- Paul Sudhakar
The church which Christ is building is both universal and local. Matthew 18:17 refers to the Local church while Matthew 16:18 speaks of the universal which comprises of all saints – past, present and future world-wide. As regenerated saints we are members both of the Universal and the Local. Hence we must have a global vision and a local commitment.
Ever since Christ declared ‘I will build My church’ (Matthew 16:18) the Enemy decided to ‘break’ that church. Traditions and practices foreign to the revealed scriptures have found acceptance defeating the purposes of God.
The church or ‘Ekklesia’ is a gathering of ‘called out’ people. They are ‘called out’ from the darkness and defilement of this world. Every ‘born again’, ‘regenerated’ saint is declared to be a ‘priest’ unto God and a ‘servant’ to Christ under the New Covenant of Grace. (I Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6,5:10; Romans 6:18,22; Colossians 3:22-24). Anyone who challenges these ‘birthrights’ of the believer is an enemy of the gospel of Grace. Thanks to the Cross of Jesus Christ the clergy-laity divide has forever been abolished (Ephesians 2:13-16)
Despite the plain teaching of the scripture, many have been deceived and the past centuries have produced several ‘caricatures’ of the Biblical church. To revive the ‘Levitical order’ and christen a few as spiritually elite ‘Servants of God’ is a flagrant denial of the word of God. This is an echo of the Rome’s Constantine’s subtle policy to divide the saints into ‘clergy and laity’ for easier ‘central control’ and ‘administrative convenience’. This is the ‘New Cart’ that would not stand the ‘threshing floor’ of the scriptures. Just because a practice has been in vogue and never challenged does not make it scriptural. The average ‘spoon-fed’ Christian never invests time ‘to search the scriptures’ to find ‘whether those things are so’ (John 5:39, Acts 17:11) John, the apostle, told the first century Christians, ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world’ (I John 4:I) Remember that this examination must be done among the beloved. Blind acceptance of all that comes to us from the pulpit in the name of Christ is not ‘broad-minded tolerance’ but an outright rebellion to the command: ‘Prove all things: hold fast that which is good’ I Thessalonians 5: 21.
We live in an age of much doctrinal confusion. This is specially true of the local church and its administration. God has not been silent. He has been sending ‘messengers’ ‘rising up betimes, and sending, because he had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place’. (II Chronicles 36:15). To this small tribe of messengers belongs Bro. Bakht Singh in this generation raised by God to challenge the scriptural darkness in India. Amidst much opposition God helped him and co-workers to initiate the indigenous church planting movement in Chennai in 1941. Having seen where the denominations failed they never wanted to produce another of its like. Led by the Lord, they decided to avoid the following:
1: Having a distinguishing name, Eg. Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist etc.
2: Having a particular emphasis on ‘overstressed doctrine’. Eg. Holy Spirit etc.
3: Having a ‘federation’ of churches and call it ‘our’ churches.
4: Having a Head Quarters – regional, national for ‘Central’ control.
5: Having a remote control with powers vested in some person or council.
And to affirm the following….
1: Encourage local assemblies on the basis of Acts: 2: 42.
2: Teach the common ‘priesthood’ and ‘servant-hood’ of all believers.
3:To pray in for the five fold gifts – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastor, and Teachers to become operational in the assemblies.
4: To declare every assembly autonomous – self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating.
5: Appoint Elders and Deacons in every assembly, big or small.
The above truths were preached and were even printed in the Hebron Messengers as the following extracts show.
March 18, 1984 – Hebron Messenger. “Last year (i.e. 1983) we had arranged special prayer meetings and requested our fellow – believers to help us find God’s plan for the setting apart of elders and deacons in different assemblies which are in need of real spiritual feeding.
From Acts 14: 21-23 we can see clearly that the young believers come to spiritual maturity only by coming into God’s order. It was for this cause that apostle Paul left his co-workers Titus in Crete. Titus 1:5.
