24 February, 2007

Elders: Rulers or Servants? Part 4

This is a series. Go here for the: Introduction , Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 .


"I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice." Ezekial 34:15-16

We have seen that most translators have given the world a version of Hebrews 13:17, which fit the Institutional Church idea, equipped with authoritative officials. It has led to much confusion:

"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

I would like to share with you what I believe to be a better translation of the verse, one that is in harmony with all the scriptures on the same subject:

"Trust them that are your leaders and be yielding: for they watch in behalf of your souls...."

If the King James translators would have given us that translation, and subsequent versions would have followed their influence (as they did anyway), then we might not have had the controversy over authoritative officials.

Certainly, it would not be difficult to "trust...and be yielding" to those who exercised spiritual concerns and matured wisdom. There should not be any thought of one having rank and authority. Jesus never delegated them.

But, I am afraid the controversy will continue for many reasons. Some have stopped studying the subject and have their minds made up; some have taught the Authoritarian way for so long, they feel they cannot turn back now; others actually want the few to "rule" because they are a part of it. They enjoy the prestige, power, and in some cases, the money that goes along with the official position. Then, there are people who defend this position because they think they can escape their responsibilities before God by "letting the elders do the work" for them.

We must not forget that those who take the Authoritarian position are obligated to produce the scriptures that substantiate it, not only in the English versions, but also from the original language. It will not do just to read a scripture like Hebrews 13:17, thinking that will defend the position. One must be able to prove his proposition by the very words of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough just to say "elders hold special office, and therefore, as officers, have delegated authority from Christ." Prove it!

Waymon D. Miller has written a fine book entitled The Role of Elders In The New Testament Church, in which he states,
"This is the essential fact to be established to prove that elders are vested with an 'office' and 'authority,' as is maintained by some. If inspiration had intended to confer upon elders such superior 'authority' to which all members must submit, why is this nowhere clearly expressed in the New Testament? Why must such a crucial issue rest upon a fabric of assumption, and suspicious interpretation of Scriptures?" (p. 40)


If an older man is above reproach, spiritually matured, apt to teach, and interested in saving souls, he doesn't have to have one ounce of authority to be of service to others and to advance the cause of Christ. He will never have to demand that people respect and obey him, for that will be given to him gladly. Furthermore, if he is Christ-like in every area of his life, showing the same love qualities for others as did Jesus, people will be persuaded by his teaching and example and will yield to his wisdom. This is the essence of the "elder's rule." It is a standard, the standard of Christ, rather than an exercise of commanded obedience. Yes, the elder rules, but according to the wisdom of God, not according to the dictates of man.

Finally, we must not forget that it was the insistence on the part of a few men, who said that Jesus had delegated His authority to them that led the church of the second century down the pathway to Rome. Catholicism developed and flourished in subsequent centuries because too many men loved the pre-eminence of a Diotrephes. Arguments for Divine right of rule were the same as those made today. Look at the claims for legitimate power made by the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant Churches as well, and see if they are not identical to those made by the Authoritarian advocates among us today. Are we doomed to repeat the same mistake?
God, help us!

7 comments:

ezekiel said...

Wow, lindon, it sure is quiet around here. Great series!

All we seem to need to be able to totally miss the Gospel is to give a bunch of self serving deacons and preachers more authority than they can handle and just sit back, watch them distort and trample the WORD.

Not a lot has changed since we had pharisees throwing a healed blind man out of the temple. Man still sets up a church government that seeks to exalt its leaders, and protect their positions.....All while taking the fleece down to the skin. No wonder the sheep are cold and starving......

Lindon said...

Yes, and it is going on all over this country. Man's search for meaning...Victor Frankel wrote a book about it. That is how I describe what is happening in so many churches with elders and pastors who promoting GCM. They have made their mark in business and are looking for 'significance' or doing things different in the 'second half' as Bob Buford calls it. It still boils down to power. The sheep think that worldy success translates into qualifications for eldership because they have seen so little holiness in their lifetimes.

I guess for a church structured like a corporation and which delivers entertainment with Christian make-up, they would be right. As a friend of mine on another blog calls them: Pastor CEO and the elders would be the board of directors.

