Archive for the ‘Elders’ Category


Addressing Gender Roles in the Church

March 15, 2019

Controversy over gender roles is an unavoidable danger to churches today.  Opinions across the spectrum are flying across social media, and church members are being influenced.  People are gathering online into factions around whichever pundit says what they want to hear.  The resulting factions are forming inside congregations as well as between congregations.

Forming factions in the church is sin (Gal 5:19-21).  Those who promote division are self-condemned. (Titus 3:11) Christians are instructed to avoid such people. (Rom 16:17).  But still, the factions grow larger and the divisions deeper, as each person finds teachers who say what they want to hear. (2 Tim 4:3)

As an elder in the Lord’s church, what am I supposed to do about it?

  1. Focus on my own congregation (Acts 20:28)
  2. Teach the scriptures.  (2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9)
  3. Silence false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3, Titus 1:11, Titus 3:10)

In large part, churches are in this situation because their membership has not been taught what the scriptures say on the subject of gender roles.  In the absence of a biblical foundation, the church is being influenced by the loud voices of the surrounding culture. As the apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders,  even from our own number men are arising to draw people after themselves, using the controversy over gender roles to build their own following.  The flock is vulnerable to the wolves because they were not taught the scriptures.

The responsibility for addressing this falls upon elders.  Paul set the example of teaching the whole counsel of God to the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:27) and he called the Ephesian elders to follow his example. He reminds elders in every era that it was the Holy Spirit who appointed us as overseers of the church which Christ purchased with his blood.  He charges us with protecting the flock against the savage wolves that would be coming.

Paul sent Titus to appoint elders in each congregation in Crete in order to teach sound doctrine and to refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9) Today’s elders have that same charge.  We must not stand by on the sidelines while the wolves ravage the flock.  Elders cannot pass the buck on the issue of  gender roles.  The buck stops here.

One of the qualifications for eldership is that the we must hold to the trustworthy message as it has been taught (Titus 1:9).  As elders, we are not free to teach according to our own preferences, nor the preferences of the flock. We must not deviate from what the apostles taught in the first century.

In my congregation, we have recently completed a month-long series on the subject.  Previously it had been about ten years since we had addressed the subject directly to the church.  That was too long, especially given the pressures coming from the culture around us.

Elders are the overseers who must watch over the church as men who must give an account (Heb 13:17).  Elders must be men of courage.  It’s time for elders everywhere to speak up and defend the trustworthy message that was taught by the apostles on the subject of gender roles.











March 22, 2008

On one matter, the vast majority of churches of Christ are in agreement: a church cannot have only one elder. If the congregation does not have two or more men meeting the biblical qualifications, that church does not appoint elders. And if, for whatever reason, the number of elders in a congregation is reduced until only one remains, that individual can no longer serve as an elder.

While this is a reasonable conclusion to draw from the scriptures, I believe it is an incomplete picture. Our understanding of the scriptures on this subject (and on many others) is tainted by our modern preconceptions about the church. Further, our understanding is clouded by our reaction against practices of other groups that we believe to be wrong. As a result, while we have very definite and strong convictions about the subject, our convictions are not completely aligned with scripture.

The basic idea of a plurality of elders comes from passages like these:

Act 14:21-23 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Act 20:17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.

Php 1:1-2 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers [elders] and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1Ti 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

It is apparent in each of those cases that there were more than one elder in each of these churches.

Let’s consider another passage:

Tit 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Here, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every town. One might reasonably ask whether these elders were associated with a single congregation or with multiple congregations within that town. J. W. McGarvey comments on this passage:

Titus was left at Crete to ordain Elders in every city, which is equivalent to ordaining them in every church, because there was but one church in each city.

Later he states:

It is true that in these cities the disciples often had several meeting places, but there is no evidence of separate and independent organizations.

It is easily proven that first century cities often had multiple congregations. Romans 16 mentions at least three separate house churches (verses 5,14,15), along with numerous individuals who were not included in any of those three groups. The churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus were especially large, perhaps tens of thousands of members. It is quite likely that those groups seldom if ever assembled together as a single group after reaching such large numbers. The same may have been true in other cities as well.

The church in Jerusalem is particularly instructive on this question. Consider the following:

Act 21:17-19 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

When Paul arrived, he found all of the Jerusalem elders meeting together with James. That is very significant, since verse 20 tells us the church was exceedingly large:

Act 21:20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.

Verse 20 speaks of how many “myriads” of Jews have believed — literally, how many “tens of thousands.” Suffice it to say that the Jerusalem church was huge, by modern standards. It seems completely infeasible for so many to assemble together regularly for Sunday worship in ancient Jerusalem. Communion alone would have been a logistical nightmare — not to mention such mundane concerns as restroom facilities (without indoor plumbing).

So the Jerusalem church was really made up of many smaller congregations. There must have been many elders in Jerusalem, but no elder could have served as shepherd for every one of those thousands of disciples. Instead, they would have divided the work so that each of the available elders could focus on a manageable group of disciples.

