A Job Description for Lay Elders

Jeramie Rinne is an author and the senior pastor of South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts. In an article entitled “A Job Description for Lay Elders” at 9marks ministries he talked to your wife, and got the input of a few trusted church members. With a mixture of trepidation and excitement you accepted the nomination, and a few weeks later you were voted into office.

Now you sit at your first elders’ meeting, waiting for things to start. And a nagging thought arises: “Okay, I am an elder. Now what do I do?”

WELL-INTENTIONED BUT ILL-INFORMED

Lay elders are often godly, well-intentioned men who love the Lord and serve the church faithfully. But they sometimes lack a well-rounded understanding of the biblical job description for elders. Unfortunately, we paid pastors often share in their confusion!

As a result, lay elders sometimes fill the gaps of their understanding with their own life experiences. They assume being an elder is roughly equivalent to serving on a board of trustees for a non-profit organization, or leading a company, or managing a project, or commanding a warship, or supervising sub-contractors. While aspects of those skills and experiences will prove useful, none of them adequately approximates the elder task.

So what is a lay elder’s job description? What are they supposed to do? Attend meetings? Approve budgets? Distribute communion?

SHEPHERD GOD’S FLOCK

Here’s the short answer from the apostle Peter: “I exhort the elders among you: shepherd God’s flock” (1 Pet. 5:2; see also Jn. 21:15-16 and Acts 20:28). Elders serve the Good Shepherd by providing his local flocks with spiritual oversight. Elders feed, lead, protect, and nurture church members like shepherds do with sheep.

Let’s get even more specific. While shepherding is a powerful metaphor for framing an elder’s job description, our new elder needs concrete instructions. He needs an answer to his question, “Now what do I do?” Fortunately, God’s Word lists very specific duties that help elders put the shepherding imagery to work.

FOUR PRIMARY DUTIES

Here are four duties that are central to the elder’s job description. While this list is not exhaustive, I believe if lay elders devoted themselves to these four things, they would excel as shepherds.

1. Teach

An elder must be “an able teacher” (1 Tim. 3:2; see 5:17). He must hold “to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and refute those who contradict it” (Tit. 1:9). Jesus’ under-shepherds feed Jesus’ sheep with Jesus’ word.

If you’re an elder, find venues for teaching the Bible regularly. Teach a Sunday school class, lead a home group, give a lesson to the youth group, or study Scripture with a member over coffee. And if you’re offered a chance to preach, take it.

Further, tune in to the church’s overall teaching ministry. Keep a finger on the pulse of what’s being taught through congregational singing or in the Sunday school curriculum. Listen closely when members talk about what they’re reading and be alert for rotten food in their spiritual diet.

Finally, remember that teaching includes training others to perpetuate the church’s teaching ministry. As Paul said to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). So bring along an apprentice teacher whenever you can.

2. Lead

Just as shepherds lead their flocks, so elders lead local congregations. The biblical writers also call elders “overseers,” a title that highlights their role as leaders (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1; Tit. 1:5, 7). Hebrews instructs Christians to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

Elders, be brave and lead your church. Don’t hide among the baggage like King Saul. When you see challenges in your church, face them proactively and plot a course forward.

Courageous leadership might involve reaching out to a frustrated member who’s stopped attending, or confronting an unrepentant member through church discipline. Or it could mean wrestling through staffing strategies, budget challenges, or important policies that affect the spiritual identity of the congregation.

As you lead, don’t lose sight of the destination. The goal isn’t to lead a church to become an efficient organization, as important as that may be. Rather, elders should lead church members toward maturity in Christ. Jesus gave teaching shepherds to the church “to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:12-13).

Elders bring the flock to green pastures and still waters when they help members know Jesus more and increasingly reflect his glory together.

3. Model

Most importantly, elders lead by example. Shepherd the church “not [by] lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). Not surprisingly, the New Testament lists of elder qualifications focus predominantly on character (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). An elder’s most basic job is to say “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

The mandate to model maturity carries two critical implications. First, modeling means you must guard your godliness: “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16). Continue to live close to the Lord, nurture your wife and children well, resist sin, and love people. Open your life to the loving accountability of the other elders. Modeling maturity is a team project.

