Who’s Who in Church Leadership:
Definition of the Offices of Pastor, Elder, and Deacon
Pastor Carl K. Spackman
Pastors, Elders, Deacons Retreat
Nov. 20, 1982
Pinebrook Bible Conference
Last evening we looked at the various factors that unite us as the Bible Fellowship Church. In this session we want to narrow our vision and focus our thoughts on God’s plan for leadership within the particular churches themselves. We want to define the offices of Pastor, Elder, and Deacon.
I must confess that as I read and studied and wrote down my thoughts there were times I felt I was engaged in an exercise of futility. How does one define the offices of Pastor, Elder and Deacon in one forty—five minute paper? I finally concluded one does it only by exercising self restraint and by leaving unsaid a lot of things one would like to say regarding each of these three offices. So I present this material with some feeling of frustration as I fear I may be raising more questions than I am answering.
However, it is a comfort to know that brother Herb has already read my paper and I’m positive that in the next session he will give satisfactory answers to all the questions I have succeeded in raising. If he fails to do that, then it’s up to our panel members this afternoon to come up with all the answers.
I. A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF HOW GOD GOVERNS HIS PEOPLE
A. He Exercises Sovereign Authority
From the beginning of God’s dealings with fallen mankind He has exercised divine initiative in order to gather to Himself a holy people. He sought out Adam and Eve after they cut themselves off from Him by their sin. He called Abraham out of the Ur of the Chaldees and promised to make of him a great nation. He raised up Moses to lead his people out of their bondage in Egypt. Indeed, God took the initiative even in deciding what nation would be His special people.
He says in Deut. 7:6 through Moses: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
You see, the people of Israel did not initiate their relationship with Yahweh. They did not take counsel and decide to make Him their God. He chose them. He took the initiative as the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.
The same is true of God’s dealings with His people in the New Testament period. In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son and this Son became the head arid chief cornerstone of the church. In that position of authority Jesus Christ declared in Matt. 16:18 “... I will build My church…” He told his disciples in John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” And Paul, writing in Eph. 4:7ff. tells us that in order to equip the saints for service Christ has given gifts to His church, some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers. In other words, He exercises absolute sovereignty over His church in every aspect. There is no authority but His. No pastor, elder, deacon or pope can assume His unique position as the Lord of the Church.
B. He Works Through Official Leaders
1. In the Old Testament economy God revealed a comprehensive system whereby His Sovereign rule was exercised over all people. He established three offices — that of the prophet, the king and the priest. The prophet was anointed as God’s authoritative spokesman to His people. The king was set apart to rule the people of God and the priest was called to render sacrificial service on their behalf.
Although the outward form of these three offices has changed considerably it is significant that their basic functions are still being carried out today by the officers of Christ’s Church. But let us look briefly first of all at Christ’s own relationship to these three offices.
2. Christ himself as the Head of the church has been anointed to each of these three offices. He is the Prophet, King and Priest par excellence.
a) Christ is Prophet — We read in Acts 3:22, Peter quoting Moses:
“The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you.”
Peter, of course, was speaking of Jesus Christ the true prophet of God.
b) Christ is King. The angel said to Mary in Luke 1:32, 33 that the son she would bear would be named Jesus and “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His Kingdom shall have no end.”
Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But he also fulfilled the office of priest.
c) Christ as Priest. The author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 5:6 “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek
And so, in the person and work of Jesus Christ these three Old Testament offices find their perfect and final fulfillment. In this three—fold capacity of prophet, king and priest Christ rules his church. However, He has seen fit to exercise that rule through instrumentality of men chosen from among the membership of His body. And, wonder of wonders, as one examines the functions of the officers in the New Testament Church one discovers they are amazingly similar to those of the prophet, king and priest of the Old economy.
3. In the New Testament Church the office of minister (teaching elder) reflects the role of the prophet, the office of the ruling elder reflects the role of the king and the office of deacon reflects the role of the priest.
As R. B. Kuiper observes in his book The Glorious Body of Christ “Christ clothes some in the church with prophetic authority, some with priestly authority, and some with royal authority; and those whom He thus honors represent Him in His three—fold office.”
