Saturday, November 05, 2011


Two of the four Jon Zens

1 The Shift From the Body of Christ as a Dynamic Organism to a Settled Institution

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes into some detail concerning the implications of the church being a living organism, a body with many parts. In the early chapters of Acts we see a vibrant, caring, sharing and witnessing body of believers created by the power of the Spirit who was poured out by the risen Christ. 

This corporate 'new man' created by Jesus was not without leadership and organization, but there is no evidence of desire by the leaders to create a tightly-knit religious institution, with an elaborate hierarchy and intricate chain-of-command. 

The leaders above all were to be servants to feed and build up the flock; the organization that came to expression was for the purpose of meeting people's needs, not to create a religious bureaucracy.The church Christ purposed to build is always described in terms of 'koinonia', a common sharing of life together in the bonds of Jesus Christ. 

However, the reality is that as time went on after the apostles' death, the church gravitated increasingly toward finding its essential definition, not in a dynamic organism, but in a visible institution with a hierarchy of officers. The church came to be no longer identified as a body of believers bonded by love as members one of another, but as a religious organization whose officers gave it significance. Ultimately it was asserted that without the officers, there was no church. Organization usurped vital life as the hallmark of the church.

This legacy still remains with us today. The needs of people are subordinated to the maintenance of religious bureaucracy. Patterns of church government often have nothing to do with the ethos of the New Testament. Many define the 'true' church in terms of outward marks such as "the proper preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and practice of discipline". But these characteristics have been outwardly present in dead churches. 

The New Testament defines the church dynamically in terms of functioning together as a body. If church was defined, for example, in the organic terminology of Acts 2:42-47, how many churches would you find? Why is it that even today when somebody asks "What church do you attend?:, the next query after you tell them is usually, "Who is the pastor there?" We still tend to define church in terms of leadership instead of by loving relationships among the brethren.

2 The Shift From Polyform Ministry to Uniform Ministry

In the early church ministry was conceived of in terms of Ephesians 4:16, "From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ministry was seen as committed to the whole body by Christ its Lord. As Paul put it, "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many ... As it is, there are many parts, but one body" (1 Cor. 12:14,20). To every person in the body of Christ is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the benefit of all (1 Cor. 12:7). Universal giftedness in the church, which is secured by the resurrected Christ leading captivity captive (Eph. 4:7-8), included such important leadership gifts as apostles and administration.

The great tragedy is that from about 180 A. D. onwards the increasingly institutionalized church began to assign ministry more and more to the officers (the "clergy"), and less and less to the common people. (the "laity") 

George W. Forell astutely summarizes the shift from body-ministry to bishop-ministry: "Ethical guidance for people recently converted to Christianity and likely to bring a pervasive pagan attitude to his new life was offered at first by a polyform ministry of grace, reflected in the New Testament. But, as time went by, moral authority was increasingly focused on an ordered ministry of bishops and deacons ...The institution most effective in containing the threats to the unity of the nascent Christian movement was the gradually evolving office of the bishop ...Through the office of the bishop the shape of the Christian life is determined and the masses recently brought into the Christian movement are conformed to Christ."

No emphasis on one person who occupies the office of bishop (pastor) can be found in the New Testament. While it certainly contemplates a plurality of leaders as part of life in Christ's body, the overwhelming emphasis falls upon exhortations that involve all the members of the body. At least 58 times in the New Testament believers are commanded to fulfill responsibilities relating to "one another". We have turned the tables and viewed ministry as essentially resting upon "the minister" and forgotten that ministry as unfolded in the New Testament is spread around to everyone.

If ministry is not seen as focused in one office in the New Testament, where was precedent for a separate caste found? It was found in the exclusive priesthood under the Old Covenant. William Bausch observes: "Our survey has shown us that no cultic priesthood is to be found in the New Testament. Yet we wound up importing Old Testament Levitical forms and imposing them on Christian ministry."

The negative implications that arose from the shift from polyform to uniform ministry are myriad. The mutual care so basic to the fabric of early church life was virtually lost. Why? Because mutuality - "you are all brethren" - was buried underneath the superstructure of institutionalized officers. 

William Bausch crystallizes this point by saying,.."Nevertheless in practice there is no denying that there has historically been a gathering into one person and his office what were formerly the gifts of many. ...[This practice] goes astray, of course, when it translates to mean that only ordination gives competence, authority, and the right of professional governance. It goes further astray when eventually all jurisdictional and administrative powers in the church come to be seen as an extension of the sacramental powers conferred at ordination. In short, there is a movement here away from the more pristine collaborative and mutual ministries of the New Testament."

We must face the fact that the traditions regarding church government and order which we have inherited are cast in very suspicious garb. They are clergy-centered and generally stifle and suppress the "one another" perspectives of the New Testament. Servant leadership should be a natural part of body-life by which the people of God are encouraged toward, facilitated in and equipped for various ministries. 

Unfortunately, however, the shift from polyform to uniform ministry has created the deplorable situation in which the church forever remains as a dependent, helpless, non-maturing infant for the sake of the officers who watch over the crib. We have inherited traditions in which the tail wags the dog. It is my conviction that because of the deep-seated nature of this awful shift in perspective, the greatest practical need facing the church today is the reincarnation of "a polyform ministry of grace".

Jon Zens


Aussie John said...


It's quite amazing how we moved away from the concept of the church as an organism. Scripture is clear on the matter, as Baptist
James Bruton Gambrell (1841–1921) recognized, when he wrote in 1918 (my emphases):

"As far as appears in the Holy Scriptures, the organization of a New Testament church is very simple. In fact, the New Testament abhors anything that is not simple. THE VAST ECCLESIASTICISMS OF MODERN TIMES, WITH THEIR GORGEOUS CEREMONIES, THEIR POMP AND DIGNITARIES, ARE ALL APART FROM THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS IN JESUS.

