Ecclesiology 40, Philippians 1:1
11-18-18 Lesson 40
Father, we’re grateful for this morning and Your church, and grateful for all the teaching that Pastor Jim did the last three weeks, and I just pray You’ll be with us during Sunday School and also the main service that follows. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen!
I’m not a guest speaker, although some of you probably think I am. I was going to tell you guys about my trip but I didn’t have a chance to get my photos in order so I’ll have to do that down the road. But thumbs up with the trip, everything went well and I appreciate your prayers on that. I’ll have more to say about that as time progresses. But let’s open our Bibles, if we could, to Acts 15:2.
Let’s open our Bibles to Acts 15:2, and we’re continuing on this morning with our study in Ecclesiology which is the doctrine of the church. And we’ve covered a lot of stuff and I think the study is going to go faster at this point, at least I’m praying that’s so. We’ve looked at the definition of the church, the difference between the universal and the local church, word pictures of the church, when the church started, Israel/church distinctions, the church as an intercalation, the purposes of the church, we spent a lot of time there because of the spiritual gifts, and last time I was with you we were taking a look at the activities of the church. We saw from Acts 2:41-47, these are the basic activities that the Holy Spirit will naturally raise up in a church: doctrine, ordinances, prayer, evangelism, worship, benevolence and fellowship. And maybe a lot of you can’t remember us talking about that, it’s been three weeks or more since I was teaching with you.
But we’re now moving to Roman numeral IX and this actually is a big deal because here we’re talking about the government of the church. In other words how do you set up a church in terms of a governing structure. Who has the final say in decisions. I mean, do you have a CEO and a CFO and a Board of Directors and stockholders? I mean, how exactly does this work?
What you’ll discover is within Christendom there are about three different views on this concerning how a church is supposed to be governed. The first two we think are incorrect, bur the third one we think is accurate. The first one is called the bishop rule model; the second one is called the congregational rule model, and the third one is called the elder rule model. [Episcopalian/bishop rule – Acts 15:2, 6, Congregational rule – Acts 6:1-7, Presbyterian/elder rule – Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 5:17; 4:14]
So let’s start off with number one, the bishop rule model. Sometimes this is called the Episcopalian form of church government because the word for bishop in Greek is episcopos, and so according to this view the person that really has the authority over the direction of a church, decisions in a church is really the bishop and the bishop will reign over several different churches. And then on top of all of these bishops is someone called the archbishop.
And this is actually the church model that I grew up in, I grew up Episcopalian and what we had are different parishes that we would call churches and each parish was governed by a priest and a vestry, but then there was a bishop. We were under the Bishop of Los Angeles and so he was responsible for all of the different parishes in his area, which would be Los Angeles. And so you have everything kind of divided out that way and underneath all of these bishops would be the archbishop. So I remember I was an acolyte which is like saying an altar boy in the Episcopalian Church and I remember everybody was always on pins and needles when the Bishop would visit. And there was an actual chair set up that only the bishop could sit in. And my brother as a little kid sat in that chair accidentally and got chewed out by the priest, if I remember the story correctly.
But anyway, that’s sort of the way a lot of people look at church government: you have an arch-bishop and underneath the archbishop you’ve got multiple bishops and then underneath each bishop the bishop is in charge of different churches within his vicinity. The problem is does the Bible really teach that? And some people think it does and they try to use Acts 15:2, take a look at that just for a second. It says, “And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.” So there arose a dispute in the early church regarding the Gentiles and their need to submit to the Law of Moses to be a member of the church. And so this was an issue that was brand new and so they all got together in Jerusalem to resolve this issue.
So people that hold to the Episcopalian or bishop model say well there it is, they came together as one, they made a decision at the bishop level and that decision affected all the different churches. If you go down to verse 6 of Acts 15 it says, “The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.” So you have a decision in Jerusalem that affected multiple churches in early Christianity. And so what people say is well, there’s the evidence for a bishop system, a bishop makes a decision, the decision affects multiple congregations and so they’ll build their house for church government in Acts 15.
The problem with that line of thinking is who’s making this decision here in Acts 15? The apostles, right? Now do we have apostles today? No we don’t! So you can’t use a situation where the apostles were on the earth and making a decision that affected everybody and analogize that to what a bishop is supposed to do, making a decision governing multiple congregations. I mean, this isn’t talking about a bishop model; what this is talking about is the apostles making decisions in early Christianity that governed all churches.
