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Do Elders Have Authority?

Before we jump directly into the topic let me define my terms.  First, by elders I’m referring to men who have been recognized by a certain congregation, because of their blameless character (1 Timothy 3:2), as leaders of the congregation.  Second, by authority I’m referring to the right elders have to make a choice.  Specifically the right to choose in matters of which the Bible does not give clear instructions.  We call these “matters of opinion.”  They span from the times the congregation will meet for corporate worship, to determining which missionaries the congregation will support. Thus the question addressed put in another way is: Do the elders (as the recognized shepherds of the congregation) have the ability to make choices in “matters of opinion?”

The Argument

1 Peter 5:3 (read my study of this verse here) has become a proof-text of sorts for people who deny that elders have authority within the church.  It is often argued that from this verse we can glean the truth that the ONLY way that elders can lead is by example.  The verse reads not “lording it over the lot, but being examples to the flock.”  The conclusion then reached is since elders can’t “lord it over,” then they do not have authority.

Why it’s flawed?

I believe this conclusion is flawed for the following reasons:

First, there is a difference between “lording it over” and “having authority.”  “Lording it over” views leadership as a means for power and authority.  It is domineering and forcing your opinions on another regardless of their say.  It is seeing leadership more as a position than a service.  However, it is possible to make decisions for a group without “lording it over” the group.

Second, the very fact that the elders could potentially “lord it over” the church seems to imply that they have some legitimate authority.  A group with no authority at all would never be tempted to use that authority in ways that were inappropriate.  Thus, since Peter speaks of abuse of authority, it seems to imply that the elders have some measure of authority.

Third, the Old Testament and Synagogal background to elders in the New Testament show that the role has authority.  Elders in the Old Testament served in a wide range of ways including the settling of disputes, enforcement of the Mosaic Law, and taught the people the message of God.  In the Synagogue the elders of that group were involved with the distribution of funds and the setting of worship times and organization.

Finally, the word shepherd in the Bible denotes a position of authority and leadership.  It is used to describe God, Jesus, prophets, priests, and king.  All of those are people with varying degrees of authority.  Applying this terminology to an elder would also mean that the elders have a degree of authority.

Conclusion

Some people have been hurt by shepherds that they viewed were using dictatorial practices. I’m also sure in actuality there are men like Diotrephes (3 John 9) in the church. However, just because someone has sinned in “lording over the flock”  does not mean that we shift to the other extreme of saying they have no authority at all.

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19 Comments

  1. I believe “have” authority is a straw man. Elders “have” the same authority all Christians have and that is to “submit to one another” (Eph. 5:21). This is why the “younger” are told “likewise” to submit to the elders, because Peter tells the elders to submit first. They are to lead by “example” in submission for the younger to follow. If the younger follow the example of elders who “exercise authority” over other Christians (which is really Catholicism/Protestantism we inherited) then the younger end up “exercising authority” over the elders when they follow their example.

    “Submit” is not the western, hierarchical one up/one down “positions” in a Catholic hierarchy that we inherited from the 4th to the 19th century. All Christians are told to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). Elders of all people should be leaders in this area. If you have to pull rank, and you don’t live the gospel, you need to repent, not order other people around under the guise of expediency. If we are going to say Bible things in Bible ways, then the proper discussion would be do elders “have” the right to “exercise authority” over other Christians? To ask it properly is to answer it, which is why I believe the traditional argument used in this post is how the debate is framed to avoid the obvious.

    Take away the basilica style, public buildings of the 4th century, the mandatory collection, and salaried preachers and what’s left? The church of Christ you read about in the NT. We inherited Catholic/Protestant institutional practices in the 19th century and simply modified them somewhat. We do not do what the first century church did by a long shot.

    Good discussion topic. If we can remove the Catholic/Protestant hierarchical mindset/ interpretation from actual NT teaching, then maturity among Christians will flourish (for those who desire to mature enough not to remain dependents and who do not need an intermediary between them and God, that is). We all need time to mature, but institutional Christianity is a hindrance to the maturity commanded by the apostles (2 Peter 3:18).

