Force! Power! Authority!
This is the triumvirate, which rule the City of Man. They are barred from the
City of God. Force is the means to compel another to do one's will or to punish
his disobedience. Power is the silk-gloved hand of force utilizing law and
tradition. Authority is power consented to or accepted as rightful.
God gave man dominion over the
earth, to subdue it and possess it, but no dominion over other men. Cain
usurped dominion and founded the earthly city built on force. Hear his
descendant boast, "I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for
striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventyfold." The
earthly city from Cain until now has rested on force in one or all of its
Though a man-willed world could
not function without it, power's only antidote is countervailing power. And as
Lord Acton pungently observed, power corrupts wherever it resides. It is only
beginning to press upon us how close we came to a presidential Nero in Richard
Nixon's bold scheme to subvert the Constitution and create the imperial
presidency.  Whatever halting progress has come through force in the quest
for civilized order, we may be sure there can be no redemption in it for man.
But is there not honorable and
compassionate power, which may be put to work to undergird the city of God and
to promote righteousness and punish evil? The answer is no. In the wilderness,
the aged Cardinal's "wise and mighty Spirit" offered Christ the
Throne of Caesar from which to launch the impending Kingdom of Heaven. 
Certainly it was his to extend. And why not from his vantage point proclaim the
Sermon on the Mount as the constitution of the new kingdom and the basis of a
new world law firmly backed by incontestable force? Why not send forth the
gospel in the hands of armed legions? Why wait for some apocalyptic time for
every knee to bow and every tongue confess? "Get thee behind me,
The powerless Jesus! The world
God so loved was the one we still experience -- one of defiance and opposition
to God, one lost to pride and power. The incarnation, to save the world,
required the adjuration of power. And so He came offering freedom in the
Nazareth Charter. To his disciples he called attention to the role of lordship
in the City of Man and said, "It shall not be so among you." His
kingdom is not of this world -- that is, it rejects all appeal to power. He
would accept only the voluntary heart. Yet there exists the Lordship of Jesus
and all authority has been given him. God has exalted him that every knee
should bow and every tongue confess he is Lord. He confers lordship on no man
and no power structure on his assembly. He has not delegated authority to any
man, lest "all" authority cease to be his. He appointed no surrogate
on earth. His yoke is voluntary and bears no weight. He came to serve rather
than to be served. He submitted to death to triumph over the grave. He chose
the route of defeat to victory, for it is impossible to defeat. Paradoxically,
his total abnegation of power conferred on him total lordship.
This the world cannot
understand. And all too few of his disciples have grasped the lesson. By its
actual behavior, organized Christianity throughout history has held Christ's
choice in the wilderness to be wrong. The Roman Catholic Church took over
Caesar's system and remains the most impressive religious power structure. The
Reformation produced a galaxy of power structures. The current
"restructuring" movement in the Disciples of Christ, which has
alienated so many of their churches, is organized around the pole of power. The
rapid growth of the Mormon Church is directly tied to power, centered in
works-righteousness and the continuing "revelation" God is held to
communicate to its leaders. Power appeals because it seems to work. It can
promote orthodoxy and punish heresy; it can generate uniformity and suppress
diversity; it can command resources and demand loyalty; it can even serve both
God and mammon. But because it belongs to a hemisphere apart from love, it in
the end fails.
What relevance has a
disquisition on power to the contemporary Churches of Christ? It is because the
phenomenon of power flourishes among us. Some of its hallmarks are legalism,
negativism, exclusivism, and authoritarianism. Others are the reduction of
congregational autonomy to a myth, the growth of a professional clergy and a
spectator laity, the acceptance of membership as the means to salvation,
ownership and control of church property by a self-perpetuating body of elders,
concentration of all decision-making in church officers, and the persecution of
dissenters by threats, the silent treatment or excommunication. Beginning about
1800 as the most radically democratic religious movement in America, the Church
of Christ is approaching almost the opposite pole of a conservative pyramidal
power structure. The free assembly has become the institutional church, an
organization with officers, hierarchy, and tradition. Since it is seen as
having an existence independent of its members, its officers may ban
"controversial" Christians and cut members off "for the good of
the church," it being bound by ecclesiastical rules not applying to
individual Christians (an example: the elders may "withdraw
fellowship" of the church from one with whom the members as individuals
can continue their fellowship). Fundamental to the development of power has
been the growth of the myth that the elder holds a position which entitles him
to exercise authority not vested in any member. The enormous rise of
institutional giving, aided by the income tax, has placed great money-power in
the hands of the officers. Commonly the chief generator of power is the
professional minister, who moves the elders, sets the church goals, speaks for
the elders or in their names, identifies the enemy, and drafts the bills of
Any study of power in the
Church of Christ must necessarily focus on the presbyterian system, which has
matured in the present century. Noting its incipient development in the
nineteenth century, Restoration writers in the Gospel Advocate--David and
William Lipscomb, Sewell, Fanning, Jackson, Franklin, Harding,
Scobey--challenged the claim that authority and decision-making were the
province of a few elders. No such evidence exists in the New Testament, they
insisted. Twelve of the major letters to the churches do not even mention
elders. Paul did not call upon elders to straighten out the problems of the
Corinthian church. He did not urge Galatian elders to guard the flock from the
threat of Judaisers. He made no reference to elders in his two missives to the
Thessalonians or in his letters to the Asian churches (Ephesians, Colossians).
Philemon, Jude, 1 John, 2 Peter, and 2 Timothy are likewise silent on the
subject. Revelation directs its message to the seven churches without reference
to these functionaries. Hebrews is likewise silent, though its mention of
"leaders" could be presumed to include them along with teachers,
apostles, prophets, and evangelists. However, Paul's two lists of church
leaders does not include elders. This may be true for the very good reason that
the word described no particular group, but embraced all leaders mature in age
and spiritual experience. The only reference in 2 John and 3 John is to John
himself as "the Elder." In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul
does no more than to include elders along with "all true Christians."
Where elders are mentioned--in 1 Timothy, Titus, James, 2 Peter, and Acts --
they appear as older disciples teaching, shepherding, and serving by word and
example. They never appear as teaching by proxy, that is, through a
professional "minister," nor as few in number, nor as masters of the
treasury, nor as decision-makers, authorities, or rulers.
