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Elders in the Bible

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                             Elders in the Bible

Words with the πρεσβ´υτ (presbut) root, from which “elder” is taken,
occur seventy-five times in the New Testament. Nine occurrences
refer to people of chronologically more-advanced age. (Luke 1:18;
15:25; John 8:9; Acts 2:17; Phlm. 9; 1 Tim. 5:1,2; Titus 2:2,3.) Four
times words with this root refer to ancestors of the Hebrew nation.
(Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:3,5; Heb. 11:2.) John uses such words twelve
times in Revelation to refer to the heavenly elders, or rulers. (Rev.
4:4, 10; 5:5,6,8,11,14; 7:11,13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4.) Twenty-nine times
(all in the Gospels and Acts) the word is used to refer to the Jewish
non- priestly leaders either in the Sanhedrin or in local synagogues.
The remaining twenty uses refer to elders in churches: in the
Jerusalem church; (Acts 11:30; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 21:18.) in
Lystra, Iconium and Antioch; (Acts 14:21,25.) in Ephesus (Acts
20:17); in the towns of Crete (Titus 1:5); and other general
references. (1 Tim. 4:4; 5:17,19; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1, 5.) John also
refers to himself twice as “the elder,”(2 John 1; 3 John 1.) though
whether he is referring to an office he holds or to some other type of
designation that was attached to him personally, we cannot say.


I)      Biblical Evidence for plural Elders.
     1. With the 20 references to Christian elders in churches, the
        evidence would tend to say that the normal pattern in the New
        Testament is for there to be more than one elder in each
        congregation.
        A. James, in James 5:14, instructs the Christians he writes to
           “call the elders [plural] of the church [singular] to pray over
           him.”
        B. Peter, in the verses in chapter 5 already mentioned, writes
           as an elder to the “elders [plural] among you.” If I Peter 5:5
           should be translated “elder” instead of “older men” then it
           seems that Peter would be assuming that there would be
           plural elders in a single congregation. It certainly wouldn’t be
           ruled out.
        C. Paul greets the bishops/elders [plural] in the church
           [singular] at Philippi when writing to them (Phil. 1:1).
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D. Paul exhorts the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts
   20:28 to be “bishops” [plural] to the flock [singular] which
   God had called them.
E. Paul mentions elders in writing to Timothy and Titus. To
   Timothy he reminds him of the body of elders (in I Tim. 4:14)
   that had laid their hands on him.
F. Paul, in I Tim. 5:17, refers again to the elders [plural] who
   direct the affairs of the church [singular]. Two verses later,
   he refers to accusations not against THE elder, but against
   “an elder” presbuterou used without an article. This would be
   consistent with Paul assuming that Timothy would have
   multiple elders in one congregation.
G. In Titus 1:5, Paul exhorts Titus to “appoint elders [plural] in
   every town [kata polin, that’s distributive, in each town] as I
   directed you.” So certainly the churches established in Crete
   at least were to have a plurality of elders in each local
   congregation.
H. We see from Luke’s account in Acts 20:17, noted above, that
   the church [singular] in Ephesus had elders [plural].
   a Acts 20:17 (ESV)
       17
          Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the
       elders of the church to come to him.
I. If we look at the end of Paul’s first missionary journey in Acts
   14, it seems in 14:23 that Paul and Barnabas “had elders
   [plural] elected for them in each church [singular].”
J. Repeatedly in the book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem is
   represented as having a plurality of elders. No multiple
   congregations are referenced, no house churches. The
   reference to meeting together is found in Acts 2:42, and
   there it is all together in the Temple courts. Never are
   “churches” in Jerusalem referred to; only the congregation
   [singular]. On the other hand, the elders are referred to—
   always in the plural—in Acts 11:30, throughout chapter 15 in
   the account of the Jerusalem council (15:2, 4, 6, 22-23), 16:4
   and in 21:18. Therefore, any Baptist making an argument for
   one group of elders leading many house congregations is
   making a good argument for Presbyterianism, but not for
   historic Baptist congregationalism. Should that argument be
   sharpened to one individual leading all of those house
   churches, then it is more an argument for divine-right
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            episcopalianism, and even the Episcopalians don’t make
            that argument.

II)      Questions about Elders

      1. What biblical support is there for a single elder model?
         A. Some men in the New Testament, like Timothy and Titus,
            moved from place to place and served as elders.
         B. There is New Testament evidence that some men were
            financially supported for full-time work with the flock. (Phil.
            4:15-18; 1 Timothy 5:17-18)
         C. Paul wrote not to the elders of the church in Ephesus, but to
            Timothy alone.
         D. The Lord Jesus addressed His letters to the seven churches
            in Revelation 2-3 to the “angel” or “messenger” [singular] of
            each church. There is great division as to John’s specific
            meaning here.

