Church Offices

What follows is a sketch of the various offices in the church. I gathered these details from looking at Scripture and pondering how the institutional church in her various locations and forms has implemented and developed her offices through history.

The most basic idea behind offices in the church is a recognition of qualified individuals being specially invested with authority and responsibility to carry out a function as their calling. Just how “official” that process becomes leaves some room for interpretation and implementation.

I offer one caveat about studying the offices of the church in Scripture. It’s true that God has given us all that we need for life and faith. Scripture is sufficient for us. But that’s a far cry from Scripture being an exhaustive “How To” manual about anything. What we know about church offices in Scripture comes to us as situational details in the context of stories and occasional letters. The raw data is messy. Christians can wrestle in good faith about how to more formally develop and apply the teachings and can come to differing conclusions.

The Threefold Work

The scope of the work of church offices comes from the threefold office of Christ and the threefold marks of the Church. Christ, i.e. the Anointed One, occupies the three anointed offices seen in the Old Testament: the priest, the king, and the prophet. The three offices are all representatives and representations of God to the people and of the people to God. Each does so with respect to its core functions.

A priest is one who leads the worship and service of God. He tends to the Lord’s Table by bringing food from the people to God and from God to the people. He comforts the people and leads them through their alienation in weaknesses and failures to restoration.

A king is one who exercises judicial wisdom over the people and is accountable to God on behalf of the people. He is the agent of God’s justice among the people. He must lay down his life for the sake of the people. He is enthroned upon his suffering for the people.

A prophet is one who is called into the divine council and speaks for the divine council as a covenant lawyer on behalf of God. He calls the people of God to covenant faithfulness and reminds them of their covenant with God. He also advocates for the people to God.

The classic threefold marks of the church are the right teaching of the Word, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the right tending of the Flock. These display the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices respectively. The establishment of these functions by Christ as marks of his Body the Church necessarily implies a fourth mark: the right appointment of the Officers.

The various church officers are oriented to these various functions and identity markers.

The Gifting Principle

In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the unity of the people of God (vss. 1-6). There is one Body. It is filled with one Spirit. It is ruled by one Lord. It is expressed as one Faith. It is marked by one Baptism. It is birthed by one Father. But there is a great diversity of individuals in this unity of the people. And it sometimes leads to striving which calls for peace.

One cause of diversity is the grace of God given in different measures (vss. 7-10). Christ has given gifts to his people, and they are not all the same gifts distributed to all the same individuals. And some of the gifts he’s given to his people are the officers of the church for the purpose of edifying the Body (vss. 11-13).

Therefore, officers are those given their offices by Christ based on the different measures of grace given by God. Not all are qualified because not all have been given the same gifts.

The Slavery Principle

In Philippians 2, Paul describes the humiliation of Christ and his subsequent exaltation by the Father (vss. 5-11). Although he was in the form of God, he did not cling to equality with God. He effaced himself. He took the form of a bondservant. The bondservant or slave is the lowliest of the various kinds of servants.

Christ taught that rising to greatness (i.e. status, agency, authority, and influence) in his kingdom is measured by sinking to servitude. Those individuals given greater positions and influence over his people must adopt a mindset and lifestyle of faithful servitude to the people. This is why the traditional clerical collar is a stylized shackle.

Therefore, officers should understand their offices as a calling to a heightened form of suffering, self-effacement, and burdened obligation to those whom they are bound.

Office of the Elder

The elder is an old man. He ought to be elderly. The rationale behind that qualification is that wisdom rarely comes without age and experience (even if it sometimes doesn’t come with it). And there are general behavioral expectations for godly elderly men and women in Scripture (Titus 2:2-3).

The title of elder is functionally interchangeable with the titles of pastor/shepherd and of bishop/overseer. Those titles and the related functional terms are used interchangeably in Scripture (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). They are spoken of as ruling and as those who have the rulership of congregations. They keep a guarding watch over the Flock of God.

As such, they are representatives and representations of Christ in his kingly rule. They are his undershepherds. He is their Arch Shepherd. When the sheep look at the elders, they are not to see oversheep (fellow congregants) but rather undershepherds. They are to be recognized as office-holders set apart from the flock.

Elders in the New Testament aren’t all that different from elders in the Old Testament (Exodus 18). They are men of qualifying character who can be trusted with exercising and enforcing judicial wisdom in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-16).