Among the Advocate writers, the
church particularly disturbed E. G. Sewell, absorbing the power mentality from
the political and economic culture. The growth of statism and corporation in
the century was stimulating churchism (churchianity). The three might be
capsuled as follows: the state (corporation, church) is an entity within itself
and apart from its citizens (stockholders, members). Its interest takes
precedence over those of the individual. For the good of the state
(corporation, church) the individual may be sacrificed. Its structure is
hierarchical, distinguished by superordination, and subordination as the only
alternative to anarchy.  The low estate assigned to mere church members
herded to their pews seems to accord with the Grand Inquisitor's scornful
challenge to Christ, "Thou didst think too highly of men therein."
Sewell presented the
counter-view that the ecclesia of Christ is ideally a society of older and
younger members knit together in fellowship through union with Christ. Since
all members are equal, the society is egalitarian, though all voluntarily
subject themselves to all others in keeping with New Testament instruction.
Since all authority is vested in Christ, no member exercises command over
others. Each "does his own thing" religiously according to the gifts
he has received. That which is beyond the capacity of the individual to do, the
whole body may do by common agreement. While older members (presbyters) owe a
special responsibility to the younger members in teaching and example, the
church is without officers to rule or make decisions. It is a body of loving
interaction and full participation.
From what these
"fathers" of the Southern church had to say on the questions of
church government over a fifty-year period in the Gospel Advocate there emerges
a view radically different from the overblown presbyterian system of today.
They were profoundly concerned over the threat of concentrated power to the
free life of the church. Their warnings are relevant to the laws and
traditions, which "boards of elders" are binding on today's
congregations.  From their pens emerged the following affirmations:
1) The assembly is not an
institution or an organization, but a society of believers.
2) The church is not
hierarchical, that is, in descending order of minister, elders, deacons, male
laity, male children, women, and female children.
3) The Christian's relationship
to the church is organic, not organizational.
4) The church has no office and
elects no officer.
5) Elders and deacons are not
6) There is no such thing as
"instant elders" created by official act. In the pursuit of the
Christian vocation members become elders as a matter of growth and maturity.
7) Elders are not "over
the church" and members are not "under the elders."
8) Overseers are "in"
and "among" rather than over the assembly.
9) Overseeing does not involve
control and carries no authority -- that is, the power to rule and to decide.
10) "Elders" are
simply senior members, male and female, who have matured through years of
service. Ideally, there should be as many elders as there are older members,
with no case of arrested growth.
11) "Deacons" is
simply a generic term describing members, male and female, who serve. In New
Testament times deacons ranged from apostles to lower members.
12) Deacons in the church do
not constitute a special class or have a special rank, or do any special work.
They are merely servants devoted to the life of the Christian community.
13) Permission of elders is not
required before anyone may engage in any Christian work or share in the
activities of the church. Denying a member any active participation in prayers,
songs, teaching, or exhortation is a gross usurpation of power contrary to the
14) No man or group of men has
any authority in the church by virtue of office which does not belong to other
15) Nothing shall be done which
affects the whole church without every member being heard before the decision
is made. The quorum necessary for any action by the church is the entire
membership. Quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur--"What touches all,
is to be approved by all." This is not a matter of passive assent or
silence, but the result of active participation.
Those on our university
campuses are aware that the politicization, institutionalization, and
traditionalizing of the church are alienating an ever increasing number of
youth from the Churches of Christ. The church of the future can well bear
instruction on these points by the Gospel Advocate veterans.
Though it is widely agreed that
the word "church" is unbiblical, it is less commonly understood to be
anti-Christian in its root origin. Aristotle's Politics may be translated to
say in its opening sentence that the "state is the highest church" --
that is, the supreme power structure (kyrios--the Greek from which
"church" is derived). As a substitute for Christ's ecclesia ("my
assembly," or "my gathering," his "body"), it is a
repudiation of his wilderness choice of non-power in the fulfillment of his
mission.  He made it explicit to his disciples that among them there should
be no appeal to power, but rather the rejection of it.  The history of
Christianity is a river of troubles flowing from power-centered religion.
God made no special institution
to house his saints. He never added anybody "to the church." Despite
the correction of the faulty and prejudiced King James translation of Acts
2:47, there flourishes among us the notion that the church is a saving
institution, organized and structured with empowered officers. 
Nineteenth century Restoration
writers in the Gospel Advocate insisted that since Christ's body is an
organism, not an organization, it cannot have offices. If it is a community
(koinonia) living the common life, it has no need of power-endowed leaders. If
it is "this Way," the concept of authoritative position is absurd.
"All denominations used the word church meaning authoritative
institution," wrote David Lipscomb. "The word 'organization' is not
found in the Bible . . . if the words 'office' and 'officer' were wholly
eschewed and ignored, the difficulties would vanish." 
Lee Jackson pointed out that
the Greek ecclesia had no religious significance within itself (in Athens it
referred to the whole body of citizens ) and could refer to "a howling
mob." Only when associated with Christ did it connote a religious
community, but never anything more. He concluded, "The 'church',
therefore, is not an ecclesiastical institution in any sense, either local or
general, but an assembly of saints, composed of those who are in a saved
relationship to God . . . congregated around the name Jesus." 
Rejecting the idea that a local
group of Christians could not be a church until "organized" and
authoritative officers appointed to govern the group, Tolbert Fanning observed:
Each church is scripturally
organized the moment it is planted. The house of Stephanos and others mentioned
(because of their longer experience in the faith) . . . were heaven's overseers
without the appointment of the members. I know of no duty required in the
church that is not specifically required of (all) the members. 
Having determined that the
nature of Christ's people was associational and organic, not organizational and
hierarchical, the Restoration writers attracted at great length the whole
concept of church officers with powers not belonging to other members. Does the
church have offices to which one may resign, and which carries authority one
could not exercise outside that office? The contemporary Churches of Christ
answer "yes." In practice they have reproduced the New England
Puritan autocratic rule -- "the silent majority facing the speaking
aristocracy." In even the largest churches no more than a dozen men rule
with the absolute authority of the Soviet Politbureau.  Though they may
invite suggestions, nobody is allowed to miss the point that their decisions
are final and beyond appeal. Though they may have an "alpha" elder,
they invariably act collegially as "the eldership." They speak ex
cathedra by virtue of power inherent in their office and extending to no other
member, and they act en camera, their model being capitalism's corporate board.
Why do good, sincere men behave so? They are following a pattern shaped in this
century and heavily promoted by the professional minister, whose own welfare is
generally identified with that of the elders. Accepting this official
institution as divine, the elder feels that as God's surrogate and Christ's own
vicar in the congregation, he and his fellow elders would be remiss in
responsibility if they did not "rule," make all decisions, and spend
the money "given to God."  To deny an elder's
"authority" in a congregation is only a cut below the
Restoration writers of the
preceding century branded men playing this role of elders as
"rebels," "usurpers," and "traitors." Sewell
summed up their views succinctly.
