|Vol. 2, No. 3||Page 13||March 2000|
I appreciated your article Elderless, especially since we and one other couple just formed a new congregation of the church, and have no elders. I think I don’t totally agree with you on two points, but maybe I just need clarification. You concluded with “All adult, male members ...”
1. Adult only? I would like to know your views on an adult versus a child Christian. If a child can be a christian, then it would be unscriptural to expect less of it or more of an adult. (I am not speaking of the young in faith, but, for example, of a 9 year-old versus a 40 year-old, both of which have been Christians for the same period of time.)
2. Males only? I assume that a woman, or women, made the decisions for the church in Lydia’s household. I know that women are to keep silent in worship, which includes prayer. But I believe that their silence is restricted to worship, which does not include a business meeting. I am not saying that they rule over a man, but I believe it is unscriptural to forbid them to speak except in worship. If you do not let the women express their views, how do you know if you may cause one or more of them to stumble? ~ Bill D.
Thank you for your expression of appreciation for the article cited above (which, for the convenience of readers, follows this response). In one sense, converts to Christianity are men and women (Acts 5:14; 8:12). The phrase “men and women” identifies that both sexes as well as souls who have reached an age of accountability are candidates for conversion by the Gospel to Christianity. However, the Greek word for “man” in these two verses (aner) also appears in Scripture contrasted to childhood. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Individuals mature at different rates and children may (and often do) come to learn the difference between right and wrong and consequently obey the Gospel at various ages. Of course, it is true (to use your example) that both a 9-year-old Christian and a 40-year-old Christian generally share Christian responsibilities regarding Christian living, Christian service and Christian worship. It is equally true that both the youngster and the middle-aged share the same spiritual blessings. However, it is apparent that the knowledge, life’s experiences and education between 9-year-old and 40-year-old Christians contrast sharply. Simply, the capacities of typical 9-year-old and 40-year-old Christians to conduct the affairs of the church do not compare favorably.
Imagine, under your scenario, that in a small congregation (as you illustrate regarding your current circumstances) the 9-year-olds outnumber the adults. Are you prepared to submit to the spiritual direction of 9-year-olds? Does the New Testament teach or imply that the adult members of such a congregation should submit to the direction of 9-year-olds? Where else in human experience (e.g., business world, politics, education) are adults willing to submit to the guidance of 9-year-olds? The old question arises again, “Does baptism transform a boy into a man?” Ordinarily, in the world and in God-given religion, the younger submit to the older. “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder” (1 Peter 5:5).
Respecting the second part of the above question, the church newly established by their conversion and populated by the household of Lydia (under then prevailing customs and various New Testament references to the role of women) was arguably comprised exclusively of females. Ordinarily, we expect to find contemporary congregations that are comprised of both sexes. While a degree of “silence” is required of women (and men who are not preaching, etc.) in the assembly (excepting singing and confessing Christ preceding baptism), the woman’s subjection to man includes both the church and the home. “Silence” and “subjection” are related but not perfect synonyms. Both the church and the home were divinely instituted and the relative role of women to men is sustained in both the church and the home.
Whereas there is no biblical requirement for women to keep silent outside the assembly, in either their membership in the church or the home, certainly a woman may speak her mind regarding the affairs of the church. It would not be biblically wrong for women (or men not themselves elders) to be present and comment at gatherings where decisions for the church are made (even when those decisions are made by elders). Wise elders facilitate better communication with the congregation they endeavor to lead when they occasionally have meetings of the men or even congregational meetings in which women are present.
However, congregations served by elders need to recognize that the decisions, according to Scripture, are the responsibility of the elders (Hebrews 13:17). Congregations that lack elders need to recognize the scriptural prescription of male leadership and female submission when decisions are made. For instance, women are not a part of the body (men) from among whom qualified elders are to be biblically selected.
For pragmatic reasons, it is usually better that decisions for the church not be made during congregational meetings, meetings of the men or even deacons with the elders. It is too easy for the congregation to suppose that decisions should be rendered by popular vote; the Lord’s church is not democratic, but a theocracy with Jesus ruling from heaven through the Bible and his own prescribed church government. Even deacons, sometimes, forget that the elders and not the combination of the deacons and elders are biblically obliged to render decisions for the church.
Every fully organized congregation of the Lord’s church is ruled by elders who are selected according to biblical qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). However, by what means ought a congregation without elders to be governed? Should a preacher rule the church in the absence of elders? A committee? The trustees? The treasurer? The popular vote of all members, men and women? All faithful, adult male members? Scripturally, who ought to be responsible for directing the function of a local congregation that does not have elders?
So-called “evangelistic oversight” is not the solution to church government in the absence of elders. God designed the eldership to be composed of a plurality of men, which suggests that no single individual regardless of his virtues and exemplary qualities is suited for such a task.
A committee is a no more suitable alternative for church government instead of elders. The only group of men whose number is less than all the male members of a local church, permitted by Scripture to rule that congregation, is an eldership.
Legal trustees are not a permissible option for church government in the absence of elders. Except that civil government (some states) may require congregations to incorporate and generally obey the laws of the land, churches would not have trustees. Therefore, the function of trustees as such pertains to the physical realm and not to spiritual matters.
Especially a treasurer must be cautious not to misuse his position (of service) whereby he attempts to rule the church. While an elder may be a treasurer, a treasurer is not equivalent to a plurality of men who serve as elders.
A vote wherein women as well as men decide the affairs of the church violates the respective roles of men and women regarding spiritual matters (1 Timothy 2:12-14). Clearly, male, adult members have the responsibility for the direction, function and decisions regarding the church in the absence of elders. When fully organized, a select, qualified and appointed group of men (an eldership) has these responsibilities in each congregation.
It is manifest in Scripture that congregations without elders existed in the first century (Titus 1:5). Equally obvious then, they also functioned without elders for a time. Later, these congregations matured to a point where elders were appointed.
All adult, male members of a congregation without elders need to cooperate with each other regarding the function of the local church. Then, at the earliest opportunity, from among themselves, they are obligated to select biblically qualified men to serve as elders.