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The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 11

There are some essential features of the True Gospel Church that we can identify from the Scriptures

A True Gospel Church will have



We began last week to think about how the Local Church should be governed.

Let us quickly summarise where we have got to. Government requires a head

1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.

“He is the direct author of the tradition of the apostles, because he himself is at work in the apostolic transmission of His words and deeds.” (Oscar Cullmann)

2. The Lord Jesus Christ governs His church by His Word.

He governs His church by the objective standard that is His word – again

Matthew 28 v 19 – 20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

The Lord Jesus Christ therefore governs His church by His word and by His Spirit.

How then does this work in practice?

3. Christ Governs His church in its local manifestation by means of the rule of elders.

Every church should have duly appointed elders who rule by the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Elders are sheep. They are members of the flock.

Yet they have the awesome responsibility as those who will give an account to God at the day of judgement for the souls of their fellow members. Brothers and sisters this aspect of eldership is one of the most weighty features of being an elder. To have to give an account to Almighty God for your own soul one day is serious enough – but to have to account for others within a flock is sometimes hardly bearable! But Elders do have the law and commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ to rule by and the authority of Jesus Christ to govern.

4. The God assigned task of the Elders.

An accurate summary statement. The task of the elders is to exercise positive, authoritative, humble government over the total corporate life of those whom they have been called to serve.

5. Practical Implications of this Teaching.

1. Elders are not consensus seekers.

2. Elders do not have to give an explanation for every decision that they make. They must be sober and trusted in the oversight of the church.

3. Elders are to be obeyed unless they clearly violate the precept of Christ.

What more does the Bible Teach about Elders?

We can start at the beginning of the Bible because the OT has a fair deal to say about elders.

The Hebrew word for Elder is zaqen zaw-kane’ and it occurs 178 times. The word is used not only with regard to Israel but other nations too – Egypt –

Genesis 50 v 7 And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt;


Numbers 22 v 4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field.


Numbers 22 v 7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.

and the Gibeonites

Joshua 9 v 11 Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spake to us,

The word was used for the leaders of the people – but also for those who were seniors in age.

But it is obvious, from the number of references, that the People of Israel in Old Testament times were led by elders. There was no congregational rule – it was all by elders. Some examples –

Exodus 3 v 16 Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:

Numbers 11 v 30 And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.

Deuteronomy 19 v12 Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.

Judges 2 v7 And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel.

So the office of elder was very common both amongst God’s people and the other nations of Old Testament days. The office is not very clearly defined regarding its qualifications and duties. And it was an office that was in existence in Israel from the Egyptian slavery right through their history.

Then we can see the transition between the Old Testament and the New Testament concerning elders. The Jews continued their use of elders as part of their leadership –

Matthew 15 v 2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

Mark 11 v 27 And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,

Luke 9 v 22 Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.

Acts 4v 5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, 6 And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.

Besides elders, the primary offices of leadership were chief priests and scribes – priests were a religious ministry group, the scribes were the experts in the law and the elders were a leadership group from the lay people. This group of elders therefore was free of ministry and law responsibilities. Thus when the New Testament era fully arrived the office of the priesthood would be obsolete due to the work of the great High priest the Lord Jesus Christ. The experts on the meticulous keeping of the law would find their work fading because the message of salvation by grace, as opposed to the Old Testament Jewish misconception of law, was abolished in Christ.

It was not surprising that the elders emerged as the primary position of leadership in the church. Indeed we cannot ignore the Jewish Old Testament background and the context of the Jewish people in New Testament times – and that it found it’s way into the Biblical directives for the government of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Let us pause and consider today’s typical church government in many churches – it is called CONGREGATIONAL RULE. All believers have equal status because of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Therefore elders have minimal rule and are subject to the whims of the congregation. Elders are often the servants of the church when it comes to authority. This is a gross departure from the Biblical doctrine of rule by elder.

Now let us move on to the words for ELDER in the New Testament.

Elder, Presbyter, Bishop and Pastor all refer to the same office but with different emphases in details.

WORD 1 – ELDER – presbuteros pres-boo’-ter-os

This means elderly or older person – like older brother. It occurs 67 times in the New Testament but not all of them refer to the office of elder.

