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Biblical Foundations — St Michael & All Angels Westcliff

 

Biblical Foundation for Eldership at the Resurrection Center

 

From scriptures we see clearly that a group of mature spiritual leaders were identified to have responsibility for the health of the church.

For example, the church at Antioch where believers were first called “Christians,” sent Barnabas and Saul to the Elders at Jerusalem with a gift to be distributed to the needy brethren in Judea (Acts 11:29- 30). This demonstrates both that Elders existed in the church at that very early date, and that the believers at Antioch recognized their authority. In fact, it is likely that Paul himself functioned as an elder at Antioch, before he stepped out in the role of an Apostle. He is listed in Acts 13:1 as one of that church’s teachers. Elders played a dominant role in the Council of Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 15 (see vv. 2, 4, 6, 22, 23; and 16:4).

Obviously, elders were very influential in the foundational life of the early church. As Paul and Barnabas began to preach in new areas, and as the church began to extend itself, the process of identifying church leaders became more clearly defined. And throughout the New Testament, as the church developed, the recognized governing leaders were called elders. A plurality in church Leadership as early as Acts 14:21-23, we see that one of the key steps in establishing a new church was to identify and appoint elders for church leadership. “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” - Acts 14:23.

The pattern was clear, new churches would be established in several cities and the missionaries who planted them, Paul and Barnabas, would return to establish a leadership structure. What is the description of what they did? They appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). Notice that it was possible for churches not to have any elders at all, and to still be churches.

Nearly every church we know of in the New Testament is specifically said to have had elders. For example, Acts 20:17 says, And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. It is significant that the church at Ephesus had elders, because all the churches of Asia Minor—such as those listed in Revelation 1:11—were extensions of the ministry at Ephesus. We are right to assume that those churches also identified their leadership by the same terms that were set as the pattern in Ephesus—a plurality of elders. Peter wrote to the scattered believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-2). Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia were not cities, but rather territories. Thus, Peter was writing to a number of churches scattered all over Asia. All of them had elders functioning as shepherds giving oversight and direction in the character and priorities of Christ.

It is clear that the model we are given by the Apostles is that there is to be a plurality among the spiritual leadership. This biblical norm is substantiated by the fact that wherever specific local churches in the New Testament are described as having elders, they always have a plurality of elders. For example, there were the elders (plural) of the church (singular) at Ephesus (Acts 20:17). There were the overseers (plural) along with the deacons of the church (singular) at Philippi (Phil. 1:1 cf. 4:15). Also see James 5:14 & Acts 13:1 & 15:2-4.

A person will look in vain for a church with just one pastor in the New Testament. According to the Apostolic pattern, the norm was that there be more than one elder (pastor) in each individual church. If a church would have only one pastor for an extended period of time it would be a strong indication of spiritual immaturity and Biblical ignorance. To have a church structure that does not model the Biblical pattern of plurality in leadership is actively diminishing allegiance to the Word of God. A church’s allegiance to the Word of God must not exclude any area of the Word of God, including a church organization that functions through a group of spiritual leaders.

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