Statement of Belief
The Scriptures teach that elders were appointed in the churches:
And when they had appointed for them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed (Acts 14:23).
They were instructed to oversee their church:
“Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
These elders should meet certain qualifications:
Faithful is the saying, If a man seeketh the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, soberminded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach; no brawler, no striker; but gentle, not contentious, no lover of money; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have good testimony from them that are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
Deacons were also appointed in the churches, and are expected to conform to certain qualifications:
Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless…Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have served well as deacons gain to themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12-13).
Sections on this Page
- Who is the Pastor?
- A Hierarchy of Bishops
- Elders Determining Doctrine?
- Widowed or Childless Elders?
- The Deacon
- Deacons Without Elders
- Female Deacons [Deaconesses]
- Female Elders
- Female Evangelists
- Homosexual Evangelists
- Synods, Councils, Conventions, and Other Meetings
Who is the Pastor?
Many denominations today have one pastor or a staff of pastors having various functions who serve as church officers and as evangelists/ministers in some form. Do we see that ministers are equivalent to pastors in the New Testament?
We have seen above in 1 Timothy 3:1-8, Acts 14:23, and Acts 20:28, along with many other places, that the New Testament establishes an office for one called either an “elder” or a “bishop” (also translated “overseer”). Acts 20:28 demonstrates that the “elders” have been made “overseers” of the flock by God; this indicates that “elder” and “bishop/overseer” represent the same office. In Greek, the terms involved are episcopos for “bishop” and presbuteros for “elder”. The former term is used above in 1 Timothy 3:1; the latter term, most often used to refer to this position, is used in Titus 1:5 and 1 Peter 5:1, among others.
The term “pastor” is derived from the Greek poimon, which is literally a “shepherd.” We understand from Acts 20:28 that the elders are to be shepherds of the flock. Therefore, we can also see that this term refers to the elder or the overseer. This term is not used in the New Testament to refer to one who is an evangelist or minister.
Therefore, we can see that the Scriptures do teach that there are persons charged to shepherd God’s flock, having met certain qualifications. These individuals are called elders, overseers, bishops, presbyters, shepherds, and pastors. We do not see in the New Testament anyone who is simply an evangelist referred to as one of these elders (or pastors). Now, an evangelist can be an elder if he is sufficiently qualified; Peter was one, as seen in 1 Peter 5:1:
The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.
An evangelist is not automatically a pastor/elder on account of his position; he must reach the same qualifications as any other elder. The only authority that an evangelist has is the ability to appoint elders, as seen in Titus 1:5:
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge.
Therefore, using the term “pastor” to refer to any evangelist is not in harmony with God’s concept of offices within the church.
A Hierarchy of Bishops
Some denominations teach that the church should be overseen by bishops, with one bishop presiding over a set of churches. Those bishops tend to be overseen by an archbishop, who himself oversees a large geographic area. In some instances, there are even higher authorities. Do we see such a hierarchy in the New Testament?
There is no example in the New Testament of any positions of authority existing over more than one church. Furthermore, as far as we are able to see from the Scriptures, each church had a plurality of elders, not just one over many, as seen in Philippians 1:1:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.
Beyond the elders in the local congregation, the only presently living authority is the head of the Body, Christ Jesus:
…and Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body, (Ephesians 5:23).
We also should heed the authority of the Apostles of old (Matthew 18:18, Ephesians 4:11) through their instruction in God’s Word.
Furthermore, some of these denominations have bishops that do not even conform to the New Testament standards, for they are required by their denominations to be unmarried. Paul, however, speaks to the contrary when discussing the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5:
…the husband of one wife…one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?).
It is clear that the bishop/overseer (elder/presbyter/pastor) must have a wife and a family so that his ability to effectively shepherd the church of Christ is made evident.
The hierarchical concept of authority was a progressive apostasy from New Testament teaching, beginning with one “bishop” over “presbyters” over a congregation, then progressing to having a bishop over other bishops in a larger metropolitan area, and then developed into the various systems seen today. We have seen that such was not God’s intention, in the New Testament, for the oversight of His church.
Elders Determining Doctrine?
There are some who teach today that elders have the responsibility to determine doctrine through their examination of the Scriptures. Do the Scriptures teach this?
When we read in the Scriptures concerning the duties of elders, we see nothing of them being told specifically to determine doctrine or to interpret Scripture as an authority for a congregation. We are told, in fact, that we are all to examine ourselves and our beliefs in 2 Corinthians 13:5:
Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed ye be reprobate?
Paul further states in 2 Timothy 2:15 that we must be diligent to make sure we are handling God’s Word properly:
Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.
The elders of a congregation are bound just as the members themselves are to examine themselves according to the Word of God and to make sure that their doctrines conform to the word of truth.
The only persons in the New Testament church vested with the ability to establish doctrine are the Apostles, and indeed whatever they established had been previously established by God in Heaven, as is made clear in a proper translation of Matthew 18:18 [(seen here in the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (NASU)]:
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
We have no indication that this authority was transferred to anyone else. We can see, then, that elders have no authority to establish doctrine. As shepherds of the flock they perhaps will be called upon to establish a practice of the church in regards to a matter of liberty, and such is within their right; to establish any such thing as doctrine, however, has not been given to them.
