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Andrew Clarke’s Serve the Community of the Church, reviewed by Thang San Mung

According to Clarke, the wider Graeco-Roman political structure and its leadership system represent the model for the other social units, with the exception of some of the diverse Jewish synagogue practices. Clarke argues that political leadership practices within Graeco-Roman cities “had become the exclusive domain of the affluent” by the time of Roman supremacy and this meant that the traditional practice of democracy was “in name only” despite the residual claim to the long tradition of classical Greek city-state (pp. 32-33).

Again, in growing Roman colonies and cities, Clarke sees no difference of leadership systems from the Roman administrative structure, as “their civic leaders were in similar respects drawn from elites, and likewise functioned in both a political and religious capacity” (p. 58). Moreover, Clarke states that all other lower level associations of the time including Roman households also adopted or operated the same hierarchical system of authority similar to the civic level. Concerning Jewish synagogue practice, Clarke assumes the possibility of cultural adaptation of Jewish communities to their prevalent culture but that these might be different from one place to another throughout the empire. In fact, he believes that even synagogue leadership practice of diaspora Jews might be somewhat similar to their wider civic culture, (cf., p. 141).

Having all of this as a cultural background, Clarke, in the second part of the book, advocates that early Christians might have to some extent adapted to their surrounding culture. However, to Clarke’s understanding, Paul while allowing reasonable length of cultural adaptation (i.e., household system, taxation to civic government, etc.), has laid totally different life-principles and value-systems which solely centered on Jesus Christ and the gospel.

To detail, Clarke insightfully provides the benefits and threats that cultural adaptation brought to the community of the church in two major chapters (cf. chapters 7 & 8). However, to Paul, in Clarke’s summary, the fundamental principle of Christian leadership is “service” rather than position or even authority. Even in his favorite use of self-addresses (“apostle” in many occasions and as “father” especially to Corinthians), Clarke reads that Paul never had any intention of power-suppression nor any evidence of authoritative arrogance as some might think, but he used those titles and authority only in accordance with the gospel with an intention to “build up” the church (p. 232, 232).

Therefore, in his conclusion, basing on the whole discussion Clarke confidently claims (and more challenges modern Christian leaders) that Christian leadership is not a position nor a social status but service, in which leaders are serving as “ministers.”

Indeed, Clarke’s comprehensive study on early Christian leadership practice is really worth to read by all faculties in theological studies. It is historical study in nature, but the content is directly related to the New Testament and the focus is a very practical one. Further, it is of course a scholarly research that can lead one even unto publishing of such theological discussion as biblical theology of Christian leadership and such (readers’ own opinion).

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Category: Ministry

About the Author: Thang San Mung (David Thangsan), entered full-time ministry as a teenager, pastoring churches in Myanmar (Burma) and Korea. His formal theological education includes B.Th. (BBC, Tedim, 1993), M.Div. (2005) and Th.M. (TTGST, Korea, 2007). His personal web log is http://hisfootstep.blogspot.com.

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