I recognize this may be for some of you, a totally new way of viewing the three.- elected offices in the Bible Fellowship Church — However, I am convinced the Scriptures give us ample warrant to view them from this perspective of the prophet, priest, and king pattern of the Old Testament. I trust you will be convinced of this too as we take —
II. A Closer Look at the New Testament Offices
A. We have been speaking thus far about the office of prophet, king and priest and we are now going to be speaking about the office of pastor, elder and deacon. Perhaps it would be helpful for us to define, at this point, what we mean by an office. One definition is that given by Professor William Heyns in his Handbook for Elders and Deacons:
“An office in general is the position of one who has been entrusted by a superior person with a definite task, and with the authority to perform that task in his behalf and in his name so that in performing that task, and in using that authority, the office bearer represents that superior person.”
In our society we call our policemen. “officers”. We do so with good reason. They have been appointed by a superior person, the Magistrate, to perform a particular service — namely the preservation of law and order. They have certain powers in that office which other people do not have, They do not replace the Magistrate which appointed them but they represent the Magistrate, derive their power from that superior person and are answerable to him.
In a similar way officers of the church are appointed by Christ to perform a certain function. Any authority they bear is His authority. And any official task they perform they do in His name and as His representatives.
Throughout the history of the church the vast majority of Protestants have recognized that Christ has established leaders in His church. They have not always agreed as to what the leaders should be called or what they should do — but they have agreed that formal offices do exist in the church. One notable exception to this was John Nelson Darby, who in 1827 broke with the church of Ireland and soon thereafter began meeting with his followers in Plymouth, England. These “Plymouth Brethren” as they came to be known refused to recognize any form of church government or any office of ministry. Darby was protesting in part, the evils that existed in the established church. But he also was concerned to protect the priesthood of all believers. And certainly, there is a sense in which every believer holds the office of prophet, king and priest himself.
Peter refers to us in I Pet. 2:9 as “a royal priesthood who are to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us...”
All three offices are hinted at here. We are a “royal priesthood.” There is the kingly role and the priestly role. We proclaim the excellencies of Christ. There is the prophetic role. Every believer is a partaker of Christ’s anointing as a prophet, Icing and priest. And this gives every believer dignity and authority in God’s kingdom. However, this universal office of all believers does not rule out the special offices of pastor, elder and deacon.
What Darby failed to realize was that one of the new freedoms and responsibilities of the New Testament believers was that they were now to select from among their own membership men qualified to lead and serve them. In the Old Testament God hand picked the prophets5 kings and priests. Now, God works through His people. He calls and equips men but the people of God seek them out and set them apart for their specific ministry, And it is in this right of choosing their own leadership that believers, in general, exercise their authority in the church. However, once they have selected their leaders, they are responsible to give them the respect and obedience required by the Scriptures.
But let’s look now at the primary function of each of the offices of the New Testament church.
B. Primary Function of Each Office
1. Prophetic Role (Minister, Pastor, Teaching Elder)
(Turn - I. Tim 5:17) Paul is giving specific directions to Timothy about how different individuals within the body of Christ are to conduct themselves and to be treated by others. (Read I Tim. 5:17)
What is most important in defining the offices of the church are the gifts of those who fill the offices and the function of the offices themselves. Here we learn that there were elders in the church some of whom ruled well but also worked hard at preaching and teaching.
In other words, it appears there were two primary functions of the eldership. One was that of ruling (lit, to stand before, to set over) and all elders were to be ruler. But then there was secondly the responsibility of preaching and teaching. (Lit. to toil in the word and in instruction) This task fell to a particular group of the elders. The clear implication is they are the elders who possessed the gifts of teaching that Paul mentions elsewhere in his writings. For example, in I Con, 12:28 he says “God has appointed in the church, first the apostles, second prophets, third teachers.”
And in Eph. 4:11 he says Christ “gave some as... Pastors and Teachers”
So it seems reasonable to conclude that those who work hard at preaching and teaching are those endowed not only with the ability to rule but also the gift of teaching. These elders have come to be known as pastors or ministers. And whether or not we interpret I Tim. 5:17 as a basis for granting them an office separate from that of the ruling elders who do not labor at teaching and preaching is not really that crucial a matter.
The Bible Fellowship Church has identified with those who do see two separate offices here — that of the ruling elder and that of the minister or the teaching elder.
Article IV - “The Officers of the Church”, BFC Faith and Order “Having called and assembled His church, our Lord provides for the government of each particular church by conveying authority to officers whom He enables. The continuing officers in the church are ministers, ruling elders, and deacons.” (p.237)
The minister or pastors then, are elders and must possess the qualifications of an elder but they must also demonstrate the gift of a teacher and preacher. It is this gift that identifies them as reflecting the primary function of a prophet. They are the proclaimers of God’s Word.
