What about elders and deacons?

The problem with words is that they change in meaning over the years. I would love for the word,"church," to never be used because the word itself conjures up a building with a spire, or a denomination, or a meeting. But the word is Scriptural, and we can learn to use it rightly.

The same is true with words like elders and deacons. The words are Scriptural, but their meaning has become obscured by centuries of tradition.

The word for elder, "presbuteros" literally means an older person, someone who is more mature. He keeps an eye on (oversees) what is going on in the churches. The word for deacon, "diakonos" means servant.

The question sometimes comes up, "Should every simple/organic church have elders and deacons?" There are different opinions on this. My personal belief is that these are regional functions; that a network of churches or the church within a city will have elders.Each individual house church has spiritual parents to look after it.

My reason for this belief about elders is that in Titus 1:5, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every city. The passage in Acts 14:20-24 where Paul  and Barnabas appoint elders in every church is actually in the context of them visiting several cities (verse 20), presumable each with a city church, perhaps made up of several individual house churches. Every other reference to elders is within the context of a city (Jerusalem, Philippi, Ephesus). 

We personally do not appoint elders. We may be wrong in this attitude, and the Lord is certainly leading others differently, but we suspect that one day, a true city church will arise that breaks down the barriers that we Christians have erected to separate ourselves from each other. Then elders and deacons will come into their own.

What do you think?


17 replies on “What about elders and deacons?”

I don’t see “appoint” as setting in office or as is commonly called, “ordain”. I see it more as “recognized” more through enlightenment by the Holy Spirit (discerning). I see these (the ministries) as giftings which Christ gives to His body. In this realm it doesn’t become “lording over” but functioning within ones giftings. In the natural this may seem difficult but when the Holy Spirit as a guide, instructor, and changer of lives is added to this assumption it can all become workable.

I am currently struggling with this. I don’t think that God ever desired elders to function primarily as those who meet separately from the body once or twice a month to make decisions for the church. I also don’t think that God ever desired for elders to serve a term of 1 or 3 years and then they are not considered elders any longer. I like your simple definition of an elder in that it is a wise, older person in the Lord. The church desperately needs spiritually wise elders/pastors/overseers/mentors/fathers in her midst!

on Saturday in our city, I was helping a church do some painting in a staircase. The 3rd floor of the church overlooks the downtown area of our city. As I stared out over the tops of buildings I counted about 7 church steeples within the 4 block radius of the church I was at. There is so much division over doctrine, I can hardly see how a city wide church would come into unity. Yes, they might agree on essentials, but quickly fall into ineffectiveness in the water of generalities that essentials seem to offer. It’s going to take a lot of humility in order for this to take place. A lot of humility most traditional clergy aren’t willing to stoop to.

Nathan, I see the modern structure of the Western Christian Cultural Religion as propagating the need for these “offices” and “committees” in that once you have property, and maintenance of said property, and various outreaches, and various social events, and various ministries, and multitudes of departments, and so on, then you grow compartmentalized organization out of necessity. Organization as a form instead of a tool can quickly take over for the Holy Spirit.

Did you ever read Tyndale’s bible? Inasmuch as his effort was the first in “modern English,” I perceive his effort to be very informing as to that he only used the word “church” in reference to places of idol worship.
It is very clear to me that the church hunted Tyndale across a continent and eventually caught and killed him because they wanted to perpetuate their power as “church.” It is astounding to me that anyone who calls themselves “reformed” ignores this and yet claims “Sola Scriptura.” This is what I believe Jesus referred to as blind guides leading the blind.
So, from early on in English (Tyndale is credited with an influence on the language perhaps only surpassed by Shakespeare) I think it is safe to say that “church” is a “wrong” word to refer to ekklesia which is better understood as the Body, the lively stones, the Brothers and Sisters, the Family of God…
To address your questions… and please forgive my unedited lunch-hour rambling…
It is my experience that the nature of the advent and growth stages of ekklesia can be inferred by the parable of the sower. Just like grain “grows best” in fields but also springs up in sidewalks, organic church is unpredictable (to us) and sometimes needs careful “transplanting” – not to a new space, but to a new place, closer spiritually to ideals.
One experience in Scripture that comes to mind at the moment is that of the household of Cornelius (Acts 10). He leaped at the opportunity to worship Peter – and so he needed quite a bit of directing at first. A converted Jew wouldn’t have had that misunderstanding, but they certainly needed some other kinds of guidance (Acts 15).
So, it is my observation that “where” (spiritually and usually to a lesser extent geographically) we spring up is quite relevant to what “needs” to be done in regards to elders, pastors, teachers, etc.
Perhaps when a Western (Greek/Roman influenced) person too closely examines the explosion of the “first church” in Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the then-known earth they are lead to create a blueprint when what’s needed is a life sciences approach: of our 10 children, we’ve experienced children becoming verbal over a wide range of ages for a huge variety of reasons… and for some reason some of them just can’t throw a football like I can and some of them play music so much better than I can even hear it.
Contemporary experiences of folks like ourselves who knew Christ for 30 years before understanding the organic nature of His Body leads to growth in a way that appears to me to be something more like a vine than grain… we’re interconnected with a wide variety of folks with different past and current experiences. And we’ve had some painful pruning to do when some folks went wild. Maybe having appointed persons would really help us? Because my wife and I have been the “older” ones, we’ve typically consulted with other older saints in our geographic region to help us through the growing pains.
Thanks for listening : )

