As the scriptural body of CHRIST, the New Testament church should be structured according to the Bible.

Of all places where man's traditions have distorted Christian life, none is more pronounced than in the local congregation. (If you have not yet read of the adversity of man's traditions and CHRIST's warning about them, please go to Glorify Him) And nothing is more dominant in that distortion than the leadership in a present day church. Most denominations today totally disregard New Testament teaching on this subject. In so doing they have elevated a single individual to a place of leadership or responsibility for an entire congregation. This practice is not to be found in any of the early churches.

The N T church ordained or appointed men into 3 different offices. Alphabetically they are bishops, deacons, and elders. Some teach that bishops, elders and pastors are all holders of the same office; this is not likely. The Greek dictionary shows three separate and distinct words for these positions. Paul tells us in Corinthians 14: 33 that:

" . . . . .GOD is not the author of confusion, . . . . "

Not only would the use of three different words in referring to one office be confusing, but it would also leave the scripture open to "private interpretation", which is forbidden in 2 Peter 1: 20.

Having brought pastor into the mix, it might be timely to discuss this, the most extensive use of man's tradition that contradicts scripture. Why the founders of so many denominations chose this title for the "leaders" of their congregations is indeed a mystery. The office of pastor was established for the Hebrew people in 620 BC, Jer. 3: 15, but because of their failures and misleading of the people, (see Jer. 10: 21, 12: 10, 22: 22, 23:1) their authority was taken away by GOD and they were replaced by shepherds (plural) in 599 BC, Jer. 23: 1-4. According to scripture, they were on the scene just over 20 years. The word pastor is mentioned only once in the NT. Why Paul listed it among the SPIRITual gifts to the Ephesians (ch 4: 11) is not fully understood. There are no qualifications for a pastor given in the Bible nor are any duties outlined. The position to which present day pastors have been elevated is purely a fabrication of man.

Present day pastors often refer to themselves as 'leaders' or 'Spiritual leaders'. Human leadership is mentioned only 7 times in the New Testament:

  • Matt. 15: 14 & Luke 6:39 - refers to the blind leading the blind
  • Mark 13: 11 - CHRIST advises HIS disciples about being arrested
  • Mark 14: 44 - speaks of JESUS being led away after HIS betrayal
  • Luke 13: 15 - CHRIST speaks of animals being led to water
  • Acts 13: 11 - Paul, sightless after his conversion needed a leader
  • 2 Tim 3: 6 - refers to those who lead 'silly women'
Not one of these passages refers to leading a congregation. Rather, the title used for that purpose is shepherd:

Acts 20: 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Peter 5: 2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers. . . .
Traditionally, shepherds walk behind their flock making certain that none go astray. In a leading position at the front of the flock, this observation would not be possible unless he were walking backward.

This is not to say that we are without a leader. Paul told the church at Rome precisely who our leader is:
Rom. 8: 14 For as many as are led by the SPIRIT of GOD, they are the sons of GOD.
Leadership doesn't get any better than GOD's own SPIRIT!! Note the use of 'many' and 'sons' making reference to plural individuals. There is no indication that this leadership ever comes through one person, as some pastors would have us to believe.

Each time N T church officers are mentioned they are always spoken of in plural, i.e. bishops, deacons, and elders. The two exceptions to this are when Peter and John referred to themselves as elders, 1 Pet. 5: 1 & 2 John 1. GOD was never pleased to have HIS people governed by one person. HE reluctantly gave Israel a king because of their insistence, but HE told Samuel that the people were rejecting HIM and HIS rule over them by making this choice, see 1 Sam 8: 4 - 7. Kings governed the people for approximately 400 years and were very inconsistent. Some feared GOD and led the people in the worship of HIM, while others were strictly idolaters and took the people to their false gods. GOD's true choice for oversight of HIS people was elders who were in place as for back as the Egyptian captivity (Ex 3: 16) and judges who were appointed soon after their deliverance (Ex 18: 13 - 27). With multiple overseers or shepherds it is difficult if not impossible for one errant individual to mislead a nation or a church. The other members of that body would be responsible to restrain or correct such a one.

Bishops

Looking at the NT church and the offices associated with it, alphabetically the first was bishop. The word appears only 5 times in scripture, but none of those appearances describe duties or responsibilities for the office.

  • Phil. 1: 1 - Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
  • 1 Tim. 3: 1 - This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
  • 1 Tim. 3: 2 - A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
  • Tit 1: 7 - For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
  • 1 Pet 2: 25 - For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls

As you can see, two of these references simply describe the man who can fill this office. Peter relates to the Bishop of our souls, who of course is CHRIST. In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he acknowledges that bishops are present in their assembly. None of these verses give any duties or responsibilities of the office, yet some denominations have given this title to a very high ranking position in their organization.

Deacon

The word deacon also appears in scripture only 5 times, but none of these passages describe duties for the office.

  • 1 Tim. 3: 10 - And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.
  • 1 Tim. 3: 13 - For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
  • Phil. 1: 1 - Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
  • 1 Tim 3: 8 - Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
  • 1 Tim 3: 12 - Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

Man has attributed the serving of church widows as described in Acts 6: 1-6, to deacons: there is however, no scripture (at least in the KJV) that validates this. Even if this were scripturally true at that time, what present day church in the US is caring for its widows in this manner?

Any attempt to give duties or responsibilities to the office of bishop or deacon is strictly according to the thinking of man. Such are not to be found in the Bible. Why you may ask, 'If GOD had these offices identified in the scriptures why did HE not describe their duties?' That is a good question and you are in the company of a large group of Bible scholars who have asked the same thing. I confess that I do not understand why no "job descriptions" were included for these positions. There are at least two major points to be considered in this discussion.

