Vol.XV No.VI Pg.7
August 1978

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner:

What is the basis for the authority of elders in a church? M.Q.


God is the basis for all authority (Rom. 13:1, Jn. 19:11); but this is not to say God selected Pilate, putting him in authority, nor that Pilate's decisions were divine mandates. The function of overseers among saints of a local church is in keeping with the divine plan, and in this sense the Holy Spirit "appoints" elders. But that does not say John Doe is appointed by God, or that John's decisions are divine mandates.

The historic "church" view is that God established an institution, placing in it an "apostolic college" or "bishopric" of men who were endowed with "authority" which they alone could pass to their successors. These men occupy an "office" and in essential essence are the church. They are thought to be vicegerents of Christ, exercising His authority. On this basis it is argued that they "speak for God" and "to disobey them is to disobey God." Before you assign this strictly to Rome you might look up Jack Pope's article in the July 23, '74, Firm Foundation, and read his "Charge to The Elders" whom he calls, "vicegerents of the Lord.." Catholics claim "infallibility" and make the church "Mother of the Bible;" but some of "our brethren" just make the "great middle section" the standard for determining true exegesis — and who can see an essential difference.

But this is an erroneous concept of authority. Deity has not abdicated, nor does man exercise authority on God's behalf. The apostles were given "power" or "authority" in the person of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), "for edification" (2 Cor. 10:8 Lu. 24:48-49) but it was the Spirit which spoke, not some self-perpetuating "office."

The need for oversight in a local church, and the form this rule must take, is prescribed by God. The type of men best suited to this work is defined, by qualifications listed in 1 Tim. 3: and Titus 1. Other passages identify their obligations and the respect due those who labor faithfully. But between the divine regulations and the specific men selected, there remains a realm of human judgment. The congregation decides who meets the qualifications, hence specific men "rule" by virtue of congregational appointment. The congregation puts them in, and the congregation can take them out. Bad men may be put in, and good men taken out-- the church is wrong in both cases-- but this is the church's responsibility, for which they must answer to God.

Yes, the men appointed are responsible to God to "watch over" that flock; but that flock is responsible to God to keep scriptural overseers.

No matter how "good" the elders, their decisions are not God's word. In the realm of human judgment-- the realm assigned them-- properly qualified men offer the best we have, and should be followed on that basis. But no man, or group of men, stands between an individual's conscience and that which has been revealed in the Spirit-given Scriptures.