SCRIPTURAL TERMS PROVIDE AN INDEX
Elder/Presbyter (Older, senior)
Kingdom tenure. We are expressly instructed on this: an elder is not to be a beginner in the faith. "Not a novice . . ." (1 Tim. 3:6). While this may involve the physical age of the individual, it is not limited to that. It is possible to be old in years, yet unlearned in the things of God. Equally true, it is possible to be younger in years, yet expert in matters pertaining to life and godliness. "Not a novice," beginner or apprentice, has to do with ones apprehension of the things of God. The elder is to be able to handle spiritual matters with dexterity. He is not to be "unskillful in the word of righteousness" (Heb. 5:13).
The reason for this requisite is clear. The elder is charged with the responsibility of giving spiritual advantages to God's flock. He must be able to bring eternal verities to bear upon the situations of life. He is to assist the members of Christ's body in the apprehension of the truth of God. Unless he has a grasp of the truth himself, he will not be able to do this. It is tragic beyond description that much of the activity of the contemporary elder has little or nothing to do with eternal issues.
The explanation for this requirement is also given: "lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil." Satan is on the prowl to neutralize the effectiveness of God's people. There is no better way to do this than to bring spiritual leaders into reproach through involvement in sin. Surely this is apparent to people in this day and time. The truth of the matter is that spiritual infancy is fraught with jeopardy. The individual that is not grounded is vulnerable because he is unaware of the nature of truth and the power of the devil.
The term "elder" is not necessarily related to fleshly age. The Word of God informs us that wisdom is not necessarily associated with age (Job 32:7-9). This is how it should be, but this is not always the way it is. Spiritual wisdom accompanies age when personal discipline and consistent exposure to the truth of God dominate the life of the individual. If this is not the case, there can be no mature wisdom.
An approved elder has trafficked in Kingdom realities. The necessity of this requirement cannot be overstated. God's people cannot be advantaged by the domination of unspiritual and unlearned individuals. Many a congregation has been thrust into retrogression by unspiritual leadership. The individual that is made overseer over the house of God by the Holy Spirit is the one who lives and moves and has his being in God. His preferences are the things of God. His quest is the city of God. His delight is the law of the Lord. His rejoicing is in the Lord. He is not a stranger to truth that sanctifies (John 17:17).
Bishop (Inspection, relief, superintendence, visitation)
Care of the flock is integral to the work of an elder. This involves an interest in, and a concern for, the people of God. The elder places himself into the background in interest of God's people. In this respect, he is like Jesus, who "humbled Himself and became obedient" (Phil. 2:8). He is also like Paul, who counted things that were gain to him as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus His Lord (Phil 3:7-10).
The bishop seeks the betterment of the flock. He inspects them with an interest in helping them. He brings relief to them in order that they might finish their race with joy. He superintends them, leading so as to avoid pitfalls and gain spiritual advantages. He visits them with a mind to ensure their safe arrival in heaven.
O, that there were more men like this. How strong the body of Christ would be if more men sought its spiritual welfare!
The elder is a steward, managing Another's goods. Here is a truth easily forgotten in today's religious environment. The church belongs to Jesus; it is His body. Believers belong to God; they are His people. The bishop is taking care of God's people, like Moses took care of Israel. He seeks to implement the Divine agenda for the elect of God. This it is written, "Feed the flock of God," and "neither as being Lordís over Godís heritage" (1 Pet 5:2-3).
Pastor/Shepherd (Supervise, feed, rule, tend)
The pastor guides with instruction, not mandate. How does the elder care for the flock of God; after all, that is his job. Does he do it by dictating to them? by insisting on his own way? by driving a wedge between members of the body? of course not! Yet, this is all too often found to be the case in our churches. It must not be allowed! Feeding takes place when individuals are instructed by God's Word in the ways of the Lord, thus becoming more proficient in handling that Word.
The shepherd nourishes in things pertaining to life and godliness. It is not the place of elders to ensure that the business affairs of the church are conducted economically. That is a noble work, but it is not intended for the elders. Their work is not to see to it that the building facilities are adequate. That also is a good thing, but it is not the work of the elder. The pastor or shepherd has a role similar to that of the Apostles during the time of the early church. They are to give themselves to matters that will contribute to the faith of God's people. "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables" (Acts 6:2).
This is not demeaning of "serving tables," and is not to be so taken. It is simply that the work of the Apostles dealt with other issues. It would take away from their effectiveness if they engaged in labors for which they had not been chosen. It is the same with elders. Their appointment is to feed the flock of God; to ensure their spiritual nourishment and stability. If they devote their attention to lesser matters, they will neglect their designated role in the body.
Teacher (teacher, doctor, master, instructor)
The pastor/teacher is an expert in the Scriptures. A teacher is not someone that reads the quarterly, then rehearses it to the people. While there may be a place for this, it surely is not a place of preeminence. The elder is a teacher Ė one who communicates the things of God to the people. He is not merely a person that knows the Word; he also is "apt to teach," or able to do so. The work of an elder requires expertise in the handling of Scripture.
Such able to relate the Word of God to situations requiring correction, improvement, etc. Paul instructed Titus concerning elders. In that instruction he addressed the matter of dealing with opponents of the truth. "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (Titus 1:9). The NIV provides the following view, "He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it."
Note that the requirement is not that the elder be successful in convincing the gainsayer, but that he be able to so. I have often wondered how an insistence on the possession of this quality would effect the average congregation. The specification of this quality indicates that the "work of an elder" includes protecting the flock from heretical teaching, as well as those that attack the truth of God.
Candidly, this is an especially important trait in our day. We have been inundated with electronic religion, much of which is seriously flawed. Many people are not only regularly subjected to subtle religious errors, they have embraced them. Some are even eager to proclaim such things within the congregation of which you are a part. Few, if any, have been exempted from this influence. The work of an elder involves coming to grips with "strange teachings," or doctrines (Heb. 13:9) that cause people to lose their grip on God's truth.
Suffice it to say, the evidence of false teaching is found in its conflict with the nature and content of the Scriptures in general, and the Gospel in particular. The acid test of truth is not the tradition of a particular denomination, the literature it has chosen for its Sunday School classes, or the private persuasions of the leaders themselves. A teaching is false when it does not blend with the Gospel of Christ. It is untrue if it requires the saints to ignore some affirmation of Scripture intended for those in Christ Jesus. Nothing can be true that requires us to do something that is forbidden by the Word of God, or causes us to forget God, Jesus, the end of the world, or the day of judgment.