Thank you for publishing and writing a paper that so candidly deals with many issues. I especially would like to commend Dusty Owens for his article, "Do Elders Rule?" {July, 1987).
I would like to submit one idea. The Greek word "proistemi" appears in noun form only once in the N.T. - Romans' 16:2 (prostatis). If we translate this word "rule," then as used here Phoebe is a ruler over Paul, which obviously is not true. Therefore, the better sense of "prostatis" is that Phoebe was to Paul a challenging example of service. She was a spiritual champion who set the pace in spiritual service just as an Olympic champion of the games set the goal which all others tried to excel. Elders likewise are spiritual leaders who blaze the trail instead of directing men from afar. - Texas.

The reader from Texas makes an excellent point. If the Greek word proistemi, a verb, carries the idea of "rule," with "authority" understood, then why wouldn't the noun form, prostatis, have the same connotation? Of course, the King James translators used English words that would uphold the authority of the officials of the Church of England. They did this in obedience to the command of King James through the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Greek word proistemi appears eight times in the New Testament, five of which is translated "rule": Rom. 12:8; I Tim. 3:4,5,12; 5:17. Once the word is rendered "be over;' I Thess. 5:12, which is an atrocity; and twice it is given as "maintain," Titus 3:8,14. Our reader is suggesting a question: If Phoebe was a prostatis of many, as well as of Paul, why was she not a "ruler" of them all? This word is the noun form of the verb proistemi. Why will we cringe at making Phoebe a "ruler of many" including Paul, and not think anything about making some men "rulers of many" in an authoritarian sense, even when our Lord taught His disciples that in regard to rank and authority, "Not so shall it be among you" (Matt. 20:25-28).

The point our reader makes is that Phoebe "served" many, including Paul. This is one of the meanings of the word proistemi. I believe this meaning also is included in the work done by elders. Basically, they are servants or ministers to others.

W.E. Vine says of the word, "...lit(erally) 'to stand before,' hence, to lead, attend to (indicating care and diligence)...." Evidently, there was some way that Phoebe was a leader in the sense of setting a good example among those who served. Paul used the word, diakonon (from which the English word, deacon, comes, hence, a deaconess), to describe her as one who "hath been a helper of many, and of mine own self." This did not give Phoebe one ounce of authority. She did not "rule" over anyone in that sense, but she "stood before" others in the matter of "helping" with their needs. That is why Paul used the noun prostatis to describe her, commending her to the brethren in Rome.

Upon reading your Commentary in "The Examiner," July, 1987(Do Elders Rule?), may I comment briefly. I have no objection to what is written from a standpoint of explanation, however, it would seem to be misleading because it is not inductively accurate. And some may take it to be a completed teaching on the subject.

It is noticed that you carefully avoided I Tim. 3:1-3, 5-7 and Titus 1:5-11 in your Commentary which gave liberty to avoid the word "Overseer, Bishop, Superintendent," or whatever word accurately presents this thought. I therefore request that you re-write the article using these contexts and come to the middle ground of the issue, which may not please the publisher or others, but could ease a controversy which you affirm continues. I fear the problem in Arkansas is unfortunate but I do hope that it doesn't cause an unfortunate backlash and bring slander upon certain brethren because they may be Elders. I understand the lure of presenting articles that challenge, that are spectacularly different as a majority of writers follow, but it can bias and carry one on beyond a balance not using all scriptural passages pertinent to the subject. Then there is Acts 20:28f. - California.

Our reader from California says he has "no objection" to what is written from a standpoint of explanation" and then proceeds to register several objections. He accuses me of "misleading" our readers by not being "inductively accurate"; by "carefully avoiding" certain scriptures and special words like "Overseer, Bishop, and Superintendent." Also, there is the suggestion that I may be falling into some kind of trap by "presenting articles that challenge, that are spectacularly different," but "can bias and carry one on beyond a balance, not using all scriptural passages pertinent to the subject." Quite a rebuke from one who has "no objection" to my explanation given in "Do Elders Rule?"

