Applying the Method

NickImage

When we answer theological questions, we often find ourselves confronted with a variety of evidence. Some of the evidence will point in one direction while some of the evidence may seem to point in one or more other directions. Because the evidence is of different sorts, it carries different weights.

Weighing the evidence to discover an answer is one of the more difficult challenges in theological method. It is more of an art than a science. It usually involves an element of judgment. When the evidence appears to point in more than one direction, we must allow some of the evidence to explain the rest. In other words, part of the evidence will explain not only our answer, but also the remainder of the evidence.

Previously, I have suggested three methodological principles that should guide us in making these judgments. First, didactic (teaching) passages must explain historical references. Second, clear passages (texts that have only one likely interpretation) must explain obscure passages (texts that have more than one plausible interpretation, but in which no single interpretation is significantly more likely than another). Third, deliberate passages (texts that aim to address the theologian’s question) must explain incidental passages (texts that touch on the question only tangentially).

These principles need to be illustrated in practice. Therefore, in the present essay I wish to bring them to bear upon a theological question. In doing so, I shall deliberately avoid the issues that have more obvious answers (e.g., the fundamental doctrines). Of course, by selecting a question with a less clear answer I shall open myself to disagreement. That kind of interaction, however, is useful and necessary. Theologians learn through conversation, which is one reason that the best theology is done in community.

The question that I propose to examine is this: “Must a congregation have more than one elder in order to qualify as a rightly-ordered New Testament church?” Phrased this way, the question makes certain assumptions. It assumes that a church is a particular congregation. It assumes that pastor, bishop, and elder all refer to one office. It permits the possibility that a church may have more than one elder. The question is whether plural eldership is essential to New Testament polity. In other words, I am asking whether a church is sinning if it has only one pastor.

In answering this question, the first line of evidence that is usually considered is the uniform pattern of the New Testament. Among the apostolic churches, plural eldership was widely, and perhaps universally, practiced. Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in every church (Acts 14:23). They consulted with the elders of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22). Later, Paul called for the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17).

What about Paul telling Titus to ordain elders in every city (Titus 1:5)? Could a city have held more than one church? The New Testament contains no reference to any city having more than one church (though the church in a city might have met in several places). Certain church fathers insisted that each city could have only one church. We lack adequate grounds to insist that some cities had more than one church. On the other hand, we cannot completely exclude the possibility, even if it seems unlikely. Probably the safest approach is to consider Titus 1:5 an obscure text. It is not the best text to rely upon for proof in either direction.

At any rate, the New Testament offers plenty of evidence that many of the apostolic churches had multiple elders. In fact, plural eldership is (nearly?) a uniform pattern in the New Testament. Historical examples, however, must not be construed as requirements. Even universal practices (such as reading the New Testament in Greek) do not constitute binding mandates upon all subsequent churches. The most that we can infer from the practice of the New Testament churches is that it is not wrong for a church to have more than one elder.

What about didactic passages that make reference to honoring elders (1 Tim. 5:17), esteeming those who are over you in the Lord (1 Thess. 5:12-13), or obeying those who lead you (Heb. 13:17)? While not all of these passages use the labels pastor, bishop, or elder, these are almost certainly the individuals who are in view. And yet these passages do not aim to answer questions about eldership or church offices per se. They are about the obligations that Christians bear toward church leaders. Whatever is said in these passages about the number or function of the elder is tangential or incidental to the point of the text.

So far, all of the evidence that we have seen is historical (rather than didactic), obscure (rather than clear), or incidental (rather than deliberate). This leads to a question: Does the New Testament contain any clear, didactic text that aims to address issues of church order and, specifically, the office of bishop? The answer to this question is yes, and the text is 1 Timothy 3.

According to 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul is writing so that Timothy will know how to order congregations. The issue with which Paul is most concerned is church office. He addresses two offices: the office of bishop (1-7) and the office of deacon (8-13). In both cases, when he refers to the office, he speaks of it in the singular (3:1, 10, 13). When he refers to the individuals who occupy the office, however, he sets up a contrast between deacons (in the plural, 3:8, 12 with their accompanying pronouns), and a bishop (singular, 3:2 plus the following pronouns).

Not infrequently, the suggestion is made that Paul’s contrast may be purely stylistic. That may be the case. It is also irrelevant to the question we are trying to answer. Our question is how many elders (pastor, bishops) the New Testament requires in order for a congregation to be fully ordered. In the key text on the subject—the didactic passage that aims to speak to questions of church office and order—Paul requires a bishop, not multiple bishops.

How many elders does the New Testament require a congregation to have? Evidently, one. A church with a single pastor-bishop-elder is (in this respect) fully ordered and conformed to the biblical requirement. It may choose to have multiple elders for a variety of reasons, but it is not sinning if it chooses to call only one pastor.

But does not Titus 1:5 require multiple elders? We have already seen the obscurity that is created in this verse by Paul’s use of city rather than church. Another layer of obscurity is introduced by the uncertainty over whether Paul is writing a prescription for all churches or simply an ad hoc description of what he wanted in the churches of Crete. Given these obscurities, we should be hesitant to use Titus 1:5 as a proof text in either direction. If these obscurities could be cleared up then this verse might tilt the balance toward affirming the necessity of plural eldership.

In fairness I should point out (though it ought to be obvious) that I have not reviewed every bit of evidence in this short essay. Other passages could be adduced. I believe that none of the remaining evidence is of a different kind than the evidence that has been examined. It will fit into the categories that have already been established.

