"Elders Redefined"

Eph 20:17, 1 Peter 5:1,2, Eph. 4:11

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The writer is indebted to MANY brothers and sisters who have nurtured, persevered, and fathered him in the faith. Where there may be nuggets of truth in this article, it is second hand, received through many "channels of blessing" and our heavely source--the MASTER TEACHER, from whom we receive any and every thing of value (1 Cor 4:7, Eccles. 1:9, James 1:17)

This study is intended to demonstrate the downside of Honorific Titling ascribed to a particular gift or a particular individual in a church body. The writer hopes to impress the reader that honorifically titling church members is to engage in rank disobedience to our Lord's command of Matthew 23:8-10 and results in creating spiritual classes in the body that goes above and beyond the only two groups recognized in scripture of elders and non-elders. It has resulted in crystalizing a clergy vis-a-vis laity mindset which is antithetical to the idea of "the Priesthood of All Believers". The writer purposes to make the case that this practice results in "gift gobling" and provides an occasion for the eye to say to the hand "I have no need of you." (1 Cor 12:23-25); that it weakens the understanding of the church being a brotherhood (Matthew 23:8); and that its prevalence is indicative of the weakened conditioned of the church (1 Cor 3:21-23). While it is a blessednes to recognize all gifts or all callings in the body, as Paul and Peter and John did in the Epistles it is quite another thing to honor the individual with these gifts with a title and not merely by heartfelt recognition, though this may necessitate at times the need to explicitly bring to mind his or her ministerial role and calling. But if we title one and not the other we in fact risk minimizing God the Holy Spirit, God the Son, and God the Father in the other as we exalt the one (1 Cor 12:4-6). This is how serious it gets! It is one thing to recognize, John has the gift of wisdom, or Jane has the gift of Knowledge, Jack has the gift of faith, Joe has the gift of Miracles, Peter the gift of prayer, and Tom has the gift of Pastor. We dangerously cross the fine line when we title such by their gifts as Wise John, Knowledge-filled Jane, Faith-filled Jack, Miracle-Worker Joe, Prayer-Warrior Peter, and Pastor Tom. While one may choose to argue that in titling one is merely recognizing a gift, we have to be conscious that we do not improperly recognize one gift over the other, lest the "hand say to the foot I have no need of you" and it degeneates into a honorific title as the word Pastor, Reverand, Minister, Elder has become (Matt 23:8-10). This latter has brought great damage to the church, making it all it was not meant to be. It has rendered "gift gobling" having replaced the "Priesthood of Fathers" in the Roman Catholic system, by the "Priesthood of Pastors" in the protestant system. Both systems by titling have produced great orators and great gift goblers alike, the gifts in the rest of the body being boiled to death like frogs in boiling water. For when we honorifically title one gift, or one person against the express command of our LORD we unwittingly minimize the rest. Paul in several instances brought to rememberance ideas such as my little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, .... ... yet you do not have many fathers (I Cor 4:14,15, Gal 4:19), but no where in the new testament was he called "Father Paul."

Some have suggested even the Levitical Priesthood of the old testament was not God our Father's original intent (Exod 19:6), much like the Temple of Solomon (1 Chron. 17:6, Acts 17:24), or Kingship (1 Samuel 8:6,7) in Israel was not HIS intent. As the religion of the heart and Israel as a nation spiritually weakened were these introduced. Some have suggested that just as Martin Luther argued for the "Priesthood of ALL Believers" presumably quoting from Peter (1 Peter 2:5,9) and the book of Revelations (Rev 5:10 and Rev 20:6) that God the Father's intent was the Priesthood of all Israelites. Peter in 1 Peter 2:5,9 may be borrowing from Exodus 19:6 just before the giving of the law and the Levitical and Aaronic priesthood in response to the hard heartedness of the Israelites despite the signs and wonders and deliverances given them. Notwithstanding, it may be argued that the church consistently has reversed the intent of the Priesthood of all Believers to create her own priesthood even as Paul warned that Elders were capable of drawing men "after themselves" (Acts 20:30). So as the church weakens and true spirituality declines in the church, we become lax with honorinng the intent of the New Covenant (Jer 31:33, and Heb 10:16), while spiritually inclined people take the role of Elders and Shepherds of lost sheep. But unwittingly, instead of persevering to bring the saints to maturity for the work of the ministry, the Unity of the Faith and the Priesthood of All Believers (Eph 4:11,12, 1 Cor 14:26-31) we erred by bestowing on such honorific titles that distinguished them from the rest of the brethren against the express command of Matthew 23:8-10. In so doing it may be argued that the church in time customized its own unique brand of priesthood of which the Levitical Priesthood is merely a type.

