By Bobby L. Graham
For the past year thousands of Christians have received The Examiner, a paper published by Charles A. Holt and his corporation (Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc.). One avowed purpose of the corporate publication is to prove that when Christians join their efforts to do spiritual work, they ought not to do so as a corporate body. No local church has the right to be such, but his Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. has the right! If it were true, it would be inconsistent.
One of the frontal attacks made in The Examiner has been directed against elders. The gospel according to Holt says that elders are no more nor less than the older, more spiritually mature brethren (and sisters?), who should be respected and followed by other Christians as they contact them and influence them in daily life. Only as they “rub shoulders” do they have any influence over other Christians; otherwise (if they happen to gather to study the Bible or to worship God), the elders have no more right to lead than do the younger Christians. If it were true, it would result in a tragic waste of the accumulated wisdom and experience for them to be unable to lead the younger Christians.
Our brother tells us further that all passages of the New Testament dealing with elders view them as older, more mature Christians and refer not to any official standing they might have with any local church. This view will not stand up under the scrutiny of a close examination of the Scriptures. Notice the following passages:
(1) Acts 11.30. This verse indicates that the funds collected from the Antioch brethren were sent to the elders in Judea. The notion being examined requires the conclusion that all Christians in Judea except the youngest one would qualify as elders, for all were relatively more experienced and mature than someone else, with this one exception. He would have been the only one not more mature or experienced than someone else, for he was the last one who became a Christian. This must have been Paul and Barnabas’ method of determining who the elders were: just locate the most recent convert, eliminate him, and distribute the money to all others. Of course, they had to make sure that these men (and women?) did not meet as a group, for such a meeting would be the early stage of a process by which a corporate body forms. That just wouldn’t do! If it were true, it would be ludicrous. You see, this view of elders allows all saints in an area, whose square mileage has yet to be determined, to be described as elders except the one lowest on the totem pole. The brother did write about the church in Jerusalem being in Jerusalem and its environs, but he did not give us the benefit of his seniority and tell us how far its environs would extend. Possibly the explanation for this gap in his theory is his recent expose on logic (The Examiner, Jan. 1987), but I find it difficult determining the part played by logic in this system of theology. The editor will probably favor the poor people in the pew with this missing information as he receives additional enlightenment.
(2) In Acts 14.23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for the brethren in different churches. That fact strikes me as different from what our brother teaches. The conclusion from his writing is that all Christians in these churches that could be described as more mature than anyone else were the ones appointed. He really doesn’t believe that these people were appointed elders, but that elders were appointed to be bishops (overseers), if his comments on this point apply to this verse at all. If it were true, it would be false because it conflicts with what the passage says.
(3) When Paul sent for the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.17, he meant for all disciples from Ephesus and its environs to come to Miletus, with one exception – the last one baptized into Christ. To this group he spoke when he said the Holy Spirit had made them bishops (overseers) in verse 28. But mind you: their oversight extended only to their dealings with each other in daily life. If they happened to gather to study the Bible or to worship God, that youngest one among them could have his “day in the sun. ” Then his inexperience counted just as much as their experience, and his lack of knowledge meant as much as their knowledge. A view similar to Holt’s must have prevailed at Ephesus; otherwise, how would the brethren in the environs know whom to send to Paul when he sent for the elders? If it were true, it would be unreasonable.
(4) This view distinguishes between elders (older, more mature) and bishops/shepherds/ pastors. According to our brother, appointment is necessary for the latter but not the former. Observe, however, that the elders, the shepherds, and the bishops were the same ones in Acts 20:17, 28. Men called elders in v. 17 were recognized as bishops (overseers) and shepherds (pastors) in v. 28. They are seen to be shepherds as Paul instructed them to pastor, tend, feed, or shepherd. The same point is applicable to 1 Peter 5:14. Such a distinction between the elders and the shepherds is artificial. If it were true, it would be incompatible with the New Testament use of these words.
The inconsistent, wasteful, ludicrous, false, unreasonable, and incompatible character of this view is dealt with to help the reader understand the teaching and its irreconcilable position with the New Testament. No reference is made to its proponent’s motive, character, or method. Were his motive proved to be mercenary, his character Satanic, or his method unethical, nothing would have been demonstrated concerning either the truth or falsity of the position espoused. Even if these were proved true, the position could still be true. Let us then confine our motives, methods, and character to that which is acceptable to God. Before Him each shall stand at last.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 7, p. 204
April 2, 1987