From the book, The Memoir of David King - Ministry in the Church of Christ.
Elders (pages 288-303).
"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting and ordain elders in every city." Titus i:5.
In a previous section devoted to the "Work of an Evangelist," we have in a measure contemplated the church under that provisional oversight which pertains to it when newly planted, and while unable to possess elders and deacons. It has been objected, that the provisional oversight in churches planted by an evangelist, or transferred to him by those who planted them, falls but little short of the "One Man system" - that he has as much in his hands, and is as necessary as the one and only pastor of a modern Baptist or Independent Church. To a certain extent this is true; and yet, even from the first, a wide difference is apparent. Look fairly into the two positions and it will appear that scarcely any two things can be more unlike. In the one case you have a man filling a provisional position and labouring to prepare men, or to discover their fitness if already prepared, that he may divide among them the work, office and oversight, which rests upon his shoulders, that, thus released, he may give all attention to the rescuing of sinners from the power of Satan, or to the setting other churches in order. In the other case, you behold a man who has made himself, or whom a perverse system has made, everlastingly necessary to the church in which he labours. He is the pastor - he is to feed them with the finest wheat - the pulpit, to which the whole church look for instruction is his - they come to be filled, he has to fill them. And this is to continue, not merely till the edification of the body can be committed to itself, but it is the summit of their wishes, beyond which they have no expectation. This man may (as is sometimes the case) spend fifty years with one church, and then be as necessary to it as at the beginning. Take him away, and send not one of his "order" to fill the vacant place, the "interest" expires. The popular pastor, or minister, is a creature of whom no trace can be found in the apostolic writings. He is the elder, though even fresh from college, not having seen years enough to furnish him with an ordinary knowledge of men and things. His office, so far as the New Testament enables us to trace its origin, arises from limiting the evangelist to, and perpetuating him in one church; dispensing with the qualifications for eldership; committing to the evangelist the work of a plurality of elders, and also that of divers teaching brethren, so that he becomes truly The One Man. No wonder that colleges in nine cases out of ten fail to supply men equal to their task. That many modern pastors deserve to be noted for talent and efficiency in preaching and defending the doctrines for the propagation of which they are set is cheerfully admitted; but, that any one ever did, or ever can, wholly fill the office to which they are called is unhesitatingly denied. A return to ministry, as instituted by the authority of Jesus, would leave abundant room and maintenance for all such labourers. Let each become an evangelist and set the church in order in which till now, as the only minister, he has laboured; then devote his entire time and ability to the enlargement thereof, or the planting of others, sustained by that church, if agreeable to him and them. There is no reason why each church should not support an evangelist, or a half-dozen, if possessed of means, and surely the multitude perishing around furnish ample employment for a mighty army of preachers.*
* We hold that a church without a plurality of elders, each possessing all the items of qualification named by Paul, has not attained for full stature of the church of the New Testament. We cannot say that wanting in this it is not a New Testament Church, because the churches of the apostolic time existed, under the sanction of the Apostles, in two classes - those fully set in order, and those only advancing to the conditions requisite to that perfected order. The oversight in the last-named class of churches was provisional, but nevertheless apostolic, and the recognition of those churches, was as full and positive as was that of the churches of the other class. The provisional condition should be terminated so soon as a church can discern in its membership the duly qualified men. Then as to the qualifications:- We believe them reasonable and attainable. Many men in the churches have them not, because they do not sufficiently yield themselves to the requirements of their high and holy calling; that they have them not, is to their shame and may prove to their eternal loss.
But who and what are Elders? They are those duly qualified members of the church who, by ordination, have had committed to them oversight in all matters appertaining to teaching, guiding, and ruling. They are not all the senior men in the church; for many of that class know themselves completely destitute of duly specified qualifications. Nor do they consist of all those who think, feel, or judge themselves qualified; for men often count themselves competent for office when all around know them as wholly unfit. Age is a first element in the duly qualified elder - not non-age nor dotage, but age sufficient to guarantee the requisites for an experimental acquaintance with men and things. The ancient nations appropriately filled important official positions from the ranks of their senior men. From the elders of Israel the Sanhedrin was constituted. The Greeks filled the magisterial office from their seniors. The Romans had their senatus composed of men marked by age and experience. But no nation has been guilty of the folly of making age the only qualification, nor of the absurdity of calling upon the aged to take office upon the ground of faith in their own fitness for the duties thereof, though this absurdity has been urged upon the churches.
Elder (presbuteros) in the New Testament is used to denote - 1. Simply comparative age; as, "The elder son was in the field." Luke xv:25. - 2. An official person: a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. Matt. xvi:21. - 3. An ordained officer in a church of God. Acts xi:30; xiv:23. In this particular, then, it is like diakonos (deacon), used both in its generic and in its appropriated or official sense; and that, too, both in the Jewish and in the Christian dispensation.
