Serve the Community of the Church: Christians as Leaders and Ministers

By Hellerman, Joe | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Serve the Community of the Church: Christians as Leaders and Ministers


Hellerman, Joe, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Serve the Community of the Church: Christians as Leaders and Ministers. By Andrew D. Clarke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, vii + 305 pp., $30,00.

Clarke is lecturer in NT at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. A previous book (Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: A Sociohistorical and Exegetical Study of I Corinthians 1-6 [Brill, 1993]) has adequately equipped Clarke to offer the broader and more general treatment found in the present volume. Clarke compares leadership in Paul's churches with leadership as conceived and exercised in the dominant culture of Greco-Roman antiquity. Although the book contains two major sections (dealing with secular and Christian leadership), Clarke's own methodology prepares the reader for three levels of analysis: (1) leadership in Greco-Roman society; (2) the influence of society's leadership values on Paul's churches; and (3) Paul's response to problems that arose from the appropriation of leadership values from the dominant culture.

Clarke excels in the first half of the book (chaps. 1-6), where he carefully delineates the ways in which leadership was envisioned and exercised in five social spheres: (1) the Greco-Roman city; (2) the Roman colony; (3) voluntary associations; (4) the family and household; and (5) the Jewish synagogue. In each case the reader encounters a helpful overview of current scholarship, along with numerous citations from primary sources in support of the author's thesis. Thus, for example, the extensive inscription from an early second-century burial society in Lanuvium, Italy (CIL 14.2.112) and Trajan's letter to Pliny forbidding a guild of firemen (Ep. 10.34) illustrate the social and political dimensions, respectively, of voluntary associations.

Clarke demonstrates that leadership in urban antiquity was not based upon proven skills, formal training, or other qualifications familiar to modern Westerners. Rather, the importance of public honor, in conjunction with the widespread practice of patronage, generated an approach to leadership that focused almost exclusively on a single qualification: social status. Positions of leadership were acquired "on the basis of honour and wealth" (p. 148). This was true not only among the small percentage of the empire's elites who had access to civic honors. The same approach to leadership was replicated among groups at the lower echelons of the social hierarchy (e.g. voluntary associations and Jewish synagogues). Clarke summarizes, "Graeco-Roman society was highly stratified, and at all levels of the community life people recognized and elevated the status quo whereby those of comparatively greater rank and social standing received due deference and honour" (pp. 146-47).

Chapter 7 considers the degree to which the five groups (above) influenced the social organization of early Christianity. The discussion is illuminating, and Clarke takes a rather conservative approach to the idea of outside influence. On some issues, however, the treatment could have been more thorough. …

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