Leadership in the Church: Some Objections

by drwinn on March 9, 2015

The Twelve Apostles Were Unique
Why is this important? It appears that this teaching is set forth with a desire to ensure a safe ground within the history of the church for these twelve individuals who participated in things that no others have or will have access for participation. It is true that there is symbolism in the replacement of Jacob’s twelve sons with twelve disciples, which formed the new Israel of God, the church. In this sense, they are unique. One must not forget, however, that there were disciple missionaries that were not a part of the original twelve. Judas faltered, and was replaced. Paul functioned as a missionary along with others (1 Cor. 15.3-7), who formed a wider group. Paul’s idea of apostleship or missionaryship, was formed by his concept of mission (1 Cor. 9.1ff. 15.10; Gal. 1.15ff. 2.9). The Synoptic Gospels suggest that the primitive sense of apostle was missionary (Matt. 10.5; Mark 6.37). It appears that it is only in the work of mission that these disciples were called apostles/missionaries.

Paul did not have a unique ministry in the churches he planted. He was personally commissioned

by Christ in a post resurrection appearance (1 Cor. 9.1; 15.7; Gal. 1.1, 15ff.). He became a successful church planter (1 Cor. 3.5ff. 20; 9.2; 15.9ff.). As a founder of specific churches, he had a continuing responsibility to provide guidance and solve problems. This is the primary reason for his letters to the churches. We should take note that he did not consider himself an apostle (think authority figure) to the universal church, where his authority would be recognized by all churches. The authority he carried was confined to his sphere of influence and mission (Gal. 2.7-9, 2 Cor. 10.13-16), to the churches he planted or were planted from the churches he planted. Another possible translation of 1 Corinthians 12.28 is God set in the local church…. Paul challenged passionately the claims that in the churches he planted that other apostles could exercise any authority (2 Cor. 10-13). Not during his lifetime is it recorded that he attempted to exercise any authority over the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15). He saw himself as a functional and situational appointee by God for the business at hand.

The Use of Nouns
The original language presents the gracelets in the form of nouns. A noun is defined as a name of a person, place, or thing. When one uses this argument to denote that the noun apostle means a specific person, which is concrete, the gracelet cannot be a function. The other alternative is that it must be an office. In the real world of language, a noun can be a word, which has through usage found a concrete manifestation, but that does not subtract from its dynamic characteristic. That is to say that there was function before there was form and we might press that only in the function is form generated for the moment of the function. That is to say, an apostle is and apostle when s/he is apostling.

The Pastoral Epistles
One has to wait for the writings of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus to discover that there are folks called elders, etc. The argument goes that by the time of these writings that so-called office gifts were stable in the church. It is true that the more formal structures of Jewish congregations following the structure of the Jewish synagogues seems to have taken over the more charismatic and dynamic expression of the church. However, it does not necessarily follow the structure of the church found in Timothy and Titus was the ideal form. Rather, it was one form. Yes, the letters demonstrate a movement from function to form. This is a sociological situation that does not “have” to occur. Other writers of books found in the Second Testament have also hinted at this movement. Peter’s first letter reflects the charismatic reality of Pauline churches writing about the idea of continuing gracelets (4.10), but he also writes about elders (5.1). What we may be witnessing in the first letter by Peter is a Pauline church that is beginning to adopt the model of the Jewish Christian church and Peter’s exhortation is to stay free and flexible within the Pauline charismatic expression of the church.

Matthew appears to be trying to develop a form of Pauline churchmanship. John, Hebrews, and Revelation are books, which also resisted the idea of the institutionalization of the church. 1

Church History: Luther
Martin Luther wrote about this issue in 1520 in one of the most significant documents of the period of the Reformation, a tract called To the Christian Nobility. This tract demonstrates that he has a firm belief in the priesthood of all believers. Here is a summary: Three sections comprise the tract. Therein Luther writes a host of ideas from which the Western world had been following for nearly a millennium. He wrote about legal, political, social, and religious thought. In Section One, Part One, Luther lays down the axe and cuts into the root of the clergy and laity idea. “It is pure invention that pope, bishop, priest, and monks are called the spiritual estate while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called temporal estate. This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy…all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, there is not difference among them….” 2

Luther also wrote Concerning the Ministry about three years after To the Christian Nobility. This document was addressed to the Bohemian Christian. They were quarreling with the Pope about ordination. He gave them some advice to help them along in their quarreling match. Here are some selected excerpts:

But let us go on and show from the priestly offices (as they call them) that all Christians are priests in equal degree. For such passages as “You are a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2.9) and, “Thou has made them a kingdom of priests (Rev. 5.10), I have sufficiently treated in other books (To The Christian Nobility). Mostly the functions of a priest are these: to teach, to preach and proclaim the word of God, to baptize, to consecrate or administer the Eucharist, to bind and loose sins, to pray for others, to sacrifice, and to judge of all doctrine and spirits. Certainly these are splendid and royal duties. 3

On yet another occasion (1544) in a sermon for a church dedication, Luther makes this point again.

But we, who are in the kingdom of our Lord Christ, are not thus bound to a tribe or place, so that we must adhere to one place alone and have only one race or one particular, separate kind of persons. Rather, we are all priests, as is written in 1 Peter 2.9; so that all of us should proclaim God’s Word and works at every time and in every place, and persons from all ranks, races, and stations be specially called to the ministry. 4

Luther did argue that in 1 Peter (2.5, 9) that Peter was thinking about a “general priesthood of all believers” in juxtaposition to any kind of episcopacy, which the Roman Catholic church rendered sacred. It is fair to say that Peter did not mean what Luther thought he meant. More than likely, Peter’s intention was that a Christian community would be seen as a true continuation and consummation of the chosen people of God. It was Peter’s intent to honor the church with the honorary titles that were first bestowed upon Israel. The context of the language in both books (Exodus and 1 Peter) is missionary. The church as a “royal priesthood” carries with it the distinct privilege of being the story of Jesus to the world.


  1. James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (Norwich, UK: SCM Press, 2006: Third Edition), 101-123.
  2. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works (St Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 44:127.
  3. Ibid., 40:21.
  4. Ibid., 51:335.

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