  2. I think Scott makes a legitimate point. Yes, they have authority, but what kind of authority? Can they tell you to go to bed at 6:00 PM? Is it parental authority? Judicial authority? Does the Bible actually say that Elders have authority? If so where? The problem of asking the question of “do they have authority” without understanding what shepherds actually did in the first century, will almost always lead to anachronisms. We will instinctively assume our modern concepts of authority and project that on to shepherds of churches. Also, in our churches today, it seems elders function primarily to determine if a man is hired or fired, who is speaking at a gospel meeting, what the time of the services are, if they are going to move to a new building, etc… A lot of the time, elders make administrative decision–problem? The church isn’t a business.

    Ultimately, if men are godly, righteous, and faithful, they will teach God’s word to people and lead by example. They will arbitrate with discernment and they will function as guides in congregational consensus. I am not aware of any decision made in the NT solely by elders; the NT teaches congregational consensus; elders don’t thrust their judgment on everyone else, it’s not a plurality of popes, rather elders debate, persuade, encourage, guide the church, and when necessary convict the gain sayer–in doing this they equip saints to do the same (Ephesians 4:9-11).

    If you do not mind I would like to link a two part video on “Elder-Led Congregational Consensus”

  3. I’d also like to share a quote from a second century Christian:

    Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins. For it is not those that abstain from wickedness from compulsion, but those that abstain from choice, that God crowns. It is impossible for a man to be steadily good except by his own choice. For he that is made good by compulsion of another is not good; for he is not what he is by his own choice. For it is the freedom of each one that makes true goodness and reveals real wickedness. Whence through these dispositions God contrived to make His own disposition manifest.” – Clement of Alexandria, Maximus, Sermon 55 (2nd century-ish)

    Basically, obedience must be done by ones own choice and free will; it cannot be from top-down rule or compulsion.

  4. Our interpretation of Christianity is very compartmentalized, as well. We mainly view it as “proper formal worship” with “piety” away from the public building. Christianity is wholistic living. It is a shame to relegate it to “proper worship” at a certain place and time.

  5. Because elders/pastors/bishops are commanded to lead by example, according to 1 Peter 5:3, some have thought that their oversight does not entail an actual “rule.” These folks are wrong. The Bible says unequivocally that these men do exercise “rule” in the local church (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17 and 24). The word translated “rule” in the Timothy references is proistemi, which carries with it the idea of “standing before” and “presiding,” according to Strong’s, and to “be over” and “superintend,” according to Thayer. In the Hebrews references, the Greek word translated “rule” is hegeomai, and is defined by both Thayer and Strong’s as “to lead, rule, command, have authority over.” So, it can be seen that “government” at the hands of elders/bishops/pastors is what God desires for churches of Christ, and in exercising this governance or “piloting,” as this is one of the meanings of the word according to Strong’s, they exercise a “rule” in the local church that will be obeyed by every submissive member (Heb. 13:17). (In further explanation of this, compare 1 Corinthians 12:28, where it is recorded that God gives “governments” as a gift to churches, with Ephesians 4:11, where it is said that the ascended Christ gives “pastors” to aid in the perfecting of the saints, and then factor into all this the idea that these passages are referring to the work of elders as they govern the flock which is among them.)

    Even so, the Bible makes it clear that the rule of such men does not partake of the characteristics so prevalent in the world, which consist of controlling, lording it over, and domineering those who are deemed to be in subjection to them (1 Pet. 5:3, where elders are told their rule is not to be as “lords over,” as the Gentiles rule [cf. Mark 10:42 and Luke 22:24-27], but as “examples”). This means that the leadership of elders, who see themselves, ultimately, as humble servants of the Lord, does not ask of others things they are not willing to do themselves. As such, they will always be serving as “examples to the flock.”

