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Choosing a Pastor

Church Leadership in the New Testament, Part 12

Responsibilities of an Elder

An understanding of the qualifications that God requires of an elder will help us to appreciate his responsibilities. One could not possibly fulfill these responsibilities without a thorough preparation and maturing which requires time to attain.

The obligations of the office can be placed under two main headings; teaching and ruling (Titus 1:9; I Tim. 5:17).


Titus 1:9-14, tells us that the elder should be, “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For their are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. ...Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they be sound in the faith;...

Sound doctrine, healthy teaching.

Exhort, “parakaleo, ” to comfort, console, beseech. The exhorting may not necessarily seem comforting at the time. The noun form of the word (Comfort­er, “paracletos, ”) is used of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-19; 16:7-11). The Holy Spirit is the Great Comforter but as he rebukes us in love He can also be a Great Discomforter (Heb. 12:11).

Filthy lucre, base or dishonorable gain, not necessarily financial, same as I Tim. 3:3 and I Peter 5:2.

Convince, convict, rebuke, reprove. Same word as II Tim. 3:16, God’s word is profitable for “reproof,” and John 16:8, The Holy Spirit will “reprove” the world of sin. Also used in Titus 1:13, “Wherefore rebuke them sharply.”

Gainsayers, opposers, those who speak against God’s truth.

Paul tells Timothy (an active worker and possibly an elder in the early church) in his parting words to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:2).

Peter tells the elders in I Peter 5:1-4, to “...Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage but being ensamples to the flock....”

We see from the above verses that the teaching function of an elder can be discharged in the following ways:

Exhorting — comforting, consoling, etc. by sound doctrine.

Rebuking — combating error that is harmful to the body of Christ.

Preaching — proclaiming God’s word.

By example — Providing a pattern for others to follow by a Godly life-style.

Sound or healthy doctrine is essential if one is to perform the above tasks. What is sound doctrine? Jude 3, gives us a pointed command concerning our stand for truth. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

 Many answers are given as to what is this faith that we “should earnestly contend for.” The response furnished is frequently dependent upon one’s doctrinal bias or pet dogmas. May I suggest that the answer is found in the context? Verse 4, speaks of those deceivers who were “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to earnestly contend for the proper application of the grace of God and we are not to deny that Jesus is God.

 These are two areas of importance in which the cults are notoriously in error; the grace of God and the Lordship of Christ. More insidious is the fact that even some groups which we would call “fundamental” lapse into similar error. Each of these topics seems to carry two unhealthy extremes.

The “Grace” Error—Saved By Faith Plus Works:

The vast majority of people to whom I have witnessed had been blinded by a false gospel, one in which the grace of God was mutilated. The grace-plus-works message for salvation sounds appealing but it is lethal. The “gospel” message that Satan loves is one that is close enough to the truth to sound good but is actually error and will not save. Satan’s ministers are ministers of righteousness, man’s righteousness in place of God’s (II Cor. 11:3, 13-15).

 Matthew 7:21-23 speaks of those who professed God, prophesied in God’s name, cast out demons, and had done many wonderful works (translated “miracles” in I Cor. 12:28,29). They had fallen for a false gospel. They had never trusted in Jesus. His response to them was “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” This passage should also alert us to the danger of basing our doctrine upon miracles. Just because something is attractive, sounds good, is powerful, or even if it works, does not mean it is of God. Satan is a liar and deceiver (John 8:44). We must never fall into the trap of judging God’s word by our experience. We should always judge our experience and our doctrine by God’s unchanging truth.

 We are saved by grace through faith and not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works (Eph. 2:8, 9). We cannot be saved by a mixture of faith-plus-works (Rom. 11:6). God pronounces a curse upon those who teach a false gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). Let us always stand for the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

Many teachers who proclaim the “faith-plus-works” message as a requirement for salvation legitimately lament the sad state of life of the average believer. This also grieves God who bought us and paid for us (Eph. 4:30; I Cor 6:19, 20). Front-loading the Gospel by adding works to faith as a requirement for salvation, and thus polluting the Gospel, is not the cure. Back-loading the Gospel by adding the requirement for a certain pattern of good works or faithfulness after faith in order to be stay saved or to prove one's salvation also is not the cure.

The answer to error is not more error. The answer is God’s truth (II Tim. 3:16, 17; Titus 2:11,12). Two commonly-neglected doctrines of importance in this area are the teachings of God’s chastening of His children and of the Judgment Seat of Christ, before which all believers will stand to determine their rewards for service, not their destination. That has already been determined (Heb. 12:5-11; II Cor 5:10; I Cor 3:11-15).