But, we know that none of this has anything to do with serving a HOLY God.

Give me the old poor guy with calloused knees. Him, I will listen to.

The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Jen said...

<< "If an older man is above reproach, spiritually matured, apt to teach, and interested in saving souls, he doesn't have to have one ounce of authority to be of service to others and to advance the cause of Christ." >>

While I agree with this premise, this still does not make him an elder. An elder is still an appointed position, as I stated in Part 1 or 2 here.

Respect is extremely important, and I think that is one of the main points in this series, but we must be careful that we don't take away from Scripture either.

I Tim. 5:17 - "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine."

This is clearly speaking about elders who rule here. Eldership is a biblical office, Lin, no matter how much we fight against those other verses. There were a lot of good points in this series, but I cannot agree that Scripture does not provide for elders to rule, as in servant-rule, biblically speaking.

Lin said...

Jen wrote "If an older man is above reproach, spiritually matured, apt to teach, and interested in saving souls, he doesn't have to have one ounce of authority to be of service to others and to advance the cause of Christ."

While I agree with this premise, this still does not make him an elder. An elder is still an appointed position, as I stated in Part 1 or 2 here."

And I ask, who appoints them? I believe it is Christ working through the Holy Spirit who makes it clear when we seek His leading. But that is not what we have done. We have 'institutionalized' these positions instead of 'spiritualizing' them.

There is a historical perspective we have to keep in mind. The early church evolved into the Catholic 'universal' church and even after the Reformation we had 'state' churches where people were forced to attend and have their babies baptized. There were groups who opposed this and were burned at the stake. Even Luther wrote that 'he would love to see a church of 'real' believers along side the state church. All of this happened because of sin, yes, but also because they taught that church positions are 'offices'. That they were to RULE. To the point they became state offices. Even to the point they mixed up the submit to government verses with the elder verses for power. they still are!"

What do you do if your elder is ungodly or even evil? Do you obey and submit?

>>I Tim. 5:17 - "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.">>

Let the elders who 'lead' WELL be counted of double honor...sounds to me like there is some discerning that must take place.

"This is clearly speaking about elders who rule here. Eldership is a biblical office, Lin, no matter how much we fight against those other verses. There were a lot of good points in this series, but I cannot agree that Scripture does not provide for elders to rule, as in servant-rule, biblically speaking."

I believe scrpture provides for elders to lead. We are to imitate them ..Hebrews 13: 7

Hebrew 13

7Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Probably the biggest difference between us is the hierarchy and structure. I believe in the preisthood of believers. I believe that on the cross the Veil was torn in two making way for us to go straight to Jesus. That does not negate elders or deacons. The question is how much power do we as mere men give them who are mere men?

We still have to go back to Matthew 28:18 :

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

You and I both know that there are quite a few elders out there that have obviously not been appointed by God.

There is much more I could say about the church letters and observing how situations were handled by Paul and John but I am out of time today.

I love these discussions so know that we can disagree and still love one another in Christ!

Dale Fincher said...

Great series, Lin. I enjoyed it, though it was written 18 months ago!

I struggle with this idea of 'office' and many good theologians disagree on whether there is a real office or not (and that's usually the argument that keeps women out of 'offices').

I've been in places where the laypeople acted more like elders than the elders. And it made me wonder if the appointing or the qualities made one an 'elder' led by the Holy Spirit, to watch out for others and serve them.

It is true in the translator notes to the KJV that they retained the institutional language of the church. Wycliffe's English version was more accurate, but it decentralized the organization and he was killed for it. So the oldest English translation is more accurate than the KJV when it comes to the institution.

Again, thanks for the series. More food for thought.

Cheryl Schatz said...

This was very well done and I can tell it was a lot of work! Good, good work!

Cheryl Schatz said...

I also wanted to thank you for posting a link to this on my post at http://strivetoenter.com/wim/2008/11/01/pulpit-authority/

This issue of people taking authority over other Christians is a very important thing to refute with the scriptures because many are leaving the church because of these abuses.

Keep up the good work!