I absolutely believe leaders are a vital part of the church. However, I have a very different opinion of their role and Church authority than most people do.
I’ve been directly persecuted by church leaders and am currently a leader in my church, so I’ve experienced both sides of the issue. But that doesn’t really matter. What really matters is what the Bible has to say on the topic. Unfortunately, while the Bible is very clear in some areas, it’s less clear in others.
Let’s dive in.
Who are Church Leaders?
There are three words the New Testament typically uses for those in a leadership role. We’ll look at them all in turn
The first term we’ll look at is the Greek word “ἐπίσκοπος” (episkopos) which is almost always translated “overseer”. Here’s at the meaning of the word:
1985 epískopos (a masculine noun, derived from 1909 /epí, “on/fitting contact,” which intensifies 4649 /skopós, “look intently,” like at an end-marker concluding a race) – properly, an overseer; a man called by God to literally “keep an eye on” His flock (the Church, the body of Christ), i.e. to provide personalized (first hand) care and protection (note the epi, “on“).
“Though in some contexts 1985 (epískopos) has been regarded traditionally as a position of authority, in reality the focus is upon the responsibility for caring for others“
Notice they specifically say the focus is NOT on authority, but rather on caring for others. The word literally mean “to look intently on”. These day we might say “keep a close eye on”. It’s the same concept of nurturing and protecting by carefully watching for any problems.
The most well know place it’s used is the “qualifications for leaders” passage in 1 Timothy.
1 Timothy 3:1-2
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer* desires a noble task.
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
(The next several verses list more requirements for overseers)
The second – and far more common – word used for leaders in the Church is “πρεσβύτερος” (presbuteros), which basically means “Old(er) Man”.
4245 presbýteros – properly, a mature man having seasoned judgment (experience); an elder
In the Old Testament, we know it was the custom of the city elders to sit at the city gates. (Ruth 4 among many other places confirms this.) From my research, it seems they sat there because it was THE place to be.
Proverbs 31:23 “Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.”
Why did the elders sit at the city gates? Because that was the center of life in those times. Typically, there was a large square just inside the city gates and it often functioned as the social center of the city. Many of the “Old timers” would congregate there. If you had a problem or dispute, you could go to them for their wisdom and sage advice. Because they were experienced, it was often good advice.
Thus, the elders were leaders of the land because of their years of knowledge and experience. They didn’t necessarily hold any governing authority (because the Kings had their own court system) but they were well respected. We know during Jesus time they weren’t “ruling” anything though.
Acts 4:5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem
Rulers are separated from Elders, so it’s likely they had no authority besides the wisdom of experience. Please remember that because it will be important later.
“Shepherd” (sometimes translated “pastor”)
The last word(s) the bible typically uses are “ποιμαίνω” (poimainó) and “ποιμήν” (poimén), both of which mean “shepherd”. (One is the noun form, the other is the verb form.)
4165 /poimaínō (“shepherding, pastoring”) is distinct from “feeding” (1006 /bóskō). 4165 (poimaínō) focuses on “tending“ (“shepherding“) (WS, 274), which includes guarding, guiding, and folding the flock and is only provided (ultimately) by Jesus Christ – the Shepherd, who calls under-shepherds (such as elder-overseers) to guard and guide His people by His direction (1 Pet 5:1-5). See 4166 (poimēn)
4166 poimḗn – properly, a shepherd (“pastor” in Latin); (figuratively) someone who the Lord raises up to care for the total well-being of His flock (the people of the Lord).
I will use the word poimén from here on to refer to both of these words. It’s worth noting that poimén is sometimes translated “Pastor” because they share the same meaning of “shepherd”. (Pastor is a Latin root though, not Greek)
All three words are sometimes used interchangeably. For example:
1 Peter 5:1-2
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders (presbuteros) among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,
2 shepherd (poimén) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (epískopos) not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
Acts 20:17-18 & 28 (the “he” speaking is Paul)
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders (presbuteros) of the church.
18 And when they had come to him, he said to them…
28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (epískopos), to shepherd (poimén) the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Notice he is talking to all the elders of a church, and calls them all overseers and shepherds. Therefore, we can draw two clears conclusion from these passages:
The bible makes ZERO distinction between elders, overseers, and pastors (shepherds). From a Biblical perspective, they are functionally IDENTICAL.
I cannot stress this point enough.
Biblically, Pastors are the same as Elders and both are the same as Overseers. You just saw in 1 Peter 5:1-2 how all three terms are used almost interchangeably. Further, in Acts Paul calls all of the elders overseers and shepherds (pastors).
You ask: “But how can that be if the church is led by a single pastor?”
I’ll answer later in this article.
How Were Church Leaders Chosen in the Bible?
Without further adieu…
21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,
22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
The word translated “Appointed is the Greek word “χειροτονέω” (cheirotoneó or xeirotonéō). The definition is:
5500 xeirotonéō – properly, stretch out the hands to commission (send forth).
5500 (xeirotonéō) literally means, “‘I stretch out the hand,’ thus expressing agreement with a motion, then, ‘I elect by show of hands’ [of popular vote]), ‘I elect’ ” (Souter); properly, ‘to vote by stretching out the hand‘ (practiced in the assembly, so Athenian, Lucian, Plutarch)
Hmm, it sounds like “appointed” isn’t the right word… It seems like “voted”is a more accurate translation given the meaning of the word.
Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you
I’ll spare you the Greek here and simply say that the word translated “appoint” does actually mean “appoint”. One thing to mention here: the Church in Crete was new and “unfinished“. We know this because Paul asked Titus to “set in order what remains“. It’s possible – even likely – that a part of setting up a new church community involved picking the most mature of the converts and “appointing” them elders/overseers/pastors (shepherds).
That would make sense to me anyway.
We – sort of – have a procedure for a new church (the planter(s) pick the original elders/overseers/pastors). However, the Bible is silent on how Elders were picked in a more mature/established church. The only clue we have is the “voting” in of Elders.
We simply don’t know how they did it.
This is one place I think we need to leave to the direction of the Holy Spirit because the Bible is silent. One VERY important thing though.
Whenever elders are mentioned, it’s always PLURAL.
Not singular (one); It’s always plural (multiple). We’ll talk more about this later in the article.
Now that we’ve covered who we’re talking about, let’s talk about their authority.
How Much Authority to Elders/Pastors/Overseers Have?
Lets start with the words of Jesus and put them into a proper (Linguistic) context. (and if you’ve read my article on Revelation you’d know I’m a HUGE fan of getting the proper context.)
This next verse is instigated because someone asked that two of the disciples would sit at Jesus’ right and left hand. In Biblical times, that’s equivalent to asking to be the first and second in command (after Jesus). Jesus rebukes them for the question, and the other disciples start grumbling because the two asked.
This is Jesus’ response.
25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Let’s takes those words one at a time.
Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
The word translated “Lord it over” is the Greek word “κατακυριεύουσιν” (katakurieuo). Strong’s defines it like this:
I exercise authority over, overpower, master
2634 katakyrieúō (from 2596 /katá, “down, according to,” intensifying 2691 /katastrēniáō, “exercise lordship”) – properly, exercise decisive control (downward) as an owner with full jurisdiction;
I find the translation of this word curious because it doesn’t quite mean to “lord it over” as we would think of it. (something is always lost in translation). It simply means having/exercising full authority, like a General over his troops. It says nothing about “lording it over” (the next word is much closer to “lording it over”)
In contrast, the word translated “exercise authority” is “κατεξουσιάζουσιν” (katexousiazó), which is a different word that the one we just looked at. According to Strongs, it means:
I have (exercise) power (authority) over
2715 kateksousiázō (from 2596 /katá, “down, according to,” intensifying 1850 /eksousiázō, “to exercise authority”) – properly, to exert authority downwards (oppressively); to strongly dominate (bring down, note the force of the prefix kata).
It actually seems like this second word would be better translated “lord it over” because it implies oppressive authority, while the first word is better translated “exercise authority”…
But I digress.
Now let’s look at Luke, which is slightly different in construction
25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’
The word translated “lord it over” is the Greek word “κυριεύω” (kurieuó). It literally means “I have authority, rule over”. The full definition is:
2961 kyrieúō (from 2962 /kýrios, “lord”) – properly, to exercise rights over one’s own property as an owner with full dominion (lordship) over this jurisdiction.
