In churches of Christ we have great concern for doing Bible things in Bible ways. I totally agree that is a good and legitimate concern. But this is the question we immediately confront: how do you decide what is a Bible thing, and how do you decide the Bible way to do it?

As an example, consider congregational leadership.

  1. We want our congregations to have the same kind of leadership that congregations had in the first century.
    1. But deciding how to make congregational leadership a Bible thing done in a Bible way is complex, not simple.
    2. Congregations in the New Testament enjoyed four forms of leadership.
      1. They had leadership from the apostles.
        1. Without question, that was the best form of congregational leadership--it often was not well received, but it was the best.
        2. We all agree that the apostles were God inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit as no other Christians ever were.
        3. They also had the advantage of living and working with Jesus.
        4. They were the primary source of the Scripture that we trust and follow.
        5. For a while, the Jerusalem congregation had all of the apostles in their leadership.
      2. They had leadership from the Holy Spirit.
        1. The Holy Spirit was powerful and active in first century congregations.
        2. He also was essential in congregational leadership--the letters that became the New Testament were being written.
        3. With all the problems the congregation at Corinth had, 1 Corinthians documents that the Holy Spirit was very active in that congregation.
        4. Revelations and prophecies were essential to those congregations.
      3. They had leadership from evangelists.
        1. Evangelists were instructors, organizers, troubleshooters, and appointers.
        2. Timothy and Titus are primary examples of evangelists.
        3. Paul's letters to these two men were instructions of how they were to work and what they were to do in specific churches.
        4. One responsibility was to help appoint local church leaders.
        5. Caucasian congregations in the United States have rejected this form of leadership within our congregations.
          1. We use it extensively in our mission work--we expect our missionaries to be proactive in the leadership of congregations on the mission field.
          2. But we do not accept or sanction leadership roles for evangelists in American congregations.
        6. Many African-American congregations use the evangelist in the leadership role of the local congregation.
      4. They had local men called elders, bishops, or presbyters--all referring to the same men--who functioned as congregational leaders.
        1. This is our primary form of leadership in Caucasian congregations.
        2. It was unquestionably a primary form of congregational leadership in first century churches.

  2. As we use elders for leadership, we make some basic assumptions.
    1. We assume that elders in the different first century congregations were the same kind of men.
      1. Today in our congregations we make that same assumption.
      2. I can testify that elders from congregation to congregation are not the same kind of men.
        1. I have worked under elderships for 35 years--since 1962.
        2. Few elders have attended as many elder meetings as have I.
        3. I have listened to elders make decisions since I was 22 years old.
        4. I can assure you that not all elders are the same kind of men, and that elders from congregation to congregation are not interchangeable.
      3. Generally, elders in all congregations do share some things in common.
        1. They are married.
        2. They have children.
        3. They are not divorced.
        4. They are not active alcoholics.
        5. They are not recently converted.
      4. One of my special blessings has been to work with some truly exceptional elders in different contexts.
        1. I have worked with some in mission focused congregations.
        2. I have worked with some in university congregations.
        3. I have worked with some in a typical urban settings.
        4. But these remarkable men were not interchangeable.

  3. Within our basic assumptions about elders as leaders, we have oversimplified congregational leadership.
    1. Our reasoning often has been:
      1. The Bible is the Bible.
      2. The New Testament is the New Testament.
      3. What Paul said to Timothy was identical to what he said to Titus.
      4. The circumstances at Ephesus and Crete were identical.
      5. The needs at Ephesus and Crete were identical.
      6. The composition of those congregations were irrelevant.
    2. So we take a concordance, look up all the references to elders, bishops, presbyters, put them all together, and reinforce our assumptions.
      1. Before we study what Paul said to Timothy and Titus about elders, we assume he said the same thing, so we approach it as if it were identical.
      2. We look at both as Paul's check list of elder qualifications.
    3. This suggestion is worthy of serious consideration and thought.
      1. If you think about it, it is obvious that Paul never intended 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to be "the" check list for "the" qualifications for elders.
      2. There are some basic, critical qualifications not included in either scripture.
        1. Neither scripture says anything about the man's faith in Christ.
          1. A congregation is in serious trouble if it entrusts its leadership to men who do not have great faith in Christ.
          2. A congregation can look forward to great blessings if it entrusts its leadership to men who do have great faith in Christ.
          3. A man can have little faith and meet the qualifications if we make a check list out of those two scriptures.
        2. Neither scripture says anything about the love the man has for Christ.
          1. A congregation faces serious problems if it trusts its leadership to men who have little love for Christ or who cannot express love for Christ.
          2. A congregation can look forward to great blessings when it entrusts its leadership to men who have and express great love for Christ.
          3. A man can have little love and meet the qualifications if we make a check list out of those two scriptures.
        3. Neither scripture says anything about the love the man feels for the people in the congregation--how important is it that the shepherd love the sheep, especially the wounded, sick, or erring sheep?
          1. We emphasize his "love of the truth" rather than his love of the sheep.
          2. Some leaders love the truth but do not love the sheep.
          3. Elders love both, but love of the sheep makes them great shepherds.
        4. Neither scripture says anything about the men having the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23) or the Christian graces (2 Peter 1:5-8) which must live in any man who has the spiritual maturity to provide leadership.
      3. I suggest that 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are not a check list of elder qualifications.
        1. I suggest that each provides a profile of the kind of spiritually mature men that can be trusted to be shepherds in two different situations.
        2. To both Timothy and Titus, Paul says, "This is the kind of spiritually mature Christian men you are looking for in your situation."
        3. A man could be spiritually mature and not fit the profile.
        4. Paul did not intend either scripture to be a checklist.

