(By Joey Faust, Jan. 2, 2005)
If you are not a part of the RADICAL anti-head-pastor movement, then this article is not written directly to you. I am writing against those who think it is their duty to “deliver” people out of Baptist churches, simply because such a church has a head-pastor.
In future articles in this series, I intend to provide more evidence that the “angels” in the seven churches of Revelation are head-pastors. We will examine the history of the Jewish synagogue, and notice how the word “angel” (i.e. messenger) was already in use as a title for God’s earthly servants, both in the inspired Scriptures, and in Jewish history. We will examine additional objections to the head-pastor model, and deal with them one by one. In this article, I simply intend to alert readers to the dangerous spirit that is brewing, that seeks to draw people out from their churches. Many of these teachers relate having a head-pastor to manage the affairs of a local church under Jesus (much like a quarterback, under a coach), to the abuses of the Roman Catholic hierarchy! These teachers use these later perversions of the Catholic Church to pry up TOO MUCH of the foundation. The Devil always uses one extreme to scare some Christians into an opposite one. He did the same thing with Purgatory. Many Christians ran from this error, to such a degree, that they ended up with a shallow Judgment Seat of Christ. And instead of realizing that the earlier, so-called “church fathers” taught something entirely different than later ones, they concluded that the whole foundation of chastisement at the Judgment Seat must be in error. Mede has rightly observed that “over-doing always undoes.” This is true in regard to running from the Judgment Seat, and it is true in regard to running from the doctrine of head-pastors. We can become so gun-shy of Rome that we end up running from one error right into a greater heresy of Rome (e.g. many run from the heresy of “Purgatory” so fast and far that they are willing to teach the pope’s eternal salvation by grace AND fruitbearing!). Seventh Day Adventists have long attempted to use history and the so-called “Catholic Sunday” to draw people out of Baptist churches. In the same manner, many of these people in the anti-head-pastor movement are using similar tactics. I will show that many of the Plymouth Brethren (Darbyites) were doing the same thing in the 19th century.
It is no longer prudent to remain passive concerning the claims that are being made by some in this anti-head-pastor movement. Many of these teachers are not passive. They are sowing discord and dividing many good churches. They are on the offence, and the zeitgeist of the age is, sadly, blowing in their direction. However, this movement will lead to disintegration and chaos. The Devil is attacking the institution of the family, and the institution of the local church:
Psalms 11:3 If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
By calling people out of churches with head-pastors, many are perhaps unaware of how they are contributing to the rise of Rome (the very heresies they claim to be avoiding). The last church that Jesus addresses in Revelation 3 is in “Laodicea.” This is a literal church in the first century, but it is also prophetic of the “falling away” that will occur in many churches at the end of this age. “Laodicea” means “laws or customs of the laity.” The Holy Scriptures and its commands are being replaced by self-rule and worldly customs. And God’s true ministers are being despised and replaced by “puppets” that will entertain and tickle the people. Rome smiles at the chaos and disintegration (Revelation 17). In government, immoral anarchy leads to tyranny. In the same manner, as Laodiceanism abounds, it will leave such wreckage in its midst, that many will gladly embrace Romanism for “security” and “final authority” (Revelation 17). This radical movement against head-pastors is simply one more component in fulfilling the warnings in 2 Peter (and Jude) about these last days:
2 Peter 2:10 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and DESPISE GOVERNMENT. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
19 While they PROMISE THEM LIBERTY, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
I must add a serious disclaimer. There have been many in history (as well as today) who have (at least in profession) believed that having a head-pastor is an error. For example, there have been many wonderful Plymouth Brethren that have greatly blessed future generations with their writings, and testimonies of their lives. I think of R.C. Chapman, George Mueller, and G.H. Pember (to name a few). However, even in their days, there were others who took a more militant view, and appeared to set up their own views of church government as the most important thing in the Bible. They were unbalanced. They became aggressive and divisive, and began to entice others from Baptist churches, and the denominations. What was then only a “seed” (perhaps a Devilish test-run!), has begun to blossom today, in the Laodicean age. Often, good men cannot see the final fruits of their own errors in the days in which they live. Therefore, on one side, some of the older Brethren writers are some of my favorite to read. And I am aware that there are multitudes of good men today that believe in a plurality of pastors (no head-pastor), that do not seek to become divisive, seditious, and “robbers of churches.” They have the maturity to agree to disagree, and they understand the danger of pulling Christians out of strong, healthy churches over some minor doctrines. One writer (who is writing against these anti-head-pastor advocates) observes:
“In truth, the difference between churches with elders and those with a pastor-deacon-people type government is normally very small in actual practice. Often the major differences lie in the definitions of words and the divisions of duties.” (1)
In other words, a large church that has a head pastor, with assistant pastors and deacons, will often not look much different from a church with a so-called plural eldership. Assistant pastors often preach. And there are many times that head-pastors decide issues by taking a vote of chief men, or even seeking unanimity among them. Therefore, it would be absurd to use the head-pastor model to leave a church where there are years of history and roots, only to attend (or start!) a church with plural elders, that is run practically the same way as the previous church, except in name. There are many that understand these things, and they hold to their views of plural eldership in a balanced manner.
