THE ELDERSHIP

This entry is part of 50 in the series article 26

(Acts 20:17-38.) 

THERE is no room for improvement upon God's 
arrangement of things, neither can there be any 
change from His arrangement without disaster. His 
arrangement for the management of the church is 
simple and perfect; and all changes from that arrange- 
ment have resulted in disaster and disintegration. 

As the one body of Christ (Eph. 4:4), the church 
is a spiritual institution (John 18:36), under the 
absolute authority of Christ (Matt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15: 
24-26; Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:18). His will, as 
revealed in the New Testament canon, is the rule of 
faith and practice for the citizenship of His kingdom 
(2 Cor. 5:18, 19; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). 

When repentant believers were immersed into 
Christ and came together for worship, they constituted 
the church in each community (Acts 2:37-47). These 
local congregations were called "churches of Christ" 
(Rom. 16:16). The apostolic ministry, however, not 
only included teaching and baptizing (Matt. 28:18- 
20), but also "the care of all the churches" established 
(2 Cor. 11:28). Hence we find the apostles and evan- 
gelists visiting the different congregations previously 
established, for the purpose of "setting them in order" 
(Tit. 1:5). This particular work consisted in ordain- 
ing elders and deacons in every congregation. It is 
the purpose of this discourse to make a thorough inves- 
tigation of the important things pertaining to the elder- 
ship. 

1. By whom selected? The apostles were clothed 
with the authority of the Spirit. Their words and 
actions have been put on record as divine examples 
for all future ages. They were the personal repre- 
sentatives of Christ, and their judgment, having been 
that of the Spirit, would have been infallible (Acts 
6:3). Hence it becomes significant that the apostles 
refused to select either the elders or deacons them- 
selves, but left the matter to the judgment of the con- 
gregation. This example destroys forever any author- 
ity claimed by a conference, synod, association, or 
church council, over local congregations. It vests in 
each congregation the power to oversee its own busi- 
ness. It was absolutely congregational action that the 
apostles commanded. Hence we search in vain for any 
precedent in the New Testament that would indicate 
any authority superior to that of the local congrega- 
tion, each congregation having been subject to the will 
of Christ, as revealed by the Spirit through the apos- 
tles. This is the divine plan, and all additions thereto, 
modifications, or subtractions therefrom, are of human 
origin, and will result in disaster. 

2. How selected? This matter is nowhere outlined 
in the New Testament. Hence it is left to the law of 
expediency. Probably the simplest way would be to 
have each congregation appoint a nominating commit- 
tee. A day should be set aside, usually the first Lord's 
Day of the year, to attend to this business. Have 
three services on this day. Elect the officers at the 
morning hour, ordain them in the proper way at the 
afternoon service, and conduct the evening evangelistic 
service in the usual manner. The entire day should be 
given to prayer, fasting and ordination. Let this day 
be thoroughly advertised, so that every member will 
be present. Nothing should be done in a corner, or by 
a faction, or in the spirit of partisanship. When the 
nominations are made by the committee at the morning 
service, let the final vote be taken by ballot, in case 
there might be danger of any dissension. Let every- 
thing be done decently and in order. 

The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost to abide with 
the church forever (John 14:16, 17). Consequently 
the Holy Spirit, acting through the instructions of the 
Word, is said to guide the congregations in their 
selection of overseers to feed the different flocks of God 
(Acts 20:28). Likewise, the officers, themselves, 
should feel their responsibility as divinely appointed 
representatives of the Holy Spirit. 

3. Number of elders. This depends altogether upon 
the number of men qualified for the office. The early 
churches usually had a plurality of elders (Acts 14: 
23; 15:4; 20: 17). If there are several men in a con- 
gregation who meet the Scriptural qualifications, select 
several elders accordingly, as there is usually plenty of 
work for them to do. If there is only one man qual- 
ified, have only one elder. If there is no man that 
is qualified in every respect, have no elders. A bishop 
must be blameless, as a steward of God. An elder of 
questionable character will ruin the cause of Christ in 
any community. 

4. Term of office. This is also left to the judgment 
of the local congregation. Our experience has been 
that elders should never be selected for more than two 
years. Sometimes a one-year term is preferable. This 
allows ample opportunity to quietly make a change in 
the eldership, in case a man previously selected should 
prove incapable or unworthy of the office. 

5. Qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). 

a. "A bishop must be blameless," or a man against 
whom no evil charge can be sustained. 

b. "The husband of one wife." Polygamy is an evil 
under the law of Christ. In listing the common sins 
of humanity that will damn the soul, adultery invari- 
ably heads the list in the teachings of Christ and the 
apostles. In this connection, a word should be spoken 
concerning legalized adultery. While divorce is allow- 
able under the civil law, it is expressly forbidden 
under the law of Christ (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). More 
rigorous discipline should be exercised by local con- 
gregations in counteracting this growing evil. 

c. "Vigilant" or watchful over the entire flock. 

d. "Sober," or a man of good judgment. 

e. "Of good behavior," conducting himself cour- 
teously and politely at all times. 

f. "Given to hospitality," or absolutely charitable 
and unselfish. 

g. "Apt to teach." He should have an accurate 
knowledge of the word of God, as well as the ability 
to communicate that knowledge to the flock. 

h. "Not given to wine." He should not indulge in 
intoxicating liquors. 

i. "No striker." He should not be quarrelsome, but 
a lover of peace. 

