Friday, February 09, 2007

The Importance of Elders

In light of my last post on Ordination...we have to know what the biblical mandate is for the office of elder. So here's a non-exhaustive description biblically.

The 9news for this month is in regard to eldership, but I didn’t see the following from the Deliberate Church in the article [maybe I just missed it]…and I believe the following is a big part of making a case for a plurality of elders and deacons in the structure of a local church. What do you think??

"A Brief Biblical Background

Acts 20:17-38 shows that the words elders (presbuterous, v. 17) and overseers (episkopous, v. 28 [also known as bishops]) are interchangeable, and that both do the work of pastoring (poimainein, v. 28) or shepherding God’s flock. A pastor, then, is an elder, and an elder is a bishop/overseer – all three terms refer to the same office and the same work of pastoring [Note the same interchangeability of “elders” (presbuterous) and “the overseer” (episkopon) in Titus 1:5-7]. Note too that Paul “sent to Ephesus” for “the elders [presbuterous, plural] of the church [ekklesias, singular]” (v. 17). The pattern is of a plurality of elders in each local church [Cf. Acts 14:23, where Paul and Barnabas appoint elders (presbuterous, plural) in every church (kat’ ekklesian, distributive singular].

1 Timothy 3:1-13 distinguishes the office of elder (episkopos) from that of deacon (diakonos). Each must meet the same character requirements, but elders must also be able to teach [Cf. also Titus 1:9] – an ability not required for the office of deacon. In fact, D. A. Carson has observed that all the qualities Paul lays out for elders are elsewhere in the New Testament enjoined on all Christians – every quality, that is, except the ability to teach. Right away, then, we see that elders are different from deacons in that teaching is pivotal to the elder’s responsibility, while the deacon’s tasks lie elsewhere. Both offices must be present for a church to be organized, led, and served according to the Word.

Acts 6:1-4 further clarifies the distinction. There we read of a controversy between Greek and Hebrew widows about the equity of food distribution among them. The disciples gather the whole congregation and say, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve [diakonein] tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry [diakonia] of the word” (6:2-4). The division of labor is clear. The seven chosen men “deaconed” (served) tables, which released the apostles for “deaconing” the Word.

Deacons, then, serve to care for the physical and financial needs of the church, and they do so in a way that heals divisions, brings unity under the Word, and supports the leadership of the elders. Without this practical service of the deacons, the elders will not be freed to devote themselves to praying and serving the Word to people. Elders need deacons to serve practically, and deacons need elders to lead spiritually. [Emphasis in bold added for clarity]"

[Dever, Mark The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel Crossway 2005. Wheaton, IL Pp. 131-132]

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