Along with Christian marriage, ACANZP's new commission re same sex partnerships, and sundry other matters such as whether to take that trip to Mars in October ("Avoid grief at the World Cup. Leave now!"), I am continuing to reflect on recent conversations about headship and ruling elders in the church. Here are a few thoughts, not systematically put together.
(1) When Paul writes most of his letters, he does not address church leaders (as titled leaders) nor does he lay out instructions for leaders(hip), and in such letters, perhaps especially noticeable in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians, Paul has a very strong sense of the Holy Spirit leading the church and of the church being Christians walking in step with the Spirit. If 'ruling elders' were leading these churches, why not address them directly with expectation that in turn they would teach apostolic doctrine?
(2) Following from (1) it is noticeable in the longest list of named people addressed in any church in the New Testament (Romans 16), the names of men and women are intermingled. Neither women nor men are named as bishops or elders, though one woman is named as a deacon (Phoebe) and one woman is referred to in connection with the apostles (Junia). With the Spirit leading the church (Romans 8), having distributed gifts across the body (Romans 12), can we say that 'clearly' the Roman church had a definitive 'male ruling eldership'? It is, I suggest, at least as likely that men and women shared leadership in mutuality.
(3) In one Pauline letter "bishops and deacons" are addressed, along with all members: Philippians. Intriguingly, when Paul later in the letter names some people in specific remarks intended to direct them towards resolving some problems, the names include the names of women, Euodia and Syntyche. Again: no male is specifically named as one of the 'bishops'. Can we say with 'clarity' that the Philippian church had an exclusively male episcopacy?
(4) Re-reading 1 Timothy, it is noticeable that Paul within the first few words declares a particular concern which permeates the remainder of the letter: false doctrine versus sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:3-11). Little is said about the Holy Spirit at work in the church in this or the other two 'pastoral letters.' Has something happened to knock Paul's confidence in the church in Ephesus walking well in the Spirit? Is the strong emphasis on order in 1 Timothy, down to details about how the lives of widows should be ordered, a needed correction to a specific problem or set of problems there which were not problematic for other churches Paul wrote to?
(5) Who was Chloe? In 1 Corinthians 1:11, Paul mentions by name the first person he knows in the church in Corinth: Chloe, in the statement 'it has been reported to me by Chloe's people'. Why would Chloe have a group around her referred to as 'Chloe's people' if she were not a leader of this group?
(6) How can any teaching about eldership be considered 'clear' when the New Testament is clearly flexible about church leadership roles. 1 Timothy is an outstanding example here: chapter three tells us about bishops and deacons, who are never referred to again; chapter five tells us about pay scales for elders "who rule well"; a chapter, incidentally, which may refer to female elders (5:2). Intriguingly, 2 Timothy uses different language again, 'worker' (2:15) and 'servant' (2:24), while Titus 1:5-9 speaks of elders in language reminiscent of 1 Timothy3's description of a bishop.
(7) Who was 'the elect lady' addressed in 2 John? Yes, it is possible that 'the elect lady' is the church itself; or a woman with a house (v. 10) in which the church met. But is not such an address consistent with this woman being the elder of the church meeting in her house?
(8) In talk about women and apostleship, we can tend to get stuck on whether the women who were witnesses to the resurrection were or were not apostles. In John's gospel there is a woman with a mission which is apostolic in character, but we meet her a long time before the resurrection: the unnamed Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well in chapter four who tells her compatriots about Jesus.
In sum: there is a rich and varied character to the leadership of the churches of the New Testament. So varied, I suggest, that we scrutinize with the utmost care any claim to know what was 'clear' about leadership in the churches of the apostles. I am also left wondering through this survey whether we are truly alive and alert to the full possibilities of being a church 'led by the Spirit'!