Priests, Ministers, Elders, What are we to be?
A Review of the Book: Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
By: Ed Szalankiewicz
Teaching & Defend the faith:
In review of Strauch’s book on Biblical Eldership it is clear that he defines the proper biblical role of elders as: Qualified, competent, and loving “servant leaders” who work together best in a collaborative shepherding atmosphere with the primary role of teaching sound doctrine and defending the “faith once delivered.” It is interesting to note that there is no evidence that Mr. Strauch himself keeps the seventh day Sabbath, or the correct Holy Days as taught by scripture. I am not certain what faith he defends, yet, for the most part; the principles he asserts in the book seem biblically sound. Certainly, it is also important to consider that we see a long history of church leaders who have taken “this stand” or “that stand” to defend what they “perceived” as the truth of GOD yet they were clearly in error. So, if we accept his concept in understanding the role of elders, I would suggest that we must also add to it the vital understanding that the true called and chosen first fruits eldership must be led by GOD’s Holy Spirit in this effort and not rely solely on the logic and philosophy of man. Otherwise, what we define as “the truth” (as all ministries do) will be simply one’s own view – one’s own personal preference – as opposed to what others do and not necessarily what GOD defines as truth. It seems to me that Elders must always defend the truth as reconciled by the whole of scripture at all costs.
I would submit for your consideration that “truth” is a concept that is easily muddled. It seems that all groups point to their traditions and beliefs as “being THE truth” when many of those things are not based on what is actually true according to GOD’s word at all. The more common practice is to conscript the word “truth” to give “power” to one’s own preferences. Yet by doing so, they weaken the value of the very real concept of what is actually true – a thing the people of GOD are supposed to love! Truth is what IS TRUE in every case according to GOD’s word and revelation – otherwise we cannot learn – we cannot grow. Saul of Tarsus thought he was right – he was very wrong. The Jews thought they were right – yet they rejected the very messiah they had longed for! Even the disciples believed Christ would conquer Jerusalem – He will but not as they thought! When we depart from obedience to GOD’s word we are vulnerable to being led by any “spirit” that happens along. The only leading that matters is that which comes to those who obey GOD and receive HIS Holy Spirit.
So Strauch is correct that we must teach and defend the faith as defined by GOD not only by the logic of man. I personally would emphasize, however, these things in particular: The message of the coming Kingdom of GOD, His law, including (and preeminently) the Sabbath and the Holy days, repentance from dead works, faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms & the laying on of hands, the giving of God’s Holy Spirit, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment – i.e. the wages of sin & the gift of eternal life. Seems to me that as shepherds we do our best to hold to the leading of GOD’s Holy Spirit and teach that we must live according to every word of GOD. Clearly, this is THE primary role that we share – to teach the word of GOD purely. What we teach and what we defend must “square” with the whole body of scripture. Acts 5:32 says that we are HIS witnesses and if we obey HIM we will receive HIS Holy Spirit. Then in John 16:13 we find that IT will lead us (notice it) into ALL truth (what is true) and further it will show us things to come. Jesus said himself that we are to teach “whatsoever I have COMMANDED you” – that’s obedience! If we join these two concepts into this responsibility of eldership in defending the faith and teaching what is (really) true our reliance is never upon our own intellect or our own personal musings but upon GOD Himself – as it should be.
Clearly there is a higher visibility when one is in a leadership role. This “higher visibility” carries with it certain pit-falls not the least of which is the blossoming of one’s ego which must be acknowledged and restrained at all costs if one is to have any chance of being effective in the role of being a godly shepherd. Strauch speaks of the need (essential quality) for the elders to truly “love the sheep”. (Rom 12:10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another;) Elders are shepherds who MUST love – and give themselves for the sheep following Christ’s example – fully embracing the balance of this godly process for the sole purpose of building and nourishing the first fruits family of GOD in love not out of vain glory or a need for personal validation. This kind of humility is not a sign of weakness but evidence of true spiritual strength. Though there is a high sense of fulfillment and purpose in the privilege of this service, this godly labor is – in the truest sense – to be a labor of love!
Mr. Strauch spends considerable time emphasizing the different roles of males and females and makes a strong argument for the biblical basis and directives regarding male leadership in the church, family, and community. Clearly GOD has given each a different and no less important role as HIS plan moves forward for mankind. He explains the concept of “first among equals” as it applies to the man’s role in that he is most assuredly the one who bears the leadership responsibility in most cases, when considering the sexes. GOD designed men for this role. I would only add, that Adam sinned KNOWING what he was doing but Eve sinned in deception. When that is fully considered, we might find that the role each plays is set in place by GOD for many reasons not just alone that the man was created first and subsequently the woman from the man as Strauch asserts. There is an expression “it is lonely at the top”. That is the point I make here – that holding the final authority on an issue is rarely “fun” rarely “glorious”. I would suggest that the first Adam was placed in his leadership role to “learn obedience by the things he would suffer” in his physical struggle to survive. Paul writes about Christ (the second Adam) in Heb 5:8 that HE “learned obedience by things that HE suffered” – certainly not in the same way nor for the same reasons but it is interesting that Adam and Christ are analogized as the first and second Adam and HE, Christ, is the “husband” of the second Eve – the Church.
Clearly, the focus of Strauch’s book is on leadership (eldership) in the church. It would seem that we should understand that the role of the woman as the “weaker vessel” is also analogous to a “fine crystal goblet” with great beauty and high value as opposed to a “coffee mug”. The “fine crystal” needs to be protected and cared for properly and the very reason Paul says “husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church and gave HIMSELF for it”. The mug can take a lot of thumping around while the fine crystal must be treated delicately. GOD’s word beckons that this part of the “weaker vessel” analogy also be emphasized – and had it been in the past – there would have been less abuses by men over women in families, communities and, sadly to some extent, in the church itself. Another consideration of this “role assignment” by GOD is to keep the woman off the front lines of battle precisely because of her great value. It bears noting that not all women in the church are “wives”. We must remember and emphasize to our women that Christ did not come from the “rib of Joseph” but from the “womb of Mary” and through the “seed of the woman!” There was no human man involved in the coming of Our Savior! This “precious weaker vessel” explanation helps to put to rest the false connotation that “weaker vessel” somehow means of lesser value or of lesser intelligence. Clearly, we find that the scripture shows that each sex was created, designed, and fashioned for the role which GOD has assigned them. Both are made for a specific purpose and in the image of GOD and equally valued as HIS children.
Qualifications of Elders:
When we think of “worthiness” each of us stands wholly inadequate before Christ knowing that the standards and qualifications for entrance into the very family of GOD are that we become without spot or wrinkle or any such thing – perfect, as He is perfect and holy, as HE is holy! Certainly we know that GOD does indeed call the basest of men to confound the mighty and says clearly that not many noble are called at this time. Each of us can easily relate to these beginning standards yet we know that we are also instructed to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and that only through Him we can indeed achieve these lofty goals. So too we find the standards and qualifications for eldership are high.
As we are chosen, called, and become students of GOD’s word some may develop a certain zeal and passion which may lead to a leadership role in the body if the correct “spiritual fruit” is evident. Paul writes that GOD himself “sets into the church” (Eph 4:11) some who are designed and prepared for these roles. Strauch stands firm in his writings that there be a strict adherence to the public and obvious qualifications to identify those whom GOD has called to this role. Mr. Strauch militates against any other standards which may “gloss over, exclude, or go beyond” the strict biblical standards. Yet he acknowledges that churches are better served by “councils of elders” who “share” oversight responsibilities primarily because each of us (as he quotes C.S. Lewis) has “some fatal flaw” serious enough to destroy us (page 40). He asserts these weaknesses can be overcome by a spiritual consensus in a group of elders rather than by one “prime all powerful” leader. So, strict standards aside; Strauch recognizes and states clearly that even qualified elders will bring some strengths and some weaknesses to the mix of spiritual oversight. He encourages that the way this is mitigated is through shared and collaborative oversight recognizing that the elders are at their best when they work together. Though Strauch is adamant regarding qualifications, even he clearly acknowledges there will be weaknesses and infallibilities in anyone who would be an elder.
