This important work engages with a long historical debate: were the earliest Christians under the direction of ordained ministers, or under the influence of inspired laypeople? Who was in charge: bishops, elders and deacons, or apostles, prophets and teachers? Rather than trace Church offices backwards, Burtchaell examines the contemporary Jewish communities and finds evidence that Christians simply continued the offices of the synagogue. Thus, he asserts that from the very first they were presided over by officers. The author then advances the provocative view that in the first century it was not the officers who spoke with the most authority. They presided, but did not lead, and deferred to more charismatic laypeople. Burtchaell sees the evidence in favor of the Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican view that bishops have always presided in the Christian Church. At the same time he argues alongside the Prostestants that in its formative era the Church deferred most to the judgment of those who were inspired, yet never ordained.
"This is an important, very well organized, clearly argued book." Eglise et Theologie "This book is a good historical overview of the consensus which has shaped much of our thinking about leadership within churches..." EARL (John Hopkins) "...highly instructive, well documented and very well written...an important contribution to the study of the relationship of Hellenistic synagogue and Church in agenda and organization. The identification of this relationship is a valuable addition to the debate on office in the early Church." Enrique Nardoni, Theological Studies "...lucid and accessible...an original contribution to the age-old and ongoing controversy concerning leadership structures in the initial Christian communities." Priests and People "Professor Burtchaell has written an important book on the origins of ordained ministries...a pleasure to read, even at its most challenging." Gerard S. Sloyan, Worship "In this learned and significant study James Burtchaell, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, challenges the long standing and often reiterated Protestant 'consensus' positing a discontinuity between church and synagogue." E. Glenn Hinson, Church History "Burtchaell's reading of the history of the debate is...convincing...he correctly challenges the idea that ritual and structure are alien to true religion, suggesting that true religion is also found in the institutional expressions of community, even in Christianity." James C. Hanges, Critical Review