Notice there is nothing about this word that comes close to “lord it over”. (Translator bias; it’s why I started learning Greek in the first place). It simply means you have authority; nothing more, nothing less.
The word translated “have authority over” is the Greek word “ἐξουσιάζω” (exousiazó). It means:
1850 eksousiázō (from 1849 /eksousía, “delegated power,” see there) – having authority to act; “empowered because authorized.” See 1849 (eksousia).
So again, it means simply to have authority. (in this case, some else’s authority which is delegated to you.)
Jesus says – using four different Greek words – that the gentile rulers “have authority” and their great men exert authority – sometimes oppressive authority. Notice the theme? They all relate to using power in a top-down way. For example, “I’m a General, you’re a Private, therefore you must obey my orders.”
What Jesus says next it telling.
It will not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you must be your servant,
So to summarize, Jesus says the Gentile rulers have authority (and some are oppressive) but among Christians it won’t be that way.
Peter backs this up
1 Peter 5:1-3
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
The word translated “lording” is the Greek word “κατακυριεύοντες” (katakurieuo) which we just looked at. Again, the definition is: “I exercise authority over“. Peter and Jesus are on the same page that the elders are not to “exercise authority over” the Church.
But there’s one more verse yet. The Apostle Paul himself says he has no authority over a Church he planted.
2 Corinthians 1:24
24 Not that we
lord it overhave authority your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.
I’ve lined through the phrase “lord it over” because we’ve already looked at the word and that’s not what it means. It was used it Luke as is the Greek word “κυριεύω” (kurieuó). It literally means “I have authority, rule over”. There is nothing in the Greek word to suggest it’s oppressive authority (lording it over).
While Paul doesn’t explicitly say there’s no authority in the Church, he does explicitly say he has no authority over the Christians in Corinth – a Church he planted – or over the believers in “Achaia” (See verse 1; Achaia is an entire province of Greece).
Paul is in agreement with Jesus and Peter that there’s no (top-down, hierarchical) authority in the church.
Now, that’s NOT the whole story.
But just because there isn’t top-down authority in the Church doesn’t mean there’s no authority. There is more than one type of authority.
Verses That (seem to) Argue For Authority In The Church
Now let’s go to the place EVERYONE goes to to talk about Church Authority. Fair warning: this verse is one of the most egregious examples of miss-translation in the entire Bible.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
The word translated “Obey”, is the Greek word “πείθω” (peithó) and it definitely does NOT mean to obey. The definition of peithó is:
3982 peíthō (the root of 4102 /pístis, “faith”) – to persuade; (passive) be persuaded of what is trustworthy.
The word peithó is used 53 times in the New Testament. You can see all of them here. Read through that list and tell the word means “obey”. (It doesn’t) It means to persuade or be persuaded (trust) someone or something. In fact, peithó is the root of the Greek word “πίστις” (pistis) which almost always translated “faith”.
Now, in the context of Hebrews 13;17 (
Obey be persuaded by your leaders and submit to them), it makes sense. As we’ve already covered, Elders are supposed to have “been there, done that”. The have wisdom an experience so it’s wise to listen to them.
That makes sense to me.
(Note: There is a Greek word that means to “obey”. It’s the word “ὑπακούω” [hupakouó] and it literally means obey. It’s used in Ephesians 6:1 for children obeying their parents and Ephesians 6:5 for slaves obeying their masters. It’s used 21 times in the New Testament, but this verse isn’t one of them.)
Now let’s look at the word for submit.
It’s the Greek word “ὑπείκετε” (hupeikó), and this is the only time it’s used in the entire Bible. Here is Strong’s definition:
- to resist no longer, but to give way, yield (of combatants)
- metaph. to yield to authority and admonition, to submit
Now, the idea of submitting is *technically* there but not in the typical sense it’s used. The word typically used for submission is “ὑποτάσσω” (hupotassó). Strong full list of definitions is:
- to arrange under, to subordinate
- to subject, put in subjection
- to subject one’s self, obey
- to submit to one’s control
- to yield to one’s admonition or advice
- to obey, be subject
A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader“. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”
Again, hupotassó is the word typically used for submission to God or governing authorities. Hupotassó means to voluntarily rank ourselves under someone else and (essentially) obey them willingly. I hope you can see that hupotassó is quite different in meaning from hupeikó.
Hupotassó means to obey someone willingly; hupeikó means to stop fighting/resisting someone. (To yield, as in a contest) They are different words with different meanings.
Let’s look at Hebrews 13:17 again with this understanding:
ObeyBe persuaded by your leaders and submityield to/stop resisting them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
That doesn’t sound like authority (in the hierarchical sense) to me. It sounds to me like the author of Hebrews is saying to let the Elders persuade you and don’t be obstinate about resisting their council. That’s strikingly similar to the “elders at the gate” example from the Old Testament culture.
The writer doesn’t say to obey elders/overseers/pastors (shepherds) like a Private obeys a General; he says listen to them as a student listens to a teacher.
If you take a course in college, you’d listen to the teacher because the teacher has knowledge and experience that you want. You don’t need to obey the teacher but it’s in your best interest to do so. You want to follow the teacher’s example because you want to learn what they know.
In The Karate Kid, Daniel didn’t *have to* listen to Mr. Miyagi.
In fact, Mr. Miyagi had ZERO authority over Daniel at all. None whatsoever. Daniel could’ve walked away at any time with no repercussions. Yet Daniel listened and was persuaded to follow Mr. Miyagi and did well because he did so.
So it should be in the Church.
But I digress.
1 Peter 5:1-5
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
(EDIT: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that “younger men” referred to “new believers”. I have actually learned some Greek since then and thus corrected the article after a commenter pointed out the mistake. I apologize for making the mistake in the first place.)
The word for “subject” there is Hupotassó, which as we’ve already covered does actually mean “submit”, as in “voluntarily obey/listen to.” But pay attention to who the command was given.
Notice: the command isn’t addressed to all men; only “younger men”. This is important, and here a little knowledge of the culture is highly illuminating.
Roman boys had a ceremony to remove the toga praetexta with a broad purple border, and their protective bulla praetexa amulets, and assume the pure white toga virilis, the toga of manhood, at 14, considered to be the age of male puberty in ancient Rome. Roman boys would have their first military service sometime in their late teens. And I believe the end of adolescence and the age of complete adulthood was 25.
Similarly in Jewish culture, a boy becomes legally responsible for his actions a thus becomes man at age 13 (at his bar mitzvah).
Depending if it was the Jewish or Roman culture, the age of manhood was 13 or 14.
That’s likely what Peter meant by “young men”.
Notice too that the Romans had an age of “complete” adulthood. This is likely the dividing line between “younger men” and just “men”. Am I sure? No; but that would make a lot of sense. It also makes a lot of sense to tell 13-25 year old boys to listen to their elders.
(A little trivia as a side note. The male brain doesn’t finish fully maturing until age 25. Before then, they chemical makeup of the brain makes the boy more susceptible to peer pressure. Also, until 25 the prefrontal cortex hasn’t finished developing, and “That’s the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.” Source.)
Again, Peter didn’t address this command to all men; only the “younger men”. Knowing the cultural context, that probably meant men between the ages of 13 and 25.
1 Thessolonians 5:12-14
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,
13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
The word that’s translated “Have charge over” is the Greek word “προϊσταμένους” (proistemi). Here’s what it means:
4291 proístēmi (from 4253 /pró, “before” and 2476 /hístēmi, “to stand”) – properly, “pre-standing,” referring to a pre-set (well-established) character which provides the needed model to direct others, i.e. to positively impact them by example.
4291 /proístēmi (“diligent to take the lead”) underlines the effectiveness of influencing people by having a respected reputation, i.e. one built on a solid “track-record.” This happens by setting the example of excellence by living in faith
I don’t quite see authority there do you?
I see “leading by example”. It’s also worth noting that Paul specifically says they were working “among” the people; not over them. Also notice Paul uses words like “request” and “urge” to influence their behavior. He doesn’t command them to. Instead, he urges them to follow good examples.
(Like Daniel followed Mr. Miyagi’s example in the Karate Kid.)
While we’re on the topic, let’s hit another place.
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
The word translated “Rule” in the verse above is also the word “proistemi”, and we just looked at it’s definition. It doesn’t mean “rule”; it means to lead by example. Again, This sounds a lot like what Peter and Jesus said. No authority, but lead by serving as an example.