    But none of this means, as some claim, that the elders’ rule is actualized only through example. Instead, members of the local church are commanded to, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb. 13:17a). The Hebrew writer continues, “Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17b). The “joy” of Hebrews 13:17b refers to what the elders would experience as the result of the congregation’s willing submission and obedience to their rule. But if there was “grief,” which would be an obvious indication that those in the elders’ charge were, in fact, being disobedient, then such would not be “profitable” for them. Why? Because God, no doubt, would be provoked by such groanings to exact judgment on the disobedient. In other words, if elders must give an account to the Lord for their watchcare over the church, then it stands to reason that any rebellion against their authority would be speedily and appropriately judged by the Lord. Furthermore, if such became necessary, it would definitely not be profitable for the rebels, for the grief they cause will be justly recompensed by the grief they receive (see also 2 Thess. 1:4-6).

    Consequently, the idea that elders do not exercise actual authority in the local church, only leading by their examples, is an idea that is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. Elders do, in fact, exercise God-given authority in the local church, and those who are the rightful subjects of such authority, in order to be pleasing to the Lord, must be willing to submit to it.

  6. Although members of a congregation, individually and collectively, are under divine obligation to submit to their elders, the rule of such men, like that which the husband exercises in the Home, is only legitimate in matters of expedience. For in those areas where God has already legislated, elders must not, indeed cannot, tread.

    For example, meeting together on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s supper is something the New Testament teaches Christians are obligated to do. It does so through a direct statement, an approved example, and a necessary inference. These are found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and Acts 20:7. In the first passage, we are confronted with a commandment (i.e., a direct statement) that we are, as often as we partake of the Lord’s supper, to do so in remembrance of our Lord. Then, in the second passage, we are confronted with an approved example (specifically, an approved apostolic example) of a congregation of the Lord’s people coming together on the first day of the week to eat the Lord’s supper. Finally, in the same passage, we necessarily infer that this commemoration is to be done each and every first day of the week.

    So, how does this relate to elders and their authority? Well, consistent with their understanding of the particular circumstances that exist in their congregation (e.g., the work schedules and time constraints of those who make up the church), elders have the authority to decide exactly when on the first day of the week it is most expedient for them to meet. Consistent with the admonition not to exercise themselves “as being lords,” vis-à-vis 1 Peter 5:3, one can be sure that such a decision would never be made by a set of godly elders in an arbitrary or self-serving way. Several factors might come into play regarding the final decision of when to meet, but foremost would certainly be what is best (i.e., the most expedient) for the congregation as a whole. It is exactly this kind of authority that has been delegated by God to elders, and it is exactly this kind of authority members of the congregation are required to obey. However, elders have absolutely no authority to change the day the congregation meets to partake of the Lord’s supper, just as they have no authority to prescribe other elements to be used in the Lord’s supper, as these have already been specified in Matthew 26:17-29—namely, “unleavened bread” and “fruit of the vine.”

    There are other things we could talk about along these lines, but I think this simple example demonstrates that the elders’ authority is limited to matters of expedience and nothing else. Consequently, elders, like husbands in the Home, must be very careful not to develop a haughty, self-absorbed, domineering spirit, which would be nothing less than sinful. Finally, it almost goes without saying that such a spirit would make life in the Home or Church most miserable.

    Therefore, elders have been delegated authority by God to make decisions involving the work of the Church; but in the exercise of such authority, they have no jurisdiction in the Home, as such is something that belongs primarily to the husband/father. If, of course, it should come to the attention of the elders that a husband/father who is a member of the congregation was conducting himself sinfully in the exercise of his headship, the elders would certainly have the authority to rebuke such behavior, calling upon the guilty husband/father to repent. If, per chance, he refused to do so, it would then be a matter for the whole church, according to Matthew 18:17. If he still refused to repent, the elders would have no choice but to lead the church in withdrawing from the offender (2 Thess. 3:6 and 1 Cor. 5:11-13). Thus, there may be times when there seems to be an overlapping between authority exercised in the Home and Church. However, such is only an allusion. Elders, even when taking the action mentioned above, exercise no authority in the Home. Instead, they are simply exercising the responsibility and authority commanded them by God, who demands that elders watch for the souls of those in their charge (Heb. 13:17).

