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Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion

Posted by on Sep 22, 2007 in elders, office | 26 comments

In this series, I’ve suggested that Scripture does not hold elders to a higher standard of character, leadership, teaching, shepherding, or oversight. Also, I’ve suggested that Scripture does not add any responsibilities to elders in these areas above the responsibilities of all believers. Instead, I’ve suggested that, according to Scripture, all believers have the same responsibilities in these areas.

Does this mean that elders are unscriptural? Does this mean that elders are unimportant?

No. Elders are both scriptural and important. Scripture teaches that the church in Jerusalem had elders. Scripture teaches that Paul appointed elders in the cities that he visited. Scripture teaches that Paul told Timothy and Titus how to recognize elders. James and Peter both expected elders in the various churches to whom they wrote.

Elders are scriptural and important. When we recognize elders, we should recognize those who best exemplify the character, leadership, teaching, shepherding, and oversight required of all followers of Jesus Christ. When we think of people who are best following Jesus Christ and who are best serving other people, elders are the ones we should think about. When we want to see a flesh-and-blood example of what it means to live for Christ here and now, elders should be our best examples. These are the people who point us toward maturity in Jesus Christ – not toward themselves. When we need help in understanding something, or when we need assistance, or when we need comfort, or when we need exhortation, or even when we need correction, we should think of elders – not because they alone are responsible in these areas, but because we have observed how they live in obedience to Christ in these areas.

Again, this does not mean that elders are more responsible. It means that elders have demonstrated that they are more faithful in obeying Christ the way that all believers should obey Christ. However, elders who recognize that it is important for all followers of Jesus Christ to live this kind of obedient life will not always respond to requests for help from other believers. Instead, they will recognize that it is necessary that other believers have opportunities to demonstrate their character, to lead, to teach, to shepherd, and to oversee. Thus, elders who are interested in maturing all believers toward Christ will often defer an opportunity to serve to other believers, because those elders know that it is more important for the other believers to grow in maturity than it is for the elders themselves to do something, even if the elders might do it better.

In many contexts, people believe that elders lead best when they are visible and vocal. However, this is not necessarily true. Yes, there are times when mature believers (any mature believer, not just elders) should make themselves seen and heard in order to protect the gospel (not to protect our pet doctrines, but to protect the gospel). I have personally never been in one of these situations. I believe that they are rare, but the situation could come up. However, for the most part, I believe that elders demonstrate their maturity and Christlikeness most when they are not seen and not heard but are instead serving in obscurity by leading, teaching, shepherding, and overseeing in ways that demonstrate the humility and gentleness of the Spirit of Christ. If someone must be “in the limelight” – if they must be noticed – if they must be the main speaker – if they must make their opinion known – then it could be that this person is not demonstrating the character of Christ – who humbled himself taking the form of a servant – and reliance upon God, but is instead revealing a character of pride and self-dependence.

I recognize that there are serious implications of my views concerning elders. I hope to discuss many of these implications. However, I also want to give you an opportunity to discuss these implications. So, for the conclusion of this series, I am asking you – my readers – to help us understand the implications. Later, I will publish another post in order to discuss these various implications. Here are my questions for you:

1. Am I missing something in my understanding of elders?
2. What are the implications of this view of elders?

—————————————————————————–

Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion


26 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-22-2007

    Alan,

    Again, great series.

    I have a couple questions concerning “elders”.

    The idea of elders was established in the OT. The elders of Israel. They were the family leaders and, jointly, the city leaders. They assembled together at the city gates and marketplaces. They had some sort of authority over their families and together over cities, making decisions and watching out for the well-being of the city. They seemed to play the role of, what we would call, local government.

    We see this social structure still functioning after Christ is ascended.

    Did the Apostles copy this form of structured local government/leadership and implement the idea into the Church? Creating a form of Church government. Or when refering to an “elder in the Church” were they recongnizing this person as an elder(civil leader)who also happened to be a believer?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: Did the Apostles try to inject structured government/leadership into the Church, or did they try to inject the Church into structured civil government that already existed?

    I don’t know if this theory holds any water, but I wanted to throw it out there.