2. The Kingly Role (The Ruling Elder)
Throughout the Old Testament period the tent “elder” was used to describe older men in general. However, it also was applied to men in Israel who were chosen as a judicial body. Even by the time of the Exodus the “elders of Israel” formed a definite body of men whose authority was highly recognized. So, the concept of elder was very much a part of Jewish tradition in Jesus’ day. The elders, along with the Scribes and the Pharisees, made up the Sanhedrin, the ruling body among the Jews. Every synagogue had its rule by elders. And since Luke gives us no account of the establishment of any new position of “elder” in the book of Acts we must conclude that the early church under the direction of the Holy Spirit simply adopted the rule by eldership from the established practice of the synagogue.
(Turn Acts 11:30) A world—wide famine is predicted by the prophet Agabus to the saints in Antioch. And so these brethren decide to take up a collection for the relief of the Christians in Judea. We read in Acts 11:30
“And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”
This is the first reference Luke makes to “elders” (Presbuterous) in the church. Prior to this text, any references to elders in Acts or Luke’s Gospel refers to the elders of’ the old Israel. The implication is that the reader of Acts would simply assume that the elders in the church have the same authority as did the elders in the synagogue. But the question emerges, “Who were the elders in the early church? How did they come into office?
a) Elders are Called by God.
(Turn Acts 20:28) Paul is giving his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus. He says some very significant things in reference to the elders calling and function• (Read Acts 20:28)
Notice (I) he calls them “overseers” or “bishops” (episkopous). The terms elder and bishop and overseer are referring to the same office, for in v. 17 he refers to these overseers as the elders. The word bishop or overseer stresses the managerial or superintendency character of the eldership. The elder has the oversight of the flock. He is called to “shepherd” the flock says Paul.
You see, Brethren, all elders are charged with a shepherdly responsibility. Peter, in I Peter 5:2 is speaking to ruling elders as well as teaching elders when he says “Shepherd the flock of God among you.” Ministers may be called pastors and be primarily responsible for the feeding and care of the flock because of their gifts for ministry and the fact that they can give their full time to the work, but in the early church every elder was to be like a shepherd. However, the point that I want to stress in particular from Acts 20:28 is the (ii) the overseers (elders) are chosen by the Lord.
Paul says “....among which the Holy 8pirit has made you overseers.”
The rule by elder may have been rooted in the Old Testament and grown out of the practice of the synagogue but it was unique in that Jesus Christ called men to be elders in the church.
b) Elders are Equipped by God.
Elders may have tended to be older men but it was not their age that qualified them, it was their Godly characteristics and spiritual gifts.
I am not going to take time to review the list of qualifications for the eldership as found in I Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. If your church is not giving heed to these important directions from the head of the church then it is doubtful you will ever have a biblical eldership. God alone makes true elders and when Ha makes them after the model of I Tim. 3 He gives them the gifts they need in order to lead and feed the flock. He also gives them the other necessary qualifications. That is why it is so dangerous for any congregation to determine in advance how many elders they think they are going to need and then seek to fill the bill no matter what. If God raises up a church, he will raise up qualified leaders in due time. He will always give the needed gifts to His people.
There is one comment I want to make concerning the qualifications found in I Tim. 3:2. The elder must be “able to teach.” We said earlier that the pastor’s one essential gift that sets him apart from the ruling elders is the gift of teaching, Is Paul contradicting that conclusion here when he says that all elders must be able to teach? I think not Several scholars have argued that the Greek tern here (didaktikos) can mean “teachable” rather than “able to teach.” This means elders must be willing to learn or be taught by others. And certainly no elder ought to have an unteachable spirit. However, when one looks at the passage in Titus 1:9 where Paul is giving further qualifications of an elder, this reference to teach is clarified. He says that the elder will be “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with teaching that he may be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” This means the elder must certainly be a man who knows the Scriptures and who is able to communicate the truth to others. He must have sufficient skills of communication to enable him both to encourage the believers from the Word and to prove wrong those who speak against the truth.
To have elders who can teach a large adult class or preach from the pulpit is desirable and a great blessing for any congregation. But I do not believe this is what Paul means when he says the elder must be “able to teach.” What he means is that at very least an elder must be able to feed God’s sheep on a one to one basis by applying Scripture to the needs of the individual. If God has not equipped a man to do that much then that man is not yet qualified to be an elder.