It is not one man’s responsibility. All the five – fold gifts must function together for the spiritual growth of the believers. We fixed a day of prayer at Hebron, Hyderabad and many believers joined us to pray with travailing burden for these five-fold gifts to be manifested in our midst. That was on 24 February 1983. After this the Lord gave us a burden to fix a time of prayer with some days of fasting in Vellore from Feb 07 – 12, 1984. This again gave us a burden to ca;; about 50 servants of God for another session of prayer from March 6th – 8th at Madras . The servants of God poured out their hearts in the morning and evening sessions. We prayed that the Lord should bring forward Elders of His Own Choice in every assembly”.
This was 22 years ago; What was the outcome of all these exercises?
April 15, 1984 – Hebron Messenger. “After seeing the Lord working mightily and deeply in several parts we still saw spiritual immaturity. It was shown to us in a clearer way that Elders and Deacons should be set apart as devoted God’s servants and pay full attention to God’s Word.”
April 13, 1986 – Hebron Messenger. “The question of ordaining elders and deacons in all the assemblies of the saints beginning from Hebron has engaged the minds of the responsible brethren here these days and special prayer meetings with fastings-congregation wise are being held since past week. This important matter has been unduly delayed and the Lord’s servant Bro. Bakht Singh has been of late greatly exercised and burdened to set things in order as we read in Titus 1:4-9; I Timothy 3: 1-13; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34; I Peter 5:1-4; Acts 14:21:23.
This was 20 years ago! ‘This important matter has been unduly delayed’. Which matter? Appointing Elders and deacons. Twenty more years have passed in our ministry of confirmed disobedience!
December 05,1987 – Hebron Messenger. “The Lord clearly guided us to have special meetings from the 19th to 22nd of this month (November) for the full-time servants of God and Responsible brethren of various assemblies.
We considered the following points.
1. Elders and Deacons are to be ordained in each assembly, big or small, in accordance with I Timothy 3:1-13 / Titus 1: 5-9 / Ezekiel 34 / Acts 14:22,23.
2. Proclaim all assemblies autonomous. Revelation 2, 3.
3. Full-time Servants of God with their special calling who have really sacrificied and forsaken all to serve the Lord, exclusively to look after spiritual matters. They need not necessarily be involved in matters of money and properties. Acts 20:33-35 / Acts 6:3,4.
4. Only Elders and Deacons ordained according to the scriptures should look after the mundane matters, especially the deacons, while the Elders have to watch over the flock as well as minister the word of God. Acts 20:17-35 / I Timothy 6:7-10 / 1 Peter 5:1-3.
5. The Full-Time Servants of God may act as consultants in an advisory capacity as and when the Eldership seek for it. I Corinthians 7:1, 6, 12, 25.
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT – THE CHOSEN BRETHREN – Bro Bakht Singh. January 08, 1983
“As the work is great and I am growing old and weak after much prayer I am led of the Lord to invite the following brethren. (Bro. K. Philip, Bro. Koshy, Bro Lazarsen, Bro. CE Dawson, Bro. Amritraj) to assist me in setting up Elders and Deacons to protect His people from many wrong teachings and attacks of the enemy.
As we are endeavoring to make each assembly autonomous under the direct leadership of Lord Jesus Christ, similarly this group of 6 brethren who had been chosen and any other whom the Lord might add to them later on will function together with me as an autonomous body under the direct leadership of Lord Jesus Christ.”
Bro. Bakht Singh (Signed)
What happened to these holy resolutions? 23 years have passed, Why blame the hypocrisy of Pharisees and Scribes of old? How will we stand before the thrice-holy God who is no respecter of persons?