      2. What are the Biblical roles of elders?
         A. In addition to the qualifications of an elder, the Bible also
            provides the duties of elders-pastors:
            a Prayer and Scripture study (Acts 6:4)
            b Leading the church (1 Timothy 5:17)
            c Managing the church (1 Timothy 3:4-5)
            d Caring for people in the church (1 Peter 5:2-5)
            e Giving account to God for the church (Hebrews 13:17)
            f Living exemplary lives (Hebrews 13:7)
            g Rightly using the authority God has given them (Acts
               20:28)
            h Teaching the Bible correctly (Eph. 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:2)
            i Preaching (1 Timothy 5:17)
            j Praying for the sick (James 5:13-15)
            k Teaching sound doctrine, refuting false teachings(Titus
               1:9)
            l Working hard (1 Thessalonians 5:12)
            m Rightly using money and power (1 Peter 5:1-3)
            n Protecting the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17-31)
            o Disciplining unrepentant Christians (Matthew 18:15-17)
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   B. Danny Akin identifies eight functions of an Elder in the New
      Testament:
      a The elders have overall responsibility for the oversight
        and direction of the church (Hebrews 13:17)
      b The elders are responsible to seek in all matters the mind
        of Christ (who is the head of the church) through the
        guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
        (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18; 1 Peter 5:2)
      c The elders must be apt to teach, able to exhort the church
        in sound doctrine and be ready to refute those who
        contradict the truth. (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus
        1:9)
      d The elders shall provide instruction for the maintenance of
        healthy relationships within the church. (Galatians 6:1;
        1 Thessalonians 5:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)
      e The elders should exercise at least general oversight of
        the financial matters of the church. (Acts 11:30)
      f The elders should lead (with appropriate congregational
        input) in the appointing of deacons as necessary to
        accomplish the mission of the church. (Acts 6:1-6)
      g The elders are to lead by example. (Hebrews 13:7;
        1 Peter 5:2-3)
      h The elders are to lead in the exercise of church discipline
        (Galatians 6:1) but not to the exclusion of the entire body
        when warranted. (Matthew 18; 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor. 2)


3. Are all of the elders to be outside staff?
   A. The Bible supports the concept of honoring an elder who
      labors primarily in preaching and teaching. Baptist’s correctly
      interpret this passage to mean that among the same group
      of elders, the one who labors primarily in preaching and
      teaching is to be worthy of honor.
      a 1 Timothy 5:17 (ESV)
         17
            Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of
         double honor, especially those who labor in preaching
         and teaching.
   B. The Bible also supports local, indigenous elders to assist the
      teaching/preaching pastor/elder in the work of the ministry.
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      a  Titus 1:5 (ESV)
          5
          This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what
        remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I
        directed you—
      b Acts 14:23 (ESV)
        23
           And when they had appointed elders for them in every
        church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to
        the Lord in whom they had believed.
      c 2 Timothy 2:2 (ESV)
        2
          and what you have heard from me in the presence of
        many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to
        teach others also.

