Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 24, 1957
NUMBER 25, PAGE 2-3b

The Divine Organization Of The Church -- No. XI.

C. G. Caldwell, Sr.

One of the most neglected duties of the elders today is that of exercising church discipline. Disobedient members are to be found in most all congregations and in the majority of the congregations the elders have all but forgotten their responsibilities along these lines. The epistles to the churches are literally polka-dotted with such expressions as "avoid", "withdraw from", "have no company with", "deliver to Satan", "not eat with", `put away", etc. Elders are the overseers and as such they are to lead the congregation to a proper observance of these passages. Delinquent members sometimes seize upon the fact that the elders have made no move against them to excuse themselves and their waywardness. Elders often times excuse their neglect of duty in this regard by pointing out that the offenders have many friends in the congregation; they don't want any trouble in the church, and it would be difficult to get the congregation to cooperate in such a move. If elders have enough faith in the Lord and enough respect for His word and enough regard for their duty, they will not allow any or all of these things to hinder them in the performance of it. The desire to be popular has infiltrated the eldership in many places and this desire prompts the elders to ignore their duty. I, for one, can have no respect for a so-called elder who thinks more of what people think than he does of what God tells him to do. Watching for souls demands a protection of souls as well as direction of souls. Hence, not only are those who are guilty of personal sins to be dealt with, but also those who sin against others. If the sincerity, honesty, reputation, and worthiness of one is being attacked by malicious falsehoods, and no move is made to protect that one, his soul is not being properly watched for. This protection is the duty of the elders, and constitutes a very serious responsibility.

In view of the grave responsibilities and duties resting upon the eldership, congregations ought to exercise great care in the selection of men to fill this office. A man is not an elder simply because he calls himself one any more than a man is a Christian because he calls himself one. A man is a Christian when he becomes one in accord with the law of Christ and assumes his duties and responsibilities as such. A man is an elder by the same rule. So remember, to call someone something does not make him that. The Lord will not have elders who are elders in name only, even if some congregations will. Nominal elders are making shipwreck of the church in many places. If one who is called an elder is not willing to discharge his duties as such, he should be man enough, and Christian enough, to stand up and ask to be relieved of them. "If a man desire the office of bishop, he desireth a good work." (I Tim. 3:1.)

The Appointment Of Elders

As to the actual appointment or ordination of men to this office, no special formula is given in the scriptures. To Titus, Paul said, "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee." (Tit. 1:5.)

Now since Titus was an evangelist, and Paul commanded him to "ordain" (appoint) "elders", it seems safe to conclude that the evangelist is the one to do the appointing. No specific method, or prescribed ceremony to be observed in carrying out these instructions is indicated, here or elsewhere in the scriptures. Only a command to be obeyed. Thus is Titus left to his own judgment as to procedure or ceremony; and so are we; but only insofar as the divine standard of decency and propriety is observed, and no principle of divine truth is violated. In time past I have observed, and had a part in many such appointments; and while, as noted above, no specific method or prescribed ceremony is outlined in the New Testament regarding the matter, the following procedure seems wise and prudent and, I believe, is wholly in keeping with the Spirit's teaching on the subject.

When a congregation, through prayer and careful study, have found and agreed upon one or more whom they believe to be acceptable and qualified for the office of an elder, such decision and agreement will then be made known to the whole church by public announcement; giving ample, but reasonable time for any scriptural objection to the appointment, stating that if no such objection was registered within the prescribed period of waiting, the appointment or appointments would be consummated, and the men chosen would become duly ordained bishops of the church. The same procedure may be followed with equal propriety in the appointment of deacons.

Taking The Oversight

The elders do not receive their authority or occupy their office by the popular vote of the church, nor by the will or authority of any individual or group. In fact, the elders have no authority of their own; they receive their appointment from above; are made bishops by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28.) The Holy Spirit makes men overseers of the flock of God as much now as He did in the days of the apostles. Christ is the "Chief Shepherd," "all authority" belongs to Him. Elders, the under-shepherds, exercise only the authority that comes from Him, He acts through them, and thus governs His church. When help was needed at Jerusalem to look after the Grecian widows that were neglected, the Holy Spirit, through the apostles, gave qualifications and told the disciples to look out among them men possessing these. They did so and they appointed them to the work. This was done by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:1-4.) Whenever a church under the same directions of the Holy Spirit selects men having the qualifications given by the Spirit, the Spirit appoints them just as much as He did at Jerusalem. Thus by the authority of heaven they are qualified, authorized, and commanded to take "the oversight." (1 Pet. 5:2.)

When the Lord arranged for the elders to take the oversight of the local congregation, He, at the same time, required of the members that they accept their oversight. The same Holy Spirit who says "They watch for your souls" (Heb. 13:19) says "obey them that have the rule over you" (same verse). When we fail to follow their leadership we openly rebel against Jehovah. To refuse to obey our Lord in following the elders in their planning for the Lord's church and its work, is to indicate a wanton disbelief of New Testament teaching; it is tantamount to a declaration that we do not believe the Lord knew what He was doing when He arragned for the elders to take the oversight — to superintend the work of the church.

When the elders arrange the services of the church for our spiritual growth we are divinely obligated to support those services by attending every one of them, unless providentially hindered. Too many of us refuse to recognize any congregational obligation. We feel that we are privileged to go or come as we please. We have not yet recognized or accepted the responsibility imposed upon us by Jehovah to "obey them that have the rule over you." Such disobedience is fraught with the most fearful consequences. (See Heb. 10:28-25.) To refuse to accept the oversight of the elders is to refuse to accept the plan of th Lord. The elders are required to "take the oversight," to "watch out for our souls," and we, by the same authority are commanded to "obey them that have the rule over you." We can no more escape our responsibility than can they.