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One thing that has often crossed my mind when thinking about Eldership is the extent to which the Elders must be "in one mind and one accord".  Of course, in an ideal world, we would "all speak the same thing" and there would not be much difference in what we believe.  However, if you have three or four well-studied, "seasoned" men, from potentially different backgrounds, they will rarely see eye to eye on everything.  And this is good because this diversity is an important aspect of what makes Eldership work.  You do not want one well-studied, confident Elder and have the others be passive "yes men".  You want honesty and sincerity all around.


Now, I know that the ideal case is for an "apostle" type person to appoint these Elders, but I have seen a few groups who do not practice Eldership nevertheless have a few men that stand out as potential Elders.  In one case (and I am trying to broach the subject of Eldership with them), these men of are varied backgrounds (grew up in different congregations, countries, and cultures).  How much must they have in common in doctrine and personality implement Eldership?


Obviously, Elders must agree on the Oneness of God and the plan of salvation.  But consider the other subjects:

  • End times prophecy (dispensationalist, amellenialists, preterism, pre/mid/post trib/mil)
  • The priesthood of all believers (no different "classes" of clergy and laity)
  • Original Sin/Sinful Nature (is man born guilty, is he born with a sinful nature)
  • Predestination (do we have a free will to chose God, is everything that happens on earth somehow in the will of God, is it possible to backslide and be lost)
  • The Lord's Supper (is sin forgiven there, wine vs grape juice, how often)
  • The role of women in the family, church, and society (egalitarianism, women teachers/preachers, women politicians)
  • Is there a baptismal formula (do you have to say certain words when administering baptism)
  • The eternality of the soul (do souls get burned up in hell and go away, or is hell eternal)
  • Tongues the Initial Evidence (can you receive the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues)
  • Creation/Evolution (young earth, gap theory, pre-Adamic earth, theistic evolution)
  • "Holiness standards" (pants, covering/hair, makeup, jewelry, shorts, etc)
  • and many, many more.

 

Of course, within a congregation there can be a diversity of views on matters such as these.  But to what extent must the Elders be in agreement on these things?   And what criteria do we use to determine if a issue is a must-agree-on issue or a diversity-allowed issue?

 

Food for thought and discussion.

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I'd be very interesting to see a discussion on the idea of the "sinful nature" and the level of man's depravity.

 

-Bro. Alex

OK.  Have a little time now.  Maybe.  ;)  [ Actually I didn't but I do now! ]


So we have discussed a bit about essential doctrines.  So far the essentials are related to the nature of God and the plan of salvation.  These, of course, are things that all Christians must agree upon to consider each other brethren.


However, it seems obvious, that a group of collegiate Elders should agree upon more things than the congregation as a whole.  Obviously, they should agree that the local church should be governed by the unanimous agreement of a council of collegiate Elders.  


They obviously don't have to agree on everything, but they must agree on more than just the essentials.  But how do we decide whether or not a given issue is one upon which the Elders must agree?  Notice that my question actually is not “What must the agree upon?”, but “How to we decide what they must agree on?”.  I.e, what are the principles that govern this decision?


Here's one idea: look at the job description.  In addition to the “essentials”, it seems obvious that the Elders should agree on things that are required for them, as a body, to do their job.  To lead a congregation of believers, the body of Elders must deal with certain issues (no certain order):

  • What are the essential salvation doctrines?
  • Who may teach/preach or be an Deacon or Elder? (women preachers?)
  • Are there dress codes at church functions? (or any other parameters around church functions)
  • When is church discipline required and how is it administered?
  • How are the church finances handled? (Who does the bookkeeping?  Do elders get paid?  Benevolence?  Paying visiting ministers?  Missionaries?  Building fund?  Public financial statements?  501c3 or not?)
  • Will this church be affiliated with an organization (e.g., UPC, ALJC, PAW, AOH, etc)?
  • How/where are congregational meetings held?  (house, church building, both?  Who can host and/or moderate them?)
  • and many many more “job related” items.

 

So, I would think that something like end times doctrines, for example, would not be among the things that the Elders must agree on because it is (1) not in the list of essential doctrines, and (2) not directly related to the job of “Eldering”.


This is the sort of reasoning that I am pursuing.  More of “how do you decide on what to agree on” rather than “what to agree on”.  Here I used the job description to decide the types of things they must agree on.


Does that sound like a reasonable way to approach this?

 

The question is: How do we decide whether or not a given issue is one upon which the elders must agree?

The process begins with a discussion. Each elder must be true to his own conscience, but must also be a responsible member of the team. This means a subject must be discussed openly, thoroughly, and in a spirit of brotherly love. Immature and insecure men will tend to fight for their viewpoint. They may get upset when the others don't share their view. This may show that a man is really not ready to serve as an elder. Mature men will be able to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Of course, in all discussions the Bible should be the primary guide. Also, it may be important not to rush to judgment. Allowing time for seasons of prayer, contemplation, and further study will often bring a good result.

In the end, the elders will need to either come to an agreement or simply agree that they disagree. If they disagree, they must be confident that their disagreement will not lead to disunity among them or among the local body. This may require that they agree for the time being not to teach on a particular doctrine. This is not the best solution, but it may be more important to avoid risking disunity than declaring the "whole" counsel of God. We believe that over time, if the elders are good-hearted, honest, and sincere men, not having their own agendas, God will reveal His own opinion in all matters pertaining to the local assembly, especially as the Day of the Lord draws near.

 

 

 

I have allowed this topic to go stale without really exploring it like I would like to.  


One thing that I have come to know is that the biblical model for unity in the Church is not based on uniformity.  We don't have unity to the extent we agree on things,  and we don't have disunity to the extent  we disagree on things.  Biblical unity is founded on love and tolerance.  Note, this is not wishy-washy ecumenical tolerance.  This is a let-every-man-be-fully-persuaded-in-his-own-mind-but-get-along-anyway sort of tolerance.  And it is within the context of people who DO agree on the necessary doctrines.


I also don't think that it is good for teachers to have a this-is-the-way-it-is-and-dont-even-consider-anything-else sort of attitude.  After all, ALL TEACHERS TEACH FALSE DOCTRINE.  I don't know anyone that I agree with 100% and you dear brethren probably don't either.   I don't claim to be 100% right about everything, so I must teach something that is false – I just don't know what is it!


Jesus didn't say that he would appoint Elders to lead us into all truth.  He reserved that job for himself.  So, although I have no practical experience with Eldership, I don't see a technical problem with different Elders teaching different views on non-essential doctrines.  They can disagree without having disunity.  Unity is not based on uniformity.  Church folk will have to graduate beyond being spoon-fed and decide for themselves as God guides them.  I don't think it's healthy for Christians, mature or new converts, to just take what someone teaches as 100% truth just because they have great respect for the teacher (been there, done that, visited him in jail later).  “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”  “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”


Of course, the ideal is that we “all speak the same thing”.  But from Eph 4, Rom 14, 1 Cor 8, 1 Cor 10 and others it is evident that this is a growth process and that we will hopefully converge at the truth in the process of time.


So, it seems like if we were going to make a list of things that Elders MUST agree on in order to function as a group, then we would want to make that list as short as possible and the items on that list should be directly related to the job of Eldering.  The qualifications of a bishop never included 100% doctrinal purity.  If it did, I'm not sure any of us would be able to recognize it if we saw it.  ;)


Off in the weeds?

 

So what do we consider the necessary doctrines upon which we should or must agree? 

This is clarified pretty well earlier in the discussion.  Basically essential doctrines relate to the nature of God, the plan of salvation, view of the Bible, etc.

 

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