    So again, making the claim, as some do, that elders exercise no authority, and lead only by example, are not making a Scriptural argument.

  7. “Submit” does not mean “one up/one down” hierarchical rule. It is commanded for all to do: male, female, young and old (Eph. 5:21). The elders are told “not as lords, but being examples.” Not as lords is qualified by “being examples.” That is crystal clear. Jesus describes the “rule” of the Gentiles as “forbidden.” Peter, who heard Jesus say this, said the same word in 1 Pet. 5:3 that Jesus used in Matt. 20:25. The rule that the Gentiles had was not “just a domineering attitude.” It was actual rule. Peter specifically states “not as lords, but being examples.”

    Paul warns elders against “drawing away disciples after themselves.” This can only be done through hierarchical positions of power, or “lording it over others.” It cannot be done by living a Christian example (2 Pet. 1:5-8; Matt. 5:3-12; cf. Gal. 5:22) which shows the divine wisdom and consistency of Peter and Paul. Paul understood that he did not have dominion over other Christians’ faith stating, “Not that we have dominion over your faith” in 2nd Cor. 1:24.

    The institutional church of 4th century basilica style public buildings (not the Jewish synagogue), today’s mandatory nature of a temporary, regional collection for poor saints in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:10; cf. Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 16:1-4) that is used for buildings and salaried Christians, and monologue “gospel preaching” (which violates the discussion of Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 14:29-31) proves how hierarchical power corrupts the freedoms that Christ died for all to have (Gal. 5:1).

    The authority that elders have is their “persuasive” example (peitho) which is translated “trust” in the next verse–Hebrews 13:18–not “obedience.” I have no problem with any Christian proistemi”ing” by example. I have a problem with men “exercising authority” over other men in the church which is clearly forbidden (Matt. 20:25-26; cf. Mark 10:42-45) and who make laws about when and where other Christians must meet and for good reason.

    Just look at the Catholic/Protestant institutional system CoCs inherited in the 19th century. We modified it somewhat, but it’s nature is still going strong. We are not even close to doing what the 1st century church did, yet we assume we are in all our conclusions. I am addressing these modern day assumptions beneath our conclusions in an effort to maintain our integrity while we claim to be the true church.

  8. So let me see if I’ve got this straight, Scott. You’re saying that men gifted to the church by God and selected by the congregation to oversee it would be exercising unscriptural “rule” by deciding on an expedient time for the congregation to assemble to do those things they have been instructed to do by the Lord? Again, are you saying that when elders make such decisions in a non-arbitrary, non-self-serving way, diligently trying to do their best to accommodate all the members, taking into consideration all the factors that might come into play regarding the final decision of when to meet, that they would be exercising ungodly “lording it over” the flock?

  9. Making up laws like Sunday night and Wednesday night “services” and binding these on other Christians, mandating a permanent collection for buildings, salaried preachers, and everything else but helping poor saints(1 Cor. 16:1; cf. Gal. 2:10), not allowing other Christians to speak during the “formal worship hour” (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor. 14:29-31) are not things “instructed by the Lord.” Regardless of how “non-arbitrary, non-self-serving, or diligent” they may be while doing it.

  10. So, is that a yes or a no?

  11. Allan, You are not addressing any arguments from Scriptures that I cite. This is not a conversation. If you cannot determine whether what I said was a yes or no, being as clearly educated that you are, this tells me you want to play games. I have no desire to make you, or anybody else, do want I want you to do. I am simply pointing out errors of interpretation that some in CoC’s make based on their faulty hermeneutic. I’ll give you the last word. Good day.

  12. Wesley

    February 11, 2012 at 12:45 am

    First, let me say I appreciate the discussion so far.