"Christ, the head is in
heaven, but all authority on earth is his; and since the church is on earth,
all authority connected with it belongs to Christ, and not to the church.
Christ has never divided authority with the church . . . Since the church has
no authority of its own, it can impart no authority to a man to take the
oversight of a church is utterly absurd . . . it is a usurpation, a species of
treason that puts the actors in direct rebellion against the head . . ."
James E. Scobey said bluntly,
"No, there are no offices in the church of God which can be vacated and
which may be filled at pleasure of poor, frail, erring man."  Fanning
declared that if office was synonymous with vocation, then all members are
"It appears from this
scripture (Romans 12:4) that each member of the natural body, perhaps, is a
natural office, and if there is any fitness in the illustration, each member of
the body of Christ is, by virtue of his spiritual existence in the church, an
officer. In other words, we are not prepared to affirm that some of the members
of the church are officers and others are not." 
Sewell, emphasizing the
egalitarian nature of the ecclesia, declared:
"Overseers are not
officers, like governors or magistrates, to carry out laws by force of official
authority: for there is no man in the church that has such authority. Is there
official authority in any members of the church of God more than others? The
idea that certain members . . . on account of authority . . . that others have
not . . . shall not be this way among his (Christ's ) people . . . All have
equal rights and authority." 
Attacking the claim that an
elder by virtue of his position has the power to make the decisions for the
church and authority which does not belong to the ordinary member, Lipscomb
"We have frequently
affirmed that in the ordinary use of the term an "officer" is unknown
in the Christian scriptures . . . An officer . . . is one who is appointed to
do a work, which he could not do without the appointment and to do which,
without official investiture, would be a crime. In Christ's church all are
brethren and (none is an officer) . . . Whenever a man in the church of Christ
claims authority or exercises power merely on official grounds, he is
essentially a pope . . . He may be a smaller one . . . but the principle is the
naturally fall to the older members of the fellowship, Fanning explained,
because of their maturity, experience, and Godly example, but that is all:
"There are, perhaps no
congregations of the Lord without elder and younger Christians . . . (W)e wish
to say at once that elder, translated from the Greek presbuteros . . . means
older, senior, more experienced than others, and was never intended in divine
nature to denote an official . . . (W)e failed to find official elders in
either Old or New Testament . . . God, it is true, made it the duty of older
persons among Jews and Christians to perform service unsuited for younger
persons; but they were to do the work, not from official conferred authority,
but because of their natural and acquired fitness for the service . . . So far
we have found no elder officially made, by any performance of men . . .
Carpenters are made by using the saw . . . Elders, or seniors, are made by
years of labor, deacons and deaconesses by servitude . . . by lives of devotion
to rules of right, and we had just as soon to make a scholar by prayer, fasting
and imposition of hands, as a church leader." 
Since elders are not officers
holding a position by election or appointment, they cannot resign, the Advocate
writers agreed; an elder can quit the faith, but he cannot shuffle off his
years of experience or rightfully give up the responsibility to do what his
experience, loyalty to Christ, and health permit. Lipscomb summed it up by
saying that an elder "had as well talk of resigning the service of God as
resigning the work of an elder."  Even in his feeble old age he is
still honored by the members as an elder.
Restoration writers did not
have to face the current fetish of "under the oversight," but they
foresaw and warned against it. Today the absolute power of the elders has been
so advanced that everything must be "under the oversight" of them, be
it a Bible chair in a college, a radio or TV program, campus crusades, a
charity or benevolent activity, a missionary, a religious library, group
religious meetings in homes, youth retreats, or what have you. One must get the
permission of the elders to engage in a particular religious activity of his
own, even to make an announcement "in church." The claim that elders
have the power of review over what a member may write for publication has not
gone unnoticed. Similarly, elders may enquire into the finances of a member to
determine if he is giving enough "to the Lord." If a matter is
"under the oversight," the presumption is that it is orthodox and
proper, and such oversight is necessary to safeguard other flocks than their
own who may want to share. 
Sewell denied that Paul's
speech to the senior members of the Ephesian church implied that the Holy
Spirit had given them the authority to govern or police or have any authority
over other members. The King James version's "over which the Holy Ghost
hath made you overseers" was, in fact, a mistranslation:
"(T)he word in this
passage was an incorrect rendering of the preposition en. The proper meaning is
in, or among . . . The word overseer therefore means a worker, a laborer in the
house of God . . . (T)here is nothing to indicate official relationship, but
workers simply." 
Stating that the expression
"oversight" did not imply superordination-subordination, Sewell
"We simply state that the
word over in this expression is from the Greek preposition en. This preposition
occurs 2700 times in the New Testament and is nowhere translated over. Mostly
the word eu is translated "in." It does seem our translators were
determined to have the idea of office, whether or not . . . God has arranged
that the seniors among his people . . . shall teach and care for the younger
ones, but this does not make one part officers over another part . . .
"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the
church." Nothing more can possibly be made out of this occurrence of the
word than simply the senior or older members." 
Must every religious activity
be carried on under the supervision of officer-elders? Must a member wait until
he is "authorized" before he can speak in the assembly or undertake
any activity? Decrying the notion that elders are "a separate, distinct,
set-apart order in the church, possessed of some sort of nebulous authority and
official dignity," William Lipscomb wrote:
"I did not suppose . . .
that we had reached the point of claiming that we individual men and women have
no right to speak or perform an act unless authorized . . . This whole idea of
waiting for some human sanction and committing the grand question, "What
shall we do?" to the decisions of any sort of corporate existence . . . is
most ruinous and destructive of vigor and energy in the Master's service."
William Lipscomb found the
emerging elder institute debilitating because it changed the members from
participants to attendants, from workers to "drones." There is a vast
difference in having leadership and work carried on by the whole body of older
persons from having rule, power, and decision centered exclusively in the hands
of a few "authorities." He wrote:
"Again, this constant
reiteration of talk about the need of the "eldership" to feed and
watch over the flock indicates a low conception of the character of members of
the body of Christ. Christians are nowhere spoken of as "fledglings"
with mouths agape ready to receive dainty morsels provided by human
manipulation; neither are they regarded as timid lambs to be guarded and
shielded from every contact with the evils of the world . . . by a sort of
watchdog protection . . . (T)here is no demand for human intervention more than
to encourage one another to a diligent study of the word itself . . . (I)t
needs no intervention of elder or preacher to adapt it to man's acceptance or
practice. The curse of the age is the prevalence of this enervating idea."