If you go over to Revelation 2:1 I’ll show you another verse that people use to support a bishop government system. Of course you know about the letters to the churches because we’ve been teaching that on Sunday mornings. And it says, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:” and what people want that to mean is well there’s the bishop over Ephesus. Well, it doesn’t say that, does it, it says, “To the” what? “To the angel.” [Revelation 2:1, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write, The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:”]
Now as we’ve talked about on Sunday mornings some people think that’s a literal angel, other people think it’s the pastor of the church at Ephesus, the messenger or the angelos because sometimes the word angel is used of a messenger. Matthew 11:10, angelos is used related to John the Baptist. [Matthew 11:10, “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’”] So you can’t really use Revelation 2:1 to support a bishop model system because that verse is just talking about either a pastor or a literal angel over the church at Ephesus. So my point is if you want to put a bishop in charge of multiple congregations the way the Episcopalian model works, you’re just really hard-pressed to find that in the pages of God’s Word. I mean, God’s Word knows of no such arrangement.
And by the way, if that’s your church model one of the things that’s very difficult to keep out of a church is liberalism because what happens when the diocese or the bishop goes liberal? And I know a little something about that personally because that’s what happened to the church that I grew up in. We were in a bishop model system and all of a sudden the bishop and archbishop over the Los Angeles diocese started to ordain homosexuals to the ministry and that caused a big rift because our little parish was very conservative and we didn’t want to go that direction. So what they basically told us ultimately to do is toe the line or get out of the building and there was a battle that went on, my dad was right in the middle of that for many, many years as a member of the vestry concerning who the property belongs to, does it belong to the individual parish or does it belong to the bishop system? And ultimately the courts intervened and concluded that the property belongs to the diocese, not the individual parish. And so people that didn’t want to ordain homosexuals to the ministry were forced out of the building. Those are the kind of nightmares that you run into when you have a bishop governing multiple churches.
I mean, it works fine as long as you are in general agreement with the bishop but what happens when the seminaries start to go liberal of the institution? What happens when the bishop starts to go liberal? So I can see a lot of disadvantages to this Episcopalian or bishop model system. The biggest problem with it is it’s really not supported by the New Testament. But that’s model number one in terms of church government.
And let me take you to model number two and go over to Acts 6:5. Model number two is a congregational model. This model doesn’t vest authority in a bishop ruling over multiple churches; this model rather vests authority in the congregation. Now a lot of, not all but a lot of Baptist churches are kind of run this way, where there’s constant votes and constant approvals that need to be given by the congregation. And this model sort of appeals to us as Americans because that’s how the American government is run, power to the people supposedly, one man one vote. And so people have this mindset in the United States and they want to bring it into the church and basically what they want is authority concerning decisions to rest in the congregation itself. So the true source of the power is the congregation. And again, you ask them well, where do you find this in the Bible and they have verses but the verses, when you study them carefully don’t really communicate what they think they’re saying.
You remember the story here in Acts 6, we don’t have to re-read that I don’t think, where they were making a decision, the early church, to have deacons to assist with the distribution of food to the widows. And so a decision was made to have deacons. And when you look at Acts 6:5 it says something very interesting concerning this decision. It says, “The statement” the decision to have deacons, “The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” So people that believe in a congregational authority structure will typically cite Acts 6:5.
The problem is when you look at that verse it really wasn’t the congregation making the decision; it was the apostles. It’s really the apostles that retain the ultimate authority; it’s the apostles who installed the deacons and you get the impression as you read this that the apostles could have vetoed what was happening there very, very easily and reversed themselves had they wanted to. And when it says the statement found favor with the entire congregation it really isn’t, to my mind, saying that the congregation authorized the decision. What it’s actually saying is the congregation approved of the decision, was in agreement with the decision, was likeminded with the decision but they didn’t authorize it.
