IS THERE A HIERARCHY IN CHRISTENDOM ?
This is one of those ‘stumbling blocks' for the "Bible Christian." They wonder how can there be a church hierarchy when 1 Peter clearly teaches that all Christians are priests: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9 (RSV). They can't understand how we can all be priests, yet still have ‘ministerial' priests as the Catholic Church teaches.
To understand this, we must not look at New Testament texts, but Old as well. We must remember that Jesus said: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them." Matt 5:17 (RSV) This means that " For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities," Heb 10:1 (RSV) that the true form will come in the New Testament. Thus, we need to see the priesthood of the Old Testament which is a shadow of the New Testament priesthood.
First we see that the Old Testament people were to be a royal priesthood too; "and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." Ex 19:6 (RSV) This priesthood of believers did not in any way negate the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood of the OT, but added to it. We see in Jewish culture the high priest and the Levitical priests, a hierarchy. This is true to the New Testament Church also.
First off, in the Gospels we see this hierarchical structure being established by Jesus. Jesus himself being the great High Priest as Hebrews tells us, but then weren't the Apostles ‘priests' in their own right? Of course they were. They were chosen specially by the Lord for a special commission. But you also see the Lord choosing another group, the ‘seventy.' "After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come." Luke 10:1 (RSV) So you now have three tiers, so to speak in Jesus' lifetime, Jesus, the 12, and the seventy. Doesn't this sound like a hierarchical society?
Continuing on into the Acts of the Apostles, you see another group arise. "Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Acts 6:3-4 (RSV) Notice here it was the Apostles who appointed them to duty by the laying on of hands (verse 6).
You'll also note in the epistles the word presbyter, or elder (see 1 Peter 5:1, 1 Tim 5:19, 2 John 1:1; & 3 John 1:1). The fact that these ‘elders' had a special power over and above that of the ordinary believer is witnessed to in James 5:20; "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;" James 5:14 (RSV) If the elders weren't ‘special,' then why does James specifically mention them as the ones to call. There had to be something about them that caused this. If anyone could have done this, then that would have been noted in the text. These elders were obviously subject to the Apostles, thus you have hierarchy here too.
Now, we go to the primitive church, what did they believe?
"Honour widows that are widows indeed."(14) Be the friend of orphans; for God is "the Father of the fatherless, and the Judge of the widows."(15) Do nothing without the bishops; for they are priests, and thou a servant of the priests. They baptize, offer sacrifice,(16) ordain, and lay on hands; but thou ministerest to them, as the holy Stephen did at Jerusalem to James and the presbyters. Do not neglect the sacred meetings(1) [of the saints]; inquire after every one by name. "Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example to the believers, both in word and conduct."(2) (St Ignatius, letter to Hero, circa 105 AD) Ignatius was a disciple of the beloved disciple, St. John.
president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these
good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before
said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought,
and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings,
according to his ability,(2) and the people assent, saying Amen; and
there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over
which thanks have been given,(3) and to those who are absent a
portion is sent by the deacons."
(Justin Martyr, First Apology, 140 AD)
these quotes show that the early church saw at least two distinctive
classes of ordained ministers in the church. There were
actually three, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. A hierarchy is
therefore Scriptural AND historical. It was only ther
Protestant Reformers in the 1600's who denied it.
Well, that's not totally true. There is actually an incident in the Old Testament where a supposed follower rebelled against the hierarchical society led by Moses. We find that spoken of in Numbers 16. This chapter speaks of the rebellion of Korah and Dathan. And what did God do? First Moses cries out to Korah; "Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together; Num 16:11 (RSV) Then the Lord responds in His measure; "and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly." Num 16:32-33 (RSV)
So as St.Jude tells "Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion." Jude 1:11 (RSV)