Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 25, 1956
NUMBER 25, PAGE 1,9b

Elders In God's Churches

L. B. Clayton, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The elders of the churches are confronted with many problems, none of which [are] unimportant. One of the most difficult to handle is when brethren are at variance with each other over works and methods. The nearer it comes to home the more difficult it is to know just how to handle the problem, or how to best teach the congregation so no schism will develop.

I believe it behooves us to do some studying on our own. I am afraid we are too much inclined to listen to what the preachers have to say. We all have the same revealed word, and I believe it is reasonable to conclude that we have as much faculty for learning as do they.

One of the most sobering statements to fall upon my ears is found in Hebrews 13:17, "for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account." When I think on this, I say to myself, "When I report to God on some soul in my charge will I be forced to say, `He went astray, Lord, because I led him astray. I did not study thy word nor did I know right from wrong. I took advice from man, not from thee'."

So, in view of the great responsibility put upon me as an elder, and the great pressure from many sources to cast aside restraint and go all out for every brotherhood promotion, I felt I should seek understanding that I might give answer to those who inquire concerning these matters.

Among the letters that come to the church building addressed to the elders we find various types of requests, such as:

1. "There are only a few of us, and we are not able to fully support a preacher. Will you help us?"

2. "The gospel is unknown to the people here. We have an opportunity to buy time on the radio and television, but the expense is so great we can not do it alone. We have only three members with incomes. Could you help us?"

3. "In this great land beyond the Sea there are millions who have never heard the pure gospel of our Lord. Many workers are needed. Our elders have decided to sponsor this great evangelistic effort. We plan to send six families into the country and it will cost thousands of dollars. We are asking all churches to have a part in this great work. Our elders will assume all the oversight of this work and will make regular reports to all contributors."

4. "A national radio and television chain has offered us an opportunity to put on a national radio and television program. This program will reach every segment of our nation and millions will hear the gospel who have never heard it before. The church here is negotiating with the broadcasting company, and if consummated we will need 1000 churches to give us regular monthly contributions in order to pay for the program. The preparing and delivery of the programs will be under the oversight of the elders of this church. Don't fail us, for we cannot afford to pass this great opportunity."

5. "Just a reminder so that when you make up plans for your work next year you will include our orphan's home. Remember, the operation of this home is under the oversight of the elders of the church here."

These are some of the things which continually confront elders. Which ones shall we help, and which ones shall we leave alone and why? The first two do not give me much trouble, for I see on almost every page of God's Holy Book instructions for me to help those in need. But the other three I want to scrutinize a little more closely for I see the terms, "Assume the oversight," "under the oversight," "our elders have decided to sponsor" ...I know they sound like wonderful works but the above terms disturb me. I decided to search the matter out so I sought an answer to these questions:

1. Does it come within the prerogative of elders of a church as elders to assume the oversight of a cooperative work among two or more churches?

2. Does it come within their prerogative to oversee a work in distant fields, supported by churches, regardless of whether the supporting churches send the money to the elders doing the overseeing, or send it directly to the field?

These questions seem to point up the nature of the works sought or performed by the elders in the last three of the five pleas.

To answer these questions I concluded that one must ascertain from the New Testament the purpose for which God ordained elders. I thought, if I could get that clear in my mind I would be able to discern when a thing does or does not come within their prerogative.

I found that churches came into existence through the assembly of the saints. The church in Jerusalem came into existence through the assembly of the saints. The same thing brought into existence the church at Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, the churches of Galatia, the seven churches of Asia. In fact, from the day of Pentecost until now churches of Christ have come into existence because of the assembly of the saints, the saved, in their immediate vicinity. The result is that God has had a multitude of churches. This was true even in the days of the apostles. The number of saints in these various churches has varied from small groups to multitudes. In some cases they numbered more than we can imagine.

Every church is God's family, and like earthly families, needs care. One thing that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit ordained through the apostles was that there be elders in every church, charged with the responsibility of caring for it. Their work in the family of God is somewhat like a father in the earthly family. A father knows that every child requires special care. The larger the family the greater the problems, and care needed. One child is inclined to be rebellious — another inclined to indulge in questionable pursuits — another is a trouble maker — another needs encouragement — the tears of another need attention — the entire family must be nourished and taught — someone must direct the affairs of the family and in addition to all this, protect the family from intruders, gossipers, or any other outside influence that might destroy the reputation and safety of the family — and above all cause the whole family to love each other and stick together.

The actions of the children in God's spiritual family are so much like those of the earthly family that it also needs care. God knew this, therefore sufficient numbers of men were ordained in every church to perform functions similar to those a father performs in the earthly family. All the instruction's given to elders direct them to care for the flock in which they are shepherds. A shepherd is not the shepherd of his neighbor's flock but his own. He keeps them all together — he looks after their every need — he directs their path — he protects them from enemies within and without. He gives them and them only all twenty four hours of his time. I would commend you to the 23rd Psalm if you desire a description of the shepherd.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,

He leadeth me beside the still waters,

He restoreth my soul.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake

Yea, tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

For thou art with me — thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Like Isaiah said of the Son of God, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, He shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." Shepherds of the church, these are your obligations. In the capacity of bishops you are to direct the persons in the church in their labors in the church and secure a faithful performance of the tasks assigned them. As overseers you are to superintend the affairs of the church, and direct the activities of its members and see that everything is done that should be done. As elders, by reason of your age and experience, you are best fitted both in knowledge and attitude to perform the various functions commanded of you — "be shepherds to the flock, taking the oversight thereof."

Every line concerning the elders and their work points their attention solely to the church in which they are elders. "Feed the church" (what church?) "be shepherds to the church" (what church? — the one in the next county?) — "rule the church" (what church? — those in foreign lands?) — "watch for the souls of the church" (what church? — one where they are not personally known and cannot be familiar with the individual needs of the members?).

Hear the word of God! "feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock, and when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." (1 Peter 5:2-4.)

Surely it was a marvelous statement when Paul said, "If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." The great privilege of working with members of the church, being examples before them, helping them up when they fall — instructing them — protecting them from false doctrine by being able to convince the gainsayer — teaching them how to give — creating in them a love for the brethren — encouraging them to maintain good works, and above all, exalting God and Christ before them with all humility through obedience.

God ordained elders in every church for every church needs the care that godly men can give. It is God's wisdom, and when a church is functioning as it ought, under the protecting care of elders who know what their job is, and are functioning accordingly, it is no wonder that the wisdom of God is made manifest through the church. It is a complete and workable plan.

The prerogative of elders is circumscribed by the Lord, and when God has specified the purpose and work of the elders of the church He has excluded everything else.

Therefore, the elders work is to care for the church only, the one in which they are ordained.

Knowing this I conclude that the answer to the previously stated questions is that it does not come within the prerogative of elders of the church, as elders, to assume the oversight of such works.