SINGULAR HEADSHIP Monday, Sep 3 2012 

In the previous issue, I took up the challenge of some readers to point out areas where the scholars have gotten it wrong.  We dealt with the issue of elders in the church.  If you missed that one, consider going to our website where it is posted.  Careless scholarship has created two groups who snipe at each other from their towers of human reason.  The Bible is in the middle of this war, and because it has the answers, that is where we want to focus.

Let me repeat for you that the problem isn’t about plurality of elders, or elder rule.  These are clearly taught in scripture, even if we have ignored them.  The point of discussion is “Who is qualified to be an elder”?  A careful study of the text firmly establishes that the words “elder, bishop, overseer, shepherd, pastor” are all referring to the same person.  He is all of these, or he is none of them.  He is a shepherd, and the Bible explains what that entails.  The simplest form of the local church is not where two or three are gathered together; it is sheep with a shepherd.  Yet there are those who, because they have decided that headship is multiple, use an errant hermeneutic, arguing that some sheep who are not shepherds can be elders.

Against my better judgment, I refer you to an article on “The Plurality Principle” on page 83 of The Practical Aspects of Pastoral Theology.  The author of that particular chapter is Christopher Cone. The writings of a number of other authors are included in the book, including some who are the finest in their field, but “The Plurality Principle” article is a hermeneutical disaster.  It is a perfect example of what happens when we try to defend a presupposition and force the scripture to comply.  I know this is a strong evaluation, but it demonstrates the ease with which a theological pretzel can be manufactured.  If you think that this amounts to attacking a brother rather than exposing an idea, I beg you to read other articles in the Shepherd’s Staff archives.


All of creation teaches clearly that headship is singular.  It is God’s plan.  An animal with two heads is not normal, and a multiple-headed being is viewed as a monster.  When God created the home, He created single headship.  Every time He stepped into the molding of society, He created single headship.  The patriarchs, judges, and kings whom God chose were singular headship leaders.  When God chose Moses, He knew what he was doing and He made no mistake.  The people may have erred, but God did not.  To argue that God was wrong in His singular choices because the people failed is to argue from error, not truth.  Even the Godhead reflects this headship concept.  Someone once said that “God so loved the world that He didn’t send a committee or a board; He gave us the God-man.”

Anyone who has some years of leadership under his belt knows that there is no vacuum in leadership. Someone always rises to the top.  It is as natural as breathing.  It is how God made us.  You can see this working out in the record of the New Testament local church.  It is evident with James in Acts chapter 15 and with Paul in his epistles, as well as with those who traveled with Paul, planting and bringing order to the local churches.  The record of local churches in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation are simple if only we will just let the text speak for itself.  Nothing speaks more clearly than an honest understanding of the role of the shepherd.  Shepherds come one at a time.  If the flock was too large, there would be multiple shepherds, just as in a local church.  How could there be any question that there is also singular headship where there are multiple pastors?  Any other plan would be a disaster.  John chapter 10 and I Peter 5 are only a couple of clear examples of this.  There may have been hirelings, apprentices, etc., but just because they did some shepherding did not mean they were shepherds.  Remember that all of creation teaches what we see in a local flock – singular headship.  Multiple shepherds with the flock, perhaps, but there had to be singular headship.  At this point, you may wish to read chapter 7, “The Shepherd and His Sheep”, in my book, The Weeping Church.


Let me encourage you to review the one biblical hermeneutic.  It will assist the reader in seeing how ignorance of, or ignoring this God-given plan of interpretation, will always create error. When we come to such a subject as this, we must pay attention to the language, context, and historical setting of the text if we are to come to a biblical conclusion.

I am stunned at the idea that God had one plan – singular headship – from the beginning of time and used it throughout the life of Israel…and suddenly it is no longer true in the church age?  In the chapter by Dr. Cone mentioned above, he argues that singular headship in this age supports the replacement theory, which posits that Israel has been replaced by the church. The fact is that many, if not most of those who reject the replacement theory, hold to singular headship.  Creating straw men like this is not helpful.  Let me point out, though, that Cone doesn’t use the term “headship”, but instead uses “leadership”. These terms are not the same. Not all leaders have headship, but all who have headship have leadership.

Those who have missed the meaning of the plurality texts would normally argue that Christ is the head of the church.  That is true if you are talking about the body of Christ – that is, those who have been saved since Pentecost or will be saved up until the time of the rapture.  It may sound spiritual to say that Christ is the head of the local church, but it is error not to recognize that Christ, “the Chief Shepherd”, has appointed under-shepherds/pastors to lead and head the local church.  This designated headship is stated clearly in I Corinthians 11:3, which says that “the head of Christ is God, the head of man is Christ, and the head of woman is man”.  Christ has made the husband/father the head of the home, just as he has designated headship in the church.  We have clearly seen that this, and all headship, is singular.

So in the church, where the workload must be shared, Christ would have appointed other shepherds to carry the load; but the Bible teaches that headship is singular.  A church with multiple heads is a monster.  It might please human reason for us to order our churches like corporations and flawed forms of human government, but does it please God?  I am also astounded by those who claim that the Bible does not provide us with a pattern for polity, or church government.  That fits right in with the thinking of others who would like to be free to rewrite the Bible.  It is equal to the nonsense that says the Bible doesn’t speak to music, or alcohol, or adultery.  They may want it that way, but God has a plan for anyone who is interested.