Let’s try another verse people use to support (hierarchical) authority in the Church.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,
12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Notice that Paul does NOT give Titus any authority or even assume he has any authority. (Read it again if you disagree.) Paul tells Titus to “speak and exhort and reprove” “these things” with “all authority”. Notice where this teaching comes from. If you look at verses 11 and 12, the teaching comes straight from the Big Man Himself.
Paul is telling Titus to teach “these things” with “all authority” because they are commands from God Himself.
That doesn’t exactly sound like Paul was acknowledging Titus’ authority as a leader in the church.
1 Corinthians 16:15-16
15 Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints),
16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
Oi Vey. That some people use this verse to “prove” Church Authority is astounding.
First, Paul “urges” them to do this, not commands.
Second, the entire household of Stephanas is mentioned, and held up as an example to follow. (like the other places we’ve seen.)
Third, Yes it does say to “be in subjection” (Hupotassó), but it says to be in subjection to everyone who helps in the work and labors. That sounds a LOT like “Submit yourselves on to another” in Ephesians 5:21. It certainly doesn’t establish an authority structure.
(Also, if everyone is supposed to submit to everyone else, where does that leave the supposed authority structure?)
This last one is stretching to the extreme, but I’ll cover it here.
1 Corinthians 12:28
27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?
30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
The argument goes that because God appointed Apostles “First”, they have some authority over the rest. Apparently prophets are second on the totem pole and teachers 3rd in authority with everyone else coming afterward.
This is ridiculous for several reasons.
First, the Greek word translated as “first” in the passage above has no hint of authority to it. It’s the Greek word “πρῶτον” (próton) which means: “first, in the first place, before, formerly“. Strong’s short definition is “before, at the beginning“. It is used 58 times in the New Testament and every single time it’s used to indicate chronological sequence. You can see all 58 uses here, and feel free to double check me.
(The words translated “second” and “third” are almost exclusively used to indicate chronological sequence too. and BTW, the apostles did come first chronologically. Jesus’ disciples were referred to as apostles numerous times in the Gospels.)
There is a Greek word that means “first” but also conveys the idea of authority. In fact, it’s translated as “ruler” half a dozen times. That word is “ἀρχή” (arché). However, Paul doesn’t use it here (even though he uses it often throughout his epistles..
Second. Context! Context, context, context. This passage is NOT about church authority, it’s about Spiritual gifts. You can tell because the word “gift” is used 3 times in 4 verses. In fact, the chapter open with these words:
1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
Making this passage about Church authority requires twisting the scriptures to fit.
… And that’s it.
That’s all the verses people typically use to support hierarchical (top-down) authority in the church. Funny, you’d think there would be more verses if it was such an important topic. For example, I can easily round up several VERY clear verses about obeying human authority (governments).
Romans 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,
1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
Oh, and the word used for “submit” there is the word “hupotassó” which we’ve already covered. It means to voluntarily obey someone. Yet there are no such verses like this for “hupotassó-ing” to church leaders. We are everywhere admonished to listen to elders, but seemingly nowhere told to obey them.
(The only exception is “young men” being told to submit to elders.)
By contrast, Matthew 20:24-28 (and the parallel passages in Mark 10 and Luke 22) plus 1 Peter 5:1-3 and 2 Corinthians 1:24 are quite clear.
Yet one more (dumb) Argument for Authority
This one is so silly I almost hate to dignify it with a response. However, some people use it so…
Some people say authority must exist because Paul “sent” people. In their minds, you can send someone unless you have authority over them. This is silly, and a simple example will prove so.
Every husband I’ve ever known has been “sent” to the store to get something for his wife. Biblically, the husband has the authority, yet the wife does the sending. You can send someone of higher authority. If you’ve ever had co-workers, I’m sure they “sent” you on an errand at some point.
Sending doesn’t necessarily indicate authority.
So What Are “Elders” And What is Their Function (Biblically)
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a bit of a word junkie. I like to dig deep into the meaning behind words to draw out the full meaning of the text. (something is always lost in translation) I think the purpose and function of church leaders is written directly into the words used to describe them.
Poimén (and it’s verb form) both mean Shepherd.
The Church is often described as sheep and the leaders of the Church are often described as Shepherds. Shepherds guide and care for the sheep, it’s the same way in the Church. And if “Shepherding” is our example of how it should be done, then that example bears closer inspection.
So lets talk about 1st century Shepherding.
I’m going to lean on the wisdom of someone with a lot more experience with shepherding in that culture: Ray Vander Laan. I was first introduced to Ray Vander Laan through Focus on the Family. He spent many, many years in the Middle East learning about their culture. He also spent time with a modern-day Bedouin family who (among other things) were shepherds.
The shepherd and the sheep knew each other well. Sheep followed only the shepherd they recognized, ignoring all strangers. A simple call from their shepherd was sufficient for an entire flock to follow his lead. The shepherd scouted for new green pastures, quiet water, and danger. These shepherd images helped the Israelites understand their relationship to God and their dependence on him.
(Emphasis mine, source here)
I spent most of my twenties and late teens on a farm. I can tell you from personal experience that getting animals where you want them can be quite a chore. The animals almost universally needed to be “driven” where we wanted them to go. Typically, that meant walking and waving your arms to make the animals go away from you. With several people working in tandem, you could “drive” the animals where you needed them to go.
Sheep aren’t like that.
Sheep don’t need to be driven.
Sheep are called.
The sheep only need to hear their shepherd’s voice and they’ll come running.
No driving is needed.
I can’t stress that point enough. It’s CRUCIAL to understand that if you want to understand true leadership, especially in the church. Jesus Himself made this point in John.
27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
That’s true leadership, and I don’t mean just inside the church. I mean anywhere.
Authority does NOT make a good leader.
(If it did, there wouldn’t be so many terrible bosses/managers out there.)
Good leaders do NOT need to drive anyone anywhere. Good leaders are like shepherds. Good leaders rally people to their cause and the people follow because they WANT to follow.
Martin Luther King Jr. had no authority of any kind… yet he motivated great change and directed thousands of people.
That’s what TRUE leaders do.
They call and people follow.
Pick your favorite Christian teacher/pastor/evangelist. If you suddenly found yourself in a position where they were your mentor, would you listen to them? Would you follow their leading and do the things they asked of you?
That’s real leadership.
Let me speak plainly for a moment. Christians today know very little about true leadership. They seem to think that getting a “P” (for pastor) on their pajamas makes them a leader. They’re dead wrong. If people don’t like the way a pastor leads, they’ll just find another Church. A bad pastor can order people to stay all he wants and it won’t make a hill-of-beans difference… because he’s not a leader.
The Church CANNOT have those kinds of top-down structures because they simply don’t work without a compulsory method of making people submit.
It works in your job because they’ll fire you if you don’t listen. It works with the government because if you break the laws the police will catch you and punish you. They have compulsory methods of enforcing obedience. (or as Romans says “It’s not for nothing they bear the sword”)
The Church doesn’t have that.
The “sheep” (the church) will run away from a shepherd to drives them, but run toward a shepherd who leads them.
It’s really hard to teach someone who you’re driving (away); it’s really easy to teach someone who has come to you because they want to learn.
Elders are to lead by example.
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who
rulelead by example well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
(Remember, we’ve already talked about the word translated “rule” there, and it means to lead by example.)
Biblically, church leaders are supposed to be shepherds. Shepherds call sheep and the sheep come willingly. Shepherds don’t drive sheep.
We’ve already talked about Elders, and the word “overseer” simply mean to examine intently so you can provide care. That’s what shepherds do for their sheep. They keep a close eye on the flock of God to keep it safe. I was doing that long before I ever became an official part of my church’s leadership.
The Other BIG Problem with Authority in the Church
I cannot stress this enough, and yet I doubt I’ll be able to truly convey how important the following question is:
“How far should Church authority extend?” (Assuming it exists at all)
Think about it for a moment.
Really think about it.
If elders have authority in the church, what does that authority allow them to do? More importantly, how far does it extend? We’ve already covered the Bible verses about Church authority. All of them. None talk about limits on church authority (assuming it exists). How far should it extend?
IF the Bible says elders have authority, then how much authority does it give them?
