Thursday, June 09, 2011

Ecclesiology: the Rule of Elders

How do Scriptures describe the role of elders? There are many aspects. One on which I'll focus in this post relates to their role as overseers and rulers. This seems to be a challenging part of the Scriptures for those living in Western democracies, in which rule of society tends to be (at least in theory) populist.

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

1 Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Hebrews 13:24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.

1 Timothy 3:4-5 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

Romans 12:8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Titus 2:15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Cf. 1 Timothy 2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

There is an important caveat:

Mark 10:42-45
But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

That caveat is important. It should prevent the rulers of the church from overstepping their bounds and becoming like Rome's hierarchy. Nevertheless, even the caveat notes that there will be leaders in the church. Christ's leadership of the church provides a moral example for those leaders. That example is not fulfilled through a pastor ceremonially washing the feet of his sub-rulers (as Rome's bishop does), but through rendering practical assistance, comfort, and encouragement. In understanding that his role as shepherd involves authority over the sheep, but has as its purpose the benefit of the sheep.



Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi TF,

Do you consider elders and bishops as being synonymous terms and functionally interchangeable? Or do you distinguish between the two?

Reformed Apologist said...

Good reminder.

Turretinfan said...

TU&D: synonymous terms and functionally interchangeable

ChaferDTS said...

"Do you consider elders and bishops as being synonymous terms and functionally interchangeable? Or do you distinguish between the two?"

In Scripture we are told of 2 orders of ministry. That of Bishop / Elder / Pastor. Those 3 words refers to the same person in ministry and are synonymous with one another. The other office is that of deacon. Scripture also indicates a plurality of those 2 orders of ministry within the local church. When dealing with a common heresy within various local churches each local church needs to band together in the form of a synod or council in which the bishops / elders from each local church to discuss the problem and refute it with scripture and cast a vote on it and then in each local church has it's own Bishops / Elders vote either to confirm the findings of the synod or council or to disapprove of it.

Anonymous said...

Functionality of this reality being opened up in this article thread has layers to it. Each has the manifestation of its own fruit.

As an example, take just the first reference from Acts 20.

One whom God has decreed and appointed to the function and task among those He has added together to become a functioning "Church" to be in this multi-tasked leadership role is recognized by the "fruit" manifesting from that soul by those who have a voice in the matter from this Christ centered "Church" appointed by Him to shine His Light and Glory as a testimony to His Gospel of the Kingdom in the fallen darkened world in every nation on earth.

Read down through to verse 36 and comprehend the totality of what this Apostle is writing about.

It forms the basis for understanding why and when a Spiritual Leader in this "Christ centered" Holy Spirit conjoined group would be "set apart" to purely a work of thought and not labor and thinking.

A work of thought, i.e. the Pastor, would be one whose tasks are paid for in full by and from the income from the whole contributions of the "Church" organ you are grafted into. Christ has set up His own economy so that His ox is fed while treading!

Some "Church" organs are not productive enough for their Spiritual Leaders to be fully compensated so they have to do "other" tasks to make up for the shortfall.

As the "Church" organ grows and becomes healthy, productive materially and mature enough, it seems you will end up with one or two or ten, depending on how large a "Church" organ you are a part of, fully paid Spiritual Leaders.

This is a wonderful topic and article today, TF and I commend you to take it all the way and lay out all the True Biblical models found in Scripture!

What an enriching journey we will all have together with you as you do this!

May the Good Word of the Good Lord be found True in you:::>

Pro 10:21 The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.
Pro 10:22 The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.
Pro 10:23 Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.

Hapax Paradidomi said...

I know this thread is 1 year old :) But I may consider studying this topic a little more. In any case, I just wanted to get your thoughts. Both Peter and John, being apostles refer to themselves as elders. Wouldn't it follow, by your logic, that elders and apostles are one and the same? Being that they referred to themselves wouldn't it make more sense to say that all apostles were at some point elders, but not all elders were apostles? And likewise that all bishops maybe elders but that does not mean that all elders are bishops?

Hapax Paradidomi said...

Also it isn't clear to me how you see Mark 10:42-45 as an argument against a hierarchy considering that you would have to admit that Jesus, being the head of His church, constitues a hierarchy if he has appointed men below him but over others. Wouldn't that at least constitute a hierarchy? Take for example: Jesus -> Apostles -> Elders (as you understand it) -> Laity. Is that not a hierarchy?