November 16, 2012

Dr. Clay Nuttall: Singular Headship

In [a] 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.

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D.Min
A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address,

No comments:

Post a Comment