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Choosing a Pastor

Church Leadership in the New Testament, Part 2

Bishops and Deacons, I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

When Jesus prophesied that He would “build His church” (Matt. 16:18), He left us with instructions for how this task was to be accom­plished. The Bible gives us guidelines for the growth and leader­ship of His growing church.

There are two offices in the New Testament church, elders or bishops and deacons (I Tim. 3:1-7, cp Titus 1:5-9; Phil. 1:1). The terms “elders” and “bishops” are used interchangeably in the New Testament. (Titus 1:5, cp. 1:7; Acts 20:17, cp. 20:28; I Pet. 1:1, cp. 1:2, oversight).

“Elder” (presbuteros, ) means an “older man.” “Bishop” (episkopos, ) means “overseer” and is translated as such in Acts 20:28. They designate the same office. “Elder refers to the man (assumed to be older, not a novice or neophyte, I Tim. 3:6) and “bishop” or “overseer” refers to one of his functions.

The title of bishop has fallen into disuse in fundamental circles of today, probably because of the misuse of the position in Church history. The word seems to do little for us in the way of defini­tion. “Overseer” is self-defined and is a function of the elder.

There are other elders mentioned in the Bible. In the Old Testam­ent these were usually the elders of Israel or sometimes elders of various cities. The Synoptic Gospels and Acts contain references to elders that usually refer to the elders of the Jews such as Matthew 11:27, “the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders.” Revela­tion mentions the 24 elders. None of these are relevant to the require­ments for the church elder of today and will not be discussed in this study.

The other office is that of a deacon (diakonos, , one who renders service). The qualifications are stated in I Tim. 3:8-13. Deacons are first mentioned in Acts 6:2-4, where the qualifications are condensed and stated as history; “ of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” As the infant church started to grow, various practical needs arose. Deacons were appointed so that the apostles could give themselves “continu­ally to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” This is possibly a play on words. Verse 1 states that some of the Grecian widows were being neglected in the daily ministration (diakonia, service).  Verse 3 states that it is not reason for the apostles to leave the word of God to serve (diakonein) tables but will give themselves to the service (diakonia) of the Word (Verse 4). All believers are to serve but the deacons (diakonous, I Tim. 3:8) have a specific responsibility in that area. The qualifications of the elder and the deacon are very similar except that the elder is to be “apt to teach” (I Tim. 3:2). The responsibilities of the elder also include teaching, ruling, and rebuking error (Titus 1:9-13).

The Biblical norm was to have a plurality of elders. The following verses clearly present this fact.

Acts 11:30 - “To the elders” of the Jerusalem church (v27).

Acts 14:23 - “Ordained elders in every church.”

Acts 15:2,22,23 - “Elders” of the Jerusalem church.

Acts 16:4 - “Elders which were at Jerusalem.”

Acts 20:17 - “Elders of the church” (Ephesus).

Acts 21:18 - “All the elders were present” from Jerusalem.

Phil. 1:21 - “To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with all the bishops and deacons.”

Titus 1:5 - Titus was told to “ordain elders in every city.”

Some churches of today make a distinction between the pastor and the elders. There is usually no contention about multiple elders until it is rea­lized that the elder of Titus 1:5, is the pastor/teacher of Eph. 4:11 and that we should have more than one in each local assembly. What evidence is there for this assertion?

The word “pastor” used in Eph. 4:11, literally means “shepherd” and is the same word commonly translated such (poimen, ). Acts 20:28 records Paul’s parting exhortation to the elders (presbuteros) of the church at Ephesus (v17). He instructs them to take heed to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers (episko­­pos), to feed (verb form, poimen, shepherd, pastor) the church of God. This passage ties in the overseer function and the pastor or shepherd function to the elders. The context also includes the teaching and rebuking functions mentioned in the first chapter of Titus.

A similar passage is I Pet. 5. Here we see Peter exhorting the elders of a number of churches that resulted from the dispersion (1:1; 5:1). In verse 2 he tells them to “feed” the flock of God. “Feed” here is “poimen” the verb form of “shepherd,” taking the “oversight” (participle form of episkopos) thereof. Again we see the words and functions assumed to be that of the elder.  Verse 4 speaks of Jesus, the chief Shepherd (poimen with a prefix) and I Pet. 2:25 speaks of Jesus as the Shepherd (poimen) and Bishop (episkopos) of our souls.

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