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The Case for Anonymous Leadership

 

God-fearing gentiles and proselytes into Jewish life posed no further problem but gentiles turning to Jesus from off-the streets of Antioch who were neither God-fearers nor proselytes to the hope of Israel were something else. This is what happened when followers of Jesus from Cyrene and Cyprus and Paul from Tarsus proclaimed Christ Jesus to the populace of Antioch. There were questions raised which necessitated a gathering of the apostles and the elders to look into this matter. James said absolutely nothing at first. After the initial debate, Peter stood up and reminded all those present of the choice God made among them that through his own mouth “the Gentiles would hear the gospel and believe.” Peter continued. “God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us” (Acts 15:8). Verse 12 describes the scene in a way often overlooked: “All the people kept silent … ” They listened to all that Peter was saying. James, the presiding elder, kept silent. Verse 12 also tells us that when Peter ceased speaking, “they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them to the Gentiles.”

Afterwards James addressed everyone, “Brethren, listen to me …” (Verse 13). He rehearsed the testimony that Peter had given and referred back to prophets beginning with Amos 9:12, Isaiah 63:19, Jeremiah 14:9, and Daniel 9:19). He renders a judgment “that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:19). A “we” also appears in the next sentence about “we” writing a letter. Verse 22 makes a striking statement testifying to community leadership: “Then, the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided ….”

Who is the leader? James, Peter, Barnabas, or Paul? We are told that the final decision was made by whom? The final decision was made by the apostles and elders, with the whole church. Leadership is not, necessarily, decision-making though it may involve some degree of encouragement in that direction.

There is another illustration to be found in the ministry of Paul. In neither the Book of Acts of the Apostles nor the letters he wrote did Paul appoint leaders for any of the churches established in Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, and Ephesus. There are names mentioned in the letters but he never identified them as “leader.” What leadership there was emerged from within those communities of faith. It is also interesting to look again at First Corinthians 12:4-13:31 in this regard. Within this segment of the letter Paul compares the gifts and ministries of the one triune God within his one church with the human body. Neither leg nor arm, neither head nor toe, hand nor foot, can claim a paramount position. It is one body, all parts working together for one common purpose.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2011

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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