Can they tell other Christians what to do? If you say no, then that’s not authority. But if you say yes, then what can they tell Christians to do? Can they tell them they must come to Church? (which is Biblically supported) But if they can tell a Christian to come to Church, can they tell that Christian they MUST come (and can’t leave)? That veers into cult territory pretty quickly.
It’s the same with any other topic.
For example, the Bible clearly says Christians should give. Can elders order Christians to give? Can they choose how much they give? If they can order a Christian to Tithe, why not order them to give 23.33% like they did in the Old Testament?
Any topic you can name can easily be taken that far without Biblical constraints.
If you assume Church authority exists, then realize there are literally NO biblical constraints except the “don’t lord it over” passage. But what actions step over the line and become “lording it over“? (Literally, exerting oppressive authority). I think requiring Tithes is oppressive, not to mention heresy. (check out my article on Tithing for more details). What if the elders don’t think it’ oppressive?
What if the elders require something that I think is heresy? (Like tithing or submitting to Church authority for example)
Should I do something I believe is wrong because “the elders told me to”?
It’s pretty sticky once you start thinking about it.
The (one) Pastor… Give Us a King?
If a church only has one pastor (shepherd), then something is SERIOUSLY wrong.
Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
I would like to point out that the word “Pastor” there (poimén, meaning Shepherd) is PLURAL. Not singular, but plural. Again, having one “pastor” (shepherd) who has authority over the whole Church is decidedly unscriptural. Nowhere in the entire New Testament can you find an example of one single person being given authority over an entire church.
It’s simply not in The Book.
The modern idea that a single pastor/elder/overseer is “in charge” cannot be found in the bible anywhere.
You could make a case that the elders/overseers/pastors (plural) are in charge together. However, there is no place in the New Testament you can use to scripturally defend a single man (the pastor) being “in charge”.
You can’t do it.
It’s simply not in The Book.
Please don’t take my word for it. Please read the New Testament cover-to-cover or Google it. You won’t find it because it’s just not there.
But if it’s not in The Book (and it’s not) then where did it come from?
There’s one obvious answer.
In 1 Samuel 8, Israel gathers together and asks for a king. They had elders and God supplied Judges and Prophets to guide them. They were doing just fine, but they wanted a king. So God gave it to them. (and they were worse off after the kings came, except the few good ones)
I don’t think mankind’s desires have changed one bit.
As a fallen race, some will always desire control and some will always desire someone to follow. In 107 AD, Ignatius of Antioch (an early church father) wrote several letters on his way to be martyred. He said things like “do nothing without the overseer” and “Plainly therefore we aught to regard the overseer as the Lord Himself“. I’ll spare you the rest, but much is in that vein.
There’s nothing new under the sun.
God’s original plan for Israel was no king, only the Prophets and judges. (and the only authority they had was because they were relaying God’s words). Given Jesus and Peter’s words on the topic, I don’t think this has changed.
When I was young, I attended a leadership training day by the regional leader of the denomination I (then) belonged to. During one of the teachings, One of the speakers said the following:
He said “If God tells you to do one thing and your pastor/elders tells you not to do it, you should listen to your pastor.”
Pardon my language, but what the hell?!
His reasoning was that the elders of the church are God’s authority and you must obey them. He continued that God would never tell you to disobey your church leaders because He put them in authority. Apparently, He hadn’t read Acts in a while..
Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
In my (limited) experience, Churches that emphasize authority trend in the opposite direction.
Whether intentionally or not – usually not – the Pastor often takes the place of God in the minds of the laity. “Pastor worship” is a real thing, and while it’s not as obvious as singing praise songs to him, it’s no less damaging. I’ve seen it in the church I currently attend, even though the pastor actively discourages it.
Biblically, we want Elders/overseers (plural) to disciple, guide and care for the church. They lead by example and wisdom/experience, not because they have been given authority. You might say it’s impossible to run a modern church that way. If that’s true, then maybe we need to rethink how we run a church so it’s more in line with the commands of God.
One thing is certain: I can come up with five places that clearly teach against authority in the church: (Matthew 20, Mark 10, Luke 22, 1 Peter 5, and 2 Corinthians 1:24.) I can’t come up with any a single place that teaches authority in the church.
Until that changes, I don’t believe church leaders have the authority that most people think they do.
I totally agree with you. Actually, I already knew all that.
I totally agree with:
• The Overseers/Elders/Shepherds being exchangeable terms.
• Elders are mentioned always in plural.
• Biblical mandate for servant leadership and not lording over fellow Christians.
• Use of Karate Kid as an illustration.
I have problems with:
• The Greek word cheirotoneó has a broader meaning than “voting.” In Acts 14:23, since the subjects were Paul and Barnabas, the word is simply “appointing,” as no respectable English translations would use “voting” or “electing,” (unless it was just Paul and Barnabas two people doing the voting).
• The obey and submit in Heb 13:17 are interesting concepts. I agree that “obey” should mean “be persuaded,” but the “submit” is really no different than “yield to/stop resisting” in real life. One can mince the words all day, but submit, or yield or follow, are not really different. Can someone in the church unwilling to be persuaded and unwilling to yield to his or her leader in the church?
• The Greek word néos in 1 Pet 5:5 and 1 Tim 5:1-2 can ONLY be referring to age, not novice or new in the faith. The whole context in these Scriptures, require a reading of young men and young women, age-wise. Your theory of the word referring to baby Christians is creative, but unsound. What happens when you have an older person who is also a baby Christian? In short, Paul can only mean the young persons (by age) in these Scriptures, and most sensible scholars will agree with this view, as all English translations demonstrate.
I would also caution against using online Greek dictionaries to do creative exegesis with to fit your narrative. The important thing is in real life, leading a church is not a few nice theories on a piece of paper, regardless of how wonderful some speculations seem to fit desired assumptions. Therefore, one must answer real life questions: How would you execute the following without any hierarchical ecclesiastical structure and authority?
• How does a church “expel the wicked person from among you” today? (1 Cor 5:13)
• How does a church “Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.” (2 Thess 3:14)
(Paul obviously had authority over the churches, as he expected the Churches to follow what he said, as the two Scriptures above reflect.)
We’ll have to agree to disagree on cheirotoneó and Hebrews 13:17. As for néos, you have a point. Since writing this article, I’ve learned enough Greek to spend some time reading the New Testament in Greek (instead of merely doing word studies) and you have a point. I’ve edited the article, though I doubt you’ll be happy with the changes.
I’m glad you brought up 1 Cor 5:13 because I was just reading Paul’s follow up in 2 Cor 2 yesterday. He says this in verse 6: “This punishment by the many is sufficient for such a man” The punishment wasn’t carried out by the leaders; it was carried out by “the many” (many translations render it “majority”) The verse in 2 Thess 3:14 is similar. It’s not a command to the leadership, it’s a command to the people.
And we know Paul didn’t think he had authority over these churches because of 1 Corinthians 1:24: “Not that we have authority over you in the faith, but we’re fellow workers for your joy”
I grew up in a church without a hierarchical authority structure, so for me it’s not theory. My father was an elder, so I had a bit of inside track into how things functioned. It was the healthiest church I’ve ever attended (until some leadership changes were made; now it’s like anywhere else)
The Amish don’t have hierarchy, yet they are well known for “shunning”.
It can be done.
I agree with what you’ve shared and am encouraged to find others who are seeing past the deeply intrenched heresies/errors that have dominated for many hundreds of years.
However, I’m curious about something. You’re very careful about proper word usage and actual meanings of words, and rightfully so. But despite that, you use the currently popular term/concept of “church planter” when it’s not at all biblical expressed or implied. Our current day concept of “planting churches” is far from the life-on-life biblical discipleship that Paul and the other apostles/disciples practiced. Why would you be so careful in one way, yet not in another?
Only in the past couple of decades has Paul and others been labeled “church planters” to fit the current trends. I hear so many now refer to him inaccurately this way. Though Paul clearly did obey the Spirit to travel and serve among many people in many places, we know that in may of those places he was not in fact the first person to bear witness of Jesus but rather was entering into areas where many were believers/followers well before he came.
