Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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Apples and Oranges

When the topic of discussion is hierarchy in Christianity, we often hear the argument that since God ordained a hierarchy of priests in the OT, and since such priests had to be men and from a certain tribe, then hierarchy, even when based upon the flesh, is God’s decree. Aside from the obvious fact that with a change of priesthood comes a change of law (Heb. chapter 7), we should also note that God gave specific, explicit, minute details about who could serve as a Temple priest, how they could serve, and when.

Where are such explicit instructions on either “pastors” in the church or any other kind of hierarchy?

To equate the two, we would have to say that God could have expected the OT Israelites to deduce the laws and priestly rules from vague or sporadic statements scoured from the various books. For example, there would have been no need for explicit decrees about tithes since all we need to infer it is Abraham’s one-off tithe of the spoils of war to a mysterious priest. Likewise for circumcision; all we need to concoct a divine mandate is one example (again, Abraham).

“But wait”, the hierarchy supporters object. “The Trinity isn’t explicit yet you believe in it. It has to be inferred from various scriptures.”

I would respond by pointing out that when the point under debate is a law to be obeyed, it must be explicit. Of course one must grasp the difference between the “spirit” of a law and the “letter” of a law, but this does not make the law so elastic that it can contradict other laws. For example, the age at which a person is permitted to drive a car is not left up to inference, but explicitly states the exact minimum age. The “spirit” of the law is public safety, but in order to be called a law then there must be clear, explicit boundaries or it could never be enforced. At the same time, there could not also exist a law stating that the minimum age is something different than the first law.

Likewise for the argument of hierarchy in Christianity, whether between clergy/laity or husband/wife. There are no explicit laws or decrees about this hierarchy. To enforce it would be like enforcing a minimum driving age when no laws are on the books about it, and only having a few examples to go by. And to argue that the “spirit” of NT teaching supports hierarchy is to conflict with other, clearer, explicit principles as I’ve listed many times before (e.g. The Inverted Pyramid).

So trying to grasp the nature or inner workings of God is nowhere near the same issue as trying to extract a clear law of hierarchy from a few inferences. Just as God did not leave the OT law and priesthood to the guesses or sleuthing of the people of that time, so also God did not expect us to piece together a law that, if true, would clearly contradict what actually is explicitly stated. And if it is not being argued that hierarchy is a law, then why all the effort to “enforce” it? Why all the meticulous explanations and impassioned appeals to “divine order”? Why all the outrage if a group of believers meets without any bosses (“pastors”) or decides that a woman can teach grown men the things of God? No explicit instructions were ever given in the NT for how to conduct a “worship service”, yet everyone calmly accepts that people can worship however they deem appropriate. Yet when the silence is about hierarchy, suddenly everyone becomes agitated and adamant about their particular view.

If you want to convince me that something is a Biblical law that applies to me, show me the explicit words making it such. Be consistent with it too; apply your hermeneutical principles without bias or loopholes that benefit only you. And make sure your law does not contradict the very core of our faith: love, humility, peace, consideration, freedom from burdens “that neither we nor our ancestors could bear”, healing, unity-- a new creation.

Posted 2011-03-15 under community, worship, legalism, roles, prejudice