A Study of "The Eldership"
Have You Ever Wondered?
If it, is true, as our Church of Christ preachers/clergy proclaim it:
(1) that The Eldership is in charge of all the affairs of "the local church" institutional operation; and
(2) that it - The Eldership as a corporate body - is to make all the decisions, with the final, authoritative word on everything; and
(3) if the sole role of the "members" is to obey The Eldership's rules, plans, and programs, as if in so doing they are obeying Jesus Christ;
(4) why in heaven's name and for our guidance is there not even one letter in the New Testament addressed to The Eldership at any place about anything? Why?
The Corinthian saints had a wide variety of problems that needed to be resolved. Paul addressed a long letter to "the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling...'' (1:2). This letter was written to the saints and they were to execute Paul's instructions relative to all their problems. Apparently, Paul thought that they, the saints themselves, as individuals and working together, could handle everything. Paul does not even mention such a corporate body as The Eldership or the Elders! Isn't that interesting? They had no Church Officials or Church Officers. Paul wrote to "the saints," told them what to do, and they did it! In the second letter he wrote to the saints again commending them for their obedience to his instructions.
One thing is certain: The letter is not addressed to any Church Officials nor is such an official board of directors found at Corinth or anywhere else. Yet today it is different. No one ever writes to "the saints" about anything! They are the disenfranchised majority! They have no responsibility in the corporate church institution today except to (1) be taught what the officials have decided is truth, (2) pay, and (3) obey. They have no voice nor vote about anything "the local church" does.
When preachers today want to "try out" for the job of Pulpit Minister, they write and/or talk to the corporate officials - The Eldership, the ruling body. If preachers want financial help for themselves or for some project they are promoting, they deal only with the decision-makers, the Church Board of Directors. The people in the pews know only what the Church Officers allow them to know. Generally, the "members" do not actually know how much money is contributed, what other sources of income the corporation has, how much the employees (the chief of which is the Pulpit Minister) are paid, or what fringe benefits they receive; they do not know about building costs and expenses, budget plans, and such like. The Eldership now believes that it doesn't have any obligation to keep the "members" fully informed about the business operation of the local corporate body.
The Church of Christ Church pays no attention to what God's word says - or does not say - along these lines. We go right on following the denominations in more and more, setting in place (1) an institutional corporate body ("the local church") which is ruled and controlled by another corporate body called (2) The Eldership. Note please that there are two corporate bodies. The Eldership functions as a unit and only in this unit action are they executing the rule of Christ over "the local church." At least, this is the concept and teaching that preachers have developed and put in place during the last forty years! In this view, a man cannot function as an "elder" in an individual capacity! As an individual he has no more "authority," "rule" or "decision-making power" than any other man. It is the "body of elders," acting as a body that exercises all this power and control. Can you believe this stuff? Brothers and sisters, you better wake up and find out what is happening to you in "the local church" today. You are the victim!
These preachers/clergy have created a "monster" that will in time completely control them. I wish these Elderships would rise up and claim and exercise all this authority and control these foolish preachers have cut out for the Elderships. This would really shake us up.
Were there any elders at Corinth? There is no specific mention of such. But certainly there were "elders" in the New Testament sense of that word. I am not talking about "duly selected and appointed Church Officers," because there were none of these anywhere among God's people until the great apostasy got underway. I use the word "elder" in the primary sense as used in the New Testament. It means "older," "senior," signifying age or maturity by comparison with others. You can't have older (elder) without having younger (I Pet. 5:5). There were older (elder) men and there were younger men by comparison. Also, there were older (elder) women and younger women (Titus 2:2-6 KJV). Inherent in the use of the term elder/older, when a teaching/leadership responsibility is under consideration, is the necessity of more age (seniority) and experience in the Lord than the younger. Example: the older/elder women were to teach the younger women. Never is there inherent in the word elder (presbyter) the idea of a church office, church official, or an exalted position of rule over others. True enough, some elders may have been rulers, especially in the Old Testament, but the word elder itself does not convey that idea. And Elder is not the title of a church office.