Here are a few extracts from Dr. Koshy’s book: ‘Bro Bakht Singh of India’
‘Every local church must be administered by elders. Bakht Singh rejected ecclesiastical order…the distinction between clergy and laity, and preached and practiced the priesthood of all believers’ - Page 433
“The primary purpose of God’s servant is to build up and help the local believers to become mature in the Lord, so that local leadership, as elders and deacons can be chosen from among them to carry on the work.” - Page 443
‘In a number of Assemblies God’s servants…began to ‘lord it over’ the flock like some denominational pastors, and this has adversely affected the testimony of the Lord…leading to conflicts ... and... Court cases. - Page 444
‘Indigenization is not Indianisation. It simply means applying the New Testament principles of the Church within the cultural background of the people without compromising the word of God. It also means self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating fellowships under the Headship, Lordship, and Kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ. - Page 447
Bro. A.J. FLACK, a co-worker of Bro. Bakht Singh, has this to say about this work in India. Many would recall that he, along with Bro. Goldsworthy, is one of the earliest co-workers who served more than 35 years since the inception of this testimony in Chennai in 1941.
“The WORK of which I am speaking was truly indigenous from the beginning self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating.
We taught that we saw in the New Testament about the local church being AUTONOMOUS with ELDERS and DEACONS but we failed to put it into practice. The ‘Fathers’ who had begotten children were not left with the responsibilities of ‘parenthood’ but workers were put in to lead churches. This disorder led to problems and difficulties.
BAD SCAFFOLDING HINDERED GOOD BUILDING!
The result was, though our teaching was biblical, in practice we failed. To continue to preach and teach the original vision (Biblical pattern) was welcomed but to point out how far we had failed and departed from that was irritating and not acceptable.
We developed a ‘Pastor’ system where the ‘worker’ was in charge and was expected to use others who might be able. The inevitable and unfortunate outcome of that was that a Head Quarters developed and problems as they arose were referred there. THE AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH WAS ERODED.
The Biblical pattern is mentioned in Philippians 1:1 Saints, Bishops, Deacons. This is the order of the early church. The missionary will be seeking the maturity of the local Church and then be on the look out for the ‘fathers’, that is those who are begetting children in the congregation. These are prospective elders. The congregation will have confidence in them. They can be brought forward and commended to the congregation as appointed elders”.
In the light of the above scripture-based affirmations we arrive at the following truths.
1.Every Local Church is free and Autonomous:In Revelation chapters two and three we find Christ addressing every Church separately. The revival began in Ephesus and the remaining 6 Churches mentioned are extensions of the work at Ephesus. Yet Christ does not treat Ephesus as Head Quarters and others as branches. Thus no local Church can call another as its ‘branch’. Each local church is Autonomous under the direct Headship of Lord Jesus Christ.
2.Every believer is a servant of God in the local Church:As members of the body of Christ every member is joined to the Head and therefore every member is the servant of the Head which is Christ. (Romans 6:18, 22 / Colossians 3:22-24 / I Corinthians 7:23). Each has a different gift and a different function but all are equally important in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:7, I Corinthians 12:7, I Peter 4:10). Each member is equally precious, equally important and equally necessary in the Body of Christ. As believers, each one has a ‘positional equality’ but a ‘functional diversity’.
Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego were government officers of high political rank (Daniel 2:49) in Babylon and yet king Nebuchadnezzar recognized them as ‘the servants of the Living God’ (Daniel 3:26). About Daniel, his earthly boss King Darius testified, ‘O Daniel, servant of the Living God, is thy God whom thou servest continually able to deliver thee from the lions? (Daniel 6:16, 20) Paul called the Gentile tax-collectors of Rome as ‘the ministers of God’ (Romans 13:4,6) How much more than the members of the body of Christ?
3.Local Church – the Divine Pattern:The word translated ‘church’ is from the Greek work ‘Ekklesia’. This word is used in the New Testament of four groups of people.
