Does the clergy role that so prevails throughout the Western Church today
find its basis in the Bible? Sadly, history tells us that the functioning of clergy was adapted from the pagan
practices of the Greeks and Romans who depended on priests to stand between them and their gods. The role of clergy
so recognized throughout much of the Church today got its
philosophical underpinnings from the dualistic teachings of Plato in the fifth century BC. Many
of today’s followers of Jesus, however, are attempting to return to the biblical role of pastoring as it was understood
by our first-century forefathers. The difficulty is that most Christians today are so accustomed to the clergy/laity
separation in their congregations that they are amazed or even angered when that distinction is questioned.
Because of the anti-Semitic stance taken by the Church in the second and third centuries, many
of the Church’s Hebraic foundations and practices were discarded and heathen policies adapted. Consider the functions
listed in Ephesians 4:11 which had been part of the synagogue prior to the advent of the Church. That the Holy
Spirit had inspired the Church to keep these practices so that it might be unified and mature is evident in Paul’s
letter. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be shepherds
and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we
all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure
of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). Paul had no need to define these functions since they were so well
known among the first century Jewish followers of the Messiah. The cooperation of these anointed functions that
had been established in the synagogue would enable God’s people to serve Him, to mature in Him, and to attain the
fullness of His Son.
• An apostle (Heb. shaliach / Gk. apostolos) was
a person sent forth to an appointed place on a mission. This is not a position of dominance either through ecclesiastical
position or anointing. An apostle is a person used by our Lord to complete a specific mission. The Twelve, then
Paul, received special commissioning from Jesus. But note other believers referred to as apostles: Andronicus and
Junias (Romans 16:7), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
• An evangelist (Heb. magid / Gk. euaggelistes) was a synagogue planter and repairer. In the Church this person not only shares the Gospel, but gathers
together a faith community which he will leave in the responsible care of the elders. Timothy and Titus were both
evangelists and church planters: "But you,
keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your
ministry" (2 Timothy 4:5); "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was
left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5).
• A prophet (Heb. esha’elohim, nabyi’
/ Gk. prophetes) was one to whom and through whom God spoke for the benefit of His people. Prophets generally functioned
beyond the confines of the Hebrew synagogue while Paul expanded that function to include prophetic messages shared
within worship gatherings.
• A shepherd (Heb. zaken / Gk. poimen)
was a gray-haired man of leadership who imparted wisdom and counsel to a specific group of people, caring for them
as a shepherd would his flock.
• A teacher (Heb. rab / Gk. didaskalos)
rightly divided the Word to bring clarity to others and to exhort them to action.
Biblical Shepherds Are Not Ecclesiastical Hierarchy
The reason that the word pastor rather than
shepherd appears in so many Bible translations is that the translators
of the 1611 King James Version were required to follow Bancroft’s Rules to Be Observed in the Translation of the
Bible. Rule #3 states, "The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept. . ."
To undergird a clergy/laity distinction, translators not only of the King James Version but of
virtually all commonly read translations used the word pastor
instead of shepherd in Ephesians 4:11. Had the Greek word used
here, poimen (poy-mane’), meaning "shepherd," been
translated as such, this passage would have kept continuity with the other passages that refer to the shepherding
role of the elder, presbuteros (prez-boo’-tair-oss). The inaccurate
translation creates a false distinction between the Greco-Roman ecclesiastical position of "pastor" and
the Hebraic biblical function of "shepherding by elders." Throughout the New Testament references, it
is obvious that God wanted the eldering functions to continue so that His purposes could be fulfilled. Notice that
the association of shepherd and teacher is consistent with other biblical passages: "Now the overseer must
be. . .able to teach"; "The elders who direct the affairs of the congregation well are worthy of double
honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17).
Anti-Semitism Is The Root Of The Problem
It is difficult for some to realize that a Hebraic understanding of the Ephesians 4:11 roles
has been lost to the Church for centuries. Keep in mind that the disavowal of Hebraic practices and the severance
of Hebraic roots occurred primarily after Greek philosophers converted to Christianity. The writings of such men
as John Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, and Origen not only introduced Greek pagan practices and thought into the Church,
but their anti-Semitic vitriol also ripped away and buried the precious Hebraic relational fabric on which Jesus
had founded the Gospel. Because of this, seminaries for centuries have failed to grasp the Hebraic basis for the
distinct roles of evangelist and shepherd. For cent ies, therefore, many young men who are really church planters/evangelists
like Timothy and Titus have instead been trained to fill the pastoring role that the Bible reserves for older men.
The sad result has been the tragic destruction of many young men, primarily through sexual misconduct and the stress
of burnout. Despite demanding celibacy from its priests, the Roman Catholic system in the United States alone has
spent over $400 million in out-of-court settlements due to clergy sexual misconduct. In the Protestant community,
clergy now represent the highest occupation for divorce in this country, surpassing doctors, policemen, and firemen.
Adultery by clergy is so epidemic that in one denomination it has been committed by nearly 50% of the pastors.
Biblical Shepherding: Pastoring By Elders
Proven concerned leadership was key for the men of Israel who desired to be elders. The Hebrew
word for elder, zaken (zah’-ken), connoted men of wisdom who
had proven themselves worth following. Over the course of their lives these men exhibited servant-like character
qualities that took into consideration the welfare of others within their family, clan, and tribe. Because the
nation of Israel saw itself as a singular "extended family," each body of elders possessed an inherent
interest in the directions and decisions that were made: their own kin would be affected. Serving as an elder was
a life’s goal to which men who sought wisdom aspired. Zaken,
by definition, means "gray-bearded," suggesting wisdom gained by many years of life experiences. So how
did a man grow into this role?
Let’s head back in time to explore the historical context for elders. Even before the Exodus,
God noted the position and influence of elders. These men served as both a support base for Moses and as representatives
of the nation of Israel as a whole. From the burning bush He commanded Moses, "Go, assemble the elders of
Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and
said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.’ The elders of Israel will listen
to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews,
has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God’ "
Shepherding: A Father’s Heart
As our Father continues to restore the Jewish people to Israel, He is revealing His tender heart
to the Gentiles through the Hebraic Restoration of the Church. He is in the process of recruiting older men who
will exemplify His loving nature by shepherding His people. A leader who has a shepherd’s heart can readily discern
the training and preparation His people need. He is conscious of training up successors from within his own faith
community. Eldership was home-grown through the personal relationships within each community. No greater purpose
can there be for an elder than to accurately represent the Father’s love as he serves fellow followers of Jesus.
Our Lord is looking for a correct heart in his leaders, the heart of the Father. The individual whose focus rests
solely on right behavior has missed the tender, forgiving heart of God. A man who develops a correct heart toward
God and his fellow man will emanate loving compassion. On the issue of love are the Law (Torah) and the Prophets
based: "Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40).