Now once God has chosen and equipped a man to serve as an elder it follows that the congregation will place its approval upon him.
c) Elders are Approved by God’s People
There is no place in Scripture where we are given specific instructions concerning the congregation’s role in choosing elders. In Acts 6 we read about the Apostles directing the people to select several men to wait on tables. We will see presently that this was very likely the beginning of the office of deacon. However, the procedure established in Acts 6 was no doubt the same one followed in the selection of elders once the Apostles left the scene.
In I Tim. 5:22 Paul urges Timothy not to lay hands on any man “suddenly.” This would indicate that the church must not rush into its selection of elders. It must take enough time to gain a true knowledge of men’s character and gifts. Paul did not appoint elders immediately on his first missionary journey but waited until he returned to the churches a second time. And we read in Acts 14:23 that they “appointed elders for them in every church having prayed and fasted...”
In other words, they took this matter very seriously. And, I believe, congregations ought to be taught to view their selection of elders as an extremely serious matter also. If believers are going to be called upon, as the author of Hebrews 13:17 says “to obey their leaders and submit to them as those who watch over their souls” then they ought to make certain they have carefully examined the qualifications of each man they place in authority over them. And elders ought to make sure they believe God has endowed them with those necessary qualifications before they aspire to the office of elder.
So the ruling elder is called primarily to lead the church but he must be able to teach. The pastor has been called primarily to teach and preach but he must also be able to rule. The ruling elder functions in Christ’s kingly role. The pastor functions in Christ’s prophetic role. We now come to the deacon.
3. Priestly Role (The Deacon)
Now, I’m sure you are wondering how in the world a deacon is in any way related to the role of the priests in the Old Testament. To be quite honest with you I have just recently been introduced to this relationship myself. R. B. Kuiper hints at it in his book The Glorious Body of Christ but Berghoe and DeKoster expand upon this concept at length in the recently published Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship. I would strongly urge every Board of Deacons and every pastor to familiarize yourself with this book. You may find some of its conclusions debatable but the main premise is mot interesting. In short, the Handbook is arguing that sacrifice is central to the Christian faith. In the Old Testament, the Priests and Levites brought the required sacrifices into the presence of God. They also were responsible to share with the stranger, the fatherless and the widow the tithes which the people gave.
When Christ died he fulfilled all the ceremonial rites as He himself was the one true sacrifice for sin. His priestly work of expiation was finished on the cross so that no man can carry on that aspect of His sacrificial work. The Roman Catholic Church is in great error when it teaches that in the mass Christ is continually sacrificed in a bloodless manner by the priest for the sins of the people. His redemptive sacrificial work with reference to our sins is finished. However, the call for sacrifices has not ended.
Believers now no longer need to bring sacrifices for their sin to the priests. Instead, the Scriptures instruct that they are to give themselves as living sacrifices. They are to give to the Lord their gifts, their talents, their money as fruits of their self—sacrifice. And who is it that is charged with the responsibility of conveying these sacrificial gifts to the stranger, the orphan and the widow? It is the deacon.
He must be, as was the priest, sympathetic to the needs of those to whom he ministers. It is said of our Lord in Hebrews 2:17 “He had to be made like His brethren in all things that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God.”
The priest was to have special sympathy towards the people. That is why the parable of the Good Samaritan is so shocking. The first two people who passed by the dying man were a priest and Levite— both of whom should have been especially concerned to help.
And so, the priestly activity of sacrificial service for God’s people is reflected today in the function of the deacons. There was no tradition of deacons in the synagogue like there was for the elders. Therefore, the Scripture records for us the formation of this office of mercy in Acts. 6. I realize there is much debate concerning whether or not this passage really does give us the beginning of the diaconate. Some have suggested that the seven men chosen in Acts 6 to wait on tables were selected merely for a temporary and local emergency in the Jerusalem church, however, it is highly unlikely their choice and ordination would have been conducted with such solemnity and detail if they were only to serve a temporary need. We are told in Acts 6:3 they had to be “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” Before they were ordained, the whole congregation had to approve them and then engage in prayer.
Furthermore, it is clear that their task was one that exemplifies the root meaning of the word deacon - namely - “servant” or “service.” Luke does not call these men “deacons” but he does use the word DIAKONEIN to refer to their activity. Acts 6:2 The Apostles said:
“It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve (literally to diaconize tables.”
Of the 33 times the term “servant” or “deacon” occurs in the New Testament, approximately two thirds of those occasions have to do with situations which can be put in the same category as serving tables.