The current concept of “church planting” is found nowhere in scripture, and resembles more of a franchise salesman looking to expand in new areas, or find niches and methods to reproduce institutionalism in “fresh” or “relevant” ways. Biblical discipleship isn’t really what’s been propagated. By and large “church planters” are merely replicating the systems and false hierarchy that’s brought us to the sad state where in today. I find it strange to use modern terms to encapsulate Pau’s (and other’s) service when the simple and clear descriptions found in scripture should suffice. Paul and others (many many others) were servants, messengers (apostles), heralds (evangelists), prophets, instructors, elders, brothers, sisters, all within the context of Spiritual Family, the plural body of Jesus Christ.
(Please don’t take my words as snarky. Face to face communication is sketchy at best, and text based communication even more so…)
Why so careful one way and not the other? No idea; I wrote that article a few years ago when I wasn’t as careful with my terminology. I edited the article to remove the reference to “church planting” because you are right; it’s an anachronistic term at best, and woefully imprecise/misleading at worst. I agree that Biblical discipleship is the goal, and on that note you might enjoy my article on the Great Commission. Lack of proper discipleship is indeed a real problem.
I wrote out a longer and more considered reply, but a computer crash lost much of what I wrote, so I will be brief. With respect, most of your exegesis is severely hampered by less than careful word studies. True, the first definition for πείθω is “to persuade,” as connected to πίστις, but that can hardly by the whole story if James 3:3 can use it to refer to leading a horse with its bit. Further study demonstrates that the use of the word in the passive generally conveys submission, and combined with context explains why translations so strongly prefer “obey” in Hebrews 13:7.
The choice of words is of course always a consideration, but considering synonyms that an author might have used instead is always extremely fraught, and without good supporting reason is little better than idle speculation. Υπείκω is certainly a different word from ὑποτάσσω, but it has to be demonstrated, not assumed, that it was consciously used in alternative to it. It’s hard to see particularly why ὑπείκω, which your source tells you is equally applicable to a vanquished soldier surrendering, would imply more willingness than one which is used of arranging troops.
Προΐστημι literally is “stand, set” prefixed with “before.” “Lead by example,” as suggested by your notably very contemporary source, is highly dubious considering word studies inside and outside the NT vindicate an actual governance by authority– in the NT primarily of men of their household, which is explicitly paralleled of the rule of overseers of the church in 1 Timothy 3:5. Again, it is worth considering why translations have “rule” or something to that effect.
I don’t have the time to continue, but I would suggest that if you would like to examine the text beneath the translation that you refer to a trustworthy exegetical commentary– or simply translation notes– to understand the flow and meaning of words and sentences, using concordances and dictionaries and other useful tools to bolster your understanding. I am not dismissing your own ability to read and exegete the text, but it is worth getting second opinions, particularly on technical points that we can admit that others are considerably more qualified than ourselves to judge.
May His Spirit guide us all into wisdom and understanding.
The larger context of James 3:3 is about the tongue, and thus “persuade” makes sense. Further, I personally think “persuade” makes more sense than “obey” in 3:3. Yes it’s awkward in English, but it works in Greek. Further, it doesn’t make sense as obey any other place that it’s used. Part of the the trouble with your argument is you’re saying that we should flip a passive verb into an active verb, which is simply not tolerable. Doing so is changing God’s words, and thus wrong/a sin. It’s used in the passive many other times and never once does it mean “obey” as you suggest. For a short sampling, try: Acts 5:40, Acts 17:4, Romans 8:38, Romans 14:14, Romans 15:14, and 2 Timothy 1:5.
Most telling is how the author of Hebrews uses πείθω in the passive in two other places:
Most compelling is the very next verse:
Translating it “obey” ignores immediate linguistic context and flips a passive verb into an active verb.
To ὑπείκω, I’m looking at the definition of the word and applying it. You might not like that it’s a different word, but that’s the word that God inspired. You seem to say that I should assume that it means a similar to thing to ὑποτάσσω; I see no reason to assume that. None whatsoever. One means to stop fighting, the other means to submit in the sense of obedience.
As to προΐστημι, consider its two uses in Titus, which simply can’t be reconciled with what you’re suggesting. That said, I will concede there might be some ambiguity. That’s partially why I prefer “lead” as a translation, because it doesn’t force one direction or the other.
So, here’s the problem with simply “trusting the translators”, what about when they flip an active verb into a passive verb? That’s absolutely indefensible, especially in an inflected language like Greek. Honestly, that point alone is such a solid argument against the traditional translation that I struggle to see how anyone could defend it. I have never heard anyone even try to defend it.
If you want to convince me, that’s the first point I would need to see a counter-argument to.
In this article, you wrote, “One thing is certain: I can come up with five places that clearly teach against authority in the church: (Matthew 20, Mark 10, Luke 22, 1 Peter 5, and 2 Corinthians 1:24.) I can’t come up with any a single place that teaches authority in the church.
Until that changes, I don’t believe church leaders have the authority that most people think they do.”
Here are a few examples that authority existed in the early Church.
“Let us all obey the Bishop, as Jesus Christ obeyed His Father. Let none do apart from the Bishop any of those things which concern the Church. That is to be regarded as a valid Eucharist which is celebrated under the Bishop, or some one whom he has appointed. When the Bishop is present, let the populace be there too, just as where Christ is there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or celebrate the Agape without the Bishop, but whatsoever he shall approve, that same is well-pleasing to God, so that all that is done may be sound and valid … It is fitting for men and women who marry, to form this union with the approval of the Bishop, that their union may be according to God.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ep. ad Smyrnaeos, 8; Ad Polycarpum, 5)
“For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus… Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius.” (St. Augustine, To Generosus, Epistle 53:2)
“In every Church there is opportunity for all those who wish to see the truth to learn the Apostolic tradition made known throughout the world; we can enumerate those who were appointed by the Apostles as Bishops, as also their successors down to our times.” (St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, I)
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone. Through Him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ for you Gentiles – if, as I suppose, you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly earlier. When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy Apostles and prophets of the Spirit, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through His Gospel. Of this I became a minister by the gift of God’s grace that was granted me in accord with the exercise of His power. To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God Who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens. This was according to the eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in Whom we have boldness of speech and confidence of access through faith in Him. So I ask you not to lose heart over my afflictions for you; this is your glory.” (St. Paul, Ephesians 2:19 through 3:13)
“But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the Gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God. For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to lead the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit, so that from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum I have finished preaching the Gospel of Christ.” (St. Paul, Romans 15:15-19)
“The Apostles were warned by the Lord that after their death contentions would arise concerning the episcopacy; for this reason they appointed their own successors, and commanded them to see to it that other approved men take up their work after their departure.” (Pope St. Clement of Rome, 96 A.D.)
“All the members are by no means generals, captains, and centurions; on the contrary, everyone must remain in his place and do what he is told.” (Pope St. Clement of Rome)
“Where the bishop is, there is the Church.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, to the Trallians)
“Separated from bishops, priests, and deacons there is no Church.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch)
At the head of the early Church we find the Apostles, who received their authority not from the congregation, but directly from Jesus Christ Himself. He specifically told them, and them alone, “It was not you who chose Me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name He may give you.” (John 15:16), “He that hears you, hears Me, and he who rejects you, rejects Me.” (Luke 10:16), “It is you who have stood by Me in My trials, and I confer a kingdom on you, just as My Father has conferred one on Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30; right after your supposed teaching against Church authority). On the Apostles, and not upon the entire body of believers, did Christ “…breathe[d] on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:22-23). He also spoke of the Church’s authority when He told the Apostles how to deal with a brother who sins (Matthew 18:15-20). In this example, Jesus clearly differentiates the authority of the faithful and of the Church. If the sinner doesn’t listen to the faithful, then there is a higher authority to deal with him. However, if he doesn’t listen to this higher authority (the Church), then let him be anathema. This clearly implies a recognized authority that all Christians are subject to. It seems that you have a problem with several of the other verses affirming Church authority, but this will suffice for now. Now the Apostles knew that their authority was from God, and acted accordingly, never acknowledging any authority higher than their own. “…We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) They followed Jesus’s command to consecrate the Eucharist (Acts 2:42; taken from Luke 22:19), and they spread the Church throughout the (then) known world. However, both Jesus and the Apostles knew that they were going to die eventually. Therefore, in order to continue the Church of Christ to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), they appointed successors by prayer and the laying on of hands (see Acts 13:2-3 and 14:23 among others). In fact, their first official action after Christ’s Ascension was to bestow their spiritual authority on Matthias, who “was counted with the eleven Apostles.” (Acts 1:15-26) This line of Apostolic Succession continues to this day through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as each Catholic priest can trace his ordination back to one of the Apostles.
