Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 7, 1967
NUMBER 18, PAGE 9-10a

Overseers, Pastors, Shepherds, Etc.

N. W. Allphin

When you have read the above headline you will at once recognize the particular group of persons to be considered in this article. And I will state in the beginning that my aim is to approach and deal with the subject from a positive viewpoint rather than from a negative. I want to point out what the sacred writings say of these men generally known as "elders", and to ascertain both their qualification and at least some of the things they are expected to do.

As all are aware, the subject of qualification and duties of elders has come in for an ultra-generous share of discussion in recent years; such has been widely publicized in all our brotherhood papers for some years. These periodicals have carried many fine articles by good Bible scholars, men who are well known and highly respected both for their skill as writers and their reputation for piety. But, if memory serves me, their articles, for the most part, have dealt with things that elders are doing which they should not do. This, of course, is true, but it is negative. And here I admit that it is difficult to treat this subject fully without use of negative arguments at times. So, if and when I get on that side I can give the same good reasons as others, namely, more than half the Decalogue consists of "thou shalt not's", and more than half the Lord's sayings to the Jews was to tell and show them the scores of wrong things of which they were guilty.

First, in Acts 20:29 the Holy Spirit through Paul told the elders to: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops (overseers), to feed the church of the Lord. ..." Question: Are the elders among us generally doing this? Or are they hiring other men (preachers) to do it? Answer is left to the readers.

Next, the Holy Spirit said of Christ, through Paul in Eph. 4:8ff: "When he ascended on high he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Then, after a parenthesis, he continued: "And he gave some to be apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers..." Note this carefully, please. The "gifts" in this text is related in no way to the special Spiritual gifts in I Cor. 12. Now, the duties of a pastor (according to the Bible, not Webster) are like those of one who tends sheep; he is to watch over the flock, feed it, and minister to its needs in other ways. Do modern pastors, elders feed or minister the needs of the flock very much? Or do they mostly administer the material substance produced by the flock? Again, I am just asking. Let the readers answer.

As item three, the Holy Spirit through Peter in his general letter, I Peter 5:1-4, gave us these words: "The elders (presbyters, shepherds) among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder (overseer)... Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly... nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples (examples) to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested ye shall receive the crown of glory," etc.

Here, I give some comments. Everyone should read them over again thoughtfully, and ponder them seriously. These are simple, positive statements, and they are as applicable today as when first written. Therein are two items to which I want to give special emphasis; verse 2, the called out group is the "Flock of God," not the flock of the elders. And verse 3, "making yourselves examples to the flock." Both are important, and in the letter is a potent implication that the conduct of elders is to be watched. Elders, of course, can sin the same as other people. And Paul advised Timothy, concerning elders under accusation by two or three witnesses, "Them that sin reprove in the sight of all, that the rest also may be in fear. (I Tim. 5:20.)

As a fourth item, let us read Heb. 13:17. Here, the inspired apostle wrote these words: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them; for they watch in behalf of your souls." Wouldn't it be fine for us all if all elders did just that - watch in behalf of our souls? But do many elders known to you spend any appreciable time and effort in watching after the soul interests - spiritual welfare - of the flock? Or do many of them "watch" more closely in behalf of the material products of our bodies - that which we put into the collection baskets? Again, I am only asking. In this connection, look back to verse 7: "Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith." An apparent implication here is that we are to imitate only what elders do by faith, not just anything they may say or do.

Now, as a final item, I want to examine briefly the qualifying marks for elders, as set forth in I Tim. 3 and Titus 1. They are stated in simple, positive terms. They contain not the slightest intimation that bishops must be "super men!" There is not even a hint that they must possess unusual business acumen, or be specially gifted in handling financial matters, or be shrewd in determining material values, or show wisdom in managing the temporal affairs of a group or flock. Instead, the elements named more nearly indicate the antithesis of the characteristics recited above. In fact, nothing is required of elders more than of others, in proportion to their age and years as members, except that they be men, older men, not only of good morals but also such as by years of experience are able to teach, counsel, admonish and be examples to the flock.

These qualifying terms practically tell the overseer, pastor, shepherd just what he is expected to do. And anything not specified here is, of course, not a requisite. Furthermore, the qualities enumerated at the beginning of the preceding paragraph as not being required of an elder must, therefore, be reckoned as among the duties of some others of the group.

What I am about to say now may be called a departure from my subject. If so, I am in the company of many regular writers, I think. So, I pose the following questions: Who managed the temporal or business affairs of the many congregations that existed for three, five, eight or more years before elders were appointed for them? Certainly somebody did! Does the New Testament name such persons? Maybe it does. Remember, right after the qualifying marks for elders are given there follow qualifying terms for another class of servants for the church. What are they called? Nearly everyone knows the answer -deacons. Obviously these men provided a place to assemble for worship, took collections, paid incidental bills, handled other financial matters and temporal affairs of the congregation, including going, or sending someone to far-away places on business (Rom. 16:1,2.) Question: If deacons did all these things in the beginning - and most assuredly they did - why can they not do them today? What saith the scripture? "The word (answer) is in thy mouth and in thy heart" (Rom. 10:8) - then say it - they can; and they should be thus engaged today.

Here I want to insert this pertinent observation: The commonly accepted belief and practice that deacons are "officers" of a lower rank, and should take orders from elders, has not one line of scriptural backing, but is just pure unadulterated "Tradition"! Elders, instead of thinking of themselves as an exalted unit, should rate themselves as under or subordinate shepherds, because they are subject to the chief Shepherd!

In the final analysis what seems to have been shown from the scriptures regarding the work of overseers, pastors, shepherds? It sums up about as follows: First, they were made capable by the Holy Spirit through his inspired teachers, which requires years of study. Then they are to feed the flock; they are to take oversight of it or tend the flock (the one that is among them); they are to guard, protect the sheep and lambs from harm by wolves. They are to watch in behalf of their souls; they are to teach them the word of God, and make themselves examples to the flock. The feeding, and teaching, I believe, should include consoling, counseling, admonishing and, in some cases, correcting - reproving for misconduct. This is about all; but it is enough to keep elders pretty busy.