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EFAC Australia

Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians
Second Ed. Revised and Enlarged. 
Kevin Giles,Wipf and Stock, 2017

I sometimes lament the scarcity of good theology in the field of pastoral studies, but I am pleased to say this book is an exception. The  book's purpose is to evaluate the emergence, development and shape of leadership and ministry in the first and second centuries. From a contemporary and practical perspective, he is exploring the question: is the way our church is governed God ordained? In particular Giles evaluates the ministry patterns of the major denominations against those of the Bible. He questions the assumption that what we do and experience today is what the first century church did and experienced. Not because he believes there is a prescriptive pattern to be found, but rather to call into question the claims of these denominations accurately to reflect the patterns of the early church.'

He concludes firstly, there is diversity and development in church order in the first century and beyond; secondly, the patterns that emerge were driven by ‘the need of the hour’; and thirdly, there is little correlation between church in the first century and church in the contemporary context. The book examines ministry and leadership in Jesus and in Paul; noting Jesus is far less concerned to institute leadership positions in his church than he is about defining the nature of leadership in his community, defined by costly service and not authority and control. The bulk of the book examines the biblical and patristic teaching on the major church offices: bishops, deacons, elders, apostles, prophets and teachers.  

One of his most significant contributions is to carefully delineate the types of elders that existed in the Jewish diaspora of the Hellenistic period: the elders who had responsibility for the entire Jewish community of a city and the elders of each local community who were not office bears in any synagogue. So, in Alexandria and Antioch the Jewish community in its totality was governed by a council of elders, presided over by a ruler, while the synagogues were overseen by a ‘synagogue ruler’. Giles demonstrates  this same pattern was evident in the more mature early church. Initially, house churches were led by the wealthy home owner, who had both the large house and the social status necessary to have the credibility to lead. But as the number of Christians and house churches in a city like Ephesus or Rome grew, the Jewish system was adopted and elders were appointed to oversee the Christians in the whole city, as distinct from those who led the house churches. So, the Ephesian elders who come to Miletus in Acts 20 to meet Paul are the city elders. This has significant implications especially for those who try to emulate a biblical pattern of ministry. Apart from the question of whether such patterns are prescriptive anyway, there are several evolving patterns that were not settled for centuries (so which biblical pattern should we emulate?), and what we see in the Bible is more subtle and nuanced than we might think. 

In this kind of work method is everything. The book may be less than 250 pages, but his work is detailed and thorough. Where identified patterns and trajectories are broken, he offers a detailed argument to account for the anomaly and is judicious in making conclusions. He understands the sociological nature of institutional development, and his use of church history is critical to the success of his endeavour. Understanding how and when we arrived at certain ministry patterns is vital to our ability to evaluate them. Giles’ use of second and third century sources is necessarily limited, but it is certainly sufficient and provides an invaluable perspective and more complete picture. His use of history is not confined to the patristics. He offers some engagement with Reformers, especially around their contribution to our ideas of elders. No one pattern of church leadership is spelt out or prescribed in this book. Giles is reluctant to identify a singular, consistent pattern of ministry in the early church that might be emulated. He recognises the patterns are dynamic and as such are never prescriptive.

Considerable attention is given to the ministry of women, especially in the Pauline Epistles. The particular contribution of this book is the reframing of ministry roles and how they were occupied, which renders much of the contemporary debate anachronistic. Giles shows the way the contemporary debate is framed makes all sorts of unwarranted assumptions about leadership, authority, ordination and pastoral offices such that the answers are not just wrong, but meaningless.  

As someone who teaches in the field of Pastoral Theology I am acutely aware of the dearth of books that address these foundational questions. Not only are there very few, but  of these, very few do so with the kind of biblical scholarship of Giles who is not merely descriptive, but analytical and critical. . He will greatly assist our reading of the New Testament by alerting us to the many missed nuances, helping us see a more sophisticated picture of the life of the earliest Christian communities. In our own context, where much is disputed and many claim to have the biblical model, Giles has provided a rich resource to inform our thinking and practice.                                 