Perhaps I should also reiterate that my answer does not preclude the possibility of a congregation having multiple elders. If it chooses to do so, then other questions must be answered, such as whether elders function collegially, hierarchically, or in some other way. Whatever one’s view of singular eldership, one must also discover how elders are supposed to rule or lead (e.g., 1 Timothy 5:17). These questions remain unaddressed by my discussion.

I began with the question of how many elders the New Testament requires for a congregation to be fully ordered. My conclusion is that the New Testament requires only a single elder per church. I do not claim that this answer is certain. In my judgment it is probable, given the methodological commitments that I carry to the evidence and my understanding of the individual texts. If those commitments were successfully challenged, or it could be shown that some of the evidence ought to be weighted differently, then the answer might change.

Crucifying from La Corona
John Donne (1572-1631)

By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate:
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

4251 reads

There are 37 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Well said. More can be said, as Dr. Bauder himself expresses, but this is a concise summary of the question regarding the number of elders in each church.

One area that almost no one mentions is the repeated NT teaching that elders should be financially supported by the church. It seems to me that this is to be the norm, a requirement. Obviously a church's financial ability will limit the amount of support available for each elder. If "full time" rather than "part time" is the goal, a church will work towards supporting one elder full time, rather than two or more partially. The idea of elders who are unsupported financially does not seem to me to have any NT foundation. That means that the question may boil down to financial considerations. How many elders should a church have? As many as they can afford.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Well said. More can be said, as Dr. Bauder himself expresses, but this is a concise summary of the question regarding the number of elders in each church.

One area that almost no one mentions is the repeated NT teaching that elders should be financially supported by the church. It seems to me that this is to be the norm, a requirement. Obviously a church's financial ability will limit the amount of support available for each elder. If "full time" rather than "part time" is the goal, a church will work towards supporting one elder full time, rather than two or more partially. The idea of elders who are unsupported financially does not seem to me to have any NT foundation. That means that the question may boil down to financial considerations. How many elders should a church have? As many as they can afford.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

Hmmm, idk. When Paul writes, "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17) he seems to be implying some elders should be compensated, in distinction from other elders.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Ted,

Isn't the distinction in this verse in "amount" rather than "some and not others"? I mean, every elder received some honor (whatever that might be), some just received more than others, right?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Ted Bigelow's picture

Kevin wrote:
Probably the safest approach is to consider Titus 1:5 an obscure text. It is not the best text to rely upon for proof in either direction.

Kevin, thanks for the article, but let’s give a pause before calling Titus 1:5 obscure based on the phrase, “in every city.” If significant disagreement on a text means it should be placed on the back burner when formulating doctrine, then Titus 1:5 shouldn’t be placed there. It really has never been a point of dispute or any significant contention for 2,000 years now. IOW, it isn’t considered obscure.

Besides, you well know that ancient disagreement on a text doesn’t in itself relegate it to “back burner” status in establishing biblical doctrine. So let’s play Titus 1:5 as it lies :bigsmile: , and ask an opposing question of the text: “Did Paul want a single pastor appointed for any church on Crete?” Well, the verse simply says “appoint elders in every city.” Some say Paul wanted multiple churches in every city on Crete with one elder each. But that reads too much into the text, for then it would have to say something like, “appoint an elder in every church.” Interestingly, there is precedent that supports this. One ancient theologian (Theophylact) changed the Greek text of Titus 1:5 so it read “appoint an elder in every city.” That helped him and others because of his prior commitment to episcopalianism. He actually changed the text to support episcopalianism! In comparison, calling Titus 1:5 obscure is quite benign :bigsmile: .

But whatever else might be said about Titus 1:5, we haven’t really “heard it” until we personally feel how radical it really is, and how much it cost the believers on Crete. By it every church on Crete that had any form of governance other than eldership was forced into reform by apostolic mandate. How this was done and why, and its implications for believers today, is explained in my book, The Titus Mandate. What this means is that any and every “single eldership” church on Crete, (and every other connectional, congregational, and episcopalian church), was forcefully changed to eldership. Not one church on Crete was allowed to retain its own preferred polity. And let’s even add a little more intrigue to the matter. Most likely, some of those existing churches were started by Cretans saved at Pentecost (Acts 2:11). Therefore, being saved under an apostle’s ministry on the Church’s birthday didn’t put one’s preferred polity above apostolic doctrine. The Titus Mandate must have brought a great deal of angst to many on Crete (both regenerate and unregenerate), and no doubt, a number of church leaders on Crete did reject Titus 1:5 and it’s Author (Titus 1:10-16, Titus 2:8, Titus 2:15, Titus 3:10-11).

Wouldn’t it be nice today to have one church in every city led by all the most Christ-like of men in that city? I’m sure you would thrive in leadership amongst such brothers. That’s the way it was when the church was organized under the apostles. Have you considered 1 Pet. 5:1-5 and James 5:14? Both texts reveal that every church these apostles wrote to possessed a plurality of elders – and they sure wrote to a lot of churches (1 Pet. 1:1, James 1:1). Both books contain commands for all believers that are impossible to obey when a church doesn’t have a plurality of elders (1 Pet. 5:5, James 5:14). How might single-eldership explain the believer’s obedience to those commands – as contextual related to whatever form of polity a church employs? Meh

[quote=Kevin ]According to 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul is writing so that Timothy will know how to order congregations. [quote]
I’m not sure everyone will agree with you that “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God” (NKJV) means “I write so that you may know how you ought to order congregations”.

Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus wasn’t extended to other “congregations” (i.e., plural churches, as you write), but to one church – Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). And importantly, this church already had a plurality of men serving as an elder board before Timothy got there, as Acts 20:17ff shows (though I doubt all were qualified). This means 1 Tim. 3:1-7 must be read in light of a single church with a ruling plurality of elders. Timothy is only to appoint men into the existing eldership who meet the apostolic qualifications. (Plural eldership in Ephesus is also seen in 1 Timothy 5:17ff.)

Finally, if I can make an observation on the larger issue of “applying the method.” If I’m correct about 1 Tim. 3:1-7 then the whole matter of “single elder” churches is one not entertained in Scripture and in this regard it is like trying to justify the polity of the RCC from Scripture. Which means that the question, “Can we find justification for single pastor churches” is not the historic reality of the NT even while it is part our present reality. From a methodology that seeks to ‘think God’s thoughts after Him,” what this means is that we should go to the Bible and ask “what is the polity taught in the NT?” To me, this approach seems best suited to benefit from your wonderfully stated “three methodological principles.”

Ted Bigelow's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Ted,

Isn't the distinction in this verse in "amount" rather than "some and not others"? I mean, every elder received some honor (whatever that might be), some just received more than others, right?

I'm not familiar with that interpretation there. "Amount" is certainly in view, but only for those elders who rule well - not for all elders. Remember the context - Ephesus already has a plurality of elders before Timothy arrives, and aguably, after he leaves. If the verse is taken to mean simply "amount" then this text means that all the elders should be paid - some single and some double. But clearly that goes beyond the text, where double honor appears to be equivalent of "generously" - 1 Tim. 5:18.

Dan Miller's picture

Dr. Bauder wrote:
What about Paul telling Titus to ordain elders in every city? (Titus 1:5) Could a city have held more than one church?
Dr. Bauder, when you ask it this way, it sounds like we need to doubt plurality in this passage.

But I think your question should be altered. You should ask, "Could it be that ALL the cities held more than one church?" Because if even one city was a one-church city, then Paul's command is for plurality of elders in that church.

Even today, most of the cities in crete are smaller than Mankato. I would think that the population in Paul's day was very much less. It seems very unlikely that they would have encouraged multiple churches in every single city.

JG's picture

"Sorry, friend, we don't think you're ruling well, so we're not going to pay you for a while. You can still be an elder, but if you want paid, you need to get your act together." Smile

I don't think that's the force of the verse. If an elder doesn't rule well, there are bigger issues than the question of whether he gets paid.

The clear implication is that all elders are expected to be in the "rule well" category, and thus they are to be paid well. This is especially true of those who labour extensively in the Word and teaching.

I see no Biblical basis for unpaid elders, other than inability to pay, an elder's willingness to serve unpaid (as per Paul's example in I Cor. 9), or both.

***
At the last general election, the British people "elected MPs in every constituency." Of course, they only elected one MP per constituency. But just google "MPs in every constituency" and you'll find enough links to know that it's not uncommon usage -- even the official parliament website uses it. The plural can be used with "every" without necessarily indicating any more than one MP in every constituency -- or more than one elder in each church or city.

Therefore, the "elders in every church" or "elders in every city" could just be using the plural with elders to reflect multiple churches, or multiple cities. The most natural reading would be that it indicates more than one elder in each location, but the wording doesn't necessarily require that interpretation.

Thus, these passages, to my way of thinking, would fall into the "obscure" category. How much weight you would apply to them would depend, in part, on how likely you think it is that the plural was used in this way. I suppose if you can prove that the plural was never used this way in Koine Greek, or that it was commonly used in this way, it would impact your view of these passages. Perhaps someone has studied that aspect of it.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Is I Timothy 5:17,18 the only passage that teaches financial support of elders? I trow not. I Corinthians 9:1-14 teaches the same requirement even more extensively. The NT teaching is clear, namely, that churches are expected to support their pastors financially. It may be, as Paul indicates in I Corinthians 9:15-18, that an elder may choose to defer support, which is as much his right as it is his rightful expectation to receive support. The support question is not really up to the church, but rather up to the elder. If a church cannot afford to support more than one elder, they have no right to ask other elders to serve. The church must be prepared to support the elders that serve them, if they intend to obey Scripture. So in most cases the question really does boil down to this: How many elders can you support? That helps cut through the fog of the "how many elders" debate, and puts it in very practicle terms.

Grace and peace,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Shaynus's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
I trow not.

HUH??!

Keep in mind this is a family friendly blog. Wink

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
the question really does boil down to this: How many elders can you support? That helps cut through the fog of the "how many elders" debate, and puts it in very practicle terms.

Then why isn't a church's ability to support an elder one of the elder qualifications? It's noticeably absent in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Further, given your support requirement, a 1st C slave couldn't have been an elder, even if he met all the elder qualifications. This too is unprecedented in the NT.

Why didn't Paul just command the church in Ephesus to support all the elders instead of expecting pay for just those who rule well in preaching and teaching? They had a plurality.

1 Cor. 9:14 seems to provide the answer - those who make their living from the gospel should be supported from the gospel. Not all elders need make their living from the gospel. You think Aquila did?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

The reason this is not listed as a requirement for elders in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is because it is not a requirement for elders. It is a requirement for churches.

As far as a 1st century slave is concerned, do we have any evidence that a slave, not emancipated, served as an elder? If not emanciapted, but owned by a Christian, he might well be freed by his master to serve. If so, why would this bar him from being paid by the church? I understand that 1st century slaves often did earn wages, even from their masters. But bringing up hypotheticals is hardly a way to deal with texts of Scripture.

