As we continue in our study series of the Biblical picture of the Church, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not trying to “call out” any specific churches, or fellowships, or pastors. I’m not trying to convince you to leave your church, or join mine. The purpose of this series is to clearly state my doctrine regarding church and to challenge individuals and heads of households to weigh everything they are taught in their church (down to the very structure of said church) against Scripture. I will endeavor to keep these discussions on prescriptive passages in God’s Word, plainly written for us to follow. If you take umbrage with any of my assessments or commentary, I ask that you take some time to share your thoughts or questions with me (either via comment below or personal message). If you take issue with what the Scriptures say… well, I leave that to you, your elders, and God the Holy Spirit.
Christ is the Head of His Church
By way of reminder, let us review Ephesians 4:1-16, where the Apostle Paul makes absolutely clear that Jesus is the Head of His Church.
Ephesians 4:1-16 (ESV)
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The reason we are starting here is because we are going to be moving into the Biblical model for church leadership within the Body of Christ (I will be using a lower-case “church” to denote the local body of believers or congregation and an upper-case “Church” for the Body of Christ). In Part 1 of this series, we saw that when Paul was using the analogy of the Church as a building, that its foundation was upon that of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone. I want to begin the discussion of what Biblical church leadership looks like by addressing what some call a Mosaic model of church leadership. The idea that the church should have a single leader who is expected to hear the Word of God for the church and then relay what God has said to the congregation. Many such leaders take up their own Aarons as assistant pastor and then promote small group leaders patterned after Moses choosing leaders of the tribes manage the many needs of the multitudes. Some of the more modern churches might not realize they are employing a Mosaic architecture, they think it is all from corporate America, where the Moses of the organization is the CEO of the church. The first major problem with this setup is that Moses already recorded the Law of God and we have that now in written form. Christ came to fulfill the Law (and the Prophets) and we who now believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are no longer under the Law (we Gentiles never had access to the Promises of the Law anyway) but we have been adopted into a New Covenant by the blood of Jesus Christ (The book of Galatians and Hebrews lays this out well). So how is the Church (and subsequently, each church within it) supposed to be set up?
The Foundation of the Apostles
When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ conducted His earthly ministry, He selected 12 disciples and appointed them Apostles. One (Judas) betrayed Him. In the first chapter of Acts, we see the Apostles gathered together with other believers (approximately 120 in total) in prayer. They were waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, given to them by Jesus. They also looked to appoint another witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be counted among the leaders.
Acts 1:21-26 (ESV)
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
There are some who point to Peter as the head of the Apostles, and others who point to James. Notice that they didn’t make this decision on their own, they prayed together and asked the Lord, the Head of His Church, to show them who should be appointed the ministry and apostleship that Judas despised. Please note that after the Holy Spirit is poured out from heaven, we no longer see a casting of lots to seek guidance from God. The Holy Spirit was the promised reminder of all that Jesus had said to His disciples, and inspired the writing of the New Testament. We who are in Christ now benefit from the written Word of God & the indwelling presence of the Promised Holy Spirit of God as well. When Peter was sent to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10) for God to show him that the Gospel was indeed for the Gentiles just as it was for the Jews, he went back to the brothers and gave an account to the Apostles. However, Peter didn’t command a change in policy at that point. He offered up his testimony of what God had done for the Gentiles during the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and the Council also listened to the testimony of Paul and Barnabas. At the conclusion of the council, we see James sharing the council’s final decision. What we see demonstrated throughout the book of Acts, is not a Mosaic framework; rather, we see a plurality of elders leading the Church and giving council for the churches with Christ as the Head of His Church.
The Role of Elders
I want to first take a historical look at role of Elders by looking at the introduction of the Deacon in Acts. From there, we will move on to more prescriptive texts.
Acts 6:1-7 (ESV)
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
The Church at this time was already large, and while they pooled all they had for the ministry of the brethren, some were being overlooked. Therefore, the Elders (at this time they were the Apostles) realized that for them to personally ensure that the daily distribution reached all, they’d have to reduce the time they spent in prayer and in ministering of the Word of God (teaching and preaching). Therefore, the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples. This isn’t Paul or James making a decree… the twelve Apostles, Elders of the Church, summoned the full congregation and told them to nominate seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. Once chosen, the Apostles laid their hands on the 7 men in prayer. We see these men to indeed be filled with the Holy Spirit and even preaching the Word of God with miracles and wonders, but their office is that of deacon, serving the disciples, and the body of Christ.
Qualifications of Elders
In the interest of time, let us look at Paul’s instructions to Titus regarding Elders. I had planned to walk through Paul’s instructions to Timothy, but I think it best to postpone that discussion to tomorrow (I’m trying to keep these studies to a loose 3,000 word limit). Who is Titus? Well, we first see Titus mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Titus is a Greek convert who Paul and Barnabas brought along as testimony of God’s work among the Gentiles, when Paul presented their ministry to the Apostles in Jerusalem.
Galatians 2:1-10 (ESV)
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
So then, Titus is a disciple of Paul since the early missionary trip with Barnabas (before teaming up with Silas). We see his name pop up occasionally as Paul closes his letters giving a quick update on how the state of the Church. Now that we have a good idea of who Titus was, let us begin reading Paul’s instructions to him.
Titus 1 (ESV)
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
Notice the adoptive tone of his regard for Titus “my true child in the common faith“. Titus spent a great deal of time laboring with Paul in the ministry. He is now being charged to do a great deal of work in Crete, putting into order what remained. His primary charge is to appoint elders in every town. If you’ll remember our last discussion, we closed with the idea that the smallest unit of the Church is the family. That it falls to fathers to be the leaders and priests of their households. If the first thought in your mind is “but what about those families without fathers or where the father is not a believer?”, I ask you to hold onto that thought for the final post of this series. We will address the “what if” and the special cases later. We must resist the desire to formulate the rules based on exceptions by focusing on the Word of God that gives the rules, and then search the Scriptures for how to address the “special cases”.
Okay, so if we look at the qualifications for an elder, we find that an elder should be above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children should be believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. Why is that so important? Because an elder isn’t just “a guy with leadership potential”, or a politician to be elected into a temporary office… he is an overseer, God’s steward of the church. As such, he must be above reproach. Paul explains what it means to be above reproach as an individual now (He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined). Look at that final sentence, though. In addition to these character traits, he must hold firmly to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. That last part, is best exemplified by examining the fruit of his instruction and ability to discipline… his wife and children. Does he love his wife as Christ loves the Church? Does his wife submit to, respect, and honor him? Has he taught his children the Word of God? Are they believers? Are they disciplined? We’ll see tomorrow in Paul’s letter to Timothy that a man who cannot manage his household cannot be trusted to manage the church. You don’t hire a bankrupt accountant to manage your finances, and you don’t appoint an elder whose family is in disarray to be God’s steward over the church. If the man is a new believer, or newly married, or his children are still infants then his first ministry is to his family. Remember, while the question of salvation is on an individual level (for God looks on the heart of a man), but the smallest unit of the Church is the family. If an elder’s children become insubordinate or open to the charge of debauchery, there is a problem within his household that needs his attention. For his family is his first responsibility.
Tomorrow, we will begin working through 1 Timothy to fully examine how Paul instructs Timothy regarding the church. In closing today’s discussion, I’d like to read from the closing of the letter to the Romans.
Romans 16:25-27 (ESV)
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.