One passage that I really want you to consider is John 13:6-20. It reads, “He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, ‘Master, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered Him, ‘Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.’ For He knew who would betray Him; for this reason, He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ So when He had washed their feet put His garments back on and reclined at table again, He said to them, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call Me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it. I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “The one who ate my food has raised his heel against Me.” From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the one Who sent Me.’”
What you have read in Matthew 20, Mark 10, and Luke 22 is reiterated and expounded for you right here, and those passages cannot be used as arguments against Church authority. As you say, “Context! Context, context, context.” Jesus is obviously preparing to send them out to continue His Church. This passage also has some parallels with the Old Testament. Peter’s requests to be anointed on his hands and head are consistent with the rituals of the Jewish priests of the Old Covenant (see Leviticus 21).
Note: The entire book of Acts recounts the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, not the acts of every believer. The entire book relates how the Apostles carried out the works of Jesus’s Church after His Ascension. I strongly urge you to reread the entire book and tell me if you’re still unconvinced of Church authority. There is no way that the entire book of Acts, and all of the other verses mentioned in this comment, are egregiously mistranslated.
That was the first part of my argument. I believe I have thoroughly proven that Church authority does indeed exist. Now to address the second part of your question, how much authority do elders/pastors/overseers have?
The role of priests, Bishops, and the Pope are 100% consistent with Scripture. Parish priests (presbyters) are responsible shepherds to their flocks (the congregation). They do not demand much of the congregation; only what God demands of them, such as going to Mass every Sunday, receiving Communion during each Easter season, and going to confession once per year (see CCC 2,168 through 2,195). Priests devote their lives to the service of God and his faithful, celebrating Mass every day, hearing confessions, preaching, etc., all to lead their flocks to Heaven. That sounds like good shepherding to me. Bishops (overseers) supervise their dioceses (Acts 20:28) and make the decisions when things are going wrong. Think about it. If you were told by your superior (in the Bishop’s case, God) to “keep an eye on” or “supervise” his children, and they started doing something dangerous, wouldn’t you step in and warn them that such actions are harmful? Of course you would! That is exactly what Bishops do. Bishops also perform the tasks of regular priests, such as the aforementioned services.
As for the Pope, we need to look at St. Peter and everything that Jesus says to him. Matthew 16:13-20 reads, “When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Kephas [Peter], and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven.’ Then He strictly ordered His disciples to tell no one that He was the Messiah.”
Jesus is telling Peter three things here: that He would build His Church upon the foundation of Peter’s authority; that He will give Peter dominion over souls (back in those days, the servant of the house typically let people in, and thus often carried the keys), and that Peter had the power to impose obligations over the entire Church and relieve her of them. Notice also the significance of the name change. At the Last Supper, Jesus again promised the primacy to Peter, saying, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail, and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32) After Jesus’s Passion and Resurrection, He asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Each time Peter replied that He did, and Jesus instructed him to “Feed My lambs; Tend My sheep; Feed My sheep.” (John 21:15-17) (The use of the title “shepherd” as a position of authority is used in Ezekiel 37:22-25) And since He told the Apostles that He would be with them until the end of the age, the Pope has taken Peter’s place as the Vicar of Christ. The Church was not meant to cease when Peter died, and neither was its rock foundation, the Roman Pontificate.
“Simon, My disciple, I placed thee as the foundation of Holy Church. I had already called thee a ‘rock,’ for thou art to bear up the entire edifice; thou art to be the inspector of all those who shall build up My Church on Earth; if they try to build into it spurious material, it will be for you, the foundation, to repress them; thou art the source and the fountain from which My teaching is drawn; thou art the head of My disciples; through thee will I give drink to all the nations; thine is that life-giving sweetness which I will dispense; thee have I chosen that by My appointment thou mayest be as it were the firstborn and mayest be made heir to My treasure; to thee have I given the keys of My Kingdom. Behold I have made thee ruler over all My treasures.” (St. Ephraem the Syrian, In Hebdomadam Sanctam, IV, I)
The Bishops of Rome are the Popes to whom Peter’s special authority is passed on. They have always claimed this authority, and no other See in Christendom made such a lofty claim. In fact, Peter ruled the Church of Antioch before he went to Rome, yet Antioch has never claimed the Primacy of Peter. The authority of the Bishop of Rome is illustrated by St. Clement’s dealing of the Corinthians in 96 A.D. As St. Irenaeus says, “In the time of Clement, no small dissension having occurred at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, bringing them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the Apostles.” Clement claims Divine authority in this letter when he writes, “But if any will not obey these things which Christ has spoken through us, let them know that they will be implicating themselves in no small danger and offense.” This seems to have been good enough for the Corinthians, who didn’t raise the slightest protest. Note also that Pope Clement was called to handle the task, rather than John the Apostle, who was still alive and much closer to Corinth than Rome was.
Here’s an analogy that sums up the Primacy of Peter. Let’s suppose that the owner of a company called his employees together and told them that He’d be away for a while, but that He’d eventually return. He gave the keys of the company to a certain John Doe to take the reins during His absence, and said that whatever John Doe commanded was backed by Him. Would anyone doubt that John Doe was in charge of the company while the boss was away?
I completely reject the church fathers when they directly contradict the explicit teaching of scripture.
Matthew 20:25-26: And having summoned them, Jesus said: “You know that the rulers of the gentiles exercise authority over them, and their great men dominate them. It shall not be this way among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, he will be your servant.”
I cannot read that as anything but a command from Jesus – God Himself – that church leaders shouldn’t have authority. I don’t know how He could’ve been more clear.
As to Peter and Matthew 16:18, read the Greek. Peter is a masculine word and the demonstrative pronoun “this” of “this rock” is a feminine word. The rule of Greek grammar explicitly prevent “this rock” from being Peter… as CCC424 and CCC442 say.
As to the power of binding and loosing, it was given to all the disciples at least. Again, please look at the Greek. In Matthew 16:19 the most recent antecedent to “you” (singular) is actually αὐτῆς, a genitive feminine singular 3rd person pronoun, which “just happens” to refer to the church. Further, the “you” in Matthew 18 is plural (“you all”, or “you men”, not singular to Peter). Thus “you” in both places is the church as a whole, not Peter in specific.
Also, you might want to read my article Is the Catholic Church Infallible? No, and Here’s Proof. Until you can convince me of the Catholic Church’s infallibility, Catholicism is a non-start for me.
Since you brought up priests, how about Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 requiring that priest have believing children? The Catholic church says priests can’t marry, the Bible says they must be married with believing children; as it is written in 1 Tim 3: “having his children in submission with all dignity, (but if a man doesn’t know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of a church of God?“
Okay, I understand your discomfort with early Church Fathers. They are often good guides, but they are not infallible. I included them merely to prove, historically, that authority existed and was trusted in the early Church (and there are many more quotations affirming the historicity of Church authority). However, I cannot understand your still using Matthew 20 as an argument – the same event is recounted in John 13 and Luke 22 (and Mark 10). Matthew 20:25-27 is usually translated, “But Jesus summoned them and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.’” Almost every translator writes it this way (with you being the lone exception, to my knowledge), and I think that translation has some credibility. This translation also fits the context, while your version (“the rulers of the gentiles exercise authority over them”) does not. See Luke 22:28-32 and John 13:6-20, both of which I mentioned in my original comment. These examples make it crystal clear that Jesus is setting the Apostles aside, Peter in particular, to carry out their tasks with authority. It seems that you write the passage from Matthew 20 differently in order to conform to your own doctrine. I’m not accusing you of deliberate deceit; I’m just guessing that you did it subconsciously. If you want to convince me, or any other Bible scholar, that Church authority is illegitimate, then Matthew 20 (or Mark 10 or Luke 22) is NOT the way to go.
The language that Jesus spoke was Aramaic; the original texts were written in Greek. What Jesus REALLY said is, “You are Kepha [Rock], and upon this kepha [rock] I will build My Church.” In Aramaic, the identification of Peter as the rock is quite clear. If you don’t agree with that, consider this. Koine Greek uses two words for Peter and the rock. Why is this? The Greek word for “massive rock” (petra), is a feminine noun. It would not be appropriate to give a man a feminine name, would it? Thus, the translator simply gave petra a masculine ending, rendering it Petros (still meaning “massive rock”). The Catholic Church, Peter and his Papal successors, and the early Church Fathers all understood this as referring to Peter as “the [massive] rock.” Besides, if Jesus wasn’t referring to Peter as the rock, why would He praise him so much for his personal revelation? Would there be any significance in that passage?
