is that the reader will feel that they can agree or disagree with the conclusions.

In philosophy, there is a designation that is often used as an argument that is sometimes used as a category to disparage ideas that are found in the modern / postmodern world. It is called primitivism. The word is defined “a belief in the value of what is simple and unsophisticated, expressed as a philosophy of life or through art or literature,” or “the notion that the value of primitive cultures is superior to that of the modern world.” In the history of ideas, it is a relatively new word as words go coming into existence in 1860-1865 that described beliefs stretching back to the Greek philosophers. The Dictionary of the History of Ideas suggests the following:

Primitivism is a name for a cluster of ideas arising from meditations on the course of human history and the value of human institutions and accomplishments. It is found in two forms, chronological and cultural, each of which may exist as “soft” or “hard” primitivism. 1

As a nonspecialist in philosophy, it seems to me that the category is used when it is convenient for an argument as per James K. A. Smith in his book on Postmodernism 2 where he is arguing that a return to premodern liturgies might be the best way forward for a postmodern church. 3

Since Smith’s penchant is for the theology of Calvin, he seems to think that form of primitivism is okay, but those in the Plymouth Brethren, Baptist, and Pentecostal Christianity are pointed out as operating in this tradition. 4

If the basic primitive stuff from Scripture is not normative for the church then:

  • What purpose does the Scripture have?
  • Why are the traditions from the centuries in which the shape and size of Scripture was being determined become normative?

Roger E. Olson writes in a recent article: Can Authentic Christianity” Be Found Today?. This present series of articles on Leadership are not suggesting that a return to the New Testament church is a goal. While their culture may have had some similarities, it was not the same culture that faces the church today in may parts of the world. Culture is not monolithic. As Olson points out, most restoration movements look for symbols like buildings with a preference for no buildings, the mode of baptism that is used, signs and wonders, displays of the so-called spiritual gifts, and in some churches the non-presence of musical instruments. Rather, Olson suggests in his article, that some marks of authenticity that one can look for are:

  1. how much the church reflects the culture around it.
  2. to what extent the church values being “respectable” over being authentically Christian.
  3. doctrinally sound preaching and teaching that appeals to the heart as well as to the head.
  4. true community manifested by sharing lives and property.
  5. passionate commitment to Christ, the gospel, and the church.
  6. unity in Spirit and in truth as opposed to non-spiritual similarity.
  7. clear evidence that God is there busy changing lives for the better in super-normal ways.

So What?
It seems to me that if one wants to have a mooring in a conversation that Scripture would be the place to begin not the traditions as well-meaning as they may be. These are surely issues for conversation, not certitudes. So, it is with conversation in mind that I present this series of articles.


  1. “Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Primitivism,” Maintained by: The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library http://www3.wooster.edu/chinese/chinese/courses/chinese_film/MP.html (accessed February 22 2015).
  2. James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006).
  3. Ibid., 127-135.
  4. Ibid., 127-135.

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