The paradox is understandable, given that for most of history - and, unfortunately, in many nations still today - those who are in power have abused that responsibility, have lorded it over their subjects and have treated those beneath them as anything but valuable. But this is what makes the kingdom of Jesus so glorious, that instead of abolishing hierarchical relationships, he redeems them.
His early disciples didn't quite understand this. We can't really blame them, because they thought Jesus was going to set up this great earthly kingdom where he'd overthrow the oppressive Romans, and the Jews would finally be the ruling class. So we see why James and John approached Jesus one time and asked to sit at his right and left hands when he finally took the throne. They wanted to secure the highest places in his kingdom. But Jesus turns their request on its head by explaining two things -
- first, that to even share in his glory in the first place, they had to be willing to suffer. ALOT. Jesus taught his disciples that following him meant enduring suffering, shame, rejection, and persecution, even unto death. The glory part comes later.
- but second, and more importantly, Jesus tells his disciples, "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them, and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. But among you it will be different. Instead, whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."
So, this is my very brief argument for hierarchy in the church. Because it shouldn't look anything like what the world considers hierarchy. Because if someone in the church is in authority over me, and he is using that authority to SERVE me, then how can I feel any less than valuable, precious, and imminently worthy (equal)?
This is, in fact, the very model that Jesus gave us with his life. Jesus - the KING, the one with the MOST authority, the one with ALL the power, the one most deserving of all accolades and respect - this Jesus used his position to touch (and heal) lepers, to teach women, to love prostitutes, to submit himself to human authorities for torture and death. The king willingly went to his death for the good of his people. Yet, in all these things, he was still the king.
To give a modern example - the President of the USA enjoys a great many benefits that the lowly citizen like myself does not. In our system of government, he is MUCH higher on the totem pole than I. If we were in any public setting together, he would be treated with the greatest deference and honor while I'd pretty much be ignored. But the President and I are equal citizens under the laws of this great country. Barack Obama and I are 100% equal as human beings. Obama does not enjoy his privileges because of who he is, but because of the role that he fulfills, a role that I am subject to as a member of this society.
So, too, in the church. Every Christian is equal in the sight of God - equally sinful and equally made righteous in Jesus. No difference. And because of this great equality, we can have 'hierarchical' positions of authority in the church. And those who fill those roles are to serve, to be the slaves not the lords of the members of the church. I can praise that kind of hierarchy because it reflects the great humility of the one I am ultimately submitted to - Jesus.