j. "Not greedy of filthy lucre." He should not 
gain money by questionable means. A covetous man 
is least qualified of all for the eldership. 

k. "Patient." He should be distinguished by gen- 
tleness of character. 

l. "Not a brawler" or a person disposed to settle 
difficulties by physical force. 

m. "Not covetous" for "the love of money is the 
root of all evil." We fear this qualification, if applied, 
would remove many elders of modern congregations. 

n. "One that ruleth well his own house, having 
his children in subjection with all gravity." This 
does not imply that a man must have a family in 
order to be a bishop, else Peter and Paul would have 
been excluded from the eldership (Acts 20:31; 1 Pet. 
5:1). But, if he does have a family, he must be 
capable of governing it. The man who can not rule 
his own house is not qualified to exercise discipline 
in the church of God. 

o. "Not a novice." He must not be a new con- 
vert, but a man experienced in the Lord's work. 

p. "Moreover, he must have a good report of them 
who are without," or influence among those who are 
not Christians. 

6. Titles. Different titles are ascribed to this class 
of officers, indicating their various duties. 

a. They are called "elders" (Acts 20:17) because 
of their seniority, resulting in superior wisdom and 
experience. 

b. They are called "bishops," or "overseers" (1 
Tim. 3:2; Acts 20:28), because it is their duty to 
superintend all the affairs of their respective congrega- 
tions. 

c. They are called "pastors," or "shepherds" 
(Eph. 4:11), because they are required to exercise a 
shepherd's care and protection over their respective 
flocks, Christ being the chief shepherd of the flock 
universal (John 10:16; 1 Pet. 5:4). 

d. They are called "teachers" because they are re- 
quired to instruct their congregations in the word of 
God (Eph. 4:11, 12; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9). Those 
elders who give all their time to the ministry of the 
Word (Acts 6:4; 1 Tim. 5:17) are called "ministers" 
or "evangelists" (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5). Paul 
exercised the duties of the eldership during his three 
years' sojourn in Ephesus (Acts 20:31). Peter 
speaks of himself as an elder (1 Pet. 5:1). We find 
no high-sounding titles in the New Testament. No 
minister has any authority to wear the title of "Rev- 
erend." The word is used only once in the Bible, and, 
in that instance, with reference to God (Ps. 111:9). 
If the apostles accepted no ecclesiastical titles, how 
can a self-constituted clergy presume to do so with 
impunity ? 

7. Duties. 

a. As pastors, to exercise a constant watchcare over 
the spiritual interests of their flocks. This includes 
the protection of their "flocks by night " (Luke 2:8) 
from revelings that war against the soul (1 Pet. 2: 11) ; 
also protection of their flocks by day from unworthy 
preachers and false teachers (Acts 20:28-35). Such 
duties necessitate a knowledge of the Word. 

b. As overseers, to maintain discipline in the local 
congregations, and see that all things are done in good 
order. This usually has reference to private advice to 
unruly members. However, it may include public re- 
buke (1 Tim. 5:20). And in extreme cases, which 
will not be corrected by private advice, discipline may 
be exercised to the extent of exclusion from the fellow- 
ship of the church (1 Cor. 5:11-13; 2 Thess. 3:6; 1 
Tim. 1:20). Exclusion is the severest step in dis- 
cipline. It does not imply separation from Christ, but 
exclusion from the fellowship of the congregation. 
Exclusion is intended to reform and save the erring 
member (2 Cor. 13:10); and the excluded party 
must not be regarded as an apostate, but as an erring 
brother (2 Tim. 2:24-26). 

c. As teachers, to feed the flocks with meat, or 
sound doctrine (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:14; Tit. 1:9; 
2:1), that they may be able to give a reason for the 
hope that lies within them (1 Pet. 3:15). The best 
means of protection against modern religious delusions 
is a knowledge of the scheme of redemption. Preach- 
ing is teaching, and teaching is preaching. The first 
element of evangelism is that of instruction (Matt. 
28: 19). Paul's charge to the elders at Ephesus should 
be constantly kept in mind (Acts 20: 17-35). 

8. Relationship between the eldership and the con- 
gregation. The elders have no authority outside of 
that vested in them by the New Testament. They 
are to assume the duties of the office willingly, and 
not for any material gain; neither are they to exercise 
the functions of the office in a lordly manner, but as 
examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Consequently, 
they must first take heed to themselves, and secon- 
darily to the flock (Acts 20:28). In return, they 
should receive the obedience and esteem of their con- 
gregation, as long as they faithfully discharge the 
duties of the office (1 Thess. 5:12, 13; Heb. 13: 7). 

Especially are the teaching elders worthy of respect 
(1 Tim. 5 : 17). In fact, all of them should be esteemed 
most highly because they will be held responsible to a 
great extent for the spiritual welfare of their flocks 
(Tit. 1:7; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:4). 

In a later sermon, devoted to the diaconate, we will 
discuss the ordination of officers. 

For the present, we wish to say that Scriptural 
teaching is badly needed from the pulpit, regarding 
the eldership. Too frequently the office is given to 
unworthy men, to men of wealth and social distinc- 
tion, rather than men who are humble and godlike ; 
and too frequently the responsibility is undertaken 
without any realization of its real import. We have 
too many elders in name only. A general awakening 
of the eldership to their responsibility as stewards of 
God would lift many congregations out of the pollu- 
tions of hypocrisy, as well as the rut of indifference 
and internal corruption.
Series Navigation