Now if we assume Acts 6 does give us a record of the institution of the office of deacon, and if we believe the diaconate reflects the priestly role of Christ, then certain conclusions can be made.
a) A Church Will Almost Always Have a Need for Deacons.
There is no place in the New Testament where we are commanded to have a diaconate. In Titus 1:5 Paul directs Titus to appoint elders in every city in Crete. So you cannot have a church without elders. But you can have a church without deacons. However, the need for diaconal type work will almost always be present in a congregation. Who does it if there are no deacons? Often it is the elders, In Acts 6 the deacons were called upon to relieve the apostles so that they could be set free to exercise their preaching and teaching responsibilities.
So, whereas there is nothing wrong with elders doing diaconal type work sometimes it is the path of wisdom to release them from that work so that they can give more quality time to praying, teaching, and ruling.
Furthermore, the question must be asked: ~ If there are men in a congregation who show evidence of being qualified for the diaconate should they not be recognized as deacons?”
I’m sure there are very few congregations that do not have physical needs to which elected deacons could administer mercy and help.
b) Deacons’ Labors are Primarily Acts of Service to the Physical Needs of the Brethren.
It is true that some of the seven men chosen in Acts 6 did more than minister to physical needs of the widows. Stephen, for example, preached and performed miracles, Philip was an evangelist. In other words, these men had gifts which would seem to qualify them for the eldership not the diaconate. I believe some deacons will be qualified for the eldership. I also believe all elders could serve as deacons, But, the primary role of the deacon must always be that of ministering to the physical needs of the membership especially to the poor, the lonely, the widows and orphans.
Some churches have placed the deacons in charge of the maintenance of church property. I can see how this connection could be made, especially if the elders had always been responsible for that work before. However, we dare not lose sight of the priestly character of the deacon’s calling. He is a servant of God’s: people who must sympathize with them in their various needs and seek to dispense the mercy of Christ and the gifts of God’s people as a means of alleviating those needs. The qualifications of the deacon listed in I Timothy 3:8—13 elevate the office to a position equally as dignified as that of the eldership. I do not believe a man must display such qualities simply to cut the churches lawn or to maintain its buildings.
c) Great Care Should be Given in the selection of Deacons.
In listing the qualifications for the deacon Paul says in I Tim.3:10 “Let them first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.”
This does not mean the prospective deacon should serve a trial period, but rather it means that through a godly life before others he must be able to withstand the close examination of those inside the church and outside of it.
In other words, the congregation has a responsibility to be just as careful in its selection of deacons as it is in its selection of elders. As it examines prospective men, it ought not only remember the spiritual qualities found in the first seven deacons in Acts 6 and the required qualifications listed in I Timothy 3 but it ought also to ask the question: “Does this man already demonstrate the compassion of Christ?” “Does he have the heart of a servant of others?” Unless a man reflects this sympathetic spirit toward others apart from the office, he will not all of a sudden begin to demonstrate it once he enters the office.
Before we conclude I would like to suggest three important implications from our study together,
III IMPORTANT IMPLICATIONS FOR OUR CONSIDERATION
A. All three offices are offices of dignity and respect. We have this unspoken conviction in our congregations that the pastor is on the highest level, the ruling elders are on a level below the pastor and then somewhere on a much lower level we find the deacons. Now, it’s understandable how this view has arisen. Unlike the elders and deacons whose time commitment is only partial, the pastor is engaged in his office full time. Moreover, as the one who fulfills the prophetic role he is the one who people naturally identify with the authority of God’s Word.
However, we must remember that in I Timothy 5:17 the ruling elders also are said to be worthy of double honor if they are ruling well. And the same basic qualifications required of the pastor in I Timothy 3 are required of the ruling elders Furthermore, all leaders are to be given respect and obedience. (Heb. 13:17)
The office of deacon is often looked down upon because the deacon’s labors have to do with the poor. Somehow we have concluded that the temporal or physical and material needs of men aren’t really that important so the ones we elect to minister to them aren’t that important either. And since the deacon’s role is not one of ruling then the deacons do not demand as much respect.
My friends, this is an unhealthy and unbiblical position, Are we willing to say that Christ’s priestly work was less important than his prophetic and kingly work? Are we not moved to respect our Lord when we read of his being moved with compassion as He saw the multitudes as sheep with no shepherd needing to be fed and healed and comforted? Of course we are!