(a) children of Israel gathered as a nation – Acts 7:38
(b) groups of town people assembled in a town meeting – Acts 19:32, 39, 41
(c) in a technical sense, all believers gathered in one body, church universal – Colossians 1:18
(d) most frequently – a local group of professing Christians – Acts 13:1. Out of 114 references, 90 times the reference is to a local church. Ekklesia means called-out people who are gathered together. (Acts 15:14; Psalms 107:2, 3; Colossians 1:13; Philippians 3:20)
The New Testamental pattern for the local church is largely a copy of the synagogal pattern that we find in the gospels. After the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, Israel went into captivity. During the period of ‘Diaspora’ or Dispersion, the Jews started congregating together in heathen lands in small numbers to keep alive their Patriarchal faith. When the New Testament opens we find both the Herod’s Temple and also several synagogues. Christ never honored the Temple but regularly attended and ministered in the local synagogues (Luke 4:16)
Synagogues are simple halls built during Babylonian captivity. It requires at least 10 persons to organize one. The gathering was on the ‘Sabbath’ or Saturday and there was a prescribed reading, set prayers and a sermon. Remember Paul exhorted Timothy to maintain all three in the local church (I Timothy 4:13). Sisters and brothers sat separately and a sermon is preached usually by a member of the congregation or a visitor (Luke 4:20, Acts 13:15).
There were 5 significant offices in the administration of the synagogue.
Episkopoi - Bishop or ruling Elder – Presiding elder in charge.
Presbuteroi - Elders – Plurality – for Local administration.
Diakonai - Deacons – to assist elders in administration.
Legate - to organize set prayers
Chazzan - In charge of furniture, scripture rolls. Blows the trumpet to announce the Sabbath and also authorized to punish the erring.
Of these 5 offices the New Testament local church has copied the first three.
4. Apostles and the Local Church:After affirming the truth of ‘one body’ (Ephesians 4:4) and ‘gift to every member’ (Ephesians 4:7) Paul goes on to speak about the special gifts God has given for the growth and maturity of the assemblies. The five-fold gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers are given to the church for a three fold purpose. a. Perfecting of the saints. b. Work of the Ministry c. Edifying of the Body of Christ. Except the ‘Apostles’ the rest are all local men. They are part and parcel of the local assembly. They are required to ‘assist’ the Elders in the local assembly. They cannot owe allegiance to any other assembly. Prophets and Teachers may visit and minister in other places provided the Elders are in agreement. An APOSTLE is an extra-local servant. He is not permanently attached to any assembly. The Lord has given him the special gifts of founding churches and appointing elders. We never find anywhere that the apostles settled down and assumed responsibility for the local church. The word of God makes it clear that the oversight of a church is not the work of the apostles but of the Elders. Although Paul stayed in Corinth for over an year and in Rome in 2 years and in Ephesus for 3 years, yet in none of these places did he assume responsibility for the work of the local church. Apostles are responsible for their own particular ministry but not for the churches which are the fruit of their ministry. The ‘fruit’ of the ‘Apostles’ work must be handed over to the care of the local elders. The Apostles are ministers of all assemblies; but they have control of none. The duty of the Apostles is to found assemblies. Once an assembly was established all responsibilities were handed over to the local elders and from that day apostles exercised no control whatsoever in its affairs. All management now passed into the hands of Elders. Apostles can give ‘advice’ and ‘instructions’ without interfering in the affairs of the local church administration. (I Corinthians 5:1 / 11:34) Paul told the church at Corinth: ‘Rest will I set in order when I come’. ‘To set things in order is their primary calling. Once the order is set, they stay aside allowing Elders to take over the administration and ‘maintain that order’. In the case of Peter and John we find that they fulfilled the dual role of Apostles and Elders. Here is a unique situation in the church at Jerusalem. The New Testament church was just founded and hence the early apostles functioned as both Elders in their local church and as APOSTLES in founding other churches (I Peter 5:1, II John 1, 3 John 1)
