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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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  1. Scripturally Unorganized. (Acts 14:23, prior to the appointing of elders they were still churches).

  2. Unscripturally Organized.  (Have men serving as elders who are not qualified.)

  3. 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 they crave).

  4. 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.

  1. 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 of God.

  2. 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 qualifications.

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:

  1. 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."

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 horned dilemma."

    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 Spirit’s 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 man’s "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).

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