New Testament Elders Validity

New Testament Elders

Topic: New Testament Elders
By Pastor David Cox

Taken from a white paper by David Cox written August 11, 1994

The difference between the New Testament elders and the Old Testament elders is simply that within Judaism, there was a corruption of the elder system which was cronism, spiritual corruption, egoism, and self interests, and this was probably also part of why God chastised Israel by setting her aside for a long time period to use the church.

In this article I explain (give an introduction) to New Testament elders

The Priesthood of the Believer

Under the Old Testament economy, God basically set up a division between the priests and the laity. This was necessary so that we can understand the special needed quality of Jesus Christ as our high priest. But also there is a problem holiness which had to be driven into the mindset of God’s people. Under this scheme of things, the priests were the ones who did most of the spiritual labor before God, and the laity did little. This situation was set aside with the priesthood of all believers in the New Testament. We see Saul’s condemnation for doing what only a priest was allowed to do.

The book of Hebrews explains how God transitioned from one system to the other, and how Jesus occupies that place of intercessor between us and God now. Also in this transition, the Old Tesatment animal sacrifice was done away with because of its inability to forever take away sin. Only the blood of Jesus can do this. We see the New Testament believer giving spiritual sacrifices now.

Heb 13:15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. 

New Testament Elders have authority in the Church

It is hard to ignore that the New Testament church had elders as an official position within the local assembly.

Acts 11:29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: 30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. 

Churches sent financial aid to the “brethren in Judaea” by way of missionaries. They “sent it to the elders”. By this we see that the elders handled the money matters of the church.

1Tim 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 

Elders obviously “rule” (administrate) within the local church. So there were matters of church government that they had activity in.

Jas 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 

So the elders were also active in spiritual matters of prayer.

Having examined these verses, we must ask ourselves, where is the pastor? Today in most churches, we would have substituted the word “pastor” for each of them instead of “elders”. So I would assume that if there is a pastor of a local church, he is in this “elders” group. At some point, the shepherding of God’s flock is what a pastor is. At the same time, we need to understand that this appears to have been a group work, the elder group did the ministry here, and the pastor is the leader among them.

Acts 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 

In this passage we find that the early church was confronted with a serious doctrinal problem. If we look at the language of Scripture, we again see how integral the elders were in the early church at Jerusalem. (Of course the apostles had the ministry of verifying the life, deeds, and teachings of Jesus, and we have Scripture in their place now.)

Acts 15:4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. Acts 15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. Acts 15:22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: Acts 15:23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Acts 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 

So we see that the authoritative body in the early church was the elders. I do not see how one with the gift, calling, and office of pastor would not be included in that group of elders. But the point is not that he is included, but rather that they are included with him, and he is kind of “lost” in emphasis in that ruling group, the elders.

Acts 21:18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present

Acts 20:17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church

Again and again we see that the ruling body of the church is the elders, not the pastor alone.

This last verse (Acts 20:17) is even more important in our study.

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 

Here the elders are clearly identified as having that pastoral function and gift of oversight. They feed the church of God. So this is as clearly being a “pastor” as you can get it without actually using the words “be pastors”.

The word “feed” here is …

G4165 – ποιμαίνω (Mickelson)
G4165 ποιμαίνω poimaino (poy-mai’-no) v.
1. to tend as a shepherd of
2. (figuratively) supervisor
[from G4166]
KJV: feed (cattle), rule
Root(s): G4166

The word “overseer” here is…

G1985 – ἐπίσκοπος (Mickelson)
G1985 ἐπίσκοπος episkopos (ep-is’-kop-os) n.
1. an overseer
2. (in genitive case) one of the co-superintendents entrusted with the well-being of a local assembly or of assemblies within a city or location
{literally or figuratively}
[from G1909 and G4649 (in the sense of G1983)]
KJV: bishop, overseer
Root(s): G1909, G4649
See also: G1983

So although men are involved in an elder coming to be an official elder within the church (recognizing that quality in him), the Holy Spirit is really the one at work making the correct qualities to be woven into his life. Likewise the official positioning of a man into being an elder is something which the Holy Spirit does. The Spirit both gives the ability (makes the man) as well as inserts the person into that specific ministry.

Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. 

Titus 1:5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 

We see from these two passages that the ordaining of elders into the ministry was part of the local church structure, as well as being specific activities of missionaries. What is interesting here is in Acts 14:23 that there is a plurality of elders in every church (singular church). This activity is done with prayer (and probably fasting) in order to discern and execute the Holy Spirit’s direction.

The principle ministry of pastoring is preaching and teaching.

Heb 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. 

Here the author of Hebrews links the teaching/preaching ministry to oversight. They are not separate ministries but one in the same.

1Pet 5:1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 1Pet 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 1Pet 5:3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

What we see consistently is that the ministry oversight (shepherding or being a pastor) is a ministry that is rooted in the elders as a group. Although there may be someone who is designated as “pastor” or “lead elder”, the entire group takes on the responsibility of shepherding the entire flock of God at their charge.

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