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Tuesday
Jul312012

Theological Term of the Week

elders
The main governing and teaching group in a church in the New Testament; also called pastors, overseers, bishops.

  • From scripture:
  • When 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 that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:21-23 ESV)

    The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV)

  • From A Display of Gods Glory: Basics of Church Structure by Mark Dever:
  • Who should be an elder? What should their qualifications be? The qualifications for an elder are laid out clearly in the Bible in I Timothy 3 and in Titus 1.

    …Take a few minutes to read I Timothy 3:1-7. D.A. Carson (professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) noted once that this list of characteristics is most notable for being not very notable at all. What he meant is that all of these characteristics are elsewhere in the Bible enjoined on all Christians—all of them, that is, except for the ability to teach (I Tim. 3:2). While the Scriptures are sufficient to teach us here about the character of an elder, I do not think that Paul would claim that this particular list is exhaustive. Rather, his purpose was to list characteristics which would generally have been recognized as virtuous even by the surrounding culture of the time.

    The point of leadership in the church is to bring glory to God by commending the truth to outsiders. This is why Paul was so incensed at the Corinthians for going to secular court against each other and for allowing those living fla- grantly ungodly lives to be associated with the church. Both of these things would undermine the witness of the gospel. So in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, the evident ungodliness of some of the false teachers in the Ephesian church was jeopardizing the whole way that God would be glorified through the church—the proclamation of the gospel of forgiveness and hope, and the conversion of sinners! The list of virtues which Paul gave in I Timothy 3 (or Titus 1, for that matter) are not all of the virtues which a Christian should exhibit. They are virtues which would have commended the gospel to those who were watching the church’s leaders. Regular Bible reading is good, and prayer is necessary, but Paul mentions neither here. Nevertheless, I want both of these virtues in my elders! I am taught elsewhere in the Bible that they are to charac- terize all Christians, but I think for Paul’s purposes here, he wanted to emphasize things like paying bills on time, being cheerful, humble and helpful—things that even most pagans recognize as good. 

Learn more:
  1. Theopedia: Elder
  2. GotQuestions.org: What are the duties of an elder in the church?
  3. John MacArthur: Answering Key Questions About Elders
  4. Alexander Strauch: Biblical Eldership (pdf)
  5. Daniel B. Wallace: Who Should Run the Church? A Case for the Plurality of Elders
  6. Dr. R. B. Kuiper The Office of Ruling Elder
  7. John MacArthur: The Call to Lead the Church—Elders, Part 1The Call to Lead the Church—Elders, Part 2The Call to Lead the Church—Elders, Part 3The Call to Lead the Church—Elders, Part 4The Call to Lead the Church—Elders, Part 5.
Related terms:

Filed under Ecclesiology

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