When one of these articles stirs a wave of response, I consider that a compliment because it lets me know that at least someone is reading what I publish.  In the last issue, I challenged the reader to ask questions about everything, just as I do in my apologetics classes.  This is particularly important in Bible study.  Asking questions of the text makes one a student, whereas telling the text what it says makes one a writer, or at least an editor of the text.  Since I was challenged to demonstrate a specific issue where published scholars have it wrong, I will allow you to read over my shoulder.

In 1985, Regular Baptist Press published The Weeping Church, Confronting the Crisis of Church Polity.  The book has gone through several printings and is still in print.  I wish I could share with you the huge file of thank-you notes from those who have benefited from the information in that book that pointed them to the scriptures.  In it you will find a broader presentation on the subject I have chosen for this article.  Every doctrine rises from an individual’s system of interpretation. Theological errors rise from an erroneous hermeneutic or, at best, a misuse of the one biblical system.  The way to know if a scholar has a failed hermeneutic is simply to look at his conclusions, because “the proof is in the pudding”.


The frustration that rises with the question I have chosen for this issue is that there are two extremes of argumentation, and both are wrong.  Both extremes make it clear that they are arguing for a human presupposition and that their words are simply twisted to prove something they think is true.  None of us is free from this kind of temptation; but in an honest approach, we must stop and admit that “I added that to the text”.  The strange thing is that the presupposition of both sides is the same.  From one view, they downplay the function of the pastor/bishop/elder by arguing against the oversight, the ruling functions, and the plurality.  The other side argues against the shepherd role and makes unqualified sheep equal to fulfilling the God-ordained plan.  They both end up ignoring the clear teaching of scripture on the role of the shepherd.  The motive may well be a cultural infusion, or a political ambition, but it allows them to take for themselves what God in His wisdom has given to another.

For the record, both sides should go no further until they accept the plain statements of scripture.  The pastor, shepherd, bishop, overseer, and elder are all one and the same person. Either he is all, or he is none of these.  (Acts 20; I Peter 3; Hebrews 13; I Timothy 3; Titus 1) The main issue here is that the debate is not about plurality.  Plurality is clearly taught in scripture.  What some say about it, or how they explain it, however, has often been added to scripture.  The issue is not whether or not elders rule; that is plainly taught in scripture, even if we don’t like it.  The real issue here is “who is qualified to be an elder?”.

Typically, I Timothy 5:17 is rewritten by some to create two kinds of elders – ruling elders and teaching elders.  The text teaches the opposite: “The elder who rules well is to be ‘paid double’”.  Since all elders must be qualified to teach, those who do this work well are worthy of the same consideration.  The context rules in this passage, making it clear that the text is talking about remuneration.  Verse 18 is most often left out by those who choose to divide the office, but the issue is confirmed in I Corinthians 9:7-9.  A second problem is posed by those who state that the office is one, as the teaching/ruling elder; however, they most often miss the point that this man is also an under-shepherd.  These local shepherds are chosen by God and are answerable to the “chief shepherd” (I Peter 5:1-4). In a local church, there are sheep that have a local resident shepherd.  Understanding this text requires the full use of the one biblical hermeneutic.  The use of the term “under shepherd” here can only be understood in the historical setting of the text.  Understanding who would qualify to be a true shepherd requires some knowledge of that specific historical setting.  There was a clear difference between sheep and shepherd.  There were helpers, hirelings, and apprentices; but they were not the shepherd.  For the benefit of the sincere student, John chapter 10 has a wealth of information on this subject.


A person is not a shepherd simply because he does some shepherding, no more than a babysitter who does some mothering is automatically a mother.  A true shepherd is not an afterthought; his task is all-encompassing and consuming.  He has no thought or goal outside of this occupation.  The safety of the sheep is at risk if he is distracted by the things of this world. In II Timothy 2:3-7, Paul told young pastor Timothy how demanding the shepherd’s role is.  With very few exceptions, he lives, sleeps, and stays with his sheep.  The qualifications of a local resident pastor (and all pastors) are not found alone in I Timothy 4 and Titus.  His qualification and function can be found in the very understanding of the shepherd.  With all of these things in mind, one would be hard pressed to find a qualified pastor/elder among the many sheep who are falsely called elders.

The concept of having sheep called by men to be elders is not new, but that calling doesn’t make them shepherds; that is still creating two kinds of elders.  The idea of a ruling elder board is an invention of men.  True, some of the men who hold that view are well-known important people, and some are scholars; but they are wrong.  If a church is ruled by a “presbytery”, it has chosen the Reformed polity with a man-made hermeneutic.  If the polity of a church is Presbyterian, it is a Presbyterian church and should not use the name Baptist, no matter what mode of baptism they may use.  The fact that some Baptist churches have done this is no proof that it is correct, even if a well-known scholar is the pastor.


We are well aware that there are lots of problems among those who use a true biblical system, but you don’t build error on error.  You don’t add to the scripture; you simply ask the text what it says.  To correct error, we go back to the source of the authority – the scripture – and begin there again.  We need to go to the Book – not to prove our point, but to know truth that God has revealed for us in His Word.  Space and time are limited here, so there will be more to follow.

In case you have never read it, you may wish to consider the book The Weeping Church,

ISBN: 0970826117 / 0-9708261-1-7.