Section 8: The Church
Week 3: The Government of the Church
Day 3: Churches Today Are Led by a Group of Elders
1 Tim. 3:1-7, 5:17-21
If the Apostles are gone, does anyone today have authority within the Church? Yes. God knew his plan didn’t include a continuing apostolic ministry. That’s why we see elders in the New Testament churches.
They [Paul and Barnabas] preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:21-23)
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church (Acts 20:17).
To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you (Titus 1:4-5).
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14).
The Bible uses a number of terms synonymously with the term elder, including pastor, overseer, and bishop.[i] What responsibilities did elders have? When we think of elders within the church today, many of us think of a group of men who visit shut-ins and spend a lot of time praying for the church. And those certainly fit within an elder’s responsibilities, especially prayer (James 5:14). The elders’ responsibilities are much broader than that though.
Elders, for example, are expected to exercise a leadership/governing role within the church (1 Tim. 5:17). That’s why Peter felt compelled to remind elders,
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Teaching is another essential role of an elder. Today we tend to think of the pastor as being the primary teacher within the church. But, biblically, the elders as a group share this responsibility. Some, such as the pastor, may take a more active role in this regard (1 Tim. 5:17), but Paul insists that all elders be able to teach in order to instill sound doctrine and refute false teachings (1Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9).
Read 1 Tim. 3:1-5, 5:17-21; Titus 1:5-9.
How would you describe the responsibilities of elders? Do you see a connection between the qualifications of elders and the responsibilities they have?
[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House (1994), 913.