    Jeff

  2. 9-22-2007

    Jeff,

    Great questions! I think that if we say that elders functioned as a local government in the OT, then we must admit that it was a much different kind of local government than what we call local government today. I’m wondering, where do you find elders functioning as a local government in the NT after Christ is ascended? I think, when I understand what you mean in that statement, I’ll be able to respond to you proposal.

    -Alan

  3. 9-22-2007

    Alan,

    Here are a couple scripture references concerning the “elders” or rulers/government/leaders.

    1. Act 4:5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem;…

    1. Act 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people,…

    1. Act 15:4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.
    Note: Why the implied distinction between church, apostles, and elders?

    1. Act 22:4 “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,
    Act 22:5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.

    1. Act 23:14 They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul.

    This would take away a lot of issues concerning brothers having authority over one another if the authority they had was a secular governing type. God commands all to submit to those types of “authorities”.

    Jeff

  4. 9-23-2007

    Jeff,

    In the passages that you quoted, I think the term “elders” is used to refer to the Sanhedrin Council. This was certainly a limited government – limited by the Roman governor. That seems different that the use of the term “elders” in Scripture when referring to followers of Jesus Christ. Did the Jewish use of “elders” influence the “Christian” use? In context, I don’t see much influence. As I said in an earlier post, I don’t see (in context) where elders are instructed to make decisions or rules or procedures for any group of believers. It would be interesting to study this topic, but the study would probably have to extend outside of Scripture. (By the way, there may be influence between the Jewish council of elders and the use of “elders” by the early Christian writers.)

    -Alan

  5. 9-23-2007

    Alan,

    Thank you for a very thoughtful study.

    I pray the Holy Spirit will cause your readers, who are in leadership, to humbly understand themselves as servants, rather than C.E.O’s, and organizational heads, whose word is law.

  6. 9-23-2007

    This post sounds to me both biblical and one from a person who has had experience yourself and from others in this. Very good thoughts.

  7. 9-24-2007

    Congratulations on an excellent series. Do you have all 7-parts in a MS-Word or pdf document that might be emailed? If so, please send the entire series to guy_muse[at]yahoo[dot]com. Again, thanks.

  8. 9-24-2007

    “Am I missing something in my understanding of elders?”

    I need to re-read your series with Bible in hand before I can truly answer your question. However, I can’t shake the feeling that you are overstating your case somewhere. Paul seemed to think it was very important to “appoint” elders. But if appointing elders is merely acknowledging those amongst us who are spiritually mature, then why is that so important? In my experience people already recognize and gravitate toward those who are more mature even when they are not called out. This does raise an interesting question however – who is qualified to appoint an elder? In the New Testament apostolic workers appointed elders, not the congregation themselves. A possible exception might be when Stephen, Philip and others were appointed to oversee the food distribution program – in which case the people chose them and the apostles blessed them.

    “What are the implications of this view of elders?”

    People would be discipled and not just taught. The focus would shift from just transferring knowledge back to developing character and fruit of the spirit. Saints would actually be encouraged to grow, use their gifts and become all they can be in Christ instead of being viewed as a threat to entrenched leadership. Jesus could be the head of the Church once again and the Scripture could have its rightful place of authority. We could direct our financial resources to the needy or to missions instead of just consuming them ourselves.

    On the other hand all of us would have to step up to the plate. We couldn’t abdicate our responsibilities to others. As the level of expectations rise for all of us, some would opt out – preferring a church were they can meet spiritual obligations without personal change or commitment. Lastly, we would all have to fight to keep the liberty that we have – for as Paul said sooner or later elders will attempt to draw away the flock to themselves and as John described there will be those who love to be preeminent who will try to seize power for themselves.

  9. 9-24-2007

    Aussie John,

    Thank you again for the encouragement. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the implications to the modern church of my views of elders.

    Ted,

    I appreciate your confidence. I pray that this is a biblical view and not one that I have created for myself. Do you recognize any implications of this view that you can share with us?

    Guy,

    I sent the file to you. Being in a “mission” environment, what implications have you noticed from this view of elders?

