CHURCH GOVERNANCE PROCEDURES
We believe that:
- Christ is the head of every local church. There is no human head of the church.
- The Bible is the only written creed for each local church, rather than a man-made written creed.
- Each local church is autonomous and self-governing. No outside interference from others.
- The Bible uses Elder, Presbyter, Overseer, Bishop, Shepherd, Pastor interchangeably and they all refer to a single office in the church.
- Local churches appoint their own plurality of elders using 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 as guidelines for the qualifications.
- Elders have authority only over the members of the local church, not members from outside congregations.
- Accountability provides protection for everyone
Deacons and Elders Are the Two Distinct Offices in a New Testament Church
The two New Testament offices are mentioned together in Philippians 1:1 and in 1st Timothy 3 — bishops and deacons. In 1st Timothy 3 the qualifications are spelled out for the two offices, bishops in verses 1-7, and deacons in verse 8-13. The qualifications are similar, but not identical. For example, the bishop is required to be “able to teach” whereas the deacon does not have that expectation. The differences in title and qualifications mean that the offices are distinct.
The term “bishop” is translated overseer in some translations. It is the word from which we get our word “episcopal” which means, “to look upon, inspect, oversee, look after, care for” and refers to “the care of the church which rested upon the elders.” The term is used interchangeably with “elder” and “shepherd” (i.e. pastor) in Acts 20 and 1st Peter 5. There is no question on the authority of the office: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine” (1st Timothy 5:17 NKJV)
Three facts stand out:
- Deacons and Elders are the offices in the church. The offices are distinct. Elders are not deacons. Deacons are not elders.
- The terms, Elder, Pastor (shepherd), and Overseer (bishop) are used synonymously in the New Testament.
- In the New Testament, elders had the role of the general oversight of the church.
“Elder” and “pastor” are not two different offices. As John Piper argues in section five of the booklet “Biblical Eldership,” they are simply two different words for the same office. He gives three reasons. First, in Acts 20:28, elders are encouraged in the “pastoral” duties of overseeing and shepherding. Second, in 1 Peter 5:1-2, elders are exhorted to “shepherd” the flock of God that is in their charge, which is the role of a pastor. Third, in Ephesians 4:11, the one time that the word pastor occurs in the NT, pastors are treated as one group with teachers. This suggests that the chief role of the pastor is to feed the flock through teaching, which is a primary role of elders (Titus 1:9). Hence, the NT seems to indicate that “pastor” is another name for “elder.” An elder is a pastor, and a pastor is an elder.
According to the New Testament, elders are responsible for the primary leadership and oversight of a church. The function and role of an elder is well summarized by Alexander Strauch in his book Biblical Eldership: “Elders lead the church [1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1-2], teach and preach the Word [1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9], protect the church from false teachers [Acts 20:17, 28-31], exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine [1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; Titus 1:9], visit the sick and pray [James 5:14; Acts 20:35], and judge doctrinal issues [Acts 15:16]. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church”
- An elder can only oversee one local congregation
- Each church is self-governing and autonomous
- A bishop from one church cannot oversee another church
Elder’s authority in the Bible was limited to within one local congregation:
- Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you OVERSEERS, to SHEPHERD the church of God which he purchased with His own blood.”
- 1 Pet 5:1-3 “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you … shepherd the flock of God among you … proving to be examples to the flock”
- 1 Pet 5:1 “I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder”
- Peter was an elder but he was not higher in rank than any other elder.
- All elders in the eldership are of equal authority.
“Overseers” can be paid, just like evangelists:
- ” The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The labourer is worthy of his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:17-18
- “Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the labourer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house.” Luke 10:7
- “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:14
- “Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the ploughman ought to plough in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:6-14
5. “Overseers” must be obeyed by the other members!
- “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17
- ” But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labour among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,” 1 Thessalonians 5:12
- “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labours.” 1 Corinthians 16:15-16
An evangelist/preacher/minister is different from an elder/pastor/overseer
- Elders in the New Testament were not always full time preachers: 1 Ti 5:17 “Let the ELDERS who rule well be considered worthy of double honour especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
- Full time preachers in the New Testament were not always elders.
- Apostle Paul was not an elder: nowhere in the Bible is Paul referred to as an elder.Paul wasn’t married: 1 Cor 7:7, therefore was not even qualified: 1 Ti 3:2,4,5.
Peter on the other hand, was both a full time preacher and an elder. 1 Peter 5:1 “I[Peter] … your “FELLOW elder”
Qualifications of an Elder 1 Tim 3:1-7 & Tit 1:5-9
- Elders must be men.
- Elders must be married.
- Elders must have PROVEN that they can keep their children under control
- Must be what “elder” implies: an older man of experience. Men under 40 years oldare never called elderly.
- Must have enough Bible knowledge to be able to refute false doctrine.
Why did God use four different terms to describe the one office? Simple! Each term gives us a distinct view of the various functions of that one office. If God had used only one word, it would not be nearly as clear as it is with the four terms.
- Elder indicates an older man with wisdom that can only come from age and experience.
- Overseer indicates a position of top authority, one who is in charge and makes all final decisions for the local congregation.
- Shepherd is a metaphoric term that indicates the men are to show love, care, dedication and self-sacrifice for the members as sheep. The men are not literally Shepherding sheep, but are doing so in a metaphoric sense that everyone immediately understands.
- Steward indicates a man who can be trusted with great treasures. Of course the greatest of these treasures, are the souls of the local church members, over whom he is in charge. But it also indicates the fact that the men are also in charge of the churches financial assets, including church buildings and the weekly collection of money from the church on the first day of every week through freewill offerings.
Summary of The Role of Elders (1 Tim 4:14)
“The elders are responsible for providing the vision and direction to the church. They are responsible for the government of the church as representatives of the people and God. They shall pastor the people by providing spiritual guidance, teaching, and by equipping the people for the work of the ministry. The elders, with the assistance of the deacons, shall make provision for each member to receive watch care. The main function of the elders is to provide the atmosphere and structure to enable individuals to develop their relationship with God and each other by appropriating the character of Jesus Christ and functioning daily in obedience to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit.”