Warm regards,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Ted,

The reason this is not listed as a requirement for elders in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is because it is not a requirement for elders. It is a requirement for churches.

As far as a 1st century slave is concerned, do we have any evidence that a slave, not emancipated, served as an elder? If not emanciapted, but owned by a Christian, he might well be freed by his master to serve. If so, why would this bar him from being paid by the church? I understand that 1st century slaves often did earn wages, even from their masters. But bringing up hypotheticals is hardly a way to deal with texts of Scripture.

Warm regards,
Greg

OK, forget the slave hypothetical. That dogs not hunting.

Payment of elders is not a requirement for churches. Many churches in the world have not the resources, and 1 Tim. 5:17 is written not to the church but to Timothy (i.e., leadership). Elders oversee the expenditures of churches, not the congregation (in the NT). Not all of Ephesus' elders were paid, nor do I think they were all qualified.

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

The question is, How many elders does the New Testament require for a church to be fully ordered?

Titus 1:5 may have be viewing multiple congregations per city.

It may be speaking collectively (e.g., analogously to "electing MPs in every district--nice illustration! Or as in the sentence, "He went East to find wives for every miner," which certainly does NOT imply polygamy).

Even if Paul is directing Titus to ensure that multiple elders are appointed in every church, however, (and I tend to think that is the case), it remains a simple historical directive for a particular occasion. It does not constitute a rule to be applied in every situation, but is a local instruction for Titus in Crete.

For all three of these considerations, Titus 1:5 is not a good text to settle the question.

To get down to brass tacks on this aspect of polity, we need to go to 1 Timothy 3, which is definitely NOT limited to the local situation at Ephesus. How do we know? Paul tells us. He states that he is writing in order that Timothy "might know how it is necessary to conduct a house of God, which is a church of the living God, a pillar and ground of the truth." Even the prominence of a particularly influential church like Ephesus is not sufficient to exhaust this description.

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul is addressing, not the local situation at Ephesus merely, but the local church as an institution. He is laying down order that should be applicable to any church at any time in any place.

If the question is, "How many bishops does 1 Timothy 3 require for a church to be fully ordered?", then the answer is "One." Anything beyond that is a matter of prudence and practical necessity, not a question of biblical requirement.

Did churches in the New Testament have plural elders? Yes. Did all of them? We don't know, but maybe they did. If they did, does that imply that churches today must have plural elders? No. An "is" does not constitute an "ought." Reasons unique to the First Century social milieu may have made plural elders desirable, and where those same conditions hold, they may still be desirable. But "desirable" is not the same thing as "required."

Keep your eye on the ball. Answer the question that is being asked. The question is not whether it is useful for some churches to have plural elders. The question is not whether the apostolic churches actually had plural elders. The question is not whether we think it is a good idea to have plural elders. The question is not how plural elders are related to one another. The question is not how elders are to lead congregations (i.e., what it means for an elder to "rule"). The question is not whether all elders are to be paid, or whether they are to be paid equally. The question is, "How many elders does the New Testament require for church to be rightly ordered?"

Any answer that goes beyond "one" goes beyond that actual teaching of the text of the New Testament.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thank you, Dr. Bauder, for this article, and for your gentle corrective to keep focused on the central question. May I, however, answer my friend Ted, regarding the financial support of the Ephesian Elders? He says that not all of them were paid. I ask him, how does he know this information?

G. N. Barkman

Bob T.'s picture

Let us again begin with a right term that gives the real essence of the NT gathering. We need to set aside that which the bishops Bible and the KJV put into our ecclesiastical equation. There are only assemblies in the NT if properly translated. There are no churches or religious places or organizational entities beyond the simple assembly. Some of you may go to church. I only go to assembly. This is a gathering of the saints.

NOW, to what are the Elder shepherd overseers plural to? They were plural to the area assemblies or cities! Thus Elders were chosen by the assemblies who gathered in various places in the area. Each area of assemblies had Elders. How many? As many as were genuinely qualified! And who were the qualified? Those who met the general requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. They evidently were to be of such knowledge and wisdom as to be able to sit with the Apostles to decide a major historical and doctrinal issue as was done at Acts 15.

Now let the time machine transport us to the 21st century where 2000 years have gone by and we find ourselves on a well populated planet with thousands of cities. Where are those area assemblies? In each area or city the saints are divided and separated into the Methodists, Baptists, Assembly of God, Community churches, dancing churches, rock band churches, and those Presbyterians and Bible churches. So do they have Elders? Some have qualified Elders and evidently some do not. Some have nothing but unqualified hucksters and their minion followers all called Elders. Those assemblies with qualified Elders are few but still around. Who are these qualified Elders? They are at least the ones who have gone through the contemporary ordination process. The ordination committee of peers comes, questions, and recommends to the assembly. So perhaps in each area there are multiple qualified Elders. Some assemblies also have multiple Elders within themselves by label. Most are usually not that qualified. Few are apt (able) to teach. Some teach well. Others are just good men capable of ministry (Deaconing) but not true Elders.

The Elders of the NT assemblies were plural to that which simply does not exist today. They were serving area assemblies all bound together in unity of one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism.

It is nice to try and pull together scripture that gives evidence of more than one elder chosen at a given area and period of time. But we must ask to what they are plural? Do we indeed have such plurality today that can be compared to the assemblies of NT? If you know of any please let me know. Meanwhile I will endorse having at least one Elder who has been chosen and set apart by an ordination process. In some churches there may be more than one qualified. Let them also go through a genuine ordination process. Let them have a high level of qualifications. Well, prepared, well mentored, and well tested. SOME CALL THEM PASTORS.

The Baptists are not necessarily wrong when they have one Elder (Pastor) and the Presbyterians and others are not necessarily right when they have an alleged plurality of Elders (by label).

What is wrong is the present movement to take assemblies of saints and make them into religious institutions with but saint attenders such as at the theater. In this scenario the self appointed plural Elders give the assembly participation at the will of the alleged Elders. There is then no longer true assembly. In a biblical assembly, it is the whole assembly that is the pillar and ground of the truth. The Elders must be selected by an assembly of saints who stand upon the authority given them as a group at 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1 along with 1Timothy 3:15.

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Thank you, Dr. Bauder, for this article, and for your gentle corrective to keep focused on the central question. May I, however, answer my friend Ted, regarding the financial support of the Ephesian Elders? He says that not all of them were paid. I ask him, how does he know this information?

Sure, Greg. (that's my inner Bauder speaking) -

Paul specifies a group of qualified widows in 1 Tim. 5:3 - but not all widows are to be supported. Contextually that flows into 5:17 Paul where uses the perfect tense of ruling that defines these the elders as a plurality of men already ruling the church in Ephesus. Paul speaks specifically of those who do well (cf. 3:4 and 3:12). Not all elders do so well, or, in other words, are as qualified to be supported in ministry.

The word "especially" is a superlative that isolates some out of a larger group - check out its uses in 1 Timothy, which are varied. But they never deviate from the idea of something superlative out of an original group, or concept (1 Tim. 4:10). I understand that special group in 5:17 to be those who labor hard at preaching and teaching - taking "especially" in the sense of "that is." Not all men in ministry are worthy of support - just those who labor hard at preaching and teaching.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:
The question is, How many elders does the New Testament require for a church to be fully ordered?

Kevin, I agree with you on this whole issue of “full ordering.” I do not believe the NT teaches that a church can only be a church once it has apostolic polity. The church of Corinth proves this. I like the idea of trajectory better. Single-elder churches should mature to become plural elder churches.

Quote:
Titus 1:5 may have be viewing multiple congregations per city.

Most definitely, at least in some. I hope you read my book, or at least the first chapter at www.TheTitusMandate.org. It’s free to download. Paul wanted the multiple churches in every town on Crete merged into a single church with a plurality of genuinely qualified men leading them.

Quote:
Titus 1:5 is not a good text to settle the question….

we need to go to 1 Timothy 3, which is definitely NOT limited to the local situation at Ephesus. How do we know? Paul tells us. He states that he is writing in order that Timothy "might know how it is necessary to conduct a house of God, which is a church of the living God, a pillar and ground of the truth." Even the prominence of a particularly influential church like Ephesus is not sufficient to exhaust this description.[

I think you might be asking a bit much from this text. Many, many churches today, that are genuine churches, don’t have even a single elder (cf. Corinth, 2 John). So if 1 Tim. 3:15 is teaching the “minimum” of one elder for a church to be the pillar and ground of the truth, what shall we say about non-elder churches? Are they not “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Besides, it isn’t church order that makes a church “pillar and ground of the truth” but its submission to the gospel. Furthermore, the verb “conduct” in this verse doesn’t mean “order, arrange” and is passive, not active, as your interpretation requires. The participial phrase “en oikoi” while being anarthrous, is not universal to every church (i.e. Laodicea, Rev. 3:19).

The letter written to Timothy was in a particular church (Ephesus) at a particular time (62-65AD) to a church in a particular development trajectory. It already possessed a plurality of elders (with elder problems), and provides instruction on how existing leadership (here, Timothy) is to define and test future leaders for a church that already possesses a plurality of elders. I fear the claim that 1 Tim. 3:15 is universal ignores the 2nd person singular form of the verb “know” that applies to timothy in Ephesus, and makes polity the measure of true church.

While it is true that every church that faithfully holds the true gospel is a pillar and support of the truth, not every church with a single elder and a plural deacon board loves the gospel, nor is that true of every eldership church.

Quote:
If the question is, "How many bishops does 1 Timothy 3 require for a church to be fully ordered?", then the answer is "One." Anything beyond that is a matter of prudence and practical necessity, not a question of biblical requirement.

You are asking a question of the text it wasn't written to answer. 1 Tim. 3:15 doesn't teach church order, but behavior.

Appointing a plurality of elders wasn’t merely “prudence and practical necessity” to the apostles – they always brought the same trajectory: single church – plural elder (1 Pet. 5:1-2, 1 Tim. 5:17, James 5:14, Acts 20:17ff, Acts 14:23, Acts 16:4). Titus 1:5 displays this very clearly. Kevin, for those cities on Crete with only church, could Titus have appointed a single elder in that one-church city and have been obedient to Christ? No. Appointing a single elder would have been disobedience. This matter of ethics is important and one I rarely see considered in congregational polity discussions. In my first post I asked how might single-eldership explain the believer’s obedience to the commands in 1 Pet. 5:5 and James 5:14, commands which necessitate a plurality of elders. Will you want to touch on that dilemma?