Surely in Corinth there were elders, older or more experienced, mature saints than others. They had teachers there who served as "pastors" in feeding and tending the sheep and lambs. They definitely had prophets and teachers who "edified" the church (14:4-5, 12, 24-26). In 11:4-5, both men and women are said "to prophesy" or teach. In 12:8-11, we read that "to one is given the word of wisdom...to another the word of knowledge...to another prophecy..." In 11:28 "God has appointed in the church...teachers..." Surely there were some at Corinth. In v. 29, Paul wrote: "All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they?" This tells us that while "all" were not, definitely some were.
In 6:5, Paul seemed to believe that there was at least "one wise man" among them. Paul believed that there were many basic truths that they knew and understood. He uses the expression "do you not know" over and over again (3:16; 5:6; 6:2,3,9,15,16,19; 9:13,24), which indicates he thought they did know.
Yes, definitely there were elders "among" the saints at Corinth. Just like there were elders "among" the saints to whom Peter wrote (I Peter 5:1-2). It is inevitable that some will be older, more mature in the Lord than others. Upon these the responsibility falls to shepherd or tend to the younger or babes.
Alexander Campbell recognized this and wrote:
"So long, then, as in every community there are some more advanced in knowledge, experience, and years than others, and so long as every Christian community has the living oracles - the writings and teachings of the apostles and prophets - there is not a case likely to happen, in which it will be lawful to forsake the assembling of themselves together for all the acts of social worship, because of the want [lack] of officers or persons to serve them in any capacity. If they are all such perfect babes in Christ - infants unable to speak a single word of edification - let them READ, and sing and commemorate the Savior's death, with the book in their hands, under the presidency [guidance] of the oldest infants in the Lord among them. The senior infants, chosen and appointed to lead the way, are to them elders and overseers in the Lord... For if the church is composed of such very babes, they will not require learned men to instruct them. One that is a few days in advance will be relatively a senior among them, and fit to assist them in the Lord...The apostles were always THE ELDERS IN EVERY CHURCH WHERE THEY SOJOURNED..." - Millenial Harbinger, pp. 495-501, 1835.
Go back and read that quotation again. Campbell had it right. In every community of saints there will be some more advanced in knowledge, experience, and years than others. Upon these falls the responsibility to take the lead and teach and guide the younger. Campbell argued that so long as the saints have the living oracles - the writings and teachings of the apostles and prophets - they can read and study it together, under the guidance of the oldest or senior "infants" among them, and thus shepherd and tend the flock. The way the Lord has provided for His people is so simple. No clergy, no church officials are necessary.
Campbell imagined the worst of situations where they are "all such perfect babes in Christ - infants unable to speak a single word of edification, then let them READ, and sing and commemorate the Savior's death, with the book in their hands, under the direction of the oldest infants among them." This is the Lord's way. There is no organizational control. They do not have to have a Priest, Pulpit Minister, or any recognized professional clergyman. They had no corporate body of rulers known as The Eldership!
Notice that Campbell says, "The senior infants, chosen and appointed to lead the way [on such occasions], are to them elders and overseers in the Lord." The mere fact that they are "the senior infants" qualifies them to be, to that community of saints, "elders and overseers in the Lord." In fact, they are responsible to the Lord to function in that capacity.
Let me emphasize another observation of Campbell: "One that is a few days in advance will be relatively a senior [elder] among them, and fit to assist them in the Lord..." Get it, please, for that is the teaching of God's word. Here Campbell sets forth the only "qualification" to be an "elder." It is merely and simply to be "elder" (older) in comparison with others. Even "senior infants" are to others "elders and overseers in the Lord."
I Tim. 3 and Titus 1 are abused and misused when the things mentioned there are asserted to be qualifications necessary for one to be officially appointed to be an "elder" - Church Officer. We read all of this into these passages. What Paul is saying in these passages is that any elder (one who is that already, as seen in Campbell's teaching) who is to undertake the responsibility of oversight or tending the flock must set the proper example (cf. 1 Pet. 5:3 - "proving or becoming examples to the flock.") What Paul does is to give a general idea of what the example should be as the elders do the work of overseeing or shepherding the younger. They must set an example, because one undertaking the care of the sheep "must be above reproach," in his family responsibilities, his personal conduct, and in his teaching. They must show the way by going that way themselves. Paul told Titus that the "overseer must be above reproach as God's steward..." In seeking to feed and oversee the disciples, the overseer is serving as God's steward who is handling the "property" of another.
