Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 17, 1953
NUMBER 19, PAGE 2-3a

Are Scriptural Elders Possible Today?

Bill Fling, Napa, California

In Brother P. W. Stonestreet's recent escapade with the pen, entitled "Significance of Nomenclature" (Gospel Guardian, July 23rd), he correctly reasoned that all names of elders refer to the same men — "bishop, overseer, elder, shepherd, pastor, etc." From this he went to Ephesians 4:11-13 to prove (?) that "pastors" were limited in time as were apostles; hence it is impossible to have pastors (elders, bishops, overseers) in the church today.

This was his third article in the Guardian on this matter. Brother Floyd Thompson effectively answered the first two articles, but Brother Stonestreet's attachment to his hobby appears to be leech-like. When he resorts to the printed page and makes such opinions public, it is time both he and the doctrine were marked. (Rom. 16:17) It is difficult to teach some to observe Heb. 13:17 anyway, much less putting a "stumbling Stonestreet" in the way. And why should our young men strive to qualify for the eldership at all, if such is "abrogated"? Let us consider some of the arguments presented.

1. The Office. Brother Stonestreet asserts with E. G. Sewell, "There is no word in the Greek for the word `office.' It was also manufactured by the translators out of the word `diakonioo,' from which the word 'deacon' is rendered." "What an intellectual calamity!" he cries. "The word 'office' applies to religious service exactly like the work '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." Sounds good, but are these statements true?

The word "office" in 1 Timothy 3:1 was not "manufactured by the translators out of the word 'diakoneoo' " at all, but rather it is translated from "episkope." "Episkope" is the Greek word found in Wescott and Hort's Greek New Testament. It is the same in Young's Concordance and Abbott-Smith's Greek-Lexicon, which define it as "office, charge, oversight, esp. office of an episkopos (bishop, BF)." Hickie's Lexicon concurs with this definition. The forty seven scholarly translators of the King James version render the passage "if any man desire the office of a bishop . . . ." — and we are discussing bishops — The American Standard Version (75 scholars) use "office" as does the RSV from which Brother Stonestreet quoted in his article. The 1947 Catholic Version and Conybeare in The Life and Epistles of Paul translate it as "office." We could cite more authorities, but apparently all scholars agree, and they say what Brother Stonestreet does not say, that bishops do have an office. With the risk of being repetitious, I must exclaim with him, "What an intellectual calamity!"

2. Proof text reviewed. Let us notice Eph. 4:8-13 as he quoted it from the RSV. "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 fulness of Christ."

Now of course, pastors are bishops or elders, but does this passage abrogate or do away with elders at the end of New Testament times? What proves too much proves nothing. If this proves pastors have ceased to exist, it proves also that evangelists and teachers have ceased to exist. But this is not true, because an evangelist is simply a preacher of the gospel. The two terms come from the same Greek word. "Gospel" means "good news" and "evangelist" is the one who proclaims the good news. It is not denied (not even by Brother Stonestreet) that we still have gospel preachers and teachers; and if they are not "done away" by the passage, neither are pastors. The pastors and evangelists are not miraculously endowed today as then, because spiritual gifts have "vanished" from God's plans. But pastors and evangelists continue their age-lasting work. Brother Stonestreet should have seen this by now.

Further, he seems to think the things "in part" which were to be "done away" as taught in 1 Cor. 13:8-10 were the groups of men in Eph. 4:8-13. But in verses 8 and 9, the Corinthians could plainly see that "things in part" were spiritual gifts, such as prophecies and tongues. It was not pastors that were to be done away, but the spiritual gifts that many of them possessed. These gifts were to be done away when their purpose of a perfect revelation and confirmation was fulfilled. The gifts of Eph. 4:8-13 are necessarily the same gifts as we read about in 1 Cor. 12-14.

