OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew


          There are numerous positions that have been set forth within the body of Christ by God:  apostles, prophets, elders, deacons, evangelists, and teachers.  The apostles still occupy their original position.  Their deaths did not remove them from their office.  The position of a prophet was active in the first century.  However, when the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit ceased, this office also ceased.  This office is no longer needed either.  Today, we have the complete, powerful Word of the living God in that book we call the Bible.

          Four offices still exist in the church today:  elders, deacons, evangelists (preachers), and teachers.  Of these four, the highest is that of an elder.  Elders are referred to by six names in the New Testament:  elders, presbyters, bishops, overseers, pastors, and shepherds.  Regardless of which name is used to describe them, these men are in a position of authority under our Lord Jesus Christ.  As bishops (overseers), they answer to the Bishop of our souls (I Pet. 2:25.  As shepherds (pastors), they will give an account unto the Chief Shepher (I Pet. 5:4).

          These men must meet numerous qualifications in order to assume this position (I Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9).  Those that do are to be held in high esteem by all the members of their local congregation (I Tim. 5:17).  Dear readers, this office is high and lofty in the sight of God.  These men have been set in their position by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28).  They are men who have authority within the local congregation (I Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17).  These men are responsible for the souls of all within their flock (Heb. 13:17).  Yes, their office is high and is to be held in honor by all.

          Unfortunately, the office of bishop is being undermined in many places.  Many of those who are participating in this effort are not fully cognizant that they are doing it.  In this article, we want to examine three ways that some members are destroying the elderships of the local congregation.

          First, one of the responsibilities of the elders is to take the oversight of the local congregation.  Paul exhorted the elders to this end when he presented his farewell address to them at Miletus.  “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” (Acts 20:28).  Peter gave a similar admonition in I Peter 5:2.  “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:  feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof…”  In addition to taking the oversight of the local church, the elders are instructed to watch for the souls of all the members of their flock.  “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves:  for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account…” (Heb. 13:17).

          In order for the elders to know who to watch, they must know exactly who is part of their flock and who is not.  This has to involve some way for members to “identify” with the local congregation.  There are some members who disagree with this.  They do not believe that it is essential to “place membership” or “identify with a congregation” or “place themselves under an eldership.”  This belief and practice undermines the shepherds.  If no one identities with their flock, they wonder who is under their oversight or not.  They wonder for whose souls they must watch.  They ponder for whom they will be held accountable unto God.

          Many brethren like to remain in a category some have referred to as “members at large.”  They are sheep with no flock.  They are sheep who appear to be a member of one, perhaps two, flocks.  They will always disagree with any discipline they might receive for unfaithfulness or sin because they are not members of that local congregation since they did not “identify” with that church.  Their actions undermine the very purpose of an eldership.  God wanted someone, namely shepherds, watching over all of His sheep.

          Second, the elders are to feed the flock.  Peter was clear:  “Feed the flock of God which is among you…” (I Pet. 5:2).  Peter was not referring to physical food.  The eldership is responsible for making certain that the flock gets a well-maintained diet of God’s Word.  Bible classes, worship services, gospel meetings, seminars, and a host of other activities are usually conducted to fulfill this obligation.  When such things are happening a bell could be rung announcing:  “It’s feeding time!”

          Some members have undermined the work of the elders in this area.  These members will affirm that the elders are to feed the flock, but they will also assert that the members are not required to eat.  They will tell us that all of the feeding times provided by the elders are optional.  Can you imagine such a thing?  Here is a group of men “commanded” by God to fill a table full so the brethren can eat, but God does not expect the brethren to come eat.  That is foolishness!  How many mothers cook supper thinking that their children do not have to show up to eat?  How many cattlemen fill the troughs full of grain, but realize that eating is optional for their herd?  Ridiculous!  When members refuse to take advantage of the feeding sessions provided by their shepherd, they will be held accountable.  It is interesting that most of those who will not eat are the immature, weak, and sickly in the congregation.  This writer has yet to see a healthy member who will not come to Bible class, meetings, seminars, etc.  Those who will not come are malnourished.  They are not heeding the words of Peter, which say:  “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:2).

          Third, elders are called upon to take care of the church (I Tim. 3:5), to rule (I Tim. 5:17), and oversee the church (I Pet. 5:1-3).  In order to accomplish these tasks, they must have power or authority.  This authority does not allow them to alter the Word of God (Gal. 1:8-9).  Thus, their authority resides in areas that are optional and expedient.  The elders answer such questions as:  1) Where will the church assemble for worship?  2)  When will the church assemble for worship on the Lord’s day?  3) Who will be the minister of the church?  4)  What works will be supported by the church?  5) What week will the church have VBS?  These are just a few simple questions that elders have the authority to answer.  The Holy Spirit knew these men had such authority.  He, therefore, exhorted the local church to obey their decisions.  “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).

          Some members of the church, however, will undermine the authority of elders when they do not like one of their decisions.  There are many ways they can do this:  1) Some just disregard the decision.  2)  Some try to stir up trouble by getting others to side with them against the decision of the elders.  3) Some quit giving their contribution to God.  4) Some will go to another church.  5) And, some will even try to divide the church.  Those who do such things are rebellious children.  One day they will have to give an account unto Jesus Christ for their actions.  Do the rebels honestly think that Jesus will favor them over his loyal under-shepherds?

          We live in an age of rebellion and extreme selfishness.  Many have drunk from the post-modern well of individualism.  Sadly, these things often spill over into the church.  It is usually the eldership that takes the hit because they are the authority within the local congregation.  Dear reader, don’t seek to undermine your shepherds.  Make their work as pleasant as possible.  You will be glad you did.  The elders will be glad you did.  And most importantly, the Bishop of your soul will rejoice that you did.