|Vol. 14 No. 7 July 2012||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
The first church of Christ was in Jerusalem. Initially, the apostles of Christ guided the church there, but at some unannounced time, elders were also appointed in the Jerusalem congregation (Acts 11:30; 15:2; 16:4). Christianity spread from Jerusalem into all the world (Acts 1:8; Mark 16:15; Colossians 1:23). Elders were apparently a pertinent part of teaching the Gospel and spreading Christianity throughout the world.
Elders are a part of God’s arrangement for the church. The church in Jerusalem had elders (Acts 15:46). Paul ordained elders in every church on the return part of his missionary journey (Acts 14:23). The church at Ephesus had elders (Acts 20:17). Philippi, sometimes called a model church, had elders (Phil. 1:1). Paul left Titus at Crete to “ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Peter exhorted the “elders which are among you” (1 Peter 5:1). Elders are made such by the Holy Spirit as they meet the qualifications revealed by the Holy Spirit [and have been appointed by the congregation]: “over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). (Gough 9).
The appointment of elders in local congregations is an essential biblical subject. Further, it deserves careful attention and dutiful application to every local body of Christians. “The apostle Paul instructed Titus to ordain elders in every city in Crete (Titus 1:5). The selection of the right men for this great work was important. Hence, Paul gives a list of qualifications that these men were to possess at the time of their appointment to this spiritual office in the Lord’s church” (Stevens). “No congregation can exercise too much care in the selection of its spiritual overseers. These men, when once appointed, either will lead the congregation to greater heights of service for Jesus Christ or else will lead the flock toward a lull of lukewarmness, into spiritual stagnation and ultimately toward spiritual death” (Taylor 87).
“The first mention that we have of elders in the church is found in Acts 11:30” (Boles, Churches of Christ 9). 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 be governed? Should a preacher rule the church in the absence of elders? Is it biblically permissible to select a committee to rule the church? Should the trustees govern the church? Does the treasurer have the right to make decisions for the local church? Should the popular vote of all members, men and women, decide matters for the local congregation? Are all faithful, adult male members responsible for deciding church matters? Scripturally, who ought to be responsible for directing the function of a local congregation that does not have elders?
Can a congregation exist scripturally without elders? Yes, it is apparent that congregations in the first century existed for a time before the appointment of elders (Titus 1:5). Equally obvious then, they also functioned without elders for a time. However, later, these congregations matured to a point where elders were appointed. The question remains, however, “By what means ought a congregation without elders be governed?”
No Elders, Yet
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. The preacher is not the boss, and he must not allow himself to be the one who makes all of the day-to-day decisions (until the congregation decides to replace him with someone else). Instead, as soon as possible, a preacher, minister or evangelist ought to guide men in the congregation toward spiritual maturity. The evangelist needs to empower and train other men to assume areas of responsibility and service – even if he could do it better and more swiftly himself. The preacher needs to train the congregation as though he is trying to work himself out of a job. However, in truth, there will always be more for God’s ministering servant to do than he can possibly accomplish in a lifetime.
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. Sometimes preachers or other male members have little interest in installing a biblically qualified eldership because they know that they cannot meet the scriptural qualifications to serve in an eldership. Especially willful men who cannot serve as elders realize that their influence and ability to affect decisions would be minimized were an eldership to be appointed over a congregation.
Legal trustees are not a permissible option for church government in the absence of elders. Were it not that civil government may require congregations to incorporate and generally obey those laws of the land, churches of Christ would not have trustees since they are not addressed in the New Testament. Therefore, the function of trustees as such pertains to the physical realm and not to spiritual matters. Ideally, where law of the land requires trustees or some similar arrangement, the elders of a congregation ought to serve in that capacity. In that way, God’s law and man’s law would be fulfilled harmoniously.
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 (even if he is an elder, too) is not equivalent to a plurality of men who serve as elders. Furthermore, expressing the attitude verbally or in action that the treasurer controls the congregation by deciding when and if to write the church checks is ungodly and sinful (3 John 9-10).
A church 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). Just as in the home (Ephesians 5:22-24; Genesis 3:16), likewise in the church (1 Corinthians 11:8-9), the Bible teaches female submission to male leadership. 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. 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.
Sometimes a congregation cannot have an eldership at a certain juncture in its history because it does not have two or more men who are biblically qualified, willing to serve as elders and men that the congregation respects well enough to follow. The biblical qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 both include certain male Christians and exclude other male Christians for consideration for appointment as elders. However, when two or more men satisfy the biblical qualifications for appointment as elders, God’s divine plan for the guidance of a congregation is for it to have elders.
Notice Titus 1:5: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (NKJV emphasis added). By inspiration, the apostle Paul referred to a congregation without elders as “wanting” (KJV) or “lacking” (NKJV). The same Greek word translated “wanting” or “lacking” in Titus 1:5 appears as “lacking” in Luke 18:22, “lack” in James 1:5 and “destitute” in James 2:15. Review each of these verses and determine if “wanting,” “lacking” or “lack” and “destitute” matters. “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me’” (Luke 18:22). “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food” (James 2:15). Yes, “wanting,” “lacks” or “lack” and “destitute” matter.
Barnes, Poole and Wycliffe equate “wanting” in Titus 1:5 as “left undone” respecting the appointment of elders. Adam Clarke uses the word “defect” to describe a congregation without elders. Matthew Henry dismisses the possibility of the appointment of elders as being an optional matter: “Where a fit number of believers is, presbyters or elders must be set; their continuance in churches is as necessary...” Accordingly, it was the procedure of the apostle Paul to appoint elders in every congregation he established. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed” (Acts 14:23). “There is not a single argument made against the appointment of qualified elders in every church that will stand the test of God’s word” (Phillips 275).
