The Eldership in the Lord's Church
Bobby R. Holmes
The subject before us is one that is much disputed by brethren
everywhere. Two extremes will be noted in this short article.
Some hold the view that there are none that can meet the
qualifications that are laid down by the Holy Spirit since they
demand of men what ordinarily cannot be done. It is stated that the
ones who did serve as elders in the first century were men who had a
"special measure" of the Holy Spirit and were thus able to
meet these strict qualifications.
Others believe that a church should appoint "the best men
qualified" and give them time to try to meet the qualifications given.
I believe we first of all must realize that it is God that has given
instruction on local church government. Of course, a church can exist
without elders (Acts 14:23) but we note in that verse that when men
became qualified to serve as elders they were appointed to do so.
There are four ways a local church can be organized.
Scripturally Unorganized. (Acts 14:23, prior to the
appointing of elders they were still churches).
Unscripturally Organized. (Have men serving as elders
who are not qualified.)
Unscripturally Unorganized. (Have men who meet the
qualifications given but refusing or neglecting to appoint them to
serve. Seems some do not want elders for then they would need to be
submissive to them and not have a "leadership" position
Scripturally Organized. (Philippians1:1-2).
We must be careful to abide within the teaching of the scriptures on
this subject as well as all others and while we must strive to teach
and practice what the Holy Scriptures teach, we must also be careful
not to go beyond what is taught by speaking where the Bible is silent
by inserting our own opinions. To not have elders when men are
qualified according to the stipulations given is to reject the
teaching of the Holy Spirit.
In my studies it seems clear that these qualifications are divided
into two categories.
Absolute: (Must be a man, married, children
etc. These are what I see as the "Family qualifications".
The purpose of these can be seen in the following: (1 Timothy 3:5) "for
if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take
care of the church of God?"
Clearly, these are for the purpose of training him through the Word
and experience to be able to lead people. His believing children are
seen as evidence that they see in him the godliness needed to
influence people to follow him in obedience as he follows the Lord.
This is seen in the word used to describe one as a "Pastor".
He is one who "pastors" or "Shepherds" the flock
Relative is the second category of qualifications. This does
not mean they are less important than the above but are in another
group. Let me illustrate by looking at some of these.
1 Timothy3:2-3. One of the qualifications is that the elder is to be "temperate"
or have "self control." However, if he gets up one
morning with a splitting headache and "snaps" at his wife
or others, does this automatically disqualify him?
He is to be "sober-minded" (serious in thought) but,
if he tells a humorous story that causes others to laugh, is he now
disqualified? He is to be "hospitable" but, must he
have people into his home on a daily basis to meet this stipulation?
He is to be "able to teach" but, does this mean that
his ability to do this must equal that of a seasoned preacher? As the
serious and honest Bible student looks at these of which I speak, he
is made to realize the difference between the Absolute and the Relative
in nature. The first is indeed absolute and allows no room for
discussion while the second speaks of the "way of life" the
man lives. He may fall short at times in some of these while
struggling with adversities of life but he works diligently to
overcome them. His life in general portrays one having these relative
There are many foolish positions that have risen over the years
regarding events that may take place after he has proven himself in
the leadership field. Let me list just a few:
Is a man qualified to serve as an elder who has no children of his
own but all are adopted? Some say no but, the purpose of this
qualification is overlooked. If he has proven his ability as a leader
of people by raising his adopted children properly, having been such
an example that they follow the Lord in obedience, he has met what
God requires and men who would deny the church to have elders based
on something like this are "speaking where the Bible is silent."
Some contend that one cannot continue to serve as an elder if all his
children were killed as was the children of Job. He no longer has
children so must now "step down". Again, the purpose of
this qualification is ignored. He has proven his ability and the
death of his children in no way negates that.
Some contend that an elder must "step down" if he has
believing children faithful to the Lord but suddenly his wife becomes
pregnant with another child and now one of his children is too young
to be a Christian. Again, the purpose is overlooked or ignored. When
done so and the church is "crippled" with the loss of a
godly man that has met what God requires there is a rejection of God
in the matter.
