The Ancient Faith
CONCERNING THE ELDERSHIP
Tom E. Smith
It is my desire in these articles to notice some phases of the subject, that, in my judgment, have been neglected, or at least proper attention has not been given to them. For instance, the qualifications that are mentioned in 1 Tim. 3:1, 8; Titus 1:5-9. As Bro. Gay said, “Every Christian should possess many of them,” but an elder, I believe, should excel in all of them, because he is to be an “example (pattern) to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). The word in its original setting according to Thayer, page 632, column 2, under b, “an example to be imitated of men worthy of imitation.” He cites Philippians 3:17—”Brethren. be followers together of me and mark them which walk so as you have us as an example.” And 1 Tim. 4:12—”Let no man despise thy youth but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation (conduct), in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” So, we see, it is not only required of elders but is required of Timothy, an evangelist, and is to be passed on to all evangelists to follow (See 2 Tim. 2:2). All of our evangelists should take note of this. It is definitely pointed out by Paul, we are to imitate man as he imitates Christ (2 Cor. 11:1). He warns also against glorying in men, “whether it be Paul, Apollos, or Cephus” (1 Cor. 3:21-23), and again, “These things, brethren, I have transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sake: that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written; that no one of you be puffed up for one against an-other” (1 Cor. 4:6). When you combine envy, self-conceit, and emulation (seeking to excel or outdo someone whether it be a preacher, a leader, or elder), you certainly have a bad mixture which is bound to cause trouble wherever such influence holds sway in the church. We had better eliminate such from every congregation, and the best place to start is in our own lives. It is a disgrace to the cause of Christ in some places, to observe the envy, malice, and jealousy that is prevalent among the leaders and preachers in the church. Paul’s instructions are to “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8). We can see a great contrast in such characters as Diotrephes and Demetrious.
THOSE QUALIFICATIONS BINDING ON ELDERS BUT NOT ALL CHRISTIANS
In the light of New Testament scriptures, all are bound to admit that elders must excel in all of the qualifications, yet there are some qualifications that are imperative for an elder that are not binding on all Christians in the absolute sense. Namely:
- They must be married, “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). The fact that both Timothy and Titus were instructed by Paul that the bishop, or elder, was to be blameless (irreproachable), the husband of one wife bears strongly on my mind that the later translations, when they render both passages—”Married only once” (see revised standard), are nearer to the tenor of the Scriptures on the subject, but be that as it may, we know beyond a question of a doubt an elder must have only one living wife.
- Apt to teach (apt and skillful in teaching—See Thayer, page 144, column 1, paragraph 2). Paul tells Titus why he must be apt and skillful in this respect. “Holding fast the faithful word as he bath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). Thus, realizing the great necessity of men, who are entrusted with so grave responsibilities, being well prepared for the work and skillful teaching, required of them, each congregation should take special care to see that some kind of training program is provided where the male members will be impressed with their individual responsibility of setting aside some time each day for the study of the Scriptures. A good place to start is in the home, (too many parents are irresponsible). Not having trained themselves in the arts of Christian living, nor devoted themselves to a systematic study of God’s word, how can they “Train up their children in the way they should go” (see Prov. 22:6; Deut. 6:1-12). Someone said the time to begin to train a child is before it is born by training its parents. The parents, having gained a knowledge of God’s word, will be able to point out appropriate Scriptures to their children, relative to their duty in this respect (1 Pet. 2:1; Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:15 and many other New Testament and Old Testament passages, Prov. 1:7; 2:2-5; 24:5).
I fear many times that the same injunction brought against God’s people of old by Hosea the prophet could be appropriately applied to many in the church today when He said “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge I will reject thee” (Hosea 4:6), or Paul to the Hebrews “For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.” They needed milk, not solid food. “For every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the words of righteousness, for he is a child.” Solid food is for the mature, those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:12-14, Revised Standard version).
Let none think they can wait until an hour or so before the midweek or Lord’s day service to begin preparation of a lesson, and expect to edify or even hold the interest of their hearers. All should realize the necessity of making due preparation for the presentation of a lesson and know the solemn responsibility that rests upon one entrusted with teaching the word of God. (See 1 Tim. 4:16, and 2 Tim. 4:1). While these scriptures were enjoined upon Timothy, the evangelist, he in turn was to pass it on to the elders (1 Tim. 3:14-15).
Much more could be said relative to the importance of qualifying for teaching the word of God, which is a must as the qualification of an elder is concerned, and much more should be said in every congregation, but for the sake of brevity, we will pass on to other qualifications hoping enough has been said, and sufficient scriptures have been cited to cause each member of the church, especially those who aspire to be teachers, to devote more time to the study of the Holy Bible. In that way we will be developing some good material for elders, so that when they possess the other qualifications required, they may be appointed to serve their respective congregations in that capacity.
