The leaders in the early church were established to be either apostles and elders and there are some distinctions between the two groups. They are both important roles in the church and in this section of scripture we see how important and what one of their key roles was.
It is unfortunate that in the church today many of the leaders in the church are not appointed according to the processes established in the bible. Instead they are appointed on the basis of having studied at a bible college, school or university to receive a degree or diploma which then is accepted as a qualification to lead a church.
This is not how the original apostles and elders were appointed and it is not the way of God according to what the scripture defines. It is especially an issue in the case of those who call themselves apostles and in some churches we see the leadership falls to one pastor, priest or minister, which also is not the correct form as defined in the bible.
There have been some people who call themselves apostles in the modern church. Whether they are real apostles or not is not for me to say, however unless they have been appointed by God, they are not apostles.
The gift of apostleship is not one that a man can simply take. To be an apostle is one of the gifts of God given not to a man, but to the church. The structure of the the church was established by Jesus when He was on the earth and it is God who gives the ministry gifts to the church, one of which is the gift to be an Apostle.
The gifts given to the church were defined in Ephesians 4:11-14 which says,
11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
Here we see that to be a true apsotle as well as to be a true pastor, teacher, evangelist or prophet is not an appointment that can be made by man. A true apostle, pastor, teacher, evangelist or prophet is appointed by God and the ministry is given to that person as a gift from God. No man can take these gifts and no man can proclaim himself to operate one of these ministries unless it has been given to them by God.
This may come as a shock to some, especially those who believe the pathway to being a pastor or one of the other ministries can be trained in a school or university and be appointed as the result of a man’s examination process. The true giver of these gifts is God and they are given to serve the church.
Elders on the other hand are not given by God but are appointed by godly men to oversee a church or congregation. And the appointment is not or should not be done lightly but must be put before The Lord in prayer so that He will accept and approve the decisions of those appointing the elders.
We see examples of the apostles, especially Paul going among the churches he established and appointing elders in the churches. In Acts 14:23 we see where Paul and Barnabas travelled back through the regions they had established churches to appoint elders.
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
The appointment of elders was not taken lightly and the elders were committed to The Lord for Him to teach and guide them in their overseeing of the congregations and to lead them in the processes, growth and establishment of the church.
There were conditions for establishing elders, and not just anyone could be appointed an elder. Note these conditions are defined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Note here that eldership (the same Greek word rendered here as overseer is also translated as elder) is a role that a person can aspire to. A person can grow in The Lord and His teachings to come to the place where they meet the necessary requirements to be appointed as an elder.
We see these conditions of eldership plus a few others repeated again in Titus 1:5-9 where Paul is instructing Titus on the requirements of elders so that Titus can work in the churches in Crete to appoint the right people to the roles of eldership.
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you- 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
An elder in the church must be in control and be able to instruct others in the right path. They need to be well versed in the teachings of The Lord and be able to teach others. And they also must be temperate, stable, not greedy for money and so on so that they can stand as an example to the congregation they serve.
And that is another key consideration for an elder. They are servants. They may be the leaders of the congregation they are part of, but they are there as servants to help the others. They are not there to be served as a master over the flock, but as ones who can help the flock to grow stronger and to protect them when the need arises.
The Role of Apostles and Elders
And we see these attributes back in Acts 15 at the council of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas had come to the council along with some believers who were saying that the Gentile churches needed to be circumcised and be charged to keep the laws of Moses. I discussed this matter in my last post.
Now here we see these apostles and elders come together to discuss this question of doctrine and to make a decision as to the right path to take forward so the church is not led astray. Note that in the section of scripture I quoted above from the letter to Titus, that verse 9 relates directly to the heart of this issue.
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
This is what the meeting of the apostles and elders was about. They came together to identify what the sound doctrine needed to be and to issue a decision on this matter so as to remove confusion and to establish the truth in this matter.
They listened to the arguments on both sides and then we see Peter and James stand up, both of whom had walked with The Lord and both of whom had a strong understanding of the ways of The Lord and the workings of the new covenant, and they advised on the basis of this knowledge what the correct path needed to be.
Peter showed that The Lord had not made any distinction between the Jews and Gentiles for He gave the Gentiles the same Holy Spirit and gifts of the spirit as the Jews had received. And Peter also showed his knowledge of the new covenant for he showed that just as the Jews had been set free from sin and the law, then why should the Gentiles be subjected to the very laws that the Jews were removed from.
Peter showed that there should be no distinction between the Jews and Gentiles in this matter as both parties now stand before God cleansed of sin on the basis of faith in Jeus Christ and in the grace of The Lord Jesus Christ.
8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
We then see James stand up and give his opinion, and it is an important approach that James takes for he does not just give an opinion, but he backs it up with scripture by quoting the prophet Amos who spoke to the matter of the Gentiles being given the offer of salvation.
If we look back again at the role of an elder as defined in Titus we see that a strong working knowledge oft he scripture is key to their role for it is the scripture that is the word so f God in our hands and it is by the scripture that the devil and all opponents oft he truth can be weighed and cast down.
The scriptures hold the keys tot he truth and the doctrine of The Lord Jesus Christ, so it is imperative that we all learn it and know it and grow in it. But it is even more crucial for an elder to know it for they need to instruct others and to ensure the integrity of the scripture and doctrine is maintained in the church in their care.
And that is what the council of the apostles and elders was doing in Jerusalem. They were ensuring the doctrine to be preached to the Gentile churches was correct so that they could receive the full benefit of the teachings of Jesus Christ and so that the ministry gifts of the apostle, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers would lead the people in the congregations to maturity in Jesus Christ.
(Image sourced from stock.xchng provided by Sigurd Decroos)
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