Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hi, we are from headquarters and we are here to appoint some elders

Eric Carpenter tweeted something interesting this morning regarding elders...

That is straight out of Scripture and yet as Eric points out that is absolutely not how it typically happens in most of the church. In Scripture the picture that comes out is that apostolic workers, itinerant evangelists if you will, came to an area and preached the Gospel. In response people were saved and those people started meeting together as the church. The apostolic workers, men who lived and worked in the area, led these gatherings for a while and then moved on but based on lives lived together they appointed men who were demonstrating characteristics that should be emulated by the church and who were more mature in the faith as elders to lead by example once the apostolic workers moved on. My how far we have "progressed"!

Granted, the local churches in America are not by and large brand new church plants. They are not newly formed groups of new believers, many of them have been in place for decades or even centuries. We don't really have any apostolic workers who have any sort of universally recognized authority. Can you imagine some men from the Southern Baptist Convention traveling around  the country to local churches and telling them "We are here to get to know the men in your church and once we do we will appoint those men we see fit as elders"? In some places in the SBC that might be welcomed with the muzzle of a shotgun. So how do we keep the spirit of what happened in Scripture within the culture we have to deal with?

Well there isn't an easy answer here. This is one of those places where we cannot try to just copy from Scripture because the world has changed. What we can do is strive to keep in place what the Scriptures teach about elders. We can still appoint men as elders from within the local body rather than going out to find hired guns from outside of the church. We can choose men based on their character and manner of life rather than their oratorical skills and educational attainment. We can select men who joyfully work for a living rather than paying men to "serve". We can recover the ideal of elders being part of the body, laboring alongside the body and providing an example to the body rather than ruling over the body.

We cannot and should not try to replicate everything about the first century church. We simply cannot. That doesn't mean that we cannot glean crucial truths for how the church should function, how Christians should relate to one another in the church and in the home and in the world. I don't expect that apostolic workers will appoint elders around America but local churches can certainly appoint mature brothers as elders based on the explicit teaching and example of the Word. Pragmatism, the winds of culture preference and tradition are poor sources for how the church should function.

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