Changing the Biblical use of language and its imagery to one that is amenable to modern sensibilities is a common and sometimes effective approach when explaining theological concepts. But one must be careful, for the deeper meaning and intent of the Bible can be obscured when an overlay of modern, secular concepts darkens the spiritual light of Scripture.
“Theological Framework,” Chapter 2 of Effective Church Operational Systems, casts Jesus as a team leader, leading his disciples to a personal transformation that is eventually shared with the world.
Much of the wording used in this chapter is taken from Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Disicpline,” a book considered to be one of the premier management models in the business world. According to Wikipedia, Senge (a scientist at MIT) “has had a regular meditation practice since 1996 and began meditating with a trip to Tassajara, a Zen Buddhist monastery...He recommends meditation or similar forms of contemplative practice.”
Words and phrases from Senge’s book are used extensively in this chapter, such as ‘personal mastery’, ‘mental models’, ‘shared vision’ and ‘team learning’. According to Deacon Dean, “All are evidenced within the New Testament.” In some sense, perhaps.
Church leadership is described as beginning with the inner man. Once personal mastery is demonstrated, the leader is ready to implement his vision with those he has chosen. This is illustrated by Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and his subsequent choice of followers.
The “ability to faithfully manage oneself and family are the criteria for selecting church leaders,” according to the thesis. This was and is, indeed, an important criteria as evidenced in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which states that one desiring to be a bishop¹ “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife….He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?”
Deacon Dean states, “The bishop, or community overseer, is to have no major moral failings and not obviously vulnerable to scandal. He is monogamous, but he is also not celibate.”² (Emphasis added.)
However, according to Haydock’s Catholic Commentary, “A bishop (the same name then comprehended priest) to be blameless, as to life and conversation, adorned, (says St. Chrysostom) with all virtues. See also St. Jerome in his letter to Oceanus. --- The husband of one wife. It does not signify, that to be a bishop or priest he must be a married man; nor that he must be a man who has but one wife at a time; but that he must be a man who has never been married but once, or to one wife: because to be married more than once, was looked upon as a mark of too great an inclination to sensual pleasures. It is true, at that time a man might be chosen to be a bishop or priest whose wife was living, but from that time he was to live with her as with a sister. This St. Jerome testifies as to the discipline of the Latin Church.” (Emphasis added.)
What is presented in this thesis is apparently a contradiction to Roman Catholic Church teaching regarding the Roman Rite, which includes within its priestly vocation the call to celibacy. The inference is that the vocation of priest also includes the vocation of marriage. While this may be true in some rites of the Church (and is the case in Christian sects outside it), it is not true of the Roman Rite, to which the author belongs. (As stated in a previous post, perhaps this discrepancy can be explained by the intended audience of the thesis, the professors at the evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.)
It is next asserted that there was a need for ‘team’ in the ‘early church’ [sic]. “The community prayed together, fellowshipped, and studied the apostle’s teachings. They gathered in people’s homes, in what would have been small groups.” Acts 2:41-46 is cited, though nowhere is a Catholic understanding of this Scripture presented.
In fact, readers are assured, “Today, now that cultural Christianity is waning, the contemporary church[sic] cultural climate may resemble more of what the church[sic] faced at its earliest beginnings than what it faced just fifty or a hundred years ago…What is attracting people to the Christian community are relationally based ministries such as small groups. Perhaps that is why the home church movement is growing so quickly today. It is likely that the early home church experience was heavily based on strong relationships. It certainly was not based on longstanding traditions and institutions.³ The early church [sic] built itself through the small, tightly knit communities.” [Emphasis added.]
There is a solid basis for disagreement with several of the above points. First, although paganism is seeing resurgence, the overriding enemy of the Christian faith is an aggressive secularism that has taken hold of many of society’s institutions, including education, science, business and politics. It seeks to suppress the public expression of faith and to force acceptance of values and goals that are inimical to Catholic faith and identity. Secularism was not around when the Early Church began.
Second, the question is, shall local church communities comprised of families, neighbors, friends, be structured within a largely artificial framework that blends competing philosophies, or a more organic and natural framework that springs from 2,000 years of Church experience and organization—which has its genesis in Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition?
The Catholic principle of subsidiarity has a place within the parish. The idea is “that human affairs are best handled at the lowest possible level, closest to the affected persons.” And so the Catholic Church has nearly 3,000 dioceses worldwide, with local bishops, under which are pastors (priests), religious and deacons who serve in even smaller configurations called parishes. Within the parishes is the laity, who assists the pastor, religious and deacons, all living out their respective vocations, offering their gifts and talents to the parish and community.
Because much of current Protestant evangelicalism is fragmented into groups of people who come together based not so much on the stuff of everyday life, but on denominational and worship preferences (hence the mega-church movement), the need to replicate what occurs naturally in a typical Catholic parish invites a plethora of different organizational units and systems. ‘Of the making of systems there is no end,’ to paraphrase Ecclesiastes.
And, although the ‘home church’ movement is yet another phenomenon of the ever-changing landscape of Christian expression, it is largely a Protestant movement. Statistics from the respected Barna Group give numbers that range from about 4% of individuals participating in a worship-at-home setting, up to about 30% of people saying they have been to a home Bible study or some other variation of a religious gathering of individuals in homes. It becomes a question of definition: What does the word ‘worship’ mean? To Catholics, worship most means to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, which means attending a Catholic church, usually close by their homes.