That leads to a second implication: modeling requires elders to be among the people. It only works if people see you up close. So open your life to church members. Invite them into your home, your hobbies, and your ministry. People need a firsthand experience of how you handle stress, relate to your wife, respond to difficult people, and humbly admit when you blow it.

4. Pray

Finally, elders should take up the apostolic shepherding mantle and say, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry” (Acts 6:4). Ultimately elders are powerless in themselves to mature anyone in Christ; only the Holy Spirit can do that through God’s Word. The sooner an elder realizes this, the sooner he will hit his knees and plead for a continual work of grace among church members, as well as in his own life.

So if you’re a lay elder (or a paid elder!), strive to be a man of prayer. Build regular prayer into your daily rhythms. Pray over your church’s membership rolls during the commute or while you’re walking the dog. Carve out time as an elder board for concerted prayer. And when you’re talking to a church member, be sure to stop and pray for her right then and there.

SHEPHERD LIKE JESUS

Maybe we could sum up an elder’s job description this way: shepherd the church members like Jesus shepherds his disciples.

Like Jesus, make teaching central to your ministry, and make Jesus and the gospel the primary content of your teaching. In every decision, lead your people toward knowing and trusting Jesus. Let them see the character of Jesus exemplified in your life. And just as Jesus often turned aside to pray, so you as an elder should join Jesus in interceding for his people.

The under-shepherds of Jesus are at their best when they reflect Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.

Five Ugly Qualities of the Anti-Elder

fiveArticle: 5 Ugly Qualities of the Anti-Elder by Tim Challies (original source many people in positions of church leadership who should not be in positions of church leadership. There are many pastors who should not be pastors, many elders who have no business being elders.

This is not a new problem. In the pages of the New Testament both Paul and Peter labor to describe the man who is qualified to the office of elder. It is noteworthy that almost all of these qualifications are related to character. Where we are drawn to outward skill, God cares far more for inward character. There are millions of men who are great teachers and great leaders and great C.E.O.’s, but still completely unsuited to leadership in the church. God’s standards are very, very different.

In the book of Titus, Paul writes to a young man and charges him to appoint elders in every church in Crete. He tells him what kind of man to look for and as he does this he gives a glimpse of the anti-elder, the kind of man who may seek the office but who is absolutely unsuited to it. Paul offers 5 anti-qualifications, 5 things an elder must not be. He may not display all of these traits, but he will display at least some of them.

Here are the 5 qualities of the anti-elder:

The anti-elder is a dictator. Paul says, “He must not be arrogant.” The anti-elder is marked by arrogance and aggression, and therefore he makes decisions that are to his own advantage rather than to the advantage of the people in his care. He has a kind of unrestrained ambition that causes him to run over people rather than care for them. Instead of listening carefully and leading gently, he cuts people off and demands that he have his own way. The anti-elder is a dictator over his own little dominion.

The anti-elder is short-fused. “He must not be … quick-tempered.” The anti-elder has a hot temper and a quick temper. He lives by his passions, and refuses to exhibit any kind of mastery over his anger. Instead of leading in love, he leads through fear and when people get in his way, he explodes at them. All the while he justifies his anger by his ambition or his sense of calling, convincing himself that anyone who hinders him is actually hindering the Lord.

The anti-elder is an addict. “He must not be … a drunkard.” The anti-elder is addicted to alcohol or other addicting substances. He has surrendered control of his life to some kind of substance, over-using it, and eventually becoming dependent upon it. But as an arrogant and quick-tempered man, he will not allow others to speak to his sin or curb him from his sin. He is addicted, but still considers himself suited to ministry.

The anti-elder is a bully. “He must not be … violent.” The anti-elder bullies and abuses other people in order to get his way. He is a brawler, a man who is itching for a fight, willing to use force to get his own way. He will bully people with his words or even his fists. He will use force of personality or the strength of his position to coerce people to do his will, and to be domineering over them. Rather than using the Word to gently lead and guide people, he uses the Bible to bully them and to force them to do his bidding. He is an abuser.

The anti-elder is greedy. “He must not be … greedy for gain.” The anti-elder is greedy for financial gain. For this man pastoral ministry is not a calling and not a means through which he can serve God by serving God’s people; rather, ministry is a means to personal enrichment. He demands an exorbitant salary, and hops from church-to-church to climb the financial ladder. He does not regard his congregation as people God has entrusted to his care, but as marks through which he can enrich himself. The anti-elder loves his paycheck more than his people.