But there are others (and their numbers are increasing) that are on a campaign to pull people out of Baptist churches, one by one. They seek to first infiltrate, and then to indoctrinate. They have many similarities with Seventh Day Adventists:
“Unfortunately there are some in elder rule churches that are turning the issue into one of major proportions claiming that their churches are more Biblical and spiritual than those with the pastor-deacon-people polity…I have valued friends who practice elder rule polity. This is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. Unfortunately, some with that polity are parading themselves as those that are the most Biblical and that this matter is so important that they feel led to ‘deliver’ poor souls bound in pastor-deacon-people type of churches. I believe that these proponents of elder rule are misguided and often inconsistent for two reasons. First, because they think that their polity is far more scriptural and second, because they have overly emphasized the importance of this matter…Could we not suspect another motive behind such an intense promotion of polity differences? Could it possibly be the desire to obtain people from other churches who are doing the work of evangelism, follow-up and training without having to expend such effort? Only God knows these things. But such inconsistencies have a foul odor…People who get in the habit of migrating from church to church will never know the joy of using their spiritual gifts to bear long term fruit in the Lord’s work.” (2)
If this reproof against some of these anti-head-pastor advocates sounds severe, one must remember the damage that can be caused by enticing people out of strong churches, for minor or doubtful disputations. There are certainly legitimate, doctrinal reasons to leave churches. But the Devil is more than happy to use ANY minor issue to plant or stir up a murmuring, disgruntled, discontented spirit in a church member, and provoke him or her to leave the hedge of protection (the local church):
1 Timothy 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself IN the house of God, which is THE CHURCH of the living God, the PILLAR and ground of the truth.
The institution of the local church (a pillar, itself founded on the Rock of Jesus), is one of the foundations that is being destroyed. Once a person is disconnected from the church, the goal will then often be to get her into a new “fellowship” with another center of control. Not only does this assume that the new “fellowship” will be as adequate a spiritual covering as the former church, but it also assumes that the newly disgruntled person WILL make the transition, and will not backslide and end up entirely shipwrecked. It is therefore crucial that pastors lay again the Biblical supports for a head-pastor, and reprove this teaching that seeks to draw Christians out of Baptist churches. It is one thing to stand against the modern, super movie-churches with disco dancers (and everything else that comes along with them). It is another thing to teach that the entire concept of so-called modern church is Roman Catholic and Satanic, and leave young Christians scorning everything that has to do with it. It is not necessarily the government of the church that is wrong. Various doctrinal weaknesses and strengths are found within every type of government.
