There are three forms of Church structure: Hierarchical, Bureaucratic, and Independent. A brief comparison of these systems will summarize the differences, highlighting why a hierarchical church is a superior system. The Hierarchical Church For some, hierarchy is a bad word. They often think of a static tyranny. A true hierarchy, however, is neither static nor a tyranny. A Biblical hierarchy is a representative system of government. It has hierarchy, preventing some kind of anarchy: not everyone does the same thing, has the same rank, or the same position. It is also a government where the people are involved in the selection process, preventing tyranny. The only Ecclesiastical system to have true, Biblical hierarchy is the Episcopal system. Notice in the diagram that all four aspects that we observed in the Melchizedekkal form of government are present. First, there are captains, pastoral figures at each level who are identifiable leaders. They are elected by the people and ordained by other captains, or the next higher level of captains as the case may be. For, there is a hierarchy of captains, as Jethro and Christ taught, preventing the tyranny of parity. They have permanent ordinations even though they may be temporary in the positions they hold. Even so, they function pastorally and authoritatively between business meetings. They have a continuing (standing) role to play from the parish up to the highest level, especially the Bishops. The Bishops can act on behalf of the larger body allowing for the most efficient use of time, money, and manpower. They have their Standing Committees of advice. Nevertheless, they can act in official capacity for the denomination. But, second, there are courts. Every captain (and everyone else as well) is always accountable to the larger group by means of several layers of courts. Even the Bishops are answerable in some sense to the denomination as a whole, clergy and laity. Some Episcopal structures allow the Bishops to exist in a separate and virtually legally untouchable status. In this system, they are not accountable to anyone but other Bishops. such a view of the Episcopacy has nearly destroyed the Episcopal Church. For example, in the Protestant Episcopal Church of – page 92 – Captains and Courts America in the 1950s, a notoriously liberal but famous Bishop apostatized. He began t o experiment with drugs (LSD, Marijuana, and so forth) as well as the occult; eventually, he died in a Californian desert. In the opinion of many, he was a Rubicon for the Protestant Episcopal Church. Why? He was not disciplined by the Church. Again I ask, “Why?” When the Bishops threatened to discipline him, he, being also a trained lawyer by profession, returned the threat by vowing to sue the entire Church before the civil court. The Bishops essentially capitulated. Since then, the Bishops of this Church have been virtually unchecked in their doctrinal beliefs and moral behavior. The reason is not hard to see. The Bishops had grown to become an entity to themselves. The rest of the Church couldn’t discipline them because they were not accountable. Historically, this has not always been the case, as the structure of the Reformed Episcopal Church demonstrates. The Bishops of this church are accountable not only to themselves but to the entire General Council, meaning other clergy as well as laymen. Thus, this Biblical hierarchy has captains along with several checks and balances at every level. Third, there is symmetry. Each level matches the other, having captains and courts from the General Council level to the Synod, and even down to the parish. There is no imbalance. Fourth, there is a system of participation. The system, because it is hierarchical yet pastoral is set up like a giant discipleship model. Notice that the laity are heavily engaged in the work of the ministry. At every level, they are the ones actually doing the work of ministry. This is a system that more than any other has fostered true democracy. In fact, the important book, Parish and Parish Church, proves that the real spirit of democracy in the West grew out of the Episcopal system that operated with Vestries. 28 Historically, the Vestry did many tasks from taking care of the pastor to making sure the roads in the community were kept repaired so that the Gospel could continue to go forth. Remember, it was this atmosphere that produced laity who drafted and who called for King John to sign the Magna Carta. True Biblical hierarchy does not produce a passive society. It engages the laity in an orderly manner with a sense for division of labor. The Bureaucratic Church Bureaucracies are deceptive in many ways. Sometimes, a system is a bureaucracy and the people do not know it. Such is the case with the Presbyterian model. 28 Parish and Parish Church, pp.108-134. – page 93 – Comparisons First, there are captains, but they can never act officially without a group: commission, committee, and so forth. This makes pastoral response difficult. Many times pastoral action is prohibited because a group is involved. For this reason, the disputes in this system tend to move in the direction of judicial and not pastoral solutions. How can pastoral action be taken when by definition the accompanying group turns the situation into a court? Furthermore, there are no Bishops so any unresolved disagreement at the parish level goes straight to the next largest court, the Presbytery. For this to happen, the parties have to wait until the Presbytery meets or is convened, which may be months away from the time when a response is needed. Then, when the matter gets to the Presbytery the appeals process may take up to a year or even years. I know of one dispute that took eight years to resolve. In the mean time the parties lived in other parts of the country and the local church had dissolved. And, speaking of dissolved churches, I know of another situation where a church had a dispute, and because it took the Presbytery four months to convene and assign a commission to respond, the church had already disbanded. In the Episcopal system, the Bishop can be to a problem within a matter of hours from any part of the country. He can come even sooner if he is close at hand. Second, there are courts in the bureaucratic system. There is also an appeals system. Courts and appeals systems are good and necessary. But, the only problem is in the delays that a system without captains can create. The wheels of justice turn so slowly that they spin in the dirt, going nowhere and accomplishing no justice. Third, there is a breakdown of symmetry. Notice that the pastor at the congregational level is a standing pastor. He continues to act on behalf of the