Friday, February 13, 2009

Leadership in the Churches of Paul

I'm knee deep in Andrew Chester's contribution to A Vision for the Church. He begins with a stunning summary of Paul's ideal:

Paul’s vision for the communities that he wrote to can be summed up quite succinctly. He sees them as being a new creation in Christ, filled with the Spirit, possessing gifts of the Spirit and overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit, controlled above all by love; they are communities that should be pure and holy, mutually supportive and interdependent, completely united, transcending the oppositions and tensions between different groups within the community, and with every kind of barrier that would divide them in normal society broken down.[1]

The discussion that follows this is an excellent, until we get to the rather brief discussion about leadership. Brief, as in, here is the entire section on leadership:
2.3 Leadership and Hierarchy Paul’s vision may seem blurred on this issue as far as the Christian community is concerned. It is not surprising that the issue of leadership and hierarchy should arise, as very often happens in the case of new religious movements with strong expectations of a final decisive event. Compared with what can be observed elsewhere in the NT, and the rapid developments otherwise in early Christianity, Paul appears not to have a particularly developed or precise view. A few indications are given in Rom 12 and 1 Cor 12. Again, however, the larger questions arise of whether Paul would want effectively to give preference to some kinds of individuals, and whether is in danger of asserting or imposing his own authority; and in both cases, how compatible this is with his overall vision. Within the Pauline tradition, especially the Pastorals (e.g., 1 Tim 2-6; Titus 1:5-16), there are clear developments that compromise the ideal of Paul’s vision and move decisively in the direction of giving superior position to particular kinds of individuals. Hence it needs to be asked whether this represents a perversion of Paul’s vision, or a natural and inevitable development.[2]
To embrace this kind of perspective, one needs to neglect key Pauline evidence, namely 1 Thess 5:12-27. Incidental details like 1 Cor 16:15-16 and Phil 1:1 should also be discarded. One then needs to neglect the witness of Acts 14:23 and 20:17. Furthermore, one has to utterly neglect Paul’s Jewish background, which scholars suggest was highly influential (See Burtchaell’s From Synagogue to Church).
[1] Andrew Chester, “The Pauline Communities” A Vision of the Church: Studies in Early Christian Ecclesiology eds. Markus Bockmuehl and M. B. Thompson (T & T Clark, 1997), pg. 105.
[2] Chester, “The Pauline Communities”, pg. 115.

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