Vol.X No.VI Pg.4
August 1973

In The Absence Of Elders

Robert F. Turner

When Paul told Titus to "ordain elders in every city as I had appointed thee": and then gave qualifying marks of these bishops (1:5-f.), it seems evident that in the absence of qualified men there should be no "ordaining". Brethren logically affirm the existence and functioning of local churches prior to the appointment of overseers (ACT.14:23); and a "business meeting of the men of the church" has become the traditional substitute for "scriptural organization". But brethren tend to misuse "organized" and "unorganized" status.

There being no hierarchy among the saints (MAT.23:8), and each saint being a "priest" (1PE.2:5,9); bishops are not "officials" in the usual ecclesiastic sense. Therefore all scriptural elements of "organization" are present when the men of a congregation meet, plan and execute in orderly fashion the scriptural functions of saints working collectively. Perhaps "scripturally unorganized" etc. is justified as an euphony, but it may have caused some to develop an erroneous concept of organization and "officialdom" in the local church.

Qualified bishops exercise an experienced oversight and "shepherding" of the flock that is missing in a church operated by "business meetings" but the latter is no less a church. In fact, in this preliminary and developmental stage the brethren may learn some vital lessons about working together, submitting to one-another appreciating the problems of planning and financing the Lord's work. More members may be involved in drawing up the "common mind" by which the team will operate -- with attendant greater confusion, less "getting to the point" and less promptness -- but once a plan is approved, there is no less need for all members to drop individual preferences, and work together toward the common goal.

Some seem to think that in absence of elders "the women" and "all members" can be heard. I believe that with elders all should be heard. The basic characteristics of successful "team work" are not changed whether the signals are called in the turmoil of inexperienced "business meetings" or by seasoned qualified bishops. All good overseers have learned that information, consultation and a fair hearing of all is essential to confidence, and real "working together". But women are no more leaders "over man" (1CO.11:3; TIT.2:12), and children and novices are no more qualified to direct the affairs of the church in the absence of bishops than they are in their presence.

"We are members one of another" (EPH.4:25), and are ever "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (5:21), with the service of our Lord Jesus Christ as the controlling factor in our conduct. This principle forbids all "one-man, one vote" politicing to "have our way" in the church. The executive (police) force of Christianity is each saints humble submission to God's will, in recognition of His love and our need for Him (2CO. 5:14). Self is buried.

And submission to God's will means that we work diligently toward the day of "elders in every church."