Christ and His Shepherds
ELDERS AND PROPHETS
PROPHETS & TEACHERS
CHRIST AND HIS SHEPHERDS
A Scriptural Study
In recent years there has been renewed discussion concerning the proper form of Baptist church government. There have been various reasons for this new interest in the question of the leadership in Baptist churches. One reason has been the rise of the "dictatorial" pastorate in its varying degrees. Another is the usurpation of authority by deacons or deacon boards. A third would be the single church pastor that does not fulfill his calling.
Most Baptist churches are run by one pastor, perhaps augmented by an "assistant," "associate," or some other designation of lesser pastoral authority. A few Baptist churches are run by two "co-pastors," equally sharing the pastoral duties. If the "co-pastored" church is large enough, there might also be "assistant" pastors on the staff. Still fewer Baptist churches operate under a "plurality of pastors," who share the pastoral duties while eschewing the term "assistant" pastors as unscriptural in its terminology. And because of the continuing popularity of a particular radio teacher, some Baptist churches have even implemented an "elder" system of rule. Most of these various approaches would also acknowledge the office of "deacon," which is usually considered a "layman's" office. But in all questions, as in this one, we must ask "what saith the Scriptures?" Hopefully what follows will be an unfolding of the Word of God on this subject.
In the book of Matthew and the book of Luke, our Lord lays down a foundational truth concerning leadership. "The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord" (Mat. 10:24, 25). And again, "The disciple is not above his Master: but every one that is perfect ("complete/mature") shall be as his Master" (Lk. 6:40). The sole purpose of leadership is to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, for even leaders are naught but disciples and servants of Jesus Christ.
Though it may seem
elementary to even mention this, those that become disciples and servants of
Jesus Christ must first find salvation in His name. John the Baptist said,
"Behold the Lamb of God" (Jn. 1:36), and two of John's disciples
followed Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:37). What was their testimony? "We have
found the Messias, which is being interpreted, the Christ."
Mat. 4:18-22 tells of our Lord's calling of some to "fellowship." Luke 6:13 reveals the authority of Jesus Christ in the calling, from among His disciples, the twelve He chose and named apostles. We will consider the "call" to leadership as we continue through the Scriptures.
In the Old Testament the Nation of Israel was the representative "national" people of Jehovah. Within this national framework was to be found the "Godly remnant" who had placed their faith in the Promise (Jesus Christ) of God (Mal. 3:16-18). At the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, both men announced that "the kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Mat. 3:2; 4:17), which kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36), and is within (Lk. 17:21). Entrance into this kingdom is by spiritual rebirth (repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ) (Jn. 3:5-7, 15). All who receive Christ as Saviour enter into this kingdom, and become members of the family of God (Eph. 3:15).
The kingdom of Heaven is comprised of all those individuals that have received Jesus Christ as Saviour. Yet it had neither organization nor direction until the founding of His church. Though Christ is to rule in the hearts of each person admitted into the kingdom of Heaven, He determined to place another visible assembly (the first being the Nation of Israel) in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation. This visible church is referred to as "My assembly" (Mat. 16:18), the "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27), the "bride of Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2), of which Christ is the foundational Rock (Mat. 16:18), the fullness (Eph 1:24), and the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). The purpose of the church is to regulate the affairs of those in the kingdom of Heaven/family of God (Mat. 18:15-20 and the Epistles), and to carry out the commands of Christ (Mat. 28:16-20; Acts 1:8) on earth. Put simply, the church is the visible representation of our Lord on earth, commissioned to represent Him to a lost and dying world. The church is His visible, earthly "body" in action- - accomplishing His purposes in His visible absence.
During Jesus Christ's earthly ministry He was the visible Head, while the 11 redeemed (and 1 reprobate) disciples constituted the body. As to authority in the fledgling church, Christ was the Head. There seems to be no differentiation of authority between the 12 apostles through out the Gospels, or after the founding of the church (Mat. 16:18). Peter is mentioned the most often in the Gospels, and appears to have been a spokesman for the group, or, at least, the boldest in speech. The trio of Peter, James, and John seem to have had a closer relationship with Christ than the others (Mat. 17:1, 26:37), but there was no difference in authority or responsibility.
The Bible is not clear whether the apostles, when sent out by Christ, went individually, in a group of 12, or in some other number (Mat. 10:5ff; Lk 9:1-6, 10). We do know that they all went, indicating equal responsibility in the labor, and spread of the Gospel.