E.g. – Acts 15 v 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:

WORD 2 BISHOP – episkope ep-is-kop-ay’ this means an overseer – It occurs 11 TIMES. E.g. 1 Timothy 3

1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

WORD 3 PASTOR poimeen – means shepherd – it occurs 18 times e.g. Ephesians 4

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Now we can notice that these words ELDER and BISHOP interchange.

1. Acts 20V 17 and acts 20 v 28. Elders in verse 17 and the same as Bishops (OVERSEERS) in verse 28.

2. Titus 1 v 5 and v 7. Verse 5 Elders – verse 7 Bishop. The same men.

3. 1 Timothy 3 v 2 – 4 and 5 v 17. 3 v 2 – 4 Bishop with qualities of ruling well; 5 v 17 Elders who rule well – same men.

4. 1 Peter 5 v 1 and verse 2. Verse 1 Elders, v 2 episkopeo ep-ee-skop-eh’-o a verb form of Episkopos – “do some Bishoping – take the oversight.”

Also the words PASTOR and BISHOP/ELDER interchange.

1. Acts 20 v 28. Overseers – Bishops – should feed the flock – be feeders – Pastors – shepherds.

2. 1 Peter 5 v 1 –2. Again the Elders who were Bishoping should feed – Pastor the flock – all three words here.

3. 1 Peter 2 v 25. Jesus was the ultimate role model and example for the elder – here He is described as the POIMEEN and EPISKOPOS “the shepherd and bishop of your souls”.

Now let us look together at the Qualifications and the Duties of Elders.

And I start with a quote from Dr Poh Boon Singh’s excellent Book “The Keys of the Kingdom” that several of you have read. Commenting on the essential qualifications of elders he says – 1 Timothy 3.

“God’s word lays down clearly the qualifications needed of men who are being considered for office. Yet in so many situations today, churches would appoint persons to office with no due regard given to these Biblical qualifications. Instead, a candidate for office is questioned alone on some “subjective call” that cannot be clearly verified. It is not uncommon, too, that the prospective office bearer is chosen on the basis of his academic qualification, his current profession in life and his status in society. A medical doctor, a lawyer or a university professor is deemed automatically qualified for office. The spiritual and objective tests of scripture are thus replaced by carnal, subjective, and pragmatic considerations. How we must lament the current state of affairs!”

However I would like to add this to Dr Poh’s observations – that a man who is called and feels that move of the Lord Jesus Christ in his soul to eldership, will be given, by the Holy Spirit, the intense desire and ability to exercise the gift within the body of the congregation, long before any laying on of hands occurs. The Lord’s people will see for themselves what God is doing subjectively with that man which will match what he feels subjectively himself. The Lord Jesus calls us to use and develop our talents and not to leave them lying in the ground against a day of reckoning. Indeed all believers in a fellowship should be following the same principle of gifting – that is why the Saviour gave us the parable – to teach us our responsibility – but especially men with eldership gifts, because becoming an elder is not like becoming a deacon. A deacon can be appointed to do practical things in the church in a spiritual way – and can develop his gifts in the calling. Whereas an elder must be recognised. The congregation must be able to see what is already there and functioning, and blessing the congregation in the man – because it will be so very obvious – to everyone.

1. Qualifications.

1. A man who is a Church Member.

It sounds rather obvious but an elder must be a believer – a Christian saved by the grace of God. Why does this need to be said? Our neighbour across the road in Elgin was an elder in the local Church of Scotland church – but she was not a believer! Nice lady, capable in many areas of her life – but by her own admission knew nothing of the grace of God in the Gospel! The rich young ruler in Luke 18 v 18 – 30 was a stranger to God’s grace – up standing and as righteous as he knew how to be – yet he lacked the qualification of being a ruler.

1 Timothy 3 v 1 & 2 and Titus 1 v 6 clearly speak of MEN who are to be Bishops. It is consistent with the overall divine pattern of Male leadership – in society, in the home and in the church. (Genesis 3 v 16; Ephesians 5 v 22 – 24.)

