Philosophy of Church Officers

 

 

The topic of church officers has also been the source of much debate in recent years.  Of course, a substantial part of this discussion depends on one's principles of hermeneutics and whether relevant passages of Scripture are interpreted accurately and consistently.  Other primary questions to consider revolve around the role of each office and the relationship of the officers to each other.

 

It seems appropriate to begin with two affirmations.  First, that man cannot improve upon the "blueprint" for the church that God sets forth in His Word.  The notion that God has purposely left man some latitude concerning church polity is either the result of a lack of knowledge about what God has said, or is the result of incorrectly emphasizing that man has been given the freedom to choose such things.  Second, it therefore follows that the correct and consistent perspective to take concerning our interpretation of Scripture is a "regulative" approach which emphasizes what Scripture says man ought to do.  (The view that emphasizes man's "choice" is the "normative" approach which says man is free to do whatever he wants to do as long as Scripture does not forbid it.)

 

There are two offices in Scripture. They are elder/overseer/shepherd and deacon.  One of the major differences between these two offices is that the responsibility of preaching and teaching falls to the elders.  This is in keeping with the two categories of spiritual gifts mentioned in I Peter 4:10-11 -- speaking gifts and serving gifts.  Elders are the ones who "labor in the Word and doctrine" (I Timothy 5:17), and deacons are the ones who serve in order to help meet the needs of the congregation (Acts 6).

 

In addition to preaching and teaching, Scripture speaks of the office of elder as "leading" (Hebrews 13:7,17, 24), "ruling" (I Timothy 5:17 and I Thess. 5:12), "overseeing" (I Peter 5:2), and "shepherding" (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2).  These verbs are never used about deacons.  So the conclusion may be drawn that the office of elder is intended to be the office with greater authority.  The office of apostle no longer exists (note their qualifications in Acts 1), so those today who "give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:4) would be the elders, while the deacons assist the elders in the daily care of the congregation and also the care of the church's material assets.

 

The fact that Scripture speaks of the "elder" interchangeably with "pastor/shepherd" does not eliminate the role of (or the need for) a "lead elder" -- commonly referred to as "pastor" (Ephesians 4:11).  All elders rule, but not all elders are called to "labor in the Word and doctrine" (I Timothy 5:17).  This specific calling sets apart "pastors" from all other elders (and often results in leaving secular employment in order to take a pastoral role in a local church).  So the pastor and elders engage in the same role or function, but they have a difference in calling (and often education and giftedness) in fulfilling that function.

 

The final point to consider is the relationship of the officers and the congregation.  The congregation may sometimes view the officers as those whom they "elect," and therefore these officers have a responsibility to implement the will of the congregation (like our political elections here in America).  So if the officers do not please the congregation, then the congregation will vote them out.  This is incorrect and completely unbiblical.  The emphasis in Scripture is "Who is God calling to be an officer in the church?"  Since it is God Who calls certain people to places of leadership in the church, the corresponding attitude should be one of humility -- the congregation must submit to those church leaders (Hebrews 13:17), and the church leaders must not "lord" their authority over the congregation (I Peter 5:3).