“What is an Elder? He is one of the spiritual leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ. In rank he is above a deacon but below a pastor or minister of the church” (God’s Answers to Man’s Questions, Alban Douglass, copyrighted in 1966, page 187). Following the above quote is a mixture of biblical passages and commentary. These remarks have as their intent both biblical justification and practical application. Strangely, in what follows, there is no reference to 1 Timothy 3:1-7, though there are a number of references to Titus 1:6-8.
What struck me as interesting is in its failure to follow the New Testament pattern. The New Testament does not speak of an elder as being below the pastor. In fact, the word “elder” is a different word for the same work of shepherding. W. E. Vine says of the word pastor: “a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks, is used metaphorically of Christian ‘pastors,’ Eph. 4.11. pastors guide as well as feed the flock; cp. Acts 20:28, which, with ver. 17, indicate that this was the service committed to elders (overseers or bishops)…” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 849).
Whatever genuine interest the Baptist Church has in honoring God we can see that in this instance they do not. The New Testament is clear as to what an “elder” is and does—he is a shepherd (pastor). The word “elder” is not to be understood in contradistinction to the word “pastor.” For those who make this distinction they do so only on the basis of man’s opinion, which is without New Testament authority.
How can I be so certain? Trace the word in the pages of the New Testament in relation to the New Testament church. Do a word study of the words “elder” and “pastor” in relation to the context and one will see that the Baptist Church does not properly apply New Testament teaching to church organization.
Some of the duties of an elder in the Baptist Church include both biblical justification and matters relative to the local church. It is the following that I want to mention: “select a suitable pastor for the church,” “attend church regularly,” “to supply the pulpit if the pastor is absent,” “to assist the pastor in dispensing Communion,” “to sit on church council,” and to “assist in examining candidate for baptism” (p. 188).
It has been my way-to-often observation that elders of a church patterned after the New Testament order can fall into an unscriptural approach to shepherding as the Baptist Church. Unscriptural in that it seems elders are more interested in local money matters than they are in seeing after the needs of the saints in areas of spiritual failings and difficulties. Whatever importance there may be to money matters there is far more importance to soul matters.
Thus, if criticism is leveled at the Baptist Church, let us make sure we are implementing the New Testament pattern for spiritual leadership. RT