Every fully organized congregation will have biblically qualified elders serving and overseeing it (Acts 20:28). Any congregation that does not have elders is not fully organized according to the pattern for primitive Christianity discernible in the New Testament. Although the biblical qualifications for elders should not be taken lightly, it is possible to misconstrue them, making them so stringent that no mortal could qualify to be an elder. God designed local congregations of the churches of Christ to be ruled by elders who themselves are accountable to God for each soul of the congregation (Hebrews 13:17). Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd under which the under-shepherds or elders serve (1 Peter 5:1-4). That is divine law and pragmatic also for the well-being of any local church.
Biblical Qualifications for Elders
God did not leave the church without appropriate direction in religion. Jesus Christ is the Head of the church for which He died (Ephesians 5:23-25). The Word of God is the authority to which we must appeal, by which we must live and by which we will be judged someday (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 6:46; Revelation 20:11-15). Elders (also biblically known as bishops, pastors, overseers, shepherds and the presbytery) have Christ’s authorization, and they have the responsibility to guide the churches over which they are appointed (Acts 20:28). Elders possess the greatest responsibility in the world, which is watching for the souls of others (Hebrews 13:17). Consequently, the New Testament contains qualifications that must be met by prospective elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Even the terms that the New Testament applies to them indicate something about their qualifications and function.
Incidentally, the qualifications for elders are such that each Christian brother or sister, too, ought to strive to possess them for themselves as well. The exceptions among the qualifications are for women that they should be the “husband of one wife.” Of course, Christian men or women may also choose to remain single as did the apostle Paul. Otherwise, though, the qualifications required for elders ought to be the goals of and acquired by every other child of God also. However, these virtues which for every child of God would be worthy goals must be possessed already by Christian men who are appointed to the eldership.
There are very few qualifications listed for the elders which do not belong to all Christians. …the qualifications mentioned should belong to each man. Why should not a brother have a good report from those who are without the church? Why should he not so live that even those who do not accept the Christian religion would see merit in his character? Why should he not be apt to teach, temperate, blameless, holy, just, a lover of good, patient, given to hospitality, sober, vigilant, and a good husband and father? Why should not every brother control his temper, yield his judgment to others, be a man of peace, refrain from covetousness, and be free from strong drink? There are no impossible qualifications for elders. (Boles, “Qualifications” 30)
There often is confusion regarding elders (and comparable terms) because the biblical description of them differs widely from typical denominational application of them. One denomination dubs as elders unmarried boys who go door to door, two by two, to promote that denomination’s doctrine. However, according to the Bible, elders are married! Another manmade religion styles as bishops unmarried men who rule over an extended geographical area. However, according to the Bible, bishops ruled together over a single congregation, and they were married men. Most denominations equate a pastor with a preacher, whereas the New Testament does not make that correlation. Instead, God’s Word uses the term “pastors” interchangeably with the word “elders.” Rather than participate in denominational confusion, we need to turn exclusively to the New Testament for the correct understanding of biblical words: elders, bishops, overseer, pastor and presbytery.
The New Testament applies various terms to the office of elders. “Elders” is translated from the Greek presbuteros. However, it is translated “presbytery” in 1 Timothy 4:14. The word that is usually translated as “elder” means older, senior or more advanced in years. It denotes dignity, maturity and experience. The word relates to the practice under Judaism of selecting judges and rulers from among elderly men. The word “elder” or “elders” appears 69 times in the New Testament: 19 times referring to elders of the church, 34 referring to Jewish elders, 4 times referring to age and 12 times in Revelation to elders in heaven. Examples of elders in the New Testament church include: Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 1 Timothy 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14.
The words “bishops” and “overseers” are translated from the Greek word episkopos. The word means an inspector, overseer, watcher, guardian, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done correctly, to superintend, guardian of souls or one who watches for others’ welfare. The Greek word denotes the function or the nature of the work. Episkopos is translated as “bishop” or “bishops,” referring to elders in the church in 1 Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:7 and Philippians 1:1. It is applied to Jesus Christ in 1 Peter 2:25. Episkopos is translated as “overseer” in Acts 20:28 of the KJV and “bishop” in the ASV.
“Pastors” and “shepherds” are translated from the Greek word poiman. It means herdsman, shepherd, pastor, manager, director or superintendent. This word denotes tender care and vigilance. This word was applied commonly to the shepherd of sheep (Luke 2). Poiman is translated once as “pastors” referring to the offices of elders in Ephesians 4:11. Otherwise (outside the Gospel accounts), it is translated as “Shepherd” and applied to Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd (Matthew 25:32; John 10:11, 14, 16; Hebrews 13:20) under whom there are subordinate shepherds (1 Peter 2:25).
Now that we are acquainted with the biblical names of these elders, we need to examine closely the biblical qualifications that elders must meet in order to be selected and appointed. Those qualifications appear in two places in the New Testament: 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. “They [qualifications for elders] are distributable into six natural divisions… They are distinguished as they relate respectively to experience, reputation, domestic relations, character, habits, and ability to teach and rule” (McGarvey 53).
If a man desires the position of a bishop,
he desires a good work (1 Timothy 3:1)
The prerequisite to the qualifications of elders is that a man “desires” or “not by compulsion but willingly” (1 Peter 5:2) takes the responsibility of being one of God’s elders. “The eldership is not for men who have to be pressured to receive it and then pressured constantly and continuously to retain a place therein” (Taylor 86). “A brother’s motive for wanting to serve as a shepherd over God’s flock must be a proper one. …No man is fit to serve as an elder as long as his motive for doing so is to boss people around…” (Campbell 20). “Desire” needs to arise from a genuine love for the opportunity to serve the Lord’s church.
The word rendered “office” (KJV) or “position” (NKJV) means “work.” Being an elder is not an office of prestige as much as it is an area of Christian service or work.
A bishop then must be… (1 Timothy 3:2).
