By Roy E. Cogdill
In our last article, we emphasized the Lord’s plan for the government of the church by the appointment of qualified men as elders, bishops, or pastors over the local church. The divine plan is a plurality of these in every church. They have the “rule” of the church committed into their hands by the Holy Spirit. It must not be done by their own arbitrary will, or be lording it over the church, but God has committed to them the “oversight” of the flock and charged them with the responsibility of directing its affairs in harmony with His will. We have suggested that it takes two things to make a man an elder in the church of the Lord, qualification and appointment. When men are thus selected, they are made “bishops” by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) just like men are made Christians and deacons or evangelists by the Holy Spirit; that is, through the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit through divine truth.
The Oversight of the Elders
When elders are thus selected and appointed, what do they oversee? Frequently we come across someone who has the idea that the spiritual affairs of the church are under the oversight of the elders but that the deacons are to have charge and the oversight of the material affairs of the congregation. This puts the facilities of the congregation in the way of physical equipment and the financial affairs of the congregation under the direction of the deacons according to this conception. Such an idea is not found in the word of God. The scriptural arrangement is for the elders to have the oversight of the church in all of its work and worship. There is no part of the church that has not been-given to the oversight of elders in the church. They may be made directly responsible for some work under the supervision of the elders, but it must be under the supervision of the elders. The preacher, as a special servant to do the work of preaching and teaching the Word of God, is in the same position as a deacon or any other member-under the supervision or oversight of the elders. Of course, all are responsible, first of all, to the Lord.
What then, do the elders oversee? First, they have the oversight of the members and must watch for their souls as they who shall give account unto God. Heb. 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
Second, they are responsible for the teaching and safeguarding of the truth. This is taught in the required qualifications for an elder; Titus 1:9, “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he maybe able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” Then again, Paul charged the Ephesian elders with the special responsibility of protecting the church — Christians for whom they were responsible — against false doctrine and every departure from the truth (Acts 20:28-32).
Third, they were to oversee the distribution of benevolence to the destitute of the congregation under their charge. When the disciples of Antioch sent relief to the “brethren in Judea,” they delivered it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul into the hands of the elders. This gave the elders the responsibility for its distribution or the oversight of its distribution. Of course, our institutional and liberal brethren like Guy Woods, Goodpasture, and others contend that the elders cannot oversee a program of “relieving” the destitute and that such work necessarily requires a “Board of Directors” or some other organization which they incorrectly and deceptively call a “home.” So they set themselves squarely against the divine pattern. In fact, they deny that there is one and thus invalidate, or attempt to do so, the plain teaching of the word of God. But do not other brethren do the same thing when they put the direction of the local church under a “committee,” “preacher rule” or in the hands of a majority? What would be the difference? If we can set aside the oversight of elders in “every church” in one matter, then by the same token we can set it aside in any other.
It is not difficult then, to see that the elders have the oversight of the work of the local church. To this fact we must add that the elders have the oversight of the edifying of the church. This is very definitely taught by Peter, in 1 Peter 5:1-4. They are to “shepherd,” “tend,” “feed,” or “pastor” the flock over which they are bishops. They are responsible, therefore, for the instruction, sustenance, growth, security and development of the flock under their care.
Moreover, the elders are to take the oversight of the disciplining of the flock. This is definitely implied in the demand that members must be subject to them, that they must watch for their souls, that they must be able to convince the gainsayer, etc. All of this has to do with preventive discipline and in the administering of corrective discipline, as at Corinth (I Cor. 5). The elders would be responsible for taking the lead and having the oversight of this public action of the church in withdrawing from the ungodly.
This gives, by scriptural authority, the oversight of the members, resources, worship, work, and discipline or fellowship of the local church into the hands of the elders of the local church. They can delegate none of these to another eldership for to do so would pervert the local nature of the organization God designed. By the same right that they could delegate one part of their oversight they would be able to delegate all of it and this would make elders or bishops over more than just one local church. It would likewise destroy the autonomy, equality, independence, and sufficiency of the local church. It takes “all of the parts to make a whole.” When any of the parts are given away, the “whole” does not remain-rather a “hole” is left and a deficiency created. Page the Fort Worth brain trust of Tom Warren and Roy Deaver! They must endorse this conclusion to their own argument!
The simple facts of New Testament Church organization are these: (1) Qualified men appointed as “elders” in every church. (2) These qualified men to have the “rule,” or have the oversight of all of the affairs of the local church. (3) Elders to have oversight of just one local church. (4) Elders to have the oversight of no other organization in their jurisdiction as elders. (5) Elders to have the oversight of no function that does not belong to the local church.
That is how simple God’s plan for the government of His Church is and He will countenance no perversion or corruption of it. To depart from it is to apostatize and denominationalize the church.
Truth Magazine XIX: 52, pp. 819-820
November 13, 1975