In 2008, I demonstrated at length that Scripture refutes the idea that there is a hierarchy in the body of Christ. Yet hierarchy is still being read back into the New Testament church. That’s because we see hierarchy in every sphere of life — from corporations to public schools to the military, etc. It’s also because most Christians haven’t been exposed to anything that contradicts the idea.
A hierarchy is a system of authority. It’s a pecking order or chain of command where certain people who fill certain offices outrank those below them.
Jesus taught against this construct in the Gospels. And so did Paul and Peter.
That’s all preface to my question, “Are all Christians equal?” – the answer, which, may surprise you.
With respect to God’s love and His value on us as His children, every believer is equal. We are equally loved by God and we are equally valuable in His eyes.
However, the fact that there is no hierarchy in the family of God does not mean that everyone is equal in gifting and spiritual stature.
This is where many get it wrong. I’ll offer an example of how this plays out.
Amanda’s eyes have been opened to see that the New Testament doesn’t envision a hierarchy in the body of Christ. Amanda has a blog and she writes the following: “God is against hierarchy in His church. We are all equal. No one is above another. Everybody’s equal.”
Jim, a pastor of a large mega church, reads Amanda’s blog and responds saying, “People like Amanda are wrong. We aren’t all equal. Some have authority over others. The Bible is clear about this.”
I assert that they are both wrong. Amanda is right in saying that Scripture teaches against a hierarchical authority structure in the ekklesia. But she’s wrong in concluding that this means that every believer is equal in gifting and spiritual stature.
The New Testament is clear that there is no such equality. That’s why the biblical authors exhort God’s people to submit to those who are ahead of them in spiritual life. Not because they are part of some hierarchical pyramid and can “pull rank,” but because they have matured further in spiritual life.
Jim is wrong in that he conflates greater gifting and spiritual stature with a hierarchical chain of command.
So back to the question: Are all Christians equal? Yes and no. They are equally valued as recipients of God’s love, but they aren’t equal in spiritual gifting, maturity, and wisdom. And there is to be no hierarchy in God’s family.
Taking it further, I’m presently writing an essay that will trace the origin of human hierarchy. It’s going to be a supplement to my upcoming kingdom book. The essay was too long to fit into the book, so it will be an online resource that’s freely downloadable. The proposal in the essay is new. I’ve never demonstrated it anywhere before.
[Some of you who are new to my work are undoubtedly wanting biblical and historical support for the ideas presented in this article. They are contained in Reimagining Church. There’s an entire section in that book called “Who is Your Covering?” – a title I created in 1996. Reimagining dismantles the concept that some believers have hierarchical authority over others. It also draws a distinction between “official” authority and “spiritual” authority.]