The word “be” that prefaces all of the qualifications a man must have before he is a suitable candidate for appointment to the eldership pertains to the qualities he possesses at the time of appointment. Obviously, ongoing sin or impenitent sin in the life of an elder would disqualify him from continuing as one of God’s elders. However, some qualifications required by God of elders are not necessarily perpetual conditions. Does the graduation from home of one’s children nullify the qualification of having ruled his house well and having had faithful Christian children in his home? Does the death of an elder’s wife invalidate the maturity and experience attained throughout his married life?
Paul means that if someone (indefinite pronoun tis) can be found who meets the qualifications, then, that person should be appointed as an elder or bishop. The person being considered must possess the qualifications at the time of being appointed. This is indicated by the use of the first class conditional statement and by the meaning of the present tense in the indicative mood. …many times that when the present tense is encountered someone would say, “that’s continuous action into the future.” This is a mistake. While the present tense may indicate that the action continues into the future (depending upon the type of present tense used), it does not always do so. … First, it is not sufficient to identify a verb merely as present tense. We must ask, what kind of present tense is it? Second, the meaning of the verb and context in which it is used is extremely important. … In the indicative mood, the progressive present indicates action in progress in present time. (Stevens)
The word “be” in Greek as well as in English is a linking verb or a verb of being. This type of word describes action that is in progress at the present time. The word “be” in Titus 1:6 does not address circumstances before or after the time during which someone’s virtues are considered respecting his possible appointment as an elder. This understanding has a direct bearing on the proper interpretation of the passages about the qualifications of elders.
Because this verb is in the indicative mood, we know that it depicts action in progress in present time. Why is this so important? You cannot use the present tense in Titus 1:6 to prove that twenty or thirty years after a man has been appointed as an elder, he must step down if his wife dies. Or, that if his children die in an automobile accident, he must step down because he no longer has children who believe. Or, that if his adult children fall away he is disqualified by that action and must step down from being an elder. An elder may elect to step down under these circumstances, but he is not compelled to do so by the present tense in Titus 1:6. (Stevens)
Blameless (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)
“Blameless” means not under accusation, irreproachable, unimpeachable. However, “blameless” does not mean sinlessly perfect. From a human perspective, elders may appear perfect – when compared with other men, but they are not without sin from time to time in their lives. Blameless means not worthy of public rebuke, a good citizen in the community and in the church. The prospective elder has “no glaring character defect” (Jackson 29). The following elder qualifications may be an explanation of what it means for a man to be “blameless.” “The eldership is a post of work and a realm of activity requiring men of honor, integrity and uprightness” (Taylor 68).
Husband of One Wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)
Practices by pagans and even the children of God (2 Samuel 3:2-5; 5:13) historically sometimes included polygamy. The apostle Paul informed Timothy that a man having more than one wife was not eligible to be appointed as an elder. “Husband of one wife” literally means one wife at a time or not a polygamist, in addition to in the ordinary sense of being married. “…[E]ither celibacy or polygamy disqualifies a man for the office of a Bishop” (Milligan 328). We can be doubly certain that a bachelor is not eligible biblically to be appointed as an elder since marriage is also implied in the subsequent qualifications in the list of “having his children in submission” and “having faithful children.” “The most likely meaning of this phrase is that the man is to have only one wife and not another woman in his life” (Olbricht). An elder is a one woman man. At the time of his selection to be an elder, he is married to one woman.
Does the death of an elder’s wife automatically disqualify him from continuing to serve as an elder? Some brethren would affirm avidly, “Yes.” An elder may voluntarily resign from the eldership upon the death of his wife, but does the New Testament require him to resign? Did he loose the experience of married life that qualified him initially to be appointed as an elder?
Another question raised regarding the eldership and domestic requirements is, “What should the elder do in case his wife dies? Should he resign the eldership the next Sunday?” Some have so affirmed but I am not of this number. When initially appointed he had the one wife and met the signal success the possession of that qualification. He may choose to resign and that is his prerogative. However, in my judgment, the Scriptures do not demand that he do so. …He still has in his background the necessary experience within the family framework to make successful his efficiency in this realm of service that elders render. …
Suppose an elder of two fine Christian children who are both in their late teens or early twenties are killed together while traveling in an automobile. Yesterday he had children; today he is void of children. Does this mean he can no longer serve? Not at all! He had children – obedient children – when appointed. He met the qualification. …The very fact of their being taken in this tragic manner would not deprive him of the practical training in household direction characteristic of the past. (Taylor 85-86)
It is possible for a widower who has remarried or a man innocent in a divorce for fornication who remarries to be suitable for appointment as an elder (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15). What God styles as innocence should not be held against him.
If his wife has died, and he has remarried, this same rule would apply to his relationship to his new wife. She is to be the one and only woman for him. The dead woman is no longer his wife. “The wife is bound by the law (to her husband, implied) as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39, NKJV). “But if her husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband” (Romans 7:2, NKJV). Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees who did not believe in a resurrection might also imply that after death the union of a husband and wife no longer exists (Matthew 22:23-30). If a man’s wife dies, the union is broken. They are no longer husband and wife. If this were not true, remarriage would not be permitted. A husband or wife is no longer bound to their dead partner, therefore, if they marry again, they have only one wife or husband. A man can become an elder if, after his wife dies, he marries a woman who is scripturally free to marry him. The same is true of a man who is divorced and remarried for a scriptural reason. He would be qualified to be an elder. He is no longer bound to a woman who has been unfaithful to him, if he has divorced her. (Olbricht)
Still, a congregation must have confidence in its elders and may choose for itself whether to appoint a remarried widower or a remarried divorced man to the eldership.