Those two paragraphs from the Catechism read
424 Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’8 On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.9
“To preach. . . the unsearchable riches of Christ”10, and
442 Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, for Jesus responds solemnly: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”46 Similarly Paul will write, regarding his conversion on the road to Damascus, “When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…”47 “and in the synagogues immediately [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.'”48 From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ’s divine sonship will be the centre of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church’s foundation.
Would you care to explain how these two paragraphs “explicitly prevent “this rock” from being Peter”? I’m not taunting – I want a serious answer.
Yes, the power of binding and loosing was conferred on all the Apostles (Bishops) collectively. However, Peter was an Apostle (therefore a Bishop) and also a Pope. “The Second Vatican Council teaching states that four conditions must be met for an infallible exercise of the ordinary magisterium of bishops around the world. These are:
1. That the bishops be in communion with one another and with the pope.
2. That they teach authoritatively on a matter of faith or morals.
3. That they agree in one judgment.
4. That they propose this as something to be held definitively by the faithful.”
Thus, the Church as a whole, and not just Peter, possesses infallibility. This is consistent with the Scriptures (see 1 Timothy 3:15, Matthew 28:20, John 14:16-20, and John 16:12-15).
Actually, I did read your article against infallibility, and thoroughly proved the Church’s infallibility in the comments. See the links cited from Catholic Answers (in the comments dated June 27 and 28), and this: https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/understanding-the-infallibility-teaching-11047
I would really appreciate it if you read my comments again and follow them closely. It seems as if you just skimmed over the comment on this article, which is a little frustrating to me. I quoted two proof texts from St. Paul at the beginning of this comment, as well as a basic defense of Church authority starting with the Apostles.
A good example of Church authority in practice is evident from 1 Corinthians 7. St. Paul clearly differentiates what he says as advice, and what God commands through his infallible writing (see verses 6-14).
Finally, as concerns priestly celibacy, your two statements (“The Catholic church says priests can’t marry,” and “the Bible says they must be married with believing children,” are wrong. For a clearer understanding of the subject, see the following links from Catholic Answers (www.catholic.com):
They are very helpful.
By the way, you said, “I cannot read that as anything but a command from Jesus – God Himself – that church leaders shouldn’t have authority.” Would you believe me if I told you that the faithful do not have the privilege to interpret the Scriptures for themselves?
To the passages you quoted, I don’t see their relevance, since neither talks about authority in any meaningful way. (vague allusions to foundations don’t override clear teachings on authority) Likewise in 1 Cor 7, Paul differentiates between his advice and God’s commands. I do that in my articles all the time and I have no authority over my readers.
To Matthew 20, basically every reputable modern version has “exercise authority” in that verse; please double check me here. I quoted the word’s definition in the article too, so I’m 100% in-line with scholarship and authority in the church is literally the point of the passage. (and BTW, I reject/ignore any translation that doesn’t pass the litmus test from my article on Bible translation; NASB95 and NKJV are about the only ones that do, and they are near universally lauded for their faithfulness for a reason.) The NASB has “exercise authority” in Mark and “have authority” in Luke. So yeah, on topic and relevant.
You’re right that: “the original texts were written in Greek”, so what Jesus *might* have said in Aramaic is irrelevant since the Holy Spirit chose to preserve His words in Greek. Unless you think God made a mistake doing that, the Greek is what matters. (Notice that the linked articles are filled with assumptions.) What the Holy Spirit inspired was: “Κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω, ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδοµήσω µου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν”. If you want to associate a feminine noun with a masculine person using a demonstrative pronoun, there are ways to do it in Greek. Matthew didn’t use them. (sandwich a masculine “this” in between a feminine definite article and matching πέτρᾳ would do it.). I realize you probably don’t read Greek, but what you are proposing is the linguistic equivalent of “he competed, she won“, and then saying that he won. It’s nonsensical and ignores basic rules of Greek grammar as it regards demonstrative pronouns and their association with their antecedents. (Oh, and Jesus changed Peter’s name the day they met, not in Matt 16; read John 1:42)
“Explicitly prevent” was poor wording on my part. I simply meant that the Catholic Church’s official position in the CCC is the same as my interpretation: the “rock” (singular) on which the church was founded is the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That’s the rock (singular) on which the church is founded. Therefore – since it’s “rock” singular and not “rock” plural, Peter can’t be the rock according to the Catechism because the rock is already specified, and it’s not Peter.
I missed your follow-up comment on the infallibility article, and will reply to it shortly.
I worded my statement about priests carefully; I said “priests can’t marry”, I didn’t say a married person couldn’t become a priest. However, I’m firm on children. To borrow you analogy, consider if a company wants to hire someone and has on its list of requirements these items pulled from Titus 1 (NASB95, and I even left off “husband of one wife for simplicity’s sake)
He must be:
Having an master’s degree
not accused of dissipation or rebellion
Would you arbitrarily drop “having a master’s degree” off the list? Because that’s analogous to what the Catholic church has done. (and 1 Tim 3:5 tells us why kids is on the list)
First things first. In my first reply to your comment on the article about Church authority, I realize that I unintentionally insulted you when we were discussing Matthew 20. I apologize for that – I feel like the biggest jerk right now. The reason why I even thought such a thing was because I know that other Protestant leaders have their own, selfish, one-dimensional ideas of theology, and twist the Scriptures to their own, preconceived interpretations. All in all, I was not very respectful. I know that the Catholic Church has a nasty reputation among non-Catholics, and I don’t want to put you off by acting out of line. “This is how all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Now that that’s out of the way, time for theology. I’ve done a little research, and I’ve noticed a few flaws with my comment. Firstly, I severely undervalued the relevance of the Early Church Fathers. These guys knew more about the Church than anyone, and deserve to be taken very seriously. Secondly, I made a couple false statements. In Luke 10:16, Jesus is not talking just to His Apostles, but to the seventy-two, and the event recounted in Matthew 20 is NOT the same event recorded in John 13. I also probably shouldn’t have used 1 Corinthians 7 as an argument – it is not a stellar example, and was ultimately unnecessary. However, my other Scripture references are very clear to me, and I especially can’t get over Matthew 18 – this is a proof text. Jesus obviously differentiates between the authority of one of the faithful, one or two witnesses, and the Church. Until you explain away this passage, you cannot convince me. Other than those mistakes, my argument holds steady. You did have a few objections, which I will answer presently. As for Matthew 20:24-28, I have some Early Church Fathers’ commentary on this passage.
Origen. That is, not content merely to rule over their subjects, they are severe and oppressive. But among you who are Mine these things shall not be so; for as all carnal things are done by compulsion, but spiritual things by free-will, so those rulers who are spiritual ought to rest their power in the love of their subjects, not in their fears.
Pseudo-Chrys. Indeed, to desire a good work is good, for it is within our will, and ours is the reward; but to desire a primacy of honour is vanity. For when we attain this we are judged of God, because we know not whether in our precedence of honour we deserve the reward of righteousness. For not even an Apostle will have praise with God, because he is an Apostle, but if he has well fulfilled the duties of his Apostleship; nor was an Apostle placed in honour as an Apostle, for any previous merit of his; but was judged meet for that ministry, on account of the disposition of his mind. For high place courts him who flies from it, and shuns him who courts it. A better life then, and not a more worthy degree, should be our object. The Lord therefore, willing to check the ambition of the two sons of Zebedee, and the indignation of the others, points out this distinction between the chief men of the world, and those of the Church, shewing that the primacy in Christ is neither to be sought by him who has it not, nor envied by him who has it. For men become masters in this world that they may exercise dominion over their inferiors, and reduce them to slavery, and rob them, and employ them even to death for their own profit and glory. But men become governors in the Church, that they may serve those who are under them, and minister to them whatever they have received of Christ, that they may postpone their own convenience, and mind that of others, and not refuse even to die for the sake of those beneath them. To seek therefore a command in the Church is neither righteous, nor profitable. No prudent man will voluntarily subject himself to slavery, nor to stand in such peril wherein he will have to render account for the whole Church; unless it be one perchance who fears not God’s judgment, who abuses His ecclesiastical primacy to a secular end, so that He converts it into a secular primacy.