    Brent,

    Thank you for this comment. I appreciate your answering both of my questions. I thought about commenting on the “appointing”, “choosing”, “recognizing” question, but I decdided to leave it for another post. However, whatever our view of elders, we must be willing to take in the entirety of Scripture and not just those parts that make our case. I do believe it is important to appoint/choose/recognize elders, as I tried to bring out in this post.

    You have also brought out some of the implications of this view of elders. Thank you for putting so much thought into this.

    -Alan

  10. 9-24-2007

    I’m going to chime in. I appreciate that you are doing the Sola Scriptura thing of saying exactly what the bible says about elders.

    You also speak much about individual Christians being led by the Holy Spirit. To do what?

    Your presumption seems to be that individual Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, will never organize as a group to accomplish certain tasks under the concerted leadership of those who are recognized as mature, and appointed to teach, disciple, and lead as such.

    There is such a thing as church history which can be interpreted under the authority of scripture. It is a broad brush to paint any organization of Christians under the servant leadership of elders as unbiblical or extrabiblical in a pejorative sense.

    In other words, you say that scripture does not add responsibilities to elders or overseers. But I am having a hard time grasping the implication that if God is setting forth the character that is specific to an elder and going to the trouble of seeing that they are appointed, that it’s just another way of saying that they’re being good Christians.

    Here is the question I really would like you to answer:
    Is it wrong if elders are given more responsibility in the church in overseeing areas of ministry among the believers?

  11. 9-24-2007

    David,

    Thanks again for commenting here. You said: “Your presumption seems to be that individual Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, will never organize as a group to accomplish certain tasks…” I am not presuming this. Can you show me where you thought I was saying this? If I implied that believers should not work together in part of this series, then I need to change that language.

    Also, you said: “But I am having a hard time grasping the implication that if God is setting forth the character that is specific to an elder…” Actually, I’m saying that God is NOT setting forth the character that is specific to an elder. Instead, I’m suggesting that Paul, Timothy, Titus (and us by implication) appointed/chose/recognized those who demonstrate the character that is expected of all believers. If you know of a passage that lists a specific character trait for elders that is not expected of other believers, I’d love to look into that.

    Finally, you asked a very good question: “Is it wrong if elders are given more responsibility in the church in overseeing areas of ministry among the believers?” This would probably be a great topic for another blog post. Can you tell me what you mean by “more reponsibility”? Depending on that answer, I would say that, at least according to Scripture, all believers are given the same responsibilities, so churches should not require more of elders than of other believers.

    -Alan

  12. 9-24-2007

    Nice series, Alan. You did a good job. My only comment is based on something I read in a book in the mid 1990’s. Stu Weber included the following in his book Locking Arms:

    Common authority structure in corporate/military/educational organizations and mirrored (unfortunately) by the church is top down authority. That is someone is number one authority, sub-ordinate authority answers to him or her, and sub-ordinates to the sub-ordinates and so on until the worker-bees have the folks who tell them what to do. This type of structure functions thus –
    the auhtority holds sub-ordinates accountable, usually by rewarding correct behavior and sanctioning incorrect behavior. Sub-ordinates prove themselves by meeting accountability requirements. The authority then provides some level of personal affirmation. Occasionally this affirmation may even begin to communicate acceptance of the sub-ordinate to a degree. Rarely if ever can the sub-ordinate be accepted as an entitled equal, since logically they do not carry an equal responsibilty within the organization.

    In contrast, God operates in the reverse. He communicates immediate acceptance and calls even the most wretched sinner who has accepted Christ’s atonement as “friend”. With this acceptance God responds to every turn of the heart toward Him with affirmation. This evokes from the sincere believer an ever-increasing desire to walk accountably to the Holy Spirit within; which is of course, the highest acknowledgment of God’s authority. With such a heart, He communicates His will.

    Should pastors/elders follow model A:
    authority >>>
    accountability >>>
    affirmation >>>
    limited acceptance

    or model B:

    complete acceptance >>>
    affirmation >>>
    accountability >>>
    all establishing the Father’s authority over the heart?

    I believe everything you have outlined from Scripture in your series can be upheld while supporting model B. The issue is, are those who are seeking the responsibility of overseers humble enough to reject model A?