After the 12 had been sent out to, "preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick" (Lk 9:2), 70 others were sent out, 2 by 2 , to "heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Lk 10:9). These also went with equal authority and responsibility before the Lord, and the apostles.
Perhaps the closest we get in the Gospels to conferred authority is the thrice spoken statement of Jesus to Peter, "feed ("to nourish" [not the word for shepherd]) my lambs/sheep" (Jn. 21:15-17). This was certainly the sovereign choice of Christ, though Peter's position and personality made him a logical selection. This command of our Lord was probably fulfilled in Peter's early messages in Acts.
Summary: It appears that as long as Jesus Christ was on earth, He was the visible Elder, Shepherd, and Bishop of the early church. The only "office" that our Lord established during His earthly ministry was that of apostle ("sent one"), which was of comparatively short duration. The Gospels do not reveal any distinctions of authority among the apostles.
BOOK OF ACTS
Acts 1:20. The first
use of a term that indicates an "office or charge" is found in the word "bishoprick"
[episkopos] (Acts 1:20; 1 Tim. 3:1). Acts 1:20 tells us that Judas had a "bishoprick"
that needed to be filled, therefore the other 11 could also be considered to
have had the same "office." It seems obvious that with the ascension of
Jesus Christ the apostles would be naturally looked to for instruction and
guidance because of their close association with the Lord. Though Peter
seemed to be the spokesman, it was the church that decided on the two men
for which lots were cast to replace Judas (Acts 1:21-24). According to Acts
1:22, 25 there seemed to be three aspects of the apostolic "bishoprick."
Acts 6:1-7 continues
the equality among the apostles, while revealing their "apostolic" authority
over the "disciples." The apostles did not feel it was profitable to
"leave the word of God, and serve tables" (v2). The apostles either had
or took the leadership by calling "the multitude of the disciples unto
them," for the purpose of the disciples choosing of 7 men that met the
qualifications set forth by the apostles ("honest report, full of the Holy
Ghost and wisdom"), "whom we may appoint over this business." After
the disciples (church) chose the 7, the apostles then approved (set apart?)
them through the laying on of hands (v3, 6). The sole purpose of choosing
the 7 was so the apostles could: "Give ourselves continually to prayer;
And to the ministry of the word" (v3-4).
Does Acts 6:1-7 give us the first deacons? This belief seems to stem from the use of the word "serve" (Acts 6:3), the Greek diakaneo. It is used of Martha (Lk. 10:40: Jn. 12:2), Christ (Lk. 12:37), a servant & master (Lk. 17:8), an example of Christ (Lk. 22:26-27; Jn. 12:26), and in Acts 6:3. This same word is used twice more in the same phrase in 1 Tim. 3:10, 13, "the office of a deacon." Of the seven men chosen in Acts 6, five apparently fulfilled the original intent of their choosing, while Stephen engaged in "wonders and miracles among the people" and preaching (Acts 6:8; 7:2ff), and Philip preached and evangelized in Samaria and beyond (Acts 8:5ff). Because of the "servant work" of these men, "the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly" (apparently because the apostles were freed, and the seven chosen men were full of the Holy Ghost!). 1 Tim. 3:10, in speaking of deacons, seems to sum up the steps of growth as witnessed in Acts 6. Perhaps these are considered the first "deacons" because the requirements of the office are mentioned elsewhere, but not the duties. If these truly are the first deacons, then we need to take a serious look at the men we are appointing to this office today!
ASSEMBLING THE BODY OF CHRIST
The Christian History Institute states, "The earliest Christians did not have church buildings. They typically met in homes. (The first actual church building to be found is at Dura Europos on the Euphrates, dating about 231.)" Pulpit Helps (Dec. 94) quotes, "Yet for the first few hundred years the church had no buildings..."
A recent newspaper
story from China gives us a clear picture of the same situation:
Assuming, which I believe we can, that the Church at Jerusalem met in "house-churches," it also seems likely that a disciple would be placed as an "overseer" over each house-church congregation. These "elders" would naturally be under the oversight of the apostles. This would also give us insight into how the first heresy of "Metropolitans/Bishops" began (men taking authority over the churches of a city or locality). It would also seem likely that these "elders" would have been chosen by the individual congregations, or by the Church in Jerusalem as a whole, with the approval (laying of hands?) of the apostles. We should not be concerned about the idea of the Church in Jerusalem meeting in various locations, yet being called one assembly, for this was a formative time and the only available alternative.