5. Elders and the Local Church:The term ‘Elder’ is of Old Testament origin. The primary Hebrew word ‘Zaqen’ (Numbers 11:16; Deuteronomy 27:1). This is a reference to the 70 tribal leaders who assisted Moses. Moses communicated through these leaders to the people (Exodus 19:7; Deuteronomy 31:9). Deuteronomy 1:9-18 indicates that they were charged with the responsibility of judging the people. They led the Passover (Exodus 12:21) and perhaps other elements of worship. Later the elders of Israel were specifically involved in the leadership of cities (I Samuel 11:3; 16:4; 30:26). Still their function was decision making – applying wisdom to the lives of people in resolving conflicts, giving direction and generally over seeing the details of an orderly society. They served in the capacity of local magistrates and as governors over the tribes (Deuteronomy 16:18, 19:12, 31:28). Another Hebrew word for Elder is ‘Sab’ used 5 times in the Old Testament, all in the book of Ezra. It refers to a group of Jewish leaders in charge of rebuilding the temple after the exile. The Greek word for Elder is ‘Presbuteros’ used about 70 times in the New Testament. Like ‘Sab’ and Zaqen’ it refers to mature age. For example, in Acts 2:17 Peter quotes Joel 2:28 ‘your old men shall dream dreams’. The Hebrew word for old men in Joel is ‘Zaqen’ and the Greek word used in Acts is ‘Presbuteros’. Used in that sense, the term ‘Elder’ does not constitute an official title; it simply refers to an older man. There are 12 occurrences of ‘Presbuteros’ in the book of Revelation. All of them refer to the 24 Elders who appear to be unique representatives of the redeemed people of all ‘Ages’. ‘Presbuteros’ is used nearly 20 times in Acts and the Epistles with reference to a unique group of leaders in the church. In Acts 11:30 the first mention of Elders is made. Though their existence is mentioned nothing is said about their origin until we come to Acts 14:23. Paul and Barnabas ministered the work in their onward journey and won converts. In their return journey they chose those who would shoulder leadership and appointed them as Elders. All this happened in a short time span of about 4 years (27-50 AD) Acts 14:23 says. ‘When they had ordained them elders in every church’. Thus every local church was made SELF-SUPPORTING, SELF-GOVERNING and SELF-PROPAGATING. A church without Elders is a defective church for Paul exhorted Titus to set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city (Titus 1:5). Peter wrote to the scattered believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia and Bithynia ‘I exhort the elders among you’ (I Peter 5:1). These territories are not cities but areas where a number of churches have sprung up in Asia and they all had Elders. God used Antioch after Jerusalem in a unique way for the propagation of the gospel and the founding of churches. Since Antioch grew out of the ministry at Jerusalem, Elders probably existed there as well. In fact, it is likely that Paul himself functioned as an Elder at Antioch before he stepped out in the role of an Apostle.
6.Elders and the Spiritual Authority :The highest position of authority in the church belongs to Elders who rule under Christ as undershepherds (I Peter 5:2,4). As the Apostolic ‘era’ came to a close the office of an ‘Elder’ emerged as the highest level of local church leadership. There was no higher court of appeal to know the heart and mind of God with regard to issues in the church. The Elders who rule in the local church are primarily and ultimately responsible to Christ – not to the congregation or some council. Biblically, the focal point of all church leadership is the Elder. The most obvious of all functions is the responsibility of ‘overseeing’ (I Tim 5:17). Let the Elders who ‘rule’ well. The word ‘rule’ is translated from the Greek word ‘Proistemi’ which means to stand first. As rulers in the church, the Elders are not subject to any higher earthly authority OUTSIDE THE LOCAL CHURCH. Within the church the Elders should be guided by the same spirit. The watch words are ‘spirituality’ and ‘unanimity’. Better to wait until consensus is arrived at, than rush into activity and produce division and damage.