Office of the Teacher

The teacher is listed closely alongside the pastor in Ephesians 4. And in 1 Timothy 5:17, the elders are to be commended if they rule well and especially if they labor in the word and teaching. So, there is some measure of association and yet distinction between pastoring and teaching. Some elders focus their activities and giftings as ruling elders. But others labor in the word and doctrine in a way that ruling elders don’t. These are teaching elders or teachers. Traditionally, this has sometimes been recognized as a distinct office called the doctor of the church.

In James 3:1, teachers of the church are said to be subject to stricter judgment. Therefore, their skill and substance demand the highest quality as those whose teaching bears more weight in the church. As office-holders with authority and responsibility, they’re subject to the character qualifications just like their fellow officers of the church.

Office of the Minister

A minister or liturgist is one who does the work of the people, i.e. a public servant. In the civil realm, the governor is called a minister of God who enforces justice (Romans 13:1-5). In the ecclesial realm, the minister is the governor of our gathered public service.

The work of the ministry or liturgy is mentioned a few times in Scripture. As an office, it’s never directly addressed. The office is deduced by necessity from various principles which govern and inform earthly gathered worship on the Lord’s Day. The Letter to the Hebrews has repeated warnings that we must learn the lessons of the Exodus Generation, because we are subject to something superior to what they had. Their worship was patterned after the things in heaven (8:5). How much more so should ours be? They came to a mountain to serve God and hold a feast to him. We come to the heavenly mountain by faith (12:18-24). The worship of the Israelites had a high priest called a minister just like our worship does with Christ in heaven (8:1-3).

Therefore, it’s fitting that our gathered public worship should be led by one who serves as a representative and representation of Christ in his priestly ministry.

Office of the Evangelist

An evangelist is one who proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom. He is a herald. The office of the evangelist is listed among those in Ephesians 4 and is distinguished from apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers. Philip the deacon is also called an evangelist (Acts 21:8), and certainly, he did that work when he went to Samaria and when he met the Ethiopian Eunuch. Timothy is also called to do the work of an evangelist (1 Timothy 4:5). Evangelists appear to be or can be missionaries in practice. The work also seems to involve a degree of apologetics with outsiders as evidenced by the work of Stephen and Philip.

Office of the Deacon

A deacon is an attendant or one who runs errands. The office first appears in Acts 6 as the size and needs of the church become unmanageable for the apostles alone. The apostles recognize they are to focus upon the ministry of the word and prayer. Seven deacons are appointed to attend to matters of mercy ministry in the church. But some of the deacons like Stephen and Philip go on to do evangelism and apologetics.

Like the elders or bishops, deacons have character qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13). And those qualification resemble the expectations for younger men and women (Titus 2:4-8).

In light of the diversity of what they do, the office of the deacon appear to be that of the assistant to the offices of the elder, the teacher, and the minister. Deacons are prospective elders, teachers, evangelists, and ministers in training. And some deacons simply remain as such. They assist and have a proven character to be appointed to a place of assistance.

Office of the Widow

A widow is a woman who’s dependent upon the church for her life and who has devoted herself to the service of the church and the ministry of prayer. The office of the widow has character qualifications similar to those of elders and deacons and even involves official registration (1 Timothy 5:3-16). This is a distinctly female office whereas many of the other offices are prominently male offices. The widow is a counterpart of sorts to the elder.

One Last Thought

As I said earlier, the raw biblical data is messy. It shows offices as less objectively formal than we often see now. Or a bit more fluid. There is a high degree of recognition of God’s giftings connected with functioning and office. Offices in Scripture have a certain degree of fluidity in their informality.

One outcome of that fluidity and the variability in God’s giving of different gifts is that some individuals can and do function in more than one office. Peter is an apostle, but he calls himself a fellow elder. Timothy is an elder, and Paul tells him to do the work of an evangelist. Paul says he’s been appointed as a preacher, apostle, and teacher.

And to a certain extent, simply exercising the function of God’s gift is a statement about the place and purpose of a member in the Body. And the Body has a vested interest and responsibility in encouraging and regulating that function for the sake of all.

P.S. I acknowledge the offices of the apostle and the prophet that are present in the New Testament. They’re named among the offices given by Christ in Ephesians 4. For the purposes of this sketch, I omitting them from discussion. There’s much controversy as to whether they have relevance in the present or are essentially historical and presently defunct. Personally, when I read “the household of God, having been built on a foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-22), I get the sense there’s a significantly historical progressive aspect to the spiritual construction project.