"But a church is more than an organization. IT IS AN ORGANISM.

"Normally,a New Testament church IS A LIVING THING. The members are members one of another. Each
several church is a body of Christ
and He is the head of it,and His will and law control it.

and we have thought widely of the
mark,if we think of a church as a mere human organization."

As Jon Zens says, "However, the reality is that as time went on after the apostles' death, the church gravitated increasingly toward finding its essential definition, not in a dynamic organism, but in a visible institution with a hierarchy of officers."

The status quo has become the status epilepticus (continuing attacks of epilepsy with continuing unconsciousness).

Rex Ray said...

Jesus criticized Pharisees with their extended hems to be seen of men. Reminds me of the custom of putting something in front of names to show their education; and for what reason other than to be seen of men?

Once a teacher gave what I thought was good advice when applying for a job—leave your college ring at home that an education was good but not to flaunt it.

An email does not have to be signed to know who sent it. And if it’s from someone you see every week, a first name would be sufficient, but once I received one signed, “Dr.” xxxxxx. I almost laughed.

My opinion shows that God said ‘No’ to one of his Son’s prayers when Jesus said, “I pray that you be of one mind.”

For proof of my believe just look at the church at any date in history—from the beginning to now.

I hope I’m not quoting out of context by ‘hitting the high spots’; but Jon Zens said:

“In the early chapters of Acts we see a…body of believers…there is no evidence of…hierarchy…the organization that came…not to create a religious bureaucracy…as time went on after the apostles’ death, the church gravitated…with a hierarchy of officers.”

WAIT! HOLD THE PHONE! What does Zens do with Scriptures that say this about the early church?:

“Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter.” (Acts 15:6)

Was not this ‘select’ group a “hierarchy” to decide how Gentiles were saved?

Peter was their spokesman in giving the group’s decision:

“We (hierarchy?) believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way they are.” (Acts 15:11 Holman)

But this hierarchy’s decision was omitted in the letter to the Gentiles, by a higher hierarchy—the pope’s judgment’:

“James responded: “Brothers, listen to me!...Therefore, in my judgment…” (Acts 15:13, 19 Holman)

James’ judgment was given to the Gentiles, and I believe that started the roots of the Catholic Church with all their hierarchy.

Aussie John said...


I would fight for your right to believe what you will, but I will also hold to my right to do the same.

I see no evidence of "hierarchy" in the Scriptures you mention, unless we have a different definition of the word.

When I think of the word "hierarchy", and I'm certain that Jon uses the term the same way, I am thinking of a power structure which includes a pecking order of people who reach different levels of importance and authority.

Apart from Jesus Christ, as the Head of the church, there is no indication in Scripture of such hierarchy,amongst those who have found new life in Jesus Christ.

Southern Baptists apparently hold to the same view as Jon and myself, as well.

Reading from a Southern Baptist document on Baptist beliefs I see, "Church Authority - Each Baptist church is autonomous, with no bishop or hierarchical body telling the local church how to conduct its business. Local churches themselves select their pastors and staff. They own their own building; the denomination cannot take it away."

Without doubt, evangelicals of many persuasions have lost sight of that, and not only have denominational hierarchies, but internal hierarchies as well.

I served in Baptist churches where it was made clear that I understood that the deacons were next to me (the pastor) in the pecking order.

It really threw a fly in the ointment when I refused to function as the top of the chain, and didn't recognize the deacons as of more importance than the rest of the members.

Rex Ray said...

Aussie John,
I appreciate your reply, and liked:

“I really threw a fly in the ointment when I refused to function as the top of the chain, and didn’t recognize the deacons as of more importance than the rest of the members.”

I take it that you did NOT give the church a paper that said:

A wise pastor will seek input from his leadership team about any direction he believes God is leading the church, but ultimately he must lead. I would restructure most Sunday school programs and make significant changes in the worship services. A pastor is a shepherd leader that dictates direction, creates structure, and overseas organization. The pastor must have the ability to hire and fire staff. The pastor must be able to appoint the chairman of deacons, finance, and personnel. A pastor must know whether or not the leadership tithes.

I believe history of the early church would show there was plenty of “hierarchy” going on since the first bishop at Antioch, Ignatius, wrote Mary:

“We ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.”

Aussie, do you think this guy may have been one of those “sect of the Christian Pharisees” that believed Gentiles had to obey the Law of Moses?’ If so, I’ll bet his congregation and others heard plenty about the Jewish laws from the hierarchy of a preacher that was to be look upon as “the Lord Himself”.

I think Paul saw the effect of that kind of preaching when he wrote:

“Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has hypnotized you…Did you receive the Holy Spirit by trying to keep the Jewish laws?...have you gone completely crazy? For if trying to obey the Jewish laws never gave you spiritual life…why do you think that trying to obey them now will make you stronger Christians?” (Galatians 3:1-3 Living Bible)

Can any hierarchy be seen in these Scriptures?

“…false teachers of yours who…bring long letters of recommendation [probably from the Jerusalem church]…We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die…God never sent those men at all…who have fooled you into thinking they are Christ’s apostles. They make you their slaves and take everything you have, and take advantage of you, and put on airs, and slap you in the face.” (2 Corinthians 3:1, 6, 11:13,20 Living Bible)

WOW! That sounds like hierarchy and ‘pecking’ to me.

One more reference:

“When Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly…when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalist, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say, and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.” (Galatians 2:11-13 Living Bible)

If Peter and the rest knew better, why were they afraid if there was not a hierarchy?

And to me, it’s easy to see the head of the pecking order made the final judgment how Christian Gentiles were to be accepted by Christian Jews which was based on tradition:

“For these things have been preached against in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” (Acts 15:21 Living)