By Robert F. Turner
Some time back I received a lengthy rambling dissertation which sought to prove its proposition that when “the church” functions, each individual member must have “full and complete understanding, approval and agreement” of and to that action. The writer did not deny the church could act as a “team,” nor that the elders should make “the final, reconciliatory, united voice decision.” But he says, “There must be communication with and approval of ‘the church’ before any lawful action can be taken in the name of ‘the church.”‘ The writer wished me to write something along this line for Guardian of Truth. I will begin the body of my article by a repetition of portions of my letter to the querist.
It seems to me such reasoning rides hard on something ill defined, on which the writer has been influenced by abuses, and by the same confused terminology seen in ___________ and a few others. These recognize a treasury “for specifically authorized purposes”; and conclude this may be used for benevolence to saints, edifying saints, preaching the gospel. Now it is my understanding that “specifically authorized purposes” are to be the basis for all giving into a treasury. The brethren should be taught the divinely authorized work of the church, desire to do this work as a team, and to this end pool their means (treasury) so that work can be done. Put another way, when the members pool a medium of exchange (money), it is for the express purpose of doing divinely authorized work, and such work is sanctioned and supported in intelligent giving. “Contributing” is not a sacrament, some “holy act of worship” which is its own end.
But there can be no “team” work without submission to some common mind – whether attained in a mass meeting or by scripturally appointed elders. The “specifically authorized purpose” of elders is the basis for their appointment by the brethren; and when such r4pointment takes place, and funds are collected for the work to be done as a team, those elders are acting under “specific authorization” when they implement the appointed work. It is ridiculous to think every detail must be discussed by every member; or that the elders are but rubber stamps for a “one man, one vote” process. The defining of elders’ work as “final, reconciliatory, united voice decision” (emphasis by my correspondent), is a contradictory and ambiguous statement. If elders await an “united voice,” elders are only vote counters. If they only “reconcile” the mass of votes and declare that decision, any labor union arbitrator could be an elder, and the elders make no decision. If their word is “final” the “united voice” part is invalidated.
Good leadership demands constant contact with the flock. When major changes or undertakings are before the church, good elders consult with the brethren specifically – perhaps by special called meetings, or by going to the home of the members for discussion. But most churches have a high percentage of babes and/or people with poor and untaught judgment. God’s plan calls for qualified men of experience to lead these sheep – not for mass meetings to lead the qualified men of experience (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:4-6; Heb. 13:17).
Undoubtedly, both elders, and brethren in mass meetings, have been guilty of abuses when usurped power joined hands with personal inclinations. This is best corrected by developing greater dedication to the Lord and love for the truth – not by raving about it, But let us not throw out the baby with the wash water. If “the church” has entity, as my correspondent agrees, it can be considered in some ways other than distributively meaning, other than simply “all the saints” and this “team” or “flock” must be led in some way. The question is, who are the scriptural shepherds (1 Pet. 5:1-4)? Clearly, they are older men, but not just older; they are men who meet certain qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1), and who are then recognized (appointed) by the brethren to serve in this capacity (Acts 14:23). We must not be deceived by verbal smoke screens, nor by the citing of abuses. We must take plenty of time to study the principles of collective activities, and to this end we write.
I fear some have had experiences with elders who abused their place, and have been led into a crusade that will only trigger further abuses. They become deeply involved in a local situation, and soon they see their pet peeve everywhere. All who try to check their mad rush are “soft” or digressive” or the like. The iconoclastic spirit can wreck both the image and the iconoclast – for it seems to promote wreckage that goes far beyond the initial goal. If brethren need teaching concerning elders, or anything else, we will best succeed by first gaining a thorough understanding of the principle at stake. Then, we must begin with compatible information, common to all views, and work with a sympathetic heart for those we believe in error. Often they will welcome our teaching if we show utter fairness and assume they want the truth, rather than that they want to ruin the church. We must demonstrate the humility demanded of all Christians. This is not to say, of course, that we can ignore specific error or obviously false teachers,
Finally, it is a mistake to furnish public forums to all who have a crow to pick. This is a very good reason for elders working in private on many aspects of their work, giving ample ear to the dissident in private, without making a Federal Case of every difference that arises. The radical sees this as “lording it over the flock”; but the wise and calmly working flock see it as reason to thank God for elders who function as God intended them to function.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 17, p. 519
September 4, 1986