The listing of ways in which God's steward should be an example is not a list of "qualifications" or entrance requirements for being selected and ordained into some Church Office called "Elder." This concept and practice originated with the rise of Roman Catholicism.
A. Campbell understood the fact that "the apostles were always the elders in every church where they sojourned." Think about that! Do you deny it? They were always the "seniors" or elders, those "more advanced in knowledge, experience, and years than others." We all believe Peter was an "elder" because he said he was. (And, of course, he had a wife, which modern Church of Christ folk have been made to believe is a prerequisite or "qualification" to one being made into an "Elder" or Church Official!) Do you actually think that Peter was merely an "elder" only in some local church corporate body that selected and ordained him into that Church office? Ridiculous!
As Campbell put it, all the apostles were elders wherever they went and with reference to any and all saints everywhere. But only Peter and John mention such about themselves.
Was Paul an elder? THINK! Our ecclesiastical institutional church concept and clergy system causes preachers and brethren to foolishly declare that "Paul was not an elder! He was not qualified to be an elder." Do you really believe such an absurd idea? If so, you are thinking in Church Official terms as if "Elder" is the title of a church office and as if there are certain "qualifications" or entrance requirements necessary before one can be ordained and set in as one of the members of the Church Board of Elders! Pity the apostle Paul. If he were among the Church of Christ Churches today he would be rejected; he could not be an "Elder" in our corporate church organization. He wasn't married; he had no wife, so that great apostle, leader, and steward of God would be repudiated because of our unscriptural/anti-scriptural views!
But "elder" is not the title of a Church office or a Church official. It is merely what one is in comparison to others. Can you imagine the ignorance and arrogance that would rise up to declare that the apostle Paul was not an elder? Disqualified because he had no wife! Well, brethren, the same false concept that eliminates Paul would also shut the door to Jesus Christ Himself and yet He is called "the great (chief) Shepherd of the sheep" (Heb. 13:20). Jesus said, "I am the good Shepherd." Jesus is Lord and Master, the head over all things to His people - the ecclesia. Is He qualified for the role? Peter called Jesus "the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (I Pet. 2:25). Is He that to you?
Certainly Paul was an elder wherever he went! Just like the other apostles. He was "more advanced in knowledge, experience, and years than others." And the same was true of Timothy and Titus. Under direct orders from the apostle Paul they served as "pastors" and "shepherds" of the sheep; Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. Almost everybody but the modern Church of Christ Church preachers and members recognize the letters to Timothy and Titus as "Pastoral Epistles." And that is exactly what they are. Certainly Timothy and Titus were pastors -shepherds/feeders of the sheep! If anyone was "in charge" of seeing after the needs of the disciples in Ephesus, it was Timothy. Paul left Titus in Crete that he "might set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city." They were continuing the work that Paul was doing when he was in these places. Can there be any question about who was responsible for seeing that things needed were accomplished and the needs of the saints met?
Titus was to "appoint elders in every city." When our preachers read this they immediately claim that this was some special installation of men into an ecclesiastical office of Elders, just like the denominations have such! They have Church Officials, therefore we must have Church Officials who run the show. Officials have to be ordained or inducted into an office. Hence, there must be some selection and ordination for making or turning these men into Elders. In recent years, Church of Christ Churches have developed a "process" for making Elders out of men. Before the "processing" (installation) ritual takes place they are neither Elders, Bishops, or Pastors.
But, lo and behold, after our "selection" of the exclusive, "qualified" few (two or more - you know, as our creed teaches that there must be a plurality!), one of our clergy will conduct the ritual, rite, or ceremony, lasting from 2-15 minutes (depending on the ordaining official and how "official'' they want to make it); and with this hocus pocus ritual these men are transformed into Rulers -Elders/Bishops/Pastors! Almost like magic! And all done by men according to the doctrine of men! Oh! What wonders our clergy can perform with an ecclesiastical ritual! Just like the Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists and all others do it.