  1. In Rom. 11:34, Paul asks the question "For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?"
    This was simply his way of asking who knows the thinking of GOD and who is wise enough to give HIM advice. In both cases, I affirm - Not I !!!
  2. Nor will I be guilty of adding anything to HIS WORD. We are warned in at least 3 places not to do so: Deut. 4:2, Pr 30:6, Rev. 22:18


Elder

Finally we come to the office of elder, the only office for which duties and responsibilities are set forth in scripture.

Elder is defined by man in a Bible dictionary as: Overseer - a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done correctly, any curator, guardian or superintendent. However, in the case of this office, we do not have to rely on how man defines it, there are Bible verses that do. Elders were GOD's choice to oversee HIS people as far back as the Egyptian captivity, but our concern will be limited to those of the New Testament church.

We find Elders and their responsibilities in a number of passages, some of which are:

Acts 11: 30 "Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul."
This verse relates to a famine that was taking place and the church at Antioch determined to send financial support to the church at Jerusalem. It was sent to the elders indicating that they were responsible for finances of the church.

Acts 14: 23 "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed."
In Lystra, Antioch, and Iconium - cities of Paul's first missionary journey, elders established right away in every church, not at some later date nor as an after thought.

The most extensive description of elders is found in 1 Pet 5: 1-10. While some of this chapter can apply to all believers, it was directed toward those men who were charged with overseeing the church.

ver. 2 "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;"
"Feeding of the flock" in scripture almost always refers to the teaching of GOD's WORD. "Oversight" relates to care of, concern or responsibility for, not by compulsion, but because they want to. Their efforts are not for the sake of money, but because they believe in what they do.

ver. 3 "Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock."
Elders do not oversee as masters, or in an authoritative manner, but rather as examples to the people.

ver. 4 "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
At the return of CHRIST their labor will be rewarded.

ver. 5 "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."
GOD has established order among HIS shepherds. It is based on respect for each other and humility.

ver. 6 "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:"
Humility now will result in honor in the future

ver. 7 "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."
Relying totally on GOD because of HIS love for them.

ver. 8 "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:"
Being always on guard for the presence and influence of satan in the church.

ver. 9 "Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world."
Being able to resist his influence through faith, seeing his work amidst those who are still in the world.

ver. 10 "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."
Almighty GOD, who originally drew them to JESUS, will perfect and strengthen them.

In addition to Peter's description of elders, the apostle Paul also writes about them.

Heb 11: 1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report".
As with all believers, faith should be a major factor with elders.

Tit 1: 5 - 6 "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly."
Elders were to be selected in each location. They were to have only one wife; this eliminates women and those who practice polygamy from being a part of church oversight.

Duties of Elders

In addition to what we read in I Pet ch 5 about being an overseer, an example, a servant and doing it all with humility, there are some other duties outlined for elders in the Bible.

Acts 20: 28 - 30 "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Paul is talking to elders at Ephesus and charges them with being overseers appointed by the HOLY GHOST. Can there be a more authoritative appointment? How can professing Bible believers ignore this action by the HOLY SPIRIT?

verse 29 Part of their duty was to watch for false teachers.
verse 30 Paul warns from where those false teachers come?

Elders decided questions about doctrine

Acts 15: 1 - 6 and 22 - 23 1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. . . . . . . . . . . . .4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter

22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

verse 4 Elders received Paul and Barnabas on behalf of the church
verse 6 They were called upon to settle disputes and matters of doctrine
verse 22 & 23 Elders sent messengers with their letter

Acts 21: 18-19 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. 19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things GOD had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
The elders served in a capacity similar to a missions board, hearing of Paul's work among the Gentiles

Perhaps the most important duty of elders is found in:
Jas 5: 14 -15 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

  1. I've had the men of the church to pray over my wife when she had sever headaches,
  2. the men of the church prayed over me when I went into the hospital with what should have been a fatal case of West Nile Virus,
  3. in both cases GOD responded to those prayers
Treatment of Elders

1 Tim 5: 1 - Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; ..........

1 Tim 5: 19 - Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

1 Tim 5: 17 - 18 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18 - For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

Some NT churches were so large that elders were full time servants and they were to be paid.

Divine Rewards of Elders

While scriptural elders will not be elevated or exalted by man as most pastors are, GOD has a plan for rewarding them in a far better way. The apostle Peter writes of these rewards in chapter 5 of his first letter.

1 Pet 5: 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
At the return of CHRIST their labor will be rewarded.

ver. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
Humility now will result in honor in the future

ver. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
Almighty GOD, who originally drew them to JESUS, will perfect and strengthen them.

Summary of Elders

  • Appointed by the HOLY GHOST
  • Always multiple elders in every church
  • Willing overseers, NOT leaders
  • Serve by example, not self-assumed authority
  • Men of faith and rely on GOD for direction
  • Men of humility
Conclusion

GOD has a plan for the oversight of HIS church; it is passed on to us through the examples in HIS Word. To ignore HIS plan is to place the traditions of man ahead of HIS will. This is not in the best interest of Bible believing, born again people. JESUS warns us that failing to receive HIS words, we will be judged by them, John 12: 48

Please visit our other sites: Glorify GOD, What the Church Should Be, Soul Winning: Another Look, Scriptural Belief in JESUS, Baptism, Scriptural Prayer Scriptural Healing
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