Fred E. Dennis
In the New Testament we read about elders and deacons for local congregations (Phil. 1: 1). In the absence of qualified elders, in our day in many places a new set of "officers" has arisen. Generally they are known as "leaders". Of course they know and the church knows they do not have the qualifications of elders or they would have been selected and appointed to the eldership. They are to "rule" until such a time as the church may have qualified men for the eldership. The same numbers of verses are devoted in the New Testament to this unscriptural setup as are given to the use of an organ or piano in Christian worship! There is just as much Bible authority for the one as there is for the other, and that is absolutely none.
It seems strange that brethren who would not tolerate for one minute the introduction of instrumental music into the worship will allow such a system to take over with scarcely a dissenting voice. And it is just as strange that brethren who are fairly well informed in other things will allow themselves to become parties to such an unscriptural procedure.
It is a burning shame that congregations, which have been in existence for many years have not developed men who are scripturally qualified for the eldership. Brethren should be ambitious to become God-made elders, the same as others who are ambitious to become preachers. The qualifications and duties are plainly set forth in God's holy book.
In the absence of qualified material for elders, brethren will try to justify the office of "leaders", and will go along for years with this farce. I am not saying that we cannot have churches without elders, but we should aim to grow them just as soon as possible. Nothing is ever gained by flaunting the law of God. Until such a time as a church has qualified men for the eldership, the brethren of the church should run the local business of that church as a body of disciples. Of course, some will have a little more initiative and ability than others, but that does not mean that men lacking the qualifications of elders should be put in the "lead" of an unscriptural setup. Men who can never qualify as elders are being made "leaders". Brethren, such things ought not so to be.
There is another practice among us that should be stopped. It never should have begun. Many brethren have the idea that the elders are in charge of the spiritual affairs of the church, and that the deacons have charge of the material affairs. This is not a Bible idea. Many of the deacons are getting the idea that they are rulers of the flock along with the elders. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Maybe elders have been to blame for this condition. Maybe they have given these deacons the idea that they are also overseers of the flock. In "officers meetings" these deacons sit in and their word has equal weight with that of the elders. In some causes they outnumber the elders and they can "out vote" them. And if the "vote" is a tie, maybe the preacher can break the tie!
Here is a good quotation: "When money was raised for relief, it was sent to the elders. Some say that elders have charge of spiritual affairs of the church, but the deacons have charge of material affairs. The Bible makes no such distinction. The elders are the overseers of the church, and all the activities thereof. The deacons serve under the oversight of the elders. The money was turned over to the elders, and under their supervision deacons made the distribution. Churches today will do well to get back to the New Testament way of letting elders be overseers of the church, and deacons carrying out the decisions of elders. Trouble has come where deacons have as much voice in church affairs as elders" ("Annual Lesson Commentary- 1950).
Yes, it would be well to go back to the New Testament way in a lot of things. It would be well for elders to know that they are elders over one congregation. They are not overseers over other congregations. The picture is not changed if that other congregation is in the next township, the next state, or the next nation. Let the preacher go into the field and established the work. Let the congregations send direct to him for his support. If one congregation cannot support him then others can send to him (Phil. 4:15-17).
Some seem to think this is not enough machinery to get the work done. The Lord thought it was enough. The inspired Paul thought it was enough. Maybe the very simplicity of the Lord's way causes us to overlook it. Just select the right man or men to send into the field, and then let them communicate directly with the church or churches supporting them. Some will say the preacher might be over supported in such a setup. If we have no more confidence in the preacher we are supporting then that, we should not be supporting him. The preacher is to be one who is faithful. With strict economy he will account to the brethren regarding his expenses. He will not live in the lap of luxury, but he will be careful. He will not be ashamed or afraid to tell the brethren how much his living expenses are, what it takes to provide a meeting place, etc. When more than the required amount is coming to him it will not be hard for him to tell the brethren about that.
This New Testament arrangement keeps the worker in the field in direct contact with the ones who are supporting him. They know just what is being done and just what the money, which is being contributed, is being used for. This is God's way of doing the work. It works. All is open and above board and no criticisms can be made.
Brethren, let us be satisfied with the very simplicity of the Lord's way of doing things. Let us not depart from the plans that have been devised by the God of heaven. Innovations come gradually. Men depart from the truth in one thing and there is no stopping place. We see where digression has taken the digressive Christian Church. They started out with dissatisfaction regarding the Lord's way of doing missionary work and with the Lord's way of conducting the worship. It was just too simple. One thing has brought on another until now they are a full-fledged denomination and are trying to outsectarianize the sectarians.
In the very little city where I am now in a meeting the sectarians are in the midst of their "holy (unholy) week" activities. The Digressives are leading the parade. They are in the middle of the muddle. The speaker for the week is a Methodist "bishop". Imagine so-called disciples of Christ assembling to hear an alien sinner preach the gospel! Yes, a Methodist bishop is just another alien sinner. He is not a member of the church you read about in the New Testament. He is not a Christian.
Brethren, may God help us to be careful. Let us love as brethren. Let us contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Truth Magazine VII: 4, pp. 7-8