"For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed" (Isaiah 9:16).
I have a great regard for those who serve as elders in the Lord's church. I am thankful we have men who have prepared themselves to meet the imperative qualifications of I Timothy 3, Titus 1, and I Peter 5. These are men who willingly take on what we sometimes refer to as "an awesome responsibility." It is awesome, for they are men who will indeed be subject to a harsher judgment (James 3:1). You see, they watch for the souls of those under their care, and will give an account of how they've done their heaven-ordained work (Heb. 13:17). Good and godly elders are worthy of honor -- some of "double honor" (Rom. 13:7; I Tim. 5:17). Members of the church need to know their elders, know the kind of labor they are involved with, and the stress they labor under. They need to be esteemed highly because of the work they do for the Lord (I Thess. 5:12-13). We need to do all we can to lift up their hands as they lead us into battle against Satan and his cohorts, and as they struggle with us to win souls for the meek and lowly Jesus (Heb. 12:12; an illusion to Exodus 17:10-13; cf. also Isa. 35:3-4).
But beware elders, and beware members who labor under an eldership. Elders can and sometimes do err, and when they do they lead their flock into error with them. Let us never forget that the first major apostasy was a departure from God's ordained plan for the organization of and leadership in the church. This was foretold by the Holy Spirit through Paul (Acts 20:25-32).
We are living in a time when error among the people who name the name of Jesus is rampant. Many congregations of the churches of Christ are being swamped by tidal waves brought on by smooth talkers with fair speeches (Rom. 16:17-18). If elderships had been watching as they should have been, and stopping the mouths of the gainsayers as they should have been, many of these false preachers would not have gotten to first base with their pernicious ways (Acts 20:25-32; Heb. 12:12; Titus 1:9-11). Some have crept in (Jude 1:4) and have poisoned the flock of God while "shepherds" have sat idly by and slept, allowing it to happen; some elderships even encouraging it to happen! When false brethren came in among the churches of the first century, they were not given even an hour to discharge and inject their venom (Compare Gal. 2:4-5).
In the 1979 Freed-Hardeman College Lectureship book, Andrew Connally wrote on "The Authority Of Elders." On the duty of elders he wrote concerning: a) The duty of self-examination (Acts 20:28), b) The duty of watchfulness (Acts 20:31; cf. Ezekiel 3:16-21), c) The duty of meeting the forces of error (Titus 1:9), d) The duty to plan worldwide evangelism (Mark 16:15-16), e) The duty to keep the church pure (I Thess. 5:14; II Thess. 3:6), and f) The duty of leadership in the local work (Acts 20:28).
Commenting on "The elder's duty for watchfulness," he wrote, "God's elders must be ever vigilant to guard, protect and keep God's heritage safe from error both from without and within. Perhaps no other passage in all of God's word better expresses the responsibilities of a watchman than does Ezekiel 3:16-21. An elder's soul is dependent on his faithfulness as a watchman. He shall give an account (Heb. 13:17); as a steward of God's heritage it is required that a steward be faithful (I Cor. 4:2)."
Under the heading of "meeting the forces of evil," brother Connally wrote, "So few elders ever do such in most congregations. Far too many of them preach 'love, sweet love,' while whole churches are steeped in sin and apathy. How many of them can actually defend the truth on marriage, divorce and remarriage? How many of them are prepared to meet the false philosophies and ungodly elements of liberalism in the church? Far too many of them cannot do this and do not want their preachers to do it either! For shame!"
Under the heading of "keeping the church pure" he wrote, "Elders are commanded to discipline the ungodly members (II Thess. 3:6). To fail at this point is to court disaster and imperil their own souls. It is little wonder most congregations have so little influence in their communities. Their members are so ungodly their influence is a shame and disgrace and the elders tolerate it. Many, many times those in positions of leadership are the worse offenders! Every preacher I know has long lamented the negligence of elderships everywhere at this very point. Elders want preachers to defend their authority and to go to bat for them at the first sign of rebellion, but they steadfastly refuse to exercise that same authority to discipline the ungodly. Which is worse, those who reject the authority of elders or elders who neglect the authority and refuse to discipline the ungodly or refuse to give every Christian a job and see that he does it? How sayest thou?"
Brethren, we need elders in every congregation. However, we need men who meet the qualifications, and men who will work the work as God has ordained it. Much of the trouble we are currently experiencing within the churches of Christ is due to a lack of qualified and willing leadership. Let us pray that the situation may be reversed. Let us work toward training men to become elders as God would have them to be.
If you have questions or comments contact me at:
James E. Farley
P.O. Box 285
Crum, WV 25669
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