OceanSide church of Christ
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THE DECISION OF ELDERS
Victor M. Eskew
In I Timothy 3:1, Paul refers to “the office of a bishop.” The Greek word for bishop is “episcope.” The word is also translated as “overseers” in 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.” In Acts 20:28, it is interesting to note that Paul is speaking directly to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17).
The word “bishop” or “overseer” carries with it the idea of superintendence. In essence, the elders have the responsibility of governing and controlling the affairs of the local church. Their main responsibilities are two-fold: 1) to make certain the will of God is implemented in the local church, and 2) to make decisions as to how this will be done in an effective manner. Both responsibilities are extremely weighty.
The decisions that elders can make fall into several categories: 1) right or wrong, 2) wise or unwise, and 3) good or bad. Right and wrong decisions involved decisions concerning the doctrine of Christ. If they follow the New Testament, their decisions are right. When they fail to follow the teachings of the Master, their decisions are wrong. Wise and unwise decisions fall into the category of option, expediency, and opinion. These decisions require thought, prayer, the counsel of others, experience, and hopefully some foreknowledge. Usually, the end results determine whether the decision was wise or unwise. It is important to note that these decisions are not “right and wrong” decisions. When the elders hire a minister, this decision falls into the wise and unwise category as long as all of the men being considered are sound. If all goes well and the work progresses, the elders will be credited for a wise decision. If not, the decision will be considered unwise. The category of “good and bad” decisions involve outcome. Any violation of God’s will is a bad decision. Any decision that is unwise and brings bad results is usually said to be bad as well. NOTE: What men see as “positive results” do not govern every decision of the eldership. There are times when right decisions and wise decisions seem to bring negative consequences.
The decisions that an eldership make directly impact the local church. Every member of the church then has the ability to respond to that decision. In His wisdom, God has instructed those under the authority of the overseers to obey them. “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” (Heb. 13:17). The only time this instruction should be disregarded is when an eldership makes a decision that violates the doctrine of Christ. Just because members think that a decision is unwise does not mean they can rebel against the elders. Apostolic authority admonishes them to obey.
Sadly, many members refuse to obey their overseers. These members are of the opinion that they are not required to be subject to the bishops unless they agree with the decisions of the elders one hundred percent. Sometimes they openly rebel: open rebuke of the elders, creation of strife, refusing to give their contribution, attending elsewhere, or splitting the church. This attitude and the actions that spring from it are sinful. First, they are not following the directions of the New Testament to obey them that have rule over them. Second, they are not endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Third, they are creating division among the Lord’s people, a thing the Lord hates (Prov. 6:16-19). Rebellious actions are not something the Lord takes lightly. In fact, some of the most severe forms of discipline were meted out against those who rebelled against authority figures. Miriam and Aaron are just one example (Numbers 12:1-16).
Elders have a difficult task as they seek to shepherd and oversee the Lord’s people. God knows that assuming the role of a bishop does not grant one divine knowledge in all areas. He knows these men will make wrong and unwise and bad decisions from time to time. When they are wrong, they need to repent. When their decisions are unwise, they learn and move forward. The obligation of the members is to honor, obey, and make the work of elders as easy as possible (Heb. 13:17). This does not mean that we cannot speak to them and voice disagreements. It does mean that we respect and honor the divine arrangement of elders overseeing the body as established by God.