- “One that ruleth well his own house having children in subjection with gravity” (K. J. V., 1 Tim. 3:4; see Thayer page 645, column 2, par. 3:1. “Act of subjectivity; 2. obedience, subjection.” The following scriptures are cited: 2 Cor. 9:13; Gal. 2:5; 1 Tim. 2:11; 1 Tim. 3:4).
The Revised Standard Version reads, (verses 4 and 5): “He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way. For if a man does not know how to manage his own household how can he care for God’s Church?”
- “Having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (K.J.V., Titus 1:6; Thayer, page 514, column 2, par. 2, “A believer”; Scriptures cited as having the same meaning—Acts 16:1; 2 Cor. 6:15; 1 Tim. 5:16; 1 Tim. 4:10; 6:2; and Titus 1:6).
The Revised Standard Version reads, “Men who are blameless, married only once, whose children are believers and not open to charge of being profligate (loose in morals or conduct) or insubordinate” (not sub-mitting to authority). These Scriptures are self-explanatory and prove beyond a question of a doubt that, (A) An elder’s children should be obedient and submissive to his authority; (B) obedient and submissive to God’s Word. Before leaving this phase of the subject I want to quote from B. W. Johnson’s comments in People’s New Testament (1 Tim. 3:1-13).
This will be quite lengthy, but I believe it will be well worth the time and space it will require, as it covers the qualifications of both elders and deacons, and gives some salient points so far as their family life is concerned. Hear him:
“If a man desire the office of a bishop.” Here for the first time in the New Testament is there a delineation of the qualifications and duties of bishops and deacons, both offices have been alluded to in Acts and both are named in the first verse of the Epistle to the Philippians. To form a correct idea of the New Testament bishop, we must get away from modern episcopacy. The New Testament bishop was not diocesan, but in charge of a single church. Each church had a plurality. Elders or presbyters, and bishops were only different designations for the same office. This arrangement was not changed until after the close of the first century, and the death of the last of the apostles. Of these statements, admitted by the candid learned even of episcopal bodies, the following proofs may be briefly sub-mitted: (1) Paul (Acts 20:17) summons the “elders” of the church at Ephesus, and in verse 28 calls them “bishops.” (2) In the church at Philippi the “bishops and the deacons” are named as the officers (Phil. I:1). (3) Paul in this epistle names “bishops and deacons” as officers, but in 1 Tim. 5:17-22 he mentions “elders” as officers entrusted with the same duties already named as “bishops.” (4) In the epistle to Titus, Paul commands (1:5) ordain elders in every city, but in describing the qualification of “elders,” he calls them “bishops” (Chap. 1:7). (5) Peter (1 Pet. 5:1-2), addresses “elders” and commands them to exercise the office of “bishop” over the flock. The Greek word as well as the word “bishop” etymologically means to act as overseer, or take the oversight. (6) I might add that Clement of Rome, who wrote to the Corinthian about the beginning of the second century, uses the terms interchangeably. “Desireth A Good Work”—A very important duty.
(7) A bishop then must be blameless. None must be appointed because they desire the place. None are eligible unless they fill the qualifications.
“Blameless.” Not under charges; of good repute.
“The husband of one wife.” A married man having only one wife. In those loose times of divorce, man might be converted who had successively several wives. Divorce for unscriptural reasons would not free a man from his first, lawful wife. Hence the limitations to those who had only one living wife. I do not think there is any reference to remarriage after the death of a wife.
“Vigilant.” Temperate. See Revision.
“Given to hospitality.” Often saints by persecution were made homeless. The bishop must set the ex-ample of receiving such.
“Apt to teach.” Men who have the knowledge and discretion which fit them to teach the flock. “Not given to wine.” Not a drunken brawler is the idea in the Greek. We must always bear in mind that the church had been formed of gentiles whose morals had been at a very low standard.
“One that ruleth well his own house.” This implies that he must be a man of family. “Having his children.” He must be a father with obedient children.
“For if a man know not.” The order of his own house will show whether he is fit to have charge in the house of God. The sins of Eli’s sons showed that Eli, though a good man, was unfitted to rule.
“Not a novice.” One recently converted. Those chosen for bishops must be old and tried. Paul and Barnabas did not ordain elders until their second visit to the churches (Acts 14:23).
“Lifted up with pride.” A novice, suddenly exalted, was in danger of undue elation.
“Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without.” Have an established character which speaks well for the church among the un-converted.
“Lest he fall into reproach.” Into some snare of the devil, some improper conduct, which will bring reproach on the church.”
This treatise from the People’s New Testament, and explanatory notes, so far as I have been able to learn, are in harmony with other noted scholars and should give an idea of the gravity of these high and important offices. This covers pretty well what I believe to be the truth of the eldership question that has been neglected by those who have written on the subject relative to who may qualify, not that I believe that I can do a more thorough job than others, but I have used material which I believe to be more exhaustive.
THE ORDINATION OF ELDERS
As to the ordination of elders as taught in the New Testament, and any specific formula for so doing, I have yet to find one. Consequently, I or anyone else would be treading on dangerous ground to contend for a formula or ceremony to the exclusion of all others in placing men in these offices, when proof is lacking on how it should be done, and others who do so must be responsible to God for their actions and contentions.