It is plain that the first church (at Jerusalem) had a plurality of leadership (Acts 11:30) comprising apostles and "elders" (probably of the house-churches). This is what we would expect under the circumstances.
Acts 2:46 shows us the methods of fellowship and possible evangelism of the early believers: "continuing daily with one accord in the temple." and "from house to house." Acts 5:42 seems to indicate that those ministering were the apostles; "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they [apostles] ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ." This shared teaching/preaching ministry is further revealed in Acts 6:4. This may indicate that the apostles carried out the responsibilities of "oversight" in the Church in Jerusalem by the means of going from house to house (house-churches?).
Acts 8:1 tells of the scattering of the Church at Jerusalem (except the apostles), with the scattered going "every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Here again we see the shared responsibility (disciples/ apostles) of giving forth the Gospel. Stephen's and Philip's preaching ministry seems to have been accomplished as individual preachers (Acts 7 & 8).
Acts 9 shows the conversion of Paul and its effects, "he preached Christ." Once again equality in the responsibility. Acts 9:28 finds Paul accepted by the apostles.
Acts 9:32-10:48 tells of Peter's taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. In Acts 11:1-18 Peter is challenged by the "apostles and brethren in Judaea" to explain his going to the Gentiles. Peter's answer was, "what was I, that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17). A continuing equality under God
ELDERS AND PROPHETS
14:23 "had ordained them elders in every church [Lystra, Iconium, Antioch]”
15:2 "go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question"
15:4 "received of the church [Jerusalem], apostles and elders"
15:6 "apostles and elders came together to consider this matter [Jerusalem]"
15:22 "Then please it the apostles and elders [Jerusalem]"
15:23 "The apostles, elders, and brethren send greeting [of Jerusalem]"
16:4 "the apostles and elders at Jerusalem"
20:17 "called the elders of the church [Ephesus]"
21:18 "James and all the elders were present [Jerusalem]"
1 Tim. 5:1 "Rebuke not an elder" [most likely age, not position]
5:17 "The elders that rule"
5:19 "Against an elder receive not an accusation"
Tit.1:5 "ordain elders in every city"
Ja. 5:14 "call for the elders of the church"
1 Pet. 5:1 "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder"
2 Jn. 1 "The elder unto the elect lady"
3 Jn. 1 "The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius"
Acts 11:19-30 reveals three areas of church activity.
1. The scattered of the church in Jerusalem preached (v!9), the hand of the Lord was with them, and many believed (v21).
2. When the church in Jerusalem heard of this they sent Barnabas (notice his qualifications which appear the same as in Acts 6 ("good man, full of the Holy Ghost, and full of faith")) to Antioch (v22, 23). Barnabas then found Paul, and they assembled themselves with the church, and spent a year at Antioch teaching. This, no doubt, prepared men to become "elders" in the church.
3. The church in Jerusalem then sent prophets ("one with insight granted by God who communicates these insights to others") to foretell a famine (Acts 11:27-29). The relief given was taken by Barnabas and Paul to the elders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30). This is the first mention of "elders" in relation to the church. The word comes from a root meaning "old, older"; always implying dignity and wisdom. It carries the thought of official position. This might not be as much "age" as men considered "older" in the Lord. "Older in the Lord" might imply advanced knowledge of the Old Testament and its revelation of Jesus Christ, and an excellent grasp of the recent words and works of Jesus Christ. These elders would have been taught by the apostles, and would have been the leaders of the individual churches or the house-churches. Obviously, by their association with Jesus Christ, the apostles would have been the natural leaders in the church at Jerusalem.
PROPHETS & TEACHERS
Acts 13:4ff finds Paul assuming the role of spokesperson, though both Paul and Barnabas continued an equality in the ministry.
Back in Antioch the church was gathered together (perhaps in one large meeting) and they (Paul and Barnabas) reported God's work (Acts 14:27). This terminology may again point to house-churches gathering as one, since there is no church until the members (disciples) are gathered together.
Acts 15ff finds certain men arriving in Antioch from Jerusalem and causing division over the matter of circumcision.
Acts 15:2,3 shows that the church decided, and then provided for Paul, Barnabas, and others to go to the Jerusalem church to confer with the apostles and elders (second mention pertaining to the Jerusalem church).
v4 tells us the church, apostles and elders received them.
v6 says the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter, with Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and James having a say. This situation certainly implies a leadership, or at the least, a counseling role for the elders. The house-church concept seems the most likely.