The truth is, this spirit (i.e. decrying the head-pastor concept to draw people out of churches) is nothing new. It was sharply exposed and rebuked by an earlier generation of Christians. Spurgeon was one of the most outspoken critics of the anti-head-pastor advocates. However, this was mainly a defense against their attacks. Some would stand in front of his church, and hand out tracts, and seek to draw people out of his church. It is no wonder that he responded sharply against this branch of the Plymouth Brethren movement. Many were attacking him! (People often think that head-pastors should be so nice that they allow people to be misguided and scattered). After some tracts were circulated by Brethren calling Spurgeon a blasphemer, Spurgeon wrote:
“We have been requested to reply to a small tract which has been given away at the door of the Tabernacle, by one of the ‘Plymouth Brethren,’ but it is so devoid of all sense, Scripture and reason, that it needs no reply…Our name and character are in too good a keeping to be injured by these dastardly anonymous attacks. Neither Mr. Newton nor Mr. [George] Muller would sanction such action…” (3)
Spurgeon had warm fellowship with B.W. Newton (an early Brethren founder) and George Muller (who would sometimes speak at his church). But he had little patience with radical Darbyites. (Newton himself first divided with Darby when Newton no longer embraced Darby’s radical anti-head-pastor-isms; Muller would also later divide with Darby over issues of church discipline).
Spurgeon was passively premillennial, and he respected premillennial-futurists like Robert Govett (not a Brethren writer), and G.H. Pember. However, perhaps this is one reason that he did not give the Second Coming, and other aspects of Bible prophecy, the Biblical emphasis they deserved. An emphasis on Bible prophecy was perhaps wrongly associated with these Plymouth Brethren. Notice the following words of Spurgeon against the anti-head-pastor advocates in his day:
“The outcry against the ‘one man ministry’ cometh not of God, but of proud self-conceit, of men who are not content to learn although they have no power to teach.” (4)
“Do not be startled at the sound which seems to have such terrors for certain brethren. I have heard the cant of those who object to a ‘one-man ministry,’ a ministry to which all the while they usually submit in their own meetings…” (5)
“The ‘one-man ministry,’ as certain wise men call it, has been far more used of the LORD than trained bands with their officers.” (6)
“Every now and then we hear some simpleton or other talking against a ‘one-man ministry,’ when it has been a one-man ministry from the commencement of the world to the present day; and whenever you try to have any other form of ministry, and doing it thoroughly and heartily and independently and bravely in the sight of God, you very soon run upon quicksands.” (7)
And perhaps Spurgeon’s most thorough and firm rebuke of this movement is found in an article in his magazine, The Sword and Trowel. It was a review of a book by Grant, who had also written against the Plymouth Brethren:
“As on all hands, with a diligence never exceeded, and a subtlety never equaled, they [the Plymouth Brethren] are laboring to seduce the members of our churches to the subversion of the truth and the overthrow of the needful order and discipline of our Zion, it may be well to disseminate information concerning their sentiments and tactics. There is nothing which they have so much to dread as being thoroughly unearthed and exposed; for their grosser errors are not generally made known to their dupes until they are fairly in their meshes…whose secret but rapid growth is among the darkest signs of the times…women are almost invariably the parties whom they seek to ‘convert.’ They are wise enough in their generation to know that if a man’s wife is got over, she will give her husband no rest until she has made a resolute effort to prevail on him to join the ‘gathering’ along with her…It is as true of them as a body as it was of those women to whom Paul in his Second Epistle to Timothy alludes when he represents them as creeping into houses. Their favorite plan is to single out the best members of other evangelical churches, and endeavor to get them over; and when they have succeeded in inoculating them with Brethrenism, they are advised not at once to leave the church of which they are members, but to remain for a time, in the hope of being able to convince others of the error of their way in ‘sitting under such teachers.’