Some have contended that it should be accomplished by the laying on of hands, fasting, and prayer. I find where this was done in part of Acts 14:23. Namely, “Fasting and Prayer.” It is true Paul instructed Timothy (1 Tim. 5:22), “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” B. W. Johnson has this to say in regard to it: “All the old commentators and a great majority of the modern ones, apply this to ordination. The meaning is that no man must be ordained to office until his fitness is surely known.” Hence, placing emphasis on his fitness rather than on the method of ordination.
The passage in Thayer is (A) to vote by stretching out the hand. (B) to create or appoint by vote one to have charge of some office or duty. He cites 2 Cor. 8:19 (read verses 17-19 to get the connection). “And in the spurious subscription 2 Tim. 4:23 is given since there are no such scripture, there being only 22 verses in the 4th chapter. No doubt 1 Tim. 5:22-23 is meant. However, I will let the reader be the judge. I have no desire to mislead. Titus 3:15 is also referred to. He then concludes with (C) “with the loss of the notion of extending the hand, to elect or appoint, create.” He refers also to other works if any are so disposed and have or can obtain these works he mentions the question could be studied further.
As for fasting, I think it is beneficial to me from the standpoint of health. I am inclined to believe that it is good for both body and soul, but I am convinced that it should be voluntary as Bro. Edwin Morris pointed out in a sermon which he preached at Healdton. He has made an extensive study of fasting and produced Scriptures to back up his position.
Thayer on page 425 bottom of column I and top of column 2 defined the word, “A fasting, fast, abstinence from food,” and he says it is “voluntary as a religious exercise.” Among other Scriptures he gives Acts 14: 23.
Now, if fasting is voluntary it seems to me it would be optional with each individual as to whether it should be observed or not. I do know by experience and observation that fasting should be observed according to an individual’s requirement. What would be good for one person might certainly prove detrimental to others. Hence, if an individual feels that the occasion demands abstinence from food, with what knowledge I have obtained from a study of the Scriptures relative to the subject, I would say, as the apostle Paul said relative to eating and observance of days, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). But, I would not for my right arm, be contentious for, or against it.
Thayer says further in connection with the above quotation, “The Public fast prescribed by the Mosaic law was kept yearly on the great day of atonement.” We all know that there were sundry laws arid ordinances that were kept then that are not in force now. Read Acts 15:1-30; these Scriptures should settle the matter with all who have “received the spirit by the hearing of faith’ (Gal. 3:2).
I would like to propound a question to those who contend for laying on of hands and fasting in the ordination of elders. I am not trying to be sarcastic, but I am rather seeking a Scriptural solution of the question, and what I ask relative to the matter, I consider as our beloved Bro. Gay would say, “Is a pertinent question.” Point out the Scriptures (see Horn. 10:17; 14:23), that instructs how this is to be done. Whether the hands are to be laid on the heads or shoulders, or a handclasp. I have heard brethren say how they think it should be done, but surely we should have stronger evidence than “think so’s.” In observing fasting, who are to fast, the evangelist, the candidate, or the entire congregation? These questions are worthy of your consideration.
MAINTENANCE OF THOSE WHO SERVE AS ELDERS
Next, we want to consider the maintenance of those who serve as elders. Question: Do we have specific command or example in the New Testament where they are to receive a stipulated salary from the church treasury? “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read, no one of these shall fail” (Isa. 34:16). 1 Tim. 5: 17-18, is the Scripture more often used to support this idea! “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn, and the laborer is worthy of his reward.” This Scripture is self-explanatory so far as worthiness of reward is concerned, but I am sure that it does not apply to monetary reward altogether, while it does include it, when circumstances demand.
I moderated in 1927; if my memory is correct, in a discussion between Bro. H. C. Harper and P. J. Taylor. The Pastor system as practiced by Bro. Taylor and his brethren was under discussion. Bro. Taylor introduced the above Scripture as proof the paid minister M the church of Christ was Scriptural. Bro. Harper made this statement in his reply, “Bro. Taylor seems to think that honor means money.” He pointed out that under certain circumstances it could include financial support, but by no means referred to it as a regular salary. He gave Thayer for his authority for the original definition at this particular point. Many years have passed since then, our beloved Bro. Harper has gone to his reward, but his works are following him (Rev. 14: 13). I remember his statement and here is how Thayer defined it, “twofold double, deference, reverence (Rom. 12:10; 13:7; 1 Tim. 5:17). Honor appearing in rewards of future life. .(See Rom. 2:740; 1 Pet. 1:7). Praise which one is. judged worthy, preciousness; mark of honor.”
[This is from the October and November and December 1958 issues of the OPA. NOTE: The reference to Eli’s adult children being unfaithful to God and to Eli is an excellent description of the type of child that will disqualify a man from the eldership. As Brother Tom Smith quoted from Thayer, they must be believers (not have been).]