Acts 15:12, "all the multitude" probably refers to the many elders needed for the home-church meetings, or the many elders needed to minister to the Church at Jerusalem.
Acts 15:19-23 tells of the consensus reached by the apostles, the elders, and the whole church. It is hard to say whether the church was in on the deliberations, but they approved of the result (Acts 15:25), and of the sending of "chosen men" (who are referred to as "chief men among the brethren," while 15:26 tells us why they were considered "chief men.") with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with a response (v23). The use of the term "whole church" may refer to this house-church concept, where all were gathered for this meeting (quite possibly an open-air meeting).
Acts 15:30 again refers to "gathering the multitude [church] together," in order to read the epistle.
v32 and 35 reveal the continued equality of responsibility among the apostles, prophets, and disciples.
Acts 16ff finds Paul and Silas returning to the churches.
16:2 may give us a hint as to the process of "ordaining" elders. First, the brethren gave Paul a good report of Timothy. 16:4 continues the equality, "ordained of the apostles and elders." with continued church growth affirmed in v 5.
Acts 16:6ff reveals the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Paul and Silas, as they are called to Macedonia (Europe). Though the work is still one of equality, Paul, as did Peter before him, seems to be the spokesman for the group.
16:40 finds Paul and the others entering into the house-church (?) of Lydia to see and comfort the brethren.
Acts 18:26 finds Aquila and Priscilla expounding unto Apollos, "the way of God more perfectly." A continuing equality of responsibility to proclaim Christ. The apostles/disciples seemed to be used publicly, while the women were used to speak privately to others.
ELDER- - OVERSEER- - SHEPHERD
2. Feed the church of God (v28)
3. Watch and remember my warnings (v31)
4. Support the weak, and
5. Remember the words of the Lord (v35).
Acts 21:4 finds the disciples at Tyre warning Paul "through the Spirit" not to go to Jerusalem. An equality of spiritual discernment among the disciples.
THE EVANGELIST & PROPHET
Acts 21:17 finds Paul and the others received by the brethren of Jerusalem. The next day Paul met with "James; and all the elders were present." Another possible indication that these were gathered from their house-churches?
Thus ends the history
of the beginnings of the church. It appears that the apostles began as the
natural leaders of the church. As they taught others, the apostles
recommended these "elders" to shepherding positions in the many
house-churches to be found in each city. Either that or there were multiple
elders in every church, for almost all the mentions of the "office" of elder
is in the plural (see chart above). In the book of Acts we see the
designation of some as apostles, elders, prophets, teachers, and one
evangelist. We find that the elders were made overseers by the Holy Ghost,
to shepherd the church of God.
v5 repeats the many constitute one body in Christ and are responsible one to another. An equality of responsibility.
v6 tells us that what we are to be doing ("office" v4) is based on differing gifts bestowed by grace. This list of gifts is not to be taken as a complete list, but as a representative ("whether") list.
These "gifts" are then
Ministry ("service, attendance; any ministerial office with reference to the labour...") ("let us wait" probably means "let him do it." [Robertson]) Teaching ("instruction")
Exhortation ("calling; every kind of speaking to produce a particular effect")
Giving, which is based on simplicity ("singleness, plainness")
Ruling ("to stand before, be over, preside"), which is based on diligence ("earnestness").
Showing mercy, which is based on cheerfulness.
Either the body has these gifts in it because of the members, or members of the body have one or more gifts according to grace. As God has given these gifts, those with the gifts should be using these gifts for the benefit of the body since "all members have not the same office" (v4).
In Romans 16:5 Paul particularly mentions "the church that is in their house," as opposed to "all that be in Rome" (1:7). In fact 16:5ff seems to indicate many "house-churches" in Rome.
Summary: Romans, once again, reveals an equality of responsibility among the disciples, while revealing God-given gifts of grace that bring an added degree of responsibility to each member of the body. This first list of the God-given gifts seem to be those that were to endure to the edification of the body, while the gifts mentioned in Cor. seem to have been used until the completion of the Word of God. Concerning the house-church concept, we would expect to find this in the larger cities, while the cities of small population might well have "one church assembly."
Written to "the church of God which is at Corinth."
