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• The Plural Eldership Issue

Churches are among the only communities in the world which view ‘elders’ as an appointed or elected office. The universal and historically recognized meaning of the term refers to unofficial leaders of a community, distinguished by their age, wisdom, wealth and influence. They are not appointed or elected to an office of eldership. Rather, they assume an…

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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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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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According to Robert J. Banks, in his book, “Paul’s Idea of Community”, the early churches met in the private houses of the well-to-do members:

“Whether we are considering the smaller gatherings of only some Christians in a city or the larger meetings involving the whole Christian population, it is in the home of one of the members that EKKLESIA is held (Acts 18:7,8; 20:8)—for example in the “upper room” (Acts 20:8; Lk 22:12; Acts 1:13). Not until the third century do we have evidence of special buildings being constructed for Christian gatherings, and, even then, they were modeled…

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