Alongside this anti-elder Paul holds up the elder, the real elder, the called and qualified elder who is different in every way. He is a man who is above reproach, who loves to extend generous hospitality, who loves what is good, who exhibits self-control, who is upright, and holy, and disciplined, and who holds fast to the truth revealed to us by God. He is a man who subjects his entire life to God and who serves him humbly and faithfully.

Thank God for godly elders.

Women Elders?

stormsArticle: Dr. Sam Storms (original source I disagree. I believe the NT portrays for us a virtually air-tight case for governance by a plurality of Elders. However, it is important to realize that even if this is not the case we can still determine whether or not women should be appointed to positions of senior governmental authority.

When seeking to determine whether women should be elevated to a certain office in the local church, one should be less concerned with the title (whether “Elder” or “Bishop” or “Deacon” or “Pastor”) and more with the actual functional authority that each church/denomination invests in that position (which isn’t to say that being careful in our use of biblical terms is unimportant).

So today we will examine 10 things you should know about whether or not women should be Elders in the local church.

(1) We should first take note of the consistent portrayal in the NT of local churches being governed or led by Elders. Among these many texts we would include Acts 11:29-30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:1-6; Acts 15:22-23; Acts 16:4; Acts 20:17; Acts 21:17-18; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 5:19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1; and 1 Peter 5:5. I don’t find any indication that a local church was to be governed by a single elder or pastor. The consistent NT witness is that each church was under the oversight of a plurality of elders/bishops.

(2) The English word “elder” is the translation of the Greek presbuteros, from which we get “Presbyter” and “Presbyterian”. Our English word “bishop” comes from the Greek episkopos, from which we get the word “Episcopal” and “Episcopalian”. “Elder” and “Bishop” are interchangeable in the New Testament. What I mean is that they are two different words that describe the same office or authoritative function. “Elder” focuses on the dignity and gravity of the person who serves while “Bishop” focuses on the practical function of the office (literally, one who exercises oversight).

Why do I believe they are interchangeable? First, according to Acts 20:17 Paul called for the elders of the church to come to him. But later in v. 28, in referring to these same elders, he says that God has made them overseers (ESV) or bishops in the church. Second, Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). When Paul then turns to list the qualifications for this office he says, “For an overseer (i.e., bishop or episkopon) . . . must be above approach,” etc. Clearly these two terms refer to the same office.

Third, “in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul says, ‘If any one aspires to the office of bishop/overseer, he desires a noble task.’ Then he gives the qualifications for the overseer/bishop in verses 2-7. Unlike the deacons, the overseer must be ‘able to teach’ (v. 2), and in v. 5 he is said to be one whose management of his own household fits him to care for God’s church. These two functions are ascribed to elders in the fifth chapter of this same book (1 Timothy 5:17) – teaching and governing. So it is very likely that in Paul’s mind the bishops/overseers of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are the same as the elders of 5:17” (John Piper).

Fourth, 1 Timothy 3:1-13 clearly indicates that there are two primary offices in the NT: Elder and Deacon. Yet in Philippians 1:1 Paul directs his epistle “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers (episkopoi) and deacons.” Since Paul’s practice was to appoint elders in every church (Acts 14:23) it seems reasonable that the overseers/bishops in Philippians 1:1 is a reference to the elders in that city.

The Greek word (poimen) translated “pastor” is used only once in the NT in Ephesians 4:11. The related verb form (poimaino) has the meaning “to shepherd” or “to feed” with the idea of nurturing and sustaining the flock of God. When I put together Ephesians 4:11, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9, Acts 20:28, and 1 Peter 5:1-2, it would appear reasonable to conclude that all elders exercised pastoral responsibilities.

My conclusion is that the local church is to be governed by a plurality of individuals who are described in the New Testament as elders, insofar as they hold an office of great dignity and importance (perhaps even with an allusion to age or at least spiritual maturity), or bishops, insofar as they exercise oversight of the body of Christ, or pastors, insofar as they spiritually feed, care for, and exercise guardianship over the flock of God.

(3) There are several reasons why I believe that this ruling or governmental office is restricted to men. First, I appeal to the NT two-fold description of the function of elders. (a) They are those who govern or rule the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; 1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:17). (b) They are those who are primarily responsible for teaching the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11 [assuming the words “pastor” and “teacher” refer to one function or office of “pastor-teacher”; the best grammatical analysis would indicate this is true]; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9). Since I believe that Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 restricted teaching and exercising authority to men, it follows that the office of Elder or Bishop is restricted to men.

