Back in 2006 I wrote about the Plurality of Elders.[i] I have not discussed this in detail since that time, if I remember correctly. The New Testament Scriptures present a strong case for plurality of pastors or elders. Texts that support the case are found at the link mentioned previously, and I list some of them here:
- Acts 11:30—elders of the church of Jerusalem
- Acts 14:23—Paul and Barnabas ordain “elders in every church”
- Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23—elders of the church in Jerusalem
- Acts16:4—elders of the church in Jerusalem
- Acts 20:17-28—“elders of the church” at Ephesus
- Acts 21:18—elders of the church in Jerusalem
- Philippians 1:1—the church at Philippi had “bishops and deacons”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13—“them which labour among you…esteem them” (plural)
- 1 Timothy 5:17—elders of the church of Ephesus
- Titus 1:5—Titus was to “ordain elders in every city”
- James 5:14—“call the elders of the church”
- 1 Peter 5:1-2—“the elders which are among you”
Theological evidence also supports pastor plurality, harmonizing with the practice of the New Testament churches. Our Lord Jesus emphasized the ideal of equal Christian servants. Although “the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion” Jesus told the apostles “it shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:25-27).[iii] The local church is a body in which each member is indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), and Jesus Christ is the one and only head of the church (Ephesians 1:22). Pastors are not authoritarian dictators, but placed in submission under him. The sheep are the Lord’s and the pastors are to feed them (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28). Ministers ought to take the servant’s part (John 13:14), give preference to others (Romans 12:10), and be mutually accountable to one another (James 5:16). Pastors – yea, all of us – serve in community rather than isolation (Hebrews 10:24-25; John 13:35).
While we would not build a biblical case on practical evidence, the practical evidence of churches with a plurality of pastors strengthens the cord. In “Who Should Run the Church? A Case for the Plurality of Elders,” Daniel Wallace asserts, “Churches that have a pastor as an authority above others (thus, in function, a monarchical episcopate) have a disproportionately high number of moral failures at the top level of leadership. In other words, it is less likely for a pastor to fall into sin if he is primus inter parus (‘first among equals’ in the sense of his visibility and training, not spirituality) than if he is elevated above the rest of the church leadership.”[iv] Therefore, there is not only the New Testament practice of plurality and the theology of mutual accountability, but also the practical reasons for it. A good resource on this is found in “Practical Advantages of a Plurality of Pastors,” in The Pillar, Spring, 1989 See page 11.
There is historical evidence for pastor plurality, some of which I will begin to show tomorrow: History of the plurality of pastors, a beginning.[v]
[i] By a plurality of elders, I mean more than one teaching elder/pastor/bishop of equal standing in the local church – equal in the sense that there is not any one ruling over the others. I believe the New Testament uses of elder, pastor, and bishop refer to the same office. Elder is more common in the New Testament than pastor, but I have used pastor in this article because more Baptists seem to think of the right office with that term while nowadays misunderstanding the time-honored term elder.
[ii] Some have argued that Paul’s use of bishop singular and deacons plural in 1 Timothy 3:2, 8 supports the single-pastor model. Under the heading “For Single Elders,” Daniel Wallace writes, “the ‘bishop’ in 1 Tim 3:2 is generic. The article is used this way in Greek very frequently.” Benjamin Merkle says “it is probable that the singular form ‘the overseer’ (ton episkopon) in 1 Timothy 3:2 is a generic singular. This means that the author is not indicating that there is only one overseer in each church but that the singular form is used generically to indicate that overseers as a class are in view. As was true in the case of Titus 1:5-7, the singular use of ‘the overseer’ could have been influenced by the singular use of ‘if anyone’ (ei tis) in the preceding verse (1 Tim 3:1). The context of 1 Timothy 2:8–3:16 also argues in favor of interpreting the singular form of ‘the overseer’ as a generic singular since other generic singulars are used.” Further, Paul goes on to speak of the elders (plural) that rule well and we know there were elders plural in Ephesus, where Timothy was when Paul wrote to him (1 Timothy 1:3; Acts 20:17-28).
[iii] We can nevertheless recognize that among these equal pastors there are those with differing gifts and differing amounts of experience.
[iv] “…if there is just one leader, the church will inevitably take on that man's personality, including his quirks and faults. But if more than one person leads the church, there is the greater chance that the church will be balanced.”
[v] Baptist history often demonstrates a single-pastor model (either a single pastor for one congregation, or sometimes a single pastor for several congregations) rather than the plural-pastor model, but the plural-pastor model is present throughout history. Every instance of a “plurality of elders” mentioned may not always mean a plurality of co-equal pastors. Sometimes the author means a plurality of ruling elders. At times it is hard to discern which is meant without more extensive research.