    I will address Scott’s first post now:

    First, your argument from Ephesians 5:21 breaks downs once investigated more closely. You argue that Ephesians 5:21 teaches that there is no structure where one person has to submit to another. Yet, when you read through the rest of Ephesians Paul makes the opposite point. Many scholars have taken the verse to as an introduction to the whole section. Thus 5:21 simply states that Christian should submit to one another and then gives examples of what that submission looks like. Also submission is a key idea in 1 Peter and throughout Peter tells individuals to submit to those who have authority over them. This is declared to Christians with regards government, slaves to Masters, husband to wives, and here in chapter 5 it is stated that the “younger” should submit to the elders. To argue that hierarchical submission is a “Western” thing is without warrant and needs to be proven.

    Your exegesis of the word “likewise” is also lacking. You seem to be indicating that by using likewise Peter is saying that younger people should submit to elders just like elders submit to them. First, that doesn’t make sense, nor does it fit the way submit is used in the Bible or in the literature of the day. Second, you are reading into the word “likewise” a meaning that just isn’t there. Likewise is used ofter in the Greek as a transitioning word when an author wants to switch from speaking to one group and turn his attention to speaking to another group or from one example to another example.

    Third, you don’t deal with the background of the word elder. There was already a model of elders over a group of people who met locally. Thus, elders in its Second-Temple Judaism usage would have been a group of people who had authority over synagogue practices. This is also true when one investigates the word in the Old Testament.

    Fourth, although the distinct clergy laity system that developed in later Christianity is foreign to the New Testament, the idea of having people with special gifts that serve the church is not. Also 2000 years removed and in a culture that celebrates youth, we are not used to the natural authority that would have been given to older, wise and faithful men. Not to mention the fact that authority was given to these men. They did not take it upon themselves, but the congregation gave it to them by recognizing them as their elders.

    Fifth, I don’t think I argued or anyone would argue that an elder leads by “pulling rank.” Elders persuade the congregation to go down a certain path. The congregation, who have given authority to these men because of their lifelong faithfulness, follows these men. “Pulling rank” would be “lording it over.”

    Sixth, your point about not having buildings to meet in is an argument from silence. You seem to say that since we do not have a mention of a church building, then they did not have a place of meeting. First, a home is a place of meeting. Second, James uses a cognate of synagogue to refer to the Christian gathering, which could have meant that some Christians were using the synagogue for their meetings. Third, writers like Justin Martyr in the early 100s states that Christians from all over gathered in a meeting place. It could be a house, but it also could be a designated place of meeting. And I would add that this really has nothing to do with whether or not elders have authority.

    Seventh, I think in other posts you equate the abuses of authority with the elders legitimate use of authority. No elder has the right to establish a new law or standard of faithfulness no matter how well intentioned. And no standard but that left to us by Christ should ever be used to judge a man faithful or unfaithful.

    Eight, the translation exercise authority is a poor translation in Matthew 20:25. The verb is katakuriuousin. The verb is more than just exercise authority, but denotes being “a lord over” or having “dominion.” There was a Greek word that simply meant having authority (autheiten). This is not the word Jesus used. The word he used carries with it the added idea of domineering. Thus Jesus, like Peter, is condemning an abuse of legitimate authority, not authority.

  13. Wesley

    February 11, 2012 at 12:47 am

    D’Angelou,

    We already talked about this earlier so I want go into much detail. To me your question is not whether or not elders have authority, but rather the kind of authority they have.

    I think we get into trouble when we place the authority strictly into the position the man has and not in the fact that the relationship he has developed with the people has led them to invest authority in him.

  14. Wesley,

    I feel that you have misrepresented my argument just like the traditional idea behind the title of this post is a misrepresentation what Jesus and Peter actually say in Matthew 20:25 and 1 Peter 5:3. You are setting up straw men and knocking them down. I didn’t say anything about “there is no structure where one person has to submit to another.” Where do you get this? This is as made up as “having authority.” Where does the Bible say “Elders possess (have positional) authority over all other Christians, and they may exercise this authority in matters of expediency?” It does not. I said that “all are to submit to each other” (Eph. 5:21) and that “submission” is not one up/one down military style rank, but it is an attitude of respect—not obedience. Peitho means “persuade, lead, guide” by “example” (1 Peter 5:3). That is why some translations have “obey.” The obedience is not inferior subjection to a superior. It is copying the pattern of an equal. All may “submit” in this way (Eph. 5:21), and I have absolutely no problem doing so.