Some would argue that one cannot serve as an elder who has married
before but, now has lost his wife through death or divorce because of
his mates unfaithfulness. I worked with a church in Irving, Texas
several years ago serving as an elder as well as evangelist and there
came a time for the need of appointing more deacons. One man's name
was submitted that had been married before. His first wife had left
him years before for another man leaving him with two daughters to
raise. He had, in time, remarried and had two children in this
marriage. When one brother objected to him serving as a deacon, the
other elders and I went to visit to hear what his concern was. He
stated, "This man cannot serve because he has two wives". I
then understood his objection but, in order to help him see that it
was not what the scriptures had in mind of what was stated in verse
12, I said to him, "Brother ---, we were not aware of this and
if you have proof of your charge, please bring it out for this man is
living in sin as a bigamist and we will certainly withdraw
from him." He looked at me and said, "He has been married
before". I then asked him, "Brother ---, how many wives
does he now have? Is his first wife still his wife?" He studied
a few moments and said, "You are correct and I withdraw my
objection". That, brethren, was the result of honest evaluation
of the scriptures.
The most common of all of these is the belief of some that a man's
children must remain faithful for as long as they live or else the
father who has been serving as an elder must "step down" or
never be appointed to begin with. Please do not misunderstand me. I
do not believe we must or can appoint men to serve who do not meet
what God has ordained but, when the local church is deprived of
having elders as God has directed it to have because some think his
children must forever be faithful long after leaving his household
and oversight, there is a rejection of what God has said. I would
like to give this matter careful attention.
Would any today be bold enough to charge Jehovah God with
"failure" in "raising" His children because they
chose to "turn from the Truth"? Note the following:
(Isaiah 1:2), "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For
the LORD has spoken: 'I have nourished and brought up children, And
they have rebelled against Me.'"
Was it the Lords fault that they turned aside? Is He to be charged
with failure as a father? One of the most abused scriptures I know of
is the following: "Train up a child in the way he
should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it"
(Proverbs 22:6). While it is very true that the cause of some
children leaving the faith may be the result of a failure of parents
to present a godly life before the children it is not necessarily so.
This verse (an abuse of it) has been used to put many godly parents
on a guilt trip when they are not guilty. It has also been used to
prevent men from serving as elders in the local church who are well
qualified in every way but, because some of their grown children are
now not faithful to the Lord they are now somehow responsible for
their departure from the faith. The passage in Proverbs 22:6 is a
general principle and not an absolute! Look at just one other
statement from Proverbs that will help us see this. "He
who has a slack hand becomes poor, But the hand of the diligent makes rich"
(Proverbs 10:4). Surely we all understand that being
"diligent" in work is not a guarantee of becoming rich nor
is it an absolute that a "slack hand" will bring poverty.
It is a general principle just as is Proverbs 22:6. Those who teach
that Proverbs 22:6 is absolute in content are placed on a "two
If it is absolute then we had better stop teaching that one can fall
from grace for if one is "...trained up as a child in the way
he should go, and when he is old he will not (emp. mine,
bh) depart from it", then if raised properly, he cannot
fall away from God.
If the child departs from the faith when he is old then all parents
who have children who are grown and have fallen away are guilty of
failure and that charge must then stand against Jehovah as well
(Isaiah1:2). Who can believe it? Not I!
Of even more importance on this point is the failure to understand
the meaning of the Holy Spirits regulation on the subject. Note
again the following verse: "for if a man does not know
how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church
of God?" (1 Timothy 3:5). There is a very important
word in this passage that is not understood and being so causes men
to reject a man from serving as an elder even though his children
were faithful to the Lord while they were under his supervision and
control but, have now become grown, moved out of his house and
started families of their own. The word I refer to is "house".
Strong tells us on page 51 of his Greek-Hebrew concordance the
following: "a dwelling: by implication a family, home, household"
(emp. mine, bh).
Henry Thayer tells us in his Greek Lexicon, page 441 the following:
2. "...the inmates of a house, all the persons forming one
family (emp. mine, bh) A household. 1 Tim;3:4)."
When the children of a father have become grown and moved out,
started a family of their own, they are no longer of that mans
"Household" - "One family" and even though he
will continue to encourage and exhort them because they are his
children, he is no longer held accountable for their conduct. They
now have a "household" of their own! He has fulfilled his
responsibility enjoyed on him (Ephesians 6:4) and now the choices the
children make in their life are their own. I am fully persuaded that
one of the reasons we have so few churches with godly elders is
because many good and godly men have been "culled" from
serving by some (most are well meaning) who are simply
speaking where God has not spoken. Please understand again that I am
not advocating putting men in to serve as elders who are not as they
must be. Far better to have a church "unorganized
scripturally" without elders that to have one that is
"unscripturally organized" with men serving as elders who
do not meet the things laid down by the Holy Spirit. My dear
reader, I only ask that you study this short article on a subject
that needs close study.
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always
be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the
hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).