By Robert Wayne LaCoste
No one has more respect for the office of an elder as described by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, than I do. And while there are many concrete “rights” elders have allowances to exercise over a local church, there are some areas where they have no right to act or exercise authority as an elder.
There are those who feel an elder has really no authority at all, except only “by example.” Such folks need to examine such passages as Hebrews 13:17 and explain to us such key terms as “rule, over and obey.” Yes, elders have the “power or right to act” (one definition of authority) in many areas, but our consideration is where they do not have authority. Here are some areas in which elders have no authority.
Elders of a local church do not have authority to tell any member what to read, not to read, who to talk to or who not to talk to. God tells us: ” . . . be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Elders of congregations who support unscriptural innovations have encouraged their members not to “talk to or read anything” from those brethren who oppose these things. These men are out of line. This reminds me of those men in Acts 4 and 5 who insisted that the apostles keep silent on teaching in. the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18; 5:28). These men had no authority or right to tell the apostles that. These men had surpassed the bounds of limits of their authority.
When any man tells you that you cannot discuss spiritual matters with someone else, said persons need to be informed that this restriction is more than the First and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution permit which guarantee that liberty. Peter’s response was plain enough, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard . . . ” – (Acts 4:20) and “We ought to obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
When any man tries to stifle open discussion of the truth, he brands himself as an enemy of truth. God commands, “Contend earnestly . . . .” (Jude 3)
In Relationship To Preaching
Elders of a local church surely have every right to request and even insist that a certain biblical doctrine be preached. A man who preaches should surely comply with their request, as long again, as their request is in harmony with Divine Writ. However, elders do not have a right to tell a preacher not to preach on a matter which is clearly God’s Word. Not admittedly, it could very well be that preaching a certain matter at a certain inappropriate time could do more harm than good. Elders surely have the right to make judgments in those area. But elders do not have the right to tell a man not to preach on a matter which God quite obviously desires to be taught. Many a gospel preacher has gotten into “hot water” because he preached much to the disapproval of certain elders. Teaching on such matters as church discipline, qualifications of elders, marriage and divorce, etc. Paul said that he had not failed to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He later told Timothy to “preach the word, be instant in season and out of season . . . ” (2 Tim. 4:2). Preachers are not employed by a group of elders. Gospel preachers labor for the Lord and merely labor with elders. Elders need to be reminded that they too are workers for the Lord and must give answer to the “chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:2) some day.
Over More Than The Local Church
A day does not go by that new “brotherhood projects” are noticed in the making. Elders are now over everything from benevolent societies to other congregations.
One can search the law of Christ from one end to the other and find that elders have only authorization from God to be over one organization. In one’s search in the New Testament, one also finds that there is only one organization through which God works in the first place – the local church. 1 Peter 5:2 clearly limits the scope of the territory over which elders may rule to “the flock of God which is among you.” When men usurp God’s standard and place,, themselves over more than God intended, they are in essence telling God that He did not give them leadership over enough. Such human wisdom and greed for preeminence is the very thing God has sought to avoid through His Divine arrangement of limiting who and what elders may “have the rule over” (Heb. 13:17).
A Christian’s Personal Business
The responsibility of elders is to spiritually feed and lead God’s people. It is not their business to meddle in the personal lives of members, as long as saints are not in sin. What a Christian’s recreation, job, hobbies etc. are should not i be the concern of others. When, however, any action appears to be jeopardizing the soul of a Christian, it is then their concern. That is the concern of every Christian who loves and seeks the best for his brethren.
This list is by no means final. There are other areas, without a doubt, where elders simply do not have the oversight or power to see or get into. Godly elders will have enough to do, without creating things to do as they go along.
We are grateful to God for His wisdom and planning in giving us men who spiritually are seeking the well being of many. But where there are the best laid plans, there always seems to be someone abusing them. May God bless those men who “rule well” (1 Tim. 5:17) and may we always submit to them when they do.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 5, pp. 143-144
March 1, 1984