….The new ‘sister’ commences with certain stereotyped phrases in endeavoring to bring over the party aimed at, by remarking that the pastor of the particular congregation is a good man – a very excellent man according to the amount of his knowledge of the truth – but that he is not sufficiently taught of the Spirit on certain important points of doctrine…’Oh, yes, my dear sister;’ ‘oh, no, my dearest sister,’ were phrases spoken in the most tender tones, and were among the weapons which were liberally employed with the view of ensuring another recruit…It matters not to them that, by going into churches or chapels in this way, in parts of the country where the minister, owing to the smallness of the number of his congregation, has the greatest difficulty imaginable to continue to maintain the Christian ministry…The minister, with his wife and family, may he thrown destitute on the world. The minister’s heart, indeed, may be literally broken – still that will not cause them to experience a momentary pang. No amount, indeed, of misery they may have brought on God’s faithful ministering servant will give them even a moment’s uneasiness. On the contrary, they will rejoice at the ruin they have wrought in breaking up a church, because believing they are thereby doing God service…others have been made miserable for life by the dissensions which these ‘troublers in Israel’ have occasioned in their churches…A Congregational minister in the country, writes to me on this matter as follows: – ‘What the Plymouth Brethren have done in country towns no one but those who are intimate with the life of country churches can tell. There is no Congregational minister, either Baptist or Independent, who is not ready to denounce them as the greatest troublers of the peace of Israel since the days of Ahab. Much in these days is said about the Jesuits, but the Plymouth Brethren will compare with them, both in respect to stealthy slyness and persistent effort to make converts. There are always in every church a few disaffected spirits, who only need the voice of the tempter to make them cantankerous. These are so much tinder to the spark of the Plymouth Brethren’s tongue of fire…’let us get away from all this, and have no church, but just read the Bible for ourselves.’ A division ensues, and soon, instead of reading the Bible for themselves, one man gets the whole thing into his own hands, and another church is formed, virtually where there was to be NO church and NO minister…With this feeling is naturally associated an amount of arrogance in the assertion of their own views, which those who differ from them often find to be unbearable…” (8)
George N. H. Peters, around 1883, gives a similar testimony and rebuke against the Plymouth Brethren. Peters wrote the mammoth (three-volume) work, The Theocratic Kingdom which is one of the greatest defenses of premillennialism ever penned. Peters teaches a pre-trib rapture (of watching saints), and mainly exposes the errors of amillennialism and postmillennialism. In our day, such views have been ignorantly, with one blanket, labeled “Darbyism.” Yet, such views were taught in The Rainbow, by Robert Govett and other writers, by J.A. Seiss, J.R. Graves, and many other dispensationalists, without any hint that they originated with Plymouth Brethren. I mention these facts in order to show that these rebukes of the Plymouth Brethren were not due to some prejudices against premillennialism, literal interpretation, or prophetic studies. George N.H. Peters was at the forefront of such studies. Yet, Peters writes:
“…we are compelled to dissent from the exceeding lax views of the ‘Plymouth Brethren’ respecting church government…We cannot, therefore, sympathize with the ‘Brethren’s’ tirade against ‘Clericism,’ simply because, if followed, it would result in DISINTEGRATION and perversion…The result is, that however honest in their views, they are only injuring the truth by associating such demoralizing opinions, unnecessarily disquieting others in the church relationships, and increasing the number of sects by forming, with special and extraordinary high spiritual claims, another…[Brethrenism] raises up an antagonism to other churches, which, to say the least, is uncharitable, and unchristian…It will be well for these ‘Brethren’ if they have the piety, usefulness, etc. that many in these churches manifest. This intense bigotry (and there are others who just as freely condemn the ‘Brethren’) is the natural, logical outgrowth of their system, and evidences that it is based on error.” (9)
Again, in another place, he writes:
“The principles [of the Plymouth Brethren] are disintegrating, and have a tendency to alienate…”
These reproofs of the Plymouth Brethren reveal that Peters was not in any way concerned that he was overthrowing the foundations for premillennialism or the pre-tribulational rapture by rebuking Darbyites. This is because the teachings of premillennialism, futurism, literal interpretation, literal Israel, the secret coming, the rapture, etc. did not arise, nor were they dependent upon, Darbyites. It is true that Darby emphasized the differences between Israel and the Church to a greater degree than most other premillennialists (who were known as dispensationalists). But to many, this was not a plus. It was seen as another unbalanced extreme that would produce lawlessness by cutting up the New Testament too rigidly (leading to the excesses of hyper-dispensationalism). Many Darbyites were known for teaching that sins should not be confessed by believers, and that there is no need to ask God for forgiveness. This type of excessive division between the disciples of Christ in the Gospels, and those in the Epistles, often caused many prophetic truths to be thrown out with the bathwater by those teachers who rightly fled such errors.