So again congregational rule you have to look very carefully at the New Testament, does the ne really support that? And most of the verses that are produced to support that, like the bishop model, when you actually look at the verses carefully they really don’t teach what the various advocates want these verses to teach. By the way, remember we went through the purposes of the church. One of its purposes is to do what? Edify the saints. Take a look, if you could, at Ephesians 4:11-16, we’ve gone through these verses many times but let’s just refresh our memory
It says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a” what? “mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Now you look at this very carefully what is the purpose of the church? The purpose of the church, one of its key purposes, is to bring those within the church to maturity. I hope that’s one of the main reasons that you attend Sugar Land Bible Church because you feel that what we do here is assisting your walk with the Lord and bringing you into maturity. So if that’s the case why would you ever vest authority in the congregation because it’s the congregation that you’re supposed to be as leaders bringing into maturity. Right? If you’ve got the congregation calling the shots and making all of the decisions you’ve got a situation where parents are no longer rearing children, but children are giving orders to parents. It’s sort of like when my daughter was very little we would have a lot of control obviously over what she ate. And if one day my daughter cast a vote and said I just want to eat ice cream today and we as parents said well, you know, you’ve got the authority, what kind of parents would we be?
So that’s sort of the, if I can put it this way, the silliness of a congregational rule model. It doesn’t really grasp the idea that it’s the church leaders that are supposed to be bringing the congregation into maturity; vesting authority for decisions in a congregation is like letting children control parents. It’s like letting inmates run the prison, sorry for these analogies, it’s not quite that bad. It’s like letting the inmates run the asylum. Yet what you see in so many places is the church leaders can’t do anything unless they get some kind of vote or some kind of authorization from the congregation. And what starts off with a mindset of democracy which is what American is based on, sometimes it generates into what I would call mobocracy.
By the way, when you become an elder at Sugar Land Bible Church or any church for that matter, what you see very fast is there’s a lot of delicate matters that have to be handled anonymously. Why is that? Because you’re dealing with things that are very sensitive to people’s lives, personal sins, personal issues, and so I fail to see how having a congregation of a massive size could keep a lot of those things respecting people’s privacy.
So it really doesn’t work in the real world and it really isn’t supported by the pages of God’s Word. And the congregational model really flies in the face of what the purpose of the church is. So the proper model for church government is not a bishop ruling over multiple churches and it’s not vesting authority in a local congregation.
What, then, is the proper model? It’s the third option here, called the Presbyterian, now here I’m using Presbyterian because the word for elder in Greek is presbuteros, where we get the word Presbyterian. So how is the church supposed to be governed? It’s to be governed by an elder rule model. What does that mean? It means decisions and authority and final say does not rest with someone outside the congregation, like a Bishop. It doesn’t rest with the congregation itself but it rests with the decision making of a plurality (watch this very carefully) a plurality of godly men. And if you don’t have this plurality of godly men, that we would call recognize and vested and seated elders, then you really don’t have a church because the expectation of God is that each congregation would be governed, not by a single person but by a plurality of godly men.
And let me show you some verses, just to show you I’m not making this up. It’s hard to find verses that support the bishop model; it’s hard to find verses to support the congregational model. But what you’ll see is it’s very easy to find verses in the New Testament that support the elder rule model. So let me just give you a few. Acts 14:23, it says, now this is Paul retracing his steps in Southern Galatia on missionary journey one in what today is modern day Turkey. And he planted all of these churches and what does it say there in Acts 14:23? “When they had appointed” what? “elders,” notice it doesn’t say “elder,” it says “elders” plural, “elders for them in” how many churches? “every church, [having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”] So every church Paul planted he made sure that it was governed by this plurality of godly men.
Take a look at Acts 20:17, Paul wants to communicate with leadership at the end of his third missionary journey and a port area called Miletus and he says in Acts 20:17, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the” what? “the elders of the church.” It doesn’t say elder, it says elders. He didn’t call for a bishop to govern multiple churches, he didn’t call for a congregational vote, he wanted to speak to leadership and Acts 20 is really a classic chapter where Paul tells shepherds how to be shepherds. And so he summoned the elders of the church at Ephesus, communicating that the elders of the church at Ephesus are the authority in that church.
If you drop down to verse 28 of Acts 20 you’ll see it says virtually the same thing. Paul says in verse 28, speaking to elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you” what? “overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” So you’ll notice that he says “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,” and of course who’s he speaking there to, going back to verse 17, the elders of the church at Ephesus.
Take a look in the epistles, take a look at Philippians 1:1, Paul begins that letter and he says, “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the” what? “overseers” that would be elders, and then beneath them is another office we haven’t talked about yet but will in this series, “and deacons.” So again you see this idea of a plurality of leaders, called overseers or elders.
