By Raymond Harris
Recently the Midtown church of Christ received, through the mail, a copy of The Lipscomb News. This is a tabloid size newspaper published bi-monthly by David Lipscomb college of Nashville, Tennessee.
On the back of the paper is a half page article entitled “First Elders’ Conference Meets Goals.” The article reports the details of the “Conference” held October 8, 1983 on the Lipscomb campus. The details of this brazen affair are quite shocking.
The New Testament reveals that churches of Christ were composed of elders, deacons, evangelist and members (Phil. 1:1; Eph. 4:11). Further we learn that each church was to have a plurality of Elders, whose authority and oversight was limited to one congregation (Acts 14:23; 20:7; 1 Pet. 5:14).
Hence, New Testament congregations were all independent, self-governing and equal. The New Testament authorizes no organization larger or smaller than the local congregation. Local churches were to be self-perpetuating. And, they were governed and their work limited by the teaching of Jesus and His inspired Apostles.
The New Testament clearly sets forth the qualifications and work of elders. The men first qualify themselves and then when they are appointed they are all equal in authority and responsibility. The New Testament no where authorizes one elder or eldership to have pre-eminence or authority over another. Elders have authority and responsibility only in the congregation where they have been selected and appointed.
The first apostasy (in the second century A.D.) in the church involved a violation of God’s pattern in regard to local church organization and the authority and work of Elders. Soon after the death of the Apostles, uninspired men began exalting one Elder above the others, reserving for that elder alone the title “bishop.” From this evolved the, practice of associating several congregations together into districts called a “Diocese. ” Then the bishops from several districts would assemble from time to time to discuss mutual current problems. By the third century A.D., these meetings included bishops from scores of districts and human rules and doctrinal statements were formulated. These joint pronouncements soon were known as church creeds and the foundation for Catholicism was in place.
Please note the striking parallel between the beginning of apostacy as described above and the unscriptural conference held on the Lipscomb campus! The news account describes the gathering together of forty-eight elders from “middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky.” This gathering is described as “The First Elders Conference.” And to make matters worse the conference was called by a college (a secular institution) that has no business meddling into the affairs of the church. The paper states that the college administration seeks to build “stronger and stronger ties with the brotherhood.” Hence, they are planning for the “Elder Conference” to be an “annual” event with workshops and training sessions to be held as often as opportunities present themselves.
The arrogance of the college is seen in their statement that “the Elders Conference is an outgrowth of a desire at Lipscomb to help identify the needs of elders and develop means of meeting those needs.” Frankly the .”needs” of elders are none of Lipscomb’s business; and if elders have needs or problems, elders can solve their own problems by a study of God’s word. Are Professors of Religious Education at Lipscomb wiser and better informed that the inspired writers of the New Testament? Their arrogant highmindedness is further seen as they state their “goal” was to “try some group training things we had designed ourselves. . . .” We can see that in truth Lipscomb College would like to dominate the thinking of elders far and wide as they encourage the elders who attended the conference to “take the training exercises back to their areas of residence and share them with other elders.”
The news release informs us that a group of twelve elders had a pre-conference meeting to deal with things they most needed. From that meeting three earth shattering conclusions were reached.
1. Elders need to be shepherds rather than administrators.
2. Elders need to plan the work better and delegate authority to others to carry out the plans.
3. The key role of a shepherd is that of admonishing, encouraging or exhorting.
As I understand the New Testament, elders are overseers, superintendents or -rulers. To delegate such authority to others is to abdicate God given responsibility.
One elder present said the conference “reminded the elders of their responsibilities and gave them some new ideas.” Personally I would hate to be in a church where elders have forgotten their responsibility in being, servants of God and perpetuating the cause of Christ. I get the impression that this was a gathering of false elders who are not qualified for the office; men who do not have an understanding of the work of an elder.
Throughout the article statements are made that indicate a shameful disregard for God’s word. Both the representatives of the school and the “Elders” speak of “Our goal,” “things we had designed for ourselves,” “we’re planning,” “what we want to do,” “we decided,” “I think,” “we believe.” Finally, the most incriminating statement of all is: “All of the ability and knowledge of how to help one another grow is within the hundreds of elders in this area . . . .” Just think about that! The ability and knowledge to make them better elders is within themselvesl They will meet, meditate, ponder and share their thoughts and from this meager storehouse of human wisdom; and with the guidance of the Lipscomb faculty, they will pull themselves up by their own boot straps.
Who can believe that these Ecclesiastical Conferences with the inbreeding and cross-breeding of thoughts of misguided, unqualified elders will lead to a grand perpetuation of the cause of Christ. One verse from Paul not only exposes the sinfulness of these conferences, but, also points elders to the answers of all possible problems. Consider Colossians 3:17: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of (by the authority of, R.E.H.) the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the father by him.”
Faithful elders of God’s people do not need Lipscomb College or Ecclesiastical Conferences to guide them in the grand work of overseeing a flock of God’s people. Rather, they need to humbly and sincerely search God’s word for understanding and guidance to successfully accomplish the purposes of the Almighty.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 4, pp. 100, 104, 119
February 16, 1984