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August 2012

Professional clergy

Series: The Church is highlights 

‘There is thoroughly entrenched in our church life an unbiblical two-caste system. In this two-caste system there is a clergy-caste which is trained, called, paid, and expected to do the ministering. And there is the laity-caste which normally functions as the audience which appreciatively pays for the performance of the clergy—or bitterly criticizes the gaping holes in that performance (and there are always gaping holes). No one expects much of the lower or laity caste (except attendance, tithe, and testimony). And everyone expects too much of the upper or clergy caste (including the clergy themselves!). The greatest problem in the whole business is the fact that the Bible’s view of ministry totally contradicts this system.’ —Robert C. Girard, quoted by Frank Viola in Reimagining Church

What Girard was taking issue with is the divide between clergy and laity. Clergy, in this scheme of things, consists of the elite few who are ordained, empowered, educated, and paid. The laity are those who obey the clergy, fill the pews, and pay the pastor’s salary. Clearly, such a scheme is both unbiblical and senseless within the context of the church being an organism rather than an organisation. I have no issue with either Girard or Viola on this score. However, do we create such a clergy/laity divide when we elect to pay some people a salary for serving the church?

Viola writes that ‘the elders were not regarded as religious specialists, but as faithful and trusted brethren. They were not career clergy, but self-supporting family men with secular jobs (Acts 20:17, 32–35; 1 Tim. 3:5, 7; Titus 1:6; 1 Peter 5:2–3). Because of their tireless labor, some elders received double honor from the church. But double honor is just that—extra respect.’ Firstly, Paul writes the following in 1 Corinthians 9:11-12; ‘If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right’. Quite clearly he believed that a church worker was entitled to receive material support from the people he served. Secondly, Viola argues that the ‘double honour’ referred to in 1 Timothy 5:17 does not refer to financial reward but to respect. However, the passage continues with, ‘For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”’ The context is that of financial/material recompense, not ‘respect’. So, I do not believe that we can or should argue that it is biblically ‘wrong’ to financially recompense workers for the time and effort they spend on serving the church.

The real issue for me is not whether we are scripturally allowed have salaried church staff, but what effect this has on the functioning of the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, there are some very negative effects from employing church staff. Firstly, there are those church members who think that because they contribute to a minister’s salary they somehow own him and have the right to control him. Secondly, there is an expectation among some that the paid worker should do the work of the ministry and that all others should applaud or criticise his performance. In can see no logical reason why a church staff member should feel superior to a non-staff church member simply by virtue of the fact that he or she is drawing a salary. On the contrary, I would think that a salary is evidence of dependence on, and accountability to, the congregation.

A clergy/laity divide is both unbiblical and counter-productive. Elitism, control and entitlement on the one side, and passivity, servility, and non-participation on the other side, is wrong on a number of levels. However, whether we should employ full-time workers is surely more a matter of particular circumstance, needs and culture, rather than biblical understanding.
I appreciate Frank Viola’s views because whilst they are sometimes rather extreme they usually give me pause for thought, reflection, and a fresh study of the scriptures.

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First Biblical literacy survey in South Africa

Dear Readers 
Today is a very important day in the history of the South African Theological Seminary. Today we have released the first ever national online survey on the state of Biblical literacy in South Africa, something which I hope will make a significant contribution to the church. 

Please may I request that you take the survey at and then make every effort to make your friends, family, colleagues aware of the survey and ask them to take it and to distribute the link as widely as possible, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, emails, church pastors, members etc. We need at least 10000 respondents. 

As an incentive, 25 participants will be rewarded with various gifts, e.g. an iPad, two Nokia Lumia smartphones, books and courses. Please make this request a matter of urgency and prayer. Thank you so much for your help. 


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Plurality of Elders

Series: The Church in Highlights 

‘The idea that elders direct the affairs of the church, make decisions in all corporate matters, handle all of its problems, and supply all of its teaching is alien to New Testament thinking. Such an idea is pure fantasy and bereft of biblical support. It’s no wonder that in elder-led churches spiritual maturity atrophies and members grow passive and indolent… The elders were not part of a chain of command that put them under Christ and over the church. They weren’t part of a hierarchical pyramid. They were simply members of the body of Christ, not an elite oligarchy.’ Frank Viola in Reimagining Church.