The ordained elders of the church in any one place are the presbytery (presbuterion) of that church. The word occurs three times in the New Testament - twice applied to the Jewish Sanhedrin, Luke xxii:6; Acts xxii:5; and once to the elders of the church, 1 Tim. iv:14. Elders have official standing only in the church in which they are members, and, as ordination confers office only in the one church in which it takes place, elsewhere they are not elders, and, consequently, form no caste, clergy, or order, claiming official status and distinctive titles wherever they may go.
Elders are also designated Bishops, Overseers, Pastors. That these several terms are applied in relation to one and the same office is apparent. Paul from Miletus "sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the Church," and when they came He said unto them,
"Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you OVERSEERS, to FEED the Church of God." Acts xx:17-28.
Here the elders sent for by Paul, are designated overseers, and the word thus rendered (episkopos) is, in every other instance in the New Testament, represented by BISHOP. Thus, then, the elders are termed bishops, or overseers; and required to feed, or tend, the flock, which is the work of a shepherd or pastor. We also read, -
"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that
thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain ELDERS in
every city, as I had appointed thee; if any be blameless .... for a bishop must
Here, most clearly, the terms elders and bishops are used interchangeably. Again,
"The elders among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder ..... tend the flock of God, which is among you, OVERSEEING it, not by constraint but willingly, nor for base gain but with good will: neither as being lords over the heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd is manifested, ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory." 1 Peter v:1-4.
Here, too, the elders are shepherds or pastors, who have to tend the flock. They, too, are bishops or overseers and, as such, are to oversee the flock, willingly and not for base gain. As pastors or shepherds, they are under a Chief Shepherd, from whom they will receive their reward. It is, then, as clear as demonstration can make it, that elder, pastor or shepherd, and bishop or overseer, are terms appertaining to one and the same officer in the Church of God.
In saying that the terms bishop, overseer, pastor and shepherd appertain to one and the same office, and that each is applied to the elder, we must be understood to mean that it is so in the English New Testament. To the reader of the Greek, the number of words so applied is fewer. In the English we have both pastor and shepherd where in the original poimeen only is found, of which shepherd is the exact equivalent. The term pastor is from the Latin, and originally signified a shepherd. But it is now come frequently to denote a hired preacher, as distinguished from the elders of the church, neither an elder nor an evangelist. As, then, shepherd is the true idea, expressed by the term in Bible usage, let us speak of our elders as the shepherds of the flock, and leave the term pastor for those who have improved upon apostolic order. So, too, with the term bishop. Overseer, we have seen, is once used to translate episkopos while in the other instances it is represented by bishop. We have here two words, where in the original there is but one. One of these two (overseer) exactly represents the term it translates. It is pure and simple English that everyone understands. The other (bishop) is but a corruption of episkopos, which came into our tongue by means of the Anglo-Saxon, and, thus traced back, means an overseer. But, then, the State church has appropriated and perverted it. Turn to the Dictionary and you read - "BISHOP, one of the head order of the clergy," (Walker) - "BISHOP, a prelate, one who has the spiritual government of a diocese." (Maunders) - We propose then to allow the term bishop to appertain to the diocese, as the special designation of a Roman or Anglican clerical head-centre. The Elders of the Church of God are simply the OVERSEERS and SHEPHERDS of the flock, under-shepherds to the Chief Shepherd, who is head over all.
The duties imposed upon the Eldership, or Presbytery, of a church are most important. Though elders are not essential to the being of a church, they are most certainly indispensable to its well-being. Still, elder-making has not always proved beneficial. Instances, not a few, are before us, in which it has proved the bane of the church, and led to strife and division. But the evils thus arising, spring not from the apostolic plan, but arise solely from misunderstanding its requirements. Churches make elders without regard to the required qualifications; whereas they are authorized to do so only when the qualified men are manifested. Misrule is the result. There are brethren who, under provisional arrangement, can do good services in filling up what is wanting, owing to the absence of an eldership, who, if ordained elders, would ruin the church. Much evil, too, has arisen from the absence of a proper understanding of the duties of the office. Now, unless the church and its elders see alike in this respect, an outbreak is pretty certain, sooner or later. We are even inclined to think that a clear understanding of what the church expects of its elders, and what they are not to take upon themselves, is more important than a perfectly accurate conception of the work intended to be committed to their charge. In every case the church, on the one hand, and the overseers, on the other, should distinctly comprehend what is to be committed to the elders by the approaching ordination, and their induction into office should, in no case, take place until it is ascertained that they and the church are, in this particular, perfectly of the same mind.
Some have expressed regret that we have not a statement of the duties of the eldership as concise and distinct as Paul’s statement of what a man must be who fills the office. Such statement would, no doubt, be quite convenient, but most likely the reason of its not having been given, is to be found in the fact that it is not absolutely needful; and, certainly, it is not thus requisite, for the terms by which the official elder is designated, together with the stated qualifications, clearly enough indicate the duties imposed upon him. With this thought in mind we turn to a series of articles from the pen of our esteemed Brother McGarvey, published in the Apostolic Times, which, on this particular point, so completely express what we have been in the habit of teaching, that we shall save some hours of writing by adopting the following commendable statement of the case.
