the weblog of Alan Knox

The source of the church’s view of leadership and hierarchy

Posted by on Sep 14, 2012 in blog links | 12 comments

The source of the church’s view of leadership and hierarchy

Jon at “Jon’s Journey” has written a very thought-provoking post called “Church Hierarchical Leadership.”

In the post, Jon shares several graphs of organizational and hierarchical leadership, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen a church publish that first one… maybe so?

Anyway, after the graphs, he begins asking questions about how hierarchy entered the church. (Of course, some believe that Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles and NT authors taught a form of hierarchical leadership for the church. But, that’s for another discussion, I guess.)

At one point, Jon suggests that Platonic philosophy is the source of leadership hierarchies in the church:

For example people like Clement of Alexandria and Origen had also been students of Platonism which saw the whole of society separated into classes or levels, and that people were actually predestined to their level in society. They also thought in terms of dualism, where there was a need for priests and clergy to be mediators between regular laymen and God. The concept of priesthood of all believers was soon largely overlooked.

There is a lot more to it than this.

That’s an interesting theory. Of course, Ignatius claimed direct spiritual revelation for his understanding of the three-part hierarchy (bishop – presbyters – deacons), and he said that he was not taught this by any man. Interesting…

Anyway, I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think it’s a great question to raise.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-14-2012

    Alan, I have an interesting question for you. What is the meaning of the Greek name that is translated “Nicolaitans” in Revelation, as in “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans”?

    I’ve heard it literally means “to rule over the laity/people.” Would you be able to shed any light on this? And if what I’ve heard is true about this, then Jesus hating this doctrine makes sense if there is to be no authoritarian hierarchy in his kingdom or church.

  2. 9-14-2012


    That’s possible, although it seems to be a modern conjecture based on the etymology of “Nicolaitan”, if it actually comes from those two words. The ancient records about the sect is that they followed someone named Nicolas – the source of their name – and the idea of “ruling over people” was not mentioned in the ancient sources.


  3. 9-14-2012

    Thanks Alan for sharing, and that is interesting by Ignatius. I guess it would be hard to argue, except that it seems so opposite to what Christ taught.

    “I have as much authority as the Pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it.” – George Carlin

    If I could be Pope for a day I would officially publish that first organization chart for the one universal church. Anyone who is wanting to be at the top of the chart finds themselves furthest from Christ who is at the bottom serving others. 🙂

  4. 9-15-2012

    “Direct revelation” is always used as a trump card in an argument…who are we to argue with the Holy Spirit?

    I still clearly remember in an interview with a pastoral candidate his response to a question about his practice in promoting leadership and ministry skills within his congregation, “There can be only one pastor in a church.” There is your God-Pastor-everyone else structure.

  5. 9-15-2012


    Thanks for the comment and for the great post!


    In the hierarchical structure of most church organizations, that candidate for employment was correct. Although, I don’t think that’s what the authors of Scripture meant when they used the term “pastor.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen that structure among too many organizations, whether stated explicitly or not.


  6. 9-15-2012


    Thanks for the history lesson!

  7. 9-15-2012

    Any study of the usage and practices of the ekklesia in secular and scriptural history clearly indicates that authority in such an institution is functional, one decided and determined by the equal members who voted on it. Too many today are forgetting that the Baptists are Congregationalists in church government – not hierarchial under any sense of the word. Dr. Al Mohler set forth a strong case for congregational church government as the form of Baptist church government, and my six years of research in 2000 years of church history, with special emphasis on the Greek of ekklesia supports what he had to say 100%.

  8. 9-15-2012


    I’m certainly no expert, so there may be evidence that I don’t know about. If you find something else, please let me know.


    Yes, the baptists championed congregational government. I think the New Testament leans more toward consensus than majority rule, though.


  9. 10-3-2012

    The problem is not with the reality of hierarchy but with the distortion by human nature of what authority is or means. The scripture is clear about positions in the church of bishops, elders and deacons. These are spiritual positions which are helps to a group of believers. In no way does this interfere with the priesthood of the believer. Each believer is a priest and a king unto God, and is given the privilege of seeking and obeying God. There is no indication of a priesthood in the scripture. There is indication of special calling however but that is another discussion. All understanding must come from true deep revelation from the Lord which only comes from being drawn by the Spirit into deep seeking of Him. You will not find it from much studying.

  10. 10-3-2012


    I don’t think Scripture “is clear about positions in the church of bishops, elders and deacons.” I agree that those terms are used for positions today, but I don’t think they were originally positions. I definitely agree that understanding comes from revelation from the Lord, which comes by the Spirit through various means – sometimes directly from him, sometimes through brothers and sisters in Christ.


  11. 12-4-2012

    Do you have a reference to Ignatius claiming special revelation on the ministerial “offices”? I would greatly appreciate being able to check out the original writing. Thanks!

  12. 12-4-2012


    Check out Ignatius’ letter to the Philadelphians chapter 7.