However, to most Protestants, worship can mean other things and is not delineated in a particular location or within a particular sacramental liturgy. A Catholic who willfully skips Mass on Sundays has entered into serious sin. Not so for Protestants. Skipping a church service has no such stricture because it lacks stature as a sacrament. It is perhaps easier, but not better.
Third, Deacon Dean’s description of the Early Church seems to rely on Scriptural references alone and ignores the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (the immediate successors of the Apostles), who report that an organized liturgy centered on the Eucharist and a formal clergy emerged very soon in the Church’s life. The thesis also does not address the organic doctrinal and organizational growth that characterized the Church as she moved through the centuries.
A few good resources regarding this can be found here and here and here. This historical information is basic to understanding the Catholic Church and how, from an acorn, it grew into a tall oak. The idea that in order to express a proper sense of Church one must go back to the primitive Church (the acorn) is an idea that has gained purchase in some Protestant circles. As Blessed John Henry Newman (a convert) said after reading the Apostolic Fathers, "The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”
So, Chapter 2 is seen to be harkening back to the primitive Church as described Scripture and then leaping forward to secular 21st century leadership models to come up with a workable leadership plan to implement in All Saints Parish. The in-between development of the Church is all but ignored.
Deacon Dean writes, “To implement an effective operating system in a parish requires the development of a leadership culture that embraces the five disciplines [of] Peter Senge…We see these principles operating in the New Testament.”
Among the five principles are Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Team Learning and Shared Vision. According to the thesis, “Shared Vision creates a common picture of what the group wants to create.” Right here is a significant issue, because in all things, Catholics should be seeking what God wants, not what man wants.
The rest of the chapter is devoted to describing Jesus’ teaching interactions with the disciples in terms of ‘coaching’, of ‘disrupting people’s mental models,’ of ‘team learning,’ of gaining ‘personal mastery as evangelists,’ and of ‘Jesus’ Strategic Way.’ Jesus is even described as a performance coach.
“Jesus had a clear mission to usher in salvation and perpetuate that Gospel everywhere through His followers. To accomplish this He created a leadership culture that would develop the right kind of leader who could carry out the task in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Again, while the business wording may strike a chord with some, and there are certainly universal Christian concepts within Chapter 2, the idea that one must create a wholly new leadership culture within the parish is to set aside the model that has come down to us through the Apostolic Tradition, and which has worked throughout the Catholic Church’s history—in good times and bad.
The artificial construct of taking a secular leadership business model and attempting to surgically insert a Protestant theological framework and impose it upon a Catholic parish is problematic. It almost seems an attempt to recreate the Biblical Apostolic model in miniature, replacing the ordained hierarchical structure with the laity, disarmingly cloaked in today’s business language.
¹The New King James Spirit Filled Life Bible defines bishop this way: “An overseer. In apostolic times, it is quite manifest that there was no difference as to order between bishops and elders or presbyters…The term bishop is never once used to denote a different office from that of elder or presbyter. These different names are simply titles of the same office, “bishop” designating the function, namely that of oversight, and “presbyter” the dignity appertaining to the office…”
However, the Catholic Church teaches otherwise. Here is a description from Catholicapologetics.org: “The Roman Catholic Church from Apostolic times has literally followed the Bible in the establishment of good order in the Church. According to Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus there are three orders to the organization and leadership of the Church (sometimes known as ecclesiastical order or hierarchy): episcopos or bishops, presbyteros or elders, commonly translated priests, and diaconos or deacons.
The first in order and the greatest in authority is the episcopos, the bishop.”
²The Roman Catholic Church has required celibacy of priests in the Roman Rite since the 6th century. It is a discipline that has as its basis the example of Jesus Christ in His life and words (Matthew 19) and in the writings of Paul, particularly in 1 Corinthians.
³This statement needs clarification, for the worship practices of the earliest Christians did resemble Jewish worship practices. New Christians, almost all of them Jews, continued to meet in the synagogue and observe Jewish feasts and festivals. There is a plethora of scholarship regarding the Jewishness of early Christian worship practices. For more information, see here, here and here and here. From New Advent: “Christ did not abolish at one stroke the ceremonies of Jewish worship. When it is said that He was satisfied with a wholly interior worship, thereby condemning exterior worship, the assertion is wholly gratuitous and is contradicted by facts. It is certain, on the other hand, that Christ went to the Temple to pray, that he celebrated the Pasch and the Jewish feasts; he received baptism from John, subjected Himself to fasting, laid His hands on the sick, drove out demons with exorcisms, and gave His disciples the power to drive them out in His name. It is almost certain that He carefully observed all the prescriptions of Jewish worship, for a deviation on one point or another would certainly have aroused protests of which some echo would have been preserved in the Gospels. The only point on which a protest of this kind was manifested was the observance of the Sabbath and certain prescriptions which the Pharisees followed in too narrow a spirit. The Apostles and disciples at Jerusalem continued to go to the Temple, as we see in the Acts (ii, 46, 47; iii, 1; v, 21; v, 42, etc.). By the worship in spirit and truth, which was to supplant the ancient worship, is meant less the form of a new worship than the spirit in which worship should be understood. Instead of adoring at Jerusalem or Garizim, men will adore everywhere; the believer will adore in his heart, no matter what his nation, be he Jew, Samaritan, or even Gentile. And he will adore not like the Jews or the Pharisees, with a purely external worship, with the lips, and in a formalist and hypocritical manner, but with a true and sincere worship, which supposed and implies a pure life and upright conduct.”