August 22, 2017

THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION

By Larry Ray Hafley

QUESTION:

From Tennessee: "man a man scripturally continue as an elder of a congregation if he works a job that allows him to only be at one service for the whole week?"

REPLY:

Perhaps our querist has a definite case in mind. The answer to his question depends on: (1) The teaching of Scripture; (2) The local church's order and operation; (3) The eldership involved; (4) The specific elder himself. There are numerous variables involved in the question which are not revealed and consequently are unknown. These unknown quantities directly affect the answer that should be given in a specific circumstance. However, a general response, based on scriptural principles, may help our inquirer to make application to a particular situation.

The Teaching Of Scripture

Do the qualifications or the duties of an elder demand that he be at every service of the church? If so, the question posed is closed.

1) The Qualifications: An elder must rule "well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)" (1 Tim. 3:4,5). This must be true of each elder. Can a man rule well his own house and yet be away ten out of every twenty four hours? Yes, for most men are employed that much nearly every day. Still, the home functions under their care because they have "an help meet," a wife, who also serves as part of the "team" to provide guidance (1 Tim. 5:14; Titus 2:3-5). Judgment in each family must be used to regulate how much a man may be gone, but the point is established that one need not be home every hour or every day in order to "take care" of his family. Is not the same thing true with respect to the assemblies of the church?

2) The Duties: An elder is to shepherd, to feed, or pastor the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Certainly, a shepherd cannot be away all the time and be faithful to his charge to shepherd the flock. But let us not assume that shepherding the flock is done only when the church is assembled. Elders are to feed the flock every day, not just when it is assembled. If an elder attends one service per week, shall we say this is the only time he may feed the flock? If he is what he ought to be, it is not. If one is an elder only when the church assembles, does the church cease to be God's flock when it is not gathered together (Cf. Acts 8:1; 9:31; 14:27)? An elder should be able to perform his duties and fulfill his obligations as an overseer even if he cannot be present at every service.

The Church's Order And Operation

Churches are like other communities. Some are shoddily tended and are merely "going through the motions" of devotion. Others are effective and efficient in their love and labor in the Lord. If a church is what it should be, is there any reason why all of the elders should be required to be present at every assembly? If the reason for one's absence is legitimate, a group of disciples should be able to meet and the elders should be able to tackle their tasks without hindrance.

There may be conditions within a congregation that would make it unwise, if not unscriptural, for an elder to be absent. A digressive element may need close scrutiny lest it sow its seeds of strife and its winds of doctrine. A majority of the flock may need diligent watching due to their susceptibility to error. H wolves are lurking about and there are weak sheep who may be devoured, then no elder may want to be away. Each local position must determine what is best in regard to the matters at hand.

The Eldership Involved

The elders are a pair, a team. They are to work in harness, in unison. An eldership that has communication within itself and with every member will have no difficulty if one elder is able to be present at only one assembly per week. Some elders are so ungodly and unable to work as the Lord would have them to do that it might be impossible for one to be away from the assemblies with any regularity at all. The yoking of an ox and an ass was forbidden in the Old Testament, but occasionally we find such an uneven yoking in elder, ships. When there is no kindly interdependence within the eldership, when the spirit of humility and brotherly cooperation is missing, it is impossible for one to be absent with any frequency.

The Specific Eider Himself

The elder who can only be present at one service per week--does he labor in the word and doctrine; does he feed the flock at times other than in the assemblies; does he associate and communicate with the brethren day by day; does he work with the elders and keep abreast of events he may miss by his absence? If so, why should it be thought impossible for him to serve as an elder?

Conclusion: Each local church and the elders included should be able to judge its own condition and chart its own course concerning this question. Undermining, termite type tactics by the members and by the elders will work havoc, bring shame to the gospel, and quench the influence of the Lord's people. Let all things be done in decency, charity, and harmony.

Truth Magazine XIX: 22, p. 338
April 10, 1975

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