The discordant church-wreckers rebuked by Spurgeon and Peters would be the first to deny that they despised authority (2 Peter 2:10). But it must be remembered that Jude predicted that many in the last days will walk in the “gainsaying of Core” (Jude 1:11). And Korah did not BLATANTLY despise government! He only claimed that Moses was wrong for exercising TOO MUCH authority (i.e. Darby’s rebuke of Newton):
Numbers 16:3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing ALL THE CONGREGATION are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
The Levites were called to be “assistants” to the house of Aaron. This was a blessed place of service, but the Levites (led by Korah) wanted the priesthood to be shared by all the Levites.
Those who decry the head-pastor system would, of course, argue that head-pastors are not in the place of Moses today. We are all priests. However, Jude (a New Testament epistle) teaches that the same sin will be committed by many in the last days. Certainly, then, there are many applications of this sin in this modern age. And I believe that those who bitterly deny one head-manager in the home (under Jesus), and those who bitterly deny one head-manager in the church (under Jesus), are examples of the sin of Korah in these last days. The language and spirit of many in this anti-head-pastor movement sounds frighteningly like the language used by Korah. For example, Frank Viola writes:
“There is not a single verse in the entire NT that supports the existence of the modern day Pastor! He simply did not exist in the early church…Never in the imagination of a hallucinating man would any first-century Christian conceive of the modern pastoral office!….The unscriptural clergy/laity distinction has done untold harm to the Body of Christ. It has ruptured the believing community into first and second-class Christians. The clergy/laity dichotomy perpetuates an awful falsehood. Namely, that some Christians are more privileged than others to serve the Lord….The one-man ministry is entirely foreign to the NT, yet we embrace it while it suffocates our functioning. We are living stones, not dead ones. However, the pastoral office has transformed us into stones that do not breathe….Permit me to get personal. The pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a member of Christ’s Body! It has shut your mouth and strapped you to a pew. It has distorted the reality of the Body, making the Pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear.” (10)
If these brethren were only writing against the perverted abuses of the unbiblical, Roman Catholic clergy, all would be well. But they are including in these Romish errors ALL CHURCHES that have a head-pastor (regardless of how the church operates). This movement will spread like Preterism. It is a movement whose time has come. While it is true that some churches need to wake up and liven up; and they may need to allow more opportunities for testifying and contributing, there is also much poison in this teaching. Under it, many will be robbed of opportunities for abundant fruitbearing in pastor-led churches. Many will abandon strong churches to sit at home on the Lord’s Day (or go to secular work). They will scorn the so-called “churches.” Their only “ministry” will be to deliver some other poor soul out of the Baptist church, into the same alienated bitterness they have fallen into:
Jude 1:16 These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.
19 These be they who SEPARATE themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.
There is, therefore, no greater time for pastors to obey the command to Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they HEAP to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto FABLES.
One “fable” is this idea that every church is allegedly infected with Roman Catholicism if it has a head-pastor (regardless of whether or not he lords over the flock). The “bait” on their hook is the claim that the idea of a head-pastor originated in Romanism, or a post-apostolic departure from Biblical order. Whenever it is documented before them that the head-pastor model is seen in early Christian writings, long before Constantine, or diocesan bishops arose, it is sometimes claimed that this is because these earliest writings have been tampered with, and they are not to be trusted. Seventh Day Adventists have used a similar argument to teach that the first day of the week is not the Lord’s Day. They say the first day was designated as the Lord’s Day by the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, when it is shown that Christians were meeting on the first day of the week in the earliest ages after the Apostles, and that they referred to the first day as the Lord’s Day, we are then told by Adventists that these early writings have been perverted by Rome! Therefore, they are free to make an appeal to history to prove their case, but any historical facts that are against them are considered “corrupted.”
