Saturday, June 19, 2010

And Matthias was Chosen

on the Divinely-Inspired Existence of Official Structure in the Body of Christ

Many Protestant groups (from the Independent-Fundamentalist churches to the theologically liberal "Mainline" denominations) dogmatically defend the legitimacy of multiple types of church government, claiming they were all used in the early Church and are all found in the Bible. Some groups claim there are explicit examples of episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational leadership structures, with some groups favoring examples of further governing models in the Old Testament (i.e. the "Moses model", where the pastor (quasi-)independently leads the local congregation, just like these folks claim Moses lead).

There are mentions of elders and deacons in the New Testament, but they are often in conjunction with (and never in contradiction with) the episcopal leadership structure. For example, just because there were local deacons does not mean that they would vote on whether or not they would follow Paul's apostolic teaching.

The most biblical account of the early Church after Christ's resurrection is, of course, the Acts of the Apostles. This history book chronicles the infancy of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts, we do have unequivocal evidence of a priesthood (presbyterate), a formal class of offices who, though not necessarily the recipients of some special reserved VIP seating in Heaven, are responsible for the correct spiritual practices of believers.

As an example, take a look at Acts 1:15 and following. I came across this early this morning as I started reading Acts again. Jesus had ordained the 12 Apostles, but Judas died. The prophecy that another person should "take his office" is important. Not only does it show the authority to ordain passing from Christ Himself to His Apostles (and by extension, their successors, and their successors, and so on), but it also indicates that an office existed to be filled.

This may not be earth-shaking for you, dear reader, but you must understand that I've found myself in largely anti-structure, anti-tradition, fundamentalist circles for the last few years. This "discovery" of a specific structure of Church government just a few verses after Christ's Ascension really shifts and rattles some paradigms for me. It has made logical sense for a long time, but here's plain and simple Scriptural evidence.

Further still, not only is there some kind of office, but look at the man they chose: Matthias, according to v. 21, had "accompanied [the disciples] all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among" them. That was the qualification. They pared it down to two guys, then put it in God's hands and cast lots. If there were at least 2 guys that met the qualifications to be apostles all along, why didn't Jesus just ordain these and make it 14 Apostles (or at least 13, as He doesn't seem to choose Joseph/Barsabbas here)?

Could it be that He actually did this on purpose, knowing that Judas would split open, spill his guts, and die, thus leaving a vacancy to be filled by the Apostles?! Could it really be?

As time went on, more people were ordained through the laying on of hands to this "office" (Greek here is "episkopen"-the office of overseer, and the word from which we English speakers get "bishop").

If there was no particular structure that the Church is obligated to use, then it sure seems silly for Jesus to have set this all up and set the ordination procedures in motion. Since our Lord did do so, I think we can assume that this leadership structure (episcopal system maintained through succession all the way from Christ's earthly ministry through today) is probably a good one.

This is a strong argument against the "anything goes (and if it doesn't, you start your own "church" where it does)" mentality of modern, American Christianity.

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