I’ve recently been introduced to the writings of Hans KÃ¼ng, a Catholic theologian who has written several books about the church. This excerpt is from his book, The Church, in a chapter called “Ecclesiastical Office as Ministry”:
The problem becomes finally acute when we take a look at the Church which we know so much more about than any other of the New Testament Churches: the Church of Corinth. We have a reasonably good idea as to how preaching and the Lordâ€™s Supper were organized, as to what sort of ecclesiastical discipline and order there was. We know from Paulâ€™s lists exactly how many different kinds of ministries there were at Corinthâ€”apostles, prophets, teachers, and so on. But there were no “bishops”, deacons or elders. Moreover, when it is a question of restoring order in matters of preaching, the Lordâ€™s Supper and Church discipline, Paul never addresses himself to a single official or a single group of officials, responsible for all the community. He addresses himself throughout to all and at the same time to each individual. With regard to the irregularities that had occurred at the Lordâ€™s Supper, where the writer of the pastor letters might have said to the Corinth community something like: ‘Timothy is to give the sign for the celebration to begin’ (or perhaps even: ‘Timothy is to celebrate the Lordâ€™s Supper’?), what Paul in fact says to the Corinthians is: ‘When you come together to eat, wait for one another’ (I Cor. 11:33). With regard to the confusion which had arisen through several members of the community preaching during worship, where the writer of the pastoral letters might have said something like: ‘Titus is to decide who shall speak’ (or even perhaps: ‘Titus is to give the sermon’?), what Paul actually says is: ‘â€¦ let there be only two or at most three, and each in turnâ€¦ you can all prophesy one by one’ (14:27 and 31)â€¦ All of this is more than an argumentum e silentio [argument from silence]. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to assert that there existed in the Corinth community, in Paulâ€™s time, an office of leadership, whether elders or the later monarchic kind of episcopate. (403)
While I disagree with KÃ¼ng concerning the pastoral epistles (i.e., the author did not lay out rules for Timothy, Titus, and other rulers to control others or to control the church meeting), KÃ¼ng raises some very good questions that we should consider.
For now, consider the question of leadership. KÃ¼ng recognizes that the church in general and academic works concerning eccesiology in particular have blurred the distinction between the church and leadership. He says:
The fundamental error of ecclesiologies which turned out, in fact, to be no more than hierarchologies (where ecclesia=hierarchia) was that they failed to realize that all who hold office are primarily (both temporally and factually speaking) not dignitaries but believers, members of the fellowship of believers; and that compared with this fundamental Christian fact any office they may hold is of secondary if not tertiary importance. (363)
There may or may not have been leaders (elders or deacons) at Corinth. But, Paul did not consider their presence or absence relevant to the problems at hand. He did not tell the elders to handle discipline problems (1 Cor. 5). He did not tell the deacons to take of issues surrounding the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11). He did not tell any leaders to take control of the meeting to ensure that it did not get out of hand (1 Cor. 14).
Yet, today, when there are problems, everyone turns to the leaders. Why? Why do we presuppose that leaders are to make decisions while others are to either approve or disapprove of those decisions? If no one approached a brother or sinner who was sinning, whose “fault” would that be? If the Lord’s Supper gets unmanageable, who is responsible for ensuring that everyone is considering others first? If some people disrupt the meeting, who should help get things settled down? Why do we usually think of leaders first? Why did Paul not think of leaders first?