Is it true that the practice of having a head-pastor originated in a departure from Biblical truth? Before we look at the inspired Scriptures, I would like to once again remind the reader of the historic facts. G.H. Lang (a writer I often quote and admire on many other subjects) was a Plymouth Brethren writer. Therefore, he argues that any other form of church government than that of the Open Brethren, is in error, and originates in the apostasy of Catholicism (or its early seed). Lang writes:
“…as sub-apostolic literature shows, new principles of church order were instilled and adopted….Ignatius of Antioch, WHO FIRST EXALTED EPISCOPACY, thus starting the Church on a fatal decline, right willingly gave his body to the beasts of the amphitheatre….IT WAS NOT LESS THAN TWENTY YEARS ONLY FROM THE DEATH OF THE LAST APOSTLE [John] that the devoted Ignatius had thus departed from apostolic church order!” (11)
Here, Lang rejects the notion that the writings of Ignatius on church government are corrupted. It is obvious that if Rome had perverted these writings, they would have inserted their own views concerning bishops, etc. But in Ignatius, a bishop has authority only over a LOCAL church…On this, Chrysostom writes:
“‘To the fellow-Bishops and Deacons.’ What is this? were there several Bishops of one city? Certainly not; but he called the Presbyters so. For then they still interchanged the titles…So then, as I said, both the Presbyters were of old called Bishops and Deacons of Christ, and the Bishops Presbyters; and hence even now many Bishops write, ‘To my fellow-Presbyter,’ and, ‘To my fellow-Deacon.’ But otherwise the specific name is distinctly appropriated to each, the Bishop and the Presbyter…” (12)
This is an important point. I know of many churches today with a head-pastor, multiple assistant pastors, and deacons. It would be perfectly normal to address a letter: “To the Pastors and Deacons of ______ church.” No one would think by such a letter that I had denied that such a church had a head-pastor. He would simply be addressed along with the other assistant pastors.
But what are we to make of Lang’s assertion that so quickly (barely twenty years), Ignatius had already introduced so great an error concerning church government? Anyone who reads the various epistles of Ignatius should be able, at once, to see the error of such a view. One would have to conclude that Ignatius was not only in error, BUT THAT HE WAS INSANE! His views on church government are derived from personal letters to real people in history. If there were no head-bishops of these churches, then those who received the epistles must have thought the man had lost his mind! And Ignatius does not write from the standpoint that these churches have suddenly changed in their government. Therefore, one is forced to conclude (if he will deny a head-pastor), that the churches that the Lord Jesus addresses in the Book of Revelation (for Ignatius writes to these same churches) were, at the time Jesus addressed them, ALREADY IN ERROR, since they possessed head-pastors (called bishops by Ignatius). Why then would the Lord appear to encourage such an error by addressing His letters to a single “angel” (messenger) of each church? Three of the seven churches are addressed by Ignatius. Why doesn’t the Lord rebuke these same churches for having head-pastors? No, the anti-head pastor advocates have a serious roadblock in the way of their views in these earliest, extra-biblical Christian writings. They are representative of the entire practices of many well-known churches at the time of John the Apostle’s death. I CERTAINLY do not deny that Rome later perverted church government. And perhaps some careless language by Ignatius helped to plant the seeds for Rome’s later perversions. But we must remember that Nicolaitan popery is only one side of the error concerning church government. There is an equal error on the other side, which is Laodiceanism. And while Ignatius (who did not write under inspiration) was perhaps guarding against the sins of Laodiceanism (i.e. the rebellion of Korah), the Devil was launching a counter-attack on the other side, in preparation for Romanism. Therefore, the lesson of this history would be to watch for dangers on BOTH sides. Church leaders must sanctify the Lord before their congregations (Numbers 27:14), and churches must respect the offices God has ordained.
