The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 12
There are some essential features of the True Gospel Church that we can identify from the Scriptures
A True Gospel Church will have
1. BIBLICAL PREACHING. 2. BIBLICAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT. 3. BIBLICAL WORSHIP AND ORDINANCES. 4. BIBLICAL FELLOWSHIP.
2. BIBLICAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
We continue to examine the aspect of Church Government focusing particularly on Biblical Teaching about Elders. Last time we looked at the words in scripture that describe the office and function of an elder; the qualifications of a man who is called to be an elder – namely a Christian who is a church member; a man sound in the faith and clear in doctrine; and a man who has certain characteristics as listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 which are broadly divided into personal, relationship and family characteristics.
And we stopped short last time by listing the duties of an elder – and we take up our study there this morning.
2. DUTIES OF AN ELDER.
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.
Weymouth in his translation puts it like this –
17 Obey your leaders and be submissive to them. For they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give account; that they may do this with joy and not with lamentation. For that would be of no advantage to you.
We all understand the words of this text as they are presented to us by the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ because they are plain.
Obey is the word PEITHOH – to yield, listen to, yield and obey; AND it can mean to trust and have confidence in a man. And if the hymn Trust and Obey was translated into Greek it would read PEITHOH AND PEITHOH.
Rule is the word HEGEOMAI – which means to lead, command, rule and have authority. Another Greek word with the same root gives us our English word Hegemony meaning leadership, influence of one state over others. It was used in ancient times to describe the strong nations who subjugated other weaker nations to give tribute. Sometimes called vassal states. However our word does not mean that degree of subjugation or tyrannical rule. It simply means authority. For the Christian leader – bishop, elder, pastor, he has no authority or rule except that which the Lord Jesus calls him to exercise. He is a conduit, a channel of authority from the Lord God through the preaching and teaching of God’s word and the communication of God’s will through that same word.
HEGEOMAI – not HEGEMONY. There is a huge difference. God does not call elders to subjugate God’s people to themselves! God calls the elders, along with the flock, to submit themselves to God’s will and authority. And the rule is transmitted through the elders.
Which is why the next word SUBMIT appears – HUPEIKOH – meaning to yield to authority and admonition. It is a word that calls individuals and groups of individuals to give way and decline from resisting. It has a passive sense – you yourself do it – exercise your will to submit.
This is the responsibility of the elders – to obey and to submit to the Sovereign will of the Lord Jesus Christ through his infallible word. But by the same process the responsibility of the flock is to submit to the elders – first.
If and elder who is submitting to Christ leads the flock in Christ’s ways, then God holds the flock accountable for their following of the shepherd.
We seem to be living in an era where people like to choose to whom they will submit. If they agree with the leader they will say they submit. If they do not agree with him they will say, particularly in Christian circles, that they only obey God and will not obey a man. They will even quote the apostles who said that very thing in Acts 5 v 29
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
Read Acts 5 v 25 – 32.
25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. 26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. 29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. 31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
Let us test this. Is it an applicable situation to us in the church? Let us ask, “Who was it that called the apostles to obey?” ANSWER the Pharisees and scribes – Jewish leaders and elders – called the Council.
Next question – What did these men require the apostles to do in order to obey?
Answer – to stop speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ –
Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?
This verse does not support those who wish to obey God rather than elders. Elders are not overbearing enemies of the Gospel – they are shepherds with God given oversight.
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.
And, as we go back to Hebrews 13 v 17, this is why the Lord Jesus Christ has placed them in such a position –
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.
What is this WATCHING for the soul. The Greek word is AGRUPNEOH. It is a fascinating word made up of the negative A – and the verb HUPNOS which means sleep. So literally the word means that elders are to be NO SLEEP men! Those who watch for the souls of the flock of Christ are those who must be sleepless, to be watchful, keep awake and be attentive to the needs of the flock. Of course elders need to sleep like any other normal human being – but their care of the church will lead them to sleepless nights – because they will be involved in much watching for the souls of the members.
Why should elders have to lay awake at night – or for some awake early to think and pray about the sheep?
Because their object is to benefit the flock – to promote their salvation and sanctification – by obeying God who has called them to do so – AND to whom they are accountable. This accountability is awesome! It is true that there are rewards for faithfulness in ministry – the Bible says so –
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 ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Yet on the other hand the Lord warns against any man easily and assumptively entering eldership without first knowing the impact of James 3 v 1
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
What does James mean? The word ‘masters’ is the word didaskolos – teachers. “Let not many of you become teachers knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement.” How serious is this role of an elder – a pastor teacher.
The two outcomes of being an elder are these – a crown of glory or great condemnation. Our Hebrews text continues –
that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Joy or grief. John MacArthur suggests that it is the Church’s responsibility to help its leaders to do their work with satisfaction and delight. The reason is because the elders work for the Chief Shepherd as His special servants. The sheep are to submit to their leadership so that peace prevails in the church.
So it seems from Hebrews 13 v 17 that if the church refuses to follow the elder’s guidance when they point out the pathway of duty then we not only grieve the elders, but we injure ourselves and incur the wrath of God. Oversight therefore involves so much – and has implications for both elders AND church members. May we take these implications to heart my friends in these days!
