Last month I wrote a blog called, Why is There a Pulpit? In it, I shared this tweet that appeared in my Twitter feed:
“Wherever the pulpit is going, that’s where the church is going.”
In addition to asking why there is a pulpit, we need to explore the pastor centrality so prevalent in most institutional religious settings. The pulpit isn’t neutral for several reasons, one being because it presents one more level of separation between the assembly and the “professional” up front. In almost every institutional religious setting, everything inside the room and everything outside the room points to the pulpit. The pulpit is the focal point.
“The clergy-laity tradition has done more to undermine New Testament authority than most heresies.” – James D. G. Dunn
This is part 3 of a multi-part series I’m calling Rethinking Religion. If you haven’t read parts one and two, I encourage you to read them before reading this one because they build on one another. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve written thus far:
Ignatius (ca. 110 AD) said this:
“Follow your bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father… Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop… Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes.”
I’ve previously noted that this directive by Ignatius was firmly in place in most local assemblies by the middle of the 3rd century (250 AD). It was assumed to be a biblical directive, but it is not.
We’ve already shown that the top-down authority structure that is present in most modern institutional churches is a man-made product of tradition that started as early as Ignatius. The one pastor authority model that we unquestionably accept as a biblical one, is actually something that has been handed to us by religious history and tradition and we accept it without question. Not only do we accept it without question, but we’ve also complicated it by adding layer after layer of hierarchical organizational strata where pastors are over pastors, and those pastors are over other pastors, and the higher the structure rises, the more sophisticated the honorific the titles become. Our church authority structures more closely resemble corporate America than anything in the New Testament. We’ve taught tradition as the commands of God for so long, it doesn’t dawn on us to look past the traditions, open our New Testaments, and ask hard questions, questions that threaten 2,000+ years of those same entrenched traditions. But with so many leaving the institutional church, not because they’ve left Jesus, but because they feel the church has, it’s time to ask why. Will Ignatius’ words, “Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop. Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes” stand in the light of scripture, or should we jettison it as tradition that has proven harmful to the practice of the one anothers within the assembly and to the priesthood of all believers.