Monday, March 16, 2009

Considerations in Elders and Leaders

UPDATE: I updated one of the paragraphs below where I had said that Peter’s business business was failing, not thriving. It now points to what Scripture actually says.

Gene Getz has written a book entitled Elders and Leaders: God’s Plan for Leading the Church. He is a long time pastor, author, seminary professor, and host of a radio program. After many years of wisdom and experience he was compelled by those around him to write a book on the issue of what Scripture says about biblical leadership in the book.

In today’s post I just want to focus on the chapter called “The Need for a Primary Leader.” The central thesis of this chapter is that Scripture teaches that above the plurality of elders, there should be a primary leader who leads the elders and the rest of the church. This is what most of us have experienced in churches with a the Senior or Lead Pastor to varying degrees.

Before reading this chapter I knew what to expect in terms of his conclusions, but I was caught off guard by his method of arriving at his conclusions. Up until this chapter the book had some more or less minor interpretive issues, but this chapter took the cake in eisegesis (reading a meaning into the text). Below are the examples:

#1: A Wrong focus on Peter

The first goal of the chapter is to demonstrate that Peter was the Primary Leader of the apostles after Jesus ascended to heaven. His initial proof is the number of references to Peter in the Gospels and Acts as opposed to the other apostles. In other words, he used statistics of the use of Peter’s name as a proof of Peter’s primacy. What is interesting here is that he does not include Paul in his consideration. If he did, he would find that Paul is mentioned almost twice as much as Peter in the book of Acts. In fact, Paul is mentioned 135 times in Acts, while Peter is mentioned 152 times in the Gospels and Acts. Peter is only mentioned less than 60 times in Acts, which is the story of the beginning of the church! What is even more, Paul wrote most of the New Testament letters to the churches! If Peter were the primary leader in Christiandom (as Getz states on page 149), then we would want to have seen him take some leadership in writing to the churches. Now of course my point is not that Paul was the primary leader, but simply that just Peter appears to be a focus in the Gospels (but not in Acts as Getz would have you think), does not automatically give him primacy.

#2: Many Assumptions

Clearly, Jesus focused on equipping Peter to be the primary leader” (218). Having given only the “proof” from #1, this is clearly an assumption, not a fact.

Furthermore, he focused next on John who was to be his associate (note again the statistics…)” (218). Again with only statistics as his proof, this is an assumption, not a fact.

When Jesus eventually called Peter… [he] was already the primary leader in [his fishing business]” (218). No biblical proof or evidence of any kind to support this. Pure assumption. Getz says that since Peter had partners (Andrew, James, and John), it shows that he was the primary leader. That’s only proves he had co-workers, not that he was the manager.

Peter was “once a tough-minded chief executive officer of a thriving fishing business” (148). This time he offers no support of any kind. This assumption ignores the fact that when Jesus first met Peter, he had worked all night and caught nothing (Luke 5:1-5). I’m no fisherman, but catching nothing is not one of the signs of a thriving fishing business! In fact, the only time we know that Peter’s fishing thrived was when Jesus miraculously intervened!

In reference to the washing of the disciples’ feet, Getz says that Peter resisted out of embarrassment “primarily because he was well aware that this was an oversight when he and John had arranged for this event” (149-150). Oversight? That’s more than an assumption. It is rejecting what the text says and importing a new reason for Peter’s resistance!

When he stood up on the day of Pentecost and [preached], not one of the apostles hesitated to follow him” (220). First, Peter's sermon did nothing to demonstrate his primacy. Second, the apostles didn’t “follow” him, they sat and listened. Getz is trying to get much more meaning out of this than there is.

Again and again, we read that “Peter and John” took the lead and, even though these two men worked closely together, they were not coleaders. Peter was continually the primary spokesman…” (220). Simply because Peter was the primary spokesman, does not automatically mean that he was the primary leader. There is no substantial evidence that Getz has put forward. It’s simply assumption upon assumption which has the appearance of an argument, but it is all a house of cards.

Based on what we see in the total biblical story of leadership, we can only assume that [Timothy and Titus] were also influential in making sure there was a key leader in charge” (223). Again, his “total biblical story” is a mound of assumptions. And he explicitly makes his point of an assumption.

Though we’re not told who lead the elders/overseers on a permanent basis after Timothy, we can assume it happened immediately or shortly thereafter.” The assumption pile is getting higher!

#3: Other Issues

Getz acknowledges that Peter never claimed this leadership for himself, but always considered himself as “a fellow elder” (1 Peter 5:1). Getz points to Peter’s humility in this, I say it is clear that Peter never claimed it because he never had it.

Getz neglects Matthew 16:18 which is what Catholics use to affirm Peter’s primacy. There were a couple times where I wondered if Getz was alluding to this verse, but he never mentioned it. On page 151 Getz states, “As Jesus’ chosen leader, [Peter] began to speak the word of God…” If there were any text that would support Getz claim in this quote or any other section of the book where he affirms the same, Matthew 16:18 would be the text. And yet he never once mentions or references it.


There is more to say about Getz view of the primary leader, but in this post I just wanted to point out his poor use of observation and assumptions which he uses to make a significant point in how God’s church is to be led.

If you would be interested in more biblical treatment on this issue, I highly recommend Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch.