Vol.XIII No.I Pg.4
March 1976

In Absence Of Bishops

Robert F. Turner

A brother writes:

In the absence of elders, does the business meeting take the oversight of the congregation? Has the local preacher a limited voice, or no voice at all, in business meeting affairs?

Concerning the oversight of a congregation, it is well to begin with an examination of the function of the elders — for many consider them almost as a sacred order — a sort of priesthood, set above the ordinary members — having an official position. Jesus makes it clear that there is only one Master, Christ, and all ye are brethren (Matt. 23:8). The idea of official (in our current sense) is completely missing from 1 Tim. 3:1. Marshalls literal translation is, If anyone aspires to oversight, he desires a good work. The K.J. uses office in the sense of function, not of hierarchy. (See Vine Expository Dictionary, on bishop.)

Nor is the evangelist an officer of the church at large as some have claimed. Careful reflection will show that all such official positions are a hang-over from the hierarchal system of the Catholic church. They seek their authority in a succession of bishops — divine (?) authority handed down by imposition of hands, etc., and supposedly dating back to Christs appointment of the apostles (which they also misunderstand and misuse). The whole idea is erroneous, making a special group of priests among Gods people; when we are taught (1 Pet. 2:5,9) that all the saints are priests in the priesthood of Christ (Heb. 7:). Elders are never referred to as arbitrary rulers or lords (as in Matt. 20:25-26); and this sort of rule is specifically forbidden in 1 Pet. 5:3.

But the team-work of saints necessitates some form of harness, some one to direct and guide the team (congregation) and to watch for or inspect, oversee them. The word rule in Heb. 13:17 points to leaders; in 1 Thes. 5:12 over you refers to those who stand before; and in 1 Pet. 5:2 feed indicates those who tend or shepherd. The Holy Spirit gives us the qualifications needed by such men (1 Tim. 3: Titus 1:), but in the very nature of the case it is up to the saints (members of the team) to judge who have such qualifications, and to recognize them and function under their guidance. The authority (right to rule and expect such submission as is essential to that rule) comes from the members of the congregation — i.e., it is a position based upon the judgment of the congregation. If the congregation believes the appointed bishops no longer have the qualifications required by the Holy Spirit-- they can, by the same process, remove them from that position with its functions.

Please note, I did not say congregational agreement respecting a man made him a scripturally qualified overseer. The brethren could make a mistake in judgment, appointing poorly qualified men, and ignoring well qualified men. But the right to appoint is resident in the saints, and the congregation will do well or badly on the basis of how they meet this and other responsibilities to God.