In response to the protest that
his displacing of elders as ruling authorities would open the door to anarchy
created by heady, presumptuous church members, William Lipscomb replied that
the elder system was "ten-fold" worse. He was ready to rest his case
with each member assuming responsibility. The growth potential in the
participatory church lies in the fact that "no hurt ever came to man,
woman or child from a deeper sense of individual, personal responsibility in
dealing with every question that concerns life and its issues. It is, indeed,
the basic principle of all worth and power for good." 
Defining authority as the power
to command, to compel obedience, to punish ("withdraw" from a member
or silence him), to decide, David Lipscomb rejected it in strong, even
"The whole evil has grown
out of false notions concerning official authority and the thirst for power
among "so-called" officials. Whenever a man or set of men . . .
assume they have rights and authority as officers over others . . . . they
should be resisted even to the disruption of the body." 
Concerning the claim of
Nashville elders involved in a church suit that they "possessed the
official power of the church and . . . could control it by virtue of that
authority," Lipscomb dryly observed, "(W)e would have said no church
government by the Bible was so constituted or directed."  Describing
the whole church "as a system of service and not a matter of . . .
authority," Sewell insisted that no person "has authority to do what
another has no authority to do."  Any four members of a congregation
would have just as much right to hire a preacher or issue an edict of
excommunication against a member as the "eldership" of four persons.
Then who are to make the
decisions for a congregation if the power is denied to the "official board
of elders?" Lipscomb replied that, since there cannot be a scriptural
official board, the responsibility belongs to the entire congregation.
"It is the right of every
member of a congregation to know and be heard in every work taken by that
congregation . . . To act without unanimity is to sow the seeds of strife,
jealousy and partisanship in the church of God." 
Such participation in
decision-making, he continued, is not passive or silent consent, but
responsible and sharing. Should a conflict of judgment arise between a member
and so-called elder, "the church must decide." The whole church is to
be appealed to when any difference between any two or more members cannot be
satisfactorily resolved otherwise and the difference precludes continued church
association."  When a new work is undertaken and somebody designated
to do it, the responsibility is not that of a few elders, Lipscomb argued.
Rather, "the whole body of disciples in free and full and confidential
intercourse ought to select the person in moral qualities and character, taking
into consideration the nature of the work." 
"fathers" were too close to the giant sweep of democracy in America
not to have a profound respect for the worth, dignity, and potential of each
Christian. The contemporary concentration of power in the hands of the
"eldership" marks a decided swing away from the older view. The
ordinary member cannot be trusted to hear or participate in dialogue or to
listen to anybody except approved speakers. The elders and their
"minister" are fully competent to determine these lines of
censorship. The century-old church is still spoon-fed, unorthodox programs and
persons are branded from the pulpit "to safeguard" the members, and a
program of busy-work is carried on to keep them employed. But spontaneity is
frowned on, independent house meetings are viewed with dark suspicion, and
group activities not first cleared and checked on by the "eldership"
Sewell, Scobey, Lipscomb, and
others found the source of this retreat from the acceptance of the church as a
fraternity of equals and the expanding exercise of power by a power elite to be
rooted in part in the faulty translation of a few words like "rule,"
"obey," "elder," and "bishop," as well as from
the prevailing religious culture of the "denominations." One failure
of the translators was to take the Greek adjective presbuteros, meaning
"older," and make it into the English nouns "presbyter" and
"elder." Sewell wrote:
"The word elder . . . is
from the Greek presbuteros . . . (I)t is an adjective of the comparative degree
and literally means older. It cannot be properly called a noun . . . It would
be strange if in so large a church as that of Jerusalem there should not be a
plurality of older or senior members; members who, by their age and work were
well suited to aid in the settlement of so grave a question (the Antioch
crisis) . . . There is not one single word to indicate that any of these elders
or seniors had been elected or ordained to anything . . . Moreover, there is no
intimation that these elders attempted to use or claim any authority any way,
in the whole matter any more than other members of the church . . . The whole
church, all the brethren, are just as much included in the decision as they
Agreeing with Sewell that
"elder" is a relative term, James E. Scobey observed:
"The disciples of Jesus
meeting at any place for worship would be called a "church." In this
assembly there may not be found a man over 25 years old, and some as young as
15; yet among this number would probably be found some who could teach well and
lead others in the paths of peace . . . I maintain that there are elders in
this . . . assembly. You have elders in the assembly because some are older
than others." 
The word "bishop"
from the Greek episcopos (shepherd, pastor), found its way into the 1611
English version on King James' insistence. He meant it to connote something of
the power, majesty and rule of the king himself. It appears five times in the
Greek New Testament, once with respect to Christ, and four times applied to
seniors in the churches on Crete and at Ephesus and Philippi. According to the
Restoration writers it was a term connoting "tender, loving care" and
was best exhibited in teaching ("feeding the flock"). It carried no
connotation of power.  Their view that the chief function of the pastor, or
elder, was to teach by word and example has since given way to the business
view of the elder as initiator, manager, director and decision-maker.
A closer examination of the
Greek text by Sewell and others dissolved the claim to authority by elders as
based on Hebrews 13:7. "Remember them which have the rule over you,"
 and Hebrews 13:17, "Obey them that have the rule over you." The
first verse was an admonition which came much nearer referring to the
evangelists who converted the Hebrew Christians than to elders. Denying that
the latter admonition settled the question of the power of the elders to
command and the necessity for obedience by the members, Sewell insisted that
"rule" involves nothing more than teaching by the older and more
spiritually advanced members, and nothing in the Greek words warranted the
expression "obey."  In keeping with later versions, Stroop points
out that the Greek word Peithesthe, translated "obey" in the 1611
version, is a passive form and is best translated "be persuaded by your
leaders."  In early Christianity, "leaders" could involve a
galaxy of Christian workers including prophets, preachers, apostles, and
shepherds -- born men and women.
In the light of the above, the
development and intensification of power in the Churches of Christ and
Christian Church appears to say that Christ's choice of nonpower in the
wilderness was wrong and Satan's offer of power to carry out religion was the
Fruits of power in the
Restoration Movement are hierarchy, legalism, authoritarianism, and
institutionalism.  The development of the office of "minister"
 and the power interplay between that functionary and the
"eldership" have highlighted the growth of power in the Churches of
Christ and the decline of the members to pew-sitting spectators.
