Hierarchal v. Congregational Authority


#1

I was speaking with one of my evangelical friends this evening. He is highly against the idea of any figure of deciding authority. In other words, he does not believe that a single pastor should be in charge of a church, much less bishops or popes. He even disagrees with evangelical churches that have only one pastor. He believes that every church should have more than one pastor, and that every church should be congregational in its decision on church issues. Everyone in the church should be involved; and each church should be autonomously run separate from the others. He points to the church of Jerusalem and how its decisions were according to what everyone thought, and not so much on what individual leaders viewed as authority.

So, what shortcomings do you see in the congregational system of running each church autonomously? Why is the Catholic Church’s top-down structure superior (or inferior to) that of my friend’s structure?


#2

Mob rule is never good. Its very nature leads to chaos and confusion. Even in our advanced western democracies we appoint leaders to govern affairs of state. The Church is different in that it doesn’t have points which can be voted on but views which it holds to be true.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.


#3

Authority needs to lead to a single source so that the ability to decide doesn’t hinder the need to. That’s why the U.S. has a president too. Salvation history bears this out too. God has consistently lead man towards a single primary source to be obedient too. The Egyptians were shown the " I am that Iam". The Jews and gentiles were challenged with accepting God’s authority in an individual man Christ. Our age I feel is similarly challenged with the humility to accept a man with God’s authority in the Pope.


#4

[quote=Madaglan]He points to the church of Jerusalem and how its decisions were according to what everyone thought, and not so much on what individual leaders viewed as authority.
[/quote]

It’s always a good idea to check out what protestants say. Don’t take their word for Scripture citations - read them yourself. The council of Jerusalem was exactly the OPPOSITE of what your friend described, and it argues strongly for a hierarchical Church.

Read the account (Acts Chapter 15). There was disagreement within the council at first (until Peter spoke, at which point all debate ceased - v12). When a decision was made, it was decided “with one accord” (v 25) - note that it wasn’t a “majority” decision, but EVERYONE sided with Peter. Furthermore, the decisions were not ONLY for the Church at Jerusalem, but those decisions were also written down and distributed to the other Churches in the name of the Holy Spirit (V28). These decisions were binding upon those far-flung congregations (these were not “suggestions”).

And, also, note that the disagreement didn’t arise in Jerusalem - it arose in Antioch. The congregation at Antioch disagreed about the matter (v2) but rather than “take a vote,” and decide for themselves, they sent Paul and Barnabas to “Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question.” (v2) - even though the Apostle Paul was in their very midst! (if any congregation ought to be able to decide its own doctrine, it ought to be one led by Paul himself).

Sit down with your friend and ask him to read Acts 15 to you… then ask him,

What part of this episode could possibly support your friend’s interpretation??? What substantive differences exist between this council and a Catholic Ecumenical Council?


#5

it is logical that one needs a single source of authority
why?
because truth matters

  1. truth is not a matter of majority vote- even a mjority of a congregation can hold to a wrong doctrine; theor majority doesn’t make them right
    thus, the congregational system cannot guarantee truth

2)each church having its own leaders separate from the other churches is untenable because of the chance that they will reach different interpretations of scripture
it’s not just a chance, it’s a certainty- hasn’t the fractional nature of protestantism proved this?

in an organisation (yes, in many ways we are one) as large as the catholic church, the omly way to ensure doctrinal unity is a central leadership

these arguments apart,
scripture iprovides undeniable proof that the authority in the early church lay with the apostles and they passed it on


#6

Protestants (and many others) have a great difficulty conceptualizing the idea of what the early church was like because they can only relate to their own experience.

It is true that when the church was young, sometimes there was only one church in an area and the pastor there was the bishop. His elders (presbyters) would attend liturgy with him and concelebrate in some way. But it was these elders who were sent out to the other side of town or across the valley when things needed attention and the bishop couldn’t be there.

In a way this scenario can resemble some of the Protestant churches today, where they have deacons and elders in the congregation. But this protestant organization is merely a reproduction of what the have been discerning form their own study of us in scripture and they completely miss the sacramental function of these men .