The members of a congregation must KNOW this man in order to willingly entrust their souls to his care.

This man must be SPIRITUALLY MATURE – not a novice – a new convert v 6. Even though elder does not necessarily mean an OLD man, it does mean an OLDER man – older in his Christian maturity. But a relatively young man is not disqualified from office provided he possesses a spiritual and mental maturity beyond his years.

2. A man who is sound in the faith and clear in Doctrine.

The relevant scriptures here are

1 Timothy 3 v 2 A bishop then must be … apt to teach;

2 Timothy 2 v 24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,

Titus 1 v 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

2 Timothy 1 v 13 Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

Jude 1 v 3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

A man’s beliefs must join with his capabilities as God’s Word says it should. His ministry is to be in accord with sound doctrine.

3. A man who has certain PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS.

1. General Personal Characteristics

1 Timothy 3 v 2. BLAMELESS. This means irreproachable – that there are no just grounds for criticism of him with high moral qualities. He must have a good reputation outside of the church as well as inside. This does not mean that enemies of the gospel will necessarily speak highly of such a man.

He must be a ONE WIFE HUSBAND. He must be a loyal husband who has no adulterous tendencies or relationships. Why is this divine instruction in this passage? In New Testament times amongst the Gentile nations polygamy was common. If a man had been a polygamist before his conversion and he still had responsibilities for more than one wife, he was automatically disqualified from eldership office – as long as he currently had more than one wife. Polygamy is a manifestation of a decadent culture. God never ever sanctioned polygamy even though several notable men in the history of Israel had wives and concubines. What God tolerates is never to be taken as His sanction for it.

Sadly today this qualification is still as necessary for our culture has thrown up many complicated situations – men who have been converted and have had multiple partnerships enter into grace with technically more than one wife – they cannot be elders.

VIGILANT – this means that the man must not be given to any excess in any of his behaviour. Elsewhere in the New Testamrnt the word is translated SOBER – meaning literally that – abstaining from wine. In verse 3 there is the further thought that he must not be a drunk NOT GIVEN TO WINE – given to or addicted to drink.

SOBER here means sensible, sane, thoughtful and a man who is a sound thinker and able to curb his desires and impulses.

OF GOOD BEHAVIOUR – he is to live a respectable, well ordered life style. The Greek word is sometimes translated modest – this man will not be a “show off.”

In Titus 1 we find these further Personal Qualifications –

NOT SELF-WILLED. He must not be so pleased with himself that nothing or nobody pleases him. He must not be a bossy overbearing tyrant who throws his weight about. Someone has said that, “Eldership is a labour of love – not a leaning to Lordship. It is self-sacrificing service – not self seeking supremacy.”

NOT SOON ANGRY – self-controlled – he must be able to cope with all kinds of provocations that will surely come – for elders are often the target of many attacks, not the least from fellow church members!

NOT GIVEN TO WINE – the same as in 1 Timothy 3 v 3.

HOLY Titus 1 v 8 – The elder must be undefiled by sin, free from wickedness, religiously observing every moral obligation, pure holy, pious. Of course this can only be achieved by surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ and the grace that He gives to forgive sin. This implies a quality of walk with Christ that is high and maintained at all times by the one who is an elder. It is a high standard – and who is sufficient for these things!

These then are general personal characteristics. Now

2. Relationship Characteristics.

The elder must be a people person – a man who can get on with others, who can truly be a shepherd of the sheep.

NO STRIKER – even though this word refers directly to physical pugnacious-ness, someone who is ready to lash out with his fists – it also means someone who is not quarrelsome or contentious. There are some men and women whose nature is such that they thrive on contention – they are only happy when arguments or debates are part of their world. An elder must not be one of these. Again the prohibition against being a drunk or addicted to wine is a relationship issue – men can become quarrelsome due to over indulgence in wine.

NOT GIVEN TO FILTHY LUCRE and NOT COVETOUS from both passages, are the same thing. There should be a concern in the elder’s mind that he does not value too highly material things and his desire should not be to amass a fortune. He may have wealth – but his wealth must not have him! A rich elder can be a real deterrent and offence to other poorer church members. Elders should be careful about their home, dress, car, expensive holidays and any other indications that material things are important to him – for the sake of the flock.

