Sunday, March 25, 2007

PREACHING THIS MORNING...'Appointing Elders In Every Church', a look at the need and qualifications for elders in the local church as our congregation begins to revisit the appointment process. The church here has tried and failed twice to appoint Scriptural leadership, once since I have been here. We must keep trying until we are in full compliance with God's expectations of local church organization.


Wild Bill said...

A vital subject to the Church as the proper bride of Christ. It is an underserved subject as well, in my estimate. Well done. Please forward your lesson/PPT presentation (as appropriate). As an aside (without having seen your lesson), submission to the elders is unquestionably an undertaught (another new word) subject and one that is vital to fulfilling God's desire that there be "elders in all the churches." Those who are not submissive to the elders will not be willing to appoint elders nor serve as elders. It is encouraging to know evangelists are fulfilling the work given them to see to the appointment of elders in the churches.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

Wild Bill - and Alan - I have a question about submission to the elders. Is it an absolute? Does it end at the church doors? I agree that it would be good to hear sermons on it.

My understanding has always been that if the elders decide something should be done through the church/with the congregation, then we have an obligation to do it. But does that go beyond doing what the Bible requires? A good example is church attendance. The NT only requires attending services on Sunday at some time. Most churches of Christ in the US meet three times a week. The prevailing opinion seems to be that missing any of those services is being disobedient to God because of the "do not forsake the assembly" passage. And if the eldership has set those as times to meet, then the member has also not been in submission to the elders if (s)he misses.

Do you think that's true? What if the elders decide it's in the members' best spiritual interest to meet every morning at 6:30 during the week for a devotional to start the day? There are some days I think that would be great. But would I be out of submission if I didn't attend?

At another church I know, the elders have decided that women should not wear slacks to services. It's an official position of the church that new female members are made aware of. It's not enforced on non-members, of course, although I believe it has been brought up to some who attended for a while without placing membership. Would it actually be sinful for a female member there to wear slacks, if, say, she were caught in traffic and had to choose between going to church in slacks or missing church?

I would be interested in thoughts from both of you.

susanna in alabama

proudconservative said...

Dear Alan and others.
the eldership is studied with references to Timothy and Titus and others. The words of Jesus are seldom considered in this study. When he said that the church will not have rulers as the Gentiles do he was certainly talking about Christian behavior and the role of elders. The elders cannot tell anyone to do anything that the Bible does not tell the others to do. Elders are not given super-Biblical powers of decree. They certainly have their scriptural place. In my opinion, we, the church, have lost the meaning of it and until we get it back we are better off without elders.

Wild Bill said...

Elders most certainly have authority over Christians outside the formal assembly (“the building”). That is inherent in the fact that their ministry of oversight is spiritual in nature (it may have physical aspects as well in benevolence, for example). That “watching out for your souls” (Hebrews 13:17) certainly doesn’t end at the doors, even if the prevailing culture among the churches is that purity in the worship of the public assembly is the preeminent work of the church (Alan may disagree with that “prevailing culture” comment).

It’s not really possible within a posting like this to address the issue fully, but suffice to say that submission to the elders is interconnected to the Christian’s obligation to “submit ye one to another.” Eph. 5:21. While certainly rebellion against the elders can connote sin (for example, Romans 16:17), I think the proper focus for the faithful Christian is rather that of Romans 14:19 “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” While I believe that the “no pants” position is without merit (for the same reason I reject the head covering), it is clearly a matter akin to Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” A Christian should gladly give up for the sake of submission not only to the elders but to all brethren anything that “the kingdom of God is not.” And while the kingdom is not skirts or dresses or another “outward adornment” (1 Peter 3), that also means it’s not pants or jeans—so the submissive Christian will give up those extraneous things for the sake of unity in the body even if the demand isn’t necessary. In short, Christians do not stand on their rights or privileges. That is a central point of 1 Corinthians 6-9.