Let’s remember that Thessaloniki, Corinth and Epheses would have only been single congregations at first, but later they grew into large dioceses.

What is the difference? Why did these small congregations grow into large dioceses then, while small Protestant congregations of today grow to a point and no further, actually remaining local institutions?

The difference was in the authority of the bishops (overseers/supervisors) It can be compared to the difference between a classroom and a village board meeting.

In the classroom everyone is there to learn, this wisdom comes down to them like a gift, the students have nothing comparable to send back up to the podium.

In the village board meeting (or condo association) every person in attendance has something to say about the proceedings. The authority there derives from below.

The Apostles expended themselves entirely to teach and preach, desperately striving to save as many as possible. There was no authority from below, we were (and still are) learners. The gifts from above are Holy Wisdom (Sophia) and the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments).


#7

How can a vote by the people have any effect on truth. If they vote against something that is true, does it stop being true? The truth is above human involvment, we cannot make something true, nor can we make something not true. Truth comes before human beings, we can only submit to the truth, we cannot make it up!!

The Catholic Church is in fact a slave to the truth, she is its servant, its guardian and protector, but She would never claim to be the author of truth, that would be blasphemy! How ironic that some of these Protestant churches who deny the Church her rightful authority at the same time claim for themself a much higher authority than the Catholic Church claims.


#8

[quote=Madaglan]I was speaking with one of my evangelical friends this evening. He is highly against the idea of any figure of deciding authority. In other words, he does not believe that a single pastor should be in charge of a church, much less bishops or popes. He even disagrees with evangelical churches that have only one pastor. He believes that every church should have more than one pastor, and that every church should be congregational in its decision on church issues. Everyone in the church should be involved; and each church should be autonomously run separate from the others. He points to the church of Jerusalem and how its decisions were according to what everyone thought, and not so much on what individual leaders viewed as authority.

So, what shortcomings do you see in the congregational system of running each church autonomously? Why is the Catholic Church’s top-down structure superior (or inferior to) that of my friend’s structure?
[/quote]

Look at the history of American Christianity. How many denominations are there? There’s your answer.

Moral truth in New York City is the same as moral truth in Anaconda, Mont. But if you let the people dictate to God what moral truth is, you’ll find a different moral truth in New York City from that in Anaconda, Mont., both of which might be wrong.

Clergy are annointed, and have had hands laid on them in a direct chain to Jesus Christ himself (assuming they’re Catholic, of course). God speaks HIS moral truth through them. (this isn’t to say that some false shepherds aren’t out there – this is why we must trust the Magisterium, which cannot lead astray)


#9

I always hesitate in contributing to these discussions as all of you have a much sounder base of understanding and faith than I. But if I don’t challenge I will never learn; and I want to learn.

Nowhere in the NT as far as I am aware does Jesus ever condone an episcopal hierarchy. Even the earliest Paul church was based on mix of presbyter, prophet, teacher non with overriding authority. Now I’m not saying that episcopal hierarchy isn’t important for the ‘management’ of todays Church but I am saying that Jesus did not demand it and, moreover, it is man made.


#10

The Church is not a democratic form of government; it is a Kingdom established by Christ the King!


#11

Notice that Paul instructs Timothy, via his authority, to “remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…” (1 Tim 1: 3-7). Later (1 Tim 4:11) he writes, “Command and teach these things”. He doesn’t say, “remain and conduct a poll to see what doctrine these Ephesians should believe.”

The idea of voting on truth is ludicrous. Truth is, ultimately, a person, and we either give our assent to it (Him) or we don’t. It’s not determined by compromise or majority rule.

Skippsong wrote: “Nowhere in the NT as far as I am aware does Jesus ever condone an episcopal hierarchy.”

Ummm, He didn’t? “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Not only is Jesus “condoning” a hierarchy, He’s establishing it! The “keys to the kingdom” were an ancient symbol of authority. It helps to understand the New Testament as a fulfillment of the Old Testament: God sets up a hierarchy in the Old Testament; it is perfected and renewed in the New.