3. Overseers to Oversee. One of the names of the pastor or elder is "overseer." (Acts 20:28) This suggests their work of overseeing the flock as Peter commands them to do. "The elders which are among you . . . . feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight . . . 1 Peter 5:1,2. This office of overseeing the affairs of the church would necessarily continue as long as the need for it continued. As long as the church exists there will continue to be a need for someone to take charge — to take the oversight. The question is: who will do it? Will it be scripturally qualified elders, as God ordains, or will it be just any "faithful" men, to whom no one is accountable or subject? Someone will lead the flock, but who? God's elders or man's leaders?

4. Endowed Elders. Brother Stonestreet further stated "elders were endowed," miraculously so, when appointed as elders. Therefore, he reasons, we cannot have elders today because no one is endowed with spiritual gifts. According to the scriptures, this theory is false. In Acts 20:30 Paul told the Ephesian elders, "of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Now for a question: If all elders were inspired by an endowed appointment to the office, how do you account for inspired elders in Ephesus speaking "perverse things"? Either one of two things is true: Some of those pastors spoke perverse things by inspiration (miraculous endowment) or else those who spoke perverse things were not "miraculously endowed" to their office. If some should argue that Paul didn't mean the elders he was addressing, but future elders at Ephesus, it still proves the point. Men did not and do not have to be miraculously inspired to be elders. It is possible to have scriptural elders today, and it is contrary to the apostles' doctrine to say otherwise.

5. Qualifications. Brother Stonestreet said that the qualifications were only "for the elder period." His theory of miraculously endowed elders forces him to take such a position. To prove it he must find the passage that limits the elders' period of service. In such a search he will be "barren and unfruitful" indeed.

If, as he says, elders necessarily had to have a "miraculous endowment" when appointed — and they could not be elders without it — would that not make such a miraculous quality a required qualification? This conclusion is inescapable. But such miraculous endowments are conspicuous by their absence in both lists of qualifications for elders. (1 Tim. 3:; Titus 1) Now if Brother Stonestreet wants to speak where the scriptures are silent and say that an elder had to be inspired, it is time he is marked as one who "adds to."

6. Perpetual Elders. "But where is the text that perpetuates elders through unendowed men?" he asks. I will be glad to answer his question, but I venture he will not answer mine: "Where is the text which requires that elders be perpetuated (or appointed) ONLY through endowed men?" or "where is the qualification which says 'a bishop must be appointed only by an endowed man'"?

Now to answer his question, "how are elders perpetuated through unendowed men?" Paul gives Timothy the qualifications for elders in 1 Tim. 3. He is also commanded to teach "faithful men" what he had learned of Paul in order that they could teach others also. Brother Stonestreet affirms that these "faithful men" of 2 Tim. 2:2 were not endowed. Now see what we have: Timothy (endowed) instructed "faithful men" (not endowed) to appoint elders according to 1 Tim. 3. Not only so, but these "faithful men" were to teach others the same procedure.

7. Elders Not Needed. This Tennessee informer further asserts that elders are not needed today bcause any Christian can do anything an elder was supposed to do then. To base his claims he offered Jude 3, 2 Tim. 2:2, Gal. 6:1 and Matt. 18:17. His consistency continues; he is wrong again.

Every passage used to prove the all-sufficiency of Christians minus elders was written and applied during the "elder period," as he called it. If he is right in his conclusion, why was it necessary for elders to exist in that "period"? His reasoning would make the eldership a useless attachment to the New Testament church and an insult upon God's wisdom.

Brother Stonestreet overlooked one important thing that just any Christian cannot do. Elders were charged to "take the oversight" of the flock. (1 Peter 5:1,2) Overseeing the church is restricted to bishops, and just any "faithful men" would be unfaithful to assume such a charge. Elders are needed for an exclusive work — overseeing the flock.

Elders did have a purpose in the New Testament church and they have a purpose in the church today. They are to oversee the flock of God, and every fully organized church of the Lord has such qualified bishops. (Acts 14:23, Phil. 1:1) As long as the church exists, scriptural pastors will have the oversight of all expedient affairs of the local church.

In view of all these things Hebrews 13:17 is indeed both sobering and "refreshing": "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account."