Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 1, 1967
NUMBER 5, PAGE 2b-3,5b

The Reign Of Heaven (VII.

Bryan Vinson

It might be worthwhile to also note that the oversight is directed toward people, and that they are children of God. While numbered with those who collectively make up the flock, they are, nevertheless, individuals, and as such merit the constant concern of the overseers with respect to their lives as Christians. It doesn't involve a meddling with their private affairs as such, but certainly involves a looking after their spiritual condition as designed to promote and safeguard it. How many instances have occurred where members of a congregation have wandered away from the "fold" without any elder seeking to find and recover them? How many have been disfellowshipped by a congregation under the oversight of elders without any effort first to convert them from the error of their way? How widespread is the thought that to discipline a member is to withdraw from it? In 2 Tim. 1:7 we read: "For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind". The R. V. renders "sound mind" by this term, discipline, the only occurrence I know of this in the New Testament. W. E. Vine defines it as literally denoting a "saving of the mind", and, hence Paul is conveying the thought of Timothy employing the gift of God which was in him through the laying on of the apostle's hands to promote that which he sets forth in this seventh verse. Elders should seek to preserve and, where endangered, recover that soundness of mind in those members who become remiss or derelict in their spiritual life, or in being influenced by false teachers. The work of disciplining members of the congregation incorporates a great deal being done before the action of withdrawing from a member is accomplished, and this only when that has failed. Have we not known of instances where brethren who could not in good conscience go along with the program of a congregation under its elders been forced out, and then summarily withdrawn from by those elders without having sought the conversion of such members to the scripturalness of the program of the congregation?

This whole question of who should be elders as bearing on their qualifications, and what as such are the duties incumbent on them derives the importance attaching to it by reason of the fact it is within the kingdom of Christ, and therefore the necessity that His will be done. Surely there are those things to be decided as determined by human judgment, but they are essentially trivial in nature and fall far below the plane of those matters identified with the work of elders. No congregation can prosper spiritually as it should without elders, but in matters of human judgment it can function just as well without as with them. Much has been said about elder rule versus majority rule, and such a form of expression tends to prejudice minds against the latter. I am not an advocate of majority rule, but neither am I of minority rule. If three men, or two, or six, make decisions for the congregation under the assumption that being elders this is their right, and they constitute a numerical minority of the congregation, then is not such a case of minority rule? Hence the form of the proposition of elder rule vs. majority rule can properly be styled minority rule versus majority rule. As between the two, where unanimity isn't attainable, I cannot but prefer majority rule. I believe, however, if all the members have the spirit of their Master, and have cultivated a becoming regard for the Word of God, there will be a meeting of minds as touching what is best and wisest for the congregation in those matters to be determined by human judgment. And where this isn't experienced it certainly looks to me to be better for the minority to yield to the majority than the reverse. This has nothing to do with matters of faith, for they are settled in the scriptures, and elders who are qualified to be such know what the scriptures teach, and are therefore able to teach the members the truth, and recover them from error.

In proof of any proposition no one this side of the apostles is to be cited as an authority, but what some men have said carried weight within the thoughtful and pious. No one this side of the apostles is esteemed by me above Alexander Campbell, and I wish to incorporate some language of his having some bearing on this point of distinction I have raised. In the Millennial Harbinger of 1835 there is in the back of this volume an Extra on the subject of Order. This subject is treated in several aspects, including the order of a congregation, its formation, its selection and ordination of elders or bishops, and the duties that are theirs. Notice this language: "1. As they are required to be apt or fit to teach, it is their duty to teach the 'whole counsel of God'. In doing this, they are to regard the church as consisting of little children, young men, and fathers - as consisting of masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and subjects of political government. As to the manner of this teaching, they are to have the scriptures read in the congregation, applied to all contingencies and diligently examined and considered by all the disciples. They are to call forth all the gifts and talents of the congregation, and give directions concerning reading, exhortation and prayer. It is not presumed that they are to be the only readers, teachers, exhorters, intercessors, or singers in the congregation. But they are to preside over all, to give direction to all, as far as public edification is concerned. --They will deliver didactic discourses, admonitions, and exhortations as the exigencies of the community require. And they will occasionally labor in the word or preach the gospel where the presence of the unbelievers makes it necessary. The elders who thus labor both in the word and in teaching, as Paul teaches, are worthy of the highest honor.