Jerome. Lastly, He sets before them His own example, that so should they little weigh His words, His deeds might shame them, whence He adds, As also the Son of Man cometh not to be ministered unto, but to minister. (Notice that Jesus compares their ministry to His own, which certainly contains authority.)
The Fathers of the Church knew more about the Church than anyone, and many of them knew the Apostles personally. If you “completely reject the church fathers when they directly contradict the explicit teaching of scripture.”, then you are essentially putting your interpretation of Scripture above theirs. To quote Cardinal Gibbons again, “A Protestant Bishop, in the course of a sermon against Papal Infallibility, used the following language: “For my part, I have an infallible Bible, and this is the only infallibility that I require.” This assertion, though plausible at first sight, cannot for a moment stand the test of sound criticism.
Let us see, sir, whether an infallible Bible is sufficient for you. Either you are infallibly certain that your interpretation of the Bible is correct, or you are not. If you are infallibly certain, then you assert for yourself, and of course for every reader of the Scripture, a personal infallibility which you deny to the Pope, and which we claim only for Him. You make every man his own Pope. If you are not infallibly certain that you understand the true meaning of the whole Bible – and this is a privilege you do not claim – then, I ask, of what use to you is the objective infallibility of the Bible without an infallible interpreter?” (Cardinal Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers, Baltimore: John Murphy Co., p. 135)
If you ignore the Church Fathers merely because they are not infallible, then you should be ignored because you are not infallible, Greek translations notwithstanding. After all, many of the Church Fathers spoke Greek AS THEIR FIRST LANGUAGE. Their understanding of the Greek carries more weight than yours does.
I also have about ten pages of commentary from these Church Fathers about Matthew 16. Since I don’t want to copy it all word for word (and since the long history and existence of the papacy alone is sound proof in the first place), I won’t include it here, but if you email me, I can send it to you if you want.
For Titus 1:5-9, please realize that the text (copied below) does not contradict Church teaching:
“For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious. For a Bishop as God’s steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents.”
The Catholic Church allows her priests to be “married only once.” The passage from Titus talks about candidates for Holy Orders (before they’re ordained), so a polygamist is not a fit candidate for the priesthood. And 1 Timothy 3:5 is also true. If a married man cannot raise his children correctly, how would he be able to tend to his flock as a priest? Thus, St. Paul says that such men should not be ordained. Do you see? Married BEFORE THEY’RE ORDAINED. No contradictions here.
The faithful do not have the privilege of interpreting the Scriptures for themselves. If you hold this belief, please consider this (a prepared lecture written for an entirely different debate):
“As we read in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Scripture can sometimes be hard to understand, which is why Jesus left us an infallible Catholic Church to help interpret it for us.
If you believe that the Bible is objectively true, which it is, then it has one objective meaning. Nowhere in the Bible does it allow for the faithful to interpret Scripture at their whim. On the contrary, many passages affirm Christ’s one Church and the harmony of belief among His followers, including John 10:16 and 17:20-21; Romans 15:5-6 and 16:17-20; 1 Corinthians 12:12. All the fallible, conflicting interpretations of God’s Word lead to all the different Protestant denominations that you see today. Only one of them, if any, can contain the fullness of truth. While I affirm that Catholicism alone has the fullness of truth, for logical purposes I’ll remain open minded to all Protestant denominations.
All the cards on the table, Jesus’s true Church contains the fullness of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Now, suppose that there are two different denominations, church A and church B. By definition, different denominations have different beliefs. Church A teaches that all are saved if they have faith in Jesus, while church B teaches that all are saved if they pray, brush daily, and sing praise songs, and that these works are sufficient to attain salvation regardless of the believer’s moral inclinations. Based on the law of non-contradiction, either one (or both) of these beliefs has to be untrue since they teach opposite doctrines. A certain Church C could teach that their followers are redeemed by Jesus alone on the Cross and are justified by their faith and their response to His love through moral lives. If this Church C contains the fullness of truth, then neither church A nor church B could, since they profess doctrines contrary to it. That said, of the 25,000+ Protestant denominations that exist today, only one could possibly contain the fullness of truth.
On any particular subject, there is exactly one objective truth (Example: Is this belief 100% true? Objectively, either yes or no. Saying “maybe” is only speculative). If any Protestant, or person of any belief system, denies this, then he is essentially relativist. If you claim, no, I am not a relativist, and still affirm denominations, then you are forced to admit that these denominations are only speculative and thus do not have (or at least know that they have) the fullness of truth.”
The bottom line is this. Jesus taught. The Apostles and the NT writers taught. What they didn’t do was hand out Bibles and let people decide for themselves what to believe. They wrote the Bible AND preached it, answering difficulties and questions. This teaching body, called the Magisterium, continues to this day and is infallible (I’ll get to that soon, in the other article). If the Apostles could have been mistaken when preaching their own inspired Gospels, then (1), wouldn’t they be stupid to misunderstand the Gospels inspired by the Holy Spirit and written from their own pens (why, or how, would the Holy Spirit allow them to write His inspired Word if they didn’t perfectly understand it and be able to explain it?); and (2), wouldn’t Jesus be backing out on His promise to guide them in all truth (John 16:12-15)?
Catholics trust the Magisterium to expound for them the meaning of Scripture. Jesus promised the Spirit of all truth, and the Magisterium uses His guidance to attain the fullness of His truth. Your theories that Scripture teaches against Church authority, priestly celibacy, and Peter as the Rock are personal interpretations.
The Apostles and those who knew them had their own “interpretation” of Jesus’s words, which were their very own personal experiences, and handed down certain traditions/beliefs (that Peter is the Rock, that a celibate priesthood is acceptable, that Christ left a hierarchical Church, etc.), guided by the Spirit of truth, without changing their beliefs, to this day. If they were somehow wrong all along, then God, who promised that He’d be with His Church until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), the Church that is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), made a mistake.
All in all, I have learned a lot and gained valuable experience in my debates with you, but I probably won’t comment on your website anymore. (I did say that I’d finish the infallibility debate, but if you have any more specific questions, please send me an email.) To tell the truth, I’m a 16 year-old high school student, and the school year has just started. Between school, baseball, and serving daily Mass, I’ve got a lot on my plate! That said, if you ever have any specific questions regarding Catholicism, particularly Church Authority and Infallibility, you can email me at email@example.com. If you choose to email me, I may not respond in the most timely manner (like I said, I’ll be busy), but in the meantime, I will pray for you and your readers to find the fullness of truth.
Apology accepted. 🙂
To Matthew 18. Again, Greek helps here. The word translated “church” literally means an assembly of people who have been called out of their homes. I don’t see authority vested in “the church elders”, I see it vested in exactly what Jesus said: the assembly. Nowhere are we told to take an unrepentant Christian to the elders, but rather to “the assembly”.
To the Church Fathers. Should we take Augustine’s advice on abortion then? Ignatius’ when he says communion isn’t lawful without the bishop present? I hold the early church fathers in the same esteem as anyone else, and thus “And examine all things; hold fast to the good.” (1 Thess 5:21) regarding what they say. I also expect others to treat what I say the same way. I don’t understand the need (or even the desire) to have an infallible interpreter. (And clearly that’s not enough anyway, because Catholics disagree with each other on matters of faith and doctrine. You’d also need “infallible hearing of all Christians” for that to work)
To Titus, you ignored the primary point in my previous comment, which is children. Titus includes “having children who believe” on the list of requirements. For the sake of argument (though remaining unconvinced), I’ll grant your view on marriage of priests. Fine. But then they MUST have children. Period. Titus 1:6 requires it. Would you then argue that ALL priests should marry before being ordained?
Returning to infallibility again, perhaps look at Acts 17:10-11, which is where this website gets its name. The Bereans were commended for double checking Paul’s teaching against the Scriptures. This same thing is given as a command in 1 Thess 5:21: “And examine all things; hold fast to the good.” Notice that is says “all things”: why would that exclude Catholic teaching? For that matter, why would that exclude the Bible, or God Himself? If you examine the Bible and God, you will find them both good and true. I have not found that true for the Catholic Church’s teachings on many issues.