  13. 9-24-2007

    ded,

    Thank you for the comment. Its good to see you over here. I always enjoy your comments at Steve’s blog. I am glad that my complete acceptance by God is not related to anything that I do or that I don’t do – even though I have been recognized as an elder. For those who prefer a more authoritarian and more responsible elder, I’ll let them answer for themselves.

    -Alan

  14. 9-25-2007

    Alan,

    I’m going to try this comment again (I submitted it last night but I guess I botched it).

    (1. Am I missing something in my understanding of elders?)

    James 5:14-15 reads, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”

    Why do you think James tells us to call on the Elders, rather than any other believer if we all have equal responsibility?

    (2. What are the implications of this view of elders?)

    I think a major implication is that it teaches us that we really need to be people who rely on God and his guidance, rather than placing ourselves under man-made authority. Elders can be one of those people who guides us, but they should not be seen as our pope – in any form.

    Thanks for this series, I really enjoyed it.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

    The Pursuit Online Store

  15. 9-25-2007

    Lew puts into words my point better than I apparently am.

    If elders are nothing but Christians, what’s the point of having elders?

    If leadership is purely and only being a good example, the why does Paul not make that explicit?

    It seems to me that Paul (and James, as Lew stated) had something in mind when they put these things on paper. If Paul had said, “I want all Christians to be husbands of one wife, not too fond of wine, not pugnacious, etc, etc, etc, and by the way, call the ones who actually live this stuff out well ‘elders’,” then I think you would have a point.

    But that’s not what he did.

    And Lew points out that James calls Christians to have at least one specific expectation of elders. And if this is the case, we need to expect that there would be some residual understanding of what a Jewish elder was. That would appear to include some leadership in the Christian community that goes beyond a good example.

    Once again, I appreciate what you’re trying to do with bringing us back around to scriptural principles regarding eldership. I just think you’re throwing a little bit of baby out with the bathwater.

  16. 9-25-2007

    Alan,

    Here in Aussie, I have often had conversations with evangelical leaders who openly regard themselves as holding an “office” (not in Scripture)which elevates them above ordinary Christians. It seems that this is a common disease being evident in the USA as well.

    I have never found, anywhere in the Scriptures, any evidence to suggest that there is more than one kind of Christian, sinners still, who, by God’s grace, have had the precious work of Christ applied to them by the Holy Spirit.

    The sin of our federal parents is still clearly evident in us.

    I fail to see how James instruction in 5:14-15 implies anything more than the fact that elders are leaders. It seems to me that the word used (sick)is more to do with severe weariness or mental fatigue than bodily illness. One of the problems in using proof texts is that we forget other Scriptures, which urge us to pray for one another.

    You asked what I saw as implications for the church in respect to what you have written.

    I am not suggesting any order of importance:
    1. Members of a congregation will require men to be amongst them for an extended period of time before they can be considered as elders. 2. Congregations will recognize men as elders by demonstration, in their daily walk, of spiritual maturity and equipping for the task, which can include academic preparation, but not necessarily.
    3. Those recognized as elders will understand that they are NOT “more” and that others are NOT “less”.
    4. Those recognized as elders will minister in loving service to the Lord’s people, rather than having a platform to demonstrate their expertise, or skill,in some area.
    5. Salaried elders will become a thing of the past, and they will work, at least part time, gaining understanding and skills in functioning in a very sick world. They will be free to receive gifts of kind or money from individuals in the congregation. Such elders will learn to trust God rather than the congregational treasury.
    6. Congregations will cease to be brainwashed zombies, trained to silently sit on their posteriors meeting after meeting, and become lively, ministering communities, firstly to one another and then to the wider community in which they live.
    7. Elders will also realize that members of the congregation have, at least as much to teach them, as they have to teach.

    I could go on, but that is sufficient for now. If I go on I’ll get too excited and have to call the elders to pray for me.