Yet, when Paul arrived, he found the elders meeting together with James. And the group of elders together addressed the controversy of Paul’s arrival and asked Paul to participate in some Jewish purification rites. In their shepherding role, they must have divided the labor. But in their overseeing role, they made a joint decision.

Today, when we read these passages, we naturally picture a church like our modern-day congregations — a few hundred at most, in a modern church building, with a group of elders who serve only the people who assemble in that one place. In many cities there may be a dozen or more of these churches of Christ, each of which acts like it is the only church in the city. The leaders of those different congregations might get together on rare occasion for a fellowship breakfast, but you can be sure that the business of city-wide congregational oversight will not be on the agenda. We hold our autonomy dearly.

What if we acknowledged that there is one church of Christ in our city? Could we have one eldership in the city? Could we jointly oversee a collection of smaller congregations within the city?

James wrote to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations — believing Jews in many remote places. In chapter 5 he instructed them:

Jas 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

What would one of these Jews do if he needed to call elders, but there were none in his remotely situated house church? Wouldn’t he call for the nearest elders he could find? Would those elders refuse to come because the sick one was a member of a small autonomous congregation lacking its own elders? Or was James only providing instructions for those lucky enough to be in a congregation that had its own elders?

In Acts 15, we have another instructive incident:

Act 15:1-2 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

The church in Antioch sent to Jerusalem for an answer to their dispute, even though they already had an apostle present. They specifically went to hear, not only from the apostles, but also from the elders in Jerusalem. As we know, the apostles and elders met to discuss the matter, and that same group wrote a response to the church in Antioch. No dominant elder nor apostle made the decision alone–despite the presence of numerous men possessing the gift of prophecy. The decision reached was a group decision.

Furthermore, the decision was delivered to many other congregations in the region besides Antioch:

Act 16:4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.

The elders in Jerusalem participated in a group decision which the congregations in the region were expected to obey. This incident sets a precedent for elders in one church to provide support for congregations in their region who did not have their own elders.

What should we make of all this?

First, it appears that our concept of a church is quite different from the biblical concept. There really is only one church, and parts of it meet in many places. In each city, a group of elders should oversee the church (singular) in that city. Their role can even extend beyond the city to support nearby congregations that lack elders.

For the purpose of shepherding, the work can and must be divided up into manageable portions. A shepherd must know his sheep. But for oversight, there needs to be a plurality. The group of elders should work together to come to decisions. No single elder is the emperor of his own little kingdom. Instead, the elders hold one another accountable to the high standards of the eldership, and make decisions as a group. That is the biblical example.

We who serve as elders need to take down the barriers between our congregations. We have been appointed by God to oversee the welfare of His church. We are only doing a limited part of that job.



September 6, 2006

Today I am blogging about the question that is on my mind more and more lately: How are shepherds supposed to take care of the Lord’s church?

Without a doubt, all who have been called to be shepherds find this to be a sobering question. God clearly wants a job to be done, and to be done right, diligently, consistently, and persistently. The people he appointed to this work had better be doing it when he returns! The church which he purchased with the blood of his Son is the most important thing in this world. When God appointed men to take care of his church, he gave them a staggering responsibility. Who is up to such a task?

I spend a lot of time thinking, praying, and studying about this question–both in the scriptures and in extra-biblical sources. Many books have been written on the topic, and I have read a stack of them. Reading sometimes opens my eyes to new aspects of the task, or to techniques that others have found useful. It always humbles me as I realize how much I have to grow and learn if I am to properly fill this role.

As I ponder these responsibilities, a few points continually stand out:

1) Be there. Shepherds must be with the sheep, or they cannot do their job. That requires a lot more than being at Sunday and midweek services. It means sharing not only the gospel, but my life as well. It means feeding them publicly and also house to house. It means knowing the sheep. It means knowing the condition of the flock, identifying the needs, and taking steps to address them. Pray for me in this area!

2) Feed them. That means teaching the Bible, and showing them how to apply it to their lives. It is my conviction that the local congregation should teach the whole Bible to the church in a reasonable length of time. They shouldn’t have to go to seminary to hear the whole counsel of God. All scriptures are inspired and useful. When all of the scriptures are taken together, they thoroughly prepare the church for every good work. When parts are left out, the sheep have a deficient diet and will not be healthy.

3) Protect them. Paul charged the Ephesian elders with protecting the flock from the wolves who would arise. In particular, he warned them that some would try to divide the sheep and lead some away. Maintaining unity within the flock is a crucial responsibility of the shepherds.

4) Rescue and restore them. God rebuked the shepherds of Israel in Ezek 34 for not retrieving the lost sheep. He said he himself would seek them, rescue them, bind their wounds and make them safe. That is what the shepherds of Israel should have been doing, but were not.

5) Be examples to the flock. One of the greatest needs in most churches is for examples of spiritual men. Many of the problems in churches can be traced back to men who are not being spiritual. The church cannot be strong without husbands who treat their wives in a godly way, and fathers who train their children in godliness. Those who lead must set the example in these areas, and inspire others to follow.

Without God, nobody would be equal to this task. Certainly I would not be! Pray that God will help me to fulfill the role he has given me.