Around the blogosphere there are kudos and high-fives to Ben Witherington’s critique of Pagan Christianity. Dr. Witherington’s blog has been in my reader for a time, and I have long appreciated his wisdom and scholastic experience.
First let me say that Dr. Witherington makes some points that I agree with. Those are not the points I have featured in this post. Overall, I do not see church through the same ecclesial lens as he does, particularly hierarchy, ordained roles, and the nature of gathering to worship.
However, he is much smarter than me, so what do I know.
Here are some direct quotes from the four parts that are currently posted. I attempted to include enough to provide accurate context yet also tried to keep this post as short as possible. Refer back to his posts for the complete text.
My comments and clarifying remarks are in blue.
Everyone agrees that the church is a living thing and organism, not an organization. So what’s the beef here, and where is the real thrust of the critique? (From this statement, I presume that Ben believes the church already functions organically and that institutionalism is not a problem.)
The priesthood of believers, clergy/laity, ordination, hierarchy…
Nowhere does the NT say “since we have a priesthood of all believers we no longer affirm the role of set-apart ministers or as they later came to be called ‘clergy’”.
In other words the priesthood of all believers is in no way an argument against there being ordained leaders of various sorts in the church, leaders who are both anointed and appointed not from below but from above, appointed by leaders.
The ecclesial structure of the NT church was hierarchial, not congregational—it started with the apostles and the 12 at the top, worked its way down…
…there was an ecclesial leadership structure in the early church which involved in various cases a process of ordination from higher officials. To say otherwise is to misread the NT evidence.
…this took place through leaders who saw the gift in people like Timothy, and did from time to time use a process of ordination to make clear whom the Spirit had gifted and graced.
Sacredness of worship
The last thing the church needs is a more casual, less reverential approach to all these things which removes altogether the recognition that one is entering into the presence of the Holy One when one comes to worship…
…thank goodness it (mystery, God’s presence) does often come in mediated ways, because like Moses at the burning bush, if we reach out to touch God directly, as an unholy person, we may well experience ‘burn out’ even ‘ministerial burnout’.
In fact, worship is the time when all of creation bows down before God, and all of creation should be offered up to God—including our best music, our best words, our best attitudes, our best art, and so on should be offered up to God.
The Worship Service
Mutual participation and open sharing is the model Barna and Viola are uplifting. A time together without an order of worship, without a liturgy, without a worship leader. What should we think of this notion?
…what Paul is trying to do is instill some order and organization into the otherwise chaotic Corinthian worship times…there was supposed to be an order to things—it was not supposed to be like a spontaneous Quaker or charismatic prayer meeting. Sorry but it just wasn’t.
The leaders of the worship service were then and are now, human beings whom God has anointed and appointed for such tasks…
It is equally clear from a reading of the NT. Jesus stands up in his hometown synagogue reads the Scripture and preaches while others listen. Should we not follow the example of Jesus? Well of course we should. Paul stands up in the meeting…and gives a sermon or exhortation. Others listen... Should we not do likewise– well of course we should.
Worship is not the same thing as a…spontaneous prayer meeting, and it never was intended to be, but it certainly does involve Scriptural sharing from some anointed leader of some sort.
…there is no laity, clergy distinction in the NT, but there is certainly a leader-follower distinction in the NT, and not all are called to be apostles, elders, deacons, etc.
The Function of the Pastor
But the problem with the main thrust of this chapter is it is based on the unBiblical notion that anyone should be able to teach, preach, prophesy on a regular basis ‘in church’. This is false–only some have the gift of teaching, preaching, or prophesying.
…there are specific gifts parceled out by the Spirit to specific persons, not to everyone.
…only those gifted and graced by the Spirit and recognized by the church as having such gifts should be doing those things on any sort of regular basis. Period.
The problem of course with home groups is that they do not fulfill the mandate of Jesus to his disciples be ‘a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid.’ He might as well have said ‘a church hidden in a suburban home can’t be found’.
If you are meeting hidden in the suburbs in a home with no sign posting and no open invitation to one and all to come and join you, and no public evidence that corporate worship or a Christian meeting is happening there, you are not fulfilling the prime mandate to invite people into a public and personal relationship with God through coming into the living presence of God in worship in public. You just aren’t.
The Role of the Pastor
…as I have said, the priesthood of all believers language has nothing whatsoever to do with deciding who gets to be teachers, prophets, elders etc. Those issues are determined by whom the Spirit gifts and graces for such tasks, and whom are recognized by the church to have such gifts and graces.
in no case are all Christians called and gifted to do shepherding. This is why, for example, in two of Paul’s gift lists he refers to the gift of kubernesis or steering, often translated administration. Not everyone has such a gift.
Teaching is a specific function and role in the church played by specific persons who are gifted called, and (gasp) even trained to do it.
In conclusion it is simply historically false to suggest that when we hear about elders, deacons, overseers, apostles prophets teachers, pastors we are only talking about functions most anyone could take on.
Anyway, rather than taking sides in the Ben vs. Frank debate, how about we just discuss the topics.
What do you think about these conclusions?