Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Clement and Church Hierarchy

In reaction to what some saw as a corrupt and apostate hierarchy of the Catholic church, many Protestant Reformers began to interpret the bible to mean that there was not to be any hierarchy in Christ's church. Consequently, many Evangelical and Protestant churches are locally owned and controlled. In many cases, the governing Elders elect their pastor or bishop. This belief was based on the truth that every member has access to the Holy Ghost and a personal relationship with God (which is true). However, if the majority of Elders did not approve of the teaching or conduct of their pastor then they can vote him out and that vote would represent the inspired will of God.

While the New Testament is not clear on many aspects with regard to the operation of the Christian Church, there are some details found in writings from several 1st-Century Early Christian Fathers which provides additional reliable information on the organization and operation of the church.

Clement was appointed by the Apostles to be the Bishop of Rome after the martyrdom of Peter. Clement knew the Apostles personally and visa versa. In fact, Clement is mentioned specifically by Paul in Philip. 4:3 as being written "in the Book of Life." Clement is considered to be the fourth Pope of the Catholic church. Although there is no evidence from his or other's writings that his authority as Bishop or Rome exceeded that of the other Bishops or Presbyters.

How do the LDS view Clement. Clements writings are not considered scripture. But modern Apostles have said that LDS doctrine is reflective of 1st-Century Christian doctrine as opposed to 3rd-Century Christian doctrine just before the Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church attempted to establish a uniform doctrine for all Christians through a series of scholarly meetings, doctrinal debates, and voting. Unfortunately, this doctrine by committee, and enforcement by the sword, failed to unify the Christian Church. While few Christian writings exist from the 1st-Century, those from Bishop Clement of Rome, Bishop Ignasias of Antioch, and Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna are well respected by LDS General Authorities.

In the first surviving epistle from Clement, Bishop Clement writes the Corinthians to express his shock that they had removed their leaders. His words on the matter shed light on how the original Christian church operated with respect to the appointment of local leadership. Clement begins his epistle:

1 Clement 1 "and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-confident persons have kindled to such a pitch of frenzy, that your venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be universally loved, has suffered grievous injury"

1 Clement 46:9. “Your schism has turned aside many, has cast many into discouragement, many to doubt, all of us to grief, and your sedition continues.”

This situation reminds me of the words of John, who wrote in a similar letter concerning Diotrephes who had usurped control of one of the Christian churches against the will of the Apostles:

3 John 1:9-10 "I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church."

So, here we see an example of the hierarchy in operation from the New Testament itself. John an Apostle, is criticizing a local church and a leader but praising others he considers better and says he will settle things further when he arrives in person.

Clement provides even more detail in a similar situation in the church in Corinth:

1 Clement 44 Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blame-lessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that ye have removed some men of excellent behaviour from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour.

Here we see Clement criticizing the Elders at Corinth for unjustly removing their bishop. But according to some evangelical understanding, the council of Elders should have every right to do so. But it seems clear from 1 Clement 44 that that kind of thing is contrary to the organization of the body of Christ which analogy itself suggests hierarchy. In a hierarchy, leadership is appointed from the top down and not voted upon from the bottom up. A man is selected from among the Elders and that appointment is then ratified by the "consent of the whole church" according to Clement and not just the council of Elders.

Clement reminds those at Corinth that the Apostles foresaw that there would be strife over the calling of pastor or bishop. Who would be contending over this issue? The local membership would be. Therefore, the Apostles appointed the Bishops. This was the appointed and approved ministry. Not an elected ministry. And after the death of the Bishop, others would be approved and appointed by them (the Apostles) or other eminent men (in the hierarchy) as opposed to being elected by the Elders. Then those appointed Bishops should be ratified by the consent of the whole church. Clement didn't say anything about a council of Elders but chastised the membership for removing their Bishop not for sin, but most likely over doctrinal issues. And here we see the great apostasy develop.

Now upon reading this, an Evangelical friend of mine sent we a link to some literature which explained an Evangelical view on church authority and hierarchy:

What caught my attention was the following: "Nowhere in Scripture is the church given authority over its leaders. Every passage that deals with authority in the church may be summed up with Hebrews 13:17 - Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."

The key is that according to this doctrinal paper, the church should never be given authority or power over its leaders. However, I know that many Evangelical churches are owned by a council of Elders and they vote their Pastor in and out. Or in other cases a pastor owns his own church. The problem with these two ecclesiastical models is both models subject the leadership to the authority of the church. How so?

In the first case where the Church is locally owned by a council of Elders and/or Deacons, the Pastor or Bishop is subjugated to the whims of the council. The creates a huge conflict of interest. Do you think that Pastor will as aggressively call his flock to repent? He won't because of the fear of offending the Elders, getting voted out, and loosing his job. So, the Pastor can't do his job in this system which is to offend and call his flock to repent and come to Christ.

The second case is as bad or worse than the first. Even though the Pastor owns the church, he really doesn't own it. The Pastor likely owns the bank mortgage on which he must make expensive monthly payments. Again, there is a significant conflict of interest here. Paying the bills depends on the tithes of the people in the church. So, again, the Pastor will fear to do his job and aggressively call his flock to repent and come to Christ for fear of offending the tithe payers upon which his livelihood depends.

In each of these arrangements the church has power over the Leadership because the Pastor doesn't want to offend the elders or tithe payers. But according to Clement the Bishop was to be appointed by the Apostles or other imminent men and not voted in. Then that appointment was to be ratified by the common consent of the "whole church". The key word here is appointed. And in this system, the Bishop was free to preach repentance and could only be removed for serious sin, but not over doctrinal disputes and preaching repentance. I mention doctrinal disputes because that is another benefit of a hierarchy is a uniformity of doctrine. A church with central leadership can interpret the word of God for the whole church and better keep the doctrine pure.

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