Widowed or Childless Elders?
Some have argued that an elder who is widowed or who loses his children in some way or another can still serve as an elder, especially since the death of his wife and/or children is something beyond his control and does not speak against his character. Is this idea and reasoning acceptable in the Scriptures?
When we look at the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-7, the Greek is very specific about the nature of those qualifications. As Paul begins the listing of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:2, he begins by saying, quite literally, “it is necessary for the overseer to be…”. The verb “to be” here is the Greek einai, which is a present active infinitive. The present tense, especially in an infinitive, carries with it a “progressive” or “repeated” aspect. An expanded, but no less accurate, translation would be “it is necessary for the overseer to be being,” or “to continually be.” Paul, therefore, specifically charges that elders must meet the qualifications on a continual basis. An elder, therefore, must continually be the husband of one wife, and must continually have faithful children.
While it is lamentable when good elders, by no fault of their own, are no longer qualified, we must remember one of the preeminent qualifications: an elder is to be above reproach. The presence and good standing of an elder’s wife and children demonstrate that he is above reproach; without their presence, there are many aspects of the work of the elder that would be near impossible to do and questions could be raised about his competence in shepherding. It is perhaps for this reason that Paul requires that elders continually meet the qualifications; regardless, the Scriptures are clear that any elder who is widowed or becomes childless or whose children fall away is no longer qualified for that position.
The deacon is a servant; this is the exact definition of its Greek word, diakonos. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see that the position of the deacon is vested with any authority, nor is it called a position for “elders in training.” We must remember this when we consider the position of the deacon.
Deacons Without Elders?
There are some who believe that churches may have deacons even if there are no men qualified to be elders. The Scriptures never speak of any such situation; nevertheless, considering that those serving in the office of a deacon are only mentioned in the context of elders, we have no reason to conclude that God has authorized any church to have deacons without elders. As long as the men of the congregation are willing to perform the tasks that are required for the church to go on, there should be no need for an official position.
Female Deacons [Deaconesses]
Some assert that females can be deacons, citing the example of Phoebe in Romans 16:1:
I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church that is at Cenchreae.
In some translations, she is called a “deaconess.” Does this mean that she holds the office of the deacon?
It must be first stated that the Greek term diakonos, or its feminine counterpart, diakona, means literally “a servant.” As with the term “elder” (Greek presbuteros), that means either one serving in the office of an elder (Acts 14:23) or simply one who is an old man (1 Timothy 5:1), so “deacon” can refer to either to one serving in the office of a deacon (1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12), or simply as a servant. The term diakona in Romans 16:1 does not describe the office of the deacon, but simply the idea that Phoebe is a servant. This also is the same idea in Acts 6:1-6, when Stephen and the others are appointed as servants to assist the widows in need. We can determine this to be true because neither Phoebe nor Stephen et al. meet the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:8-13:
Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless. Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have served well as deacons gain to themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
We see that a deacon must be the husband of one wife, and the Greek term is specific for “wife,” gunaikes. Therefore, Phoebe cannot be one who holds the position of a deacon, for she surely cannot be the husband of one wife. Furthermore, we know nothing of the families of Stephen et al.; even if they perhaps met these qualifications, these men were given a certain task at a certain time for a certain purpose, and nothing in the New Testament associates them with the office of the deacon described later.
We can see, therefore, that while diakonos or a similar term is used often to describe servants of the church, not every use of diakonos refers to one holding the office of a deacon.
Some denominations have elders or other similar persons vested with authority who are female. Does such a practice originate in the New Testament?
Paul writes to Timothy the following in 1 Timothy 2:12:
But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.
This, along with the requirement that the elder be the “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2, demonstrates that elders can only be men.
There are many denominations today (and the list of denominations grows ever longer) who now teach that women may perform the same evangelistic duties as men. Are these teachings in harmony with the Scriptures?
We do see that females were present in the work of evangelism, as seen with the example of Priscilla in Acts 18:26:
But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more accurately.
We have no reason to doubt that Priscilla took on some form of assistance in teaching Apollos, but it is also notable to see that her husband Aquila was also present.
We must always strive diligently to maintain the harmony of the Scriptures, and there is no exception when speaking concerning female evangelists. We have seen in 1 Timothy 2:12 above that a woman is not to have any form of dominion over a man, and this must be considered in our discussion: a woman may teach and preach to other women, certainly, and perhaps even a man according to the example of Priscilla and Aquila, but we do not see any evidence from the Scriptures that any woman took it upon herself to preach to a man. While women can assist in teaching the Gospel, women would be contradicting Paul’s exhortation for women to not teach and usurp authority over men if they were to fulfill the normal responsibilities of evangelists to exhort and preach.
Argument: Junia was a female and she was counted among the Apostles.
Answer: We read about Junia in Romans 16:7:
Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me.
