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Church Government Part 3: Elders Rule

Barry is the founder and director of Expositors International Ministry and dean of Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

Who is in charge?

We often assumed that our practices or traditions are Biblical because we have done them for a very long time. We place our faith in our ancestors that they were correct. One of the problems with Baptists is that if you can get them to perform a task or ritual for more than five years, they will argue that it is Biblical. When we talk about Church government, this is often the case. Our starting place for any doctrine or practice in the Church is Scripture. It is not our goal to start with ourselves and then look to Scripture to find justification for what we are doing. Nor should we be trying to force or read into the text our preferences. The plainness of the Bible alone dictates to us what is required, necessary, and approved by God.

Business in the Church

It is beyond the scope of this article to trace the historical developments of Church governance. Furthermore, it is irrelevant. While historical practices in the Church are important and traditions can even be helpful, they are not where we derive authority. It is apparent that at some point in time, the Church began to model itself after the world. More specifically, the Church began to model itself after the business world. The Pastor became the CEO, complete with Associate Pastors who are Vice Presidents and the like. The Deacons formed the Board of Directors. Monthly “stockholders’ meetings” are held with the congregation.

Church government meetings are conducted by the Pastor/CEO as the moderator, even going so far as to follow “Robert’s Rules of Order.” In such a model, the direction, operation, function, and ministries of the Church are set by whatever pleases the majority. "Majority rule" becomes the authority for the Church.

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From the Beginning

We saw in the first article on Church Government, that God is always working through authority structures. He sets the father over the home. He sets government over society. He established kings over Israel. He used men like Moses and Joshua to lead his people out of Egypt. In the New Testament Church, He established the office of Elder. The question now comes as to what is the role of the Elder. Surely all would agree, that Christ is King of the Church and that Scripture is our authority in the Church.

At question is what roles do Elders and members of the congregation play in the direction of the Church.

“and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:21-22

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Romans 13:1

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” 1 Timothy 5:17

God created the institutions of our society: marriage, civil government, and the Church. In each case, there is leadership and subordination. The wife submits and obeys her husband. The citizen submits and obeys the government. It seems to naturally follow that those in the Congregation submit and obey their leaders.

Regardless of contemporary traditions to the contrary, a simple reading of the text can lead to no other conclusion that Elders are to rule, are submitted to by the Congregation, and are to be obeyed. To say otherwise is to deny the text and add to Scripture.

This does not mean that the Congregation has no say or plays no role. However, whatever role they play it must be supported by Scripture. For example, we can see that the Congregation plays a role in disciplinary actions (Matthew 18:17, 1 Corinthians 5:2).

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"Calling" a Pastor

Pastors die, they retire, and sometimes they relocate. What should a Church do when this happens? The normal practice in many contemporary Churches is to contact the local Association or form a search committee to recruit a pastor. However, if we followed the Biblical model there would rarely be a time when a Church would need to look for a Pastor. The problem of an empty pulpit is the results of failing to have a plurality of Elders. With the Business Model came the idea of the Senior Pastor/CEO. The Scripture repeatedly refers to Elders in the plural (Acts 15:4, Acts 16:4, Acts 21:18, Titus 1:5, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4, James 5:14). I grant they there are rare occasions where this may not be possible, at least for a time, but plurality is the norm. A plurality of elders prevents the need for a Church to scour the want ads (or whatever other method is used) to find a pastor. If one elder was unable to serve, either temporarily or permanently, there would be at least one other man who could oversee the flock.

Where do Pastors come from?

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

When Titus and Timothy are sent by Paul to “appoint elders,” they do so from the men that are believers in those churches. Just as Deacons come from within the local Church, so also, Elders should be developed in the local Church. Some might argue that there is not another man who is qualified to serve as a Co-Elder. The answer should be obvious. The Pastor should be training the men and encouraging them to fulfill the qualifications of an Elder. Unlike the business world, we cannot lure people with higher salaries and more benefits. We must work with the people that God has given us. And trust that if we follow Scripture, God will raise men to serve as Elders.

Church Government Part 1

Church Government Part 4

Comments

Barry G Carpenter (author) from Mindanao, Philippines on October 17, 2020:

Eric: I agree that we need to distinguish between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. This is very important. It seem to me that authority structures are in place at creation, even before the establishment of the Laws of Israel.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 17, 2020:

I think I get this and it is important. But I worry sometimes that things can get lopsided for instance the Old Testament and it's relation to modern times. Stoning?