Twisted Scriptures (Part 5 of 6)

A "Twisted Scripture" is a biblical passage taken out of context and portrayed to mean something that neither its author intended nor it's original audience understood.

Let us think out loud about how later western Christians have twisted scripture by redefining the church leadership vocabulary and concepts of the Bible.

The following point was made by W. CARL KETCHERSIDE (1908-1989 – Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ reformer) in his essay GOALS OF RESTORATION and is the basis to approach to this topic.

"Recognizing that words alter their significance through use by successive generations, the true restorationist must divest his mind as much as possible of prejudice created by ecclesiastical usage, and avoid reading into God’s word those meanings which are hallowed by tradition, rather than by heaven."

Comprehension and understanding of church leadership was radically altered, in early centuries of the Christian Era, from the apostles comprehension of it. This was done not by a latter day revelation but by self serving men (wolves – Acts 20:29) who changed the vocabulary and concepts from biblical (Hebrew) descriptions of leadership functions to ecclesiastical titles of authoritative offices. They did this by simply redefining the words used to describe the overseers and servants, the keepers of orderliness.

To gain a grasp on the situation, the biblical reader must have an understanding of the life and times of the apostles in the first century. Judea was governed by two cultures at the same time and influenced by a third. Village life, family life and religious affairs were governed by the Hebrew culture. Civil matters and commerce were governed by the Roman Empire. Language and art was heavily influenced by the Greek culture which was prevalent among the more educated people. The upper classes often spoke Greek and studied the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. Greek culture was so admired by the upper class Judeans that many Judeans took on Greek names and for all practical purposes were indistinguishable from Greeks save in dress and Temple attendance.
These outside influences pressured the newly founded faith of Jesus' followers to adapt to foreign ways, foreign to the Hebrew culture and Hebrew prophets. As the congregations of Christians became more gentile and less Hebrew, more and more of the Hebrew understanding of life and spiritual reality was lost in favor of the gentiles' culture. This might seem like a normal development except: all insight into spiritual matters is written from a Hebrew perspective. Losing that perspective is to loose the foundations of the faith! With the loss of the Hebrew couched concepts, foreign gentile concepts were substituted. Over time, those gentile insertions and substitutions became the normal experience of the faithful, codified and institutionalized. That has continued even today. Recapturing the original Hebrew concepts requires unraveling the gentile vocabulary and concepts overlaid upon the faith of Jesus' apostles.

The biblical reader must, as much as possible to "divest his mind of the prejudice created by ecclesiastical usage". That requires regaining the original definitions of the biblical words and concepts used to describe congregational oversight and guidance. There are only four words that have been redefined: elders, bishops, deacons and bond-servants but that is enough to steer the oversight of the faith into foreign ways. The result of just those four redefinitions is that the congregants lost their self determination and also the influence of the holy spirit in the oversight of the assemblies of believers. The overlording hierarchical style of leadership is contrary to congregational self determination under the influence of God's own spirit working in individuals.

The first and most foundational concept lost is that of "elders." Strong's #4245 πρεσβύτερος [PRESBUTEROS]. Today, it means something very different from the biblical use. I have seen this concept defined in a range from the church board to retired clergy.  But in the Hebrew culture it simply meant older persons. Normally a middle Eastern village was governed and guided by its elders. They were heads of families and, as a group, represented the depositary of the village's oral history and their collected wisdom. They were the brain trust and stability of the village. In their culture, a man was not considered an adult until around age thirty. That meant that one could not become an elder until around age thirty at the earliest and typically not until age 40 or 50. Until then, he was under the authority of his family head, his father or grandfather. Only by age and proven ability could one become an elder in a village, town or city.

However, in these new Christian congregations which represented communities (like villages), the apostles had to designate these elders, (Acts 14:23) for assembly oversight. The faith was so new, that the normal progress of growing up in the faith and proving yourself had not happened. To produce a normal family and village situation for these newly established assemblies, a body of elders were appointed in every city (Titus 1:5). This provided the churches with a trusted group out of whom to draw wisdom, guidance and oversight. All church oversight and service was drawn from this body. You were first an elder and then you might perform services. Today church leadership is just the opposite.

There is no record of "ordination" of an overseer (bishop) or deacon (servant) in the New Testament! The only appointment in the churches was designating older persons to the body of elders. Further services from that body were volunteer and often by communal agreement or just recognizing godly ability in some of the elders.

ESV: I Timothy Chapter 5
[17] Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

All oversight and services performed were considered functions, not ecclesiastical titles, not offices in the corporate sense. The only title of position or office was that of an elder. There were elders who provided guidance, others who provided advice and counseling. There were elders who provided moderation of the believer's gatherings and activities. There were elders who even taught scripture and offered spiritual insight. No matter what the service provided, they were all done by the elders.

The only exception to this was when the church was really brand spanking new and no elders had even been appointed or established from whom to draw guidance and support services. See Acts 6:1-6. This facet of communal life had not yet arisen apart from the Temple services. The servants (deacons in modern parlance) were chosen for their recognized spiritual qualifications. This was the prevailing attitude about elders which was the foundation of all appointments to the cadre of elders throughout the first century. They were the strongest in the faith as demonstrated by their faithful lives and the power of God they manifested.

Therefore, overseers (bishops) were simply elders watching over the activities and gatherings of the believers providing advice and input as needed. All other so called leadership designations, i.e. deacons and servants were temporary volunteers. Early church oversight was that simple, nothing like the hierarchy of overlords seen today in moder Christian religion. These functions were a necessary but man made part of successful and communal life for first century people.

Next post: Twisting Scripture by ignoring the Godly appointed services.

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