Christ’s Sexuality and Reformed Cringe

A fair few of my fellow conservative Reformed brethren have a strange viscerally reactive way of coping with Jesus’ sexuality.

On the one hand, Christ is the ultimate Stoic. Sexually dispassionate. So lacking in fallen sexuality (which is true) that he lacks creaturely sexuality altogether (which is false). I’m tempted to think my brethren have a functional Christology in this area that is less than Chalcedon-compliant. That’s just part of full humanity Christ awkwardly lacks in their queasy imaginations, but they won’t admit that’s what they cling to deep down inside.

Don’t get me wrong; I support a rigorous and robust Reformed Christology. But when it becomes a systematic theological abstraction that loses contact with the flesh and blood historical reality, it’s a problem.

On the other hand, if you point to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 19 about the eunuch for the sake of the kingdom, my brethren avert their eyes and mutter passing explanations. And if you then point out how Christ is the ultimate illustration of the Kingdom Eunuch, my brethren have a knee-jerk need to swerve around that and shout out: “Yeah, but he’s the Husband of the Bride, the Church!”

Um, yeah. But that’s because he’s the Kingdom Eunuch, and the way in which he “sees his offspring” (Isaiah 53:10) and is not “a dried up tree” (Isaiah 56:3) is because he has another way of being fruitful according to the order of the Eschaton.

In his Father’s house, Christ has received a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; he has been given an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:5).

Victims and Perpetrators

I was chatting with a friend. He expressed the folly of trotting out the victims of grievous sins and crimes and establishing them publicly as the unimpeachable figureheads of their own causes. Doing such things with genuine victims is a dangerous gamble. Especially in light of an Augustinian anthropology of man in his morally corrupt state.

The folly in doing so is one side of a two-sided coin. The victim of something heinous has higher than average possibilities for two things: 1.) being an ardent effective advocate for the cause of defending and preventing future victims of the same injustices, and 2.) being the next generation of victimizer in a vicious cycle of perpetuating further injustices.

And those are not mutually exclusive possibilities. An individual can enact both of them simultaneously. It is the temptation of a life lived as a professional victim.

Victimizers are not bizarre monstrous aberrations of our species, which is an otherwise benign and good-natured lifeform. They come from somewhere. They are the product of something. The general willful ignorance of the relationship between being victims and becoming perpetrators in our culture is an exercise in insanity.

And how dare I say “they” as if “they” isn’t all of us in the final analysis?

We thoroughgoingly Augustinian Christians let no one off the hook. We darn well know every last one of us is both a victim and a perpetrator of our own sin upon ourselves and others. In truth, each of us is simul victima et commissor—at the same time, a victim and a perpetrator. And there’s only one way to break that cycle.

As my friend put it:

If you do not take your victimhood to the Cross, you will victimize someone else in your bitterness and contempt for your oppressor.

Christ is the Great and True Victim sent from on High. And he is the ultimate Girardian Scapegoat for a whole world’s worth of misdirected anxieties, shame, blame, bitterness, resentment, and so forth. All of that victimization pours out from the mass of victimized perpetrators called the offspring of Adam.

We must bring our victimhood to Christ, where it is nailed to the cross and buried in the tomb with our Lord. And we must daily reckon ourselves to be vindicated conquerors in the one who sits enthroned at the right hand of God and is conquering all his enemies.

Reddington on Suicide

Despite being the Concierge of Crime, Raymond Reddington’s insights into everyday life continually intrigue me. While rewatching The Blacklist, I was reminded of his harrowing observation about suicide. He seeks to talk a woman out of the act and tells her this truth about all suicides being like suicide bombings for all those left behind:

Ever seen the aftermath of a suicide bombing?

I have. June 29th, 2003.

I was meeing two associates at the Marouche restaurant in Tel Aviv. As my car was pulling up, a 20-year-old Palestinian named Ghazi Safar entered the restaurant and detonated a vest wired with C4. The shockwave knocked me flat, blew out my eardrums. I couldn’t hear. The smoke—it was like being underwater. I went inside. A nightmare. Blood, parts of people. You could tell where Safar was standing when the vest blew. It was like a perfect circle of death. There was almost nothing left of the people closest to him. Seventeen dead, 46 injured. Blown to pieces. The closer they were to the bomber, the more horrific the effect.