    There are so many assumptions about Hebrews 10:25 in churches of Christ. The passage does not say anything about “worship on Sunday,” yet this is the assumption that underlies “expediency” in making laws of meeting on Sunday night and Wednesday night. These are more subtle “expedient” laws than the obvious violations of “discussion” in Acts 20:7 and “let two or three speak” in 1 Cor. 14:29 that you ignore, and the modern mandatory church tax collection for just about everything but poor saints in 1 Cor. 16:1-4. These are more serious violations of Scriptures that results from hierarchical interpreations, but once the tautology of “elders have authority” is sold and bought in the minds of Christians, these more obvious violations remain for generations, because brethren have been conditioned to “elders having authority” and become afraid of being viewed as unsubmissive rebels when that’s not what Jesus or Peter address. I am addressing these kinds of assumptions in our minds that influence our interpretation of texts.

    Slaves do not “obey” or “follow the lead of” masters when it causes them disobey God. I have pointed out where the western hierarchy interpretation of “submit” causes violations of 1 Cor. 16:1-4, Acts 20:7, and 1 Cor. 14:29, but these have ignored because they do not fit the institutional church of Christ hermeneutic. You are assuming “submit” is “obedience” when it is not when you mix passages like Eph. 5 and 1 Peter 5. I am addressing assumptions that underlie our understanding of terms like “submit.” You totally have misunderstood my point. Again, I am not denying that “the Bible says we are to submit….” I am denying our western understanding of what submit means.

    Peter uses “likewise the younger submit to the elder” because he has just finished describing in detail how elders are “not to lord it over” God’s people, but “be examples.” Likewise, the younger are to follow their “leaders” in submission—not attempting to rule others in matters of opinion where a verse, like Hebrews 10:25, doesn’t say anything about “worship on Sunday” much less Sunday night and Wednesday night.

    I am sorry that what I am saying, “Doesn’t make sense to you.” It makes plain sense to me. Peter would naturally use the word “likewise” when going from elder people to younger people because they are two different groups. I am not sure what your “Third” argument is supposed to prove.

    I have no problem with behaving wisely. I am pointing out unwise behaviors that result from a superior/inferior hierarchical mindset with or without fancy robes on. I am not “celebrating youth.” I am saying base everything on wise example, just like Peter. Not some imaginary position that inherently includes wisdom based on the number of birthday parties a person has had. It doesn’t mean that they know what they are doing as the violations of Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 14:29-31 and 1 Cor. 16:1-4 prove. What is unwise is a church hierarchy that misunderstands what it means to “watch for souls.” Live the example and I will freely choose to follow you, but you cannot “make me.”

    The church is a people, not a “place for worship” like the synagogue–which the OT says nothing about, BTW. Constantine brought in the basilica style worship to the church.The early church met in homes at the supper table in the evenings (Acts 20:4-11). The “church building” is not modeled after the synagogue. It is modeled after the government basilica of Rome. Elders lived throughout “every city” or “every church” (Titus 1:5; cf. Acts 14:23)—not public basilica.

    Creating the false impression that some Christians are “unfaithful” or that others are “more faithful” based on making up laws of Sunday night and Wednesday night assemblies is “lording it over.” I don’t know where you get that the Bible says, “Elders have been given authority” over other Christians’ faith. Paul certainly did not (2 Cor. 1:24). Hiring a man to give monologue sermons every week is not “wise” when the Bible says the church “discussed” (Acts 20:7) and that “all may prophesy” and “the one speaking should stop” and “let the other speak” (1 Cor. 14:29-31). Binding a temporary collection FOR poor saints in Jerusalem every week like a church tax and judging Christians faithfulness on whether someone “gives every first day” is lording it over other Christians’ faith (1 Peter 5:3; cf. 2 Cor. 1:24).

