By R.J. Evans
Much is said in the Word of God, either directly or indirectly, about Christians being knit together. The apostle Paul told the Colossian brethren, “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love . . . and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col. 2:2,19). A congregation of the Lord should consist of members knit together in the common bond of love and truth, working in harmony together, seeking to build up the cause of Christ. In order for a congregation to be “knit together in love, ” various essential characteristics must be prevalent. Several of these which come to mind at the moment are as follows:
1. The elders must be working together among themselves. In other words, there must be a harmonious relationship among them all. Elders must be communicating with each other. They should be meeting together often, discussing and planning so that they can effectively carry out the important work which has been entrusted to them. The responsibility of overseeing the total work of the local church belongs to the elders. But too often, and in too many churches, elders are doing primarily deacon’s work and the actual work ,of the elders is being left undone and wanting. However, when the work of “serving tables” is given over to the deacons, the elders can then fully concentrate on the spiritual needs of the local church.
In order for elders to truly work together, they all must have a genuine love for the truth. They are bound by the pattern for the church and its work found in the New Testament. They are not at liberty to do as they please (2 Jn. 9). God’s truth and the spiritual good of the local church must at all times have priority over self-will and personal preferences.
Also, in maintaining a spirit of “togetherness” among the elders, there must exist the right attitude and proper respect one for another at all times. This may sometimes involve overlooking such things as minor personality differences, little idiosyncrasies, etc.
But most importantly, elders must be fully qualified for their office. They must not meet some or most of the qualifications – they must meet them all (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1)! Now some may be wider in scope in meeting these qualifications than others. For example, one elder may be able to teach in a public manner more effectively than another. But each elder still must meet every qualification! A congregation is headed for disaster when elders are not qualified and/or if they are not working together. Furthermore, if elders are not “working together” among themselves, there is little hope for the congregation of which they are overseeing to accomplish much “working together.” If, perhaps the congregation does, it is in spite of the elders – not because of them. “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mk. 3:25).
2. The congregation and the elders must be communicating with one another. This is a two-way street. The elders have a responsibility toward the congregation; the congregation has a responsibility toward the elders. The elders are required to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3), take the oversight (1 Pet. 5:2), take heed to the flock (Acts 20:28), rule well (1 Tim. 5:17), feed the flock (Acts 20:28), and watch for souls (Heb. 13:17). The congregation must know the elders (1 Thess. 5:12), esteem the elders (1 Thess. 5:13), be submissive to the elders (Heb. 13:17), be at peace with one another (1 Thess. 5:13), obey the elders (Heb. 13:17), remember and imitate the elders (Heb. 13:7), and call the elders when in need (Jas. 5:14).
We hear on every hand about the failure to communicate – in government, in the home, in business, and in the Lord’s church. When a congregation is plagued with a communication gap between the elders and members there can be no progress. An atmosphere must prevail where the members feel free to communicate with the elders. Yes, the elders make the final decisions, but avenues of communication need to be open so that the members have opportunities to offer suggestions, ask questions, etc. This, in turn, affords the elders an opportunity to “feel the pulse of the brethren.” The elders must make sure that the congregation is well informed as to what is expected of them and as to what is going on. Elders must guard against leading the members into believing that their work and their decisions are “deep dark secrets.” Effective ways and means must be utilized so that the elders can inform the congregation of their decisions and go over with them the details of their decisions and plans. Each local situation determines what would be the most expedient in accomplishing the aforementioned. Open communication between the congregation and the elders is imperative!
3. Everyone must have a desire to please God, rather than self. Often, in order for the “knit together” atmosphere to prevail, personal preferences and matters of opinion must be kept to ourselves. Where opinionism, radicalism and hobbyism. reign – chaos, confusion, strife and contention results.
A deep abiding love for truth is essential to the genuine spiritual growth of any congregation. Where there is not a sincere desire to please God, we then become susceptible and vulnerable to many evil consequences. When we love not the truth, we can be deceived by unrighteouness (2 Thess. 2:10); we are apt to turn our ears away from hearing the truth (2 Tim. 4:4); we may resist the truth (2 Tim. 3:8); we may speak evil of the truth (2 Pet. 2:2); we may hinder others from obeying the truth (Gal. 5;7); and, last but not least, if we have not a desire for and love for God and his truth, we shall be eternally lost. “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10).
4. Untimely talk and gossip must be eliminated. What has occurred and has been settled in a congregation rive, ten or fifteen years ago is gone, past and should be forgotten. Con tinually bringing up old incidents and problems contributes very little to the up-building of a local church. In fact, it will keep the morale of a congregation at a low ebb, incessantly. Accomplishments which may have taken years of hard work to build up, can be rapidly torn down by a few destructive tongues. Untimely, damaging talk and character assassinations destroy churches! Also, if and when there are occasions to discuss problems and grievances, they must be discussed in a constructive manner, not a destructive one!
Most of the problems which arise among us on a local level usually have their beginning between two individuals. They often become “congregational” problems, prematurely and unnecessarily, because someone has done too much talking. This should not be! We must be guided in these matters strictly by the principles and commands which are set forth in Matthew 18:15-17.
If there is an accusation against an elder, it too, must be handled correctly and scripturally. The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim. 5:19-20).
I once heard a bit of advice that I would like to share with you at this point: “We should say nothing about others that we would be unwilling to write out and sign.”
5. There must be a willingness to work on the part of all. We are not working “together” when only two or three are doing all the work. “There is nothing for me to do” is often heard, but it just will not stand. Surely, in the place where you worship, you can visit others, conduct home Bible classes, invite your neighbors to services, and a host of other things. In any local church, there is so much we all can do!
A working congregation is a happy congregation; a happy congregation is a working congregation! Are we working? Are we happy? Are we “knit together in love”?
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 2, pp. 41-42
January 19, 1989