That’s every suicide. Every single one. An act of terror perpetrated against everyone who’s ever known you. Everyone who’s ever loved you. The people closest to you, the ones who cherish you are the ones who suffer the most pain, the most damage.

Why would you do that? Why would you do that to people who love you?

This is how remembering and ruminating on our obligations to love can save our own lives from ourselves when we allow ourselves to become consumed by our anguish and darkness. The love of others is a grace to pull us out of the bottomless pit of ourselves. It may sound cruel in the ears of someone under the spell of suicidal despair, but saving truth is rarely pleasant and pain-free.

Beauty Beholden

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It still amazes me how many people who otherwise profess the transcendent objectivity of truth and goodness will uncritically accept and propagate this old statement.

Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are interchangeable in the Substance of the Absolute God. Thus, goodness is true and beautiful, truth is good and beautiful, and beauty is good and true. Things themselves are created good, true, and beautiful by God. They demand our recognition.

This is a point C.S. Lewis makes in The Abolition of Man as he counters the illustration of a bad children’s textbook regarding an tourist observing a waterfall and calling it sublime. It’s not the case that sublimity consists in the subjective experience inside the beholder. The beholder responds to a genuine quality possessed by the thing beholden.

If sin twists our perception of goodness and truth, it also twists our perception of beauty. Our view of beauty is as unreliable as our view of goodness and truth. Our perception of goodness, truth, and beauty requires redemption. We need our sense of what to love and adore reformed.

Beauty is in the nature of the beholden.

God Creates Dinosaurs IV

In my introduction to this series, I presented my thesis. The Jurassic Park movie series is about the sexual revolution in Western culture. De-extinction of dinosaurs is a symbol. It represents an unnatural, hubristic, and dangerous act perpetrated by man in rebellion. The motto “God creates dinosaurs” captures this conviction. This use of scientific power for consumerism is a metaphor for the sexual revolution. And the everyday signs of the sexual revolution are pervasive in the plots of the films. They reinforce the connection. And the agency of the functional family saves the day.

Signs of the Sexual Revolution in Jurassic Park III (2001)

Surprise. Surprise. The plot of the film revolves around yet another broken family in need of restoration to survive. Paul and Amanda Kirby are divorced and require reconciliation to save their son Eric. Paul and Amanda have succumbed to the enticing lies of the sexual revolution and divorced. This puts Eric in the position where Isla Sorna and its dinosaurs (as the metaphor of the sexual revolution) tempt and endanger him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The movie opens with Eric Kirby and his mother’s boyfriend Ben Hildebrand visiting Isla Sorna as if it was a great vacation destination. That proves to be a mistaken perspective as death and loss ensue. This sets up Site B as a metaphorical Pleasure Island. It’s a place of great allure, promising all the delights of the sexual revolution. A pleasure-seeking man and his boy protégé in pursuit of carnal desires become lost to the island.

Paul and Amanda recruit Alan Grant under the pretense of being wealthy and indulgent thrill-seekers thirsting to venture to the island. This reinforces the connotation of Site B as a metaphorical Pleasure Island.

This Pleasure Island consumes and kills every functionally unwedded, virile, self-assured, adventurous man who sets foot upon it. Hildebrand. Cooper. Nash. Udesky. Very nearly Billy Brennan who was seduced for a time.

Isla Sorna is the house of the adulterous woman from the Book of Proverbs. And fools lose themselves by going in to her house at the enticement of her delights. Pleasure Island and Proverbs become the motif of this movie.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dr. Alan Grant is a curious character in this movie. In Jurassic Park, he learned how to be a father and to love fatherhood. But now we see he never married Dr. Ellie Sattler. He never married anyone. Is it because he returned to his old ways of disliking children? No. Grant engages with little Charlie Degler as he awaits Ellie. And he’s willing to address an entire auditorium of teenagers.

Grant continues to study velociraptors. When he speaks to the high school assembly, he insists such study happens in the ground. Real dinosaurs are in the rocks. Site B is of no interest to him. He too has learned the lesson that God creates dinosaurs.

It is in the ground where real scientists make real discoveries. What John Hammond and InGen did was to make genetically engineered theme park monsters, nothing more and nothing less.

And if the de-extinction of dinosaurs is a metaphor for the sexual revolution, this means Grant studies natural sexuality. Grant studies the divine order: the creationistic contours of marriage, sex, and procreation. Or at least the metaphor for them.