  17. 9-25-2007

    Lew,

    Good question! As we talked about earlier, the first question we must answer is to what does “elders” refer in James? Does James mean “elders” in the sense of this post, or does James simply mean “older people”? It’s hard to tell in this context. But, if we assume that he means “elders”, then I would suggest that James is recognizing the maturity of elders, not necessarily a special responsibility of elders. This would perhaps be parallel to the “spiritual” in Galatians 6:1. In this series, I’ve pointed out that the people who should be recognized as elders are those who are the more mature believers (the “spiritual”), and thus, these are the people that you would want to ask to pray for you. However, once again, we must admit that Scripture gives all believers the responsibility to pray for one another.

    The implication of relying on God instead of relying on man is huge. Thanks for pointing this out!

    David,

    It is a huge benefit to the church to have elders who actually demonstrate the characteristics that Paul lists and to have those elders recognized by other believers as ones who should be emulated. I take this as being of huge importance, and, I think, something that is sorely lacking in much of the church.

    I appreciate the concern about “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”, and I welcome any concerns such as the ones that you’ve raised so that I can continually compare my beliefs with Scripture. I would prefer to consider my studies as releasing some of the bathwater so the baby doesn’t drown.

    -Alan

  18. 9-25-2007

    Aussie John,

    Thanks for the list of implications. I plan to put all of these together with some of my own implications in a final blog post in this series.

    -Alan

  19. 9-25-2007

    Alan,

    I have read your blog often. In fact, you are in my favorites file for easy reference. I just hesitate to get involved in many blog conversations for a variety of reasons. I am so very passionate about the manner in which church leadership conducts itself, I could not keep quiet on this series. I hope you keep up the excellent blogging.

  20. 9-25-2007

    ded,

    Thank you for reading. I have been greatly challenged by your comments before, and it means alot to me that you read my posts.

    -Alan

  21. 10-11-2009

    Mr Knox,
    I found the scripture I was looking for that I needed help with. hebrews 5:1-9

    is this scripture saying we still do have high priests? and they are called by God and “appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people”

    high priest is certainly a different term used than pastor/elder in the Bible…. is this where many of our pastors today are justifying their authority? calling? power?

    http://www.gotquestions.org/pastor-authority.html – found this link and thought it was interesting. I like the way you prhased things beters – seems a better ‘fit’ for my spirit – but I don’t know. :) Maybe it just doesn’t matter and I shouldn’t concern myself with all this? :)

    No response needed again – just trying to figure out some things from personal situations I’m dealing with… it’s tricky. I find myself always fighting to work and uplift and value all of us as a ‘team’ of leadership at church – but the response usually is that it is biblical for the pastor to have authority over – and will listen to the input from the team – but will ultimately make the decisions… why is more value given to ‘pastors’ who are ordained vs. leaders of the church who are not ordained but are verly clearly leaders of the church??????

  22. 10-11-2009

    and then I see things like this: http://www.gotquestions.org/qualifications-elders-deacons.html

    and it just confuses me. what do you do when you’re confronted with different interpretations – just pray and ask for GOd to give you clarity on it? or do you look up the original greek? Just trying to figure out the next step to take for some clarity – the more I got into “studying” or differnet doctrines…. I just find it even more confusing and find myself giving up. Yet when asked by others – I would like to be able to give scripture for what my spirit says is right. :) anyway…. thanks!

  23. 10-12-2009

    Randi,

    In Hebrews 5:1-9, the author begins by talking about the Jewish priesthood, not a Christian priesthood, nor about Christian pastors or elders. Then, the author contrasts the Jewish priestly system with Jesus Christ as the new high priest. Again, this is not about pastors, elders, bishops, deacons, or anything like that. Hebrews shows how Jesus is a better high priest than the priests of the old covenant.

    There are different understandings of Scripture, and must be patient with ourselves and with others as we attempt to understand Scripture. If 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are “qualifications” for elders and deacons, then no one would qualify. Everyone falls short at some point.

    -Alan

  24. 10-14-2009

    Thanks Mr (pastor?) Knox!! :) Really appreciate it!

  25. 10-14-2009

    hey I’m trying to find the original post I made a comment on to see if you replied to that one but I can’t find it. it didn’t email me with your replies. right before my 1st comment here on this post on october 11th — I thought I posted on a different post – but I can’t find it. Any help!? I’m so SORRy to bother you!

  26. 10-14-2009

    Randi,

    Just call me Alan. And, you’re welcome.

    -Alan

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