(4) A second reason looks to the qualifications for the office of Elder that are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. An Elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6; need I say more?). Note also that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

(5) There is no reference anywhere in the New Testament to a female elder. You may wish to object by pointing out that this is an argument from silence. Yes, it is. But it is a deafening silence, especially when taken in conjunction with the two previous points. The bottom line is that we simply have no biblical precedent for female elders nor anything in the text that describes their nature, function, and qualifications that would lead us to believe that this could ever be a possibility.

I agree that women can serve as deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Rom. 16:1-2; although this is disputed by others), that they can assist and support, as “co-workers”, someone such as the apostle Paul (Phil. 4:2-3), that they can evangelize, and that they can possess and exercise in biblically appropriate ways every spiritual gift (except that of “apostle,” although I’m not persuaded “apostleship” is a spiritual gift). I believe that women can serve and minister in virtually every capacity aside from what I have called “senior governmental authority”.

(6) Some egalitarians have argued that since Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) were “co-workers” with Paul, women were in positions of leadership and should thus be considered as viable candidates for the office of Elder. But the Greek word sunergos (“co-worker” or “fellow-worker”) is used of numerous individuals (e.g., Rom. 16:9; Phil. 2:25; Col. 4:10-11; Philemon 24; etc.), as well as anyone who supports traveling missionaries (3 John 8). But this in no way implies that such people exercised ruling authority in the local church. Whereas all Elders would certainly qualify as “co-workers,” not all “co-workers” would qualify as Elders. Their “work” in support of the gospel, whether as those who provide financial aid, or those who evangelize, or those who intercede in prayer, or those who serve in any number of capacities, does not in and of itself indicate they were invested with governmental authority or were even qualified to serve in such a capacity (cf. Rom. 16:1-2). Continue reading

Above Reproach and Well Thought of By Outsiders

verse 7 says “he must be well thought of by outsiders.” What do these two requirements mean?

Not This

Let’s start with what the requirements cannot mean. Surely, Paul is not saying that a man who would serve as an elder or pastor must be without any enemies or any accusations, for elsewhere in his correspondence to Timothy, Paul intimates that many have opposed him, deserted him, and been ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:8, 15, 16; 4:10, 14-16). Moreover, we know from Paul’s other letters he was accused of being everything from fickle and foolish, to overly weak and overly harsh (2 Cor. 1:12-23; 10:1-10). Likewise, in Acts, Paul is often derided as a rabble-rouser, a violator of the Torah, and an enemy of the law of Moses (e.g., Acts 21:27-36). Paul was certainly not above reproach in the eyes of his opponents, neither did he have a good reputation with all outsiders.

We see this same dynamic even more plainly with Jesus. If anyone could be labeled “controversial” or “embattled” or “haunted by serious allegation” or “surrounded by scandal,” it was Christ. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34), a false prophet (Luke 7:39), a Sabbath breaker (Luke 6:2, 7), a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34), insane (Mark 3:21), demon-possessed (John 10:19-20, 31-33), and a blasphemer (Matt. 26:57-67). He died as a convicted criminal with hardly a public friend in the world. He was, as Rich Mullins put it, “a man of no reputation.”

So unless we want to exclude Paul and Jesus from serving as an overseer in the church, we must conclude that being above reproach and being well thought of by outsiders must mean something other than, “everyone likes this guy; he has no enemies and no accusations against him.” Not only is this standard untenable for almost anyone who has a public profile in today’s social media world, it’s not biblically consistent. The qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus must mean something else. Continue reading

Does an Unbelieving Child Disqualify an Elder?

JustinTaylor02Does the New Testament teach that an unbelieving child disqualifies an elder?