Ignatius DIED between 98 and 117 A.D. He writes:
“Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth…” (13)
These writings do not reveal any sign that Ignatius was teaching something controversial concerning churches having a head bishop. He was not creating a new office. He was writing to multiple churches which ALL had the same set up: a head bishop, other assistant elders, and deacons. He was writing at practically the same period that the Lord addressed seven letters to the ANGELS of the churches in Asia Minor. Ignatius addresses the head-pastors by name:
“I know that you possess an unblameless and sincere mind in patience, and that not only in present practice, but according to inherent nature, as POLYBIUS YOUR BISHOP has shown me.” (14)
Ignatius refers to himself as the bishop of Syria (Antioch). He writes to POLYCARP the bishop of Smyrna. He also writes to Philadelphia and Ephesus. Therefore, only a FEW YEARS after the Lord addresses the seven churches, and their ruling angels, Ignatius writes to THREE OF THE SAME CHURCHES. They have ruling bishops. In fact, Ignatius maintains in his epistle to the Ephesians that ruling bishops were settled everywhere, in all churches at this time. The writings of Justin Martyr (who died in 165) show forth the same teaching:
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then when the reader has ceased, THE PRESIDENT verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.” (15)
The practice of a plurality of assistant bishops (in larger churches) being led by a “president” (head-pastor) is the norm in these earliest writings. Justin was not a Jew. Yet, he uses the same terminology that the Jews often used to refer to their head-elder in their synagogues (“president”), as if it was common to do so. We see this Jewish head-elder in many passages in the New Testament:
Acts 18:8 And Crispus, the CHIEF RULER OF THE SYNAGOGUE, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.
The People’s New Testament Commentary, on this verse, writes:
“Though the synagogue opposed, ITS PRESIDENT became a Christian with all his family. Paul baptized him with his own hands.”
In the synagogues, there were “rulers” (plural), and there was a president among the rulers (Acts 13:15). However, at times ALL the rulers (the president and the elders) are addressed as simply “rulers” (with no distinctions being noted). It is the same way with bishops in the Bible. It is the same way today.
G.H. Pember (a Brethren writer), notes:
“…the institution of presbyters [elders], being no new thing, is not noticed in [NT] Scripture…” (16)
We simply add that the same thing is true concerning the chief administrator, or president among these elders (as James in Acts 15), and that the language ALREADY IN USE (i.e. “angel of the congregation”) is endorsed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Revelation 1:20).
Next time, God-willing, we will examine the abundant evidence for this word “angel” being already recognized for head-administrators of synagogues and congregations in the first century. I will demonstrate that it was not a strange thing to these early Christians when John wrote to them. It was the explanation of the symbol. The first century Christians would not have thought it to be enigmatic that the Lord would refer to their head-pastors as “angels.” I will also show that there should not be any reason for modern Christians who study their Bibles to see it as a strange thing.
In conclusion, we should remember that Rome will again arise and become drunk with the blood of the saints. Let us avoid anything that will unlawfully or unnecessarily break Christian unity. I am very willing to take a stand on serious issues, even if almost the whole, modern Christian world runs contrary to them. However, I also know that we must be very careful and prudent about how, if, and when a person should leave a strong church. The Holy Ghost equates forsaking the assembling with making great provision for willful sin (Hebrews 10:25-26)! The head-pastor model has enough Biblical support to reject the claims of those who seek to divide Christians over it. And it certainly has brought forth fruit in history. On the other hand, the anti-head-pastor movement appears to have a history of disintegration and division.
3. “Sword and Trowel” (Feb., 1867).
4. “The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,” vol. 8, 1863, p. 195.
5. Spurgeon, Feb. 6, 1881.
6. “Daily Devotional,” May 24.
7. Spurgeon, “A Cheery Word In Troublous Times.”
8. Spurgeon, “Sword and Trowel” (June, 1869); “Mr. Grant on ‘The Darby Brethren.’”
9. George N.H. Peters, “The Theocratic Kingdom,” Vol. I, p. 640.
10. Frank Viola, “Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices.”
11. G.H. Lang, “Departure,” 1925.
12. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Philippians.”
13. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians.
14. Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter I.
15. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology.”
16. G. H. Pember, Vol. 3, “The Church, the Churches and the Mysteries.”