Today in a large part of christendom in lieu of the Priesthood of Levites, we have the Priesthood of Fathers (Roman Catholics), Priesthood of Pastors (Fundamental Evangelicals), Priesthood of Ministers and Elders (Protestants).

Two axioms to keep in mind before we delve into this study: This study is not intended to undermine heart felt double honoring of any elder in the body of Christ who rules or has ruled well. No! these must be honored, loved and respected for their love for God and their sacrificial servant leadership towards the body. Also, elders who are disrespected while in the service of the LORD, be they young or old must not permit the dishonoring of their person or their service lest God our father be offended and the work at hand be hindered. The one who despises the legitimate authority of one first ordained by GOD in heaven stands at great risk of judgement. There is severe judgement to reject the instructions and guidance of a God ordained elder who humbly and tirelessly serves (Number 14:2-9, 1 Samuel 8:7, Heb 13:7,17, 1 Tim 4:12).

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Heb 13:17)
This being said, elders orained by God and either confirmed in ordination by man or by simple witness of the Holy Spirit, must play their part "not lording it over the flock, but "lawfully" (1 Peter 5:1-3, 2 Tim 2:5). It may behove elders to note that arguably with regard to the distinction of elders vis-a-vis non-elders a proper rendention of Ephesians 4:11-16, would indicate that the success of Elders may be measured by how quickly they are able to move the non-elders to a the place of maturity of elders thereby making their time consuming roles less and less relevant in the local body as the church matures.

Having said this lets begin with a short dictionary type definition for elders of the New Testament.
Ephesians 20:17 and 20:28 describes them as -- Feeders and Overseers and Shepherds of God's flock.

1 Peter 5:1-4 -- also describes them as -- Feeders and Overseers and Shepherds of God's flock
The flock was never theirs per se. Not in a manner that would suggest they had ownership of the flock. It was more as though they were ordained of God to feed HIS flock and bring them to maturity in the things of God as in Peter "feed MY sheep" (Eph. 4:12, John 21:17, Acts 20:28). While the local church is entrusted to elders to feed, oversee, and shepherd, elders overstep their bounds when they regard the body God has entrusted them to feed and bring to maturity as being "their" sheep. The sheep are God's, the flock is God's, the church is God's, for these were purchased "by His own blood...to be His Bride" (Acts 20:28, Rev. 21:9). Also it may be stated that the involvement of elders towards the body is not meant to be a static one, as in Clergy-Laity, Shepherd-Sheep, Feeders-Fed, but rather a changing and dynamic one, varying as revival ebbs and flows in the body. Their purpose is to perfect the saints for the work of the ministry, make Shepherds of Sheep and to lead the flock "TILL ("mechri") they come to maturity for the work of the ministry and to the Unity of the faith, at which point the CHIEF SHEPHERD is now able to lead through that which "every joint supplies" (Eph 4:11-16, 1 Cor 4:26-31)

In the passages alluded to above, both Paul and Peter were concerned that Elders could err, and that they needed to be vigilant. (1 Peter 5:2,3, Acts 20:30, Romand 12:3). It is for this reason Paul writes to Timothy that it was only those elders "that ruled well" that should be counted for double-honor, and those "Shepherds" that sinned were to be rebuked before all that others may fear (1 Tim 2:17,20). I know this sounds harsh, nevertheless it is scripture. It appears to this writer that God established plurality of elders in the body so that they "rule" by mutual consensus and not by singular dictatorship. They led the church by way of collective agreement and not singular judgement. They were to serve in one accordedness, the system providing a "check and balance" against error. (2 Cor 13:1, Matt 18:15-17)

In Ephesians 4:11 we are introduced to what has traditionally been called the 5 ministerial gifts -- Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers. These we are told are "for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry" (Eph 4:12). The following questions therefore arise: If the ministerial gifts resided in all the 5 types mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, we must assume that when Paul called the elders while he stopped at Ephesus in Acts 20:17 these elders included mature Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Teachers and not just one set of ministerial types with the unique nuance of the pastoring gift for they all were called to feed the flock. (Acts 20:28, Eph 4:12).