"Not inductively accurate" - I perceive our reader to mean that I did not bring in all passages of scripture dealing with the subject of elders before coming to a conclusion concerning them. Our reader fails to understand the scope of my subject matter in the article. "Do Elders Rule?" deals with passages that are used by our brethren who believe in the Authoritarian Rule of Elders. The main passage, and usually the first quoted, is Hebrews 13:17. My article dealt with an exegesis of that verse, primarily. I did refer to other scriptures that relate to it. Importantly, I used the passages that contained the English word "rule" from the Greek word proistemi and dealt with them. I did not deal with Titus 1:5-11 and Acts 20:28f because "ruling" is not an issue in those passages. He charged me with "carefully avoiding" I Tim. 3:1-3,5-7, but if he read my article "carefully" he would find that I dealt with the important question of "ruling,'' and not with every aspect of overseeing. The thrust of my article was that elders, the spiritually matured among us, are those who take the lead in teaching and watching out for the souls of the saints, who in turn yield to their wisdom. I quote from the article one of the key paragraphs:

All of these scriptures are saying the same thing, matching exactly what the writer of Hebrews wanted to convey. Spiritually matured men were charged by God with responsibilities to lead the flock. This included feeding (teaching) and caring for the people of God. They were to watch out for their souls. None of these requires power and authority. Neither was given by God.

"Overseer, Bishop, Superintendent" - He said that I avoided these words and that I should "re-write the article using these contexts and come to the middle ground of the issue...." I fail to see how these words will help us "come to the middle ground of the issue," unless he means that the "middle ground" is the authoritarian rule of the "Overseer;' "Bishop;' and "Superintendent," which I deny. One can be an overseer, a bishop, or a superintendent (I prefer not using caps) without having power and authority. That is the point that trips so many up. They think in terms of an ecclesiastical office, like a President or a Governor. They make a title out of the words elder, bishop, pastor, shepherd, instead of seeing them strictly as descriptive words. Presbuteros (elder) means "one who is older;" episcopos (bishop, overseer) means "one who oversees;" and poimen (pastor, shepherd) means just that, "one who feeds and watches over the flock." The Greek word tells what the person IS, by virtue of what he DOES. He was referred to as "elder" because he was older, and more matured spiritually than the rest; he was an overseer because of what he did: he looked out for others; he was called a pastor or shepherd because he fed (taught) the sheep. In the Institutional Church these words became titles to be worn by the specially anointed. One could become a "Bishop" with a capital "B" and that meant he had power and authority over many. It appealed to the lusts of the flesh and the vanity of men. It still does! But, such was not the case with the early Christians.

The concept of the "Eldership" today is that they constitute a Board of Directors in a Corporation. They are at the "head" of something, a corporate body, known as the "Local Church." This idea is completely foreign to the Bible. You can't read about it anywhere. Many are "made Elders" in some kind of ordination process and are told to "rule over" the flock and so they wind up spending most of their time watching over the property, counting and spending money, and hiring and firing the preacher. Most of them do precious little teaching or preaching and couldn't "convict the gainsayer" if their life depended on it. But, why do they have to. They have hired a professional preacher to come in to do all that work for them. He does all the in-depth studying for the whole group, most of the teaching, and most the the "personal work." He in turn teaches the "Local Church" that the "Eldership" has power and authority to make all decisions. The people acquiesce and love to have it so.

He mentioned "the problem in Arkansas" and I suppose he had reference to the shameful doings of the "Eldership" with the Sixth and Izzard Church of Christ in Little Rock. What they have done is not an abuse of power and authority, it is a natural consequence of the basic principles inherent in the system. They are simply carrying it out to the nth degree! There is something basically wrong with the system. It is rotten at its core. I have heard of many more so called "Elderships" across our land who really believe that they have authority to make all final decisions. The problems are multiplied a thousandfold as a result of the Authoritarian doctrine. People struggle under a yoke of bondage instead of being free; they live in fear, not hope; sorrow, not joy; and hatred, not love. In many cases they just simply tolerate those they call "Elders," knowing down deep in their heart that they are not qualified.

There are some good men among us who know what elders are, and who take seriously the work they have set for themselves. They know that Jesus has all authority under heaven and earth, and that they don't have any of it, but they are content to humbly serve the chief Shepherd.

Also, they realize their appointment is by the Holy Spirit and not by men (Acts 20:28). God bless them for they feed the people of God, who have been purchased by the precious blood of the Lamb, and they continuously watch out for their souls.

Finally, I may write articles that "challenge," and are "spectacularly different," I don't know for sure about that, but one thing I can assure you of, I don't write to be sensational. I am serious in my desire to know the truth on these matters. I feel very keenly the responsibility placed on my heart by God to share these thoughts with each one of you. You don't have to accept them. I would not want you to accept them without first studying them out for yourself from the Word of God. You do not have to agree with me for us to be brethren. I welcome your comments and will try to consider them in "Answering The Mail."