As he tells his student Billy Brennan:

The bones will still be there when we get back. That’s the great thing about bones: they never run away.

Bones in the rocks have fidelity. They don’t run away like adulterers and adulteresses.

Alan Grant is a man in a vocation of celibacy like a monastic scholar. He isn’t putting off marriage and clinging to bachelorhood like an indulgent man-child. He has embraced a devout calling. And in both poetry and irony, he now studies the institution of marriage (metaphorically) and teaches others likewise. This makes him a walking embodiment of the Book of Proverbs. He is a spiritual father teaching spiritual sons the path of life and warning them about the adulterous woman. Warning his sons about the dangers of the sexual revolution.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Paul and Amanda Kirby pretend to be thrill-seekers on their way to Pleasure Island. But in truth, they need a guide who is Mr. Proverbs. They know where they’re going. They know their son is lost in the house of the adulterous woman. Lost in the wilderness of the sexual revolution. They need a prudent son of Lady Wisdom to navigate this terrain.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When the group arrives on Isla Sorna by airplane, they encounter the Spinosaurus. They learn InGen was up to things on Site B that were never public. There’s something newer. Something bigger. Something secret. It kills a Tyrannosaurus (the old ruler) to solidify its dominance. The revolution marches on to greater degrees of radicalization. It has become militant in its radicalism. It stalks the survivors across the island and through the movie.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The group (down two members) explores the abandoned dinosaur manufacturing facility. It’s the remains of an aborted industrial operation littered with the remains of aborted dinosaur fetuses. An apt exchange ensues:

Paul: This is how you make dinosaurs?

Alan: No. This is how you play God?

Things becomes horrific when the truth that God creates dinosaurs is abandoned.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Eric Kirby has survived. And he has survived thus far because he is a student of Alan Grant. He has read Grant’s book. His two books in fact! Proverbs and Ecclesiastes? Eric has also read Dr. Ian Malcolm’s book. So he knows the lessons of God Creates Dinosaurs.

The reunited and reconciled Kirby Family escape the island with the aid of Alan Grant, i.e. Mr. Proverbs. In the climactic final confrontation with the Spinosaurus, they call for help to escape. It’s not anyone at random they call. They call a family for help. And the family dynamics are crucial. Alan needs Ellie. Ellie Degler (née Sattler) is married to U.S. State Department official Mark Degler. And they have a son Charlie who answers the phone.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Billy Brennan is a student of Alan Grant. He has heard Grant’s warnings. But in a moment of weakness, he steals velociraptor eggs. He abducts a velociraptor couple’s children. He tampers with a velociraptor family and the velociraptor community. He violently disrupts the family and the community for the sake of financial gain. He has given in to the same temptation as the people who made the park: disrupting the nature order for profit.

Billy has acted according to the sexual revolution. He yielded to the Harlot Folly and has gone into the house of the adulterous woman. And he knows it. He confesses this was a stupid mistake. And he pleads that this impulsive act was with the best intentions. Alan makes sure Billy knows how severe and unmerciful folly is.

The best intentions. Pfff. Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions. As far as I’m concerned, you’re no better than the people who built this place.

Billy took the severity of this to heart. Afterward, he walked with his gaze turned down as an ashamed son in the eyes of his monastic spiritual father. He seeks to redeem himself to his father and despite his father’s harshness by risking and giving his life to save the Kirby Family in the aviary.

Grant realizes he judged Billy too harshly. Mercifully, Billy survives. Wisdom has looked kindly on him, because it is wise to show mercy. Billy is restored and reconciled to Alan.

Hogwarts Houses and Virtuous Character

Last time I took a quiz, my Hogwarts House was (allegedly) Ravenclaw. I should probably be in Slytherin. And I think I secretly delight in the idea of it, given my childhood dream-job. The last time I took a character similarity quiz, I was Severus Snape. And I approved of that. But I keep telling the sorting hat, “Not Slytherin. Not Slytherin. Not Slytherin.”

I don’t think people can be put into one of four boxes like that. Like all personality tests, I can steer myself to the result I want on any given day. But the good thing is that a virtuous character and personality types are virtually unrelated.

It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.

– Professor Albus Dumbledore

Can I identify as a Slytherin operating as a Ravenclaw while trapped in a Hufflepuff’s life and preferentially fraternizing with Gryffindors?

P.S. I hate the lame Patronus idiotically assigned to me by Pottermore.