7.Elders and the Ministry of Word:In the New Testament 3 significant Greek words are used for the Elder. They are Presbuteros, Episkopos, and Poimen. These three words are translated as Elder, Bishop and Shepherd. Eldership speaks of maturity; Bishop means ‘overseer’ and ‘Shepherd’ speaks of ‘care and feeding’ of the flock. Both Paul and Peter use these three words interchangeably. PAUL: Acts 20:17, 28. From Miletus sent to Ephesus and called the Elders (Presbuteros) of the church: ‘Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (Episkopos) to feed (Poimano) the church. PETER: I Pet 5:1,2. The Elders (Presbuteros) which are among you I exhort, who also am an elder (Presbuteros) … Feed (Poimano) or Shepard or Pastor the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight (Episkopos). Besides ‘rulership’, Elders are responsible to ‘preach’ and ‘teach’ I Tim 5:17. They must determine doctrinal issues. They must guard the flock from wrong doctrine and promote sound doctrine (Tit 1:9). I Timothy chapter 3 list the spiritual qualifications of the overseer. Of these only one relates to a specific function – ‘he must be able to teach’ (Tit 1:7-9) and ‘apt to teach’ (I Tim 3:2). Those who do not have the ministry of the Word and those unwilling to ‘labor in word and doctrine’ must not occupy the office of an Elder and bring loss to the testimony. Only those who can feed are qualified to rule. Preaching, teaching, exhorting refer to both pulpit and private, personal exhortations. Some may not be gifted in pulpit preaching but such must be good in personal counseling. This is a solemn responsibility. The Elder must be good in personal counseling. The Elder must be an ardent student of the Word constantly educating himself in order to be able to feed others. Lesser administrative details must be left to the care of deacons while the Elders must devote themselves to ‘prayer and ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:3,4 / Acts 20:28 / I Peter 5:2 / I Tim 5:17).
8.Elders and the ‘care’ of the flock:Besides ‘ruling’ and ‘feeding’, Elders have several other functions in the local church. They must welcome new membership (I Tim 4:14) and ‘watch over’ them as a parent over children. This involves ‘rebuking’ and ‘correcting’ (Tit 1:13 / Matt 18:17) the ‘straying’ lamb and sheep. This is back-breaking and a heart-breaking job as someone said. Nevertheless this is a solemn responsibility. To do this, the Elder must maintain a high level of integrity. Of all the qualifications mentioned for the prospective Elder, the most important is that he must be ‘blameless’ (I Tim 3:2) and (Tit 1:6). He must be an ‘example’ to inspire others (Heb 13:7). Rulership and recognition often breeds ‘pride’ and some act as ‘lords over God’s heritage’ (I Peter 5:3). We are stewards (I Corinthians 4:1) and we must give an account of the flock to the Lord (Heb 13:17). Remember, it is not ‘my’ or ‘our’ flock but the FLOCK OF GOD (I Pet 5:2). Care of the flock involves visiting the sick and suffering. Let us not force God to apply Ezekiel 34:1-10 to our life and ministry.
9. There must be plurality of Elders.The Biblical ‘norm’ for church leadership is always a plurality of Elders. Nowhere in the scripture do we find a local assembly ruled by a majority of opinion or by ONE pastor. In the New Testament wherever ‘Presbuteros’ or Elder is used it is always plural except when John and Peter use these words of themselves. (II John 1:4, III John 1:1, I Peter 5:1). In the New Testament there is no one-pastor Congregation. In fact one man leadership is the characteristics of cults not the church.
10. Plurality is not inconsistent with having ‘Presiding’ Elder.Christian ministry is a team effort. The ‘church’ is the Body of Christ and in the ‘Body life’ there is no place for individualism. Every dictatorial, self-styled Diotrephes (III John 1:9) brings much damage to the work of God. In the early Jerusalem church James, the half-brother of Jesus played the role of a presiding elder (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18) Though Peter, the leading Apostle and Elder was present, yet James was in-charge.
Scripture lists the names of 12 apostles 4 times (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). Each list divides the 12 into 3 groups of 4 names each. In the first list – the first four are always the same – Peter, James, John and Andrew. Philip and James always lead in the other two groups. Apparently each of the groups had a recognized leader. Peter heads the list all the time. He is mostly the spokesperson for the whole group. Almost every time the disciples wanted to ask Jesus a question, Peter was the mouthpiece.