4. Based on the passages we have seen, what are some pro’s
   and con’s of incorporating Elder’s into a church?
   A. Pros
      a It balances pastoral weakness. No pastor is broadly
         gifted enough to do all the work of the ministry equally
         well by himself. There are weaknesses in every pastor’s
         game. We all need other people to balance out our all-
         too-human deficiencies. When you surround yourself with
         godly men whose gifts, passions, and abilities balance
         yours, you provide more well-rounded leadership for
         people to follow.
      b It diffuses congregational criticism. Under the single
         pastor/multiple deacon model, the pastor often takes the
         brunt of the criticism alone. Tough decisions can be
         misperceived, motives can be misconstrued, and before
         too long the pastor becomes the target of all the critical
         remarks because he is the one who is perceived to be
         making all the decisions and casting all the final votes—
         and under this model, he often is. Within a plurality of
         elders, however, leadership is shared with a body of non-
         staff elders who have been recognized and affirmed by
         the congregation. This provision alleviates the pastor from
         bearing all the criticism, because now leadership and
         decision making responsibility are shared among the
         group. Other men can now stand in the gap with the
         pastor, and they can take both responsibility and criticism
         together. Also, the congregation likely will be more willing
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  to follow the tough decisions of a group of both staff and
  non-staff elders than to follow those made alone by a paid
  pastor. So some criticism may be avoided simply by the
  increased trust that a plurality of congregationally
  recognized non-staff elders engenders among church
  members.
c It adds pastoral wisdom. Sharing leadership with a
  group of godly, able non-staff elders will almost invariably
  keep pastors (especially young ones) from saying or
  doing dumb things, or from saying or doing the right
  things in unhelpful ways. None of us is omniscient. We all
  need to humble ourselves, share leadership, and ask
  advice. In fact, many of us are impatient when it comes to
  implementing a vision for godly change. Godly elders can
  help us select a pace for change that the congregation
  can keep up with. They can also help us formulate plans,
  articulate goals, and handle sensitive situations better
  than we may do if left to ourselves.
d It indigenizes leadership. That is, it roots leadership in
  non-staff members. This is important because the
  congregation needs to be able to function and continue to
  grow even if something awful happens to the paid pastor.
  The last thing we want to do as vocational pastors is to
  make the congregation so dependent on us that the
  church would fall apart if we died, got called somewhere
  else, or (God forbid) fell into some disqualifying sin. We
  want our work to continue to bear fruit long after we’re
  gone! But that means leadership must be rooted in non-
  staff members. The best, most biblical way to do that is to
  incorporate a structure of leadership based on a plurality
  of elders in which the non-staff elders outnumber the staff
  elders.
e It better enables corrective discipline. Without
  corrective discipline, the church has no way to protect the
  purity of her public corporate witness from the hypocrisy
  of members involved in scandalous sin. Yet the discharge
  of corrective church discipline is far more difficult without
  a plurality of elders. Performing corrective church
  discipline requires a leadership structure that won’t buckle
  under the spiritual and relational pressures of the
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     process. By adding wisdom, diffusing criticism, balancing
     pastoral weaknesses, and indigenizing leadership, plural
     eldership helps transfer the load of corrective discipline
     across the multiple pillars. Plural eldership, then, is critical
     for the discharge of corrective discipline and therefore is
     critical for maintaining the corporate witness of the local
     church in the eyes of the unbelieving community as well.
   f It defuses “us vs. him.” When disagreements happen
     between a pastor and the congregation regarding the
     direction of the church or a difficult decision that affects
     the whole congregation, an unhealthy “us vs. him”
     mentality can crop up. This can make the pastor feel
     extremely isolated and can often breed adversarial
     attitudes underneath a surface of congenial
     pastor/congregation relationships. Granted, a plurality of
     elders may simply shift the relationship into the “us vs.
     them” gear. However, it relieves the isolation of the
     pastor, and it may prevent such antipathies from ever
     arising if the pastor is wise enough to receive godly
     counsel. Again, by adding wisdom, diffusing criticism,
     balancing pastoral weaknesses, and indigenizing
     leadership, a plurality of elders can go a long way toward
     defusing the “us vs. him” bomb.
   g It better guards against an authoritarian pastor. There
     has been incredible damage done to many churches that
     have had an authoritarian pastor. Plural elders keep such
     personalities in check, and help to balance the rough
     tendencies of these individuals.
   h It better handles transitions between pastors. SBC
     churches see a turnover of pastors an average of every
     six years. Such a turnover leads to a frustrating continuity
     of the vision and can hinder a church’s long-term goals.
     Plural elders are better able to develop and implement
     long-term vision in a local church, and help the church to
     seek a leader who fits that vision when a pastor leaves.
B. Cons
   a Plural Elders can experience an “us” vs. “them”
     mentality. As Elders will be trusted to handle some
     delicate situations in the church and help set the vision for
     the church, some will not agree with their directions. Such
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            a felling can lead to a division within the church and lead
            to an “us” vs. “them” problem.
        b   Plural Elders have a temptation to become prideful.
            Sometimes the Elders can carry an air of arrogance about
            them where they see themselves as more important than
            others in the church. The Baptist stance on Priesthood of
            the Believer as well as the Biblical mandates for humble
            service should be enough to dismantle the arrogance any
            elders who become prideful.
        c   Plural Elders can abuse their church appointed roles.
            There is the tendency and temptation for elders to
            become more powerful than what the Bible limits their
            roles to be. This can become a dangerous situation in
            churches that do not have a healthy understanding of
            congregational authority. If this abuse happens it can be
            difficult to address.
        d   The appointment of plural Elders can turn into a
            popularity contest. Some churches that have
            transitioned to plural elders have placed unqualified men
            into the position of elder based solely on their popularity
            within the church.
        e   Plural Elders can slow or even derail the God directed
            vision of a Senior Pastor. There have been some
            documented cases where a gifted Senior Pastor had
            developed a solid vision for a church and some of the
            other elders did not agree with it.
        f   A board of plural Elders can experience deep
            personality conflicts. With more people involved in
            leading come more possibilities for personalities to
            conflict.

Summary Points
  1) The Bible overwhelmingly supports a plurality of elders.
  2) The Bible also supports elders as both indigenous (local) and
     coming from the outside, with the ones who labor in preaching
     and teaching to be honored.
  3) There are some incredible benefits to implementing elders into
     a church.
  4) There are some possible difficulties with implementing plural
     elders within a church.

				
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