Van Til Tool

Using the Van Til Perspective as the tool to discover what life means and how it ought to be lived.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


The Meaning Of Eldership

By Forrest Wayne Schultz

One of the greatest obstacles hindering Christian reconstruction is the prevalence of false meanings of words. Before we can even begin to know what should be done we first need to have in hand the correct definitions of the relevant terms. In this short paper I shall deal with a very crucial word which has been widely misunderstood for a very long time, the term "elder". The reconstruction of the church cannot be accomplished until the reigning spurious conception of eldership is replaced by the true meaning, which is taught in the Bible and which was embodied in the life and ministry of the early church. And, by the way, speaking of the correct definitions, the term "Christian reconstruction" is all inclusive in scope: it pertains to the church as well as to the various societal spheres.

The real meaning of eldership is so easy to state and is so easy to understand and is so obviously true that it is surprising that there should be any misconceptions or confusion about it. In fact, I am almost afraid to set forth the real meaning of eldership here lest anyone think I am being simplistic. Eldership simply means maturity. The elders in a congregation are those members of that congregation who are mature, i.e. those who have walked with the Lord long enough and have grown in Grace in that walk to the point where they are wise and righteous and loving enough to help others and serve as an example to others and to be able to participate in providing the godly counsel needed for the church to make wise decisions about the important matters it faces.

In short, the term "elder" does not refer to an office in the church. It refers to a reality in the man's life. If a man is spiritually mature he is an elder whether or not he bears the title of elder or presbyter (the Greek word meaning elder). Now a church which is wise (or even one which has just a little bit of common sense) will do two things about this: (1). it will discern those in the congregation who are elders and (2). it will publicly recognize their eldership by calling them elders and by placing them onto the board of elders, who oversee the life and functioning of the congregation. This, by the way, is the true definition of the verb "ordain". To "ordain" someone as an elder does not mean making him an elder. It means discerning that he is in fact an elder and then publicly stating this fact. It is analogous to placing the name of a great baseball player into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This act does not make him a great baseball player; it acknowledges that he is such.

Now let us look at the meaning of the terms "bishop" and "pastor". The terms "bishop" and "pastor" are synonymous and they mean one who oversees, rules, leads, cares for. A bishop, in the New Testament usage, meant the same thing as a pastor: it did not mean a pastor who rules over other pastors.

Now let us look at the relationship between the terms "elder" and "bishop". Contrary to popular opinion and traditional ecclesiastical practice, elders and bishops are the same persons! The distinction is this: the term "elder" refers to what they are; the term "bishop" refers to what they do. In short, in the New Testament, which sets forth God's way the church should be run, the leaders (bishops) of the church are those who are mature (elders).


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