Just because a man’s wife has died or become unfaithful and he has remarried does not mean he is qualified to be an elder. If he does not measure up to the other qualifications, he should not serve. Also, if the congregation will not accept him because he has remarried, even though he had the right to do so, he should not be appointed to the position of an elder. Only those should be assigned the office who meet the scriptural qualifications and who are accepted as leaders by the congregation. (Olbricht)
Steward of God (Titus 1:7)
A “steward” is a manager or treasurer for another; he is an employee. Elders are in the employ of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:1-4). There are primarily two treasures for which elders are accountable to our Lord: (1) “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1) and (2) the souls of the congregation over which the elders serve (Hebrews 13:7, 17). Whereas the main area of stewardship entrusted to elders pertains to spiritual matters, elders are responsible for the physical circumstances relating to the local church (e.g., property, money). In addition, they must manage intangibles, too (e.g., opportunities to proclaim the Gospel near and far). The local congregation and all that pertains to it are in the custody of God’s stewards – the elders.
Temperate (1 Timothy 3:2 NKJV) or Vigilant (KJV)
“Temperate” means not given to extremes. “Each elder must have proper control of his own manner of life. If he is unable to control his own thoughts, his own speech and his own daily deeds, how can he hope to be successful in aiding other people to control their manner of daily decorum in thought processes, in the selection of words and in the execution of daily deeds? An intemperate man would be a failure in seeking to bring out temperance in others” (Taylor 68).
Sober-minded (1 Timothy 3:2 NKJV) or Sober (KJV)
“Sober-minded” means of sound mind, under self-control or discreet. An elder is to be objective, impartial and fair thinking (Hodge 49). He is not to conduct himself impulsively. “An elder should not be wholly given to silly or childish things. It does not mean that a man should never have any humor, but a man who is never serous certainly ought not to be considered for this high office. Being an overseer over the house of God is a very serious business” (L.R. Wilson qtd. in Taylor 69). An elder is levelheaded. “He should be a man of a sound and well-balanced mind, possessing a large amount of good common-sense” (Milligan 330).
Of Good Behavior (1 Timothy 3:2)
“Of good behavior” means orderly. “The life of an elder should be well-directed. A man who is slovenly, careless, and haphazard in his work has no business trying to direct the work of the Lord. …Some churches have very little system or order in their work” (L.R. Wilson qtd. in Taylor 70).
Hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8 NKJV) or
Given to or a Lover of Hospitality (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8 KJV)
“Hospitable” comes from a word from which we get brotherly love. “Hospitality is love for strangers set to benevolent action. It is love on the lips translated into a dynamic demonstration of what Christianity enjoins in our treatment of other people. …Elders MUST be people whose homes are havens of hospitality. …In the area of hospitality, the wife of an elder must share with him a generous reception of guests. She holds the key to much of his success in this royal realm.” (Taylor 78).
Able to Teach (1 Timothy 3:2 NKJV) or Apt to Teach (KJV)
and Holding Fast the Faithful Word (Titus 1:9)
“Able to teach” and ‘holding fast the faithful word to convict gainsayers’ come from the Greek word that means to teach or preach in the public assembly. One of the qualifications for the appointment of elders includes boldly (if necessary) teaching the law of the Lord in the face of opposition (Titus 1:9). Each elder needs to be an able and willing teacher of the law of the Lord (2 Timothy 3:2), in private or publicly. An elder ought to be skillful in teaching. This, of course, requires an accurate knowledge of God’s Word. “Any man unable to stand before a group and teach the word of God is not qualified to be an elder or shepherd. …Men who cannot – or will not – teach fail in one of the most important qualifications. …If one is not skilled in teaching the truth, he can neither recognize nor refute the one who objects to truth” (Hearn, “Duties” 13).
Not Given to Wine (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:8 NKJV) or Sober (Titus 1:8 KJV)
“Not given to wine” means to be abstinent, not given over to alcohol. “Without any fear of successful contradiction from any source I confidently contend that a man who imbibes alcoholic beverages is not fit for the eldership of God’s church. …Liquor consumption in any amount and the eldership of God’s church are totally incompatible” (Taylor 56). There is no place in the eldership for a social drinker.
Not Violent (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7 NKJV) and
Not Quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3 NKJV) or
No Striker (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7 KJV)
“Not violent” and “not quarrelsome” come from different Greek words with the same definitions, not quarrelsome or violent, not prone to smite men. “Striking [is] …the sense of one who strikes back at anytime at anyone who dares to disagree or who displease him; one who lashes out at all who refuses to cater to him. …Some like to argue, dispute over things of little importance” (Gough 9). The repetitious warning using different but similar words stresses God’s emphasis that this temperament disqualifies one for consideration as an elder.
Not Greedy for Money (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7 NKJV) or Filthy Lucre (KJV)
“Not greedy for money” means to not be devoted to money, not to make it the object of one’s life pursuits (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus proclaimed that one cannot successfully serve both God and money with equal intensity (Matthew 6:24).
Gentle (1 Timothy 3:3 NKJV) or Patient (KJV)
“Gentle” means mild and reasonable. An elder must be someone who is approachable by any of the members of the congregation. He is not abrasive, and he is willing to listen.
Not Covetous (1 Timothy 3:3)
“Not covetous” means not a lover of money. The elder does not have an inordinate desire to obtain wealth. He does not permit even legitimate business practices to overpower his devotion to the cause of Christ. Certainly, an elder will not pursue illegitimate business practices to fulfill a love of money. A second reference among the qualifications for elders to the proper attitude toward money highlights a human deficiency as well as emphasizes an essential virtue in God’s elders.
Not a novice (1 Timothy 3:6)
“Not a novice” means experienced, aged as a Christian, not newly planted or a recent convert. A man being considered for appointment as an elder is not unproven, but he has a proven record of Christian service. He is an experienced worker for the Lord.