THE ELDERSHIP - ITS DUTIES.
"The titles of an office are often taken from some characteristic duty belonging to it. Thus the title President is taken from the act of presiding; Secretary from the act of writing; Auditor (hearer) from the act of hearing financial reports. In such cases the information derived from the title is generally meagre. In some instances, however, offices newly created adopt the titles of previously existing offices which are similar to them; and in such instances the titles carry with them all of their previous significance except so far as this is modified by the nature of the new office. Thus the term President, which first meant one who presides over an assembly and enforces order in its proceedings, when transferred to the chief officer of a college, and to the chief magistrate of the United States, carried with it the chief part of its previously acquired meaning. Now, it so happens that all the titles by which the elder of a church is known were adopted from previous existing offices, and brought with them in their new application much of their former significance. They will enable us, therefore, to obtain a general idea of the duties of the office, and to better appreciate the more specific statements of the apostles which will afterwards be considered.
The title Elder, which is most frequently used by the apostles, which is still the most popular of these titles, obtained an official signification among the Jews long before its adoption into the Christian Church. Originally it designated the older man, or heads of families in Israel, who exercised a patriarchal government over their posterity, e.g., Ex. iv:29; xix:7. In the days of Christ it had become the title of the rulers of the Jewish synagogues, and of one of the classes composing the Sanhedrin. Reliable information in reference to the functions of the office among the Jews is quite meagre, but it is sufficient to justify the assertion that those who enjoyed the title exercised authority in some capacity. When it was adopted, therefore, into the Christian church, it brought with it at least this general idea, that those to whom it was applied were rulers in the church. The exact nature and limits of their authority it could not of course designate.
The term episkopos brought with it a more clearly defined significance, and furnishes more definite information in reference to the duties of the office. Among the Athenians it was the title of ‘magistrates sent out to tributary cities, to organize and govern them’ (See Robinson’s New Testament Lexicon, and references there given.) Among the Jews it had very much that variety of application which the term overseer now has in English. It is used in the Septuagint for the officers appointed by Josiah to oversee the workmen engaged in repairing the temple, 2 Chr. xxxiv:12-17; for the overseers of workmen employed in rebuilding Jerusalem after the captivity, Neh. xi:5-14; for the overseers of the Levites on duty in Jerusalem, Neh. xi:22; for the overseers of the singers in the temple worship, Neh. xii:42; and for subordinate civil rulers, Jos. Ant. 10, 4.2. In all these instances it designates persons who have oversight of other persons for the purpose of directing their labours and securing faithful performance of the tasks assigned them.
Such a word when applied to a class of officers in the Christian Church, necessarily carried with it the significance already attached to it. It indicated, both to the Jew and Greek, that the persons so styled were appointed to superintend the affairs of the church, to direct the activities of the members, to see that everything was done that should be done, and that it was done by the right person, at the right time, and in the right way. Anything less than this would be insufficient to justify the title overseer, as it was currently employed in that age. The details of the process by which all this was accomplished will appear as we advance.
The title Shepherd is still more significant than either of the other two. The Jewish shepherd was at once the ruler, the guide, the protector, and the companion of his flock. Often, like the shepherds to whom the angel announced the glad tidings of great joy, he slept upon the ground at night beside his sheep. Sometimes, when prowling wolves came near to rend and scatter the flock, his courage was put to the test (Jno. x:12); and even the lion and the bear in earlier ages rose up against the brave defender of the sheep. 1 Sam. xvii:34-36. He did not drive them to water and to pasturage; but he called his own sheep by name, so familiar was he with every one of them, and he led them out, and went before them, and the sheep followed him, for they knew his voice. Jno. x:3,4.
A relation so authoritative and at the same time so tender as this, could not fail to find a place in the poetry of Hebrew prophets, and the parables of the Son of God. David’s poetic eye detects the likeness between the shepherd’s care of his flock and the care of God for Israel, and most beautifully does he give expression to it in lines familiar to every household, and admired in every land:
‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake,
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.’ - Ps. xxxiii.
The same beautiful image is employed by Isaiah, when with prophetic eye, he sees the great Persian king gathering together scattered sheep of Israel in distant Babylon, and sending them back from their long captivity. He exclaims in the name of the Lord, ‘Cyrus is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the temple, thy foundations shall be laid.’ Isaiah xliv:28. But he sings a still sweeter note in the same strain, when he foresees the life and labours of the Son of God, and exclaims, ‘He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.’ Isaiah xl:11. The Saviour Himself re-echoes the sentiment, and says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd;’ ‘I know My sheep, and am known by mine;’ ‘I lay down My life for the sheep.’ Jno. x:14,15. Even the less poetic Paul is touched by the beautiful metaphor, and makes a prayer to ‘the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep’ (Heb. xiii:20);’ while Peter says to his brethren, ‘Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.’ 1 Pet. ii:25.
