Readings: 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1
GOVERNMENT IS ESSENTIAL and is provided for in all walks of life, national, business and in the home. It is one proof of the reality of God who governs the universe. Israel was given the only divinely ordained system of religious observances, sacrifices and laws. Government was by a high priest, chief priests (introduced later), priests and to a lesser extent Levites. There was much dignity and outward show as well as earthly power and position in the system. Christianity is on a different plane. Since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has ruled directly in believers who have not an earthly but a heavenly calling, Eph. I. 3. Our High Priest is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself enthroned in heaven, Heb. 4. 14. He is the Head of the Church, Col. 1. 18. Accordingly, the minimum of earthly position, power or glory is accorded to Christians and they are not given scriptural titles or powers in any way similar to Israel.
APOSTLES AND PROPHETS
At the beginning there were apostles and prophets who were the foundation in the building of the church, Eph. 2. 20, and were given authority through the Holy Spirit to supervise the rapid progress of the apostolic church. They were largely responsible for the New Testament writings, were despised, defamed and persecuted by this world and, in many cases, sealed their testimony with their blood as martyrs for their faith.
Today the administrative gifts are bishops and deacons.
The word translated ‘bishop’ in the New Testament has the meaning overseer and is so translated (A.V.) in one place only, Acts 20. 28. The word is used to describe the character of what is called in 1 Tim. 3.1 ‘a good work’. From Acts 20 we see that elders and overseers are the same and from this passage and others it is clear that there were several bishops in each church, Phil. 1. 1; Titus 1. 5. Paul and Barnabas made converts in their missionary journeys and later returned to ordain elders in every church for proper order in God’s work, Acts 14. 21-23. The word ‘elder’ in the original Greek refers to the character of the person rather than the work and describes one who is of mature experience.
When one considers the Church’s true position as a heavenly body and the simple provision for die guidance of God’s people by elder brethren, it is apparent how far the professing Church has strayed from God’s order. Early in the Church’s history men arose assuming authority over individual churches and then over groups of churches in an area and people have now long been accustomed to men, called bishops, taking a position wholly different from that of an elder in apostolic times. It is only fair to say that this has been recognized by Bishop Moule and others to be the case. There was divine wisdom in the original method of government and its super-cession by man’s ‘improvements’ has had disastrous results. The first failure was the acceptance of one elder or bishop as leader or ruler in a church. From this the division into clergy and laity sprang and many of God’s people were debarred from avenues of service for which they were fitted by the Holy Spirit, to His dishonour. Later, as seen above, the see or bishopric became established and prelates rather than simple elders led and ruled, and then overruled, and even persecuted God’s people. Finally, the papal system was established under which the bishop of Rome claimed the primacy of all the bishops and this developed into the centralized system of dogma, ecclesiastical authority over consciences and minds of men everywhere, and intolerance which for centuries has been the enemy of freedom in Christian worship and practice.
In reacting against abuses in church government, some have gone to the other extreme and have done away with elders and a freelance method has been adopted. This, however, leads to individuals, by force of character, assuming leadership, and experience has shown that parties have proved a source of division rather than consolidation in God’s work. It has also resulted in unscriptural teaching.
An assembly should be guided by its elder brethren who should act unanimously in important matters.
As the Holy Spirit raises up elders, so it is the responsibility of the brethren to recognize them before the Lord. Any failure to do this is grieving to the Spirit. Elders are not appointed by the assembly or by their fellows. It is not necessary for an elder to be advanced in years but rather advanced in Christian experience. He need not be a public teacher but he must have a sound grasp of the essentials of the faith and be of irreproachable character. Where polygamy is allowed by the state an elder, nevertheless must have one wife only. He must guard the assembly from doctrinal error (the seed of all errors), Warn the unruly, shepherd the weak, encourage the young or backward, be lowly in mind, using his material means and circumstances for the furtherance of the Gospel. His capability to rule in the Church is evidenced by his control of his own family circle, i Tim. 3. 2-5; Titus 1. 6-9. Elders have to be particularly careful to act as shepherds and examples and not as wolves or lords over God’s heritage. There is a crown of glory in eternity reserved for faithful elders, 1 Pet. 5. 1-4.
A deacon means in the original Greek a servant and was a common word denoting a public, or a domestic servant. In 1 Tim. 3 the qualifications to be regarded as a special servant in the Church are set out, vv. 8-12. In some ecclesiastical circles the ministry of the Church is described as represented by bishops, priests and deacons. As all believers are priests according to the apostle Peter (whom such persons claim to honour very specially) (see 1 Pet. 2) this description is completely unscriptural. Further, bishops as we have seen are joint-shepherds over a single church, and deacons are simply servants. (The ministry of the word is treated separately from government in Scripture and teachers and evangelists may not, in many cases, be bishops or deacons).
A deacon must first be proved. Recognition in spiritual matters as well as in other spheres should depend on proved reliability. Faithfulness in small things qualifies for wider service. The material service in the assembly requires reliable hands for its efficient discharge for it is the business of God, Rom. 12. 11. Some overlook this and are unpunctual, unreliable, untidy, even ill-mannered. These might appear small matters but prevent proving for deacon-service. The qualifications are similar to an elder in a number of points and include responsibility for a wife’s behaviour.
Much ‘oversight’ work is of deacon character. There is a danger that the elders’ spiritual work of caring for the saints may thus be neglected. An elder’s work is probably personal rather than collective and is often unseen. Visitation, the helpful word, private instruction are not seen but they bind the assembly together.
These gifts are essential to the welfare of the Church. God’s provision exactly meets our need.
To be followed by ‘THE USE OF GIFTS’