Quote:
Keep your eye on the ball. Answer the question that is being asked. The question is not whether it is useful for some churches to have plural elders. The question is not whether the apostolic churches actually had plural elders. The question is not whether we think it is a good idea to have plural elders. The question is not how plural elders are related to one another. The question is not how elders are to lead congregations (i.e., what it means for an elder to "rule"). The question is not whether all elders are to be paid, or whether they are to be paid equally. The question is, "How many elders does the New Testament require for church to be rightly ordered?"

That’s a curve ball question. You are either trying to adjust your 21st C polity to fit the apostolic age – or worse, vice-versa. The NT always affirms, appoints, and assumes plurality and never single-eldership. Your paradigm passage for single eldership, 1 Tim. 3, is entirely written in the context of that plural reality of the NT.

How many single-elder churches are evidenced in the NT? none. How many Baptist churches are single-elder? Almost all. Why the disparity?

ADThompson's picture

The article explores the question of whether or not a church is sinning if it has only one pastor. Though I realize that this article is more about illustrating a theological method, the more helpful question would have been whether or not a single elder model is biblically ideal for the local church. "Is is sin?" was a question I frequently posed to my parents as a teenager. "Is it best?" is a question I'm trying (and often failing) to ask as a father.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

It would seem that an elder who is not "ruling well" (doing his job), should not only not be supported financially, but should be held accountable for neglecting his job, and if he fails to change, removed from office. Do you really think there are two levels of elders, those who rule well, and those who don't? Who is going to decide which elders fit into which category?

Shouldn't all elders be "counted worthy of double honor" (generous support), with a higher level of support to those who carry the heaviest load of public ministry of the Word?

Cordially,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Ted,

It would seem that an elder who is not "ruling well" (doing his job), should not only not be supported financially, but should be held accountable for neglecting his job, and if he fails to change, removed from office. Do you really think there are two levels of elders, those who rule well, and those who don't? Who is going to decide which elders fit into which category?

Shouldn't all elders be "counted worthy of double honor" (generous support), with a higher level of support to those who carry the heaviest load of public ministry of the Word?

Cordially,
Greg

hey brother,

We live with this in our church, but honestly, there is no tension. Three other men beside me are in eldership, but I'm the only supported elder. The others are good for nothing..... ba-boom.

I think the thing that prevents it from being a problem is elder-parity. I have no more authority in the church governmentally than any other elder, and we require unanimity in all decisions, believing the Holy Spirit has only one will on every matter. This is not to say churches with paid and unpaid elders don't encounter struggles. They often do, but the way through them is for a clear division of ministry labor based on trust and skills, not suspicion. Parity doesn't mean all are equally skilled or worthy of remuneration - but it does mean mutual respect and authority.

The greater problem, I believe, is the congregational church that tries to mingle congregationalism with a plurality of elders. They wrongly erect a status difference because they don't embrace eldership with trust. Paid elders don't have term limits... but unpaid elders do! That grants the paid elder a different level among the elder board - permanence. Unpaid elders are less necessary, so that have lame duck years and then cycle off. The practice of term limits, imported entirely from the world and utterly unattested in Scripture, is a clear indication to all in the church that unpaid elders are not qualified to be in office by Scripture alone, but y the will of man - hence the fear that unpaid elders without term limits may get too much power (distrust). As if God doesn't tell us how to remove unqualified elders (1 Tim. 5:20). Its another one of those ethics issues congregationalism sleeps in fear with.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

Thanks for the explanation of how things work in your church. I can also attest that things work very well in our church with three fulltime elders and two men who are partially supported by the church. And all with congregational govenrment. Which only demonstrates that different approaches can work equally well. Which also supports the conclusion that some of these matters are not as clearly indicated in Scripture as many believe. It would not be difficult to make the case that God left some of the details indeterminate so that different solutions can be righteously applied in different contexts.

But I don't think any of this really addresses the meaning of the text in I Timothy 5:17,18, and whether or not this supports a two level style of eldership. Paying some elders and not others serves to make a distinction, whether acknowledged or not. In your explanation of the text, you said some elders are not as worthy of financial support as others. That creates a distinction that mitigates against the ideal to which you aspire, parity of elders. However, you have obviously overcome this problem in your situation, and I commend you for it. I believe my understanding of the text is closer to Paul's intent, that all elders are to be considered worthy of financial support, but that those who carry a heavier teaching load ought to be given additional financial consideration. These are minor details, and not worthy of argumentation. However, as I said at the beginning when I introduced the financial element into this discussion, I do think a proper understanding of this text introduces a very practical consideration into the discussion, namely how many elders can this particular church afford to support?

Thanks for a good discussion.

Warm regards,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Bob T.'s picture

Dr. Bauder states:

I

Quote:
f the question is, "How many bishops does 1 Timothy 3 require for a church to be fully ordered?", then the answer is "One." Anything beyond that is a matter of prudence and practical necessity, not a question of biblical requirement.

Some may wonder at my insistence that we use a correct translation of "Ekklesia," which would be assembly, instead of the common use term church. The term church appears to me as that which does take our eyes off the ball. If Elders appear in the assembly at Ephesus and the assembly at Crete, they are among "all the Christian people" of that area. When Paul writes to the assembly at Ephesus he writes to all the Christian believers in that area. They were an assembly organized around their greater spiritual unity as the bride of Christ, of which He is the head. An elder or Elders would have been those duly recognized by the assembly. Thus the NT church (oops assembly) does not have a like kind existing today. If the assembly at Ephesus or Crete, or Rome met regularly it would involve multiple meetings in various places. They would not have regular access to places or areas where all could be present at once. They were assemblies without buildings. This is fairly clear from what we understand from historical circumstances.

