The Authority of Elders in the Local Assembly

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Increasingly the authority of elder brethren is being denied, and efforts made to substitute congregational government. The result is confusion and indecision, and the confidence of gifted leaders who might lead the church is undermined. Here is a statement from Scripture of the truth of the matter.

  1. Elders are spiritually mature men in an assembly who desire to serve our Lord Jesus Christ by watching over His people, who are not disqualified by a number of practical considerations, and whose effective service verifies their appointment by the Holy Spirit, Matt. 7. 20; Acts 20. 28; 1 Tim. 3. 1-7.
  2. Their prime tasks are shepherding and teaching, i.e. they care for the total well-being of every member of the assembly, to whom they give public systematic effective teaching of the Word of God, Eph. 4. 11-16; 1 Pet. 5. 1- 2.
  3. Their authority derives from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd, to whom all authority is given, Matt. 28. 18-20; Luke 4. 32. It is their task to rule or govern, and to enjoy the respect and response of their people as they do so, Heb. 13. 7, 17, 24.
  4. Every Christian is under authority, which is a divinely given provision for the protection of the individual’s well-being in a sinful world, Rom. 13. 1- 7. Such authority allows freedom to flourish, and is part of the way in which the Lord makes us free, John 8. 32, 36.
  5. Believers need to be aware of the value of response to proper authority, Titus 3. 1-2. True Christian liberty, the power to believe what is true and to find grace to do what is right, flourishes only under New Testament authority, bringing calm order to local church meetings, 1 Cor. 14. 26, 40.
  6. Elders have a particular duty to protect believers from false teaching, a task which must be performed with authority and grace, 1 Tim. 4. 11-12; Titus 1. 10-13; and with the power of command, 2. 15.
  7. Elders have the additional duty to maintain order within the community in their care, so that those who act destructively are stopped with whatever firmness is necessary, 1 Cor. 5. 1-5; 2 Thess. 3. 13-14; 1 Tim. 5. 19-20. This is commonly done by exegetical and doctrinal teaching, by public statement, and by personal interview with any who appear to ignore these leads. Present-day examples are the advocacy of “tongues”, the threat of divorce, or the use of alcohol. Statements are usually presented as the collective, scripturally-held opinions of the elders.
  8. Our Lord’s teaching that the Christian leader takes the lowest place as a servant, as He Himself exemplified, Matt. 20. 25-28; Mark 10. 42-45; 2 Thess. 3. 8-9; 1 Pet. 5. 3-5, is acknowledged without reservation. This excludes tyranny of the sort that worldly leaders use. The fact that serving from the lowest place does not exclude divinely given authority is clear from the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself as did no other, nonetheless exercises authority without limit, Phil. 2. 5-11.
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