Conservative Theology

Witherington on Early Church Organization


Ben Witherington just put up an excellent piece on the history of the Church hierarchy:

What conclusions should we draw from this important authentic early Christian document [he's talking about 1 Clement, esp. ch 42] from the first century A.D. written by a co-worker of Paul's?

Firstly, the notion that there was no leadership hierarchy in the earliest period of Christian history is an absolute myth. The evidence, both Biblical and extra-Biblical insofar as it discusses such a matter confirms this fact. Secondly, the notion that everyone was called to take up leadership roles in the early church is also a myth. No, there were specific persons called to do this. Thirdly, the hierarchy existed not only in general between the linked house churches, but within them as well, from what we can tell. This is definitely what Clement believes if you read 1 Clement carefully. Fourthly, this sort of structure should not be blamed on the growing pagan influence on the church as time went on. This too is absolutely false. Clement sees it rather as a continuation of the Jewish leadership structures both spoken of and prophesied in the OT. As an associate of both Peter and Paul, Clement was in a position to know what the mind of Peter and Paul was on the issue of leadership structures in a way that we certainly are not.