A little more on oversight before we move on to other duties.
“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. Let us return to 1 Peter 5 v 1 – 3 again. Here the elders are to lead by example – in the following areas of Christian life – faith, doctrine, hard work, commitment, behaviour, selflessness and 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.
My friends a man cannot rule until he has learned how to be ruled. Let us submit gladly to Christ’s arrangements for us – for His Name’s sake!
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.
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 – an elder must be able to do so. Having said that 1 Timothy 5 v 17 makes this point –
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.
So to summarise these Duties.
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.
The Lord Jesus is the model – and He calls His servants.
Yet this fact is true also – that the Biblical requirements for the high calling of an elder are also those of any Christian in any church – except one – that is aptness to teach sound doctrine. All of the others as far as qualifications are concerned should be the distinguishing marks of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ – for they are marks of Godliness. So may we all strive for these things to the glory of our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ! May each of 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.
A brief word about the CALLING OF AN ELDER to a local church.
1. Churches operate under the Lord Jesus Christ by their Biblically based Constitutions. This fellowship has a constitution which, though not perfect, tries to be, at its heart, a reflection of Bible practice.
Churches consist of officers and members. The officers are appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church. But how can a church determine who can be called as an elder?
What saith the scripture?
1. A man must desire the office.
I Timothy 3 v 1 If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
He must have the right motive. Often the gifts of the ministry create a desire for their exercise. By them a man is drawn to the word, to Christ and to men.
HOWEVER there are occasions when a man does not feel that he has this desire but is persuaded to hold office because of the need for an elder in the church. He serves WILLINGLY but may not have a desire to be an elder. Given the choice he would rather continue serving as an ordinary member of the church.
2. The Church must recognise the gifts and qualifications in a man as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 v 1 – 7 and Titus 1 v 6 – 9 including and especially a clear ability to teach.
The mechanism of election starts with the recognition of these 2 things. The man must be convinced that he is called to office and soberly assess himself whether he has the necessary qualifications. This can be called the INTERNAL call.
When this aspiring elder is so convinced then it must be confirmed and followed through by the EXTERNAL call of the church.
In Independency we find the principle of POPULAR ELECTION practised.
This is different to the hierarchical approach of Episcopacy; and different again from the democratic system of power of choice in Congregationalism where the members choose their elders and can at the same time depose them if they are not happy with them!
Independency comes between those two extremes.
The existing elders lead the church in the choice of the new office bearers – and the church must have the power to give its consent.
The Church is a voluntary society
2 Corinthians 8 v 5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
The members voluntarily gather themselves together as a society and are subjected only to the commands of Christ. They must voluntarily place themselves under the pastoral oversight of the elders who they recognise have been raised up by God for the church. Since it is the duty of elders to lead the church then they must guide the members in the choice of new office bearers. In order that the members may submit themselves voluntarily to the new elder they must give their consent to the appointment.
Paul further says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2
1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. 3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
In verse 2 the word ABLE is the Greek HIKANOS. It means “sufficient for a task” or “able to do a job.” A modern rendering would be that prospective men who aspire to eldership are those who “have what it takes, from God, to do the work of the ministry.” They are men with the gifts who have already learned to use them skilfully in the work of shepherding. The Old Testament has an example of a man after God’s own heart who was proved like this. He was no less than King David. Psalm 78 has the details –
70 He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: 71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. 72 So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
Every such man will exclaim along with the Apostle Paul,
“Who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Corinthians 2 v 16.
Yet at the same time every such man must, with honesty and integrity, be able to declare with conviction,
2 Corinthians 3 v 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
So as we close – we have looked at many things – the gifts, qualifications, duties and calling of elders.
Hugh Latimer, a popular preacher of the sixteenth century English Reformation who was martyred for his faith, couldn't restrain himself from preaching. The lostness of men and women and the emptiness of the clergy of his day compelled him to speak out.
His “Sermon of the Plow” was directed at preachers who lacked passion and used their pastoral office for self-promotion, rather than proclaiming God's truth.
In it he said,
“I would ask a strange question: who is the most [diligent] bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I … know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him … I will tell you: it is the devil. “He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is never out of his [diocese]; he is never far from his [curate]; ye shall never find him unoccupied … The diligentest preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough: no lording nor loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you … “Where the devil is resident, and hath his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles; away with bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea, at noon days … Up with man's traditions and his laws, down with God's traditions and his most holy word … “Oh that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel! … There was never such a preacher in England as he is … “The prelates … are lords, and no labourers: but the devil is diligent at his plough. He is no unpreaching prelate: he is no lordly loiterer from his [curate], but a busy ploughman … Therefore, ye unpreaching prelates, learn of the devil: to be diligent in doing of your office, learn of the devil: and if you will not learn of God, nor good men, for shame learn of the devil” (Sermons by Hugh Latimer, edited by George Elwes Corrie [Cambridge: University Press, 1844], pp. 70 77).
Latimer was calling for passion in the ministry. The church needs leaders who are compelled to minister out of love for God's Word and a passion for lost souls.
May the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ in our day know of such leaders who love the word of God so much that they will stop at nothing to preach the pure unadulterated Gospel of Christ with passion and sincerity.
And may the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified as His word is preached in these days.