I don’t want to nit-pick, but part of the problem I have with the above statements is their use of the word ‘all’. I don’t believe that elders make all of the decisions in a local church, but they do make the policy decisions; they don’t handle all of the problems, but they do get involved in key issues and major problems; they don’t supply all the teaching, but they are responsible for what is taught. My main concern, in interacting with Viola’s statements concerning eldership, is that they reflect a critique of a particular understanding of the role and function of elders. I don’t regard church government by a group of elders as rule by an elite oligarchy, and nor do I believe that government by elders causes members to grow passive and indolent. On the contrary, when elders function as they should then the members of the local church are freed and equipped to minister and mature.

I appreciate that we cannot be dogmatic concerning forms of church government because the biblical evidence is not conclusive. However, my conviction is that government by a group, a plurality, of elders under the leadership of a lead-elder is closest to the model presented in the New Testament. For instance, Paul told Timothy not to ‘neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you’ (1 Timothy 4:14). The book of Acts records that Paul stopped at Miletus on his way to Rome and called for the elders of the church of Ephesus to come down to meet with him. When they arrived he told them to ‘keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28).

Viola comments on Acts 20:28 that the word translated as ‘of which’ can equally be translated as ‘among which’ and he uses this observation to strengthen his contention that elders are merely mature and wise believers who function individually within a local church. I like the translation ‘among which’, as per the New American Standard Bible, simply because it says something about how elders ought to see their role. Elders are among the people, not above them; they serve the people, not lord it over them.

Viola also picks up on the Jerusalem council meeting recorded in Acts chapter 15 and contends that the whole Jerusalem church came together to decide on whether or not Gentile Christians needed to, in effect, become Jews. Verse 4 could, I suppose, give this impression because it reads, ‘When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them’. However, the passage continues with, ‘then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”  The apostles and elders met to consider this question (Acts 15:5-6). This group, guided by Peter and James, came to a conclusion and the account ends with the whole church choosing Judas and Silas to take a letter, setting out the ruling of the Apostles and Elders, to the Gentile believers.

In my final post in this series I will respond to Viola’s contentions regarding the professional clergy.

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Church government

Series: The Church in Highlights

‘The New Testament knows nothing of an elder-ruled, elder-governed, or elder-directed church. And it knows even less about a pastor-led church.’ Frank Viola in Reimagining Church.

In the last few posts I have been presenting the parts of Viola’s book that I highlighted as I was reading through it. Possibly his most controversial statements concern the form of church government he believes is evident in scripture as compared to the forms we see in the church of today. He contends that elders are not supposed to rule as a discreet group and that pastors definitely should not rule as kings over their congregations.

I agree, in the main, with his sentiments regarding pastor-rule, but I don’t agree with his understanding of government by a plurality of elders. The ministry of ‘pastor’ appears only in Ephesians 4:11 and in all other instances the Greek word used here is translated as ‘shepherd’. I have always understood the categories mentioned in Ephesians 5 as functions and not titles. 

I have very little patience with church leaders who like to be addressed as ‘Apostle’, ‘Prophet’, or ‘Pastor’. I also don’t like the word ‘Elder’ being used as a title. Titles usually denote positions within an organisation. 
In my view the church is an organism far more than it is an organisation, and as such titles should be unnecessary. Pastors are men or women who nurture, guide and protect the members of the church of the Lord Jesus, the Body of Christ. They are not supposed to rule the church, yet in the majority of charismatic and non-aligned churches this is what happens. Pastors, either self-appointed, apostolically appointed or even member appointed, rule as ecclesiastical princes over their small parts of the Kingdom of God.

It may seem somewhat disingenuous, but in the church that I serve we do have people who are designated as ‘pastors’. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, the word accurately describes their main function in the local church – they pastor the people. Secondly, because of the widespread and long held use of the designation ‘pastor’ within the church of today, it is confusing to people, both in and outside of the local church when key leaders either have no designation, or one which is uncommon, such as ‘lead-elder’. We find it better to ensure that our pastors function as humble shepherds who faithfully serve the people in their care. These pastors are usually appointed elders of the church, but this is not always the case.

In my next post I will explain why I favour church government by a group of elders, and then in the post after that I will respond to Viola’s views on professional clergy.

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.