Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Three Titles of What We Call "Pastor"

In the Church of God (Anderson) we latched on to the title "pastor."  Strangely, we who desired to return to primitive Christianity neglected (for the most part) the other two titles that the New Testament gives to the same group of leaders.  I believe this creates an imbalanced view of the responsibility (and authority) that this God-ordained group holds.

Pastor (ποιμήν)—shepherd

In his Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament William Mounce defines pastor as
one who tends flocks or herds, a shepherd, herdsman, Mat 9:36; Mat 25:32; met. a pastor, superintendent, guardian, Joh 10:11; Joh 10:14; Joh 10:16 pastor; shepherd.

When we think of pastors/shepherds we think of gentle-souled men holding lambs to their chests.  Put bluntly, many churches mistake a pastor with a chaplain—someone hired to marry 'em, bury 'em, visit 'em and make 'em happy by obeying their wishes.  However, a pastor was understood in biblical times as a leader.  He led his flock.  Read David's 23rd song.  Pastors told sheep when to eat, when to sleep and when to move.  They protected their flocks, yes, but they commanded them.

Elder (πρεσβύτερος)—elder, presbyter 

The New Testament word gets its origin in Judaism and Christianity from all the way back in Israelite history to the time of Moses.  It is a fascinating story:
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?" Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and instructions." Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied." Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.(Exo 18:13-27 NIV)
To summarize, elders rule.  They judge.  They adjudicate cases.  They hand down decrees and judgments.  

Bishop (ἐπίσκοπος)—overseer, guardain, supervisor 

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, shortened in academia to BDAG, gives us fascinating definitions for bishop:
one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that someth. is done in the correct way, guardian...
The term was taken over in Christian communities in ref. to one who served as overseer or supervisor, with special interest in guarding the apostolic tradition... (279)

Not to put too fine a point to it but a modern day equivalent is boss.  Why?  Because the only other office in the New Testament church, the deacon (διάκονος), holds an intriguing definition from BDAG:
one who gets someth. done, at the behest of a superior, assistant to someone (230)
A deacon gets something done; a bishop tells him what to get done.

The bishop is concerned that the doctrine that has once and for all time been delivered to the saints is (a) known and (b) obeyed.  He is to [e]ncourage and rebuke with all authority" (Titus 2.15b NIV).  He is "not to let anyone despise [him]"(Titus 2.15c NIV).

Many church problems occur when people become offended and demand their way.  A congregation may bend over backwards to prevent that from happening.  However, does anyone become offended when God's glory is offended?  This is the role of the bishop.  He gets offended when God's glory and holiness are defamed.

Being a pastor, elder and bishop can be a lonely job—when those terms are rightly understood.  Sadly, the modern evangelical church often doesn't understand these definitions.