Certainly, elders are to shepherd the flock (they are not cattle ranchers) and to do so with gentleness and wisdom. Alan has an excellent summary of the qualifications of elders that reflects the overwhelming emphasis in scripture on the spirit and character of the man as it relates to others, rather than the “external” characteristics that are more commonly thought of. With that caveat, an elder who fulfills his role of faithful stewardship and, in that regard adopts opinions with which we disagree, is nonetheless to be “honored” 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and we are to be in subjection to them, 1 Cor. 16:16. That means adhering to their instructions, reached in prayerful wisdom and faithful humility. So, if the elder say wear a skirt, you wear a skirt. If they ask a man to shave a beard or cut his hair or wear a jacket and tie at the table, he should do so. None of these mean anything in the kingdom, of course, but, as I said, that means the one asked should have no problem giving it up for the sake of the “righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” that are the substance of the kingdom.

Is it a sin to refuse to do so? Well, not to use the common lawyer dodge, but it depends—on the spirit of the person that is. I cannot draw a broad brush, but I certainly can see where a refusal to submit to commands comes from a prideful and rebellious spirit that is sinful. In other instances, an inability to comply with a particular command (the daily devotional, for example) could occur for reasons that do not arise from an obstinate spirit and are not “sinful.” Of course, it is easy to create difficult hypotheticals, but I always fall back on the adage “hard facts make bad law.” I think if we develop a spirit of submission and obedience to the elders in “the small things”, then we will find that submission in “greater things” is that much easier.

We can all write a great deal on this subject, but I won’t bog down Alan’s blog. I would raise however that (as I’d mentioned to Alan) that the Holy Spirit appoints men overseers in the church. Acts 20:28. How? In ways known, through the revealed word and the opportunity granted a man certainly, but also in ways more difficult to identify, through the patient molding of a godly man’s character, through the gentle and patient working on the spirit of a man to “desire the work” and through the “prayer and fasting” that should accompany a church’s meditation and consideration on the appointment of men. Admittedly, I have a more (perhaps far more) “activist” view of the Spirit than many Christians, but I really raise that point to note that recognition of the work of the Spirit in the placing of elders over the church should be a clear instruction on the need to submit to the men who have been charged with this ordained work in “the church of God.”

Hope that provides some useful thoughts and isn’t too rambling; God bless

Anonymous said...

It was very helpful. Thank you :).


Jeff said...

Glad to hear you and your church are, Lord willing, headed in that direction. Would that more local churches recover the biblical model for church government.

If you aren't already aware of them, 9 Marks Ministries has a lot of resources on this and related topics.

proudconservative said...

The issue of elders seems to be for many the answer to the quesstion, "Who is in charge here?" I am convinced that the Scriptures challenge man to a higher plane of behavior. While that is true, I am convinced that some of our brethren, including confused elders, have decided that the Scriptural challenges are not sufficient. They, in addition, would then impose their preferences upon their flocks. This is what happens when elders and their flocks do not understand who they are or rather who God wishes them to be. I have seen the imposed cutting of hair, the draconian and inconsistent enforcement of attendance, the totally arbitrary and, yes, silly creation of dress codes, etc. I was an elder. My father was an elder. We got it wrong because we were taught incorrectly. Is it submission to elders or is it submission to God? If submission to the laws God is the issue then elders shold not be in the business of creating their own. In my opinion.

Wild Bill said...

But submission to the elders IS submission to God, for God ordained it. Hebrews 13:17 states plainly:

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Paul commanded in 1 Cor. 16:16 (even speaking more generally of those who labor in the work of God for the saints) “I urge you, brothers, 16to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.”

There is no qualification applied to submission and obedience. It is not dependent on “agreement” with the elders’ views. Submission to the elders is the Christian’s duty before God. The elders’ duty before God is to “watch out for souls” looking to the example of the Chief Shepherd. 1 Pet 5. Doubtless, men serving as overseers have fallen short in fulfilling their duties to the Lord. But that does not absolve any Christian of fulfilling his duty to God. The duties are separate and both are to the Lord, not men.

As one not “raised in the church”, I am struck by the downplaying of (1) unity (another topic); and (2) the eldership and the Christian’s relationship to it, specifically his duty of submission to the elders. For a movement committed to relying on the authority of scripture alone, it is remarkable the number of qualifications many Christians seem to place on the eldership.

