The Biblical Requirements for Elders
The Cheapening of the Office of the Elder
I have grave concerns regarding that which claims to be conservative, evangelical Christianity.
For many years now I have searched my own locale (the north Dallas, TX area) for a truly biblical church and have yet to find even one. To be sure, in this large, metro area there are literally scores (hundreds?) of self-declared conservative churches that “put on a good front”, but when one gets into the details and compares them to the Bible’s instructions and model for the true church, they are veritable wastelands of humanistic thought, modern marketing and "mass appeal", contradictions and biblical error.
The Lord accurately characterizes our age with this sober warning:
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Please note these elements within the context:
- Believers are expected to remain persistent in prayer to the Lord for justice and equity to prevail in their behalf against those who are unjust.
- The Lord will quickly grant justice and equity to His people.
- As the time of the Lord’s return approaches, those who are of the true faith might become essentially non-existent as an identifiable group.
Let me use a small analogy to show you where I’m going in this series…
Assume that Nation A wants to conquer Nation B. Of the strategies Nation A considered, the one it adopted was as insidious as it was subtle: Nation A would quietly assimilate into Nation B, began assuming positions of respect and leadership, then slowly and inexorably begin changing the minds of the people of Nation B to think like the people of Nation A. This strategy, implemented over generations, proved unstoppable and ensured that Nation A prevailed. Nation B “never knew what hit it” as it quietly and inevitably disappeared into obscurity.
This has happened to the conservative church in America: Nation A are the humanistic BBINOs (“Bible believers in name only”, a term I just created as a nod to our current political climate) who, like viruses, infected true assemblies (Nation B) who grew cold and careless.
And who were/are these BBINOS? The elders/pastor/overseers who were given the responsibilities of leadership and power—sometimes by their own actions, sometimes by the deacons, sometimes by the congregation. The important fact is that the vast majority of these “leaders” never fulfilled nor currently fulfill the actual, biblical requirements for that position.
In short, in my observation, the vast majority of conservative American Christian pulpits are filled with men who shouldn’t actually be there, men who are slowly and inexorably misleading their congregations with ever increasing error. This debacle started generations ago but gets worse with each succeeding generation.
[EDIT: Apr 2023: The number of church websites I have reviewed exceed 750.]
[I’m not seeking here to comment on the deplorable state of that which generally calls itself “religion” in our country. There are entire denominations in the US that haven’t given so much as a nod to the Bible for the last couple of centuries.
The purpose of this article is to expose those "churches" that identify as conservative, evangelical, Bible, Baptist, Community, Fellowship, Reformed, etc.; that is, those groups who at least present themselves as conservative lovers of the Bible (though the reality of their claims is very different when the doctrine they espouse and preach is carefully examined!).]
Lest someone begin to think that I place the entire responsibility for this debacle on the shoulders of the elders/pastors, we must also consider the biblical responsibilities of their congregations, and what happens when they become cold and careless:
2 Tim 4.1-4
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul saw the day coming (and to be sure, it is upon us now!) when congregations will no longer tolerate, or even recognize, the true Word of God.
So, we have this simultaneously destructive and reflexive relationship between unfaithful elders/pastors and their equally careless congregations:
- Elders/pastors slowly and steadily turn their preaching from the whole truth of the Word of God to their own brand of humanism, modern marketing, carelessness and their own ideologies and narrative in order to present a "theological buffet" of teaching (take what you want, leave the rest; no one will be embarrassed here by the realities of sin and rebellion against the Lord and His Word…).
- Congregations turn their attention from the truth and actively seek out preachers to accommodate their own wretched, aggregate desires, imagination, dogma, carelessness and disobedience.
That last phrase in the text above
and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
is rather interesting in the original:
καὶ ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς ἀληθείας τὴν ἀκοὴν ἀποστρέψουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τοὺς μύθους ἐκτραπήσονται.
A "near literal" translation is (noting the μὲν/δὲ construction and the voice change of the verbs from active to passive):
and on the one hand, from the truth their hearing they will turn away (FAI 3P, active voice)
but on the other hand to fables they will be turned (FPA 3P, passive voice).
There are two compatible and reflexive characteristics of the elders/overseers and congregations of which Paul speaks:
- The congregations will turn away (active) from listening to the truth of the Word of God (future active indicative).
- The Lord, in turn, ensures that they will be turned (passive) to fables (future passive indicative).
This is yet another example of the justice of God like that presented in Romans chapter 1. Note there that after the spectacular condemnation of those who actively “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”, the justice of God is implemented by means of these terrifying actions:
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity …
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions …
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind …
The pulpits of America are occupied by elders/pastors who actually deny the full truth of the Word of God; in turn, their congregations are filled with people who turn away from the truth and “seek fables”. In it all, the justice of the Lord is seen in that each colludes with the other to ensure the permanent consequences of insidious, treacherous error in those assemblies!
There are, no doubt, more than a few reasons why this took place. The one on which I want to focus in this series is this:
Generations ago (how many, I don’t really know…), the so-called conservative, evangelical churches in America began "relaxing" the constraints of the biblical requirements for elders/pastors. They turned away from the requirements detailed in 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9 and instead began to improvise and "invent" their own rules and standards, calling it an “improvement” over the "outmoded and obsolete" Bible. The result has been devastating, self-destructive and self-perpetuating, with full collusion from the seminaries and the congregations they "serve".
Therefore, the purpose of this series is to show in detail from the canonical references of 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9 the actual, biblical requirements for elders/pastors.
By design, this series will be technical, referring to important details in the Greek syntax of both 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Tts 1.5-9; as we’ll see, both are identical in Greek grammar and meaning. And, both stand in stark contrast to the typical manner in which they are used (ignored, actually!) by a vast majority of (so-called) conservative, evangelical churches across America.
I invite—rather, implore!— my readers to carefully consider the biblical evidence presented in this series and compare it to the leadership in your church. If the man who stands behind the pulpit week-after-week does not, short of getting a new, biblically qualified elder (a very slim probability in today's American churches!), then why are you still attending there? You're not doing yourself any favors. For some instruction on what to do and look for, see The Essential/Nonessential Doctrine Debacle on this site.