A word thus highly exalted by the pens of prophets, and even by the lips of Jesus, would appear almost too sacred to represent the relations and responsibilities of an uninspired labourer in the cause of God. But even before the church came into existence it had been consecrated to this usage, and was a favourite term with the later prophets by which to designate the religious leaders of Israel. Jeremiah pronounces a woe upon the shepherds of his day who destroyed and scattered Israel, and predicts the time when God would bring them again to their folds, and set up shepherds over them who would be real shepherds to them. Jer. xxiii:1-4. The connection shows that the prediction has reference to the Christian age. Ezekiel speaks in the same strain, and in almost the identical thoughts of Jeremiah, except, that in contrast with the unfaithful shepherds of his age, he says ‘I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David: he shall feed them, he shall be their shepherd.’ Ez. xxxiv:1-23.
With such a history, the word shepherd came into the terminology of the church with a most clearly defined secondary meaning. When applied as a title in the church it necessarily represented its subject as the ruler, the guide, the protector, and the companion of the members of the church. When Paul and Peter, therefore, exhorted elders to be shepherds to the flock of God, all these important and tender relations were indicated by the word.
In two distinct passages already quoted (Acts xx:28; 1 Pet. v:2), the elders are exhorted to be shepherds to the church. This exhortation, or rather this apostolic command, has failed to make its due impression on the English reader, because of the very inadequate translation of poimaino in the common version. It occurs eleven times, and is seven times rendered feed, and four times rule. When connected with church work it is uniformly rendered feed. No doubt the translators intended by this rendering to make their version intelligible to their uneducated readers in England and Scotland, where very little is known of a shepherd’s work except feeding the sheep through the long winters. But this attempt at adaptation has led to serious misapprehensions; for even to this day, and in America as well as Great Britain, the term feed in these passages has been understood by the masses as a metaphor for public teaching, and the whole work here enjoined is supposed to be accomplished when a suitable address is delivered to the saints on the Lord’s day. Many an elder has imagined that the chief part of his work is accomplished when he has called together the flock once a week, or it may be, once a month, and given them their regular supply of food, even when the food given is nothing better than empty husks. And many an evangelist, miscalling himself a pastor, has laboured under the same mistake. Let it be noted, then, and never be forgotten, that the term employed in these passages expresses the entire work of a shepherd, of which feeding was very seldom even a part in the country where this use of the term originated. The shepherds of Judea, and those of Asia Minor pastured their sheep throughout the entire year. Their duty was to guide them from place to place, to protect them from wild beasts, and to keep them from staying; but not to feed them.
The Apostle Paul leaves us in no doubt as to his own use of the term in question; for after the general command, ‘Be shepherds to the church,’ his next words show what he means by shepherding; he proceeds, ‘For I know this, that after my departure shall ravenous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore, watch; and remember that by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one, night and day with tears.’ Acts xx:28-31. Here, continuing the metaphor of a flock, he forewarns the shepherds against ravenous wolves, who can be no other than teachers of error, who would come into Ephesus from abroad, such, for example, as those who already infested the Galatian churches (Gal. i:6-7; v:12); and he commands them to watch. He also predicts that men of their own number, like unruly rams of the flock, would rise up speaking perverse things, and seeking to lead away disciples after them. The shepherds were to watch against these also, and as they saw symptoms of such movements within, they were to ‘warn every one, night and day,’ as Paul had done.
Here, then, are two specifications under the generic idea of acting the shepherd, and they are strictly analogous to the work of a literal shepherd. It is made the duty of the eldership first, to protect the congregation from false teachers from abroad; second, to guard carefully against the influence of schismatics within the congregation; third, to keep watch both within and without, like a shepherd night and day watching his flock, so as to be ready to act on the first appearance of danger from either direction.