Session between meetings, ministering to people and dealing with problems. But, at the Presbytery and General Assembly level there is no person comparable to the pastor of the local level. This is an extreme imbalance in the system, creating breakdowns in the ministry. Imagine a local church without a pastor. How would it last? Not very long, because some and even most people need personal and pastoral attention. So it is at all levels of the Church. Congregations as a whole and Presbyteries need pastoral attention by individuals who are set apart to address these needs. The local group needs to be discipled by someone who is part of larger body but personally involved. In other words, they need Bishops! The only person who comes close to a captain at the higher level is a position called a Stated Clerk. But notice that even – page 94 – Captains and Courts the title is non-pastoral and bureaucratic. Technically, he is the expert on the-Church constitution, usually called a Book of Church Order. All he is supposed to do is render interpretation. He is legally not able to enter the process in any pastoral way. Besides, if he does, his counsel is not binding. Many a young pastor, as I know all too well from experience, has been counseled one way by the Stated Clerk only to find that the Presbytery can overturn the Clerk’s advice and ruling. At that point, the pastor is hung on the Clerk’s petard! The fact that such a position exists, however, creates an even greater imbalance to the system. Fourth, there are many barriers to healthy participation. Since the real action of the Church is all official and juridical, the parishioners tend to get involved by waging legal disputes with each other. After all, this is how the system works and this is how real participation occurs. Thus, the Presbyterian system tends toward a polit bureau type of bureaucracy. There are commendable features to the system, such as representational leadership, plurality, and courts. But unfortunately, there are not captains at the upper levels of the courts. The Independent Church The Independent Church is a complete reaction to the other two. Prior to the Reformation, this kind of structure was considered a cult. Since the Reformation, the Independent Church has had to be considered situation by situation on the basis of the historic creeds of the faith. Some are legitimate and most are not. Even the ones that are orthodox today may not be tomorrow. They usually go as fast as they come. First, there are captains but no real ones beyond the local church. The pastor in this system is on his own. If he is successful he builds a mega-church (Which is also the same problem with Presbyterianism). He can’t decentralize into other churches because he completely loses control. He can’t be a Bishop so he becomes a super-pastor. If on the other hand, he does not do so well in the pastorate, he has nowhere to turn. He is left strictly speaking to a “sink or swim” proposition, not being discipled by an older more experienced pastor, He can’t be, because he and everyone else is independent, sinking or swimming independently. Second, there are courts but not beyond the local church. Problems that are not bigger than the congregation can be worked out. But many problems are bigger than the congregation can – page 95 – Comparisons handle. Sometimes accusations so serious are made and disputes become so big that the local situation needs a court of appeal. Since there is none, Church disputes tend to move toward the state, exactly what the Apostle Paul warned against (I Corinthians 6: Iff.) I believe that this explains the implicit Statist mentality of the American Baptist culture. It also clarifies why the Southern Baptist culture of the South is so public school oriented. The irony of the Independent Church is that it becomes of necessity a Statist Church because it lacks its own internal court system beyond the local church. Third, there is an antagonistic symmetry. Notice the inherent conflict over who is in control at the local level. Is the Board of Deacons or the Pastor in control? Usually there is a battle. Any good Baptist minister knows that his first battle at any church is the Board of Deacons. He must put them down and show them that he is in charge. This is how an independent in an independent system should operate. But, the Deacons are thinking the same way. They are saying to themselves, “This preacher boy trained at that fancy seminary is not going to control us …. We’re independent.” And so, the conflict ensues. But, there is another battle for the preacher at an independent church: the Women’s Group. Notice that this group is not under the Board of Deacon’s authority. Nor is it under the Pastor. Thus, the Women’s Group is the key to controlling a Baptist Church. Whoever allies with it wins the day. The truly illumined pastor knows this! Fourth, there is a self-centered participation. An independent mind-set breeds a selfish attitude toward the church. The issue is, “What’s in it for me and my family?” People come to Church as independents, focusing on the preacher, the choir, the youth group and so forth. When their particular reason for coming is no longer there, then they are gone to some other independent church. Why? There is no commitment to the larger church that transcends personalities or personal preferences. Thus, Independent churches are extremely unstable. The only ones that last for any period of time are tine ones that form some sort of associations. These larger groups of fellowships can begin to offset some of the weaknesses that I’ve pointed out. But if they move beyond the local church they start to erode their whole reason for being independent. They either disintegrate or they evolve in the direction of the 1arger body. But since independency is usually so closely aligned orthodoxy in the minds of independents, the only way they can become part of a larger group is to give up both orthodoxy and independency. So, they move toward liberalism at a break-neck speed, which has certainly been – page 96 – Captains and Courts the historic case with virtually every independent group. This explains why the Independents, and the Presbyterians for that matter, went liberal way before the Episcopal groups, if we include Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In the final analysis, the historic Church structure based on the Melchizedekkal model is the best because it was given by God. It avoids the pitfalls of bureaucracy and independency. It has captains, courts, symmetry, and participation. Consequently, it is able to maintain all of these aspects with a sense of balance. It is the best of all possible worlds!