The real mystery seems to be: “How do we clear enough of the hay, sticks, and stubble out of the way, that Christ can truly be Head of His church (body)?” Becoming high functioning spiritualists seeking “signs & wonders” isn’t the way. Neither is mandating organization and using “works” to force God to act according to formulas we derive from our bent of Scripture. It seems if we’re to find the proper place it’s going to come from prayerful relationship with our Lord combined with an openness for Him to lead us by His Spirit. I see this working much better in consensus than through an appointed leader.

1 Peter 5:1-4 is a text that needs to be investigated closely in a discussion of elders. Like Acts 20:17 & 28, three words are used to describe the functions of these. “Elders,” “overseers” and “shepherds” appear to describe people who influence believers because of their godly care, maturing example and servant hearts. It is a blessing to have such people in your life.

I agree with what u have written. However, the pink elephant in the room to me right now is, how effective is the organic church model at responding in a meaningful way to the Japan issue. Is there some way that we are responding collectively? Just asking:)

To answer the “pink elephant” question IMHO Jesus can do a lot with just a little. After a church we were in fell apart 10 of our families met in a house. One of the women was from the Philippines and expressed concern about seeing her grandmother one last time. A couple of us felt led to take money we would have normally been setting aside into “tithing” to send her and her family back for a visit. While there her husband (a Navy man) met up with a friend in the radio industry whom he had known there and within two weeks had set up a concert at the Veteran’s Hall in Manila in which thousands attended and heard the gospel. He brought back pictures of the event showing a huge banner out front saying “sponsored by Lighthouse Christian Fellowship” which is what our little group of ten families called ourselves. When we approach the Lord in sincere prayer, it doesn’t matter how small we are, it shows how big He is.

I heard that the etymology of the word “church” is actually from “kirke” and did refer to the building itself (I haven’t personally researched this, though.) The word used in the Greek was “assembly of called out ones” or “ekklesia.” I do still use “church,” though, because it’s the word people know. It’s confusing both to use it and to not use it. I avoid it when I can, but often it just seems the best way to communicate.

“elephant” question: that is a wonderful thing your small group did. But your response begs a question…how does that relate to Japan’s problem? The larger question is this as I see it: does the organic church model have the capacity to impact a situation like Japan is facing in any meaningful way. If so, what would/should that response look like?

The organic church is made up of individual Christians. I applaud what Franklin Grahams group is doing in Japan and pray more like them show up. Groups like his are supported by individual Christians often giving as the Lord directs them. All the resources belong to God. Another interesting question might be: How much more could individual Christians give if so much of their resources weren’t tied up in building programs, salaries, maintenance and operation of “Church” structures, etc?

Great points! Just received an email from Wolfgang Simson this morning which actually addresses my initial question. He is mounting a response that will address the real need in Japan. Encourage all reading these comments to follow this link:

Even though a retired pastor and retired chaplain now, the Lord brought me to this understanding just recently in my old age (66 years old). From my reading of Scripture it’s quite clear that one cannot create the New Testament pattern of organization in a community that is already split in several divisions, with each Christian religious institution having their own CEO, board of directors, regardless of whether they’re called, elder, deacon, pastor, etc. In fact it’s clear that Jesus (Matthew 23) doesn’t want us to use any titles of address in the church. These are roles, not titles.

Let’s pray that one day, somewhere, there will be a city-church like you mentioned. Bless you for wanting to stay true to the Word.

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