As believers, there are a series of grids which we interpret Scripture through. These grids inevitably determine the expression of our faith. There are fancy words for many of these grids, like ecclesiology, missiology, proctology, etc., but they essentially are our understanding and beliefs concerning the different aspects of kingdom life.
Some believers have the same grid that they were taught from the beginning of their faith walk. In their eyes, their grid is normal, true, and right. Other believers, for various reasons, have had their grids challenged. They have had to go through the process of “seeing their seeing.” I’m not talking about the essentials of Christian doctrine, but other aspects of church life.
In rejecting the grid we have traditionally known, there is a process of coming to terms with a grid that makes sense, that fits our understanding of Scripture and the nature of God. This is not a case of throwing babies out with bathwater, but rather a process of sifting through the things that we’ve assumed and reconciling them with what we are learning.
I don’t have a bee in my bonnet over authority and hierarchy issues. However, in challenging what I previously believed, I had to discover if there was hierarchy in kingdom relationships, and if so, to what extent. In the end, the question I always ask myself is “How does this fit with my understanding of God and the nature of His kingdom?”
The authority structure that I was taught basically involved a leader and a board of elders who were called by God to govern the people of that assembly. Being in the charismatic stream there was also a covering of 5-fold ministers to whom the church leaders were submitted. The leaders take very seriously their presumed responsibility to rule and govern the people, and the people take very seriously their submission to these authorities.
After much thought and study, I have come to the conclusion that this system of hierarchy is damaging both to the people and to the leaders because it causes people to attempt to fulfill roles they were never called to and to miss out on the kind of relationships that God intended.
When we attempt to live in a role of rulership over our brother, we have put ourselves in a position that God never intended. While we may be sincere in doing so, it is ultimately damaging to ourselves and the other person. We presume an authority in their lives that is not ours. This system also causes the followers to sometimes abdicate areas of responsibility and become passive recipients, making unfair demands of the leader.
Not only that, hierarchy is damaging to relationships because it removes the beauty of mutual submission and service which God intends for our relationships. To define our church relationships through the lens of mutuality rather than by government and hierarchy would make a huge impact in our understanding of body life and community. What if we learned to image the nature of the trinity in our relationships with one another?
Instead we have imitated the world’s structures of positional power and actually claimed that they are God’s way. Whether we refer to the Israelites desire for a king or the formation of clergy and papacy in church governments, we see throughout history the establishment of mediators between God and men. While the Father has allowed this mediation, He has not required it. His intention was to have fellowship with man unhindered by mediators.
The world loves its hierarchies and power structures, but it isn’t supposed to be that way among us. The kingdom is to be a radical overthrowing of the hierarchical structures that have been instituted to mediate relationships. Now, there is to be one head of the church, and that head is Jesus. Our relationship with the Father should no longer be hindered by mediation. Our relationships with one another are to be relationships of mutual submission, serving, and preferring one another. This underlying message seems obvious in the New Testament.
So that is the grid of “hierarchaeology” that I currently view other aspects of church life through, especially issues of leadership, which I hope to address in a future post.