Ignatius of Antioch may have proposed a three-point system of ecclesiastical rank, but the Primitive Christians knew of no such arrangement. Concerning EPISKOPOS, J. Rohde contends: "one is not to conclude from the [singular usage in 1 Tim. 3:2] that already a single bishop is assumed as a monarchical leader at the head of the community" (Exegetical Dictionary of the NT, Vol. 2:36).
Rohde reasons that the use of the singular in 1 Tim. 3:2 is generic and the context likely supports his view. He thus concludes:
"The monarchical bishop appears first in Ignatius. It
is not certain, however, whether Ignatius describes
existing conditions or sets up ideal requirements that
do not correspond to reality." (Ibid.)
Again, Christ taught: "The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. You, though, are not to be that way. But let him that is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the one acting as chief as the one ministering" (Lk. 22:25-27).
Based on these dominical utterances from our Lord, I have no problem acknowledging that there are individuals in the
congregation, who take the lead and even govern the Christian ecclesia (Hb. 13:7, 17). But I would no more call these men "leaders" than call myself the "leader" or "chieftain" of my family since my decisions are "binding" (in principle) as head of my family. But the family head is not necessarily the family "leader" (1 Cor. 11:3).
One Catholic commentator believes that the term EKKLHSIA in Mt. 18:17 has reference to the local Christian community (A.T. Robertson explains this passage in a similar fashion). The Catholic scholar writes: "The local congregation is meant, whether in formal assembly for meeting or through its board of elders" (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew [Sacra Pagina Series], Collegeville, The Liturgical Press, 1991, page 269).
Jehovah's Witnesses take Jesus' words seriously and try to imitate what Harrington (S.J.) calls the "Matthean community." He supplements his observation about EKKLHSIA with these words:
"Against this common Near Eastern tendency toward
social hierarchy Matthew forbids the use of titles and
the exercise of highly authoritative roles (23:8-12) .
. . The resistance to hierarchically structured roles
and emphasis on equality is typical of sects in the
first generation. All the members have begun a new
life together and are to participate fully and equally
in the emerging community" (Harrington, op. cit., page
While I do not agree with Harrington's assessment of Matthew's Gospel as a whole, and while I do not accept his historical-critical presuppositions, his exegesis of Mt. 23:8-12 appears to be on target. If rejecting ecclesiastical hierarchy places me in company with the "Matthean community," then so be it!
To clarify the position set forth here, though, I have no problem with elders, ministerial servants (DIAKONOI) or different types of overseers supervising the ecclesia today.