"Moses Model"

"Moses Model" is a term that was coined to represent a form of church government where the pastor is the clear leader, usually with a board of elders to support the pastor in his leadership. Some pastors have described this structure as “benevolent dictatorship”.

Chuck Smith, the Pastor who started Calvary Chapel and led it until his death in 2013, is said to be the founder of this system. In Calvary Chapel Distinctives, the "foundational principles of the Calvary Chapel movement," he states in the first chapter over and over that "The book of Acts gives us the model for the church" (pg. 17). In the same chapter he says "Looking at the book of Acts I believe we see the church as God intended it to be" (pg. 13) and "In Calvary Chapel we look to the book of Acts as the model for the church" (pg. 11). However, in the next chapter he contradicts this and says "As Pastors, we need to be like Moses" (pg. 22) and contends that "we find in Scripture a form of government that God established and modeled, in the early history of Israel" (pg. 21). If the book of Acts serves as the divine ideal for the church, then why must we derive our formulation of church government from the Moses model in the book of Exodus? He says, "Moses was the earthly leader who was recognized as receiving from God the guidance, direction, laws, and rules for the nation."(pg.21) He then clarifies, “Also, like Moses, within the church we have a Board of Elders who are there to pray with us and support us in seeking the Lord’s leading for the church (pg. 23).” So it's just the Pastor ruling and the clearly impotent Board of Elders who prays and supports the Pastor? He says, “It’s necessary to have godly men who recognize that God has called and ordained you as the pastor of the church. Men who will work with you and support those things that God is directing you, as the pastor, to implement within the church (pg. 23).” So Chuck says the early church in Acts is the ideal model in the first chapter, but he basically follows the model of Moses with the prayer and support of a "Board of Elders."

I have several problems with model. A Pastor in the role that Moses was in is more powerful than any CEO of a corporation or leader of a nation. The only analogy is that of a dictator. Moses was in this unique position in a Theocracy, where God was directly ruling the nation of Israel. God knew what he was doing putting Moses in this unique position because Moses was hearing directly from God. The Bible says, "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man would speak to his friend" (Ex. 33:11). Putting a Pastor on this pedestal can work for a while but this fails as soon as the Pastor inevitably fails. Keep in mind that even Moses failed in this model and as a result, he didn't get to enter the Promised Land. The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them" (Numbers 20:12).

Another problem I have with this model is that when these dictators give their orders, they are to be followed and not questioned. Unfortunately the last two churches I attended operated this way. In both churches I was hurt by this, which is essentially authoritarian abuse.

This type of dictatorship creates an environment where abuse can breed and grow, and many pastors fall into temptations including affairs and misuse of funds, and large waves of people are expressing pain and hurt. This is what happened to Bob Coy who was the founder and Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale but had multiple affairs over many years, and an addiction to pornography. He was eventually caught and immediately resigned. This not gossip but rather what was preached by Pastor Chet Lowe shortly after this. Regardless, it is clear from this example that even in a very large church with all eyes on one man, it is easy for adultery or other major sins to exist without anyone's knowledge. After this happened, Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale designated a "Lead Pastor" so we will have to see if the "Moses Model" continues or not.

Another problem with this model is that Moses was not the priest of the people, where a Pastor needs to be. The priest to Israel at that time was Aaron. Aaron was the one charged with lifting the sacrifices of the people up to God and ministering to the people on an individual level. Because Moses had complained to God that he was not a good speaker, God declared to Moses that Aaron "will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth..." (Exodus 4:16). Most Moses Model adherents do not have an Aaron priest on staff and when they do, the Pastor loses touch with the people. In the first "Moses Model" church I attended, the Sr. Pastor rarely interacted with the congregation. He has admitted to the congregation that he doesn't like counseling and doesn't do it because he "doesn't have the patience." What kind of Pastor doesn't have the patience to counsel and help people? In the last church I went to, the Pastor interacted with people on a friendly basis on Sunday but it didn't appear to go much further than that. And when I expressed a valid concern to him privately via email, I was told that I wasn't in a position to do that and was immediately removed from ministry.

A major difference between the calling of Moses and that of New Testament pastors is the people they are called to lead. Moses led a group of hard-hearted, stubborn, unregenerate people. Pastors today are a member of the Body of Christ, which is comprised largely of Spirit-filled, Christ indwelled, temples of the living God. Each individual in the church is a member of the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2) and need to be treated as such.

Moses was a leader model of the Old Testament. To follow his lead exclusively, or even predominately, is trying to fit a New Testament church into an Old Testament relationship, which is putting new wine into old wine skins (Luke 5). The book of Acts contains several specific examples of church government. We have a congregational election for the deaconate, initiated by the elders, in Acts 6. We have the elders teaching and formulating doctrine. We have a model for dealing with doctrinal disagreement amongst elders in Acts 15; note: even the Apostles were not exempt from being subject to the council of elders. If we can believe that the early church had a clear model for church government, that scripture doesn’t contradict itself, and acknowledge the other books of the bible, we can very easily formulate a biblical model for church government.

In this and prior chapters Smith is also guilty of proof-texting. Proof-texting is the assumption that acceptable doctrine is only found in concise, ordered, statements or verses in scripture. A Jehovah Witness might attempt the proof-texting fallacy to discredit the doctrine of the trinity by asking, “where in scripture does the bible say God is a trinity.” Unless the Christian is allowed to tie together various principles and truths throughout all of scripture, proving the trinity by proof-texting is an impossibility. There is no one concise verse that says it all.

Chuck Smith is guilty of proof-texting when he chooses one book out of 66 to represent what he believes is the best model for church government. He also proof-texts the four foundational elements of the church from Acts 2:42 as representing the essential functions of the Church (pg. 13). By finding one verse that contained several points, he fallaciously adds credibility to his “book of acts only” ecclesiology. What is interesting from those “four foundational elements that guarantee God’s blessing” is that they list only one of two sacraments; baptism is missing. It is also missing the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. One must admit from the context that Luke never intended Acts 2:42 to be an all inclusive four keys to the ideal church. One would do better to take Acts 2:42 and the many directives for worship found in between Genesis – Revelation as a whole.

There is much to be said for strong pastoral leadership. We see evidence of that in the New Testament. That strength though, was based in a humility in Christ. Peter received a rebuke and correction from Paul (Galatians 2), Paul was honest about his struggles. In 1 Timothy 3 we read there are requirements to be a leader in the New Testament church, and in 2 Timothy 4 we read of Paul warning the believers of those who cannot be trusted (Demas and Alexander). Following these models then, churches should have an air of accountability and transparency, not a dictatorship.


© Todd Tyszka
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