Now 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, those are pastoral letters, they are telling pastors how to be pastors. So if this elder model is correct we ought to see this same authority structure in the pastoral letters, shouldn’t we? Take a look at 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul writes to Timothy and he says, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the” what does it day? “presbytery,” that’s the word for elders again. So how did Timothy ever end up in ministry? Well, the elders (plural) of that particular church got together, they sensed the leading of the Holy Spirit, they laid hands on Timothy, apparently a prophecy of some sort was given that Timothy had the gift of pastor/teacher and that body, a plurality of godly men, put Timothy into a position of authority in the ministry. So again the normal model that you see is not a bishop making this decision, not the congregation making this decision, but a plurality of godly men.
Take a look at chapter 5, 1 Timothy 5:17, “The” what? “elders” is that plural there, the noun “elders”? “The elders who” do what? “’ rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, not I like this verse, “especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” I like that, thank you Lord for putting that in there, because it is hard work to preach and teach, particularly when you’re still in a different time zone. But notice that it’s “The elders” plural “are to be considered worthy of double honor” because they’re the ones that are actually ruling in the church, the authority is with the elders, and part of that function is preaching and teaching. See this elder rule model is not something we’re making up as we go; it’s something that’s clearly taught in the pages of the New Testament.
Take a look if you could at Titus, anybody know where Titus was? He was on an island called Crete and I know a little something about Crete because that was one of the legs of our journey. We actually stopped on Crete and we went into some of the stores and my wife complained that everything here is overpriced. And I said well of course it is, haven’t you read your Bible? “Cretans,” verse 12, “are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” So that’s why everything was overpriced. I’m just kidding, very nice people by the way.
But here was Titus on this island called Crete (and we actually visited there) in the middle of the Mediterranean ocean, and he’s in charge of pastoring the church at Crete, and there were several different house churches.
And so what’s the first thing that Paul tells Titus to do? Titus 1:5, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint” what? “elders in” how many cities? “every city as I directed you.” So the normal expectation is that all of these house churches, all over this island named Crete, would be governed by a plurality of elders.
Take a look at the general letters, just for a minute. Look at James 5:14, this has to do with someone getting ill within a group, a flock. “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the” what does it say, “elders” plural, “of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;” we believe that this is still something that we should be practicing today and we have done this for many, many people. Sometimes we’ve seen miraculous occurrences where people get well; other times the person actually gets worse and dies. So we don’t have any magical power in and of ourselves as elders but we can follow the biblical exhortation and anoint someone’s head with oil. You’ll find Jesus doing that in Mark 6 with the sick, and praying over them and asking if it’s the Lord’s will that they be healed, because we’re not in the business of telling God what to do, but we ask according to His will.
But notice how this process is supposed to go; it’s supposed to be coming from the elders, not a single elder but the “elders” within the church. So very clearly once again you see that the proper motive for church government is this plurality of godly men called elders.
Take a look next door at 1 Peter 5:1-2, Peter says, “Therefore, I exhort” the what? “the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,” to do what? To  “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising” what? “oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;” so you’ll notice again that those that are overseers, you’ll notice that those that are shepherding the flock, those exercising oversight, it says, over the flock, is once again this plurality of godly men called elders.
So what’s the BLT? Bottom Line Time? The Bishop rule model is really not found in the Scripture. The congregational rule model is really not found in the Scripture. The normal expectation of God is that God would have each church governed by a plurality of Godly men called elders. The elders are the ones that ultimately, of course with input from the congregation because the Bible says plans succeed through the abundance of counsellors. I mean, it would be foolish for elders to just shut themselves off from information. And I’m thankful that the elders at our church don’t do that, they’re always interested in input. But the bottom line is that the ultimate say rests with the elders.
Now the Sugar Land Bible Church constitution has mostly an elder rule mindset. That’s how this church is governed. What you’ll find in the constitution though is a touch of congregational rule, not much but a touch of it. For example, if we, as the elders ever wanted to go into debt, we have a no debt policy, if I remember right our constitution requires approval of the congregation. Also when we select the next elders, because we rotate terms, except for me, I’m a permanent member of the elder board, but we rotate terms and we put up some names, then the congregation has a vote on it. But other than those two instances where there’s a touch of congregational rule Sugar Land Bible Church is really not a congregational rule church, it’s an elder rule church. Most of the decisions, the overwhelming majority of the decisions in terms of final say rest with the elder board. And we believe that that is what God reveals in the New Testament concerning church government.
