Should the Church Have Leaders?
Q. In Matt.23:8 Jesus tells His disciples not to use the title of "Rabbi" or "teacher". Isn't this confirmation that the New Covenant should have no teachers and that our only teacher should be the Holy Spirit?
A. I think we had better examine this scripture carefully so that we can lay to rest the misconecption that there are to be no "teachers" in the Messianic Community (Church).
As ever, we must do to things: (1) Look at the passage in the situational context; and (2) Compare this with what Yah'shua (Jesus) teaches elsewhere, as I take it we shall not quarrel with the assumption that the Master does not contradict Himself.
(1) The Situational Context. Yah'shua (Jesus) is criticising the Scribes (Teachers of the Torah/Law) for their hypocrisy and vanity, and not their office itself: "The teachers of the Torah (Law) and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach" (Mt.23:2-3, NIV). Nowhere in the Gospels does Yah'shua (Jesus) ever challenge the their legal authority of the religious rulers of the day to rule. But He does challenge hypocrisy frequently. He then lists what they do wrong -- their love of seats of honour in the synagogues and at banquets, their love of being 'visible', their love of being greeted with the title "Rabbi" in the market place. It is in this sense that Yah'shua (Jesus) does not want His talmidim (disciples) to be called "Rabbi" -- He doesn't want them to glory in titles (cp. modern day equivalents like 'holy father', 'reverend', etc.)!
(2) The Overall Context. Clearly, a literalistic approach -- saying that there aren't to be any teachers at all -- is inappropriate since Yah'shua (Jesus) also warns elsewhere against being called 'father' or 'leader', terms which everyone uses. The context demonstrates that Yah'shua (Jesus) is prohibiting believers from accepting unearned honours, rather that outlawing three titles or callings. A leader is to be humble, a servant (Mt.20:25-28); if he is given any title at all he is not to become puffed up. Others in the community are to guard against making invidious distinctions between 'clergy' and 'laity' by bestowing titles, as has occurred in much of Christendom.
Rather, as the rest of the New Testament confirms, all are a part of the Qadosh (Holy, Set-Apart) Priesthood in Messiah -- there isn't a distinction between 'priesthood' and 'laity' as obtained in the Covenant of Moses, and as regrettably occurs in most of the larger Christian and Messianic denominations today. All are priesthood, but not all have the same gifts or callings. These callings are identified by titles like 'apostle', 'pastor', 'teacher', 'deacon', etc., but they are not to be used to lord it over those who don't have titles as the Scribes did.
I hope this is common sense. It ought to be. If we take the scripturally indefensible position that there are to be no leaders or teachers in any formal sense then we can only end up as solitary Christians with all concepts of a Body becoming meaningless. We all know that a liver does a special job in the body because that is what it was made for, and that it can't suddenly become a heart or a brain. Similarly, all have callings in the Christian/Messianic congregation, and whilst some people may have multiple callings (just as some organs in the body perform multiple tasks), a man isn't a pastor one day, a deacon the next, a navi (prophet) the next, and nothing the next time, any more than a soldier is a general one day, a captain the next, a corporal the next, and an ordinary private the next. An army cannot function and be effective on the basis that rank changes from day to day according to 'need' any more that a congregation can function and be effective on the basis that callings change from day to day "as the Holy Spirit leads". There is no evidence for such a structure in the New Testament and whenever such systems have been employed in the military or in Church/Messianic Synagogue they have always been a dismal failure. Common sense alone teaches us that wherever men and women are joined together to do a particular task, some sort of command structure is essential.
Finally, if Heaven -- where there is a fullness of Ruach (Spirit) and ahavah (love) -- is organised heirarchically with an Elohimhead (Godhead), malakim (angels) and cherubim and sepaharim (archangels), the 144,000 patriarchs and matriarchs, elders, and others, all having different responsibilities and callings, what strange thinking is it that enters the heads of imperfect, sinful mortals that leads them to believe that they have acquired some sort of unmerited perfection that enables them to stand alone in their own conceit without any sort of heirarchy at all? If what is written here is not convincing enough, then time alone will expose the folly of such a doctrine, and either those professing such a teaching will dwindle in their eimunah (faith) or they will be forced to repent and follow the Biblical tavnith (pattern).
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 16 April 2015
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