Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 1, 1949

Watchmen Of Souls - Not Finances

Homer Halley

For the past several years, elders of the churches have come in for their share of criticism. Some of it has been just, some unjust. Most of this criticism has come from preachers. In all probability, if the Lord should say to the preachers, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone," much less would have been said. Nevertheless, it is by open and frank discussion, criticisms and re-criticisms that our faults are pointed out and men grow better.

Much of the discussion has pertained to the qualifications of the elders, and probably the greater part of that to only a few of the qualifications. It should be a definite point of conviction with every Christian that an overseer of the church should have every qualification as set forth by Paul in I Timothy and Titus. However, one man may have some qualifications to a greater degree than another; but each must have every qualification to an acceptable degree.

More Than A Glorified Finance Committee

It appears that the discussion has had more to do with the qualifications than with the really important thing for which appointed: the work. Men appointed to the serious and solemn business of overseers of the church bought with Christ's blood are more than a glorified finance committee. Their sphere of service may include that of "watchmen of the Lord's treasury;" but the special commission of the Holy Spirit is: "They watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account." Two points impress the thoughtful: First, "they watch in behalf of souls"; second, "as they that shall give account." There is coming a day of reckoning when they shall give account of their stewardship.

Nor should it be overlooked that the charge to Christians is, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them." When men have been made overseers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), and duly appointed by the church to that duty, one rebels against God when he rebels against them. In an age of general anarchy and tendency to ignore duly authorized powers, this point needs stressing. The divine arrangement of church government is to be respected; it cannot with impunity be ignored. Let this principle be recognized by all.

To the Hebrew Christian, the statement, "They watch in behalf of your souls," would immediately call to mind God's charge to Ezekiel: "So thou, son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore hear the word of my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, 0 wicked man, thou shalt surely die, and thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood shall I require at thy hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, and he turn not from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul" (Ezek. 33:7-9; read also 3:16-21).

Cases In Point

The duty of the watchman is to warn. This phase of the work seems never to have occurred to so many of the overseers of today. One of the members begins to drift; it is reported that he is drinking; but who warns him of his wickedness, and of the impeding danger? Another is beginning to show illicit affection for a woman not his wife; but he is allowed to go his way until his own home is broken up in divorce, and his soul is again enslaved to the devil — but not an elder of the church so much as says one word to either about his condition. This is sufficient to illustrate the point. The reader can multiply cases. Now and then an offender is withdrawn from, but not after repeated warnings — 0 no, usually the thing has just drifted till it so stinks to high heaven that something must be done. But the Lord's way was not followed: He was not warned to turn from his wicked way. The Lord's watchmen were asleep; their courage was lacking; for a backbone there had been substituted a twine string; it was easier to let the matter drift than to face the reality of duty.

Let the bishops of "the church of the Lord, which he purchased with his own blood" awaken to the fact that when appointed overseers, it is as watchmen of souls, not merely of finances. There is more to "tending the flock of God" than simply hiring, firing, and paying a preacher, and then deciding where the rest of the money is to be spent. Let the watchmen warn the wicked who go astray, and with a firm hand and in a positive manner discipline them, and there will be less within the church at which to be pointed with scorn by those outside, and there will be a holier disposition on the part of faithful members to overlook the many deficiencies in their qualifications. Their loyalty to duty, and love for the church and its purity will cover a multitude of lesser shortcomings.

Day Of Reckoning

"As they that shall give account" — This may serve as a warning both to the church and to the elders. The member's reaction to the elder's warning and reproof must be answered for by the member. To reject it is to die in one's sins; to heed it is to save one's own soul. But it likewise applies to the elder's own stewardship.

Paul speaks of him as "God's steward" (Titus 1:7). A steward is one entrusted with goods belonging to another; the elder, therefore, is one entrusted with the oversight of souls belonging to God. For this stewardship he must give account to God. What a responsibility! And yet so many never conceive of their responsibility as extending beyond that of looking after a few paltry dollars!

Elders have come in for criticism over lack of vision in doing "mission" work, for not being more interested in a "program" of the church that would include "foreign work," and such. Every elder and member of the church should be interested in seeing that the gospel is preached in all the world, there is no questioning this. But let the preachers become interested in the evangelistic work, and, in keeping with their responsibility as evangelists, head for the fields, and let the elders become more concerned about the local charge allotted them. Their work is that of watchmen of souls where they are, not across the ocean. When the preachers become more concerned about preaching to the heathen, and the elders about watching on behalf of the souls entrusted to them, the church will have made commendable headway back to "the old paths," and to "the good way" of our Lord. Paul's alarm to the Ephesians is in order both to preachers and to elders: "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 6:14)