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Four Aspects of the Eldership

by Larry Miles

Reprint from W&W 1980


In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told His disciples the day would come when the church of Christ would be established. This happened on the day of Pentecost, the church of Christ became a reality. We know that the United States of America has a written constitution to know what certain laws are and how to apply them to the “so- called” at times good of the country. So, also, the church of the Lord has a written constitution, given by the Lord Jesus Christ, as He revealed His will through the inspired writers. The Lord has told us how to conduct our Christian lives and He also has told us how to conduct our affairs concerning the local assembly. Is there a scriptural pattern for the carrying out of the local church affairs? Yes, there is!

One of the great sayings of the Restoration Movement of the Nineteenth Century was “Call Bible Things by Bible Names.” Or “Speak Where the Scriptures Speak and Keep Silent Where They Are Silent.” The concept of the Eldership is in keeping with the former phrase and that the Bible is most certainly not silent on this key concept is in keeping with the latter. Concerning the importance of the scriptures concerning all things, we would like to quote an excerpt from one of the most important documents having to do with the Restoration Movement of the last Century. In 1804 Barton W. Stone, in The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, wrote these words: “We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; as many are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.” By a study of the writings of the pioneers we see a great reverence for the word of God.

If we are to be true to the N.T., we ought to be doing all we can to restore the ancient order of things concerning the New Testament church. We ought to be teaching the truth concerning the eldership. In this paper, we are going to strive to do this. We want to write about four aspects of the eldership. They are as follows:





Was the Eldership sanctioned by the Word? If it is not, then we ought not have anything to do with it. If it was, then we ought to be willing to teach and practice all that is said on it. There have been many false systems o! Church Government instituted by the denominational world. We want to cite three here:

  1. The Episcopal Form: In this system, you have 3 levels of clergymen, deacons, priests, and bishops. The authority of each is greater and each is subject to the higher one. Examples of this system are the Roman Catholic, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Church.
  2. The Presbyterial Form: Although they do have elders, they have made a distinction between the teaching elder, who is always the ordained Pastor, and the ruling elder, who is always a layman. An example of this system is the Presbyterian Church.
  3. Congregational Form: All matters are decided by a vote of the congregation. Example: The Baptist Church.

Are any of these true to the Word of God? In the view of the writer none is. According to the New Testament, rule of the churches falls in the authority of the eldership. We ask that you consider the following verses: I Thes. 5:12-13; I Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7; and Heb. 13:17. Are Elders to be dictators? No.




We have established the fact that the eldership was and is sanctioned by the teaching of the Word of God. The Bible says that there were “Elders in every place”. A claim is made that the existence of the eldership did not go beyond the first century; that, of course, is false teaching.


We have already established that the eldership is in the plan of God and that also it is to be practiced today. We now want to talk about the qualifications. If there is an office, then there must be qualifications and duties. We will be discussing duties in the next point, so we want to now consider some thoughts on the qualifications of elders. The qualifications for elders are listed in I Tim. 3, and in Titus 1. Bro. Tom Thurman in his class on “The Church,” at Cincinnati Bible College, gave us this list on how to parallel the lists of Timothy and Titus:

Timothy 3:1-7

Titus 1:5-9

According to H. Leo Boles, there is one important fact to consider concerning these qualifications, “There are few qualifications listed for the elders which do not belong to all Christians.” Bro. J. W. McGarvey, in his book, The Eldership, divides the qualifications into five areas. “Experience, Reputation, Domestic Relations, Character, and Habits.” Concerning the importance of the work and responsibility of elders we want again to quote from the book by Boles, “The Eldership of the churches of Christ.”  On p. 24, Bro. Boles wrote these words, “When we look at the work of elders and the responsibility that rests upon them, we are not surprised at the high standard that the Holy Spirit has given for elders.”


Bro. J. W. McGarvey said in his book on the Eldership, “The title Shepherd is still more significant than either of the other two.” The other two were elder and bishop. He says that the term shepherd shows what the duties are. In Psalm 23, David wrote these words that just may tell us what the ideal elder must do. “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names’ sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me ...” (KJV).

Elders are to be sound in the faith. They are to be, according to I Peter 5:3, examples to their flock. They are also to take heed to the spiritual condition of the church. The eldership is to take the oversight of the congregation in spiritual areas. Concerning the duties of the elders, Bro. Boles said: “Elders are to rule, teach, and exercise discipline in the church. They are to teach the word of God or feed the flock with the sincere milk of the word. They must not only preserve the word of God intact, but they must resist the introductions of innovations. The congregation is to honor them as fathers, obey them as God’s shepherds, receive not an accusation against them except at the mouth of two or more witnesses, count them worthy of double honor, and imitate their faith.”

We hope that we have considered and prepared the subject well. It is my prayer that these writings can be of some use for the advancing of the cause to promote New Testament Christianity in our day and bring about the unity for which our Savior prayed in John 17

-Larry Miles, Word & Work, 1980

Larry Miles is Co-Editor of Word & Work and attends Cherry St. Church of Christ

in New Albany, IN.


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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33