PATIENT – the word here means gentle, moderate, seeming, suitable, equitable, fair, just & mild. The elder must have a servant spirit – not one who lords it over others. He must be able to see others’ points of view, but at the same time be patient with such who would disagree with God’s word, gently seeking to convince them of the Truth.

HOSPITABLE 1 Timothy 3 v 2 and Titus 1 v 8. He is to be GIVEN to hospitality and a LOVER of hospitality – same word. He should be a man who is generous with his home and his company. It should be a delight to an elder to be able to use his home to refresh and comfort the saints. Ideally an elder needs his wife to be one with him in this busy ministry – and I for one am immensely thankful to the Lord for giving me a wonderful helper in hospitality in our home.

3. Family Characteristics.

1 Timothy 3 v 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

Titus 1 v 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

We have already covered the fact that an elder must be a one-wife husband – but here the scripture directs that his children, if he has them, should be under control with dignity. Ideally the children should share their father’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – but this is not always the case. Nevertheless this does not prevent the elder from training his children in respect for God and others, in living that reflects godliness until they leave the home and are independent of his rule. His wife and their children must respect him and be in submission to him, not as a tyrant, but as a loving husband and father.

These two passages also teach the


Basically there are three –

1. Administrative 2. Pastoral 3. Teaching

1. Administrative – Oversight.

Hebrews 13 v 17 says

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Elders are to watch over the flock – because the Lord Jesus Christ has so called and placed them to do so – they are accountable to Him.

“Take care of the church” is a phrase from 1 Timothy 3 v 5. An elder must know how to rule the household of faith the church – WELL. Some Churches treat their elders as CARETAKERS – but they are called to take care of the church!

The word rule is the same as the way that a father rules his family well.

1 Peter 5 v 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: 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; 3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock.

Here the elders are to lead by example – in the following areas of Christian life

Faith Doctrine, Hard work, Commitment, Behaviour, Selflessness, Dedicated service. Thomas A’Kempis– “No man ruleth safely, but he that is willingly ruled; No man securely doth command but he that hath learned readily to obey. Imitation of Christ.

2. Pastoral.

Elders should be busy FEEDING the flock of God. This is what Peter said in 1 Peter 5 v 2 – it is also true from Acts 20 v 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.

In the flock metaphor the Shepherd LEADS – he does not drive. He also FEEDS with good pasture – the word of God – He PROTECTS the flock from grievous wolves.

He COMFORTS the weak and sickly sheep; and he DISCIPLINES the erring straying sheep.

I Thessalonians 5 v 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

I believe that this is addressed specifically to the elders.

3. Teaching.

According to 1 Timothy 3 v 2 an elder must be apt to teach – that is able to teach – not just speak – but teach. Teaching includes the effective reception by those taught of the things of God. Teaching and learning is a 2 way thing – not everyone can teach effectively – and elder must be able to do so. Having said that 1 Timothy 5 v 17 makes this point –

17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

Some elders are specialists in teaching – in preaching and in doctrine for the word of God. They are called PASTOR/TEACHERS in Ephesians 4 v 11. Some elders are more gifted in administration – ruling – than in teaching.

To conclude this morning.

The Scriptures are clear with regard to the office and functions of the elder. The Biblical pattern describes a spirit filled man who gives oversight, shepherds, guides, teaches and warns – doing all with a heart of love, comfort and compassion.

Pastor Warren Wiersbe has given us these 10 Biblical Statements about eldership ministry.

1. The foundation of ministry is character. 2. The nature of ministry is service. 3. The motive for ministry is love. 4. The measure of ministry is sacrifice. 5. The authority of ministry is submission. 6. The purpose of ministry is the glory of God. 7. The tools of ministry are the Word and prayer. 8. The privilege of ministry is growth. 9. The power of ministry is the Holy Spirit. 10. The model for ministry is Jesus Christ

The Lord Jesus is the model – and He calls His servants. May His servants know His calling and may each one look to Christ and to Christ alone – seeking in every way to be like Him. And surely this is the desire of every believer too.

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