Monday 20 December 2010

The Ephesians 4 Smokescreen

Even as I write this, a cabal of ministers recently departed from a minor American denomination are organising themselves into a schismatic body. They're making a lot of Ephesians 4 as the charter for their new organisation's structure. Here's the relevant passage.
11 As for his gifts, to some he gave to be apostles, to others prophets, or even evangelists, or pastors and teachers. 12 So he prepared those who belong to him for the ministry, in order to build up the Body of Christ, 13 until we are all united in the same faith and knowledge of the Son of God.
At first blush it sounds good, but...

But the writer of Ephesians wasn't writing into a vacuum. He had particular issues in mind. For example, he would have had a specific understanding of the role of an apostle and an evangelist. You can be sure that the pouting pastors have a quite different understanding, conditioned by their own distinctive doctrines and history. The embarrassing truth is that an apostle isn't a jet-setting tithe-farmer, and ordination as an evangelist isn't the equivalent of elevation to Britain's House of Lords. Slapping these verses onto the current situation is a bit like prescribing Aspirin for someone who's been electrocuted and is still twitching.

Then there's the unavoidable fact that these geezers aren't claiming to have an apostle or a prophet in their midst. They do have a dead apostle of living memory, but he's not a lot of practical use, other than as a pretext.

Nor do these confused clergy seem to grasp the fact that Ephesians is a less-than "100% proof" source for proof texts. Internal evidence strongly indicates that it was written by someone other than Paul. It isn't regarded as one of his genuine letters.

So why all the ballyhoo over Ephesians 4?

It can be used to justify hierarchy.

Now let's think: no apostles, no prophets, the prospect of a couple of retreaded evangelists from the previous administration (all title, no power)... now what does that leave them with?

Pastors and teachers. And the practice in these circles is to conflate the two into one.

What about garden-variety lay members. Well, what have they got to do with anything? Ephesians 4 doesn't even mention them, right?

(In fact the book of Ephesians is addressed to them: "to the saints in Ephesus, to you who share Christian faith." It's right there in 1:1. Lay engagement and empowerment is assumed throughout, or the writer - who wasn't Paul, but may have been a protégé - would have simply written directly to the pastor.)

Now my dear Watson, the game is afoot!  It would appear that the point of the exercise is to create a comfortable sinecure for a bunch of disgruntled ministers who couldn't handle being accountable to a governing structure which they themselves elected. Decapitate the denominational officers and you have a two-level hierarchy, them and us, dumb sheep and pastors. As they themselves say: "We encourage one another to follow the Ephesians 4 template for the pastor, members, and congregation."

Any provision for checks and balances, for restraints on pastoral authority? None that leap out at you. The new body appears to be a loose association of loose cannons. At the congregational level it's just "pray and pay" members with limited rights (or none at all) and underqualified pastors who hold unaccountable authority.

The potential for abuse is enormous.


  1. Sure, Eph 4 is safe to quote as a basis. What about 1 Tim 3:4-5? "one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)" Why not? Because all of my generation bailed on these crazies. There wouldn't be enough men to form a council! Also for members, be sure to read 1 Tim 2:8-15 to make sure you keep those lowly women in check! My point is that they pick and choose examples of the New Testament church just like they pick and choose all of their other Judeo-Christian doctrine. Only when you leave do you even see the fullness of the deceit. RUN! (sigh) but you won't...

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  3. Well, this brings to mind one of those priceless rock n roll gems from the classic rock era of the 1970s. Actually, the tune it is excerpted from is apocalyptic, so it fits right in with the splinters:

    "As they pull you out of the oxygen tent, you ask for the latest party." ~David Bowie in "Diamond Dogs"


  4. "It would appear that the point of the exercise is to create a comfortable sinecure for a bunch of disgruntled ministers who couldn't handle being accountable to a governing structure which they themselves elected"

    Gavin, I think you have got mixed up your "liberal" sensibilities with what the bunch in Cinci is really doing. You of course would appreciate that in many people's eyes they are liberalizing COG doctrine. However they are running the church like your favorite nemesis Joe Tkach. Which is apparently where they learned the style first hand.

    Even if you agree with their ultimate goals, the manner of implementation is a submit or else!