In 9:12, Paul, in speaking of support, says "others be partakers of this power over you" (financial support) seems to indicate a plurality of persons being supported by this church. This thought is continued in v!3, 14, though no mention of a "professional" or "full-time" clergy is made.
In 11:2 gives an equality toward the "guarding" of the ordinances in the church.
In 11:18, 22, Paul calls this "the church of God."
In 12:4ff Paul returns
to the gifts saying there are:
These gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, given by the Spirit to every man, for the purpose of profit (v7), and dividing to every man as He will (vl 1).
The gifts listed in 1
It seems clear from the "tone" of this list that these are probably the ministry gifts of the early churches (with the church of Cor. probably misusing them! [12:1-3]), and that the completion of the Scriptures superseded any continuing necessity for these gifts. The context of this gift list again shows the equality of the disciples in receiving these gifts.
12:12ff shows that the body (church) has differing parts united for one purpose. God has placed each member in the body as it pleased Him. And though some parts of the body have more human honor, God honors the parts that (outwardly) seem to be lacking (v24).
12:27 says, "Now ye are the [a] body of Christ, and members in particular." Perhaps the church of Corinth was small enough to meet in one location, or Paul is lumping all the individual assemblies into one church.
12:28 tells us that "God hath set in the church" (generic or as "the church in Corinth (?)),
Individuals as follows:
Second prophets ("a preaching of those purposes of grace already accomplished, and also a foretelling of the purposes of glory which were still future.")
With the following
Then gifts of:
Note: "hath set" is aorist (past action, point in time). At this point in time God had set individuals with these abilities in the church. This does not mean He continues to do so, especially as regarding the "tone" of these gifts. It does not seem likely that this list can be separated into gifts/offices still in effect, or gifts/offices that have passed away. This complete list, in its context, is a list that was done away with upon the completion of the Scriptures, even though seemingly identical gifts were permanent, (see Rms. 12:4ff).
14:26 mentions, "Brethren, when ye come together, every one of you hath..." and he mentions "a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation." Once again, a seeming equality in the body in gifts that have passed away.
14:33 calls them "churches of the saints" (inclusive or exclusive only to Corinth (?)).
14:34 seems to return to the idea of house-churches; "let your women keep silence in the churches." with v35 saying, "it is a shame for women to speak in the church." He is writing to a church about churches!
16:1 returns to considering the church at Corinth as one church.
16:3 reveals the church's authority to choose its own representatives.
16:15-16 Paul says "to submit yourselves unto" "those that have addicted (appointed) themselves to the ministry of the saints." Probably a "person-to-person" servicing.
16:19 speaks of the
church in Aquila and Priscilla's house.
5:20 Paul says he "(we) are ambassadors ("to be elder or eldest, to rank before, take precedence of others" [office of apostle (?)]) for Christ"
8:18-19 speaks of one "whose praise is throughout all the churches," and "who was chosen of the churches to travel with us."
Summary: Corinth may be a good example of a city with only one "assembly," and/or with a building large enough for the Christians. Paul makes no illusion to any actual leadership (unless we consider the term "governments" as such), but speaks to a disobedient Christian assembly. Where we have an assembly, we can assume some form of leadership!
Galatians: Written to "the
churches of Galatia."
2:2 talks of Paul speaking to "those of reputation" in Jerusalem.
6:6 mentions that he that is taught in the word should share [material] things with him that teaches; which should be considered along with vl0. This may or may not apply to formal "leadership."
Ephesians: Written to "the
saints which are at Ephesus."
2:20 mentions the "foundation of the apostles and prophets," with Jesus Christ the chief corner stone. The saints are "framed together unto an holy temple in the Lord." while the church is “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
4:7ff returns to the idea of gifts.
4:1 "Walk worthy of
the vocation ("calling") wherewith ye are called" may refer to
the Christian walk or to the callings (gifts) mentioned below. "Unto
every one of us is given grace ["unmerited favor"] according to the
measure ["standard/limits"] of the gift of Christ." And Christ
"gave gifts unto men;" to some [men] He gave:
Whether these gifts
were given to individual men as their individual office, or whether God gave
these offices to benefit Christians in general, does not seem clear, though
the following "purpose" seems to mitigate that God gave the office (not an
individual with that office) as a means for Christians to be edified for the
4:16 goes on to show how the whole body is fitly joined together, working according to the measure [limits/standards] of every part, edifying [building] itself in love.