#12

Thanks Sherlock - I really do appreciate the response; I hope you appreciate that I quiz so that I may learn.

I expected the ‘…on this rock’ response but this doesn’t do it for me on two counts:

  1. Why did Paul not see it this way? The Timothy quote says ‘teach’. I agree Pauls emphasis was on teaching this is not the same as rigid hierarchy.

  2. ‘On this rock’ - this most important of quotes mentioned in only one gospel and assigned by many Catholic theologians as belonging, post Easter, to Matthews or a Palestian community.

Please let me be clear - I am a cradle RC looking now to understand.


#13

Skippsong,

You wrote: " 1) Why did Paul not see it this way? The Timothy quote says ‘teach’. I agree Pauls emphasis was on teaching this is not the same as rigid hierarchy."

I just don’t see the conflict. The hierarchy teaches—how else can it instruct, except by giving instruction? Nothing that Paul says undermines a hierarchy: quite the opposite.

You wrote: " 2) ‘On this rock’ - this most important of quotes mentioned in only one gospel and assigned by many Catholic theologians as belonging, post Easter, to Matthews or a Palestian community."

I’m not sure what you are trying to say. Could you elaborate? And if a plurality of gospels are required for credibility, what are we to do with the fact that only Luke mentions certain details of Jesus’ infancy? Are we to take them as false, or unimportant? There are many other examples that I could give…you need to establish the validity of a plurality-of-gospels requirement before you choose to employ it. As for what Catholic theologians may or may not say: they are not the Magisterium, interesting and useful as they may otherwise be. But I need to know more specifics about your objections on this front before I can really address them.

You wrote: “Please let me be clear - I am a cradle RC looking now to understand.”

Hey, no problem. I am a cradle-Catholic who was very poorly catechized (despite having gone to Catholic grade school). I was an atheist for a period of time; then a Protestant for a while until the issue of objective truth forced me to leave; an agnostic for many years; and then finally Home as I began to do exactly what you’re doing now. I hope you can find the answers you’re looking for.


#14

Sherlock et al - I appreciate your patience.

There is no question in my heart. mind or soul that the Lord Jesus was born, died and raised from the dead to save us all from sin. I believe in the Catholic Church as the one true Church I’m just not sure of some of the details. For example - there is a strong, deep arguement for apostolic succession going back to Peter as the first Bishop of Rome but there is no evidence of this (the rock statement avoided for now) anywhere. The first formally recognised Pope was not until a few hundred years after the death of Jesus and, from what I understand, was created as a confirming statement of the Western church from the Eastern church. I understnd that, although I am missing specifics this is historical fact so why do we Catholics hang so much on the pedigree of the Pope.

Still just asking.


#15

The very existence of the epistles is proof of Church authority. Each of them were written to exhort the existing “congregations” to follow the truth that was taught them in the beginning and to keep them from falling away from the truth and following false doctrines.

Paul speaks of the authority that was given to the apostles and him:
2Cor 10.8
2Cor 13.10

Paul’s letter to Titus encourages him to exercise his authority and not let anyone discourage him: Titus 2.15

John tells us that if everything Christ taught was written, not all the books in all the world could contain them (Jn 21.25) and that the things written were for so that others might believe (Jn 20.30-31). Also in John’s account, Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would come and remind the Apostles of what he had taught and complete their instruction (Jn 14.26). We are reminded, in Scripture, to hold to the traditions that were passed on either through word of mouth, or by letter: 1Cor 11.2; 2Thess 2.15 & 3.6; 2Tim 1.13; 2Tim 2.2, etc.

If you read the letters carefully, you will see that the Apostles are reminding the communities of what they taught them in earlier visits and they do not always bring up specifically what was said. Many hold that we can only know for sure what was taught by referring to the Scriptures, all oral tradiition is untrustworthy and that the Church fell away from the truth at one time. They make Christ a liar, for he promised that all could come to know the truth; That He would be with His Church until the end of time (Mt 28.19-20), and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mt 16.18-19).

