By Bill Robinson, Jr.
One does not tote a “party line” simply because his thinking conforms to long standing practice. One can read the Bible and study for himself what the Bible teaches on any given subject without regard to the “status quo” among brethren, and should so study. If that individual’s conclusion happens to be “what we have always done,” that does not make him a “Party man.” Perhaps those inclined to think so have never stopped to consider that “what we have always done” may be right in the matter. It is never right because “we have always done it.” However, if the Bible teaches something and that is why “we have always done it,” then it is always right!
It is unfortunate when the work of elders, for whatever reason, falls into disrepute. Abuses by the eldership are just as wrong as congregational abuse of the elders! Extremism is not the answer in combating either abuse. Patient study and a willingness to understand the Scriptures will provide the solution. Contending for either position because of “long standing practice” or personal disbelief of Scriptures because it does not “mesh with my think so’s” only serve to aggravate the problem.
The work of the elders seems to run afoul most often when the elders do not measure up to our own personal standard! The terms “shepherd” and “bishop” which are used to describe men working as elders (Acts 20:12-28) provide within themselves, a fair estimate of the general nature of such work. Both terms carry with them the idea of superintending, supervision, and guardianship. A shepherd supervises the feeding of the flock over which he has been given charge. A bishop oversees (superintends) the affairs and/or work of another. Inherent in both terms are provision, protection and guardianship (consult Vine, Thayer, etc.).
The act of supervising, superintending, and overseeing, which is to be done by elders, is limited to the flock which is among them (1 Pet. 5:1-3). It is further limited to the souls of the flock (Heb. 13:17). It is a spiritual provision and protection that encompasses their work. However, that does not preclude their use of judgment or physical means and resources to determine and ensure that protection and provision of the flock of which they have church. They could, in and of themselves, determine that a brother or sister was in need and thus use the resources of their oversight to relieve such a need. The brethren in Antioch “determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders . . .” (Acts 11:29-30). Why did they send it to the elders? We answer that question by asking another: who had the “oversight” of the brethren in Judea? The elders among them. What were the elders to do with it? They were to “exercise the oversight” of it and make provision for the needy “among them.” Did they have to ask the congregation how to use the relief they had received? If so, where is their oversight? The fact is, in and of themselves, the elders could determine that a brother or sister was in need and thus use the relief to provide and protect such an one. That is “exercising the oversight.”
I am opposed to abuses of divine revelation wherever they may be found and without regard for whoever may be guilty! As to specific instructions and/or examples regarding the methodology employed by First Century elderships to arrive at various decisions confronting them, we are limited. What examples (i.e., Acts 11:29-30) and subsequent general information we do have regarding such matters are necessarily implied by the specific instructions laid down by the Holy Spirit pertaining to the work of elders (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3; 1 Tim. 3:1ff; Tit. 1:5ff, etc.). We cannot ignore plain Bible passages to deny the oversight encompassed in the work of elders.
The oversight of elders is to be exercised with due consideration of the congregation’s right and need to be provided for. It is difficult at best to see how this can be achieved by elders who neither discuss nor are open to the suggestions of the flock. By the same token, I have little sympathy for the malcontent who engages in constant murmurings and criticisms of the elders and their seeming failures bu will not face the elders privately to discuss his complaints with them (1 Tim. 5:19-20).
Guardian of Truth XXX: 5, p. 137
March 6, 1986