Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 23, 1953
NUMBER 11, PAGE 10-11

Significance Of Nomenclature

P. W. Stonestreet, Chattanooga, Tennessee

New Testament nomenclature has far-reaching implications. Some appellatives given to God's people under Christ are: Church, temple, house, body, kingdom, etc. Literally they do not mean the same thing but figuratively, as used, all refer to God's people collectively. All are not used in a single designation, yet where one applies all others are implied. Each one of the group is suggestive which is obvious to the thoughtful.

Alongside that group I place a group of appellative titles, gifts divinely bestowed on some men of and for the first century of the church: Bishop, overseer, elder, shepherd, pastors, etc. Literally they do not mean the same thing but figuratively, as used, all referred to the same historic men. So where one applied all others were implied. Each suggested a different aspect of service by the same men.

The analogy between the two groups is where one appellative of a group applies all others of that group are implied. Otherwise, the first group would indicate several different religious bodies; the second group would suggest several sets of men as servants of the infant church, one set for each title of that group. That glaring error lurks in the assumption that pastors who passed with the apostles did not imply elders. Now we are ready for an important text referring to Christ's gifts to men of the first century A. D. that specifies "pastors" of the second group above: "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men...And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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." (Eph. 4:8-13; R.S.V.)

Notice the purpose of those gifts in the form of titled men was, "for the equipment of the saints" — the church. Now in lieu of those gifts for the early church, what do we of the twentieth century have that is comparable to them! Nothing but the complete word of truth could be parallel to those gifts. No set of men, regardless of titles, can know any more than is revealed in the written New Testament; many do not know that much. Temporarily until the unity of the faith or complete revelation was attained, the "treasure" (the gospel) was divinely placed in some men figuratively called "earthen vessels." That was when things "in part" existed. But Paul anticipated a time when these things in part would pass, when that which is perfect had come. Accordingly we now have "the perfect law of liberty."

On our text A. Campbell says: "When Christ ascended, 'he gave gifts to men!' What, let me ask, were they? 'He gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers' — all miraculously endowed. They were not raised up, out of the church; but given directly from heaven to the church, or for building a church...And for how long, let me ask, still more emphatically?...'Until we all come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man — (not men — that is to a perfect body)," etc. (Campbell and Percell Debate, page 175) The "perfect man" (the church) is revealed in "the faith"; its unity attained in the written New Testament.

Notice these textual specifications that are placed in apposition (not opposition) to each other: "Unity of the faith," "knowledge of the Son of God," "mature manhood," etc. These appositional truths are in our text Ephesians 4:11-13, which prove conclusively that the phrase "unity of the faith" refers to complete revelation, in which these truths are conceived. That stage in history marked the limit of titled men in the flesh in Christianity.

In this discussion, I have used the word "service" advisedly instead of the word "office." "There is no word in the Greek for the word office. It was also manufactured by the translators out of the word diakoneoo, from which the word deacon is rendered. The word office originated in the minds of the translators, growing out of their religious education, and not out of the word diakoneoo." (E. G. Sewell in "Questions Answered," page 465.) Besides, the word "office" is fitting only in earthly governments. It suggests a distinction that is the very antithesis of the humility that is to characterize the human element of the spiritual body of Christ. But before the spiritual kingdom was established men confused it with earthly kingdoms and it continues to this day by translators and religious teachers. What an intellectual calamity! The word "office" applies to religious service exactly like the word "baptize" applies to sprinkling and pouring — by usage in denominational parlance. Yet some otherwise able teachers refer to "officers of the church" without a blush!

Endowed teachers of our text passed with the apostles at the unity of the faith. But Paul to Timothy perpetuates teaching through unendowed men. See 2 Timothy 2:2. But where is the text that perpetuates elders through unendowed men? Critics should cite such a text. But why are the qualifications stipulated in the record if elders are out? Because they were for the elder period. When Paul wrote it was yet about thirty years before the gifts inherent in titles passed. That would have been a long time for the early church to be without either endowed men or a written guide. The qualifications are of record just like Paul's command to the Corinthian church, "Now I want you all to speak in tongues" is of record. Otherwise two distinct records would have been necessary: one for the early church and one for subsequent centuries. Instead, we are commanded to rightly divide the word of truth.

How may we know historic elders were endowed? Just as Nicodemus knew Jesus was from God: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do the signs that you do, unless God is with him." (John 3:2) Just so, elders were endowed to feed spiritual food without a spiritual book. Also: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." (James 5:14,15) Also, without the written New Testament, elders were to hold, "fast the faithful word"..."to exhort and to convict the gainsayers." That was a special duty of elders. But now all Christians are commanded "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." (Jude 3) Mark it: The above is an account of the only kind of elders of record — the kind whose human qualifications did not bespeak endowment.

Indeed, the qualifications attainable by men did not then nor do not now bespeak miraculous endowment. The endowment was in the extraordinary appointment; else they would have been elders without appointment. No one has such appointing power now. None is needed. The sham of allegedly appointing elders now is based on a confusion of the record, failing to distinguish between history and doctrine to be practiced. It behooves me to be tolerant with such brethren, for I engaged in the practice till I learned better. Such practice smacks of Romish denominationalism, for the historic gifts are inseparably connected with the titles. Both ended together.

Yet some sincere souls wonder if a church can worship scripturally without elders! If not, there is no scriptural worship today. I do not refer to old men, but to religious elders such as God, in His wisdom, provided for the early church, the only kind we read of in the New Testament. Judging from accounts in several religious journals about differences between nominal elders, preachers and others, it is plain that many more agree with me in practice than in theory. But if we have elders, the following text applies and glows with freshness of its ancient life and power: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, etc. (Heb. 13:17)

But in the wisdom and goodness of God, ample provisions are made for all activities of the church without elders. Teaching is entrusted to "faithful men." (2 Tim. 2:2) No title used; just an adjective common among Christians. Discipline is entrusted to "those who are "spiritual." (Gal. 6:1) No title; just an adjective common among the saints. The text covers "any trespass," anticipating anything that one could be guilty of. Personal grievances. One sinned against is to first see the offender "alone." If no correction is made, then secondly, "two or three" others are to be taken. (One preacher suggested that an elder might be taken to see the offender. Indeed, an apostle might be taken if he had one, but neither one is mentioned.) Thirdly, if unsuccessful, "tell it to the church," etc. (Matt. 18:17) Worship may be scriptural where just "two or three" are gathered together in the name of Christ. Thus, these citations either specifically or implicitly provide for all spiritual functions of the church without elders. To use a figure, some sincere people seem to be afflicted with elderitis.

Ephesians 4:11-13 does not specify that elders were to pass with apostles at the unity of the faith, but specifies "pastors." So it devolves upon any objector to give a valid reason for assuming that the term pastors does not imply elders. By thus ignoring appellative revelation and analogical truth, one could assume that the term church does not imply the term kingdom as these terms apply to God's people.

I have all due respect for all the faithful men who serve under the abrogated title "elder." But my high esteem for them does not deter me from emphasizing the doctrinal truth that their only scriptural label is that of "faithful" or "scriptural" men. Fortunately, the practice has nothing to do with worship, for calling men elders is no part of the worship in which we engage.

(Editor's Note: For a full discussion of this question, and a reply to Brother Stonestreet's article see two articles by Brother Floyd Thompson which appear in Volume Four of the Gospel Guardian, May 15 and September 11.)