Though the minister's Power is
basically derivative, he being hired exclusively by the elders, it is
nevertheless real. It is enhanced by his priestly role, his monopoly of
communication, his influence over the elders, his role as their proxy, and his
need to build up their power to promote his own.  So potent a repository of
power is the minister that the orthodoxy of a congregation is commonly judged
exclusively by the orthodoxy of that official. Should that worthy edit a paper
like the Journal of Truth, produced until recently in Murfreesboro, it is
printed as the voice of the congregation and sits in judgment on other
If the eldership institution
has profited from ministerial buildup, its power was originally rooted in the
biblically assigned duty to older men and women to "nourish the
flock" by word and example. There are vast numbers of church members who
have yet to hear a single elder standing before the assembly in a teaching
role. This function is now carried on by proxy.  Instead, a small elite
corps of officeholders called elders has emerged as governors. In keeping with
our technological age, the contemporary church has developed "instant
elders." On a given Sunday the existing elders announce, generally through
the minister, the appointment of a new elder, to take office the following
Sunday unless the members can make a case against him. The "unless"
being only perfunctory, the following week the designate instantly
metamorphoses from the chrysalis of ordinary member to an officer of authority,
fully equipped to "rule" and make the decisions of the church.
The Restoration writers under
the editorship of David Lipscomb flatly rejected the concepts of office, power,
rule, and authority. According to Lipscomb, elders are nothing more than
"the mare experienced men and women in the church (who) are the proper
persons to instruct, admonish, and reprove."  How many elders are
there in a given assembly? Their answer was: as many as there are older men and
women of responsibility. How is an elder made? They replied: never by election,
selection, or ordination, but by the process of growth and maturation.  But
would not a large number of elders be unwieldy? Why not at least a rotation of
them? They answered: you might as well speak of rotation of Christians as
rotation of elders. Since elders do not govern, but rather teach and lead by
example, there cannot be too many in a congregation.
Quoting 1 Timothy 5:1, Sewell
reminded his readers that the status of elders is not exclusively masculine:
"Here the words elder and
younger are used in contrast, and we have just as much right to say (that women
are elders as men) . . . The phrase elder women is from the Greek presbuteras.
If, therefore, presbuteros means official man, presbuteras means official
women. The older women, according to this passage, are just as much officers as
the older men are." 
Considering the times in which
they wrote, Sewell and other essayists held a surprisingly advanced view of the
full and responsible role of women in the nonhierarchical church. Like the
older men, the older women were, in the language of Paul, to be viewed as
"mothers" who teach, guide, counsel, and reprove, and share in the
decision of the Christian community.
These writers made short shrift
of the claim that elders have the authority to "rule." They knew the
history of the 1611 version and the determination of King James to confer on
both bishop and king the divine right to rule: "No bishop, no king."
Hence his demand that the Greek word proistmi be rendered "rule,"
though it actually carried no connotation of authority, power, or governance.
It merely meant that elders should be "foremost" in zeal, knowledge,
quality of life, and concern for the welfare of the church -- a quality which
rightfully should be embodied in all saints. In a very real sense, then,
"ruling" was not the preserve of the few, but the duty of all. 
Having grown up under our
present authoritarian system, most men on becoming "elders"
unquestioningly accept it to be their duty to "rule" in the King
James sense, with ultimate responsibility only to God, and make themselves
absolute dictators, or, as Sewell described them, "usurpers," over
the life of the congregation. One result, as Sewell pointed out, is to reduce
the whole membership to the status of "privates" to do as they are
told, or as "drones" carrying no responsibility.  The
consequence, as William Lipscomb saw it, "is that with a large number the
so-called 'worship' is an attendance on, rather than a participation in . . .
(I)t has well-nigh driven out all that is vital, healthful, and nourishing in
religious worship." 
A book of "rule and
ruin" by elders could be compiled from cases in 1974 alone. Elders of one
Nashville church announced through the newspapers their intention of
withdrawing from approximately 75 members, with notices going to all area
churches not to accept these rejected people. Three elders in a north Alabama
church drove out approximately 150 members for being "rebellious"
against their rule. Elders in a West Tennessee small town church black-listed a
brother, who has prepared himself to teach by taking his doctorate under a
distinguished theologian in a great European university, in spite of a petition
from a bloc of the membership to organize a class with him as a teacher. The
method in this case was a written creed for him to sign and a questionnaire to
be answered.  Elders in a large Murfreesboro church, who had announced ex
cathedra the appointment of additional elders, expressed surprise when a
theology professor advised them that their act was wholly unbiblical, their
reply was that his view was wholly novel to them. Elders in a north Texas city
agreed to meet with a large group of unhappy brethren who wanted to remain in
the fellowship, but felt spiritually deprived and wanted to present a number of
proposals to make their fraternal life more meaningful. The "alpha"
elder examined the sizeable list of proposals and answered, "Number one,
no! Number two, no! Number three, no!" And so on to the end, then stated
that the matter and meeting were closed, even though he knew that this
dedicated and earnest group of lawyers, physicians, housewives, and business
people had no alternative but to form a separate fellowship. 
Since all power is held to be
vested in the college of elders, they rarely have to resort to the extreme of
excommunication to get rid of a disapproved member. The "silence"
treatment, denying him any participation, is generally enough. However, they do
firmly claim the power to "withdraw" the fellowship of every member
of the congregation from a brother. D. Lipscomb, writing about this arrogant
and arbitrary claim to power, observed:
"The idea of one man or
two or three saying to a member, we, by the authority in us vested,
excommunicate you from the church . . . is as unauthorized as the assumptions
of Pope Pius himself . . . (S)uch a notion as official authority vested in a
few individuals to act for the congregation is not found in any example or
precept in the word of truth." 
The steady accretion of power
has made "the eldership" in effect the church. When a majority of
elders meet, the church is meeting, and when they decide, the church is bound.
Christ's teaching that the unrequited brother should take his case to the
church was loftily restated by one elder, "That means take it to the
elders."  Nothing could be more foreign to the thinking of the
power-structured church than the notion that a business meeting could not go
forward for want of a quorum; the elders are the quorum.
Deacons are a part of the power
structure of the contemporary church, though as compared with the elders they
are a case of arrested development. However, they do rank many cuts above the
ordinary member and their names are carried on the church letterhead and in the
weekly bulletin. They constitute a pool from which future elders may be drawn,
and along with the minister they get to sit in on some of the deliberations of
the hierarchy as hand-picked (by the elders) biddable junior officers.