5:23 says that Christ is the head of the church, the saviour of the body. The church is subject unto Christ (v24), and loved by Christ (v25) that He might sanctify it by the Word, present it to himself, holy and without blemish (v27).
Summary: Ephesians is a book of Christ, and His place over the church. It lists the beneficial offices that God chose to serve and build His assembly. The men that pertain to these offices do not seem to be as important as the fact that there are "offices" whose sole purpose is to build up the body into Christ. Ephesus, according to Acts 20:17, either had a plurality of elders, or elders over house-churches, for Paul called the elders.
Written to "all the saints at Philippi, with the:
Here we see two church positions represented apart from the saints. We also see a plurality in these offices. First use of the term "deacon." These terms also show that this letter was written to a church (4:15).
1:27 & 2:2ff might suggest house-churches and their need for unity.
4:15 speaks of "the church" of Philippi.
Colossians: Written to "the saints and faithful
brethren at Colosse"
1:18 Christ is again stated as the head of the body, the church. "Fulness" is also mentioned in v!9, perhaps in regard to the church.
2:19 repeats that Christ is the head, from which the body ministers.
4:7 calls Tychicus a beloved brother, a faithful minister ["deacon/servant"], and fellowservant in the Lord.
4:15 mentions "the brethren in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house." Probable confirmation of the house-church concept.
4:16 affirms that this epistle was written to a church.
4:17 speaks to Archippus of a "ministry ["service with labor"] which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it."
1st Thessalonians: Written to "the church of the Thessalonians"
2:14 speaks of "the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus."
3:1 reveals Timothy as "a minister of God sent to establish you and to comfort you."
5:12 speaks of them
5:20 says to
"despise not prophesyings, prove all things." Apparently this
ability/gift was still active.
1st Timothy: Written "unto Timothy," "that thou mightest charge ("to announce beside: to hand on an announcement from one to another") some that they teach no other doctrine." This is a letter of instructions from Paul to Timothy.
2:7 Paul says he was
It seems likely that these "linked" abilities of Paul, passed with Paul. His "office" as a preacher/teacher was probably much different in its scope than our modern use of the term, though we do have "preacher/teachers" today.
2:12-15 removes the possibility of woman either teaching or usurping the authority of a man.
3:2 and 12 also removes women from being "bishops" and/or deacons ("husbands of one wife").
3:Iff gives the qualifications of a man desiring ("to stretch one's self: reach after a thing; long after, try to gain") the office ("a doing, action, function") of a bishop. Does God place this desire in a man's heart, or is it a result of maturity in the Lord, or is it both? Did God give the office, but must man have the desire to fulfill the office?
3:5 equates the ruling ("be over, preside") of his own house to the care ("have the management of; the employment of means for a desired result") of the church of God. As each "house" has one in authority, it is teaching that each assembly should have one in authority? This contrast makes more sense if this is a house-church concept.
3:6 says he is not to be a novice ("newly planted, neophyte"), which would seem to be the opposite of an elder.
3:8ff gives the qualifications of the deacons. Notice the use of singular bishop, plural deacons). Another indication of singular leadership in an assembly?
3:10 says they must:
Then let them use the office. If they have used the office well they purchase great boldness in the faith (v!3). This sounds like the steps of growth and a summation of the men of Acts 6.
4:6 calls Timothy "a good minister of Jesus Christ"
4:11 Paul gives Timothy the authority to "command and teach" that which Paul provides by inspiration- - despite his youth (v!2). If Timothy is to be considered an "elder," (see 4:14 note) then this would not restrict this "office" to those of a older age alone, but of a knowledge of the Scriptures, though a "youth." ("youth" here probably means younger than 30 years old.)
4:13 Paul tells Timothy to give attendance ("to hold to, bring to or near") to reading, to exhortation ("a summons to one's side; an admonitory encouraging; entreaty"), to doctrine. The exhortation was no doubt centers on the inspired writings of Paul, but would likely include all the circulated Scriptures at this time. Whether this is the act of exhortation or the preparation is not clear.
4:14 Paul says that Timothy has a God-given gift which was given by ("accompanied by") prophecy (see 1:18), with the ("accompanied by") the laying on of hands of the presbytery ("elders": only here in N.T.). Timothy was apparently recommended to Paul by the elders (Acts 16:2), then approved by God ("prophecy"), and finally formally approved by the elders ("laying on of hands"). It seems likely that Timothy had a special relationship to the work of Paul, which was confirmed as above. Was Timothy a "prophet"?