The first of these duties is again emphasized in the epistle to Titus, where Paul requires that elders shall be able by sound teaching both to exhort and convict the gainsayers, and adds: ‘For there are many vain and unruly talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped.’ Titus i:9-11. The duty of watchfulness is also mentioned again, and in a manner which shows most impressively its supreme importance. Paul says, ‘Obey them who have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.’ Heb. xiii:17. From these words it appears that the object of the watching enjoined, is not merely to keep out false teaching and to suppress incipient schism, but to do these in order to save souls from being lost. That priceless treasure, for which Jesus laid down His life is at stake, and the elders of each church, like the shepherds of each flock, must give account to the owner of the flock for every soul that is lost. The task of Jacob, concerning which he said to Laban, ‘That which was torn of beasts I brought not to thee, I bore the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night;’ is a true symbol of the task assigned the shepherds of the Church of God. Well might they all exclaim, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’
The duty of ‘taking oversight’ is enjoined upon the elders in express terms, and he expression is used as the equivalent of acting the shepherd. Peter days, ‘Be shepherds to the flock, taking the oversight thereof.’ 1 Pet. v:2. But the essential thought in the overseership, that of ruling, is frequently enjoined. Paul says to Timothy, ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour.’ 1 Tim. v:17. The Greek word here rendered rule is proisteemi, the etymological meaning of which is to stand or place one object before another. But the fact that rulers stand before their subjects, with all the eyes of the latter looking to them for direction, led to the established usage of this term in the sense of ruling. It is so defined in the lexicons, and so used in both classic and Hellenistic Greek. It expresses the rule of a father over his family, 1 Tim. iii:4, 5-12; of a deputy over a district, 1 Mac. v:15; of a king over his subjects, Jos. Ant. viii:12. 3; and of the elders over the church, 1 Tim. v:17; 1 Thess. v:12; Rom. xii:8.
By use of still another Greek word, Paul expresses in the epistle to the Hebrews the same general idea of ruling. He says (xiii:7), ‘Remember them who have the rule over you, who have spoken to you the word of God;’ again (verse 17), ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls as they that must give account,’ etc.; and again (verse 24), ‘Salute them that have the rule over you.’ The term here employed, heegeomai, means, primarily, to lead. When applied to the mind it means to think or suppose, because in this mental act the mind is led to a conclusion. See Acts xxvi:2; Phil. ii:3-6; et al. But the present participle of this verb came to be used in the sense of ruler, because a ruler is one who leads. Sometimes, indeed, it means a leader in the sense of a chief man, as when Silas and Judas are called ‘chief men among the brethren.’ Acts xv:22. When the idea of ruling is expressed by it, the fact is indicated in the context: e.g.,Pharaoh made Joseph ‘ruler (heegoumenon) over Egypt’ (Acts vii:10), where the expression ‘over Egypt’ indicates the relation of authority. So in the second of the three examples under discussion, the terms obey and submit yourselves, show that the relation of authority is expressed, and that the rendering of the participle should be rulers or them who have the rule
Another duty of the eldership, distinct from the preceding, is that of teaching. By a mistake already mentioned, this duty has been supposed by many to be the chief work indicated by the term pastor or shepherd; but in the only place where the latter term occurs in its appropriated sense in the common version, pastors are distinguished from teachers. ‘He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.’ The distinction here evidently made between pastors and teachers does not imply that they are always different persons; for one person might be both a prophet and an evangelist, and for the same reason he might be both a pastor and a teacher. But in the distribution of labours there is such a distinction made as to show that one might be a teacher and not a pastor. From other passages, however, we know that all pastors or shepherds, in addition to what is implied in this title, are also teachers. In the statement of their qualifications, Paul says that they must be ‘apt to teach,’ 1 Tim. iii:2; and that they should be ‘able by sound teaching, both to exhort and to convict the gainsayers,’ Tit.i:9. That they should possess the qualification, necessarily implies the duty of teaching."
Elders, Shepherds, Overseers. (pages 303-311)
As Paul appointed Timothy to remain in Ephesus, and Titus in Crete, that they might set in order the wanting things and ordain Elders, it was most fitting that he should remind them concerning the qualifications prerequisite to that ordination. Accordingly, in writing to Timothy, he said: "A Bishop (Overseer) must be -" and then follows a specification of said requirements. In instructing Titus he wrote:
"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee; if any be blameless - "
and then, also, there follow several indispensable qualities, substantially agreeing with those cited to Timothy. Reference to 1 Tim. iii. and Titus i. gives them as under:
TIMOTHY | TITUS
Blameless | Blameless
Husband of one Wife | Husband of one wife.
Vigilant | Having faithful children
Sober | Not self-willed
Of good behaviour | Not soon angry
Given to hospitality | Not given to wine
Apt to teach | No striker
Not given to wine | Not given to filthy lucre
No striker | A lover of hospitality
TIMOTHY | TITUS|
Not greedy of filthy lucre | A lover of
Patient | Sober
Not a brawler | Just
Not covetous | Holy
Ruling well his house | Temperate
Not a novice | Holding fast the word
Good report from without |
The foregoing two-fold specification indicates what every elder must be. When men thus qualified are ordained, then may be said to them,
"Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers." (Acts xx.)
Elders qualified and ordained according to the direction of the Holy Spirit, through the apostles, are made Overseers by the Spirit whose law and rule are thus observed.
Some have argued that we are not to look for all the specified items in each elder, but to find the whole in the sundry brethren of whom the eldership is composed. But that fancy is groundless. The ordination is restricted to the qualified; none other are warranted to allow themselves to be ordained, and neither evangelist nor church have authority to ordain any other. Nor are the qualifications marvellous exactions. Which of them should a Christian husband and father be content to want? Everyone should aim to become all that is here required.