The word "deacon"
appears a maximum of four times in one translation, two times in several
others, and not at all in the better versions. The term diakonis literally
means "slave" or "servant." It is a generic term that
describes a relationship and implies neither office nor duty. Christ, Paul,
Apollos, Peter's mother, the apostles, Phoebe, Mary, the angels, and the Roman
magistrates are all called "deacons" or "deaconesses" in
the New Testament. It is ironic that we have taken this Greek word and made TWO
offices out of it in the modern church -- the "minister" and the
junior board of "deacons." In view of his dominant pastoral role, the
minister could be more appropriately called the "magister" and the
deacons "the junior chamber."
Attacking the translation of
diakonis, Sewell lamented, "The only explanation is that the idea of
official deacons as a class or order of men in the church, was in the minds of
those who made the translation . . . What a pity that priest-craft should have
been given to the world instead of the pure word of God." 
The Restoration writers scoffed
at the idea that, while all members should be servants, only a few could fill
the "office of deacon." Lipscomb insisted, "Deacon means simply
a servant."  These would include teachers, ushers, painters of the
building, and women who prepare the communion service. Sewell said, "in
the early days of the church when some sort of work or service was to be done
that the whole church could not do, men . . . trustworthy were chosen to do
that work . . . and they were ministers or servants of the church until that
work was done." 
Rejecting, along with Fanning,
the expression "office of deacon," Durst wrote, "Our Savior was
called a deacon (Romans 15:8). The apostles were called deacons. (1 Corinthians
3-5) . . . We must get out of our minds the idea of honor, or authority in the
shape of office. The apostles were speaking of the work, not the authority to
work."  If this thinking was sound, then the stenographer who prepares
the church bulletin, the keepers of the library and the nursery, and those who
maintain the church pantry are as much entitled to be recognized as deaconesses
as any man on the junior board. Barnes addressed the problem directly:
"There is a public
diakonia or serving the word, and the diakonia in the church is doing the
service of the church . . . In this there were men and women (1 Timothy 3:8-9).
The deacons like the bishops must be grave . . . The women (deacons) in like
manner must be grave, not slanderous, sober, and faithful in all things. If
this does not mean the women among the deacons, what is the apostle's doctrine
on this subject? . . . Why are the women put here when the wives of deacons are
spoken of in the next verse? Now turn to Romans 16:1 . . . does not this
passage (referring to Phoebe as deaconess of the church at Cenchrea) help us
understand why women are included among the deacons of 1 Timothy 3? When a
passage can be understood only one way, I know that one is correct." 
Noting that the hang-up about
church offices, limited officially to elders and deacons but denied to
teachers, prophets and servants, was associated with the concept of
"qualifications" for office, the Advocate writers rejected the idea
of legal qualifications. One may qualify for sheriff and, if elected, exercise
powers belonging to that office and denied to others, Sewell pointed out, but
such language belongs to the political lexicon, not to that of the Holy Spirit.
One does not "qualify" to be elder or deacon, it is a matter of
growth and experience. The person with the ability, insight, and inclination
should begin to be a teacher. The person with a deep concern over the problems
of others and the ability to understand and help should counsel. One who cannot
work effectively with his own household (this term does not necessarily imply
children, it could apply to slaves and freedmen attached to his household) 
obviously cannot work well in the larger household of Christ. 
Their conclusion was that any
congregation in which anything is done had deacons and deaconesses, whether
they are called that or not. When a job is completed, the deaconship ends.
Deacons are not assistants to elders, they are not church leaders, they are
servants of the church. Deacons are not given assignments because of their
business acumen and their functions are not necessarily financial. If a deacon
is also a leader, his leadership arises from some other capacity than his work.
Age or marital status has nothing to do with deaconship. Young virgins were
deaconesses in the early church.  The word "deacon" is not a
title, but a term to describe a person at work for another; the Christian ideal
would be every member of the congregation a deacon or deaconess. 
Christianity is not a religion,
but a faith. The treatment of it as a religion has opened the door to man's
drive for power rooted in his corrupted nature.  Every institution shaped
by man, whether a Christian college, missionary society, "sponsoring
church," or lectureship carries in its veins the poison of power. Power
and countervailing power in the secular world may be treated as a necessary
evil to prevent some greater evil or achieve some modest good. But power in
religion is wholly evil. We have stressed the fact that Christ at the beginning
of his ministry rejected Satan's offer of power. At the end, he refused to bow
to power: No man taketh my life; I lay it down! His people were to be a
commune, a koinonia of equals, each voluntarily subject to all others. And the
greatest among them would be the servant of all!
The Restoration writers were
deeply fearful of power in the church. As one examines their writings, the
conclusion grows that probably none of them, including Lipscomb and Harding,
could gain acceptance on the faculties of a contemporary Church of Christ
college or find admission to "mainline" pulpits. The gap between them
and the present are too great. At the very times their names have achieved
canonization among the Church of Christ orthodox, their ideas have been flatly
repudiated. Biblical scholarship has moved forward since their day, but none
can doubt they were headed in the right direction, and modern hermeneutics has
undergirded their feel for the word, as well as their passion for the pure
speech of the Holy Spirit. It is too bad that the church of this century turned
from the signposts they erected in preference for the pursuit of power and
politicization of the fellowship.
Nevertheless, their vision of
the church as a society of equals, devoid of hierarchy, offices, power,
authority, bound together in love, fully participant, making decisions by
common agreement,  and mutually in subjection -- that vision is too
powerful to be lost, too desirable to be forgotten, and too biblical to be
denied. Such a community is hard to come by. Authoritarian rule is the easiest
thing on earth. But the impossible Christ points us toward the fulfillment of
the vision along the strait and narrow way. The route is for those who would be
404 Minerva Drive,
Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37130
1 Augustine, City of God, passim.
2 Nixon's successor, a man of apparent candor and limited
ambition, quickly found the taste of power exhilarating.
Witness the swift and unanticipated pardon. Consider
his astonishing demand for prime time on the nation's
networks for a dull and insignificant speech which millions
turned off before half completed.
3 Read the Grand Inquisitor's interpretation of the
temptation in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, sometimes
called the "greatest passage in Western literature."
4 The Common Law as it took its American shape has at
times been more faithful to biblical principles than
the Church of Christ. In some states elders are not
accepted as the owners or controllers of the property
of the church. Florida, for example, requires the entire
congregation to elect two trustees of the property.
A Lebanon Church of Christ received a gift of property
by will. When the elders sold the property, the chancery
court voided the sale and the Presbyterian chancellor
gave the elders a lecture on the nature of congregationalism.
He required all members to sign the deed, underage members
to be represented by the trustees. When the East Main
Church in Murfreesboro bought a commercial building
as an investment the mortgage company refused to recognize
the deed as valid for loan purposes until the whole
congregation, both male and female voted to purchase
the property as their own.
