"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.X No.IX Pg.13,15
September 1948

Elders, The Watchmen Of The Church

George T. Jones

Every student of the New Testament knows that the Divine arrangement of church government tails for a plurality of elders in every congregation. The authority of these men does not extend beyond the limits of the congregation served by them. (1 Pet. 5:2) There is no organization or unit of government besides the local congregation. These several congregations are presided over by their respective elders. There is no higher or nobler work than serving faithfully as an elder of the church. "e;If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." (1 Tim. 3:1) The qualifications for this office are high, having been made so by the Lord. Not every male member of the church can or does qualify for the eldership. Likewise, the duties of an elder are diverse. Paul declares that elders who faithfully discharge their obligations are worthy of signal honor. (1 Tim. 5:17) Various titles are applied to elders in the New Testament. All of these seem to imply some phase of their work. As an elder (Acts 20:17), he is a man of some maturity and experience. As a pastor (Eph. 4:11), he is to feed the flock (Acts 20:28). As a bishop (1 Tim. 3:21; Acts 20:2,8), he is an overseer, superintendent and watchman.

It is not feasible that one article should give even a sketch of all the duties of elders. The design of this paper is to focus attention on elders as watchmen of the church. That the good men chosen to serve in this capacity have a distinct responsibility as vigilantes is not to be questioned. In commanding Christians concerning the proper attitude toward elders, the author of Hebrews wrote: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Heb. 13:'17) After charging the elders of the Ephesian church to take heed to themselves and to all the flock, he further admonished them: "Therefore watch." These passages should set forth the particular watchfulness to which elders are to be devoted. They are on vigil as those who shall account for the spiritual welfare of the souls under their charge. These men are on guard as a shepherd is over his sheep. They watch as one who shall give account to the Great Shepherd for the safe conduct of their sheep. (1 Pet. 5:3, 4) What a weighty charge; what a solemn obligation! What strength of character and spiritual discernment are required for this office!

We like to picture an elder as a spiritual watchman on the spiritual walls or outposts of Zion. If an army should encamp, having fear of

being attacked unawares by the enemy, sentries will be posted propitiously along the outskirts of the camp to warn of the approach of unfriendly force, before it, is too late to repel them. At the same time, these sentinels will be on the look out for any sign of a traitor within the camp who might lend comfort to the enemy. This illustration presents a graphic picture of the work of elders as watchmen. In cautioning the elders at Ephesus, Paul described dangers from within and without. "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20:29, 30)

Because of the purity of the church and the imperious need of maintaining that purity, the elders must be on constant watch against encroachments from without. Faithful elders of the church will not allow any foreign factor or influence to disturb the peace and purity of God's people. In the first instance, dutiful elders will have fortified the flock against such anticipated onslaughts by seeing that they are fed on the wholesome nutriment of God's word instead of skim milk lectures on ethics and social customs. At the same time, the elders must be in constant observation of the flock to make sure that any among the disciples is not "speaking perverse things" to stir up trouble.

Watchfulness is the only safeguard from apostasy. There have been two major apostasies in the ranks of those who claim to be Christians only since the Restoration. One was over instrumental music and the missionary societies; the other over vain, fanciful and speculative theories concerning prophecy, known as Premillennialism. We of the present generation can only contemplate the havoc and destruction wrought by these departures from the ancient faith. Twice a united brotherhood has been torn asunder. Twice have the ranks of those who sought to call people out of denominationalism been split. No man can estimate accurately for how much loss we have been thrown by these two catastrophes—tragedies that vigilance on the part of God's watchmen could have avoided. Let us ponder a bit. The instrument was introduced into worship at Midway, Kentucky in 1859. Benjamin Franklin, able preacher of the era, immediately denounced the practice along with others. But suppose the elders of the church at Midway, Kentucky, had met those innovators at the door of the meetinghouse with a firm "You shall not pass". Suppose that the elders of the other churches where the organ was subsequently introduced had taken similar action.

Could not the tragedy have been averted? Instead, the fight was left to faithful preachers and a few faithful elders who could not be intimidated by the popular clamor. But it was too late; the innovations already had a foothold. Consider again what would have been the outcome had the elders of the churches refused the speculative theories of R. H. Boll when they were first announced and before a large segment of the disciples had been drawn after him. Eternity only will reveal what the difference might have been.

Watchfulness now on the part of elders is one of the greatest reeds of the church. Certain ominous sounds from within the camp of spiritual Israel ring untrue and portend disaster unless checked. An apostasy is not improbable. Churches are being told that they can support human institutions (educational) either by occasional donations or by placing said institution in the budget and contributing to it regularly. There are other signs. Too many pulpits do not have the familiar ring they once had. From too many pulpits there is never a word of reproof and rebuke. Have we become so angelic that we need no correction? Too many evangelists no longer point out specific sins; they are no longer "allowed" to refer to denominations by name and warn against the errors taught by them.

Who is responsible? Are not the elders? If a preacher teaches error or fails to preach the truth, all of the truth; and, refuses to "reprove and rebuke" all error and sin in a plain and unequivocal manner, should not the elders "mark" him? But, alas, to too many in the eldership, the preacher possesses a "rebuking complex", if he dares to execute the charge Paul delivered to Timothy. Instead of desiring a preacher who will declare the whole counsel of God, there are too many elders who are looking for preachers who can preach in such a "sweet" manner that none is ever offended! If he ever rebukes, he must do it so tactfully that the one rebuked hasn't the slightest idea for whom the rebuke was intended! Let a preacher follow this course and he will be mighty popular with some elders. Why, some "elders" even want their preachers to join the "Ministerial Alliance" and rub elbows with the big shot denominationalists.

What a blessing it would be to the Cause of Christ if all elders would stand up like men on all such occasions. When a preacher who will not preach the truth come along, let them stand up to him and see that he is properly disposed of. If an unscriptural proposal is made, let the elders literally meet the innovators at the door telling them they will receive no sympathy. Only in this way can another apostasy be missed.

We should be thankful for the faithful elders among us. If another apostasy is to be avoided, they will have no small part in the fight. Every disciple owes a great deal to the elders who watch for his soul. Those who want to see the church kept pure should pray fervently for such faithful servants of God. May the Lord bless the churches with more faithful Watchmen on the Walls of Zion!