Let us, in the next place, glance at the requirements in the order in which they are cited.
"Blameless." - Not absolutely so, as before God; for, as everyone falls short of perfection of character, all are more or less subject to blame. The word rendered "blameless" signifies "not open to be attacked," and marks one against whom no evil charge can be maintained. We understand it in this case to refer specially to all that follows, and, therefore, to intimate that elders must be persons against whom, in the particulars specified, no charge can be sustained.
"The Husband of one wife."- We consider that either polygamy or celibacy disqualifies for the eldership. It has been urged that celibacy cannot do so, as, in that case, Paul and Timothy would have been disqualified; certainly they would, and there is no evidence that they were not. No one can produce proof that they were qualified for the elder’s office, and nowhere are we taught that the qualifications for an apostle, an evangelist, and an elder are the same. On the point now immediately under notice, nothing could be more fitting than that apostles and evangelists, whose work largely required them to move from place to place, and generally rendered impossible a settled home, should be unmarried; while, on the other hand, nothing is more seemly and desirable than that overseers in one church, whose duties require settled residence and involve frequent interposition between husband and wife, parents and children, should themselves be married men, who have given evidence that they understand and rightly deport themselves in that relationship. No one can fail to see that such, other circumstances being equal, could not but present a fitness for the office which the unmarried are without. This is our conclusion after years of thoughtful investigation, and after reading, perhaps, all that can be said on either side. Still the fact remains, that thoughtful, learned, pious brethren conclude that it is not certain that the intention is wider than the exclusion of the polygamist, and therefore, they decline to reject an unmarried man who is, in all other respects, qualified. Now, we are not prepared to say that these brethren must of necessity be wrong. That they are wrong we have little or no doubt, but the impossibility of their being right is not here affirmed. How then shall the difficulty be met? Each church must meet it for itself, and the understanding of the majority must prevail. Not that the church shall decree what the interpretation shall be; but that each member determine for himself, whether the person, or persons, named has, or have, the required qualifications; each to determine this according to his own understanding of the terms, and the declared will of the majority must be taken as the church-recognition or non-recognition of the fitness of the men submitted for their judgment. But just here comes in an important consideration, which to some extent should influence the decision. There is perfectly safe and certain ground. If only those are ordained who possess the other qualifications and who also are married, everyone will then know that the requirements are fully met. Thus perfectly safe and reliable ground invites to occupation.
"Vigilant." Because the word thus translated is derived from neephein, to be sober, some conclude to read sober, in place of vigilant. But as neephein also signifies to watch, and as sobriety is referred to in a subsequent verse, neephalion is very properly rendered by vigilant, attentive, or watchful. A careless, sleepy, dilatory man should not be ordained.
"Sober." There is here no exclusive or special reference to intoxicating drink. A well regulated mind is indicated - a person who is free from excesses, prudent.
"Of good behaviour." The ideas of adornment and order underlie this word. The elder then should be polite, courteous. A rude, uncouth man is as much out of place in an eldership as would be a bull in a china shop.
"Given to hospitality." Literally, a lover of strangers - One who manifests a hospitable disposition. Not necessarily one who gives much, for he may have but little to give. We know some of our poorest brethren as the most hospitable in our fellowship. The disposition displays itself, not merely, or chiefly, in large gifts, but in loving attention according to means
"Apt to teach." Acquainted with the plan of salvation, the order and worship of the Church, and able to communicate to others what he knows. All elders are to be capable of teaching. The notion of ruling elders, who have no teaching ability nor work, is not admissible. It does not, however, follow that an elder must be an orator, a pulpit or platform man, one who can sermonize for an hour and entrance an audience. He who knows the truth and is capable of instructing a young convert therein, who can, in converse, guard him against the subtleties of false teachers, and in this way instruct the members of the church generally, is all that the phrase demands, and ability in conjunction with others to shepherd the flock. Restrict the eldership to those who are attractive public speakers, and you will have to wait long for the men. But the requirement does not necessarily include ability to deliver lectures and orations. He who presides over the church should be able to address it upon points of order, but the president is not of necessity the chief speaker, nor even a prominent one. In an eldership, every member of which is capable of teaching there will be those better fitted than others for addressing the church at large, and they will, of course, have assigned to them a prominent portion in that work. The elder’s work is wholly in the church. An elder may be the chief preacher, and labour much to convert sinners, as he may be the chief singer, and lead and much improve the service of song, but he does not that work by virtue of his office. An order of itinerant "pastors" who do the preaching for any church which may hire them, appertains not to apostolic Christianity.
It should also be observed, that to a certain extent the ability of an elder must correspond to the condition of the church. Take a church chiefly, or altogether, composed of uneducated labouring people. In that case certain men would meet the requirements of the position, who, if removed to a church of much higher educational range, would be entirely inadequate. Here we see the wisdom of the apostolic plan, by which an ordained elder is such only in the church in which his ordination was effected. If he visit or remove to another church, near or distant, he goes not as an elder, and he has no official status there until his fitness is recognized, and he is also there ordained. Each church is then called to discern as to the fitness of those to whom they submit themselves, and no man takes office in one church by virtue of having filled it in another.