Before the rite takes place they were not in any way an Elder, Bishop, or Pastor. They were just mere men like the rest of us. But with that ordination ceremony they are exalted and lifted up to an official position over us! Before the ceremony they were on an "equality" with the rest of us. But now they are "above" us ("exalted" is the word J.T. Smith and others use!), and they are over us as rulers and lords.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we read anything whatever about some "local church" selecting and appointing men to be "Elders" or Church Officials! Where was any Church told to do such a thing? Where do you read of a Church installing men into the office of Elder? Where is the necessary inference that a Church was ever told to do such or actually did it? Look for yourself! It isn't there. Yet preachers preach this idea just like the Lord or His apostles gave such direction. Ask your preacher or The Elders to show you the book, chapter and verse for this practice. They won't because they can't!
Brethren, if you think I am misrepresenting or exaggerating the claims and practices of our preacher/clergy, you need to get your eyes and ears open to what is happening in Church of Christ Churches of all segments. What I am presenting is the teaching, and its fruit, of our controlling clergy.
The "appointment" of elders by Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus and others was not anything like I have referred to above. Please let me drive home this challenge to you. In the New Testament there is absolutely no instruction to any church anywhere to "select and appoint" elders! There is no example of any church ever doing such a thing. It would be many years before this practice of selecting and appointing Church Officials would originate. No church did it and no church was ever told to do it. Hence, they never had to worry about how to do something they were not to do! So there was no selecting process. There was no politicking, no voting or balloting, no election; no one was running for the office or being nominated for election to the office of Elder.
The important thing that needs to be recognized is that the disciples did not form or constitute themselves into any kind of "local church" organization like what has developed in recent years. They had no functional unit or institutional entity that required a Board of Directors to run or boss the thing.
In Acts 20:28, Paul told "the elders of the church" at Ephesus that "the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Plainly it tells us that the Holy Spirit "made...overseers." Woe be unto any preacher/clergy and/or Church that foolishly thinks he and/or it can "make" overseers! The making or appointing of overseers and shepherds is solely the work of the Holy Spirit! You do not have anything to do with it! Through the Spirit-led apostles the Holy Spirit has done this, setting it in place for all time to come. The Holy Spirit has clearly revealed to us that the elders are to have the responsibility of overseers and shepherds of the flock of God. That is God's arrangement and it fastens that responsibility upon every man who is an elder - in comparison to others. Elders, whoever and wherever they are, have been divinely appointed to serve the sheep as stewards, of the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. They do not - and should not - wait until some Romish-type clergyman or some "local church" institution holds an election and installs them into some Church Office! Clergy and churches are out of place and assuming unto themselves the perogative of the Holy Spirit when they engage in ordaining a specific, exclusive few to be the Business Managers of the local church entity.
In speaking of elders who are to serve as pastors and overseers, it is not chronological age that is under primary consideration; even though that is usually true. The elders who were appointed to oversee refers to those who more advanced in knowledge of God's word, more experienced or mature in His service, which usually means more years of age than others. Timothy and Titus were elders (pastors, bishops), but apparently there were men among the saints who were chronologically older (elder) than they were (l Tim. 5:1). But Timothy and Titus were older (elder) in the Lord, they held "seniority" in experience and knowledge: therefore, like the apostles, they were always the elders in every church where they sojourned. Paul gave them careful instruction about being an example and how they should conduct themselves "in the household of' God" (1 Tim. 3:15, 4:12).
Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Paul "appointed elders for them" (Acts 14:23). What happened here? One thing for certain is that the language does not say that he appointed men to be elders! That is the idea we read into the passage! The appointing was done to elders -those men who were already elders! Can't you see that? These elders were appointed to the work of pastor and shepherding the flock; just exactly the work/responsibility that Paul had while he was there. He was leaving and he was putting things in order so the responsibility he had carried would be placed upon others - the elders among the flock.
