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The Recognition and the Appointment of Elders in the Church

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Tomorrow night’s Discipleship Group will cover the second part of a 6 part series on Church Leadership.  It will center on an aspect of Church leadership which has given me much angst. Namely, that of recognizing and appointing elders.  There is little in the New Testament on the actual process of appointing elders, and in fact only two mentions of it.  Those are Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5.

These examples show that in one case, the appointment of elders followed disciple making (which includes evangelism) Acts 14:21-23:

After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

In the other case, Titus was delegated to “appoint” elders by Paul.  Titus 1:5

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”

Again, we can extrapolate very little on the process of appointing elders from these two verses.  We can however know more about the characteristics of elders from these passages:

1 Timothy 3:  “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”  

and

Titus 1:  ” For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”

It is important to distinguish the qualifications of and elder and the recognition and appointment of an elder.  They are two different things.  Certainly and elder must have those qualifications.  For the purposes of this post, I will not ask my normal 3 questions, but these eleven:

1.  Are Elders to be appointed in the Church today?  What is the biblical justification for your answer?

2.  What did is mean to “appoint” and Elder?  What should it mean today?

3.  Does the appointment of elders justify the modern-day church’s practice of ordination?

4.  Are elders to be appointed only by Apostles or their delegates?

5.  Is Eldership an “office?”

6.  Is Eldership a “position?”

7.  Is it ok for a man to want to (aspire to) (desire) (seek out) the role of an Elder?

8.  How does one get to be the kind of leader spoken of in Hebrews 13:17?

9.  Since there is no biblically justifiable leadership hierarchy in the New Testament Church, how do we define words like “obey,” “submit,” “oversee,” “lead,” “take charge,” and “rule.”

10.  Are Elders still needed for special circumstances such as praying for the sick (James 5:14), shepherding the sheep (1 Peter 5:1,2), and protecting them from wolves (Acts 20:28,29)?

11.  Can the process of the selection of elders in the Old Testament be used as a model for the New Testament Church?  Are Old Testament Elders and New Testament Elders the same species? 

In answering these questions, try to avoid what some would call “good and necessary consequence” from logical conclusions.  I come from a strong Presbyterian background and I have been steeped in the logical exaggeration on the role of, recognition of, and the appointing of Elders. 

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    1. Chris Jefferies January 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      This is ground that has been dug over by generations of believers for hundreds of years. I think we might begin by accepting that most if not all of the good arguments and issues have been covered already, the Greek words have been pored over and every shade of meaning considered. What can we add to this? Different opinions remain, how can we choose between them?

      Perhaps all we can do is pray for a willingness to be open to the Spirit in our own particular circumstances, expect him to speak on this as on all matters, hear what he tells us, and obey him. And of course we must have the mind of Christ in accepting one another in love even when we see things differently.

      I can certainly add more on my personal understanding of elders. But in the end that is just my opinion.

      There are two Greek words often translated ‘elder’. There is ‘presbuteros’ which means, literally, an older man but more generally might mean a wise or experienced person. And there is ‘episcopos’ which is literally ‘overlooker’ or ‘overseer’ or ‘watchman’ and is sometimes translated ‘bishop’ (merely an Anglicised version of the Greek word).

      Taking the two together we might think in terms of a wise and experienced person who will keep an eye on things.

      The Greek word translated ‘appoint’ might rather have the sense ‘select’, ‘choose’ or ‘point out’. If so, Paul had in mind that new groups of believers meeting in his absence would be helped if suitable wise and experienced individuals were pointed out to them as those they might pay attention to. Perhaps it was all a great deal less formal than we sometimes make it.

      Every group of believers needs a person or two like this. Normally they will be recognised and listened to without any need to identify them in advance. People usually know who to ask when they’re not sure about things, who to look to for guidance, who can mediate a dispute wisely and justly, who can steady things when there’s anxiety or uncertainty, or inspire courage when everyone feels down.

      As I say, just a personal opinion.

    2. GLD January 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      Great post. I often wonder how the “city church” concept impacts our view on elders? I really don’t have an answer, but I would say that there are many “elders” in the city I live in whom have been identified by others in the body as meeting the qualifications laid out in scripture. For some reason that doesn’t seem good enough though. As we move toward appointing elders in the network of simple churches I am involved in, there seems to be a pull to have our “own elders.” I think there would be benefits to this, but I also see that it can have a selfish feel to it (“We need elders like the other churches”). So the reality that most of us in The Church no longer think of themselves as part of a “city church” and see themselves as part of “their” church complicate this issue for me and my understanding of “appoint elders in every city.”

    3. Jenny January 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

      I found this post really insightful. The Restoration Movement churches, which have Presbyterian roots, are generally led by elders, although each congregation, being independent, denote the elders’ responsibilities slightly differently. In the (instrumental) Christian Churches, generally elders are directly elected by the membership from a slate of willing and able men previously approved by the current elders. I suspect that the feeling is that that’s the best way to choose in absence of apostolic guidance. In the (non-instrumental) Churches of Christ, generally elders are appointed by the preacher, the elders in office, or some other selected group of men. I suspect that the feeling is that this is a modern equivalent of the apostolic selection process.

    4. Jonathan January 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

      The present conservative evangelical culture is so preacher and preaching driven that there is really no meaningful discussion regarding elders.

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