5 The current youth resurgence in the church has touched
off absurd rules by elders feeling the "old ways"
threatened. Some are: Youth meetings may not be held
on or off church property without programs being cleared
in advance and with an elder present; lights may not
be dimmed for meditation or prayer; there must be no
holding of hands; impromptu singing at church; the Lord's
Supper must be eaten in silence; praying or singing
with uplifted hands is "Pentecostal" and prohibited;
girls may not participate vocally in prayer groups;
where a woman must speak at a mixed class or at church,
she must be seated.
6 J. Ridley Stroop, the Church of the Bible (1962) and
Restoration Ideas on Church Organization (undated) canvass
the Ideas of the Restoration writers on the subject
of power and office. The latter work is a splendid anthology
to which this paper is indebted.
7 "It shall not be so among you" (Matthew
8 Charles A. Holt, "The Church of the Bible,"
Sentinel of Truth, September, 1966. In the seven years
of its existence this formidable periodical reasoned
cogently the case against the church as a hierarchy
of power and elders as authorities.
9 Gospel Advocate, 1887, p. 567, hereinafter cited as
G. A. Lipscomb was willing to accept the word "church"
if understood to mean only the body of Christ or God's
people either assembled or dispersed. But one did not
go "to church." G. A., 1867, p. 896, quoted
by Stroop, Restoration Ideas on Church Organization,
10 G. A., 1891, p. 691.
11 G. A., 1866, p. 714.
12 A certain congregation serving a university community
may be regarded as typical. There is one elder to every
100 members. They control the property, decide on expansion
of the building, approve interior painting, hold the
church treasury and spend all of the money, hire the
preacher and set his secret salary, select the deacons,
name their own members as a self-perpetuating body,
appoint all committees (on each of which an elder serves
ex officio, including the flower committee), choose
teachers and merge or abolish classes without consulting
either teacher or student, determine who may and who
may not lead prayer, serve at the table, or usher or
otherwise actively participate in 'worship' exercises,
approve study material for the classes, and set the
13 The treatment of the treasury as "sacred"
has enormously increased the power of elders, for it
has become their exclusive trust. Money in our culture
constitutes enormous power. Since God has no need of
money, the fund belongs to the members, who laid by
in store collectively and should be spent by them.
14 G. A., 1898, p. 717.
15 G. A., 1901, p. 242.
16 G. A., 1898, p. 717.
17 G. A., 1898, pp. 280, 717.
18 G. A., 1867, p. 567.
19 G. A., 1867, p. 651.
20 G. A., 1903, p. 176. The resignation of an elder
in a Tennessee church recently discloses the great gap
between contemporary thought and that of Restoration
leadership. Resigning after 30 years of service, he
expressed his "appreciation for those with whom
I have worked within the eldership". He wrote to
the church that he expected "to continue working
with you as a member." This man clearly thought
of himself vacating office and stepping down to mere
membership. From what did he actually resign? Like Nixon
resigning from the presidency, he gave up certain powers
and prerogatives belonging exclusively 'within the eldership'.
21 Often the "oversight" is that of the hired
"minister" acting for the elders. This writer
recently asked that his gift be forwarded to missionaries
building up a religious library in China. His letter
specified that among the books purchased he wanted included
Ketcherside's Simple Trusting Faith and The Royal Priesthood,
both of which he thought would be helpful to people
who had not grown up in the Western religious tradition.
Without consulting the missionaries or even the "sponsoring
elders," the "minister" returned the
check with a lecture. He later admitted that neither
he nor the elders had ever read anything Ketcherside
had written, but he knew the author's "reputation."
22 G. A., 1872, p. 829.
23 G. A., 1872, p. 829.
24 G. A., 1904, p. 578.
25 G. A., 1903, p. 827.
26 G. A., 1903, p. 227.
27 G. A., 1877, p. 232.
28 G. A., 1877, p. 41.
29 G. A., 1878, p. 280.
30 G. A., 1890, p. 119.
31 G. A., 1874, p. 637.
32 G. A., 1877, p. 41.
33 G. A., 1872, p. 829.
34 G. A., 1901, p. 82.
35 G. A., 1872, p. 873.
36 Sewell declared that authority to rule "is wholly
human". G. A., 1897, p. 356. D. Lipscomb insisted
that "controlling the church by virtue of authority
. . . is unknown in the scriptures." G. A., 1871,
37 Sewell said that if one man of authority can be set
up in the church, then so can popes and cardinals. G.
A., 1897, p. 356.
38 Stroop. The Church of the Bible. 123.
39 The "restructure" movement among the Disciples
of Christ is an open acceptance of power and its regularization.
Though one of its rationalizations was that autonomous,
bureaucratic power structures should be brought into
accountability, its logical end is the repudiation of
Restorationism and the alienation of many hundreds of
churches. Power flourishes among the Independent Christian
and "instrumental" Churches of Christ, though
more widely distributed and with more responsible roles
for women. However, it is admitted that the North American
Christian Convention is less a fellowship than an autonomous
power structure catering to special interests. The "anti-instrumental"
Churches of Christ, though theoretically committed to
a fierce, local-church autonomy, are in many ways the
most institutional of all. The phenomenon of power in
the "mainline" Churches of Christ is under
oblique attack through the emergence of "free"
churches, the spreading rediscovery of grace, and the
growing rejection of legalism by the younger generation.
40 The Latin word from the Vulgate "insignificant"
or "powerless" in contrast to magistrar, connoting
"masterful" or "powerful." The biblical
Greek equivalent is doulos, meaning "slave",
or huperetes, meaning "vilest slave," or diakonis,
meaning "servant." Its biblical meaning and
the contemporary concept of professional pulpiteer are
poles apart. Ministers are in fact pastors and are more
honestly called so in other wings of the Restoration.
41 Illustrative is the case of the "minister"
of the old Lipscomb College church, who found it wise
every Sunday to proclaim "the o-thority" (sic)
of the elders until the elders decided to fire him,
whereupon he swiftly shifted to "the o-thority
of the congregation." The interplay of power is
not commonly smooth, and ministers frequently lament
their elder "burden."
42 The theory of congregational autonomy is no barrier
to the overreach of pulpit power. When the Thirty-Ninth
Street Church in Gainsville, Florida got a new preacher,
that church "withdrew fellowship" last year
from the dynamic Crossroads congregation for practicing
the seven current cardinal sins identified by that authority,
one of them, of course, having to do with women and
other gifts of the Spirit.