Take a careful look at what Paul had done in Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, and Derbe. Acts 14:21-23 spells it out plainly:
(l) Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel and "made many disciples."
(2) They strengthened the souls of the disciples by teaching them to observe all things, Jesus had commanded (cf. Matt. 28:20).
(3) They encouraged them - through teaching - "to continue in the faith."
(4) They made them aware of what true disciples can expect, the cost of discipleship, that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
(5) Verse 23 tells us that before they left they "appointed" or placed upon elders the responsibility that they had borne. The work of pastoring and caring for the tender lambs had to go on. Note that it says that they "appointed elders for them in every church." It does not say that elders were appointed "over them" as managers of some corporate institution'. Sheep need a shepherd! Paul appointed elders to this service!
(6) After they "prayed with fasting and "commended" them to the Lord in whom they had believed," they went on their way to other places.
(7) Notice carefully that the work of Paul and Barnabas was exactly as the Lord directed in the Great Commission. First, they preached the gospel and made disciples of those who believed by baptizing them. Second, they spent time in teaching the disciples what they needed to know to develop and grow. In this passage it is abundantly clear that preaching the gospel is to the lost and teaching is what Jesus has commanded for the disciples. The two are not the same. This is made clear in every instance in the New Testament.
As I have already shown, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Paul "appointed elders for them" (Acts 14:23). What did he do in thus "appointing," placing or arranging them in the responsible role? It was the same kind of "appointment" used in the "appointment" of the "spiritual" to the same vital work. Paul wrote: "Brethren, if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness." (Gal. 5:1). Is that an appointment of the Holy Spirit? It is a responsibility assigned to the "spiritual." Who are they? What are their qualifications to serve in this way? It appears that being "spiritual" was all that was necessary; and that because they were spiritual" the responsibility belongs to them to thus serve. Is "spiritual" some kind of Church Office or some Church Official? Must the church select and elect some to fill this position; with the idea that no one can do this work until they, are inducted into the office of the "spiritual"?
Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But it is no more ridiculous than the Roman Catholic doctrine that the church selects and inducts men into the office of an elder. You read of the church selecting and inducting men into the office of an elder. You read of the Church selecting and inducting men into the office of the ‘spiritual’ in the same verse you read of the Church doing that to men to make them Elders!
The "spiritual" have a direct order from the Lord to be up and doing what is expected of them. The work of seeking and restoring the straying and fallen lambs is vital. Woe be unto the shepherds who fail to do this. The Lord has set in order and arranged for the proper functioning of His people in their concern and care one for another.
The Holy Spirit has done all the "appointing" that is needed. It is so simple and uncluttered with the ecclesiastical trappings of men. The Holy Spirit "appointed" older (elder) women to teach the younger women. "Elder woman" is not a church office to be filled by the selection and appointment of the Church. Elder women had better be doing, on their own, what the Holy Spirit has appointed them to do.
Who is "appointed" to turn " a sinner from the error of his way" and "save his soul from death" (James 5:19-20)? Is that the responsibility of some duly appointed Church Officials? James specifically addresses the "appointment" to "My brethren."
There are many "appointments" of the Holy Spirit found in the New Testament. There are "appointments" to fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, young men, old men, young women, old women, slaves, disciples, preachers, ministers, evangelists and elders!
Why have we made what is so simple, unstructured and totally without official Church and organization trappings into a Roman Catholic type of ecclesiastical organization or Church, with orders and layers of Church officials and Church Ministers, all of which come from the wisdom and will of men? Most of this has developed and been set in place during the last 40-60 years. Most of it in my lifetime. Do you remember when we did not have all the organizational structure and the corporate body operation called "the local church"? There were less divisions and less trouble in those days. With the rise of the entrenched preacher, clergy, the corporate institution, larger and larger "Church plants," and more and more money have come increasing pressures to become like the nation's (denomination) around us. Churches of Christ have arrived at full denominational status with all the others!
God's ways are so simple, so direct, so workable just as He gave such. We have departed from them. Our apostasy is becoming full!
Get your unholy hands off of the Lord's ecclesia - His people! - CAH.