A similar anomolly can be said of 1 Peter 5:1,2. We read Peter's admonition as follows:
The ELDERS who are among you I exhort...feed the flock that are among you taking oversight thereof...
If Peter were addressing the Feeders and Overseers of the flock today, he would be bound to say:
The PASTORS who are among you I exhort...feed the flock that are among you taking oversight thereof...
The Greek word for Pastors in Ephesians 4:11 is "POIMEN", and it means according to Strong's Concordance:
1) a herdsman, esp. a shepherd... overseer of the Christian assemblies
Overall it may be said that there is little or no variance in meaning in the Greek words for Overseer, Bishop, Elder, Shepherd or Pastor when considered as an operational role. When considered as a spiritual gift and as a special grace with a unique nuance to it, Pastor may be considered as a unique spiritual gift distinct from Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Teacher. However in Ephesians 4:11 we must make room for the idea that Paul may have been using the word "Pastors" to refer to persons whose role was to be Elders rather than individuals with a unique spiritual gift that had a distinct nuance. If this be the case then the notion of Ephesians 4:11 being an expression of the 5 fold gifts for the maturation of the body may not be quite correct. It may be that specifically 4 gifts namely, Apostlic, Evangelistic, Prophetic, Teaching were being alluded to and the word Pastors here was being used to refer to elders as alluded to in other parts of the New Testament such as the Pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus.

In either case whether the word "POIMEN" in Ephesians 4:11 meant Pastors in the sense of a unique distinct spiritual gift, else Elder, Overseer, Bishop, Shepherd (respectively presbyteros, episkopos, episkopos, poimen in Greek), this study endevors to highlight the sad problem that occurs when you honorifically title any one of these giftings else Elders as a collective with an honorific title.

If we are to regard Pastor as a role, it would probably be good at the onset to ascribe to these elders a gift not mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 but in 1 Corinthians 12:28, namely "Governments." --- the gift of governance. And with this, as said earlier, it behoves us to note that governance must be carried out "lawfully" (2 Tim 2:5). Elders who are bestowed with the blessed gift of governance are "doubly responsible" for being an example to "the flock" of what "lawful" running of the race entails. They particularly have to keep Peter's injunction of 1 Peter 5:3 in mind. (Acts 20:29,30)

Today if Paul or for that matter Billy Graham were to come into town and call for the ELDERS, what you are likely to see is a gathering of individuals who bear the title of PASTOR for the most part with only a splattering of individuals specifically gifted with the gift of Evangelism, Apostleship, Prophecy, and Teaching. The reason for this is today's Pastor in a certain sense is regarded as being the Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher and Apostle of the church as well. The multiplicity of gifts intended to flower in every individual in the body has somehow been bequeathed to one man namely the Church Pastor. This was never God's intent, and proof of this is overflowing in scripture. While the thrust of Ephesians 4:11 is that "maturation gifts" were intended to reside in "a collective" of mature individuals tasked of God to use their distinctives to "collectively" nurse the body to perfection for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11,12), today for the most part in many a quarter it rests in one man. We run today into a enigmatic situation that can be stated in one of two ways--all "maturing gifts" are embedded in a single individual called Pastor, or a single individual called Pastor possesses "all the maturing gifts.". This is what in effect we have reduced 1 Cor. 12, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Cor 14:26-31 to.

May it not be, that we as a church have REAPED WHAT WE HAVE SOWN for defiantly else like frogs who do not realize they are being boiled to death have ignored our LORD's simple straigthforward command of Matthew 23:8-10

  • But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
  • And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
  • Neither be ye called masters[guide]: for one is your Master[Guide], even Christ.
The spirit of this forsaken command may be extended ad infinitum:
  • But be not ye called Elder: for one is your Elder, even Jesus; and all ye are brothers.
  • But be not ye called Overseer upon the earth: for one is your Overseer even God.
  • Neither be ye called Shepherd: for one is your Shepherd even the Chief Shepherd.
  • Neither be ye called Pastor: for one is your Pastor even the Chief Pastor.
  • Neither be ye called Reverend: for one is to be revered even God.
  • Neither be ye called Minister: for there is only one that Ministers.
  • Neither be ye called Ruler: for one is your Ruler even God.
  • The list can go on......
There is a degree of ostentation (honor) that goes with titles, and our LORD simply said in so many words, "CUT IT OUT!"