4:16 speaks of those that "hear thee," indicating Timothy's exhortation or teaching ministry.
5:17 is Paul's instructions concerning elders.
v17 seems to suggest
the house-church idea, for if Timothy is over the church at Ephesus (though
Timothy could be considered Paul's apostolic "messenger"), then this church
includes elders (plural). These elders are then seemingly broken down
They who labour in the word and doctrine (preaching and teaching?).
Apparently there are elders that know how to "rule well," but do not "labor in the word"!
5:19ff gives directions to Timothy on dealing with elders.
v20, 21 seems to indicate a plurality of elders (house-church?).
v20 could refer to; before all the elders, or before the church.
v22 tells Timothy to be careful in regards to the approval (lay hands on) he bestows on others. This may confirm the possibility that Timothy had, in some sense, an apostolic-type position.
2nd Timothy: Written "to Timothy."
1:11 Paul says he was "appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher."
2:2 Paul passes the baton to Timothy, who is to, "the same commit thou to faithful men," who are to pass it to others, "who shall be able to teach other also." This certainly does not speak of passing on an "office," but of discipling others in the Lord.
2:14 repeats Paul's charge to Timothy concerning those that teach others.
2:24 speaks of the
attitude of the servant of the Lord:
3:6 talks of false professors "which creep into houses (house-churches?) and lead captive silly women.” Individual house-holds does not seem likely, especially in the context of v7-9.
4:2 & 5 Paul gives the
duty of a servant of the Lord:
Summary: The letters to Timothy are certainly epistles to those that would be leaders of churches. Paul gives the qualifications of two offices, bishop and deacons.
Titus: Written to Titus.
l:6ff gives the qualifications for elder/bishop.
1:9 says these an
elder/bishop "hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine
1:11 speaks of those that subvert whole houses ("a dwelling, with special reference to the inmates") (house-church?), by teaching for filthy lucre's sake! In v!2 they are called "prophets of their own."
2:2 talks of the "aged men" as opposed to "elders."
2:15 gives us Paul's
command to Titus:
3:10 speaks of admonishing and rejecting a heretic (perhaps an elder gone bad?).
Philemon: Written to Philemon, and to the church in thy house.
5:14 says a teacher is one of full age ("complete, perfect"), and that have had their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
6:2 refers to the "doctrine of laying on of hands," and perhaps is written to the elders that were going astray.
6:10 in speaking of their work as, a "labour of love toward His name, ye have ministered to the saints and do minister," may confirm that this is written to the elders.
10:21 Says we have "an high priest over the house of God"
10:22ff could well be written to elders, including the "forsaking of assembling of ourselves together" and "exhorting one another."
11:2 speaks of the elders (of old) obtaining a good report.
12:Iff may especially speak to elders.
13:2 reminds us that a bishop is to be hospitable.
13:7 Paul tells his
readers to "remember them (plural) which"
to you the word of God
13:17 Paul tells his
13:24 says "salute all them (plural) that have the rule over you and all the saints" (a clear distinction)
James: Written to the
scattered 12 tribes.
5:14 speaks of "calling for the elders (plural) of the church (sing.)."
1st Peter: Written to the
"strangers scattered throughout [Asia]."
2:25 says that Jesus Christ is "the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
4:10 says "as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another."
The gift is probably the "charity" (love) of v8. 4:11 says:
For those that speak (elders?),
they are to speak as the "oracles ("utterance") of God."
For those that minister (elders?),
let him do it "as of the ability which God giveth."
For the purpose that God might be glorified through Jesus Christ. This reminds us of the
possible two-fold designation of elders in 1 Tim 5:17.
5:1 Peter speaks to the
"elders which are among you, who am also an elder." Here the apostle
takes that additional designation of "elder," charging:
the oversight, not by constraint ("by force, unwillingly"), not for filthy
lucre, but of a ready mind. Neither as being lords ("to have dominion over")
over God's heritage, but being
5:4 continues, "when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory."
5:5 "All of you be subject one to another."
2nd Peter: Written to "them that have
obtained like precious faith."
1 John (No references)
2nd John: Written by "the elder ("well-proven, mature") to the elect lady and her children."
3rd John: Written by "the
elder unto Gaius"
9-10 Speaks of one that "loves the preeminence," apparently an elder, for he was the cause of the church not receiving John.
