When one of these articles stirs a wave of response, I consider that a compliment because it lets me know that at least someone is reading what I publish.  In the last issue, I challenged the reader to ask questions about everything, just as I do in my apologetics classes.  This is particularly important in Bible study.  Asking questions of the text makes one a student, whereas telling the text what it says makes one a writer, or at least an editor of the text.  Since I was challenged to demonstrate a specific issue where published scholars have it wrong, I will allow you to read over my shoulder.

In 1985, Regular Baptist Press published The Weeping Church, Confronting the Crisis of Church Polity.  The book has gone through several printings and is still in print.  I wish I could share with you the huge file of thank-you notes from those who have benefited from the information in that book that pointed them to the scriptures.  In it you will find a broader presentation on the subject I have chosen for this article.  Every doctrine rises from an individual’s system of interpretation. Theological errors rise from an erroneous hermeneutic or, at best, a misuse of the one biblical system.  The way to know if a scholar has a failed hermeneutic is simply to look at his conclusions, because “the proof is in the pudding”.

THE ELDER QUESTION

The frustration that rises with the question I have chosen for this issue is that there are two extremes of argumentation, and both are wrong.  Both extremes make it clear that they are arguing for a human presupposition and that their words are simply twisted to prove something they think is true.  None of us is free from this kind of temptation; but in an honest approach, we must stop and admit that “I added that to the text”.  The strange thing is that the presupposition of both sides is the same.  From one view, they downplay the function of the pastor/bishop/elder by arguing against the oversight, the ruling functions, and the plurality.  The other side argues against the shepherd role and makes unqualified sheep equal to fulfilling the God-ordained plan.  They both end up ignoring the clear teaching of scripture on the role of the shepherd.  The motive may well be a cultural infusion, or a political ambition, but it allows them to take for themselves what God in His wisdom has given to another.

For the record, both sides should go no further until they accept the plain statements of scripture.  The pastor, shepherd, bishop, overseer, and elder are all one and the same person. Either he is all, or he is none of these.  (Acts 20; I Peter 3; Hebrews 13; I Timothy 3; Titus 1) The main issue here is that the debate is not about plurality.  Plurality is clearly taught in scripture.  What some say about it, or how they explain it, however, has often been added to scripture.  The issue is not whether or not elders rule; that is plainly taught in scripture, even if we don’t like it.  The real issue here is “who is qualified to be an elder?”.

Typically, I Timothy 5:17 is rewritten by some to create two kinds of elders – ruling elders and teaching elders.  The text teaches the opposite: “The elder who rules well is to be ‘paid double’”.  Since all elders must be qualified to teach, those who do this work well are worthy of the same consideration.  The context rules in this passage, making it clear that the text is talking about remuneration.  Verse 18 is most often left out by those who choose to divide the office, but the issue is confirmed in I Corinthians 9:7-9.  A second problem is posed by those who state that the office is one, as the teaching/ruling elder; however, they most often miss the point that this man is also an under-shepherd.  These local shepherds are chosen by God and are answerable to the “chief shepherd” (I Peter 5:1-4). In a local church, there are sheep that have a local resident shepherd.  Understanding this text requires the full use of the one biblical hermeneutic.  The use of the term “under shepherd” here can only be understood in the historical setting of the text.  Understanding who would qualify to be a true shepherd requires some knowledge of that specific historical setting.  There was a clear difference between sheep and shepherd.  There were helpers, hirelings, and apprentices; but they were not the shepherd.  For the benefit of the sincere student, John chapter 10 has a wealth of information on this subject.

WHO QUALIFIES TO BE A SHEPHERD?

A person is not a shepherd simply because he does some shepherding, no more than a babysitter who does some mothering is automatically a mother.  A true shepherd is not an afterthought; his task is all-encompassing and consuming.  He has no thought or goal outside of this occupation.  The safety of the sheep is at risk if he is distracted by the things of this world. In II Timothy 2:3-7, Paul told young pastor Timothy how demanding the shepherd’s role is.  With very few exceptions, he lives, sleeps, and stays with his sheep.  The qualifications of a local resident pastor (and all pastors) are not found alone in I Timothy 4 and Titus.  His qualification and function can be found in the very understanding of the shepherd.  With all of these things in mind, one would be hard pressed to find a qualified pastor/elder among the many sheep who are falsely called elders.

The concept of having sheep called by men to be elders is not new, but that calling doesn’t make them shepherds; that is still creating two kinds of elders.  The idea of a ruling elder board is an invention of men.  True, some of the men who hold that view are well-known important people, and some are scholars; but they are wrong.  If a church is ruled by a “presbytery”, it has chosen the Reformed polity with a man-made hermeneutic.  If the polity of a church is Presbyterian, it is a Presbyterian church and should not use the name Baptist, no matter what mode of baptism they may use.  The fact that some Baptist churches have done this is no proof that it is correct, even if a well-known scholar is the pastor.

SUMMARY

We are well aware that there are lots of problems among those who use a true biblical system, but you don’t build error on error.  You don’t add to the scripture; you simply ask the text what it says.  To correct error, we go back to the source of the authority – the scripture – and begin there again.  We need to go to the Book – not to prove our point, but to know truth that God has revealed for us in His Word.  Space and time are limited here, so there will be more to follow.

In case you have never read it, you may wish to consider the book The Weeping Church,

ISBN: 0970826117 / 0-9708261-1-7.

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