To keep our eye on the ball we must keep our eye on the existing entity Paul and others were addressing in their writings. There we find a definite greater spiritual entity which is the assembly gathered to the Lord Jesus Christ in spiritual union and presented as an area assembly. We have the word applied to those of this union who are in a geographical area. The geographical assembly stands as those who are believers. It is a word used of all believers in that area. Today we do have assemblies in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and in many smaller areas or cities. Some may even generically use the term of "the church in America." In so doing today we do not refer to one united people, all united with Christ. However, in the Apostolic NT era the assembly in an area was seen as all those born again and united to Christ as their head. This purity of unity is part of the unity which allowed the Apostles to address these area assemblies as one.

If we keep our eyes on the ball we must acknowledge that all the circumstantial evidence with regard to Elders is found in an environment that does not in any way exist today. There was one united assembly with multiple meeting places but with chosen Elders who were the servant leaders of all.

Dr. Bauder certainly appears correct in his conclusion based on the circumstantial evidence. At least one area Elder was necessary but more than one was the norm but not required. However, in the application we may make an important possible conclusion. The assemblies addressed in scripture have no replicas in existence today. Therefore, we must use wisdom and care in applying such derived truth today. The evidence is circumstantial and such circumstances does not exist today.

When we look at what we call the local church (assembly) today we must indeed keep our eye on the ball. Many, if not most, local assemblies have many inconsistencies in their plural Eldership. They often have duel ways of choosing Eldership. For the Elder they choose to call Pastor they have a committee who searches, receives resumes, investigates, compares and then usually brings a candidate before the congregation. Much care is attempted. For other Elders they stay within the congregation, lower their standards, and then select the best they can. I once received a letter of inquiry from a Seattle area church of the IFCA type. They wanted to consider me as a candidate for pastor. As part of their investigation they wanted me to forward a copy of my credit report. I noticed in their constitution that it expressly stated "the Pastor is an Elder like all other Elders." I sent them my credit report but then cited this constitutional phrase. I therefore requested that all their sitting Elders send me a copy of their credit report. I received no further response. The point was that they had what they considered a full equality and plurality of Elders but probably had in no way used the same process to choose them.

So what about our present day Elders? Plurality is permitted but certainly not directed by any NT passages. Many who advocate such plurality do so with a great deal of inconsistency.

From an examination of the NT and the kind of evidence offered regarding the church (assembly), there is one doctrine that stands above the evidence regarding Eldership. That is the principle of congregational government. Why? Because the assembly is an assembly. The heart, essence, and chief characteristic is that the people are the assembly and they gather with the authority of all the blessings in Christ. The congregation stands as the pillar and ground of the truth and the final decision maker with regard to its members (Matt. 18; 1Tim. 3:15). Please note that after Paul addresses the issue of Eldership at 1Timothy 3 he then calls the assembly, not the Elders, the pillar and ground of the truth at verse 15 of chapter three. It is the entire assembly that has Christ as the head.

It must be admitted that the one Elder model also has weaknesses. In both models a weakness can be in the preparation, qualifications, and spirituality of that one Elder or Pastor.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

Yes, I saw post 16. I don't think it addresses the text appropriately. First, if the widow analogy is to be carried over, apparently there will be come "elders" who will apply for financial support, but should be refused. It's hard to see how that would work.

But more to the point, you seem to be reading the text something like this. "Let the elders be counted worthy of double honor, by that I mean the ones who rule well and also labor in the word and doctrine, not those who serve in other ways." But this raises questions, since all elders should both "rule well" as well as minister the word. The difference lies in the proportion of time and effort one may give to public ministry of the word as opposed to administration, counselling, visitation, etc. All elders serve in both ruling and teaching ministries, but some give more time to teaching, and others to administration.

I read the text like this: "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, and give additional consideration to those who carry the heaviest load in the ministry of the Word." I see the text teaching financial support for all elders, with the distinction made for additional financial consideration for those who carry the heaviest load of public ministry of the word. Distinction, yes? Distinction between supported and non-supported elders? No. The only distinction I see is a higher level of support for some elders than others based upon their teaching roles.

It's difficult for me to see how elders can serve at all without "ruling well." All elders either rule well, or else are unfit for the position of elder.

The only area that I see carrying over from the widows instructions is the word "honor," used in both places for financial support.

Cordially,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Ted,

Yes, I saw post 16. I don't think it addresses the text appropriately.
I read the text like this: "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, and give additional consideration to those who carry the heaviest load in the ministry of the Word." I see the text teaching financial support for all elders, with the distinction made for additional financial consideration for those who carry the heaviest load of public ministry of the word. Distinction, yes? Distinction between supported and non-supported elders? No. The only distinction I see is a higher level of support for some elders than others based upon their teaching roles.

Greg, I gave you a number of exegetical points, none of which you actually corrected - you simply misread them, or dismissed them.

Fine. Do you have any other writers who, working from the Greek, agree with you. I've read many commentaries on this passage, and have never seen your view.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

Having read post 16 again, I still do not believe it says what you state. The text does not say that those who labor in the word are the only elders to be supported. It clearly states that the elders who rule well are to be supported. But taking your interpreation for the moment, are you saying that some elders do not teach, and for that reason are not worthy of support?

