(3) Moses delegated Responsibility to small groups. A listing of what I see wrong with this argument:
- First, there’s the problem that this was something that needed addressing within that generation of Israelites. It was unique to their situation and eventually would prove problematic when they solely consisted of small groups (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:24-25). The text depicts Moses dealing with all the problems of the people by himself and then a non-Jew Jethro coming in and pointing out that there were better ways to do things (Ex 18:14).3 But that’s not to say that it was eternally the best way to do things.
- Second, this unique situation already had a system for dealing with the problems—Israel was made up of Tribes and those tribes were made up of families and each of those had leaders (Numbers 1-3). The fact that Moses could find leaders to judge within the groups, by telling the tribes to pick amongst their own tribes (Deut 1:9, 13) has nothing to do with breaking into smaller groups but everything to do with utilizing the structure that was already in place without supplanting it with Moses The Judge King.
- Third, it is true that the establishing of the local judges was a matter that required looking at the character of the individuals (Exo 18:21). But let’s not overplay this hand. None of these people were really the best judges to begin with (the second section of Numbers establishes that). Serious situations still had to go before Moses (Ex 18:22, 26). The local judges dealt with simple things and there’s no explanation of what those things were. In Numbers 15:32, conceivably a simple matter, a man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath had to be brought before Moses. Jump ahead to Numbers 25 and apparently the people have no problem going off to have a religious meal with their enemies (Numbers 25). And when it’s time to deal with the problem, some take it upon themselves to deal with it without raising the matter further up the line (Numbers 25:6-9). So an argument from the explicit situation of these people seems to call for some further unification and perhaps bespeaks of some better form of leadership.
- Fourth, this only really supports the need for leaders to delegate responsibility when they are handling the bulk of the work. Moses was judging every issue. Jethro saw the issue as pragmatically problematic: Moses and the people would waste all their time in court (Exo. 18:18). So divvy up that responsibility. This doesn’t seem like what the SGMPs are pushing for. They seem to be emphasizing smaller groups for fellowship and discipleship, but not really to function as mini-tribunals before arriving to the Supreme Court of the Church Elders/Pastors.
Beside all that there is also the issue that this bit was actually incorporated into the law (or at the very least the historical introduction to the re-telling of the law Deut 1:9-18)
- First, it could be argued that this is a civil requirement. It’s not so much a necessity on how assemblies should split up but is rather an explanation on how states should look over cases or how governing bodies could be organized.
- Second, it could also be argued that Christians are not the nation of Israel. They are free to remain uncircumcised, they operate under another priesthood, they meet wherever they want, and they can eat whatever they want. For all intents and purposes, a change in the law bespeaks of setting aside the law (Heb 7:12). Of course, this would necessitate more space than I’m willing to deal with here but it would be more easily summarized by this: we are no longer under law (Rom. 2:12; 3:19; 1st Cor. 9:20; Gal. 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18) therefore citing the law as a guiding principle is wrongheaded. That’s not to say that we can now do everything the law was against, but it is to say that simply because it is in the law doesn’t mean we necessarily have to be those who do it. Jesus would say that the entire law and prophets hangs on two commandments (Matt 22:40) so the person would have to argue how this section is actually fundamental to loving and fellowship.
- Third, they do argue that SGs are fundamental to fellowship but they don’t really make the connection with this mandate of the law explicit. The reason is obvious: Moses isn’t mandating this legal structure for making fellowship small-groups. He’s doing it for the reasons I mentioned above.