Church Hierarchy and Democracy

Part 5 of the Series:

Questioning Church Authority

by Don Enevoldsen

As a follow up to last week’s discussion, I recently ran across a description of cell structure in living organisms. Since the church is described in Paul’s writing as the “body of Christ,” understanding the function of living organisms might shed some insight into how the church is supposed to be structured. It wouldn’t be the first time God used such parallels.

In the book AIDS, Opium, Diamonds, and Empire by Nancy Turner Banks, M.D., there is a description of how scientists have always assumed a cell works, compared with how it really functions (p. 53). Dr. Banks explains that there are about 100,000 reactions per second in all of our cells, including an exchange of viral-like particles, electrical impulses, chemical emissions and alterations in magnetic fields. These reactions are a flow of communication between the various parts of the cells and with other cells that continues every second of every day.

The most significant finding is that cells are not built on a hierarchical system. For almost as long as we have identified DNA as a part of living cells, it was assumed that DNA was the master controller of the cell, that it gave the orders and the other parts of the cell carried out the directives. What the DNA says, the cell does.

Those 100,000 communications per second go both directions, however. The parts of the cell pass information back to the DNA, which enables the DNA to manage the cell’s functions for the good of the whole organism. Dr. Banks contrasts the two methods with similar structures in society:

Pyramidal and mechanistic systems work by a hierarchy of controllers and the controlled that returns the systems to set points. One can recognize such mechanistic systems in the predominant institutions of our society. They are undemocratic and non-participatory. Bosses make decisions and workers work, and in between the top and the bottom are “line managers” relaying the unidirectional chain of command. Organic systems, by contrast, are truly democratic. They work by intercommunication and total participation. This is the new paradigm and understanding coming out of the laboratories of some of the most forward thinking scientists. This is the idea of intercommunication and total participation at the micro-gaian environment of the cell structure that those schooled in and wedded to the notion of hierarchical systems are struggling to come to terms with. Some may never make the transition into 21st century medicine because these new ideas challenge the very world view that is wedded to the notion of pyramidal social structures and the need for controllers and gatekeepers to keep the masses dependent and complacent.”

Dr. Banks does not specifically mention church as one of the institutions of our society, but anyone who has spent much time there can see the parallels. The pastor is the “man of God,” who passes the Word of God in a unilateral direction, casting the vision for the whole and expecting the members to align themselves with his vision. He is the controller and the gatekeeper. Those who do not remain dependent and complacent are labeled as divisive and forced out of the system.

A healthy church, however, does not exercise that kind of control. The pastor does cast the vision for the whole, but his determination of how that vision is defined is formed from the input of all the committed members of the assembly. He gives expression to the vision of the whole by engaging in an on-going, two-way dialogue with all those who have been given the grace to engage in ministry, that is, the entire church. Leaders are managers and coordinators of the assembly.

The life of a cell vividly illustrates the system Paul had in mind when he described the church as a body.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

The structure of a healthy church is not a hierarchy, but a system designed to make the function and purpose of every part efficient and effective. The purpose of the whole is defined through the empowerment of the individuals working together. The goal is not to fulfill the vision of the pastor, but to keep the body healthy. This is why Paul concludes that section of his letter with the words, “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” Which are the greater gifts? They are not the ones needed to fulfill the pastor’s vision. Rather, they are the ones necessary to meet the need at hand.

Next, Part 6: The Human Element

Go to the beginning of the series, Questioning Church Authority: Part 1: False Prophets

Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

Church Hierarchy and Democracy

2 thoughts on “Church Hierarchy and Democracy

  • April 11, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Billy Graham has led more people to the Lord in this current age than anyone. He has admitted
    to “Not Speaking in Tongues “(1 Cor. 12: 7-11). I have been in a life and death situation where the Holy Spirit has intervened with speaking in tongues. I know what real tongues sound like and I know when tongues are being faked. Unfortunately I have heard Pastors of a large church speak tongues repetitive over and over again. They’ve memorized a sentence or two. The crowd is impressed.

    There are churches who have have lieutenants who are disrespectful of the sheep and hold the congregation in contempt. Why is that? Where does that come from? What is their premise?

    The only way the Body of Christ will come to the revelation is with the TRUTH.

    • April 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm

      I have to confess that I have been guilty in the past of putting on my “spiritual” front and trying to do things like what you describe, speaking in tongues for no reason, or pulling a personal prophecy out of the air because I was the leader and I thought it was expected of me. Looking back on it, I’ve never seen those times accomplish anything of note. On the other hand, I’ve seen times when I, as the leader of a meeting, backed away and let other people exercise their own strengths, interacting with each other in a way I could never have planned or forced to happen, and truly miraculous things have transpired. I think my most effective times as a leader have been when I got out of the way.


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