This post was published to Kiwi and an Emu. at 7:11:20 PM 16/01/2008
Theophilus then outlines his “rules”.
“[T]here should be stewards in every fellowship” the number according to the number of people or geographical location i.e. if there are fewer people spread out over many districts, one should come from each district.
Eusebius suggests that stewards would be head over everyone and so highly gifted – more experienced, wise, discrete and cautious than others – along with the ability to recognize “the temperament, the emotions, the troubles and the inclinations of all the different ages and ranks” of those in the fellowship. In this way the stewards can help each person where they are at, not treat them like people on an assembly line.
Theophilus agrees that it is good stewards have these gifts, but cautions that whatever gifts are possessed should be excelled by the spiritual graces in their hearts. “[N]o one can ever e honest, gentle, clear and lively, to convince and convict, to rebuke, to edify and to comfort the people of God, unless he himself belongs to God.” Not every group, however, has someone with all the gifts Eusebius mentions, but there are gifts that no one should be elected to the office of steward without:
- A “bold spirit, free from the fear of man.” Otherwise they will fail to speak and act when they should to people they feel intimidated by.
- A sincere love for all in the fellowship. This derails favouritism and boorishness. Under this, Theophilus includes possessing more zeal, warmth and life than anyone else in the fellowship, or else he cannot lead others into liveliness.
The book gets a little confusing here and seems to mix up the numbering. Theophilus goes on to the duties of the steward.
- Keeping names and contact details in order to get hold of people as the need should arise and to keep track of absences.
- [though Williams has Theophilus beginning this point with “Thirdly”] Collecting for the needs of the Church. The Seven in the book of Acts are the model, and the steward should encourage the rich to give generously and examine the situation of the poor, making sure that they are not being idle or gossiping from house to house (alluding to the widows in 1 Tim 5). The steward then sees that the poor are looked after financially, medically, and in every necessary way.
- [Or “Fourthly”] Making sure there is someone to preach on Sundays if there is not “a settled ministry”. The stewards are responsible to see that visiting preachers are welcomed and housed and fed, if not by themselves, by someone else in the fellowship.
On this point, Eusebius asks Theophilus how the stewards should deal with the variety of preachers available, outlining in the process the many errors preachers fall into and the harm they can do to their listeners. Eusebuis’ description of the different types of preachers is extensive and also pertinent to many preachers and their followers today. However, while very interesting, it lies outside the purpose of this review so I’m going to pass it by.
Theophilus answers Eusebius’ question about preachers and then adds two other tasks of a steward.
- To rebuke those going astray applying Matthew 19. Instead of using Churches, he speaks of bringing the unrepentant sinner before the fellowship and then before the entire society, indicating the broad connections each meeting has with a larger group.
- “…it is a very good thing if the stewards are suitably gifted to lead the singing, to pray, to catechize, to comfort, to edify and to perform all the tasks that appertain to the ministry of grace in a society of separated Christians.”
I found this dialogue very interesting because there seems to be a strong correlation between a deacon and a steward. In fact, the question could reasonably be asked, in what ways do the tasks of deacons differ from that of a steward as described in this dialogue? Theophilus even uses the Seven in Acts as a model, a group which most people these days see as precursors to deacons if not deacons themselves. I find it difficult to imagine a better example of how New Testament leaders might operate, right down to the relationship between fellowships and “the entire society”. Change the labels, and you have a very workable New Testament Church structure.
Obviously there are areas that do not work as a New Testament church would. Williams is writing about a situation where the “intellectual” aspects of Christianity are addressed at the “preaching meetings”, whereas in the New Testament the “intellectual” aspects were addressed in the context more like that of an experience meeting where people shared and were taught and heard prophecy…and all of these being judged as to their truthfulness. This in itself would address Eusebius’ concern about which preachers are appropriate and which are not, because the task of deciding this would be a group task (possibly elders as in the Synagogue), not the responsibility of one man.
Another part of the dialogue that does not mesh with the 1 Corinthians 11-14 is the expectation that the steward would need the gifts to lead everything, whereas 1 Corinthians 14 explicitly shares all the tasks among the Christians gathered.
One more area that Theophilus speaks contrary to the New Testament practice is that of rebuking. This is not a task reserved for elders or deacons, though obviously they would have greater wisdom and understanding in that area. While these experience meetings are far more like the New Testament example in some ways, Theophilus, Eusebius and Williams through them still understands ministry to reside mainly in the hands of one individual in a meeting, though later on we see that Theophilus expects the more mature to contribute without encouragement from the steward. While biblically there are elders in a church, there is no indication that their task is to carry out the main ministry in a Church meeting as individuals or even as a group.
The fact that the leadership of these experience meetings is so similar to a position outlined in the Bible indicates gives good cause to think that, with some adjustments, a similar structure could have been used in New Testament times, and can be used again today. A settled fact? No, but a plausible theory.