So if all that is true and the elders have a big role to play within the church in terms of leadership and guidance wouldn’t you expect somewhere within God’s Word to describe the qualifications for an elder? I mean, if the authority is resting with the elders then we ought to have somewhere we can go to determine who is qualified to be an elder. Is it the person that’s most successful in the business world, are they an elder? Is it the person that’s got the MBA from Harvard, are they an elder? Gosh, we need some accounting done, we’ve got to get a CPA in here, we’ll grab Joe So and So, who’s got an accounting degree, let’s make him an elder.
What you’ll discover is God does have standards for elders and these are standards that you should know as a participator in and a member or Sugar Land Bible Church because one of your jobs is when we put forth elders you have to determine through a vote are they qualified or are they dis-qualified. How would you make that decision? Well, there are two chapters and you ought to be able to commit these to memory, maybe not the whole chapter but at least the address. If someone were to ask you where do I go in the Bible to find the qualifications for elders because the New Testament seems to support an elder-rule model, the two passages are… ready? 1 Timothy 3:1-7 one of our three pastoral letters. The second passage is Titus 1:5-9.
If you think that you are elder material and you’re searching your heart before the Lord whether you should serve as an elder you should ask yourself if you’re qualified based on the two chapters that God has given us to determine qualifications of elders, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
Roman numeral X, church officers; what offices exist in the church? There are at least two, elders and deacons and they’re very different. And we’re not talking about deacons right now, we’re talking specifically about elders.
So what are elder qualifications? How many elders do you have? Is there a distinction amongst elders? What are elders supposed to do? How about when an elder goes south doctrinally or morally, can that elder be removed? That’s what we’re looking at here under officers, specifically the office of the elder and today we’ll only be able to take a look, (if we’re fortunate) qualifications for an elder.
[Elder Qualifications, 1 Timothy. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9. General qualifications: Moral qualifications, Mental qualifications, Personality qualifications, Domestic qualifications, Christian experience qualifications, Reputation qualifications, Knowledge qualifications]
If that’s the right model, and we think it is, there ought to be somewhere in God’s Word that reveals to us what elders… how can someone become an elder, how does someone become qualified to be an elder. These are things you need to know because you’re at this church and you’re approving the elders we set forward so you ought to know these sections of the Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9. So let’s read those together, shall we? And as I’m reading make a mental list of the things that constitute a qualified elder. Notice this:
Timothy 3:1-7, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any” what? “man” that’s interesting, “if any man aspires to the office of overseer,” or elder, “it is a fine work he desires to do.  An overseer , then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, apt to teach,  not addicted to wine or pugnacious,” pugnacious means quarrelsome, “but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity “ parenthetical statement verse 5, “ (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),  and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
That’s quite a list isn’t it? Now let’s augment that list with what Paul writes to Titus. So this shifts the discussion away from church government to church officers. Flip over to Titus 1:5-9, “For this reason I left you in Crete,” another pastoral letter, “that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,  namely,” and he starts to list now the qualifications of elders just like we had a list of qualifications in the other pastoral letter, 1 Timothy, “namely if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe,” and there’s a debate on what “believe” means, do they have to be converts. My professor, Stanley Toussaint thinks that that word actually means children that are faithful… faithful! But there’s debate on that. “…having children who believe not accused of dissipation or rebellion.  For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain,  but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled,” look at verse 9, “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both” look at that, “so that he will be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
So at our congregational meeting we’re passing around these ballots and a couple of names come forth related to elder, and what are you thinking about? Are you thinking about these verses, which is what you should be thinking about. Or are you thinking about well, so and so is just a nice guy and I don’t have any problems with him so he should be an elder. The fact of the matter is we’re all saved by grace alone but only some people are qualified to lead God’s church as they exhibit the characteristics God requires as given in these lists. So what I’ve done is I’ve taken both lists and put them together, because sometimes they overlap a little bit (did you notice that?) and let’s look at the qualifications for an elder.
Number one we have a general qualification…general qualification; an elder must be above reproach. I do not think that means an elder must be perfect because no one would be able to serve; perfection is not the issue; sinlessness is not the issue. The issue is does the elder sin less, that’s the issue. In other words, his life cannot be open to accusation of a habitual pattern of sin. Is there in this person’s life an ongoing pattern of sin in any area? If so, that particular individual fails to meet the general qualification for an elder.
