Thursday, September 04, 2008

Elders redux

A reader (I am always amazed that people actually read this blog) submitted a rather long comment on the original post on Elders. It is apparent that the reader did some good homework as the comment has several, well, more than several, reference citations. It is clear that they both read the original post and did some Bible study before posting their comment. Because the comment was so long, I thought it appropriate to post another entry rather than bury the response in the comment log.

In the following discussion, I have included the text of the comment without the Scripture references. If you want to read the comment in its entirety, scroll to the Elders post and click on the comment.

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[Comment~~~~The church is expected to be a people in exactly this sense. We are the people of God who are charged with continuing and preserving the values, culture, hopes, and the identity of God’s people in our time.~~~~

Does this include the doctrines (teachings) of this people?]

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All of Scripture must be seen in light of God’s purpose. Scripture, while it describes God’s purpose for us, does not define that purpose. In other words, the purpose came first, and Scripture is given to describe it. As we read Scripture then, we must keep in mind that there is a larger purpose than the text we are currently reading, and all texts must fit that larger purpose. For instance, murder is not wrong because the Bible says it is. Rather, the Bible proscribes murder because murder is wrong. If we understand that God invites us into His world and asks us to understand life as He would have us live it, the Bible becomes an invitation rather than a set of hurdles to negotiate and a set of rules to learn. When we try to use Scripture to define rather than describe God’s view we risk confusion and overly limiting both ourselves and God.

Being the People of God includes primarily the purpose for which we have been chosen. That purpose is essentially the same as that of Israel – to bless the world through the blessings we have received. We bear God’s invitation to be reconciled to, and comforted by, Him. This would include the teachings of the people as they are rightly understood by the people. Using the murder analogy above, we would not teach only or even primarily that murder is wrong, but that grace, forgiveness, humility, and compassion are key aspects of living as God would have us live. Therefore, a simple teaching that murder is wrong would be insufficient because that in itself does not result in transformed people who abide in Christ. It results rather, in people who simply refrain from murder.

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[Comment~~~~Rather than arguing over how to select, qualify, and remove organizational functionaries, we are to be looking to acknowledge some of our members as elders of the people of God.~~~~

Is that not what Paul was concerned about in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11?]

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Paul’s concerns were more about providing Godly leadership and direction to the congregations he had established. His concern is a proper (not legally, but Christianly) functioning community rather than specific rules for functionaries. The question becomes “what kinds of people” are appropriate to lead the People of God. It is instructive to note that the two lists of elder qualifications that we normally use are different, and likely neither was available to the other community when they were first delivered and read. And so we see Paul describing kinds of people rather than seeking to establish absolute rules for every congregation in every place. What we want are mature Christians that both understand the faith and have given themselves over to it. While the lists we have can be useful, they are not dogma in and of themselves. They can’t be because they are not mirrors of each other.

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[Comment~~~~As a result, we search for methods of selecting elders, making sure that we consider the qualifications we find in Scripture as though they are legal requirements,~~~~

Is not the new testament/covenant the law of Christ? If it is not a law, how it even possible to sin?]

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The Law of Christ is love and submission to the will of God, not every detail that we might find between Acts and Revelation. Sin is possible without Law as is clear with Adam and Eve. They did not have a Law and yet were cast from the Garden. Paul’s discussion of Law and sin is not intended to argue that you cannot sin without Law, but rather that the Law is insufficient to save and in fact can only define sin for us. He goes on to say, as many psychologists will tell us, that when we’re told not to do something, that seems to be the very thing we want to do. And so to what Law are we to submit? The Law of love and submission to God, just as we were made to live. A written Law will always be inadequate because perfect Law keeping as an external requirement is not, and never has been the goal. The goal is transformation of the people into those who would live as God would have them live. They so live not because God makes them, but because eventually they come to own the vision of God as their own, and they can do nothing else but live that vision. In that case Law becomes superfluous and can only entrap those to whom it is given.

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[Comment~~~You spoken of the aspect of this office we call elder from the tribal perspective, and I believe you have the right of it for that one aspect, but there are more aspects to that office than that of elder (prebuteros). There is also that of pastor/shepherd (poimen) that you touched on and that of bishop/overseer (episkopos) that you did not.

It is true that these men must protect and feed the flock they are shepherding (Acts 20:17-28). It is true that they provide wisdom from experience and knowledge gained from a life of study of God's Word and therefore must not be a novice(1 Tim. 3:6) and must be apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2).


But is it not also true that they are rulers of the congregation (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17)? What is the aspect of bishop/overseer about if not authority? Is it not just about guiding by example, but enforcing the law of Christ so that God's people are not corrupted by outside influences, but the flawed teachings of men?]

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Elders do have authority because they have responsibilities. Those responsibilities include maturing Christians and protecting the church from corruption of the Faith. As a result, elders hire and fire staff, they determine spiritual growth needs of the congregation, they determine what kinds of things cannot be taught in their congregations, and they direct the use of the congregation’s resources to accomplish those things. But, elders resort to “pulling rank” only when necessary. Just as both Jesus and Paul could pull rank if they needed to, they both appealed to people to live as they should because they wanted to live that way; because they were made to live that way. Elders need to know people in general and their people in particular. They need to know how to foster growth and development in others without having to push and pull, and without insisting on “doing church” according to their personal preferences. Therefore, this “rule” becomes a less apparent prerogative, something that should be transparent and seen largely in the selection of staff and teachers, and the kinds of material given to the congregation to study (as far as our corporate meetings go). Outside of our corporate meetings, this function is seen in mentoring, visiting, correcting, and perhaps cajoling members to live as God made them to live.

The purpose of the original post was not to describe every aspect of eldering, but rather to argue that elders are much more important in the lives of their congregations and the church at large than simply pastoral counselors. Elders are given the charge of protecting and furthering the faith to the point that they embody that faith. Elders are not advisory boards for congregational staff but they are the directors of the staff; they give the staff the vision, and shape the staff to further the faith needs of the congregation.

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