43 The "founding fathers" drew a sharp distinction
between preaching, which was directed to the unconverted,
and teaching which was directed to the saved. They had
no objection to a church employing a preacher provided
he spent his time evangelizing the world. Dr. Carrol
Kendrick wrote: "The ancient disciples met 'to
break bread,' etc. What we now call preaching was no
part of their purpose or practice in the observance
of the Lord's day. They never met to be preached to,
and they never were preached to in our modern sense--not
even once. In Acts 20:7-9 where the common version says:
'Paul preached to them,' the revision rightly says:
'Paul discoursed with them.' Luke does not use the word
for preach. His speech was social discourse, conversational.
There is absolutely neither precept nor precedent for
preaching to the church. Preaching the gospel is for
the world. Teaching is for the church, and is to be
done by a plurality of bishops in each congregation."
G. A. p, 373.
44 G. A., 1859, p. 118.
45 Scobey wrote: "Paul, how are bishops made? 'The
Holy Spirit makes them.' Is there a different way now?
We answer: No . . . We grow up in Christ in all things,
and to be a bishop is a thing we may grow to be."
G. A., 1901, p. 842. James A. Harding observed: "I
reply: elders cannot be made by election." G. A.,
1883, 419. Brunner wrote: "Elders . . . . are begotten
and born in to the family of God by becoming Christians
. . . and by this birthright . . . they have a divine
right to serve their heavenly father in any sphere or
capacity they can, and by growing in grace and knowledge
of truth . . . hence any system of things that would
make the servant of God or God's freeman look up and
confer with any human tribunal . . . is popery and should
be relegated to the dark ages." G. A., 1889, p.
46 G. A., 1872, 829.
47 Building on this, Lipscomb said that elders "are
to make no rules of their own . . . They have no authority
. . . save set an example of fidelity to God to be followed
. . . They are to rule by teaching and by their own
example of obedience and fidelity to God." G. A.,
1903, 344. E. A. Elam defined ruling as "letting
their lights shine." G. A., 1903, 273. Sewell declared
that the church is composed of two groups, the younger
and the older. The Bible calls upon the younger to follow
the leadership and example of the more experienced members,
but there is no case in the Bible where both the younger
and the older are required to subject themselves to
the "rule" of an official body of men called
"elders." G. A., 1872, 871.
48 G. A., 1872, 871.
49 G. A., 1903, 273.
50 This is a favorite device of authoritarians to justify
their claim of protecting "the flock" from
heretics. When the sister of a nationally known TV and
screen performer became suspect in her West Tennessee
congregation because her brother was held to have "departed
from the faith," she received a questionnaire from
the elders. She replied to them archly, "Do I pass
if I make 80?"
51 Restoration Review provides other shocking cases
of rule or ruin by elders in Dallas, New Orleans, Dyersburg,
Tennessee, and Caruthersville, Missouri. The Caruthersville
church was one in which this writer's family and relatives
were deeply involved in its founding early in the century.
There the majority of elders recently used the device
of "dissolving" the whole congregation to
get rid of one-third of the members. In the next breath
they instituted a new congregation of those signing
a creedal statement, leaving the senior elder and seventy
members sitting aghast at the raw power play. The fine
church building which the outcasts had largely financed
was not "dissolved," title being retained
by the majority of the elders. Not dissimilar was the
action of the majority of elders in the Wynnewood Church
in Dallas forcing out a large number of that congregation.
For sheer sordidness. few cases can surpass the behavior
of the preacher and elders in a Mississippi church described
by Leroy Garrett. See Restoration Review, November,
1973, April, 1974, and December 1974, pas passim.
52 G. A., 1903, 344.
53 Men brought up on the theory that elders are the
lords of the church feel that they must wield authority
or fail in their duty. How dictatorial and arbitrary
this can be appears in the following case: A member
published almost simultaneously an article in Mission
on separation of church and state and in Integrity on
women in the church. These articles aroused the anger
of the minister, who was also an elder. He drafted a
"bull," signed by the four elders, which said,
"He (the writer) will discontinue all financial
support to the mailing of Mission, Integrity, or any
other publication, to any student (of the university)
or members of the . . . congregation either directly
or through any other means . . . He will cease . . .
to publish articles or letters in local or national
publications for local or national distribution which
lend an air of 'doctrine' to what are clearly his opinions
. . . He will be fully entitled to his opinions, but
he will cease teaching them or dialogueing (sic) them
which amounts to teaching them except in the select
company of these individuals with whom he has been associated
for a long period." Both St. Peter 's and the Kremlin
could pick up a few pointers in arbitrary power from
54 G. A., 1892, 377,
55 G. A., 1883, 499.
56 G. A., 1892, 377.
57 G. A., 1883, 612.
58 G. A., 1893, 43.
59 Scott Bartchy, First-Century Slavery and 1 Corinthians
7-21, 1973, 73.
60 G. A., 1885, 241. The absurdity of legalistic "qualifications"
was demonstrated in the selection of deacons for a Murfreesboro
church. One man under consideration was a song leader,
a leader in corporate worship, a superior student of
the Bible, an excellent teacher, a private evangelist,
and a person with a warm, outgoing personality. An elder
persuaded him to withdraw his name because he could
not "qualify" since he had no children. Another
member far less active "qualified" since he
had a three-week-old baby. In short, to be a deacon
there had to be proof of fertility.
61 Lipscomb's acceptance of the idea of young women
"waiting on the congregation" would make him
a "woman's lib radical" in most church circles
today. Yet he observed a century ago, " . . . to
hand around the bread and wine, a nimble, handy boy
or girl would suit much better for this than stiff-jointed
elders." G. A., 1867, 567. Commenting on this,
a contemporary preacher said that to accept the communion
service from the hands of a woman "would violate
62 G. A., 1883, 499.
63 The inclusion of women in full equality in the life
of the church, though they are a majority, would not
within itself be an effective estoppel to power. As
Augustine pointed out in The City of God, pride, the
source of power, operated in Eve as well as Adam. The
role of women in contemporary black Churches of Christ,
in which women as a rule are superior to their male
counterparts, throws light on this matter. However,
whether for cultural or biological reasons women are
less moved by power considerations and more by the welfare
of the community, and their incorporation in the decision-making
process would enormously benefit the church.
64 While accepting the importance of leadership, Lipscomb
placed the focus of decision-making in the full assembly,
even to the point of unanimity, in matters of joint
enterprise and concern, but retained for each autonomous
individual every issue of faith. G. A., 1874, 637. See
also G. A., 1877, 232; 1904, 578; 1877, 41; 1873, 163.
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