  4. Please take a careful look at the situation at Ephesus.
    1. Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Mediterranean world with perhaps a population of a quarter of a million people.
      1. The city was the gateway to Asia.
        1. Caravans met the ships at Ephesus.
        2. Militarily, it had been a strategic city for around a thousand years.
      2. One of the most important and impressive temples in the world, the temple of Artemis or Diana, was there; Ephesus was the religious center of all Asia.
      3. It was one of the important urban centers of the Roman empire.
        1. It was a center for the business and religious world.
        2. It was wealthy, sophisticated, with significant cultural development.
      4. The congregation existed in a city "where it was happening."
    2. This congregation enjoyed all four forms of first century leadership.
      1. Paul, the apostle, taught every day in the school of Tyrannus for two years, so this congregation had direct leadership from an apostle (Acts 19:8-12).
      2. As in all the congregations, the Holy Spirit was active (Ephesians 4:30; 5:18).
      3. Timothy worked with the congregation as an evangelist (1 Timothy 1:3-11).
      4. And they had elders.
    3. Evidently they had elders before Paul completed his long and effective stay in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20).
      1. Later, as he passed near Ephesus, he called the elders at Ephesus to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:17,18).
        1. In that meeting, Paul said some striking things to these men (Acts 20:28-32).
        2. They needed to be on guard for themselves as well as the congregation.
        3. Their appointment to be shepherds was from the Holy Spirit.
        4. Men who were described as savage wolves were going to enter the eldership and the congregation and cause destruction among the sheep.
        5. Some of these very elders would exalt themselves.
        6. Some of them would tell the congregation things that would direct the congregation away from what was right and good.
        7. Some of them would deliberately create their own followings.
        8. Some of them would develop their own personal disciples.
      2. Before Paul wrote this letter to Timothy that we call 1 Timothy, Ephesus had elders--elders were in place there for some years before this letter.

  5. Now turn to 1 Timothy and follow me as you remember two things: Timothy is in Ephesus; and years before, Paul told the elders that some of them would become wolves.
    1. Look at what is happening:
      1. Certain men in the congregation are teaching strange doctrines (1:3).
        1. They are emphasizing myths, genealogies, and speculation (1:4).
        2. They are pursuing fruitless discussions (1:6).
        3. They make confident assertions they don't understand (1:7).
      2. Some of these men have rejected faith and a good conscience (1:19).
        1. Their faith is shipwrecked.
        2. Paul names two men he has "delivered to Satan" to teach them not to blaspheme (1:20).
      3. Isn't that what Paul warned would happen in Acts 20?
    2. The situation:
      1. The congregation had elders.
      2. Some of those elders were exceptional, worthy of double honor (5:17).
      3. Some of those elders were sinful and needed to be rebuked before the whole congregation (5:20).
      4. Those worthy of honor were not to be subjected to irresponsible charges--accusations must be supported by two or three witnesses (5:19).
      5. All elders were accountable to the congregation.
      6. In the matter of honor or charges, there was to be no bias, no partiality, and no action taken hastily (5:22, 23).
      7. If you want to see one contrast between the profile of a man you need as an elder and of a man you don't need as an elder, contrast 3:1-7 with 6:3-5.
    3. The need:
      1. Timothy, the congregation needs more elders.
      2. It has some very good ones, and it has some sinful ones.
      3. It is not a matter of just adding some men.
      4. A certain kind of man needs to be added; this kind of Christian man; here is a profile of the kind of men Ephesus needs as elders.
        1. He is respected for his mature spiritual character within the church.
        2. His values stress the spiritual, not the material.
        3. He is a family man, so he knows how to love and work with people.
        4. He had the spiritual maturity not to be deceived by the unspiritual thinking going on in the congregation.
        5. The community respects him.

Can you see from the scripture that we are not talking about a checklist, but the profile of the kind of man that was needed to be a shepherd and overseer in the church at Ephesus?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 5 October 1997
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