A Good Testimony among Those Who Are Outside
(1 Timothy 3:7 NKJV) or Good Report (KJV)
“A good testimony among those who are outside” means that non-Christians would commend him for his goodness. A man whose past sins still overshadow his esteem in the minds of brethren and non-Christians lacks the esteem or confidence by brethren and non-Christians to be appointed to so important a responsibility as an elder in the Lord’s church. It may be that those past sins have been forgiven by God and man, yet the consequences of the past sins may persist and make it impossible to serve in some capacities, in at least the areas in which those things are known. “If a Church will not accept a man he cannot elder!” (Hodge 57). “No man should be appointed an elder whose life and conduct are questioned, even by those of the world” (L.R. Wilson qtd. in Taylor 73). If community members distrust a man, how can he serve effectively as an elder of a congregation whose mission is to make Christians from non-Christians in the community? Religiously, the community may dispute the Gospel truth we take to it, but the community should be able to acknowledge the integrity of the Lord’s church and its leaders.
However, if one’s past sins, for which he has been forgiven, do not undermine the confidence of the congregation over which he is being considered for appointment as an elder or the confidence by the community in his reputation, one’s past, forgiven sins would not prohibit a man from consideration for appointment to the eldership.
The apostle Paul was a murderer, yet he rose to a height of unparalleled Christian service in the first century. Most of his successes with the Gospel of Christ were in areas of the world where he had not committed Christians to imprisonment and death. He also penned more New Testament books than any other writer (13 epistles). The apostle Peter denied Christ but proved to be a valuable servant, among other things, preaching the first Gospel sermon each to the Jews and to the Gentiles. He also penned two New Testament books. In addition to being an apostle, Peter was also an elder (1 Peter 5:1).
Rules his own house well, Having His Children
in Submission with All Reverence (1 Timothy 3:4)
and Having Faithful Children (Titus 1:6)
"Rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence" means his children are not accused of riot, not unruly or insubordinate. “Having faithful children” means trustworthy followers of Jesus; they are Christians.
Scripture establishes that having a single child satisfies the biblical requirement of “children” (Genesis 21:2, 7). “God wants obedient children in an elder’s house. The number is not the issue” (Hodge 53). Therefore, having one or more “faithful children” though one or more children are not “faithful” would not necessarily disqualify a man from consideration for appointment to an eldership. However, a congregation must have confidence in the men under consideration besides their biblical qualifications (Acts 6:3, 6).
These passages consider the conduct of an elder’s children residing in his home at the time of his appointment to the eldership. Scripture records the qualifications necessary for men to possess before they can be considered for appointment as elders in any congregation (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). The passage in Titus has this to say about an elder’s children. “…having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6 KJV). Yet, the context in which those children, among the qualifications of elders, is addressed is revealed in the 1 Timothy passage. “One who rules well his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence; (For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Timothy 3:4-5 NKJV).
It is obvious from these Scriptures that in order for men to qualify for selection as elders (as far as biblical references to their children), they must have kept their families under control, having Christian children who, incidentally, acted like Christians ought to conduct themselves. Those comprising his family were obedient Christians, demonstrating their Christianity generally and with respect to the home over which their father was head.
The Conduct of a man’s household is evidence of his ability for directing the affairs of the church. If he does well with his household, he would do well in the church; but, if he does not do well with his household, he will not do well with the members of the church. The elder should have his children in subjection. Unruly children will prevent any man from serving successfully as an elder in the church. …Any man who is unable to govern his children correctly by maintaining good discipline, is no man for oversight in the church. (Noel Merideth qtd. in Taylor 84-85 emphasis added).
Then, a question arises about the appointment of a man to the eldership whose children have already matured and left the home. Naturally, one would ordinarily expect one to meet the qualifications of an elder, including having faithful children (Titus 1:6), while his children are yet in his home. Obviously, from the time his children first obeyed the Gospel (really it starts before this) through the remaining adolescent years while they continue to live at home, one who would be an elder learns (through on-the-job-training) to rule his house. Learning how to guide the home was determined by the Holy Spirit to prepare an elder to help guide the family of God – with other elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
Imagine for a moment if it were the case that the window of opportunity for a man to be an elder was limited to the period between the time his children became Christians and graduated from the home (maybe at age 18). If the oldest child obeyed the Gospel at 12-years-old and if either the elder or others expected two or more children to become Christians before the man became an elder, just how many years do you suppose one could possibly serve as an elder? From a pragmatic perspective, it appears that this scenario would greatly hinder the appointment and ongoing activity of an eldership. Further, neither the qualifications indicated in Scripture nor additional information regarding elders that may be gleaned from the pages of inspiration teach that one’s qualifications for guiding the family of God, which he learned from guiding his own family, somehow evaporate once those children leave the house. Common practice among the churches of Christ, which is indicative of common understanding of the applicable passages regarding elders, does not interpret qualifications of elders in such a way as to embrace such a narrow window of opportunity for one to serve as an elder. As far as I can ascertain from Scripture, it would be unwarranted and without biblical support to limit the service of an elder to the three or four years his children may continue to reside in his house after two or more of them became Christians.
On the other hand, the conduct of an elder’s grown children who no longer reside in his home does not necessarily disqualify one from being an elder. The Scriptures say nothing that directly touches on whether the sins of an elder’s adult children disqualify him from continuing in the eldership. Mothers and fathers have much less control over their grown children. One’s adult children have freewill and may opt to do as they please, irrespective of their upbringing. It is often the case that children will adhere to the training of their earlier years (Proverbs 22:6), or if they depart from it, they will eventually return. However, whatever courses our adult children pursue are ultimately their responsibility and doing. Any decisions resulting from such a scenario, by an elder or the congregation he serves, then, would be a matter of human judgment. Scripture stipulates that an elder must have faithful children when he is appointed.
The only passage of which I am aware that involves challenging an elder pertains to accusations regarding sins in his life. “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:19-20 NKJV). As far as Scripture is concerned, that one or more of an elder’s adult children become unfaithful does not necessarily disqualify him from being an elder. Sin in the life of an elder is a different matter. However, especially if all of an elder’s children became unfaithful, one might suspect that something was amiss while the children were yet in the home under the elder’s control and responsibility. Under these circumstances, then, either an elder or the congregation that he serves might deem it best that he no longer serve as an elder.