"2. They are to rule well. Presidency and ruling, though much akin, are not identically the same. To preside may sometimes imply no more than preserving order and decorum in the regular proceedings of a public worshipping assembly. But to rule well has respect more immediately to the disorders which are incident to every earthly community — from which the church of Jesus Christ never has yet been fully exempt. The discipline of the church is as essential as its doctrine; for no church can be happy or prosperous, however zealous for the doctrine according to godliness, if there be in it lax discipline, or if transgressors of the law of Christ are suffered to pass with impunity.

"To rule well is one of the most difficult attainments. It calls for meekness, candor, firmness, courage, patience, and indefatigable attention to the first indication of remissness or delinquency. So peculiar is the assemblage of attributes requisite to ruling well, that they are more rarely to be met with than the gift of eloquence and the highest didactic powers.

"To anticipate and prevent transgression, delinquency, or actual apostasy, is much more desirable and profitable than to reprove and punish it when actually consummated. He that rules well his own family is best prepared to rule well the church of God; and he that rules well his own family needs to be informed that more depends upon watching the dispositions and frailties of his children, and guarding them from error and disobedience, by removing them from temptation, or by removing temptation out of their way, than in correcting them from actual offences. Much the larger part of all the errors, follies, and faults of children and of disciples might have been prevented under a discreet and attentive administration. Timely remonstrance, counsel, and the interposing oneself between temptation and the occasions of error in practice' are the great secrets of a good administration, and require degrees of wisdom and devotion seldom met with. More youths and more disciples have been saved from ruin by the judicious watchings of those entrusted with their fortunes, than have ever been reclaimed by corrections and rebukes. On this point a hint must suffice; for we aim only at a full development of what is meant by ruling well. On the subject of discipline we shall have a better opportunity to illustrate good rule as contrasted with bad rule.

"3. Besides the teaching, presidency, and ruling well in the public assembly, there is a class of duties comprehended in constant visitation, or paramount importance to the edification, good order, and growth of a congregation. Private, so often much better than public teaching; and reproofs, corrections and instructions are frequently given with greater effect by the fireside than in the synagogue. Paul, in his exhortations to the Ephesian bishops, gives his own example as the best illustration of what he would enjoin. Speaking on the class of duties to which I now allude, he says, "for the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day, with tears." Again, he says, "You know how I have been conversant among you all the time, from the first day I entered Asia, serving the Lord with all humility, and with tears - 'teaching you publicly and privately' - 'watch, therefore, remembering' these things, etc. Well might this apostle say, 'he who desires the office of a bishop, desires a good work." A work, indeed, which if not divided among a plurality of persons, will require much of the time of an individual or two, even in a congregation of one hundred members.

"They are the most useful and successful preachers and teachers of Christ who go from house to house, and mingle with the people in their daily and constant avocations. In sickness, and in health, in business and in leisure, in the most intimate social intercourse, they will find numerous occasions of doing good, and of speaking with effect, which will not occur in the meeting house or public assembly. When the Apostles in Jerusalem, though all present in one church, and aided by many such men as Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, found it expedient to give themselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer, and to have persons appointed to attend on the tables of the widows and the poor; may we not learn that the work of teaching and preaching Christ, of presiding over a christian congregation with dignity and profit, of ruling well, requires a devoted heart and an undivided attention, and that every business ought to have some persons set over it? To go into all the particular duties of the christian bishop, would require us to transcribe much of the epistles; we therefore dismiss the subject, having noticed the three classes of duties already stated." (Mil.Har.1835, page 505507.)