Justin Taylor, father of three, elder at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois, and vice president of book publishing at Crossway writes:

There can be few things in life more painful than an unbelieving child. And when the child is the son or daughter of an elder, the questions take on a public dimension in the life of the church. Doesn’t the apostle Paul say something about elders needing to have children who are believers? The verses under consideration are 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and Titus 1:6. We’ll look at them in more detail below, but at this point it’s helpful to look at the two different conclusions that faithful interpreters have reached. Douglas Wilson holds to the first option: “If a man’s children fall away from the faith (either doctrinally or morally), he is at that point disqualified from formal ministry in the church” (Douglas Wilson, “The Pastor’s Kid” in Credenda/Agenda, vol. 2, no. 3). Alexander Strauch holds to the second view: “The contrast is made not between believing and unbelieving children, but between obedient, respectful children and lawless, uncontrolled children.” In other words, Paul is talking about “the children’s behavior, not their eternal state” (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, 229). Which one is right? To answer that, we have to take a careful look at the key texts.

Faithful Leadership in the Church and Home

In 1 Timothy 3:4, Paul says that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.” In the next verse he explains why: “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” The obvious answer to the rhetorical question is that he can’t. In other words, if you can’t manage your household at home, you won’t be able to care for the household of God. If you regular lose control of your kids, why should you be trusted to lead and protect a flock? John Stott gets the biblical logic right: “The married pastor is called to leadership in two families, his and God’s, and the former is to be the training ground of the latter” (John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, 98). None of this is particularly controversial. It’s when we get to Titus 1:6 that the harder question arises.

Must an Elder’s Children Be Believers?

Paul says that an elder’s “children [must be] believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” On first glance, the answer looks obvious. Paul says that an elder’s kids must be believers. But note the footnote in the ESV: believers can also be translated faithful. (It’s important to pay attention to footnotes in the translations of biblical texts, as they alert us when there are other equally valid translation options.) The Greek word here is pistas, which can mean either “believing” or “faithful” in the pastoral epistles. (For example, see “believing masters” in 1 Timothy 6:2 and “faithful men” in 2 Timothy 2:2). Word studies alone can’t solve this—it depends on the context.

But let’s be clear on the two big options: Paul either meant that (1) an elder’s children have to be believers, or (2) an elder’s children must at least be faithful, submissive, and obedient.

How do we decide? The Reformers rightly insisted that we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Here we have one author (Paul) writing separately to two young church planters (Timothy and Titus) talking about the same subject (elder qualifications). How do the two passages about family life compare? When we look at the Greek, we see how similar the language is between 1 Timothy 3:4 and Titus 1:6. You can see the similarities even if you don’t know Greek:

Greek1-JT-Timothy-Titus

The most natural assumption is that Paul is saying the same thing in slightly different ways. (As Andreas Köstenberger points out, it would be unusual if Paul gave Timothy a more lenient standard about elder’s children and Titus a more stringent one.) If they mean the same thing, then to have children who are pista means to have children who are hypotag?. And what does it mean to have children who are hypotag?? Paul explains it in the next clause: “not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (see note below*).

Four More Reasons

With that in mind, here are four further reasons that incline me to believe that Paul is referring to the submission and obedience of an elder’s children, and not to their salvation. Continue reading

1 Timothy 2:12

DanielWallace1 Timothy 2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. (KJV)

Transcript (excerpt) of a lecture by Dr. Dan Wallace, “From the KJV to the RV”:

“In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul gives his instructions to Timothy, and in the King James he says essentially, ‘I do not permit a woman to usurp authority over a man.’ Now usurp means to take that authority on for oneself illegitimately or to steal it if you will.

Every once in a while we have some women preachers who come to the Seminary – its a rare opportunity, but when they come in they get behind a pulpit and they say, ‘I am not usurping anyone’s authority here today to speak to you. This authority has been granted to me by the Chaplain.’

Well, when they say that, their view is based on the wording of the King James Version of 1 Timothy 2:12, but its not based on the meaning of the Greek text.

Now the King James translators got that from Erasmus’ Latin text because the Greek word that is used there is used very rarely in all of Greek literature. And so, they did not know exactly what it meant. So they consulted Erasmus’ Latin text. You recall all of Erasmus’ Greek editions had Latin on one side and Greek on the other, and he had changed Jerome’s Latin Vulgate here incorrectly. The Latin word he used was ‘usurpare’ and consequently, the King James translators, put in ‘usurp.’

Almost all modern translations render it correctly as “exercise authority.'”

**1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve… (ESV)

**1 Timothy 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve… (NASB)

Plurality of Elders v. Single Bishop

Were Early Churches Ruled by Elders or a Single Bishop? Michael J. Kruger Christians have disagreed about what leadership structure the church ought to use. From the bishop-led Anglicans to the informal Brethren churches, there is great diversity.