Ruling one’s house well would include assuming the responsibilities of husband and father in the home. The man who is not the head of his own home is not qualified to be an elder in the church. “An unruly, bossy wife disqualifies an otherwise good man. Thus, wives should help qualify their husbands. …Sometimes children may disqualify their fathers.” (Hearn, “Positive” 7).
Not Self-Willed (Titus 1:7)
“Not self-willed” means not arrogant. “He must be uncompromising in matters of faith and obligation, but not head-strong and unyielding in matters of judgment and expediency. Diotrephes was an example of such (2 John 9-11)” (Gough 9). “The self-willed person is for one man rule and he is that one man” (Taylor 61). A self-willed man is the adult version of a childish temper tantrum!
Not Quick-Tempered (Titus 1:7 NKJV) or Not Soon Angry (KJV)
“Not quick-tempered” means not overcome by passion, not prone to anger. “The eldership is a place for cool and calm minds – not for hot heads who possess a fiery and uncontrollable temper. Judgments rendered in the heat of fiery anger are not very likely to contain practical prudence or rational wisdom” (Taylor 63). Combustible personalities have no place in the eldership of the church.
Lover of What Is Good (Titus 1:8 NKJV) or Lover of Good Men (KJV)
“Lover of what is good” means a lover of goodness. “No finer index to a man’s real character exists than an examination of what he loves and what he hates” (Taylor 80). The expanse of this love for what is good includes love for good men (e.g., Gospel preachers, Bible class teachers, deacons and fellow elders). The apostle Paul wrote in another place that people who derive pleasure from sinful things and sinful people are worthy of death (Romans 1:32).
Just (Titus 1:8)
“Just” means to exhibit righteousness. An elder is fair and impartial. He is innocent of wrong doing.
Holy (Titus 1:8)
“Holy” means pious and sanctified. “The holy person is one who is right with God” (Taylor 71).
Self-Controlled (Titus 1:8 NKJV) or Temperate (KJV)
“Self-controlled” means having power over one’s appetites, cravings or urges. An elder is able to contain himself from improprieties or sins. He is self-disciplined.
The Work of Elders
“The duties of elders are clearly outlined in the New Testament Scriptures. No elder need plead ignorance with respect to his duties; no membership need be in doubt as to what are the duties of elders. While the duties are weighty and many, they may be learned from the New Testament” (Boles, Churches of Christ 24). “They are to work as caretakers of God’s house (1 Tim. 3:5), overseers/superintendents of every aspect of a congregation’s work (Acts 20:28), and shepherds of the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3)” (Campbell 20). Elders must possess already the qualifications stipulated by God so that they can perform the work of elders once appointed.
“Their field of labor extends to no further than the limits of their own congregation” (Milligan 337). Elders serve and rule over the congregation that appointed them from among its members. New Testament references to elders pertain to the congregations with which they are identified (Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1; James 5:14). The pattern for the selection and appointment of persons within the church to certain roles is congregational (Acts 6:3).
A congregation cannot rise above its leadership. How important are qualified elders? A congregation’s spiritual growth, maturity and effectiveness respecting all aspects of Christianity rely heavily upon a qualified eldership leading it. The work of elders pertains to souls and has to do with people’s eternities.
A baker bakes. A policeman polices. A preacher preaches. Abusing the English language a little, an elder elds or elders. The point is that there is divinely given work for elders to do in the congregation over which they have been appointed. Among their duties, elders are to exhort and convict those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). They are to watch or guard souls entrusted to them as well as to rule (Hebrews 13:17). To rule implies authority or authorization. Elders are not permitted to make new doctrine, but they are responsible for applying biblical teaching in the lives of fellow Christians in their congregation.
The church is not a democracy in which all the members have an equal voice in directing the affairs. The church of Lord is ruled, when the will of God is carried out, by the Head of the church, which is Christ. He rules through the eldership. Elders are not to be tyrants. They are not to be cruel and heartless, lording it over God’s people, but they are to be as fathers, with wise heads and loving hearts ruling the Lord’s people. Somebody must take the lead; some one must direct the work; some one must carry out the discipline of the congregation. …When the Holy Spirit teaches elders to rule over the congregation, it at the same time teaches the congregation to submit to the government of the elders. (Boles, Churches of Christ 28)
Take Heed to Yourselves (Acts 20:28)
Elders must make sure that they are right with God before they can lead others correctly. Elders comprise an eldership – a molded unit that acts in unison before the congregation. There is no place in an eldership for chief elders, senior elders, junior elders or bullies. Neither do God’s elders complain to brethren that they did not get their way when with the other elders. Disgruntled, going outside of and circumventing the eldership by an elder gathering supporters is precisely what the apostle Paul cautioned against (Acts 20:29-30). God’s elders practice self-discipline.
Take Heed to the Flock (Acts 20:28)
Elders must also concern themselves with the conduct of each member of the church. If necessary, an infected and contagious sheep must be removed from the balance of the flock to protect it. Elders sometimes are responsible for initiating varying degrees of church discipline to save the sinner and preserve other souls from the infectious nature of sin. Elders must know and care for each sheep.
Feed the Flock (1 Peter 5:1-2 KJV)
The NKJV reads “shepherd the flock of God” in place of “feed the flock of God” in the KJV. A large part of what a shepherd does regarding his sheep is to feed them. Elders need to provide spiritual food for the flock of God. Elders will guide the congregation away from a hurtful spiritual diet toward spiritual food that is healthy and that will help the sheep mature.