Going forward to discuss the actual biblical qualifications, he states that elders are to be “entrusted with God’s dearest and most costly possessions, HIS children!” As such, he speaks of three vital areas of qualification, which must be met.
1. They must be of high moral character and capable in the use of scripture (apt to teach).
2. They must be a good example of godly living to all.
3. They must align with and be accountable to the biblical qualifications for eldership.
He rightly enumerates and expands upon the key qualifications as found in 1Timothy, Titus and 1 Peter;
Not a drunkard (or similar addictions)
Not pugnacious (aggressive)
Gentle & Uncontentious
The husband of one wife
Loves what is good
Is sensible and Just
Prudent & manages his household and affairs well
Respectable with a good reputation outside the church
Having children who believe
Not quick tempered
Not a novice
Holds fast to the word of GOD to exhort and to refute false doctrine
Serving not out of compulsion
Not serving for monetary gain or possessing a love of money
One who does not “lord it over” his brethren
Is clearly a good example
Strauch encourages that an elder must certainly meet these qualifications and that some processes should be set in place to achieve a certain degree of assurance of this. He suggests some kind of a deep probe or inquiry – yet – in Matthew 7:16 Christ Himself is clear that “ye shall know them by their fruits”! There is to be “fruit” or “evidence” of these things – it needs to be obvious and “known”. Christ’s own words and authority on this subject then, preeminently form the basis for the selection of elders.
It is reasonable to consider that, each man who aspires to the position of elder will find that he is strong in some areas and weaker in others. Also, each of us most likely came to repentance at baptism and began on the pathway of growing in grace and knowledge of godly living. Paul, after all, had once been an unholy zealot and most likely an accomplice to murder; yet he was used as one of the greatest apostles of all time. Everyone, including every elder, has sinned and to say otherwise is to be wholly dishonest.
The battle Satan wages against us is usually in the mind and it is no different for the elders than for any man. That is why Paul writes in 2 Cor 10:5 that we are to bring every thought into captivity. It should be noted that something that is “in captivity” still exists but is fully restrained – that is the goal – to be fully (as much as can be achieved) in control with the help of GOD’s Holy Spirit supplying the power. Paul is clear that his own personal struggle with temptation (“the thorn in his flesh which was a messenger of Satan”) was allowed or sanctioned by GOD to keep him humble (2 Cor 12:7). It should be noted that Paul wrote this well after he had been taught personally by Jesus Christ and called to be the Apostle to the Gentile nations. Paul, like us, had things he had to bring into captivity – temptations to wrestle against.
In the eldership, we above all, must fully embrace the understanding that “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.” (2 Ti 2:21) This, written by Paul’s own hand, is how one becomes “meet for the masters use”. Not that elders haven’t sinned (for all have sinned), but that they do not give themselves over to it and purge themselves from it living in a godly manner buttressed all the while by the mercy of GOD.
Though there are some very good church elders out there, it is unlikely that any of them achieve Christ-like perfection in this physical life. Sometimes, one gets the sense that the elders and leaders become a larger more obvious target for the enemy. So when you consider it, it almost seems that the qualifications to be an elder are actually reiterated in a broad sense in “the whole armor of GOD” found in Eph 4:11. The elders should clearly be wearing that armor.
Certainly, true Godly elders find that not a day goes by when they don’t feel unworthy in some way. Yet, true Godly elders also recognize that this important leadership responsibility is a great privilege which allows a very special relationship with GOD and HIS people. It is “special” in a way – an awesome way – a humbling way – a way that engenders great anticipation and longing to bow at HIS feet along with our brothers and sisters before the ONE who did what HE did – making it possible for us to live and grow and someday to be present with him in HIS fantastic Kingdom. GOD hasten that day! ~~~~~~~