And one of the fundamental flash points in this debate is the practice of the early church. What form of government did the earliest Christians have? Of course, early Christian polity is a vast and complex subject with many different issues in play. But, I want to focus in upon a narrow one: Were the earliest churches ruled by a plurality of elders or a single bishop?

Now it needs to be noted from the outset that by the end of the second century, most churches were ruled by a single bishop. For whatever set of reasons, monepiscopacy had won the day. Many scholars attribute this development to Ignatius (pictured above).

But, what about earlier? Was there a single-bishop structure in the first and early second century?

The New Testament evidence itself seems to favor a plurality of elders as the standard model. The book of Acts tells us that as the apostles planted churches, they appointed “elders” (from the Greek term ???????????) to oversee them (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2; 20:17). Likewise, Titus is told to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).

A very similar word, ???,??o??? (“bishop” or “overseer”), is used in other contexts to describe what appears to be the same ruling office (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-7). The overlap between these two terms is evident in Acts 20:28 when Paul, while addressing the Ephesian “elders” (????????????), declares that “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers (??????????).” Thus, the New Testament writings indicate that the office of elder/bishop is functionally one and the same.

But, what about the church after the New Testament? Did they maintain the model of multiple elders? Three quick examples suggest they maintained this structure at least for a little while:

1. At one point, the Didache addresses the issue of church government directly, “And so, elect for yourselves bishops (??????????) and deacons who are worthy of the Lord, gentle men who are not fond of money, who are true and approved” (15.1). It is noteworthy that the author mentions plural bishops—not a single ruling bishop—and that he places these bishops alongside the office of deacon, as Paul himself does (e.g., Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13). Thus, as noted above, it appears that the bishops described here are essentially equivalent to the office of “elder.”

2. A letter known as 1 Clement (c.96) also has much to say about early church governance. This letter is attributed to a “Clement”—whose identity remains uncertain—who represents the church in Rome and writes to the church at Corinth to deal with the fallout of a recent turnover in leadership. The author is writing to convince (not command) the Corinthians to reinstate its bishops (elders) who were wrongly deposed. The letter affirms the testimony of the book of Acts when it tells us that the apostles initially appointed “bishops (??????????) and deacons” in the various churches they visited (42.4). After the time of the apostles, bishops were appointed “by other reputable men with the entire church giving its approval” (44.3). This is an echo of the Didache which indicated that bishops were elected by the church.

3. The Shepherd of Hermas (c.150) provides another confirmation of this governance structure in the second century. After Hermas writes down the angelic vision in a book, he is told, “you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church” (Vis. 8.3).Here we are told that the church leadership structure is a plurality of “presbyters” (???????????) or elders. The author also uses the term “bishop,” but always in the plural and often alongside the office of deacon (Vis. 13.1; Sim. 104.2).

In sum, the NT texts and texts from the early second century indicate that a plurality of elders was the standard structure in the earliest stages. But, as noted above, the idea of a singular bishop began to dominate by the end of the second century.

What led to this transition? Most scholars argue that it was the heretical battles fought by the church in the second century that led them to turn to key leaders to defend and represent the church.

This transition is described remarkably well by Jerome himself:

The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community. . . Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord (Comm. Tit. 1.7).

Jerome’s comments provide a great summary of this debate. While the single-bishop model might have developed for practical reasons, the plurality of elders model seems to go back to the very beginning.

Eldership: Plural and Male

Acts 20:17-38

As Lord of the Church, feed, and guide the people of God. The New Testament teaches a plurality of male elders to govern each local church.

Voting in the Church?

at base, three forms of government. The first is rule by one. The second is rule by a few, the third rule by all. In civil government this would essentially be monarchy, republic and democracy, broadly speaking. In church government it would be episcopacy, presbyterianism, and congregationalism, broadly speaking. Rightly understood then the church, whatever denomination, if it is indeed a part of the church, is an episcopacy. Just as Jesus reigns over the nations, so He reigns over the church. His vicar, however, is not the bishop of Rome, but the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has given us the Word of God. That Word, true in all that it teaches, does not come equipped with a Book of Church Order. Good men, good Reformed men, over the course of church history have argued that under Christ’s reign the church should function as an episcopacy. Other good Reformed men argue for presbyterianism, and finally good Reformed men have spoken in defense of congregationalism.