They all had equal office, equal honor, equal privileges and responsibilities. They were sent two by two. They all preached the kingdom; they all healed; they all had access to Jesus. Yet some stood over others as leaders among leaders.
A position of leadership does not imply spiritual superiority. It seems unlikely that Peter was the most spiritually qualified of the disciples. Perhaps that is why James and John came to ask Jesus for the highest places because they thought that Peter was not qualified.
Peter and John hold the centre stage in the first 12 chapters of Acts. Yet there is no record that John ever preached a single sermon. Peter did all the talking. God used John differently. Besides preaching he was used to give us the fourth Gospel, the three epistles and the wonderful book of Revelation. Not being in the ‘limelight’ does not mean ‘less important’. Beginning from Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas take over the dominant roles. Although Barnabas was the senior of the two, Paul gradually dominated. The Greeks named Paul as ‘Mercury’ because he was the chief speaker.
11. Full time worker must function in the local church as one of the Elders: To be called ‘full-time’ in the service of God is a special calling. In fact, nobody serves God ‘part-time’. For want of a better expression, we use the words ‘full-time’ to refer to those who have given up their secular jobs and oft make other sacrifices to be available full-time in the service of the Lord. Here is the question of the ‘sphere of activity’ and ‘availability’. All practicing Christians other than ‘full-timers’ witness in their home and office. Besides winning bread for their own family they sacrificially support the work of the Lord which includes the maintenance of ‘full-timers’ and their families. Thus, as someone said, all other practicing Christians other than ‘full-timers’ are ‘over-timers’; True ‘Full-timers’ who take the ‘second mile’ in serving Christ and His cause deserve all our appreciation and assistance. Such would, by the nobility of their calling and the utility of their services would ‘command’ and not ‘demand’ respect. Such should prioritize their ministry by affirming. It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables: we will live ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:2,4). These should not be involved in matters of money and properties.(Act 20: 33-35). These mundane matters are left to the care of Elders and Deacons. A full-time worker must never claim superiority over other Elders. Are full-timers and Elders on par with each other? I Samuel 30: 1-25 gives us the answer. ‘As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike’ (I Sam 30:24) In the New Testament our dear Lord affirmed this truth in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20). At the end of the day the ‘full-timer’ and the ‘one-hourer’ were same wages. It seems the main worry of the laborers was not the money they received but of their status: ‘Thou has made them equal unto us’ (Mt20:12) May we never be guilty of despising others and their calling. We all serve the same master and ‘let each esteem other better than themselves’ (Phil 2:3)
12. Limitations of Apostles and Elders ‘We stretch not ourselves beyond our measure’ (II Cor 10:14) is the wonderful testimony of Paul. We often cross the boundaries of our ministries causing much confusion. In the New Testament, Elders are local men appointed to oversee the affairs of the local assembly. Their sphere of office was limited to a locality. Being an Elder in one city or one church does not qualify one to be an elder in another church or city. The New Testament nowhere speaks of Elders managing several local assemblies. The ‘Apostles’ on the other hand are ministers of all assemblies but they have control of none. Hence no one can ever be called ‘A local Apostle’ or an ‘International Elder’.
13.Accountability of Elders: Elders are accountable to each other, to the congregation and to the Lord. Every Peter is accountable to every Paul (Galatians 2: 11-21) I Corinthians 14:29 says that when one ‘prophesies or preaches’ others must judge. The ‘doctrinal’ failure is serious and ‘moral’ failure is all the more serious. It is said that John Wesley, during the annual Accountability Session of the full-time workers, used to dismiss close to half of them due to their ‘moral’ failures. The ‘moral’ failure of an elder has serious impact on the wider public. No erring Elder should be ashamed to confess his sin in the public. David’s murder and adultery impacted a small circle of just two families but being a king and a role model to others he brought his repentance and confessions to the public. By composing Psalm 32 and 51 he made known his sorrow to all generations. None of us is ‘perfect’ but let us be transparent like Jonah who said ‘I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you’ (Jonah 1:12). Honesty and Humility pays. God used the very same Jonah for the revival of Nineveh.