Number two, there is a moral qualification. The elder must be the husband of one wife. Now what does that mean, “husband of one wife.” When you study it in the Greek it means a one-woman man. You say well what if someone has a divorce in their background, as an unbeliever or as a Christian? It’s a complicated issue. I wrote a paper on this, if you’re interested in it, you can find it online, it’s “The Meaning of ‘THE HUSBAND OF ONE WIFE” IN 1 TIMOTHY 3:2.” Copyright © 2004 by Andy Woods
And what you’ll discover in that paper is there’s eight interpretations of this verse. And I presented this to our elder board early on when I was here because we had a situation where someone was put up for the office of elder or perhaps it was deacon, my memory is a little fuzzy, the one woman man qualification is for both, and this person had a divorce in their background and the prior pastor who was here before me had sort of a mindset that if there’s any divorce at all they’re excluded. And as much as I sort of respect that position it really wasn’t the position that I hold.
When you actually study this in Greek what you’ll find is the verbs are in the present tense. In other words, what you’re trying to figure out is not the sin they committed five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago and using that as some kind of tool to bar service, entry to service. What you’re trying to figure out is what are they like today. So the current trajectory of Sugar Land Bible Church based on that paper that all our elders at the time read is that look, if there’s a divorce in your background that in and of itself does not disqualify a person from being an elder. What we’re trying to figure out is what are you like right now. Now if you’re using divorce in a person’s background as sort of a barometer to figure out what they’re like today that’s one thing.
But here’s the reality folks, aren’t we all being progressively sanctified. I mean, I’m really not the person I was ten years ago (thank God for that). We’re all continually developing into Christ likeness so if there’s some kind of infraction, some kind of a problem that occurred way back when, our mindset is that in and of itself does not disqualify a person from serving as an elder. Now if there’s perpetual divorces and remarriage that’s a different issue, isn’t it? Because that has direct bearing on what they’re like today. Let me just give you an example. One of the qualifications here is the elder cannot be pugnacious, he’s got to have his anger under control in other words. So does that mean if I blew my fuse ten years ago I’m out? That’s not what it means; what it means is if I’m blowing my fuse over and over and over again today, and that’s part of my present character then that’s a bar to entry into that office in the church. Do you see that?
And so we understand that pugnaciousness, why do we not understand it with this idea of a one woman… I may have said that wrong earlier, a one man woman is what I meant to say. Hopefully I didn’t get that reversed. Whatever I said the first time, that’s the right way.
So what is the person’s character like today? That’s the issue. If the person is flirtatious and developing all of these inappropriate relationships in the congregation then that becomes a barrier to service. And a lot of people say well, you have to be married to serve as an elder because it says “the husband of one wife.” Well, if that’s the rule then the guy who wrote this wouldn’t be qualified, would he? Paul the apostle, who the best we know wasn’t married at the time. Also I’m not sure Jesus would be qualified either because I don’t see a Mrs. Jesus anywhere in the New Testament. So the way we’re understanding this is what is their character like today? That’s the moral requirement.
And then there is a mental requirement, they have to be “temperate, prudent,” now notice this, “apt to teach.” Now notice this, “apt to teach.” [1 Timothy 3:2, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, apt to teach.”] It doesn’t even say they have to have the spiritual gift of teaching, they just have to be able to do it when called upon to do so. And I find this very interesting because our culture enthrones people, gives people authority based on talent. That’s what everybody is looking for, are they talented, what is their skill set, can they get the job done? You’ll notice that God is not really thinking that way. Everything that God is dealing with here relates to character. What are they like in terms of the fruit of the Holy Spirit? What are they like in terms of Christ-likeness? And the only thing that I can find anywhere dealing with talent is that little tiny one there, “apt to teach” which doesn’t even have to mean they have to have the spiritual gift of teaching, they just have to be able to do it.
So we also have a personality qualification, they have to be “respectable, hospitable, apt to teach” now the Baptists won’t like this one, “not given to much wine.” I mean does that mean he has to be a non-drinker? That’s not what the Bible teaches. What it says is he cannot be given over to drunkenness. In fact, Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23 and he says take a little… little notice, for your upset stomach and frequent illnesses. [1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”] In my mind an occasional social drink is not an issue, drunkenness is the problem; that’s what the Bible is condemning.