The Rule of Elders
This Reformed man, while acknowledging that this isn’t the clearest thing in the Bible, sides with the presbyterians. The church should be ruled by a plurality of elders. Even if I am right, however, this doesn’t settle fully the question of whether or not we should vote in church. It does, however, set some boundaries.

First, if the church is to be ruled by elders it cannot simultaneously be ruled by the congregation. Congregational votes at the very least cannot overrule the will of the session, at least without devolving down to congregationalism. This still, however, doesn’t outlaw all votes by the congregation. One might, for instance, take a poll of the congregation. Insofar as such a poll would be non-binding, it is no denial of Presbyterian church government. Suppose the elders are curious to know how many of its member families would be interested in a mid-week Bible study, or even if Tuesday or Wednesday would be a better evening for such a study. By all means take a poll. The elders, however, would have to decide.

Congregational Voting on Elders
Second, there is value in having the congregation “vote” on who should be their elders. Here again I would argue we have to be careful not to let the congregation wrest rule for the session. That is, I don’t believe the congregation can impose an elder on the session. I argue that the approval of elders should be two-fold. Certainly the session needs to approve potential session members. But when the congregation votes on potential elders they are doing something other than ruling in the church. They are acknowledging the rule over them. That is, they are agreeing to have the elders be in authority over them.

Typically these issues do not become difficult in themselves. That is, it is rare for a church to find itself in trouble, or in battle mode, over competing classes of members. That said, there are often subtle dangers in not thinking through these issues well. To say, for instance, that the elders rule in the church is not to suggest that the members are just spectators, that they are not full members of the body. Much less should it communicate differing levels of spiritual standing. Elders are sinners saved by grace. Laymen are sinners saved by grace. We are all called to do the work of the ministry. On the other side of the coin, when congregations do vote, or even meet together in discussion, it is important to not import the wrong categories into the meeting. The church is not a business, and the members are not stockholders. And it most certainly is not a democracy.

Sin & Church Rule
There is no church government that will eliminate sin. Things go wrong in all kinds of churches. It is tempting in the midst of dealing with sin to think the grass must be greener on the other side. It is especially tempting to believe, “Things would be so much better if only I had more power to bring it to pass.” But we all bring sin with us wherever we go. One man ruling is dangerous. All men ruling is dangerous. A few men ruling is dangerous, but, I would argue, less dangerous than the first two. Which is why God gives us elders and gives elders the authority to rule in the church.

This post was first published on: rcsprouljr.com.

Qualified Male Eldership

Ligon-DuncanDr. Ligon Duncan and being a male is only one of them. So, it’s not just a male versus female thing. It’s qualified males to hold this particular office.

So let me say that one more time. God teaches in the Bible that He gives spiritual leadership in the church to qualified male elders and thus restricts the teaching office in the church to men who meet the range of qualifications He has established in the Word. Consequently, the ministry of preaching and teaching in the church is undelegatably vested in the men who serve as the elders of the church. And that’s my thesis.

Now, with that thesis, I have two goals. My first goal is to prove from Scripture what I’ve just stated. I want to go to five New Testament passages that do not beat around the bush; they just say these things bluntly. So I want to suggest that it is not difficult to prove from Scripture what I’ve just stated since there is copious, clear, and explicit New Testament evidence for all male ruling elder, teaching eldership in the church. And I’ve given you the examples on the outline of the passages we’re going to go through. I even underlined the salient words in the verses for you to look at.

There are at least five NT passages that explicitly establish an all-male teaching office in the Church.

Let’ start with 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Look especially at verses 11 and 12.

“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”

Then in verses 13-15, Paul gives his rationale for that. Now, in the context of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is talking about the way he wants the church to behave, especially in its corporate gathering. Paul is saying that he wants an all male teaching office in the church. He wants the women to receive that teaching; he wants them to be disciples-that was revolutionary in and of itself in his own day and time – but, he wants the eldership to be the ones who are responsible for doing that teaching. That becomes clear not only from what he says earlier in chapter two, but what he’s going to go on to say in 1 Timothy 3. I’m going to come back to that passage and look at it in a little more detail, but that’s just in general a very direct assertion. “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” That’s very clear. Continue reading