1:11 Jesus tells John to write what he sees and "send it unto the 7 churches in Asia," which He then names.
1:12-13 John saw 7 golden candlesticks (the churches represented as having the presence of Christ)
1:16 Christ holds in His right hand 7 stars.
1:20 explains the stars and the candlesticks. "Angels" = messengers. These could be actual messengers from the churches to John and back, or it could be the pastor/elder. If "angel" is pastor/elder, it is singular and one per church.
"Unto the angel of the church of," Ephesus.
2:1 says Christ, "holdeth the 7 stars in His right hand" (possible protection from the enemy until their return?), "who walketh in the midst of the 7 candlesticks"
2:2 The church "tried them which say they are apostles." It seems likely that this would be for the purpose of becoming elders/teachers to this church, perhaps in the house-church setting.
2:7 tells the church to "hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This message is to the church as a body. This could be in direct reference to this letter or to the whole of the N.T..
2:20 Thyatira was allowing "that woman Jezebel, to each and seduce my servants." Whether she was acting in the role of a teacher, or was just "teaching" false doctrine is not clear.
2:24 speaks of "unto you (church?) and unto the rest in Thyatira who have not known this doctrine."
1. It is everywhere affirmed that Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. Church leadership is simply an extension of our Lord's provision for His own. Scriptural leadership understands its necessity to be like Christ, while understanding that it is just one part of Christ's body. Leadership is not the head, but is an organ of the Head for transmitting the Word of God to the rest of the body. "Every minister is equal in point of privilege with every other member of the church; but, as a minister in his official capacity, he is subject to, and inferior to the church" (Ray, Baptist Succession). The body approves its own leadership, and has the right to reject that leadership if it is either not representing Christ as it should, or is not being faithful to transmit the Word of God as it should.
2. There is no Scriptural warrant for the term or position of an "assistant" or "associate" pastor. This would include "youth" pastors, "music ministers," etc.. That is not to say that the body can not designate certain individuals to fulfill these positions/responsibilities in the church.
3. Throughout the Scriptures there is an equality of responsibility for all Christians to be proclaiming the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This responsibility is no where confined to "leadership."
4. There is total equality in the body, with differing responsibilities.
5. The Scriptures seem to teach that a pastor(s) are to be directors and coordinators more than "rulers" in its modern sense.
6. The Scriptures seem to use the terms, "elder", "bishop", and "shepherd" interchangeably. The terms seem to suggest different functions of the same individuals, with "elders" being an all-inclusive term covering the bishop and shepherd. Only "deacons" seem to be a separate office, though "elders" might also include this term.
7. The Scriptures seem to teach that most churches had "elders" (plural). How this is to be understood must be determined by the following considerations.
a. Was the "Church in Jerusalem" a single assembly of believers, or did it meet in many locations? If it met in one location, then it had a plurality of elders, separate from the apostles. If it met in many locations (house-churches), then it would seem that each house-church would have had one (or more?) elders over it. This same situation seems to apply to the other churches in the N.T., except they had no "apostles" in residence,
b. Would the term "elders" also include deacons, which might account for the plural use of the word, or is it restricted to bishop/shepherd? (I am not aware of anywhere in Scripture that the terms "elders" and "deacons" are used interchangeably.)
c. Could an "elder" be
a member of a church, but not be in the position of "elder"?
e. If the "messenger" of Rev. 2-3 is the bishop/pastor of these churches, then there is only one messenger mentioned.
Other considerations: There is one God over all. Normally one dominant individual in the various animal family groups. One gender (man) is over the other gender (woman). One high priest in Israel. One Head of the church (Christ). One husband is over the wife. One bishop and many deacons. And even though there are many excellent advantages to a plurality of pastors (see the Pillar, Spring 1989), it seems just as likely that one of the "plurality" will become dominant, or at least, the person of last resort. Perhaps our problem is not with how many pastors we have, but with churches that are two big for the present leadership to minister successfully to? Perhaps God never intended individual bodies to become so large and, thereby, disjointed? Seemingly then, the larger the body, the more necessity there would be for a plurality of pastors. Or maybe we need to reconsider the possibility of the "house-church" concept in today's world.
Disclaimer: Though I have tried to make this as complete as possible within the limitations of time, I do not claim that I have touched on all the necessary Scripture references, nor exhausted the various arguments, pro and con. Additional word studies and general study remain to be done on this subject.
Return to the top of this page