He must not be pugnacious. Now you wouldn’t believe the mindset that people get into when they get on an overboard, they all of a sudden become these fighting fundies, extremely argumentative people. In fact, I’ve been listening to some of the complaints of prior elder boards, current elders sort of voicing their concerns about some of the things that went on here in years past on our elder boards. There was like almost brawls in elder board meetings, to the wee hours of the morning, loggerheads heads, fighting all the time. And frankly that’s a character issue; you know, if you’re going around and every single relationship you’re in there’s some kind of conflict probably the problem is the character at some point.
So a lot of people masquerade the fleshly activity of pugnaciousness as defending the truth, or some such thing and in reality it’s just sort of a fighting spirit. The Bible says “be at peace with all men as much as it depends on you.” [Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”] That’s our goal, and believe me, there’s a place and a time to stand for truth and all of that but a lot of times people are fighting over things that really have more to do with a pugnacious attitude rather than standing for the truth. Such people would be barred from being an elder.
The elder must be gentle, he must be uncontentious, now look at this, he’s got to be free from the love of money. Why is that? Because obviously when you’re in a position of authority in the church you’re dealing with financial issues and you have access to finances and a part of one’s character is that they’re embezzlers, then you would obviously bar such a person from serving as an elder.
We also have some domestic qualifications, he must manage his own household well, with his children in submission. [1 Timothy 3:4, “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.”] Now why would the Bible say that? A very simple reason, if you can’t govern your own house how in the world do you think you can govern God’s house? The Bible says, Luke 16:10 if you’re faithful with the little thing then God can trust you with what? The bigger things. [Luke 16:10, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”] If you look into a person’s household and their household is a mess then obviously that same mess is going to follow them into leadership and so that’s why you look at people’s lives, not to find some sin that they committed a long time ago but what is currently their character like in terms of running their own household.
And you go through the Bible and what you’re going to discover is God promotes people over and over again that are faithful in something small. Joseph was faithful no matter where God put him, in Potiphar’s household…faithful! Prison…faithful! And one day he woke up and he was second in command in Egypt; that’s how God works. David was the same way. When Samuel came to anoint the next king and Jesse brought out all his sons, Jesse remember didn’t even bring out David and Samuel said well, there’s someone else here obviously because all these guys don’t fit the bill. Oh, you mean the kid in the back, you want him to come out too? Remember what David was doing? Tending the sheep, he was faithful with something very tiny and then he became the second king of the United Kingdom. So that’s why you look into a person’s home life, do they manage their own household well?
Now some people say they have to have children because how do you determine if they manage their own household well unless they have children? So if they don’t have children they can’t be an elder. That would be a problem because that would disqualify the guy who wrote this, Paul. It would also disqualify who? Jesus! So I think what it’s saying is children are not required but it’s sort of assumed; in other words if they have children and if they are married you look at their home life to ascertain if they’re managing those things properly.
By the way, be careful how far you push some of these things because in Greek children is plural, teknon—plural. So if you push it too far and you say they have to have children then all of a sudden the rule becomes they’ve got to have at least two children and if that’s the case I wouldn’t be standing here because we’re blessed with one child. So I think with a lot of these things it’s sort of assumed, not necessarily required, if that makes any sense.
Now what if you have a situation where a guy is raising his children and his children, through their own volition just decide to rebel against God and it’s really not that person’s fault? Well, that’s where wisdom comes in because those children at a certain age have their own free will and if their children are making a decision in contradiction to everything they’ve been taught and reared in the home to do then I don’t think that necessarily disqualifies a person either. I think, my own interpretation of this is there’s some flexibility in these rules and they really aren’t rules, they’re principles and you have to look at every person who is a candidate for elder on a case by case basis. And what you’re trying to figure out is what is their character like today.
There is also a Christian experience qualification, it says very clearly here, “not a recent convert lest they fall into the trap of the devil.” Remember the trap of the devil? First comes pride, and then comes what? A fall, Proverbs 16:18. [Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.”] This is why Lucifer is now Satan; Lucifer, a beautiful high ranking angel fell because of pride. The passages on it would be Isaiah 14:12-15 describing the fall of Lucifer, Ezekiel 28:12-17.
[Isaiah 14:12-15, “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations!  But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly i the recesses of the north.  ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit.”
