The Ruler of The Synagogue

Posted: January 19, 2009 by Josiah Batten in The Church
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In Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola we are presented with the idea that the modern pastorate fills the role of “the ruler of the synagogue” rather than that of “shepherd” (ruler of the synagogue was a term coined by A.W. Tozer, see the quote at the end of this post).  This is an interesting concept worthy of discussion and consideration.

Let’s be honest, most pastors today are administrative professionals.  Oftentimes, especially in smaller congregations, the pastor’s main focus is on upkeep of church property, repairs to the building, overseeing finances, and acting as master of ceremonies for Sunday services.  Essentially our entire ecclesiological practice centers around one man.  In addition to the responsibilities above pastors must also perform marriages, funerals, visit congregants in the hospital, visit shut-ins, and serve in every capacity possible.

This is a problem.  In Acts 6:1-4 the Apostles were presented with a problem regarding the distribution of food among widows.  They asserted it would not be right for them to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.  They suggest men be chosen to oversee this task of distributing food, and they commit to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.

I can’t help but think that such consecration to the ministry of the Word and to prayer is necessary among pastors today.  The Church doesn’t need general managers; we need pastors – pastors who commit to spending time with God and feeding themselves spiritually, so they can feed their sheep spiritually.  What about visiting shut-ins and nursing homes?  Well, there are plenty of people in the Church looking for something to do.  Let the laity handle those things.  Visiting and praying with someone doesn’t require an M.Div., and nowhere in the Bible do we see such tasks “reserved” for the pastorate or Church leadership.

This impacts other areas as well. Take communion for example.  It should be a time of rich fellowship, and some people believe it should be in the context of a meal (which is an idea that may have Biblical merit based on Acts 2:42-47).  But in the Church today there is an idea that communion can only be performed as an elegant ceremony administered by an ordained minister.  Tell me, upon what Biblical principle do we base this idea?  Communion should not be reserved to a special priestly class which, based upon the New Testament, should not exist.  We are all priests according to I Peter 2:9.  Every member of the Body of Christ has the right to administer the ordinances of the Church.  I have the right to invite friends over, have a meal, and observe communion; and I don’t have to be ordained to do this (indeed, I am not ordained).

The same principle applies to baptism.  Why should a new believer be baptized by someone he or she has never met?  Christ commands all of us to go and make disciples, and He commands all of us to baptize. Nowhere in the entire New Testament is baptism a rite exclusively performed by Apostles, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers, or Prophets.  Every member of the Body of Christ is to baptize. Baptism should not be relegated exclusively to clergy.

These are just examples, but this dialogue is necessary because we have the perception that the Church has a hierarchy, and the pastor is the top of the pyramid.  I want to directly challenge the idea of the clergy/laity class distinction.  Pastors are important, but over time the pastorate has become a dignitarian position of great pomp and prestige when true pastors should resemble shepherds.

This goes farther than just ordinances, in everyday life some Christians are made to think that they can not serve, can not lead, or that God does not have any type of amazing plans for them.  They believe these things are reserved for Church leadership when that is not the case at all!  Perhaps the reason every great revival in recorded history starts among the laity is because pastors and Church leaders are too pompous and arrogant to hear God’s call and listen to His voice.

These are harsh words. I know they will not be well-received, but the Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ is the head of the Body.  The ruler of the synagogue has no place in the Body of Christ.

“If Christianity is to receive rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used.  If the church in the second half of [the twentieth] century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher.  The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do.  Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone.  All these have been tried and found wanting.  Another kind of religious leader must arise among us.  He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne.  When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom.”  -A.W. Tozer qtd. in Pagan Christianity

God bless!


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