Then let us show the same respect to those who are called to carry this priestly compassionate work among the needy. The deacons may not possess the authority of Christ to rule the church, but they do possess His authority to serve the poor and needy in the name of Christ and in His stead — Therefore, they deserve our respect.
B. God Desires Close Cooperation Among all Three Offices.
Nothing will quench the Spirit faster than tension between pastor and elders or between elders and deacons. If elders belittle the work of the deacons or if the deacons are envious of the elders or are critical of the elders, the work of God will not make progress. Each officer must recognize his own unique calling, regard it highly, rejoice in it and fulfill it as best he can, But he ought also to be supportive of his brothers who serve in the other offices too,
That means, “elders”, you have a great responsibility to encourage your pastor. The pulpit can sometimes be a very lonely place. The pastorate can often be a burden too heavy for one man to bear. Are you keeping in close communication with your teaching elder — giving him both constructive criticism and personal support? You should be. And deacons, what about you? Are you really content in your role or are you a little bit jealous that you aren’t an elder?
I believe you, as much as any other man in the congregation can — as Paul says in I Timothy 3:1,“Aspire to the office of an overseer,” But, if you are presently viewing your service in the diaconate as minor league training for the big jump to the majors in the eldership then you have probably not been displaying much of a servant spirit in your work as a deacon.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians he gave a special word of greeting to the overseers (elders) and the deacons. He singled out these two separate groups of men and nowhere in the letter did he have to remind them of their specific roles or encourage them to cooperate together. He assumed they were unitedly serving Jesus Christ the head of the church by each one doing his own required responsibilities, May God help us to do the same in our churches,
C Christ’s Church is a Monarchy, Not a Democracy
This brings us back full circle to where we began. We stated at the beginning of our paper that God exercises sovereign authority over His church. His church does not rule Him, He rules it,
R. B. Kuiper writes: “Although the special officers of the church govern with the consent of the membership and are chosen by the membership from its own number, yet their ultimate responsibility is not to the congregation but to Christ, the divine Head of the church. That makes the church a monarchy,”
You see, Christ the Head of the church, exercises His kingly authority over the church through his servants the elders. The congregation elects’ the elders under the direction of the Holy Spirit, but the elders do not derive their authority from the congregation but from the King Himself.
Now the fact that the congregation chooses its own officers does not make the church a democratic institution. God allows His people the privilege of choosing their own leaders but He reserves for Himself alone the right to rule. And He has chosen to rule through functionaries called elders,
You say, “but that doesn’t seem right. That means a board of elders could actually decide to do something the whole congregation is opposed to. That would lead to chaos in the church,” Yes it would — however, the elders are always to be interacting with their sheep. They are to have such a close relations hip with them that they will never do anything that would not be for the good of the sheep. Elders are not to serve as lords but as shepherds and managers. Just as a husband in the home should always seek input from his wife and be sympathetic to her wishes and respect her opinions, so also the elders in the church must be responsive to desires of the congregation. But, just as a husband must make the final decision and stand accountable before God for it, so also the elders must make the final decision and stand accountable before God for it, They are to be responsive to the congregation but they are responsible to Christ.
If a congregation in the Bible Fellowship Church feels its elders have seriously erred in a decision that they have made, then it can appeal to Annual Conference or vote those elders out of office. But, in its basic structure the church is set up not as, a democracy but as a monarchy,
Well the, who’s who in church leadership? Christ is! That’s who. But in His wisdom He has chosen to give His church pastors, elders, and deacons.
Paul says in I Timothy 3:1 “This is a trustworthy statement: If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”
I believe he could also have said that about the office of deacon. God has called us all to do a fine work brethren. He has given us the honor of serving in Christ’s prophetic or kingly or priestly roles.
Let us rejoice in our high calling and renew our commitment to Christ our King and to His people.
May God give us the grace to be faithful stewards of our calling in Him.
Berghoef, Gerard and DeKoster, Lester. The Deacon’s Handbook. A Manual of Stewardship (1980) Christian’s Library Press.
Berghoef, Gerard and DeKoster, Lester. The Elder’s Handbook, A Practical Guide for Church Leaders (1979) Christian’s Library Press.
Coppes, Leonard J. Who Will Lead Us (1977) Pilgrim Publishing Company
Heyns, William. Handbook for Elders and Deacons (not sure of publisher)
Kuiper, R. B. The Glorious Body of Christ (1967) The Banner of Truth Trust,
Euers, Lawrence. The Elders of the Church Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers