Baptists and Elders (plural) in the local church

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by John Ellwood Taylor, May 18, 2005.

  1. John Ellwood Taylor

    John Ellwood Taylor
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    I’m not sure if this should go in history or Theology...
    I 'm choosing history because of how I have chosen to frame the question.

    Starting with the assumption that elder, bishop, and pastor are synonymous terms (Acts 20, Phil 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, Titus 1) where did we get the concept over either deacon board rule or single pastor 'head honcho' rule?
    From the studying the NT I do not believe this method is present either in principle or pattern.
    It appears that the NT teacher a plurality of elders leading the local congregation under the headship of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5) with the members lovingly submitting to the elders' rule (Hebrews 13).
    It's my hypothesis that American style democracy and/or corporate culture has taken over the church polity.
    The 'head honcho' concept seems to come from the President/CEO mentality and the board of deacons rule mimics a board of directors.

    I see this trend demonstrated in the SBC's F&M: if you compare the 1925 version to the 1963 version we note the word elder/bishop disappears and is replaced with 'pastor'.
    1925 XII: "A church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ, governed by his laws, and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Its Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons."

    1963 VI: "This church is an autonomous body, operating through democratic processes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In such a congregation, members are equally responsible. Its Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons."

    Do you agree/disagree that we may have gone the way of our culture and left the clear teaching of the Scriptures?

    I know this issue has become more visible with the prominence of John MacArthur and Grace Community Church as well as Al. Strauch's book on Biblical Eldership.
    If you agree, is your church elder rule and if you agree and the church is not is this an issue that should be taught with a view of moving towards a more biblical 'ecclesiology"?

    Thanks in advance
     
  2. gb93433

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    I have been in churches with elder rule and deacon/congregational rule. I think both are very dangerous.

    It is my belief that there are times when smaller decisions must be made without the congregation knowing but there are also other times when the congregation must know.

    I have seen problems in al kinds of churches. The critical key is not the method but the men in leadership. Godly men yileds godly decisons and excellent spiritual leadership.

    However spiritual leaders do not always make the best decisions when it come to areas out side of their field.

    A few years ago a friend of mine and myself were building a church building and the elders knew almost nothing about building. Finally we had enough of their lack of wisdom and lack of education in the business of building a building. We had all kinds of problems. They had so many questions and understood so little. Finally when we told them we needed to get the building done and suggested who we wanted to deal with, everything went great after that. We asked to deal with a man who was a plan checker in the city building department. The problems ended when the plan checker was involved. He was not an elder. I knew him from our college days and he and I had both worked for the same person as carpenters. So we both knew how it should be done. With the right person the building cost less and was done in a timely manner. It was so bad at one time that even the subcontractors were getting mad because things were not being done in a timely manner. The elders were dragging their feets on a number of things they knew nothing about.

    I believe it is wise to let the pastors deal with spiritual matters and involve the congregation when it is best.

    I do not believe in such a clear distinction as Strauch claims. All leadership should be godly people. If you read in Acts 6 you see great men of God serving. A pastor is not just there to deal with spiritual matters only nor is a deacon there only to deal with temporal matters. One of the greatest men of God I know was a man who had a business cleaning carpets. That man knew his Bible very well and shared his faith. But he enjoyed sharing his faith privately with people and had an intense desire to make everyone feel welcome in any possible way he could coming into the church. He often spoke of how we should make people feel comfortable in the building. Any pastor would love to have him as a deacon.
     
  3. Gunther

    Gunther
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    God ordained that a plurality of elders would rule the church. Any other form is a perversion of reality and truth.
     
  4. Preacher's Boy

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    Gunther, if that's true...why did Paul give the qualifications for bishops?
     
  5. John Ellwood Taylor

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    If I may, my original post assumes that elder and bishop were two terms describing the same office and pastor (or shepherd is what they do).
    Bishop is episkopos (often translated overseer, more literal translation)
    Elder is presbuteros, meaning older man.
    If you look at 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 note the qualifications of presbuteros (elder) in Titus 1:5-9 are equivalent to those in 1Timothy 3:1-7 for episkopos (overseer). In Titus we see that the words presbuteros (elder, verse 5) and episkopos (overseer, verse 7) are used interchangeable signifying their equivalence. Also, Titus uses presbuteros (elder) where 1 Timothy uses episkopos (overseer) also suggesting their equivalence.
    In Philippians 1:1 we see the bishops/overseers greeted along with the deacons, no elders mentioned. I believe this is further support for bishop=elder, unless Paul forget them in his greeting.
    Elder seems to denote the quality of the man.
    Bishop/overseer seems to denote duties (se also 1 Pet. 2:25,5:1-2,4).
    Pastoring is how they do it, not as lording it over the sheep but shepherding them. Eph. 4:11 seems to show a pastor is one who teaches, hence back to the qualifications of 1 Tim 3 'apt to teach'. Not that only elders can teach, but that those would be elders must be able to teach.

    Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4 seem to tie the terms elder/bishop/pastor into one office.
    On another note: James 5:14 seems to presumes a plurality of elders in the local congregation, right?

    Back to the original intent of the post:
    Biblically, should the church be lead by a single pastor or a 'board' of deacons (servants)?
    I know churches that use deacons as elders without title or understanding but default to those gifted in leadership/oversight who happen to be deacons.
     
  6. Pastor Larry

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    Biblically, plurality of elders is not demanded, and is not practically feasible. Interesting you should bring up MacArthur's church. Is there anyone here who really thinks that the other elders are on equal par with MacArthur? A little jingle about E. F. Hutton comes to mind here ...

    Plural leadership may work theoretically, but it really is ineffecient practically, and there is no mandate from the NT to practice it that way. Most problems with the single/senior pastor model have arisen from men who didn't meet the qualifications of 1 Tim 3 (for bishop, singular). Had they met those qualifications, there would have been no problem. Plurality of elders has became, IMO, a way of protecting the church, but in reality a way of making it so the church doesn't really have to pay attention. Shared leadership is, in many cases, an abdication of responsbility.

    But it really doesn't bother me which a church practices. There is no NT mandate for one or the other, and anyone who says there is is perverting reality and the truth.
     
  7. gb93433

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    You are exactly right. I have noticed that when a church goes to the elder/deacon model then the pastor often becomes equal with the other elders and he is not able to share information that is required to make wise decisions with the others because of confidentiality. There are decisions that a pastor must make and the elders will not understand because they are not the pastor not do the people view the other elders as pastors.

    I do see in scripture as Paul being the pastor to pastors. He is leading them as a mentor. When he meets with the elders form those churches he is the primary leader and they follow his lead.

    I have seen churches that go the route of the elder model become very much less evangelistic. Evry church I know become a sweet introverted church. I was in a church that came from the elder model and modified it so that the pastor became the primary lead4r and the each elder had oversight of a ministry. The church had been about 200 for about 30 years and within the next eight years went to about 1200 baptizing about 100 a year. After that pastor left they went back at the insistence of a man who came from a brethren church and the church declined back down to about 300 over the next ten years and stayed that way for about the next 15 until a pastor came and started leading then it shot up again. Another church had a few men who had gone to Bible school after high school and returned to the area. The older man was the mentor and the younger were being mentored by him until he died. The church was doing well until the older man died. The people are friendly and do mission work but lack evangelistic zeal. The church has not grown in several years. In fact it has become more introverted since its founder died.

    I am in favor of having the pastor as the primary leader and other men who hold him accountable and he holds accountable. I think one of the problems lies in the idea that many people do not know how to lead or follow.

    No methodology will ever solve or make up for problems associated with ungodly immature men. I have found it very easy and enjoyable to lead men who are doing ministry or want to be mentored. They know what it is like to lead others. They do not give me problems because they know what I face. I find them to be a tremendous support and will step up to the plate when they are called upon.
     
  8. John Ellwood Taylor

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    As mentioned in a few previous posts the issue, whether single pastor or multiple elders, is qualified leadership. As Pastor Larry & gb93433 mentioned it is a failure to meet biblical mandates for leadership ( 1 Tim. 3 {yes bishop, singular-when your considering the individual man} but there were multiple leaders in Philippi (Phil. 1:1), Ephesus (Acts 20), and to the catholic (universal) churches James was writing (James 5:14).

    Any church, no matter what leadership model, will have issues because the shepherd(s) and the sheep are not perfect. For every bad example that can be cited for single pastor/plural elders there can be good examples to counter. Pragmatics should not be the issues. The issue is, “Is there a pattern or principal biblically for us to follow?” Our ecclesiology, as with any teaching/practice, must not be governed by pragmatics or culture, but by the Word.

    While not demanded, a plurality seems to be indicated in the NT, historically even our beloved Baptist churches were elder ruled.

    For the plurality of elders there is always there scare of it being an old boys club. This in only an issue if they are not biblically qualified or faithfully serving .
    For a single pastor, the issue is doe he report to a board or a congregation that has ultimate power over him (employment) and they may not be spiritual.

    I only mentioned MacArthur as his prominence has been the basis for the widespread resurgence of the elder model in recent discussions.

    Regarding the E. F. Hutton analogy…I would guess people listen to him because he is a faithful exegete/expositor of the Word!

    I agree with gb93433, a good leader(s) will delegate, while keeping oversight and ultimate responsibility (see Acts 6).

    No comments yet as the SBC changing their wording from bishops/elders to pastors?

    I do appreciate the feedback
    [​IMG]
     
  9. Lacy Evans

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    Whether or not we deem plurality of elders "feasible" or "practical" makes no difference. What does the Bible say? Someday some might argue that the Biblical model for marriage is impractical, after all it fails over 50% of the time.

    It has been said that their is no Biblical mandate for plural elders. What other model is there? Doesn't the absennce of any other model of polity at least suggest a mandate?

    I think that a church with plural elders/pastors/bishops might have one particular elder who is a chief speaker/teacher. The concept of "first among equals" seems Biblical to me.


    Strauch's "Biblical Eldership" is a good read

    http://www.nccn.net/~brennanp/BEphamphStrauch/PAMPHBEDOC.html



    Lacy
     
  10. Pastor Larry

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    Sure ... but how many churches were at Philippi, Ephesus, or other cities? If you figure there were say, five churches, and each church had a pastor, then there would be "pastors" at Philippi, but not more than one church. To read more than one in a church may be right, but it is not in the text. It is imported into the text.

    It is more likely that it is because they recognize him as the pastor of the church, the leader.
     
  11. gb93433

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    Ever heard the saying, "If Christianity does not work in your home, it does not work."

    The Bible teaches mentoring and discipleship not collective or cooperative pastoring. In every case Paul is the mentor not the others. When they go back to their respective congregation they are mentoring the people. That is the biblical model Jesus set forth by the way He discipled his followers.

    From Strauch:

    “By definition, the elder structure of government is a collective leadership in which each elder shares equally the position, authority, and responsibility of the office. There are different names for this type of leadership structure. More formally it is called collective, corporate, or collegiate leadership. In contemporary terms, it is referred to as multiple church leadership, plurality, shared leadership, or team leadership. I use these terms synonymously throughout this booklet. The opposite of collective leadership is unitary leadership, monarchical rule, or one-man leadership.”

    This statement puts everyone on a equal footing. This is to deny the work of God in each and the giftedness of each. There is not one example of an elders relationship to Paul where Paul is equal with those who follow. It is an American ideal that has never worked. It sounds great but denies all giftedness and strengths and weakness of any elder/pastor. At one time I thought the elder/deacon model was great until I went to seminary and realized how little those elders knew at the church I came from. To this day the church has actually gone down in evangelism and attendance over the last thirty years while other churches are continuing to grow in a growing area. In that same area everyone of the elder rule churches are declining. To say all elders are equal is to say all pastors are equal. We know that’s not true.

    Following is a contradictory statement :

    “Although elders are to act jointly as a council and share equal authority and responsibility for the leadership of the church, all elders are not equal in their giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, or dedication. Therefore, those among the elders who are particularly gifted leaders and/or teachers will naturally stand out among the other elders as leaders and teachers within the leadership body. This is what the Romans called primus inter pares, which means "first among equals," or primi inter pares, which means "first ones among equals."

    This is exactly the problem in many of those churches. They have become stagnant and cannot move. Again he contradicts himself when he writes “Although elders are to act jointly as a council and share equal authority and responsibility for the leadership of the church, all elders are not equal in their giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, or dedication.”

    The leader at the time is the one who is the expert in that area. Not the one who is one of the gang. Every church I know that has employed this model over a long time and continues to promote it has become a stagnant church. Once the founding pastor leaves it always becomes stagnant.

    Just look at the Plymouth Brethren Churches. They have no pastor and elders do all the teaching. Any of them growing?
     
  12. Logos1560

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    Good points. I do know that some if not many Baptist churches in the 1700's or 1800's had elders [plural]. Then elders seem to be the more commonly used name instead of pastors.

    The "them" of Hebrews 13:7, 17 would seem to be in agreement with plurality of elders/bishops/pastors. Acts 14:23 noted that "they had ordained them elders [plural] in every church [singular]." William Tyndale had translated it as "ordained them elders by election in every congregation."
     
  13. Lacy Evans

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    It is not imported, or even implied. It is succintly stated. The word "Elders" is consistently plural and the word "Church" is singular.
    Do you think that James could possibly be suggesting that sick folks should call for all the pastors in town (1st Baptist, 2nd Baptist, Crestview, Hillside, Sunset, etc.) to come pray for them?


    Lacy
     
  14. gb93433

    gb93433
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    Every church did have elders. Every church was made up of many small house churches. Paul was over all those elders in the churches in every city. One pastor with many elders and one from each house church.

    For example Paul met with the elders of the church in Ephesus in Acts 20. Acts 20:17, "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church."

    That would be much like a person meeting with the pastors of the church in Atlanta.
     
  15. Lacy Evans

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    I never heard that. I also never saw truth judged by effectiveness.

    Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and the Great Shepherd. (Heb13:20, 1 Pet 5:4) Nobody else has that title.

    In the Bible, a Flock has one and only one Principal shepherd and many undershepherds. Notice these verses where the flock is singular and the shepherds are plural.

    Strauch is not contradictory, he is balanced. He sees both sides of the issue.

    Again, Experience is not the criteria for doctrine, including Polity. However, there are many growing churches which employ Biblical eldership.

    Church Polity was not the issue that caused the downfall of the PB. Infact, the Closed Brethren (Darbyites) pretty much abandoned plurality(in practice) and great divisions resulted. I suggest you research the Open Brethren if you want a better model.

    Lacy
     
  16. John Ellwood Taylor

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    Thanks logos1560, this is getting closer to my original intent in posting the question. While I have appreciated all the input, the thread seems to have evolved (can I say that word in context) into a debate of single vs. plural leadership.

    I'm curious to trace the historical move away from elders to pastor. I can't cite it right now but I heard/read a theory that there were elders in each church when the U.S was settled and as the move to the west began there were not enough gifted men in each town/village/encampment to have a plurality. This also seems to account for the 'circuit rider'.
    While you can debate the translation/pattern of vote/elect in passages like Acts 14, I am again concerned that the American democratic notion of everyone gets a say has crept into our church government. Acts 6 says the Apostle delegated the task to the group to select among themselves those that would be appointed by the Apostles.

    I agree in the Baptist distinctive of the priesthood of the believers as stated on sbc.net: "Priesthood of All Believers

    We affirm the priesthood of all believers. Laypersons have the same right as ordained ministers to communicate with God, interpret Scripture, and minister in Christ's name. That is why the Convention requires strong lay involvement on its boards.

    This doctrine is first and foremost a matter of responsibility and servanthood, not privilege and license.

    It is of course, a perversion of this doctrine to say that all views are equally valid, that you can believe anything and still be a Baptist or that the pastor has no unique leadership role."

    All believers are priests do not need a mediator, all believers are gifted for service in the body by the Holy Spirit, yet not all have the gifts associated with leadership.

    Any more information from a historic perspective would be greatly appreciated.
     
  17. Lacy Evans

    Lacy Evans
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    Forgive me John, I highjacked your thread. (Sorry)

    Lacy
     
  18. rlvaughn

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    While I don't have any sources before me at the moment, I think that most people understand that our westward expansion did often coincide with a shortage of preachers. I know that in some of the early days in this area, it was quite common for one elder to travel a wide "circuit" to minister to the scattered congregations. We followed this pattern for a number of years after it was necessary, so that many churches only met once (or twice) a month, served by an "absentee" pastor, well past the middle of the 20th century. Some small Baptist groups, who have a shortage of elders, still use the method.
     
  19. John Ellwood Taylor

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    Not a problem...it's led to a good discussion, including facts and opinions!

    [​IMG]
     
  20. Pastor Larry

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    Yes, but the "chuch at Ephesus" was not one single assembly with many pastors. It was many assemblies with many pastors. We do not know how many pastors in each assembly. That is what you are importing or reading into the text.
     

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