"Not given to wine." The phrase is ne paroinon. Literally "Not near wine," not a banqueter. The ancient paroinos was one accustomed to drinking parties. We take the phrase to express not so much personal sobriety, as absence from convivial drinking parties and entertainments. An Overseer in the Church of God is not only to be sober, but is required to discountenance places, practices, and associations, dangerous to the sobriety of others.
"No striker." A peaceable man - not one who in haste of temper would be led to strike an opposer.
"Not greedy of filthy lucre." Not one who earns money by base methods. Such is the import of the term. But there is not allusion to useful and honourable trades or callings. Paul commanded the overseers of the church in Ephesus to work with their own hands. It is nowhere implied that elders should depend upon the flock for support, nor intimated that they did so. All useful trades and professions are open to them, but none that are base and injurious.
"Patient." Distinguished for meekness under provocation, and candour in judging the failings of others: "In meekness instructing those who oppose themselves."
"Not a brawler." Not given to contention and strife.
"Not covetous." Not a lover of money. One anxious to get all he can, keep what he gets, and do but little for the church and the poor, is for ever excluded.
"One that ruleth well his own house." One who keeps good order in his establishment; whose children and dependents are in proper subjection. He, then, who has a disorderly family, or an insubordinate household, is excluded, and for the best of reasons; he shows that he cannot rule and, therefore, is unfit for the office. It is not clear that there must be children, but if there be they must be in subjection. "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God."
"Not a novice." Not a new convert; "lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil."
"A good report of them which are without." One who, in the foregoing particulars cannot be condemned by the world, and whose conduct cannot be pointed to as inconsistent with his profession.
Thus we have gone over the qualifications as expressed by Paul to Timothy. The outline given, by the same apostle to Titus, differs but little in form and still less in substance. In place of "One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection," we find "Having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly"; which we take as of the same import.
"Not self-willed" stands out as a clear and important requirement. A self-willed man in an eldership creates no end of trouble. Such an one should fill no office in the Church of God.
"Temperate." The term used signifies self-restraining, (as to the appetites) abstinent.
"Holding fast the faithful word." Thus only can the work of a shepherd be done. False teachers will arise among the flock, who, with sound doctrine, must be exhorted and refuted.
Thus we have spread before us an outline of character, which every brother ought to strive to realize. Let this holy striving go on, as it should, and the church will not long pine for want of good and efficient elders, bishops, overseers. Neglect this striving and they can never be had. Colleges cannot make them; they cannot be imported ready for use, in the churches they must grow, or they never can be had. Extraordinary material is not needed in order to their formation; ordinary men with fair devotion to the Lord and His truth, looking for, and giving themselves to usefulness in the Church of God, are all we need in order that the Lord may raise up among us shepherds after His own heart - good shepherds, who shall receive from the Chief Shepherd the reward of life eternal, when He appears.
Teachers. (pages 311-316)
"First apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers." 1 Cor. xii:28.
There are yet come under notice several important questions relating to the duties of the eldership, including those that embrace the exercise of discipline. We, however, consider that the ground will be more speedily got over by having the various ministries fairly in view before entering upon those questions, and, therefore, this paper will deal with teachers.
Apostles, prophets, overseers, and evangelists are necessarily teachers, but they are not the only teachers of the churches. A church may have efficient teachers when without brethren of the required experience and fitness for oversight. Having elders, it does not follow that they are the only teachers. It was never intended that teaching should appertain exclusively to their office. The Lord designs that no one talent shall be wrapped in a napkin because its possessor has not others - the great Head of the Church calls into exercise all the members of the body -
"For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. Rom. xii:5-8."
This did an apostle intimate that teaching, exhorting, ruling, ministering (though sometimes exercised by the same person) are distinct, and may each be used to the glory of God by those who cannot engage in other service. It devolves upon the elders of the church, or upon the evangelist, to bring into use and to mature all the teaching power of the Church. Not that all may teach, for there are many who cannot speak to edification, and the apostolic rule excludes all such. There is no more reason in expecting every member of a church to become a public teacher than there is in expecting every member of the human body to become a tongue. And while the "one man system" has shrivelled and enfeebled the tongue of the church, the "all teacher system" is a still worse malady. A church with a swollen and inflamed tongue is a frightful spectacle. The apostle James writes, "Be ye not many teachers" (didaskaloi). James iii:1. Take heed that ye teach not divers doctrines, for the doctrine of the apostles is one; and take heed also that you seek not to push yourselves into positions you are not able to fill.