Elders are to feed or edify the church (Acts 20:28). Elders may utilize resources to help them accomplish their duties. Human resources include deacons, teachers, preachers and missionaries (evangelists). “It is not wrong for elders to ask or accept advice from others in the congregation who may be as wise, or wiser, and more knowledgeable than they. Any sensible suggestion made by others should be given due consideration” (Hearn, “Duties” 14).
Take the Oversight (1 Peter 5:2 KJV)
Elders have the responsibility in overseeing a congregation to provide for its needs through tending to the individual members. They must also attempt to lead straying sheep back to the fold of safety. Overseeing a congregation is another way of impressing the need for elders to be God’s stewards of His people. Oversight works out a lot better when the overseen voluntarily submit to the oversight of the overseers.
Be Examples (1 Peter 5:3)
Elders provide themselves as examples for brethren to follow. If the elders are what God wants them to be, their example will help brothers and sisters in Christ avoid sin in their lives (1 Corinthians 11:1). Elders are to be examples, but they are to be more than examples. They are to shepherd or oversee their respective congregations (1 Peter 5:2), but without being dictatorial (1 Peter 5:3). “What is forbidden in the foregoing text is the abuse of authority, and not the proper use thereof” (Woods 30). Elders are to serve as examples worthy of imitation by the rest of the church, ever mindful that they are answerable to the “Chief Shepherd,” Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:4).
Watch for Wolves (Acts 20:29-30)
Elders must watch for false teachers who will lead brethren in their watch care away from sound doctrine (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Timothy 4:3). Dangers can arise from outside the church or from within the congregation. The apostle Paul told the elders from Ephesus that false teachers would arise from within the eldership (Acts 20:29). Alert elders analyze what preachers and teachers preach and teach to assure brethren are not harmed by false doctrine. At the first notice of wayward or weak doctrine, elders can act to prevent harm. From time to time, elders may need to observe the classes being taught so they can be aware.
Stop the Mouths of Idle Talkers and Deceivers (Titus 1:11)
Elders need to identify false teachers disguised as Gospel preachers and teachers before precious souls are infected with false teaching. Elders need courage to resist inroads of error among the people of God for whom they watch, and that error may appear publicly or privately. Every Gospel preacher and Bible class teacher ought to be aware that if necessary his elders will arise as he speaks to the congregation to correct or halt his presentation (James 3:1).
Support the Weak (Acts 20:35)
In every congregation there are babes in Christ who are unable to care for themselves adequately. Elders must protect and encourage spiritually weak members. The eldership must plan and execute the plan to nourish weakly members to full health (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Pray for the Sick and Administer to their Needs (James 5:16)
Every Christian has some responsibility toward fellow Christians, and any Christian ought to pray for the sick and do for them what needs to be done if possible. However, elders cannot avoid their heightened responsibilities to pray for the sick and to administer to their needs by delegating it to others, such as to the preacher. Elders cannot hire their work out to others.
Consider and Decide Matters for the Church (Acts 15:6)
Someone must make decisions about the affairs of the church. This ranges from spiritual matters to physical circumstances that involve the local congregation. God has designed that elders shoulder that responsibility. Elders exercise themselves in the area of expediency.
Select and Appoint Teachers and Preachers (1 Timothy 4:14)
Timothy was selected and appointed by an eldership. Commonly, elders select Gospel preachers, and they are responsible as well for each teacher in the congregation over which they have been appointed.
Watch for the Souls of the Church (Hebrews 13:17)
Nothing could be more significant than being responsible to God for the souls of others. Elders bear this great weight. That burden would be lighter if more church members would cooperate with their elders as they attempt to guide them toward the eternal shores of heaven. Elders must watch for souls in the same vein as the watchmen in Ezekiel 33:7-16 were responsible for warning the wicked from their sins. Elders are guardians of souls placed in their charge.
Elders must be about the business of providing for the spiritual welfare of each member. They are stewards of the souls in their custody, leading their congregation on behalf of our Lord. “The true shepherd will know all the flock, who they are, how many there may be, where they live and what their spiritual condition might be” (Hearn, “Duties” 13).
Selection and Appointment of Elders
Elders are not self-appointed (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). The men possessing the grave responsibilities are selected by fellow Christians in accordance with divinely inspired qualifications. Then, the Holy Spirit installs them (Acts 20:28) into the eldership (if they are truly qualified) when the congregation appoints them. Incidentally, elders are made, not born, and they can be unmade as well (1 Timothy 5:19-20).
“Make no mistake about it, this matter of overseership is serious business. It is not for little boys, it is not for non-leaders, it is not for those whose first love is anything but the Lord’s Cause, and it certainly is not for the faint of heart” (Campbell 20). Select and appoint elders carefully, because it is easier to appointment the right men to the eldership than it is to remove unqualified elders. The Lord’s church is too important and it costs too much (Acts 20:28) to risk damaging it by appointing unqualified men to be elders.
“The key to good elderships is in selecting only qualified men” (Hodge 45). The selection and appointment of elders should never be reduced to a popularity contest. Elders should not be selected and appointed based on political victories or business accomplishments. Elders should not be selected and appointed because of their family relationship to other persons, in or out of the Lord’s church. Academic achievements or the lack thereof alone ought not to be the criteria for one’s appointment as an elder. A man’s personal wealth should never be the reason for which he is considered for appointment to the eldership. Surely, the man who is domineering and brash toward fellow brethren is ill-suited to be the Lord’s elder. Churches of Christ set themselves up for dismal failure if their attention to qualification of elders revolves primarily around two questions: (1) “Is his marriage biblically correct?” and (2) “Does he have faithful children?” To be God’s elder, sundry spiritual qualities found in the biblical qualifications need to be addressed, too. A congregation should never settle for the “best available” (Hodge 46) candidates while diminishing the essentiality of the divinely given biblical qualifications for elders. “There are not perfect men! All qualities listed must exist in each elder to an appreciable degree. But the strength of elders is in number. What one lacks another supplies” (Hodge 47).