Tim Foster, Vic

 

Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians

Second Ed. Revised and Enlarged.

Kevin Giles,Wipf and Stock, 2017

 

I

sometimes lament the scarcity of good theology in the field of pastoral studies, but I am pleased to say this book is an exception. The  book's purpose is to evaluate the emergence, development and shape of leadership and ministry in the first and second centuries. From a contemporary and practical perspective, he is exploring the question: is the way our church is governed God ordained? In particular Giles evaluates the ministry patterns of the major denominations against those of the Bible. He questions the assumption that what we do and experience today is what the first century church did and experienced. Not because he believes there is a prescriptive pattern to be found, but rather to call into question the claims of these denominations accurately to reflect the patterns of the early church.'

He concludes firstly, there is diversity and development in church order in the first century and beyond; secondly, the patterns that emerge were driven by ‘the need of the hour’; and thirdly, there is little correlation between church in the first century and church in the contemporary context. The book examines ministry and leadership in Jesus and in Paul; noting Jesus is far less concerned to institute leadership positions in his church than he is about defining the nature of leadership in his community, defined by costly service and not authority and control. The bulk of the book examines the biblical and patristic teaching on the major church offices: bishops, deacons, elders, apostles, prophets and teachers. 

One of his most significant contributions is to carefully delineate the types of elders that existed in the Jewish diaspora of the Hellenistic period: the elders who had responsibility for the entire Jewish community of a city and the elders of each local community who were not office bears in any synagogue. So, in Alexandria and Antioch the Jewish community in its totality was governed by a council of elders, presided over by a ruler, while the synagogues were overseen by a ‘synagogue ruler’. Giles demonstrates  this same pattern was evident in the more mature early church. Initially, house churches were led by the wealthy home owner, who had both the large house and the social status necessary to have the credibility to lead. But as the number of Christians and house churches in a city like Ephesus or Rome grew, the Jewish system was adopted and elders were appointed to oversee the Christians in the whole city, as distinct from those who led the house churches. So, the Ephesian elders who come to Miletus in Acts 20 to meet Paul are the city elders. This has significant implications especially for those who try to emulate a biblical pattern of ministry. Apart from the question of whether such patterns are prescriptive anyway, there are several evolving patterns that were not settled for centuries (so which biblical pattern should we emulate?), and what we see in the Bible is more subtle and nuanced than we might think.

In this kind of work method is everything. The book may be less than 250 pages, but his work is detailed and thorough. Where identified patterns and trajectories are broken, he offers a detailed argument to account for the anomaly and is judicious in making conclusions. He understands the sociological nature of institutional development, and his use of church history is critical to the success of his endeavour. Understanding how and when we arrived at certain ministry patterns is vital to our ability to evaluate them. Giles’ use of second and third century sources is necessarily limited, but it is certainly sufficient and provides an invaluable perspective and more complete picture. His use of history is not confined to the patristics. He offers some engagement with Reformers, especially around their contribution to our ideas of elders. No one pattern of church leadership is spelt out or prescribed in this book. Giles is reluctant to identify a singular, consistent pattern of ministry in the early church that might be emulated. He recognises the patterns are dynamic and as such are never prescriptive.

Considerable attention is given to the ministry of women, especially in the Pauline Epistles. The particular contribution of this book is the reframing of ministry roles and how they were occupied, which renders much of the contemporary debate anachronistic. Giles shows the way the contemporary debate is framed makes all sorts of unwarranted assumptions about leadership, authority, ordination and pastoral offices such that the answers are not just wrong, but meaningless. 

As someone who teaches in the field of Pastoral Theology I am acutely aware of the dearth of books that address these foundational questions. Not only are there very few, but  of these, very few do so with the kind of biblical scholarship of Giles who is not merely descriptive, but analytical and critical. . He will greatly assist our reading of the New Testament by alerting us to the many missed nuances, helping us see a more sophisticated picture of the life of the earliest Christian communities. In our own context, where much is disputed and many claim to have the biblical model, Giles has provided a rich resource to inform our thinking and practice.                                  Tim Foster, Vic

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