Cordially,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

CAWatson's picture

Ted, on Post 16:

You are arguing for Skeat's position (JTS:30, 1979, 173-177) on the term "especially" (meaning "equal or equivalent"). Skeat was responded to by Poythress (JTS:53, 2002, 523-532) and Kim (Novum Testamentum 44, 360-368) who hold the traditional position on the meaning of the term. You state: "I understand that special group in 5:17 to be those who labor hard at preaching and teaching - taking "especially" in the sense of "that is." Not all men in ministry are worthy of support - just those who labor hard at preaching and teaching."

However, the text states "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor." A few observations:

1. They are only "considered worthy"
2. The honorarium is "double honor" (paid twice as much as widows, at the very least)

There are at least two (and probably three) categories of elders:
1. Elders who rule
2. Elders who rule well
3. Elders who rule well by preaching and teaching (we may disagree on the difference between 2-3)

If the honorarium is double for the second category, why couldn't the honorarium be single for the first? Unfortunately this passage does not state that the honorarium is necessary at all - for such an argument we would need to use other texts (which have already been mentioned). I don't think that this text teaches your conclusion - that "not all men in ministry are worthy of support."

Ted Bigelow's picture

CAWatson wrote:
You are arguing for Skeat's position (JTS:30, 1979, 173-177) on the term "especially" (meaning "equal or equivalent"). Skeat was responded to by Poythress (JTS:53, 2002, 523-532) and Kim (Novum Testamentum 44, 360-368) who hold the traditional position on the meaning of the term.

I didn’t know there was a "traditional view" on malista. I’ll look it up.

Quote:
There are at least two (and probably three) categories of elders:
1. Elders who rule
2. Elders who rule well
3. Elders who rule well by preaching and teaching (we may disagree on the difference between 2-3)

Are you reformed? I respect that, but the “category of elders” view of 1 Tim. 5:17 is one that has been successfully disproved by many, imo. Actually, all elders are to be skilled in the Word (Titus 1:9), and 1 Tim. 5:17 shows that all elders rule as well (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4-5). Are elders individually gifted, individually skillful, and individually effective? Yes. 1 Tim. 5:17 recognizes that.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

I took an hour this morning to review eight commentaries on I Timothy. As I suspected, they were "all over the map" on this issue. No, I cannot say that any of them specifically take the position I have espoused, but I found nothing that makes my position impossible, and several comments gave it some encouragement without full endorsement. Each commentator comes with his own "baggage," so those that are strongly reformed defend the two class "teaching elder/ruling elder" position, etc. Defending that position makes it impossible to require financial support for all elders. Several struggled to try to defend the position that the financial distinction should apply to teaching elders only, and not ruling elders. Vincent says "pleiona timane" means "more honor" (after relating "honor" to remuneration), and says "The comparison is with those Elders who do not exhibit equal capacity or efficiency in ruling." That leaves unanswered whether or not all elders should receive "some honor." I conclude that they should, but clearly not everyone is so persuaded.

So, I am happy to bow out at this point. I don't think I can prove my point beyond all doubt, but I do think it is a valid position. Dr. Bauder no doubt believes I have not "kept my eye on the ball" in this detour, but actually I was endeavoring to address the question, Does Scripture require a plurality of elders in every church, and do churches sin if they do not comply? I was endeavoring to offer a seldom considered aspect of this question, namely:

1) If Scripture requires that all Elders be supported financially. (subject to debate)
2) And if some churches are financially unable to support more than one pastor.
3) Then it follows that churches do not sin by failing to have a plurality of Elders.

That's what I was trying to add to the discussion. Thanks for a good debate!

Warm regards,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Ted,

I took an hour this morning to review eight commentaries on I Timothy. As I suspected, they were "all over the map" on this issue. No, I cannot say that any of them specifically take the position I have espoused, but I found nothing that makes my position impossible, and several comments gave it some encouragement without full endorsement. Each commentator comes with his own "baggage," so those that are strongly reformed defend the two class "teaching elder/ruling elder" position, etc. Defending that position makes it impossible to require financial support for all elders. Several struggled to try to defend the position that the financial distinction should apply to teaching elders only, and not ruling elders. Vincent says "pleiona timane" means "more honor" (after relating "honor" to remuneration), and says "The comparison is with those Elders who do not exhibit equal capacity or efficiency in ruling." That leaves unanswered whether or not all elders should receive "some honor." I conclude that they should, but clearly not everyone is so persuaded.

So, I am happy to bow out at this point. I don't think I can prove my point beyond all doubt, but I do think it is a valid position. Dr. Bauder no doubt believes I have not "kept my eye on the ball" in this detour, but actually I was endeavoring to address the question, Does Scripture require a plurality of elders in every church, and do churches sin if they do not comply? I was endeavoring to offer a seldom considered aspect of this question, namely:

1) If Scripture requires that all Elders be supported financially. (subject to debate)
2) And if some churches are financially unable to support more than one pastor.
3) Then it follows that churches do not sin by failing to have a plurality of Elders.

That's what I was trying to add to the discussion. Thanks for a good debate!

Warm regards,
Greg

Thanks for all your labor this morning. You saved me from the same!

BTW, notice the singular in 1 Tim 5:18 following the plural in 5:17.

I would like to address your third point in a separate post some time. Its one of those, "yes and no" things. It would have been sin for any church on Crete to have had only a single elder after The Titus Mandate was finished (Titus 1:5). On the other hand, other churches in the NT don't even have a single-elder (2 John, Corinth) but there isn't anything they can do to "repent." It would seem to me that churches that resist plural eldership, when possessing a plurality of truly qualified men, are resisting the clear pattern of Scripture, which is sin - maybe a sin more of omission than commission.

Pages

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.