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Elders

“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His Name.”—Malachi 3:16

Neither Luther or Calvin held those shallow Pelagian views, now so common, of a gradual amelioration and Christianising of the world. Calvin writes, “It is a superstition to think that the world is improving in religion and morality. It is not improving but it is always going back.” Luther says, “I know that the world is becoming epicurean; that is to say, they will lose faith in God and immortality, and give themselves up to the pleasures of the things of this world, and then suddenly shall be heard the voice, ‘Behold, the Bridegroom cometh.'” These statements are Scriptural; we have no warrant to expect the conversion of the world, but in the words of James to the Church at Jerusalem, God visits the…

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Preface

18 May 2015, by

The subject of eldership in Baptist circles has been one of the most misunderstood issues of recent years, with the result that it has become fashionable and even considered orthodox for churches to supplement or replace a single pastor with a team of ‘elders’. I contend this mode of governance is unscriptural, impractical and unconventional. This pamphlet is designed to argue the case why Baptist churches should retain their historic practice of appointing one bishop/pastor, assisted by a group of deacons. I have completed a comprehensive textbook on this subject, which is under review for publication. In the interim, this pamphlet is an abridged preview of the larger forthcoming work, and I extend special thanks to Adam Nixon who encouraged the pamphlet’s preparation, and to Yasmin Cooper and Kevin Price for their editorial notes and helpful suggestions.

Jared Smith

May 2017

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Introduction

18 May 2015, by

It is commonplace to hear it staunchly affirmed by preachers that the term elder is one and the same with bishop and pastor; that the term is usually used in the plural, indicating the early churches were overseen by a plurality of elders. Hence, it is argued, if churches today are to reflect the most Scriptural form of governance, then elders must be appointed as overseers.

• Some believe there is parity among the elders, wherein all share equal authority as teachers/rulers; whereas others believe there is…

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The Biblical term ‘elder’ was based upon the traditional cultural understanding of what the word universally meant. For in every culture and community, elders are the patriarchs and matriarchs of local and extended family units. These elders are never elected or appointed to an office—they merely assume this unofficial role of leadership by virtue of age, wisdom and influence. An example of continuity in the practice and use of the term surviving with its meaning intact from earliest times until today is cited with perfect clarity by S. M. Stiegelbauer in her paper on the First Nation Elders, published in The Canadian Journal of Native Studies. With reference to the Inuit people who today still inhabit the Arctic regions…

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When the term elder is used within Christian circles, it conjures up ideas of ecclesiastical clergy, either elected to office by the congregation, or appointed to office by the denomination. In fact, it is only within Christian churches that the term elder is made to mean something other than persons honored in virtue of their age, wisdom and influence. This irregular interpretation is rooted in a flawed hermeneutic of several biblical texts which refer to elders. It is assumed, because a few scripture passages use the term elder when identifying a bishop/pastor, that therefore, most (if not all) references to elders in the early churches must be bishops/pastors. The absurdity of this presupposition is comparable to one who boasts that all…

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