Today: [1 Peter 5:] Comparing the Ancient and Modern Churches. In the concluding chapter of 1 Peter the apostle gives admonition to leaders. His statements reveal to us a wide disparity between the church of Peter’s day and the church as we know it.
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[1Pe 5:1-14 KJV] 1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight [thereof], not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over [God’s] heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. 5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all [of you] be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle [you]. 11 To him [be] glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. 13 The [church that is] at Babylon, elected together with [you], saluteth you; and [so doth] Marcus my son. 14 Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace [be] with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.
In the concluding chapter of 1 Peter the apostle gives admonition to church leadership. It is essential to bear in mind that church leadership and even the church itself were very different in first century Christianity. Churches did not meet in unique buildings designated for that purpose even though they had six hundred years of religious tradition in Judaism to encourage them to do so. Neither were the churches led by one person with committees of advisors under him as it is today. The church of the first century met in homes and was superintended by groups of elders quite often including women. The churches also were not defined by doctrinal emphasis or structural history. There was one church recognized in a city meeting in many homes spread across the area. The apostles traveled from city to city with a team of helpers facilitating their communications between one another and the churches with whom they met from time to time to bring word from the churches abroad.
These differences are significant to note because they represent the intentional strategy of growth and stability the apostles implemented even though there were many other leadership structures they could have borrowed from but didn’t. The synagogue system that most of the apostles grew up in has far more in common with the modern idea of church as we know it, but the apostles universally ignored it even though it would have been much more recognizable to both pagan and Jewish converts. We can only conclude that the apostles made these intentional departures from the status quo for specific reasons that preserved the vitality and the strength of the church at large. As a result, they reached the known world and changed history as we know it. Their efforts reach down through the centuries to profoundly speak to us today. Will the church of today have as much impact on the centuries beyond us? Not very likely and we should stop and question why and find our answers by consulting what these early believers did and did not do in terms of gathering among themselves and spreading their message to the world.
Peter urges the elders of the churches (v. 2) to focus on feeding the flock of God willingly and not by constraint. Apparently, many elders were not willing to be elders and only took the positions when urged on by their congregations. Neither were the elders to conduct themselves as “lords over God’s heritage” but rather as examples for the people to follow. Jesus himself spoke against hierarchical leadership over the people of God. From the gospel of Luke we read the following:
[Luk 22:24-26 KJV] 24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. 25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26 But ye [shall] not [be] so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
We may conclude from this that leader among the people of God is not to be compared to or patterned after leadership structures in the world at large. Given that admonition, it is questionable why the leadership of the church today is patterned precisely after the same corporate structures that Jesus impugned in His teaching – and no one pauses to question whether we should proceed another way more in line with clearly defined parameters laid out in the scripture. The typical answer among theologians and leaders is that Jesus left no instructions whatsoever as to how the church should organize itself which even a precursory reading of the New Testament will reveal is not true.
Peter goes on to advise the younger leaders to submit to those who are older. In fact, the leaders are to come together in mutual submission one to another. Leaders today, for the most part, serve in isolation having as little to do with the fellow pastors in their cities as possible – because to have relationship with a competing church across town is considered to be a waste of time and counter to what the mission of the church is in terms of gathering as many believers into its own ranks even if they are drawn from the flocks of fellow pastors. Peter, on the other hand, speaks to leaders commanding them (v. 6) to humble themselves under the hand of God that they may be promoted in due time. The hand of God is understood to be the college of elders and leaders in any given area coming together in a fraternity of love to care for one another and promote the work of God in their midst. When a leader is concerned about the growth of his own group or church, it is complicated to submit himself or herself to a group of leaders who represent competing interests in one’s own ministry. Peter realizes this and urges them to cast their care upon the Lord for the Lord will care for the things pertaining to their own needs – they are to focus upon higher goals than their own selfish interests.
Peter reminds us (v. 8) that the devil moves against us like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. We are to resist him steadfast in the faith with the reminder that when we are persecuted and come against we are not alone in our sufferings. Peter writes these things in the days immediately before the fall of Jerusalem and the complete overthrow of the area first by the Jewish revolt under a leader named bar Kopa and then under the Roman empire who came afterward back into the Middle East to put down the rebellion. In the face of war, Peter reminds the believers that God (v. 10) is a God of peace who will see them through the difficult days that were coming.
Peter concludes with a greeting to the churches from Silvanus also named Silas who was previously Paul’s companion but now connected with Peter’s apostleship. The church at Babylon sends greeting as well as revealing to us where the letter originated. We also see that John Mark is also with Peter who later becomes the author of the gospel of Mark. He is the same Mark that was a nephew to Barnabas that Paul rejected as unfit for ministry service. After Barnabas was martyred Mark followed after Peter and became a leader in his own right in the church in Rome where the gospel of Mark was written. Peter concludes with a fond farewell, in essence, telling the people to give each other affectionate greeting in his name. Would that such apostolic leaders were in our midst today.
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