    “Persuade” leaves the option of free choice without ostracization or intimidation or insulting behaviors toward those who choose not to conform to institutional conveniences for a few Christians. Again, all of what you are saying assumes the institutional system we inherited, so I don’t know if you are able to view Christianity any differently than the way we do it today and project that back onto the text.

    You and I agree on this part of your quote:

    “…no elder has the right to establish a new law or standard of faithfulness no matter how well intentioned. And no standard but that left to us by Christ should ever be used to judge a man faithful or unfaithful.”

    Elder “authority” is their Christian “example” that I will be glad to follow. Or “likewise” a younger one for that matter when they imitate Christ. See, I can submit, even to younger people just like an elder is supposed to. Isn’t that great obedience! I am contending with this institutional system where it is necessary to make up laws like I cited above.

    Gentiles were real “lords over” one another and Christians are not to be, exactly. We do not “have” dominion (authority) over one another. We are to serve one another in love (submissive attitude—not inferior rank).

    I am not condemning the use of legitimate authority, either. The more “examples” of Christ on earth the better!

  15. *There are going to be generalizations, obvious not all churches are like this.

    Wesley and Scott,

    I believe that the NT teaches elder led congregational consensus. Basically, the church makes up a senate and the elders are a special committee of the senate who: (1) Put their heads together and come up with ideas and then present them to the church for it to be discussed and agreed upon. (2) Govern the meetings in such a way where it does not get unruly.

    I agree that elders do have a rich background in the OT and the synagogue, but that does not mean that there is a one to one correspondence. If in Jesus there is a new way of being human, then we should expect disparity. I would agree that in the west we do celebrate youth and egalitarianism, and there is also an prevailing danger to project our worldview and culture back on to the text. You and Scott are both correct, but I think neither of you are accounting for the diversity of American culture. In ways it is hierarchical, but in other ways (probably more so) it is egalilterean, as all our marching for equal rights conveys. Egaliterean teaches us that we are our own person and we do whatever we want with our time, money, and beliefs. But you’d be hard pressed to find that belief in the first century, sense a person was but a member of a community (i.e. the members of the body), and the groups need came before his own. They believed they should suffer for the good of the group, where as we say, to hell with the group, I need to worry about myself.

    I also agree that elders who afforded a level of respect just because of their age and wisdom. Job would say that people would arise and stop talking when he walked into the room, and Moses said “rise for the gray haired.” If, NT elders have this in common with OT elders, then I do see authority, in settling disputes.

    My problem, as well as Scott’s, is the churches undue emphasis on “going to church.” All that you have mentioned is churchy, and almost none of it is practical. Settling disputes, determining how we can better serve the less fortunate, teaching the word of God to people and being in their lives, does not appear to be the work of shepherds, rather it is mandating times for worship and events done in our buildings. That is what church is to us, coming together listening to a sermon and going through four other acts of worship–protestantism made the sermon the focal point of the meeting, in the first century it was the supper, which was less formal and an entire meal (Ferguson would agree with that).

    What is important is that we don’t project our way of doing church, onto how the early church did it. Authority in many ways is relative to the situation. If you went do dinner with a group of friends elderly and young, the question “who is in charge here?” would be out of place. Equally, if the early Christian were more a community and less of a place where we worship, then what elders did is going to be different than what elders do today.

    If Elders can make decisions on behalf of the church (which I have not read about in the NT), but assuming it is inherent in presbuteros and the other words, then it needs to be decision about how the church can function as a community of Jesus or how it can be safe (i.e. no Scott, I don’t want you and your wife to die here, we want you to move to Spain with the church there so that they can see your gift, or no Wesley, we will not support violence, we will come together and pray and die for our enemies), instead of, you need to meet on Wed and Sunday night, because that is what ALL churches across America do, and you need to support the status quo of inherited traditionalism. Romans 14 does not make any sense if elders can mandate special days or bind religious expediencies.