Pride is what keeps people from obedience. Pride leads us to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. We must vanquish pride so that we may see clearly and follow faithfully what was passed on to us. God sent His Christ, Christ founded his Church by giving His Apostles authority with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles passed this knowledge on to the Apostolic Fathers, etc. This has always been the way of the Church and will be until the end of time. Authority is passed on, not assumed.

The Apostles and Prophets are the foundation with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph 2.20); There is only ONE Faith (Eph 4.4-7); and we are not to follow any other teaching (Gal 1.8). We live in a society where everyone gets a vote. The Church is a Theocracy, not a democracy…and will always be so unto Eternity.

God Bless,

Ian


#16

Getting back to the original topic of having an congregation vote on church matters, it won’t work. It doesn’t matter if it’s Truth or what night to have the church social, authority must decide.
The country voted on November 2. The State of Washington still does not have a governor. We might not have one by Christmas.
Does the evangeical want to run a church like we run the country? Let him think about that for a while.


#17

Here is what happens when people are allowed to vote.

"For more than ten years, the Jesus Seminar has researched and debated the life and death of the historical Jesus. They have concluded that the Jesus of history is very different from the icon of traditional Christianity: Jesus did not walk on water, feed the multitude, change water into wine, or raise Lazarus from the dead. He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the son of God. And in the view of the Seminar, he did not rise bodily from the dead; the resurrection is based instead on visionary experiences of Peter, Paul, and Mary."
From the w’estar Institute; The Jesus Seminar

It’s on the Dominic Crossan thread


#18

Skipssong,

You wrote: " For example - there is a strong, deep arguement for apostolic succession going back to Peter as the first Bishop of Rome but there is no evidence of this (the rock statement avoided for now) anywhere. "

This is not a topic that is easily dealt with in the space of a few paragraphs. I would suggest a couple of resources: first, if you haven’t already done so, go to catholic.com: on the left, under “Library”, click on “Church and Papacy”. There are a number of short articles there that would be a good place to start. If you really want to delve into the topic, I would strongly recommend Stephen Ray’s book, “Upon This Rock” (Ignatius Press). This is an in-depth and scholarly work, and well worth your time.

I’m not sure what you mean when you write, “there is no evidence for this”. You’ll find plenty of evidence in the Early Church Fathers, in the Tradition of the Church, in the witness of history. If you mean, “not in the Bible”, I would disagree with you based on both New and Old Testaments, but I would also ask why you are adopting a “sola scriptura” approach. That is a Protestant premise, and history has shown it to be a flawed one.

You wrote: " The first formally recognised Pope was not until a few hundred years after the death of Jesus".

The title does not make the office: the office existed from the time of Peter until the present. The timing of when the word “pope” was first used has nothing to do with the establishment of Petrine authority.


#19

Sherlock - please keep going, it is helping.

When I say ‘no evidence’ what I am trying to explain is that whilst we all want to accept that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome (avoiding the title of Pope) there is nothing written down that confirms this. Moreover, the idea of a Bishop of Rome was not established for quite sometime after Peter’s death (which was probably but not definitely in Rome). The first Bishop of Rome was probably Urban 1 in the year 222; quite a long time after Peter and with no clear succession from him.

So again I do not question the authority of the Pope based on strong human need for hierarchy I just can’t see the basic arguement for apostolic succession to the Pope. Please note that for me this does not argue against an apostolic church.


#20

[quote=Madaglan]So, what shortcomings do you see in the congregational system of running each church autonomously? Why is the Catholic Church’s top-down structure superior (or inferior to) that of my friend’s structure?
[/quote]

I’ll start by assuming you’re discussing this with someone who is amenable to logic. I’d ask, “Can there be more than one ultimate truth? Can there be many, conflicting versions of the ultimate truth?”

Obviously, the answer is no, there can be only one ultimate truth.

Now look at the Catholic Church – one. Look at Protestant churches – many, all squabbling with each other and each with its own special version of the ultimate truth.

See what happens when the inmates take over the asylum?http://forums.catholic.com/images/icons/icon10.gif


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