It is not so with God. Yes, the Lord established through Paul to Timothy the conditions under which a charge should be received against an elder (by two or more, necessarily disinterested, faithful Christians, not ginning up a faction against an elder). If an elder introduces heresy, cause division, or promotes rebellious carnal sin in the church, a charge may properly brought against him. If he fails in his duty to rule, but rather “Lord’s over the church” (1 Pet 5:3, a favorite verse of the qualifiers), then a charge may seemingly be brought to account. But such should be done with fear and trembling (as it was under the Old Law where the testimony of two or more could lead to the death penalty). I submit these are exceedingly narrow circumstances for discipline against an elder (illustrated by the illusion to requirements under the old law). In my opinion, however, rather than heeding Paul’s charge, Christians seemingly pursue every petty slight or press every opinion (no matter how dubious) in opposition to elders. It ought not be so and, frankly, those saints should tremble in contemplating their opposition to the men to whom God commanded submission.

As for the notion that elders can only require saints to do that for which they have “book, chapter and verse”, well, I’d agree, but that hardly means elders cannot address issues of dress, attendance, etc. It depends on the needs of the church for one. If long hair, scraggly beards, clothes on youngsters, etc., is troubling a church, elders are well within their role as overseers to require saints to do things which will restore peace in the church. Certainly, elders are properly the ones to bring about a brother’s restraint from pursuing a matter of “meat or drink” (1 Cor. 8; Roms 14) for the sake of a weaker brother. Such resolutions may involve instructions that are not set forth expressly in scripture, but are a practical application of scriptural principles. In the event of a “meat or drink” matter, the elders would be requiring a brother to refrain from something which his liberty in Christ permits (and which the elder may agree with). Is that “super-biblical”? How can it be?

Moreover, in 1 Cor 6, Paul desires that the wise men in a church, the elders certainly, if not exclusively, would resolve disputes among Christians where one has been “defrauded.” Elders would be within their proper oversight to instruct a Christian to pay his debt or otherwise properly resolve a dispute with a brother. May that brother refuse to do so? Only on pain of the loss of his soul, in my view.
If the injunctions on saints to do those things which make for peace and the edification of the church, Roms 14:19, are considered (and surely, the elders may see to the pursuit of such things, if any can), then the notion of “hedging about” the authority of the elders collapses like the house of cards that it is.

Put plainly, God ordained the eldership and it is HIS church, not ours. Men should tremble at the thought of resisting God’s will in this matter. Yet, the excuses for not having elders seem to come easily to Christians. I am convinced it can only be because they have not studied the elders in scripture and are heedless to God’s requirement of it. Acts 15 saw the “apostles AND elders” instructing the Antiochan saints in the faith. The elders are to be living examples of the faith Heb 13:7 just as the apostles were. Indeed, the Lord knew his apostles would be with the Church only a short period, so he ordained the eldership as perpetual leadership and examples to the saints. 1 Pet 5:3.
Doubtless, numerous horror stories could be offered up about elders. That men have failed in their service as elders is unsurprising. Men are weak and sinful. That’s why we have a Lord Jesus Christ and that’s why He died to give us the Holy Spirit. “What is impossible with men is possible with God”—especially when they “give themselves” first to God, and then to His servants. 2 Cor. 8:5.

Moreover, I am convinced that many of the problems with the eldership arise from the failure in instruction and study on the subject among Christians. Men who are not taught to submit to elders won’t, making their service a hardship rather than a joy, as the Lord desires. Moreover, men who have not been taught to submit to the elders will not expect people to submit to them when serving as elders, and will instead believe they must impose themselves on the saints. And while this may reflect the failure of the church to adhere to God’s divine plan for leadership in the church, it does nothing to diminish our obligation to fulfill God’s commands for ordaining “elders in all the churches.” Few Christians, I think, consider that their failure to manifest the submissive attitude demanded by God towards to eldership creates conflict and misrule among the elders (rather than the joy that comes with submission).

In short, (1) God ordained elders to be in every church; (2) His Holy Spirit sets men as overseers for the churches; (3) they are to rule looking to the example of the Chief Shepherd; (4) they are to watch out for the souls of the saints and maintain the peace and unity of the church; and (5) Christians are to submit to them and obey them. These are commands of God for His Church, and we should tremble in fear if we are frustrating or opposing them.