Accountability also includes the way we manage the Lord’s finances (Act 11:30/II Cor 8:18-23). It was not a small rope but the secretly nourished ‘love of money’ that finally hanged a prospective Apostle, Judas Iscariot. Handling the money should always be a collective responsibility.
14. ‘Retirement’ of Elders. Eldership is a demanding job. Old age with all its maturity can also prove a hindrance. Levites were made ‘to retire’ at a specific age in the ‘active’ service of the Lord. (Numbers 8:23-26) This shows a principle for all those engaged in the Lord’s work. The ‘serve no more’ (Numbers 8:25) is immediately followed by ‘they shall minister with their brethren in the Tabernacle’ (8:26) Out of Eldership does not mean out of usefulness. The ministries of personal evangelism, intercessions, helps are wonderful ministries open to all of all ages. Like Moses we should desire a Joshua to take up the responsibility. ‘It is fatal for the church’, said Bro AJ Flack, ‘if old men hold on to office when they should give place to younger men’
15. Congregation must be taught to honor the Elders.God has appointed Elders to ‘oversee’ (I Peter 5:2) to ‘watch over’ (Heb 13:17) and feed (I Tim 5:17, I Pet 5:2, Acts 20:28). Elders because of their ministry and responsibility are worthy of great respect. Paul writing to the Thessalonians said: ‘We beseech you brethren to know (to know the value of, to appreciate) them which labor among you and over you in the Lord and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake’ (I Thes 5: 12, 13) The congregation is exhorted to ‘obey’ the Elders (Heb 13:17) Defiance of their authority is a punishable offence (Mt 18:17). In the event of sickness, the sick person should take the initiative and call for the Elders. They must not go in search of a ‘Faith-Healer’ or a specially appointed ‘God’s servant who will pray for us. Many full-time workers know James 5:14 but they reason out saying ‘People have no confidence in Elders and therefore they come to us’. This is an excuse that promotes the self-image of every Saul to usurp the function and ministry of God-appointed Samuels (Elders). Eli, the priest in I Samuel was not worthy but God honored the faith and prayer of Hannah because she honored the principle of God. What Eli was not positionally in the temple at Siloh, so are the God-appointed Elders in every local church.
16.Elders must be chosen and ordained.I Timothy chapters three and Titus chapter one speak to us about the required qualification in choosing an elder. The most prominent among them is that he is ‘blameless’ both in his own house and in the society. A prospective Elder must also be ‘willing’ to shoulder this demanding responsibility. Much prayer on the part of the existing Elders and the congregations is necessary before inviting others into positions of leadership. Ultimately it is not man who ‘appoints’ or ‘commissions’ an Elder. It is the Holy Ghost that appoints people as Elders (Acts 20:28) To ‘ordain’ is from the Greek word ‘kathistemi’ which means giving official recognition to the leadership of the church and a public announcement made setting aside men for public ministry. This is done by ‘laying on of hands’ I Tim 4:14 and this act demonstrates the solidarity between the Elders and the one prayed for. In the first century church we trace 3 steps in the process of ordaining Elders. Initially it was the Apostles themselves who selected and ordained Elders (Acts 14:23) After that Elders were appointed by those who were close to the Apostles and involved in their ministry. For example, Paul specifically charged Titus to ordain elders (Titus 1:5) In the third phase, the Elders themselves ordained other Elders (I Tim 4:14). The ultimate responsibility for appointing Elders belongs to the church leadership.
CONCLUSION “The testimony of the church is most visible in the lives of Elders. If they ignore the Biblical mandate for holiness, the church will suffer the consequences. Equally, if the church is not submissive to the leadership God has ordained, its testimony will suffer, its effectiveness will be diminished, its priorities will be unbalanced and ultimately its flavor as the salt of the earth is lost”. John Mac Arthur. Let us get back to God’s word and God’s norm. God will rebuild and revive us for his glory.