One of the real problems confronting the church today is the legions of unqualified elders. Men who have little desire to perform the work of elders but tenaciously cling to the right to exercise the authority of elders without New Testament qualifications to do either has been productive of much evil in the Lord's church. This is not an attack upon the many good elders over the country who are qualified and are admirably serving the Lord in this capacity while keenly conscious of their own unworthiness and mindful of their own shortcomings. The unqualified man is seldom aware of either.
The blame for the spiritual perilous times in which we are living and the divided condition of the Lord's people can be laid squarely at the door of unqualified elderships. We can think of several preachers right here in the city of Dallas today who a few years ago were unafraid to speak out on any issue affecting the church but now remain close-mouthed. Why ? The), have sacrificed Scripture for security and a good conscience for political expediency. What could have caused them to lynch their consciences and deflect from truth ? A preacher who has prepared himself to do nothing but preach the gospel and whose support comes entirely from the church is tinder tremendous pressure when faced with the possibility of being cast out into a world in which he must struggle to feed his children from labors in fields in which he is unprepared to serve. As a result, many have succumbed to the demands of an unqualified eldership more interested in the applause of the populace than in pleasing the Lord.
In the past few years we, have seen conditions in the church grow steadily worse while the members were being pushed ever closer to the idea of the infallibility of the elders. Efforts are being made to create the impression that elders are little replicas of God and as such are above question when reaching decisions affecting the church. A case in point is contained in the following church bulletin which we received (a church of Christ, that is):
It will take the interested, energetic, cooperative work of us all to accomplish the task set out before us by the elders. We are all needed. Let us put behind us all doubts, all fears, and all objections, and let us labor with a will. Should you think that you can't do this, please consider the following analogy: "When a duly appointed leader in the army gives a soldier an order, that soldier must carry out that order to the best of his ability, or he will be called on to explain and account of his actions before the judgment seat of a court martial. If the order was wrong and shouldn't have been given, the one giving it will have to give the account, not the soldier." If the elders direct the soldiers in the army of the Lord to do something; those under their submission must do the best they can or give an account to the Lord someday. If the thing directed to be done is not right, then the elders will have to give account, not U.
It would be difficult to find a larger cobblestone of error in the paved pathway to perdition than that embodied I n the above article* Such a dangerous doctrine could easily destroy the church in less than one generation if taken seriously by the members, seeing that we already have a good head start with the present crop of unqualified elders. just imagine, if you can, the elders telling the members to do something wrong and the members having to "give an account to the Lord someday" for riot having done the wrong. According to this, it is quite possible that a Christian might be sent to torment for not doing wrong and be saved for not doing right. Some judgment! With that element of human weakness in us all that looks for an opportunity to (4passthe-buck," it is quite easy to sell people on the idea that they are not to blame, especially when others request the right to assume all responsibility. Hence the first step toward elder-infallibility is to convince the members that only the elders are held accountable for any wrong in which the church might engage. Many members arc perfectly willing for the elders to suffer such consequences, therefore due to a human weakness, this first hurdle is easily surmounted. After being sold on the idea that only the elders stand condemned for wrongs in which the church engages if the members are doing what the elders tell them to do, the next step is this, "But-the elders are not going to tell you to do something that is wrong." So we have come to the double-headed monster, member-irresponsibility and elder-infallibility, in two short steps, and the Pope of Rome never claimed more for himself!
We wonder if this member-irresponsibility applies only to members of the church of Christ or could it be enlarged to cover the members of the denominations as well? If so, then good, well-meaning people from every church will be saved, only their leaders will go to torment. Could it be that the subscribers to this " member-irresponsibility" theory never read what Jesus said about the "blind leading the blind and both falling into the pit?" (Matt. 15:14). The advocates of this theory say, "No, just the blind leaders will fall into the pit." Jesus said both shall fall. The fact that the blind (lid not know his leader was blind did not prevent his falling nor did it soften the pain. Peter warned against false teachers that bring in "destructive heresies" and said "many shall follow their lascivious doings" (2 Pet. 2:1-3). Are leaders immune to bringing in these "destructive heresies?" Certainly not, for Paul told the elders at Ephesus that "from among themselves there would arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Shall we conclude that those led away are guiltless while those who led them stand condemned ?
The apostle John admonished, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God; because many false teachers (prophets) are going out into the world" (I John 4:1). Just what difference would it make whether one proved them or not if those following the false prophets are not responsible for the error in which they engage-only the leaders? It is unthinkable that one could reason that elders who teach destructive heresies stand condemned for teaching it but those taught are blessed for embracing it. As long as one remained a misdirected follower of the elders, he would be guiltless of any unscriptural order executed, but if he ever became a leader instead of a follower, then he would stand condemned. Hence, one could be blessed for believing and practicing a thing that he would be condemned for leading others to believe and practice. Some religion!
Those who have subscribed to the idea that elders cannot be wrong should look the second time at Paul's instruction to Timothy in regard to his relationship to elders when he said, "Them that sin reprove in the sight of all, that the rest also may be in fear" ( I Tim. 5 :20). And those who feel that they can follow the erroneous direction of elders without condemnation should look at Acts 5:29 where it is said, "We ought to obey God rather than men."
Truth Magazine IV:10, 237-238