The “Grace” Error—Grace Means, “Live As You Please”:

Are we surprised that Satan, the master counterfeiter and deceiver, peddles a message of good works for salvation. When a man finally sees through that error and is “saved by grace through faith, …not of works (Eph. 2:8,9), neither Satan nor any other power is strong enough to make God renege on His word and lose that soul. (John 6:37, 39; 10:28).

The Devil’s tactics then change. Eternal salvation cannot be lost, but the expected reproduction process can be clogged to a standstill. Two major areas in which he accomplishes this feat are: 1. By encouraging the believer to propagate the “grace-plus-works” message that confuses. 2. The other major area is to encourage the believer to become involved in sin or even in other “good” priorities (Heb. 12:1) so that he does not effectively serve God. That may be why the Bible is replete with commands for the person who has already believed and is eternally secure. Obedience does not necessarily become automatic after salvation. We must choose to obey God.

A reading of I Corinthians should impress us with a selfish bunch of believers who were living carnal and disobedient lives. Paul repeatedly warns them to judge and to forsake their sins but never implies that they are not eternally saved or had lost their salvation.

After his brief but magnificent passage on God’s grace (Rom. 5), Paul answers, once for all, the question, “…Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid…” Rom. 6:1, 2). That would certainly be “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.” We are not only “saved by grace” (Eph 2:8, 9), but we are taught by grace to live the proper kind of life (Titus 2: 11-13).

We have great liberty in Christ. It is not license to sin. It is freedom to serve. Let us use this liberty to His Glory.

For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” I Cor. 8,9).

The “Lordship” error—“Jesus Lord Must Be Of Your Life In Order To Be Saved”:

This error is just another “spiritual-sounding” form of “faith-plus-works for salvation.” Should a believer make Jesus “Lord of his life?” There is no doubt about it. We, as Christians are commanded to yield our all to Him. Do all Christians do it? No, read I Corinthians again. If we as believers experience difficulty doing it with the Holy Spirit’s power, how can we expect an unregenerate person to do it on his own? We are saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, not by becoming a mature and obedient believer before we have been spiritually born. The Bible does not teach “Lordship Salvation.” It commands Lordship Christian living of the believer.

This is Galatianism in another dress and is still error. Lordship salvation is one of Satan’s counterfeits for salvation. Lordship Christian living is God’s commands for the believer. The test of the true gospel is grace (Gal. 1:6-9). A message that detracts from this grace is a perverted message.

The “Lordship” error—“Jesus Really Is Not God”

Many of the cults err in that they say that Jesus is not God. The terminology often used is misleading. For example, the Watchtower adherents will agree that Jesus is God. What do they mean by that? He was just “a god,” but then, so are you and I. He was less that the “Almighty” God. That is blasphemy. We must believe on the name of the Son of God in order to know that we have eternal life (I John 5:13). His name means something. The name “Jesus” comes from two Hebrew words which mean “Jehovah is Salvation.” Jesus claimed equality with the Father (John 10:30; 8:58). If Jesus is not God Almighty as He claimed and proved, then we do not have salvation by trusting in Him. He could not be a lesser god as some claim. He would be a liar and an impostor.


I Tim. 5:17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.”

The word “rule” here is the same word as used in the requirement of the elder to “rule” well his own house (I Tim 3;4,5) It means to “preside over, to superintend.” It does not mean to be a tyrant or a dictator. It also does not mean that decisions are always made without input and counsel from the other believers.

The elders are accountable for promoting healthy doctrine and for the welfare of the flock of God. The word “bishop” used interchangeably with elder means “overseer.” He must oversee the flock and make vital decisions which affect them. He must combat error in order to protect and nurture them in their growth.

 The word “pastor” is also used interchangeably with elder. It means “shepherd.” The pastor is to shepherd the flock. He must lead them in areas that promote their well-being, spiritual growth, and reproduction. These activities all require the necessity to make authoritative decisions. These men are given by God to the church “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ... (Eph. 4:11-16).

This leads us to the conclusion that the elder should have more authority in the local church than is usually permitted. Is this healthy? Yes, but only when it is done God’s way. Two basic suggestions are: One, do not appoint an elder who does not fulfill the Biblical requirements of an elder, and two; More than one elder is needed to maintain checks and balances, and to have a balance of gifts, abilities, insights, etc.

 The church is God’s plan for this age. We are born into the universal church (the body of Christ) by faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:26; John 3:5). We are told to fellowship with other believers (Heb. 10:25). This, no doubt, assumes that some of this fellowship will involve service in a local assembly. The closer we can come to God’s way of running the local church, the more effective we will be in carrying out His commission of Matt. 28:19-20.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

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