So the question must be asked, that with these clear commands, why do Elders such as Pastors "take on a title" such as Pastor John Doe and forbid not those who address them similarly (Rev 22:8,9, ). Many a book could be written on how honorific titles that have no precedent in the Bible entered the church and how it contributed to the horrors of distinction between clergy and laity which eventually led to the reformation and Martin Luther's declaration of the "Priesthood of all Believers." It is ironical today as in all days before the departure of the prototype church Luther's understanding of the need for reformation being cyclical is pertinent. But before we tackle the why's behind this phenomena, let me say this:
I do not assume pride or fear of competition being the basis in every instance for laborers in the body of Christ assuming a Title to go along with their role. The church is replete with myriads of great servants of God who went with tradition and did take a title. But traditions must be challenged if they go against a clear verdict in God's word. And its best we do so at its inception lest sin begets sin. (1 Cor. 5:6, James 1:15) This is part of contending for the faith (Jude 1:3). Some of these well meaning individuals permit titles from a sense of expediency, as it may help in governance of the church. However this writer is of the opinion that governance in the church was to be conducted not by way of Titles but by way of "WITNESS", and that too a "Plurality of Witness," and not a singular witness.. Those who take titles often causes them to lead by title and not by witness.(2 Cor 13:1)
Many are the reasons why elders take on to themselves titles against the clear teaching of the Master Teacher in Matthew 23:3-8:

Paul could have lead by Title, for he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, trained under Gamaliel a leading scholar of his time. However he did not, his claim to lead was simply that he had "suffered for the gospel."
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Gal 6:17)

He says: Epaphroditus...recieve...and hold him in reputation...Because for the work of Christ He was nigh unto death..., not regardin his life (Phillipians 2.29,30)
While Paul encourages persons to seek the role of an overseer for he says: "This is a true saying, If a man desires the office [role] of a bishop, he desires a good work" the injunction of Matthew 23:8-10 mandates that we reject any title associated with the role (1 Tim 3:1). In fact our LORD stated that after we have done all the good he has called us to do that we ought to regard ourselves as "unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10). In passing, it may be noted here that the word "office" does not appear in the original Greek manuscripts, and the import in the Greek is probably meant to read, as "if an individual seeks the work of overseeing and eldering he seeks a good thing. The focus is "work of" -- he desires to commit himself to the nuturing of men in the things of God as opposed to the idea of "ruling over men's spiritual lives"

By titling we support the phoenoma, that consciously, else subconsciously, overtly else covertly, intentionaly else unintentionaly supports:

...the Eye saying to the hand, I have no need of you; else the Head saying to the feet I have no need of you. (1 Cor 12:21)
While indeed there are Shepherds called to make Shepherds of Sheep, by "lacing" a title to a gift or a role as the case may be we magnify ONE GIFT or ONE ROLE above the other, and minimize the more abundant honor God has given the "comely" and that which lacked who may not have the same gift or same role. While we are commanded to regard those "who serve well" with "double honor" it is important to note that God regards the gifts and roles which seemingly appear less important "with more abundant honor". (1 Cor 12:23,24,25)

It may be asked today, where are the Miracle workers, Healers, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists in the church. Where are the unique individuals with the gift of Knowledge, Wisdom, Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues? In effect the Pastor-Head has said to the the Apostle-Hand, Prophet-Foot, Evangelist-Arm, I have no need of you. If the church is to be a brotherhood, you either title all or you title none, and thereby ensure you regard all with the same honor. If this were the manner in which we employed titles then they would only serve to distinguish the gift and calling of one individual from the other so as to create space for his or her gift to take effect. But this is impossible to do, so we are bound to stay with the injunction of Matthew 23:8. The race must be run "lawfully" (2 Tim 2:5), and that means no titles said Jesus. And if we resort to take his simple clear admonition lightly, twisting and turning it as we will, much more lightly will we be prone to twist the harder truths.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are rethren.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Neither be ye called masters[guide]: for one is your Master[Guide], even Christ.
The race being run "lawfully" applies to all in the church and does not preclude the ones who by ordination or otherwise are decleard as elders in the church. i.e. the ones that have -- "rule over you" (Heb 13:17). They have to make doubly sure that they play by the "rules" of governance (1 Cor 12:28) set forth in scripture. Some of these principles are:
  • Eldership works in the context of a plurality not as a singularity, i.e. an eldership consensus on matters of governance, correction, etc.
  • A genuine intention to follow the plain teaching of scripture even if it entails a cost (Heb 4:12-16, 2 Tim 3:16,17)
  • Be able to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15)
  • Not take honorific titles because of an implicit understanding that honorific titles goes against the spirit of Brotherhood (Matt 23:8-10)
  • Realize that the "double-honor" due to them is not mechanical ordination, but their "walk" (Heb 13:7, 1 Tim 5:17)
  • Be truly humble keeping 1 Corinthians 10:12 in mind.
  • Do nothing by partiality (1 Tim 5:21)
  • Not be high minded (Romans 12:3), knowing that though they ought to be treated with double-honor, they are to treat the apparent least, with "more abundant honor" since God's intent at the end of the day is that there be no "schism in the body" with respect to honor. (1 Cor 12:23-25).
  • Realize that to be a leader in the body of Christ entails great suffering (1 Cor 4:10-13, John 10:11, 2 Tim 3:12)
  • Realize that the purpose of Shepherds is to make Shepherds of Sheep and hand over Shepherdship to the CHIEF SHEPHERD, and as this happens their active role diminishes in the body (Eph 4:11-16, 1 Cor 14:26-31, 1 Cor 12:23-25, 1 John 2.6,7).
  • Realize that John the Baptist's axiom of John 3:30 applies to the local church as supported by Ephesians 4:11-16 (Numbers 11:25-29).
  • In matters of discipline and concern must govern generally by way of PLURALITY OF WITNESS both in terms of persons and criteria (i.e. Scripture, Holy Spirit) (2 Cor 13:1, Matt 18:15-17, John 16:13-15, Heb 4:12-16).