    My critique isn’t so much about elders as much as it is the church itself, until we function more like a community of Jesus’ disciples who love and serve one another, where all are free to serve with their gifts (Romans 12:4-8 EVEN IN THE MEETING) and less like a “church,” then elder authority will almost always be viewed within the context of church service traditions. Finally, shepherds would have probably been the most active teachers, it seems since the reformation the pastor/preacher is the mouth piece of the meeting. Now I fear, the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher has been assimilated into the pulpit minister; we have basically created a system misrepresents early church structure, and elders oversee and make rules for it.

  16. Wesley

    February 11, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Again thanks for chiming in.

    It appears that D’Angelou and Scott have read into my post the idea that an elders work is all about making decisions for a church and not shepherding a community. Maybe this is from what you have seen in your background or what you have been taught in your schooling (I think you both have an overlapping institution that you went to). Or maybe you have had preachers or instructors take the phrase “authority of elders” to mean something that I would never have it mean.

    But again I do not think we can deny that they have authority. That is the point of the post and I think I’ve proven it through the arguments made in it and in the comments, which to be honest haven’t really been dealt with in the comments.

    It also appears that you see elders not doing the “full” work God has given them. I agree there are some elderships who do not do this “full” work. I would never be for the “elders as board of directors” model. In fact, when I taught this text in the congregation I serve in Nashville, I made that very point. Peter is definitely saying that an elders primary role is shepherding the flock of God. I would argue that within that role of shepherding there are certain administrative decisions that have to be made. Not against the will of the congregation, but in conjunction with the will of the church.

    Also I do not believe the elders are able to make new standards of faithfulness. This is an abuse of the authority of elders and is in violation of Paul’s teaching in Galatians. I have argued as much with regards to man-made practices becoming boundary markers to establish who is faithful and who is not. To me this is the clearest way that elders “lord it over.” There is always a temptation to make a good thing that could benefit us spiritually into a new law that is required upon God’s people. This should not be the case.

    Finally, the church is a community of Jesus who live in community with one another. Many churches I think are working hard in recreating this. More elders have taken upon themselves the role of shepherding families in the 21st century and more churches are intentionally attempting to create the community Jesus envisioned. Again, though let’s not deny that the Early Christians met weekly for a gathering of the whole community in a time of edification and worship. This being the case means that elders have shepherding roles with regards to that assembly and what will best edify the whole church.

    I’m not sure if I will be able to respond the rest of the day, going to spend some time working on my Thesis and enjoying holding my 12-week old girl. I’ve enjoyed the discussion. I wish we could do it in person as I think in doing that we would quickly be able to resolve the issues. I think we are talking past one another. And my guess is that we all would agree with the overemphasis of assembling as a test of faithfulness and on certain elderships viewing themselves as “lords” or “directors” rather than “shepherds.” The reformers motto was always reforming. I believe the restoration motto should be the same “always restoring.”

  17. If we do not specify what are man made laws such as I have attempted to show from the Scriptures and what I know to be true from my experience in multiplied congregations such as the mandatory collections, monologue sermons prohibiting discussion, superior/inferior status of elders/younger, and the truncated Lord’s Supper, then we are standing straw men up and knocking them down. Nothing will change because we are just talking and not dealing with the tough issues that matter. People will continue to be ostracized, insulted, and intimated because of this institutional system who are simply attempting to exercise their God-given freedoms. I appreciate everyone who made comments.

  18. Yes. Elders have authority.

  19. Well done on the piece above. We need not worry if the elders above us are being fair or unfair. It is a heart matter…will I submit my will to the God given authority or not? That is the question.
    I have to add that I submit myself to a group of elders and not only one person in particular. That group of elders submit to one another to be one like God is also one: “Joh_17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”

    This “one” is not God the Father being lord over God the Son…and God the Son being lord over God the Holy Spirit. They all push the other to the top.

    Even God the Son repeatedly asked for “this cup” to pass, but in the end submitted to the will of God the Father.

    Also the word says that we have NOT to worry if the elder above us are being right or wrong (as long as they do not make us sin) because this elder will one day stand accountable for what they said you should and should not do.
    “Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

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