A “Senior Pastor?”

Many religious organizations introduce a “preacher” as “our Senior pastor.” Does that mean the oldest pastor or just the main one? The definition of “senior” indicates one of greater age, or of higher rank and standing than others. It even refers to one graduating from some educational institution. What does it mean when applied to a “pastor”?

One may read of pastors and the “arch” or chief pastor (1 Pet. 5:4) in the Scriptures, but as of yet my search for the title “Senior pastor” remains an exercise of futility. Of course, being fallible, I could have missed it so anyone who knows where such an expression may be found in the Scriptures please let me know.

Generally the title “Senior pastor” implies there is a “Junior pastor” or some such designation indicating one on a lesser level in the church’s organization. While I’ve made no personal inquiry to anyone directly involved with such denominational distinctions, it has been to the Bible that I have made my study of this. Even with the complete absence of such designations, is there some way of justifying these distinctive offices?

There is certainly justification for recognizing certain men as pastors in a local church organization. Think with me of Eph. 4:11 – “And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” A “chief shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4),” translated from the Greek word, archpoimenos, has the same noun for “pastor” (poimenos). That tells us that a pastor is a shepherd of a flock (see 1 Pet. 5:1-3).

“Pastor” and “shepherd” are synonyms; “elder” and “presbyter” are synonyms and “bishop” and “overseer” are synonyms. Pastor and shepherd suggest the work of feeding (teaching) and guiding the flock (congregation). “Elder” and “presbyter” both suggest the older age (either spiritual or physical) age of the one holding the office. “Bishop” and “overseer” both suggest the work of the office; that is, superintending or overseeing. It is proper, of course, to use all six of these words to describe the men serving in the office. “Senior Pastor” suggests only a false concept of church leadership.

Elders are bishops, and bishops are shepherds, and shepherds are pastors and they all serve in the same capacity. These are different terms that pertain to the same office. Those who qualify biblically to occupy these offices must meet specific qualifications. The qualifications are specified in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Anyone who is concerned about following biblical instructions should read these qualifications carefully, then consider those now dubbed as “Senior Pastors” to see whether or not they measure up with the divine qualifications for the office.

It has always been quite dangerous to make unscriptural distinctions in church leaders. As far as the New Testament reveals there are but four – Apostles (who rule even now through their teaching, Matt. 19:28), Elders (pastors or bishops), Deacons, and Evangelists. For these there is scriptural sanction and there is no distinction between those who shepherd God’s church. The danger rises clearly when distinctions are made. Consider this little bit of history?

Augustus Neander composed one of the most reliable histories of Christianity and the Church ever written. He wrote of the changes that led the early church away from the simplicity of New Testament Christianity that culminated in the creation of the Catholic office of “Supreme Pontiff” or Pope.

“Changes in the Constitution of the Christian Church after the age of the Apostles.

“The changes which the Constitution of the Christian church underwent during the period related especially to the three following particulars: 1. The distinction of bishops from presbyters, and the gradual development of the monarchico-episcopal church government. 2. The distinction of the clergy from the laity, and the formation of a sacredotal caste, in contradiction to the evangelical idea of the Christian priesthood. 3. The multiplication of church offices.” – Augustus Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, Vol. 1, page 264.

Another very reliable historian, John Lawrence von Mosherim wrote: “This change in the form of ecclesiastical government was followed by a corrupt state of the clergy. For although examples of primitive piety and virtue were not wanting, yet many were addicted to dissipation, arrogance, voluptuousness, contention, and other vices. This appears dis­tinctly from the frequent lamentations of the most credible persons of those times. Many bishops now affected the state of princes, and especially those who had charge of the more populous and wealthy congregations for they sat on thrones, surrounded by their ministers, and other ensigns of their ghostly power, and perhaps also dazzled the eyes and the minds of the populace with their splendid attire. The presbyters imitated the example of their superiors, and neglecting the duties of their office, lived in indolence and pleasure. And this imboldened (sic.) the deacons to make encroachments open the office and the prerogatives of the presbyters.

“And hence, in my opinion, originated those minor orders of the clergy, which in this century were everywhere added to the bishops, presbyters, and deacons. The words subdeacons, acolythi, ostiarii, lectors, exorcists, and copiatae, designate officers, which I think the church would never had, if the rulers of it had possessed more   piety of true religion. But when the honours and prerogatives of the bishops and presbyters were augmented, the deacons also became more inflated, and refused to perform those meaner offices to which they once cheerfully submitted. The offices designated by these new titles, are in great measure explained by the words themselves. The exorcists owed their origin in the doctrine of the new Platonista, adopted by the Christians, that evil spirits have a strong desire after the human body, and that vicious men are not so much impelled to sin by their natural depravity and by the influence of bad examples, as by the suggestions of some evil spirit, lodging within them. The copiatae were employed in the burial of the dead.” – John Lawrence von Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, Vol. 1, Page 165.

Any who may be interested in further study of this is encouraged to study the New Testament description of Christianity as it is outlined in the teaching of Christ.  Read the New Testament and learn what the church Jesus promised to build was. Now ask yourself, “Is it possible that the church of which I am a member is not like the church I find in my New Testament.”

Further study of this is available – please contact us at www.vscoc.org or write to Valley Station church of Christ, P.O. Box 72380, Louisville, KY  40272. May the Lord lead you through His word into His truth. – Dudley Ross Spears, drs4285@bellsouth.net (with help from Ben Shropshire, my friend.)

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