WHY WE HAVE ELDERS and DEACONS
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." NIV
God has an agenda! He will not allow it to be superseded by one of human invention. He is not seeking to bolster the pride of people, establish domineering positions ands career paths, or allow for ruthless rule over His people. Regarding the body of Christ, His purpose is the establishment of the people. This is how God operates. He raised Moses to give the law to the people. He raised up the prophets to issue warnings and promises to the people. Jesus died to rescue the fallen people. And, He has given "gifts to men" for the establishment, or edification and maturity, of His people (Eph. 4:8) .
This is central in our consideration of the work of an elder. If we do not bring this circumstance to the foreground of our thinking, we will be dashed upon the rocks of futility. Notwithstanding this rather obvious conclusion, I find this to be an exceedingly rare context for the consideration of the eldership or the "electing: of elders. After over fifty years of preaching, I can nearly count on one hand the number of churches I have encountered who have given any significant thought to what God intends to be done by elders. Our churches may be noted for having elders, but they are not noted for the "good work" that characterizes the "office of a bishop (overseer)" (1 Tim. 3:1). There is no way to overemphasize the importance of this consideration. The work of God will not and cannot be done unless we obtain His perspective. Given the attainment of that viewpoint, we can expect God to be greatly honored in our assemblies. And, if He is not honored by our assemblies, there is no reason for them to continue to exist.
Jesus is dishonored by weak churches. He rebuked them in the first century (Rev 2-3), and He still does today. The reason for this circumstance is straightforward. Provision has been made for His churches to be strong and mature. A failure to accomplish this cannot be justified, and no attempt is to be made to explain a condition that allows for continued spiritual weakness and immaturity. The Divine agenda requires the edification of Gods people. They are in a hostile world, under siege from the Wicked One, and in quest of a "better country." They cannot hope to make it safely through life if they are weak and uninformed in Kingdom matters.
Philosophically, I suppose, Christ can be conceived as working with a weak church. However, throughout history, this has not been the case. When the body of Christ was weak, truth became less dominate and the devil became more prominent. You will be hard pressed to find an exception to this rule.
To be "built up" is to be "edified." The word "edify" means to make strong, stable, consistent, and mature. Everything about the congregation is to contribute to this process. In the words of Scripture, "Let all things be done unto edifying" (1 Cor 14:26). The Word of God speaks about some things that are technically lawful, yet which are to be avoided because they "edify not" (1 Cor 10:23). Elders and deacons must, in some measurable way, contribute to this strengthening process. They have a mandate from God to do this, and there is grace for them to do so
God's people must enjoy commonality in their faith. Their hearts and minds must be brought to the point where they are focused on the same thing, and work together harmoniously for the glory of God. The apprehension of the truth may be at differing levels, but it must have the same spiritual substance. The people of God are to be looking the same way, trusting the same God, and in quest of the same eternal objectives. Their grasp of truth must not be competitive or contradictory of one another. Both the novice and the seasoned spiritual veteran must have the same goal and headed in the same direction.
Our unity in the knowledge of the Son of God is imperative. We have been called "into the fellowship" of God's Son (1 Cor. 1:9). This involves our perception of Him, submission to Him, and working together with Him. As believers, we become involved with Jesus. Jesus once said, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). The result is that we become "co-laborers" with God (1 Cor 3:9). The purpose of all spiritual "gifts," which includes elders (pastors/teachers), is to ensure that this happens.
Immature believers do not bring glory to God, nor do they have the utility the Lord desires. When those in Christ have infantile views of God, Christ, the Bible, the world, and the devil, they are in jeopardy. Satan is cunning, and the world is alluring. If people are not mature in their walk with God, they will be ensnared and ultimately subverted. It is true, the Lord protects babes in Christ, permitting them to get their feet on the ground, so to speak. But if they do not advance to spiritual maturity, that protection will not be experienced.
No elder can be content while unwarranted spiritual juvenility exists among the flock. Even when it is warranted, as in a new convert, the objective must be to assist the person to get out of spiritual babyhood and into manhood, where "childish" things and ways are put away (1 Cor 13:11). Such a condition is too serious to be ignored. The day in which we live requires diligence in this area. Much of the religious froth that is being doled out to people of all ages, particularly the young people, leaves them as small and immature Christians and that is the very best view of the situation. To remain in spiritual infancy during a time when iniquity is rapidly increasing will bring sure disaster.
We begin as spiritual "infants," but we dare not remain there. Thus re read, "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" NIV (Eph 4:14). God gave the church elders, among other things, to ensure His children would not remain children that were confused by the strange teachings all about them. They are not the only ones charged with averting the tendency to remain immature, but they are involved in the process. If we do not "go on unto perfection," spiritual retrogression is inevitable. That is expressly taught, and with great and convicting power, in Hebrews 6:1-8. We do not run the race that is set before us in a vacuum. The opposition of the world, the flesh, and the devil make it imperative that we "grow up" into Christ in all things. If we do not, we will "draw back to perdition" -- and there are no exceptions!
Godly leaders are to make it their aim for spiritual infancy NOT to continue in their congregation. The people are to be brought to a point where they can detect what is true and what is not. Somewhere in the experience of the members, they must be brought to the point where they have more answers than they do questions.
All of the "gifts" have been provided for the maturity and stability of the body of Christ. All of them are maintained by employment of "the truth." The word "truth" means reality what really is. It has particular regard to what God has revealed, and what He is doing. The truth can be seen from at least two perspectives. First, truth is found in the Person of Christ. He said, "I am the truth" (John 14:6). That is, He lived out before men what was really true. Simplistically put, you can test what is true or not by whether Jesus would say it or do it. Second, the Word of God is truth. Thus Jesus said, "Thy Word of truth" (John 17:17). Third, the truth is expressed ina a very particular way in the Gospel of Christ. Therefore we read of "the word of the truth of the Gospel" (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5). The truth, therefore, centers in the Lord Jesus Christ, is addressed to our understanding through the Scriptures, and is specifically clarified in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God has no ministries that do not require the proper handling of truth in some way. Wherever the truth is preached, there will be a great emphasis placed upon the Lord Jesus. Expressions will be made in terms of Scripture, thus fulfilling the word that we ought to speak in "words which the Holy Spirit teaches" (1 Cor 2:13). There will also be an obvious stress placed upon the Gospel of Cbrist, which emphasizes deliverance from sin and preparation for glory.
To "speak the truth in love" is to be motivated by a desire to please God, as well as to benefit the believer. The individual who speaks in this manner was "received the love of the truth" (2 Thess 2:10). The Word of God itself is loved and preferred above all things (Psa 119:97,113,163,165). There is a personal love for God and Christ, and the people opf God as well. Where these conditions are genuinely found, the truth will be spoken "in love."
Spiritual life, like earthly life, involves a process. From the highest point of view, this process is described as "being transformed into his likeness with ever_increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" NIV (2 Cor 3:18). The ultimate goal for every believer is to be like Jesus. In fact, this is God's predetermined purpose. "For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers" NIV (Rom. 8:29). Note that the primary aim is not the exaltation of the assembly, but the conformity of the individual to Christ. Each believer is to become an asset to, and exhibit of, the Lord Jesus. That is the way of becoming the most beneficial to the body. Those who are fundamentally unlike Jesus cannot really help us. Such individuals are really a liability to the church. Everything possible must be done to assist them in growing up into Christ in all things. In their thoughts, they become more like Christ. Their wills and their emotions are made like the Lord. They begin top see things as He does, and do things as He does.
If this growth does not take place, the cause of the Lord has been frustrated. No amount of group activity can compensate for a lack of conformity to the image of Christ among the members of the body.