Enough information appears in the New Testament to clearly indicate that every congregation should have a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Acts 20:17). Yet, obviously before the appointment of elders in any existing congregation, the congregation operated with apparent Divine approval without elders for that interim. Further, the qualifications of elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-11; Hebrews 13:17) and the very terms used to designate them (i.e., pastors, Ephesians 4:11; overseers, Acts 20:28; shepherds, 1 Peter 5:1-4) indicate the function of elders. However, almost everything else regarding elders has been left by God in the realm of expediency. We do not have any biblical information regarding the selection and installation process. These details are not stipulated and, therefore, are not a matter of doctrine. Hence, neither are they a matter warranting undue alarm nor disagreement.
There is no method revealed in the New Testament for the selection and appointment of elders. …There is no instruction given that teaches us how they were “appointed” or they were to be appointed. Since no Scripture teaches us how they were appointed, we are left free to appoint them in any way or by any method that does not violate a Scriptural principle and at the same time promotes Christian unity. (Boles, Churches of Christ 15)
Since there is no one method of appointing elders specified in the Bible, the example of the selection of deacons may be a good one to follow (Acts 6). The apostles advised the church to look out among them good men to serve in this capacity. Just so, the congregation, after being taught and instructed in these important matters, can select men to serve as elders. The method is not described in Scripture. (Hearn, “Selection” 5)
In the absence of elders, the Christian men of a congregation are responsible for the affairs of the church, until such time as the congregation has elders. The congregation has the responsibility to appoint qualified men to serve as elders. It would be biblically incorrect for a congregation to go without elders indefinitely if qualified men are present in the congregation. It would also be anti-biblical for a congregation to opt for a form of government, namely a committee (or a single person, etc.), instead of the biblical prescription of elders (or in the absence of qualified men to serve as elders, the male members of the congregation).
Not merely pragmatic, but it is wise leadership of an eldership that will contribute to its own perpetuation. Whether additional elders should be installed before the resignation of an elder or the anticipated incapacity or death of an elder whereby the eldership were dissolved is a matter of opinion and expediency. Perhaps elders may put forth to the congregation for its consideration men that they recommend for appointment to the eldership. Surely, though, year-by-year, the shepherds of the local flock of God will prepare men and women spiritually for greater service. We would expect to find future elders and their wives among those groomed for servant-hood. Passing along (2 Timothy 2:2) the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 6:1; 2 John 9) alone would go a long way to preparing dedicated Christians for populating the eldership with godly men, accompanied by godly wives. However, a congregation may not have elders yet. Or, it may be that a congregation’s eldership has dissolved (perhaps because of the death of one of two elders). How does a congregation go about appointing elders when it does not currently have an eldership?
Whether suggested by an existing eldership or nominated by members of the congregation, Christian men must be examined before appointment to the eldership. Usually, the preacher, elders or teachers rehearse with the congregation over several weeks the biblical qualifications of elders. Hopefully after being refreshed respecting the scriptural credentials that God requires of elders, the congregation will be better prepared to select and to appoint elders in harmony with God’s Word.
Typically in contemporary times, names of Christian men are announced to the congregation for reflection. Any men whose names are put forth who do not desire to serve as elders remove themselves from consideration. Often over the two following weeks, brethren are encouraged to publicize any concerns about nominations, and those apprehensions are studied. Sometimes brothers will remove themselves voluntarily at this time from possible appointment as elders. Otherwise, if misgivings about a nomination are resolved satisfactorily to the men or the eldership, those brothers and others about whom no one expressed reservations are recognized as elders of the local church on a specified day. Other candidates for selection as elders, men about whom the men or the eldership cannot satisfactorily resolve complaints, are not recognized as elders.
Whatever procedure agreed upon by a local congregation is appropriate for the selection and appointment of elders, as long as it does not violate any biblical principles and teaching. They, however, must be appointed in harmony with divinely given qualifications for elders. Yet, some ceremony or officiating in keeping with local customs would go a long way to (1) heighten the realization of the solemnity and importance of the selection of elders and (2) formalize the selection of elders for all local brethren and sister congregations, too. In any case, a local congregation is responsible for the selection and appointment of its own elders. We have a precedent in New Testament Scripture for congregational selection of men for special functions within the church (Acts 6:3). In Acts 6:1-6, the congregation was given instructions respecting the qualifications of the men to be selected. The congregation was instructed to select men from among themselves based on the stated qualifications. Pragmatically, if a congregation is not satisfied with its leaders, it will not follow them; the church needs to select its own leaders. Then, the apostles appointed the men who were chosen by the congregation. Further, we have another biblical example of solemnizing a selection of men from within a congregation for special functions (Acts 13:2-3).
Obviously, God placed qualifications for elders in the New Testament because He deemed them to be important – essential rather than optional. Christians, then, must ascertain what the New Testament teaches about elders. Elders, the presbytery, bishops, overseers, shepherds and pastors are synonymous or interchangeable terms coming from three Greek words: presbuteros, episkopos and poiman (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7). A plurality of elders always serve together over each fully organized congregation (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:17). Incidentally, this means that each elder possesses equal authority with every other elder in his congregation; there are neither senior (chief elders) nor junior elders. “These men are equal in authority, as well as having an equal say in all their duties as shepherds of the flock” (Bryant 11).
There is no greater office of responsibility and service than that belonging to elders. They have the most important responsibility on earth! One of the identifying characteristics of the church for which Jesus died and over which He is the Head is that fully organized congregations have biblically qualified elders.
Christians have a right to expect that each man serving as an elder meets each of the divine qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). We have a right to expect elders to rule and feed the flock over which they have been selected (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Only when fully qualified elders serve in each congregation will the churches of Christ function in harmony with God’s will. God knew what he was doing when he determined that each congregation would be ruled by a plurality of elders who meet divinely given qualifications.
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