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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 Jared Smith

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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 Jared Smith

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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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Ephesians 4:11: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”

The apostles and prophets were temporary offices, laying the foundation for both the establishment and edification of Christian churches—apostles were primarily sent to organize new churches; prophets were appointed to nurture existing churches. The evangelists and pastor-teachers are permanent offices carrying out a…

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The Jewish Synagogue was not ordained by God as a religious institution. It came into existence as a result of God’s judgment upon the nation—The divinely instituted temple had been destroyed, the people of God scattered, and in desperation the scattered Jews established tiny groups which became known as synagogues. During the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles, the Jewish Synagogue always…

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Eldership advocates tend to sing the praises of the many benefits a church receives by appointing a plurality of elders. Seldom do they sound the alarm for the serious problems that arise from the appointment. Baptist historian Dr. Kenneth Dix confessed this was the initiating cause which led him to reject plural elderships—he believed too many churches have jumped on the bandwagon without giving sufficient thought to the inevitable problems arising from an eldership. To name just a few drawbacks:

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As I am in the middle of finishing an exhaustive book on the subject of elders, it is frustrating that I am not yet ready to fire back at those who are exerting great effort in promoting this newfangled theory of a plural eldership in Baptist churches. Their forceful claims to have received an inner revelation from God’s Word to which our Baptist forefathers were ignorant, is quite frankly a very arrogant position to nurture. When they boast their theory of leadership in churches is the ‘biblical way’, they censure and condemn all churches who have…

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The Reformed Baptist Movement has given rise to a new form of church leadership not practiced by Baptist churches prior to the 1950′s. The majority of modern books and articles almost invariably assert that each church should be overseen by a plurality of elders. While many churches have conformed to the new trend, others staunchly cling to their traditional practice of having a single pastor assisted by a group of deacons. It is unwise to follow a trend, or support a tradition, without knowing the scriptural, historic and practical reasons undergirding the practice.

I have invested more than seven years of extensive research on this subject. My notes and gathered resources are several thousand pages large. Some of this material was condensed and presented in more than a hundred lectures. The material has been reworked for print and is under review for publishing. The following post is the Introduction to the book.

If the church to which you belong as a member is under pressure to adopt an eldership, please contact me direct with any questions you may have concerning its scriptural meaning, historic relevance or practical application.

Jared Smith

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Copyright © 2011, The Association of Historic Baptists