    • Witness of the word (Acts 17:11, Psalm 119:105)
    • Witness of the Holy Spirit in support of the word (1 John 2:6,7, John 16:13-15)
    • Witness of two or three (2 Cor 13:1, Matt 18:15-17)
    • Witness of a body of elders (Acts 15:6)
    • Witness that stems from a commitment to truth over preservation of organization at cost of truth (2 Tim. 2:15)
All this being said, it is also true that Elders should not allow non-elders, else anyone in the body to "despise" their God given authority or their youth, assuming they are of the conviction that they are conducting their roles "lawfully" (2 Tim 2:5). The one who despises the legitimate authority of one first ordained by GOD in heaven stands in great risk of judgement (Number 14:2-9, 1 Samuel 8:7). There is severe judgement to reject the admonitions and guidance, of a god ordained elder. (Number 14:2-9, 1 Samuel 8:7, Heb 13:7,17, 1 Tim 4:12).

It seems to this writer, that today many a devoted well intentioned Pastor not having grasped God's intent for "Body Life" as described in 1 Corinthians 4:26-31, Ephesians 4:11-16 and the absolute necessity for the distribution of the gifts and the flurishing of the same for a healthy body has unconsciously become the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist and Teacher in and of the church as well. He has unwittingly engaged in "gift gobling."

While it is true that an individual may have more than one spiritual gift, the general import of scripture is that God our Father distributes gifts in the body. (1 Cor 7-29, Romans 12:6-8). It appears to this writer that the passage in Romans 12:6-8, was given as a caution against individuals assuming all the gifts to themselves. Paul says:
For I say to every man among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think;...For as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same role; ...having then gifts differing
While there is a good case to be made for the fact that in every human system, there is a need for a "single person" so to say to be "the leader," we are posed with a unique situation in the Bible, for in the case of the church we are caught between the poles of humanity and Divinity. The judicious and the practical may argue that it is not sufficient to say we "are led by the Holy Spirit," (Rom 8:14, 1 John 2:26,27) or we are lead "by the written word alone." (Acts 17:11, Psalm 119.105). They may insist that Paul was the leader of the Gentile church and that Peter was the leader of the church that flurished amongst the Jews. They may argue that the Book of Revelations in its letters to "the angel of the church...," (Rev. chapter 2 and 3), are being addressed to singular leaders of those churches. Even if this were true, rightly dividing the word of truth implies that these too were bound to "run lawfully." (2 Tim 2:5). Six of the seven churches were admonished at least in part because the race was not being lawfully run in a manner that honors the edicts of scripture.

You never find in scripture churches being named after the Pastor. The imbalanced glorification of this one gift has led to this problem. People are often drawn by "the man" rather than by the church body. Today we have, Jack Hayford's Church, John McArthur's Church, Earl Stanley's Church, etc. etc. This may not be scriptural, and internally it gives rise to the problem Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 1:12,13.
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
The better way to name these churches would probably be, the Church in Anaheim, The Church on 3rd Street, The Church in Pasadena. Now however in our age of self-glorification, we having explicitly honored one gift namely PASTORORAL gift above the rest have created anomolies such as this.

A Final Remark On the Priesthood of All Believers

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:33,34)


Please Note: This is one persons research. Allbeit, it is witnessed to by a number of likeminded believing friends and disciples around the world. The writer sincerely acknowledges that he may well be seeing dimly and narrowly, and there may be something that he has written that may well be wrong and plain erroneous. Readers of this site therefore are strongly advised to search the scriptures and validate, negate, else modify for themselves the statements made by this blogger. Beloved brothers and sisters, please examine the scriptures as the Bereans of Acts 17.11 did and thereby stand fast on the foundation of GOD's Holy Word.




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