Ezekiel 28:12-17, “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.  You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared.  “You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire.  You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you.  By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.  Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you.”]
And this is the problem, and I’ve actually seen this happen in another church, where you take someone who’s a fairly new convert to Christianity, fairly new believer and you put them all of a sudden into a place of authority in the church and God starts to use them and they haven’t had enough character training yet in Christ to understand that God does not share His glory with another. Isaiah 42:8. [Isaiah 42:8, “”I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.”] And they start to take credit for the things happening in the church when in reality they’re not the ones causing these good things, God is just using them because they’re in a position of authority. And so once you start to take credit for the work of God then you’re in a very dangerous place because the pattern of Lucifer is pride cometh before a fall.
So you have to look at a person’s character and you can’t have a novice or a new convert, you have to have someone that’s walked with the Lord long enough to understand these spiritual principles or else you’re setting someone up for defeat is what you’re doing. So Paul is very clear, “not a recent convert.” And I’ve also seen this in Christendom where somebody in the unsaved world gets saved, like a rock star or someone popular and we’re so happy this person’s saved that we immediately jam a microphone into their face to tell the world about Jesus and we feature them on all the Christian radio stations, TV stations, So and So is saved. And again we’re setting up that person for failure because you don’t give people authority in a church who are basically recent converts.
Let me just finish this list and we’ll stop. There’s also a reputation requirement; the elder must have a good report, notice this, among outsiders. [1 Timothy 3:7, “And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” ] So having a good reputation within the church is fine but that’s not enough, you’ve got to also have a good reputation amongst the outside world because if you don’t you’ll discredit the church and discredit the gospel. If you’re bouncing checks all over Houston and every bank in the community knows about it you’re probably not the type of person that we want as an elder.
And when we, as the elders submit these things to the congregation these are some things that you can investigate and give us information because you may have some information about someone, you can come to us privately of course, that we may not know. One of the elders told me a story about how there was a fellow that was considered for elder and he would fly off the handle at his travel agent and this came up through the congregation and so it was discovered that this guy had sort of a pugnacious streak in the outside community that those in the church were unaware of. And so when this was brought to the attention of the elder board that person was denied the position of service, if I remember the story right. So there is a reputation qualification.
And one more and I think this is what’s lacking in a lot of churches, this one especially, there’s a knowledge requirement. How much does an elder have to know? Do they have to have an academic degree? It doesn’t say that but what it says in Titus 1:10 is an elder has to be able to do two things; they’ve got to be able to stand up, Titus 1:10, and exhort in accordance with teaching. [Titus 1:10, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,  who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”] So you sort of have to be able to stand up and positively present the truth accurately.
But the verse goes on and it also says you’ve got to be able to refute those, Titus 1:10, that contradict. That’s harder, isn’t it? In other words, your knowledge of the truth has to be at a certain level where you can not only positively present the truth, that’s one thing, that’s actually easier, but you’ve also got to be able to do the harder thing and contradict people that oppose the truth. So if someone wants to promote Mormonism an elder should be able to stand up and say we don’t buy into Mormonism and here are the reasons. If someone wants to promote Jehovah’s Witness theology an elder has got to be able to stand up in front of people and say we don’t promote Jehovah’s Witness theology, here are the reasons.
So to me that means there has to be a knowledge requirement that’s very high. And elder has got to be a student of this Book and an elder has also got to be astute enough to understand the belief systems out there that contradict this Book. If they’re not able to do that then they shouldn’t be put into a position of elder.
So if the elder model is the correct one then we ought to find somewhere in the Bible that gives qualifications for elders and we do. What two chapters do that? 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9. I encourage you to study those chapters on your own and you’ll see these general qualifications, moral qualifications, mental qualifications, personality qualifications, domestic qualifications, Christian experience, reputation, and knowledge qualifications. I went through king of fast, I know you all have a lot of questions probably about this which I’ll try to get to, hopefully next week as we continue to look at elders and then we’ll look at deacons.
Let’s pray. Father, we’re grateful for Your Word and Your truth written two thousand years ago in these tiny remote places that You gave me a chance to send my family to visit the last three weeks and we’re grateful for the fact that these truths are timeless and they still exist into the 21st century. So help us to be good stewards of these truths and to allow Your church to be governed not according to man’s rules but Your rules. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said… Amen.