But there are those who never can be teachers who might give a word of useful exhortation, whilst there are some who cannot even do that, and who should be required to keep silence in the churches. "Ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, that all may be comforted," referred to the prophets, and is limited to those who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, to edification. This proves that even when the edification of the church was provided for by direct inspiration, the Lord did not commit oversight, teaching, exhorting, ruling, ministering, etc., to one man - the pastor or minister - but to many, that all might learn, that all might be comforted: as though the apostle had said, no one man, not even an inspired one, is sufficient for the edification of an entire church - what will suit one will not be adapted to others, and therefore, "Ye (who have the prophetic gift) may prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, that all may be comforted." 1 Cor. xiv:31. The good order inculcated by the apostle lies equally distant from the popular "one man system," which dwarfs the mind of the church and completely buries capabilities, killing its one worker by over-labour, and its hundreds of others by want of opportunity to work, and at the same time leaves the bulk of the work undone; and from, on the other hand, that licentiousness, miscalled liberty - where everyone may do everything, whether to edification or not. In an instance or two we have heard men boasting of their liberty, and saying to their more sober neighbours, "Come and witness our order," and we have found in their order plenty of disorder. If the service is to commence with a hymn, it must be left to anyone to give it out who desires to do so - the reading of the Scripture must not be committed to those who are able to read with propriety, that would be taking away the liberty of the brotherhood - the preaching must also be open, and everyone permitted to chime in - and as to teaching, any attempt to restrict it to those who are able to edify would be denounced as downright popery. Such, in the opinion of some, is order. But in the opinion of all right-minded men it is confusion. "Liberty" it is called, but, if it be liberty, it is demented and in need of a strait jacket and a passport to a lunatic asylum. It is an insult to common sense.
Those may teach who can edify, and none others have the right. But who is to determine as to fitness, and by what standard is the teacher to be measured? The church is to determine. Elders, and evangelists before elders are ordained, have oversight in all that relates to the edification of the body. If then one thinks himself able to edify his brethren when he is not, those who by official position are responsible for their edification have to request such alteration in matter, manner, or language, as the case may require. If he be unable, or unwilling, to comply with their request they should require his silence. If he deem their decision not in accordance with the mind of the church, they should, at his request, submit to the church the question, "Is the teaching or exhortation of this brother to your edification?" and the answer of the church is final. This meets the enquiry concerning the standard by which the individual is to be measured. Their are brethren with "itching ears" whom few can edify - it may be questioned whether they can be built up in the most holy faith. This one does not reason with sufficient method, and the other fails to tell anything they do not already know - in fact the bulk of the teaching to them is horrible, and they wish that brethren A. and B. would do all the speaking. This class is not to be regarded - ere long you may expect them to make shipwreck of faith, or to be found "sitting under" some pulpit orator whose well-termed periods are music to the ear, though his words never reach the heart. There are also brethren far from destitute of faith and love who are apt to err upon this question. They are large-brained men, men of considerably culture, and not without spirituality. They judge of the speaker’s power to edify by the benefit they derive from his discourse. But not one teacher in five hundred will reach their level, yet nine out of ten might be much edified by that which profits them but little. Ability, then, should be determined not alone by the power of the speaker, but in part by the condition of the hearers. Let the gospel be preached to miners in Cornwall, and a man who has toiled among them, well acquainted with divine truth and able to tell, in their own dialect, with love and power, what he knows and feels, will be to them a better preacher than one who comes with honours from Cambridge. Let a Church of such men be gathered. When they know the truth and the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts, in their own terms (many of them offensive to cultivated ears) they will edify one another. But place these men to speak to another assemblies, and edification will not result. The voice then of the church (or of the majority), saying "we are edified," is enough. The minority who are not able so to say, must look for help from other speakers, and endeavour to find nutritious portions in the preparations of those who do not generally advantage them, remembering that good food, in some cases, does not build up the physical system owing to impaired digestion.
"Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak." 1 Cor. xiv:34. Why not? The law of the Lord forbids it. But, "I don’t see why it should." Perhaps not. Then, "I don’t like it." Very likely. But the will of the Lord be done. But may not women teach? Certainly. The sisterhood are called to teach - as mothers they are teachers - as elder sisters they are called to instruct the younger - they are not forbidden to teach the brethren, and never forbidden to preach the gospel - Priscilla and Aquila taught the eloquent Apollos the way of the Lord more perfectly, and many a brother has learned much from well-informed Christian women. The restriction applies only to the meetings of the church. There were women who did prophesy, but there they were not to use their gifts. To the prophets it was said, "Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn," and so on, but it was immediately added, "Let your women keep silence in the churches," etc. In one important sense we are for all Christians, male and female, both teaching and preaching, and so assuredly were the apostles. And how sadly is this preaching and teaching neglected. Christian men and Christian women, then, awake to your true position as preachers of Christ and teachers of the thing of His kingdom! As Nathan spake unto David speak ye. In the house, shop, market, speak for Christ, "Teach from house to house." Let every brother be a home missionary, and every sister a "Bible woman."
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