We see that “Junias” (Junia) was “of note” among the Apostles; while it is possible that Andronicus and Junia were considered “apostles,” this need not be so. It is just as possible that they were simply well-respected by the Apostles. Even if they are to be considered “apostles”, the term is just like “elder” and “deacon” in that it can refer to a specific office or simply as a term referring to a person having been “sent out”. Nevertheless, this verse does not demonstrate that Junia herself was an Apostle or taught men: she is mentioned along with Andronicus, who is most probably her husband, and they probably worked together in the same manner as Aquila and Priscilla did. Therefore, there is no conclusive evidence that Junia was an Apostle or a servant of Christ different in any way from Priscilla.
There are many denominations today that not only accept practicing homosexuals into their groups but are even allowing them to perform the functions of the evangelist. Some are even installing homosexuals as bishops! What do the Scriptures say about homosexuals and evangelism?
The Scriptures are silent about homosexuals evangelizing, and this is not surprising since the Scriptures teach clearly that homosexuality is a sin in Romans 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
…and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due.
Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Therefore, we can see that the homosexual lifestyle is condemned as sinful in the Scriptures, and we cannot expect that one who is flagrantly violating God’s Word would be vested with the authority to teach it or to shepherd God’s flock!
Argument: Romans 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 denounce the promiscuous homosexual lifestyle; those homosexuals living in a monogamous relationship are not condemned in these passages!
Answer: This type of distinction is not even seen in the text. There are no words spoken by Paul that condemn a “promiscuous” homosexual lifestyle as opposed to a “monogamous” homosexual lifestyle: Paul condemns the act of homosexuality itself. Therefore, attempting to make a distinction such as this has no merit within the pages of the New Testament.
Argument: But these homosexuals in these committed monogamous relationships have love, and love cannot be wrong!
Answer: This type of answer comes from a mentality foreign to the Scriptures but common in America, where almost anything is possible in the name of “love”. The Scriptures distinguish between different forms of love, however, and the Scriptures do not teach that every form of love is justified.
Furthermore, the idea of “love” justifying what God has called sin is not universally applied. Perhaps there is a man who feels that he has just “too much love” for just one woman and needs to “love” two or more, despite the fact that he is only married to one and the other relationships are adulterous! Are his actions of unfaithfulness justifiable because he has so much “love?” By no means! Just because there is a feeling of “love” between two individuals does not mean that their actions are justified by the New Testament. Therefore, homosexuality is still a sin, and thus no one who performs homosexuality can be an evangelist for Christ.
Some denominations have individuals who are deemed as priests, who fulfill various duties. Is this a Scriptural designation?
In the New Testament, we do not see anyone specifically being referred to as a priest. In fact, Peter says that we are all priests in 1 Peter 2:5 and 1 Peter 2:9:
Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
But ye are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The only other priest we are told of is the High Priest, who is Christ Jesus (Hebrews 7). All Christians, therefore, represent a priesthood of believers under the High Priest Jesus Christ, who is of the order of Melchizedek.
Many denominations go through the process of “ordaining” their evangelists and ministers. Is this a Scriptural practice?
We do not see anyone being “ordained” in the New Testament. Often we will see individuals being given the “laying on of hands,” but this appears to be a blessing more than an ordination. In the New Testament, Christians evangelized without needing any special ordination or license. They would only be accepted if they taught the plain truth of Scripture, if the brethren were noble minded (Acts 17:11).
The idea of “ordination,” therefore, is not explicitly established in the New Testament, and the idea of evangelists being accredited as such by some form of governing authority, be it a denominational council or center of education, is foreign to the Scriptures.
Synods, Councils, Conventions, and Other Meetings
Many denominations today have meetings wherein representatives of many geographical areas and/or congregations come together at some location to discuss issues within their denomination, and very often decisions will be made at these meetings about where the denomination will stand doctrinally. These meetings have many names in different denominations, including synods, councils, and conventions. Are these types of meetings seen as a function of the church of the New Testament?
When we read the New Testament, we see that there is no such “church cooperation,” for every local congregation in the New Testament is autonomous (i.e. making decisions for itself). We see this because the “governing” body of the church, a plurality of elders, was instituted at the level of the local church (cf. Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:5). We do not see any form of governing body beyond the local church.
Many will turn to the council of Acts 15, however, to attempt to justify their synods, councils, meetings, etc., by saying that in this instance the “church universal” met to discuss doctrine. Let us examine Acts 15 to see if this is so.
We see in Acts 15:2-6 the origin of this meeting:
And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. They therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and the apostles and the elders, and they rehearsed all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, “It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.”
And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter.
While Paul and Barnabas were certainly commissioned by the church in Antioch to discuss this matter with the other Apostles and the elders in Jerusalem, we see that Paul and Barnabas were certainly not the “delegation” from Antioch, but represented themselves. The council was comprised, as seen in verse six, of the Apostles and the elders in Jerusalem. We do not see any evidence that anyone else was involved with this meeting. It was natural for the meeting to be held in Jerusalem because such was the origin of the dispute: men from Judea had come to Antioch and had brought this teaching, and therefore it should be in Judea that the matter be settled (cf. Acts 15:1). The situation, then, regards persons somewhat associated with one local church visiting another local church to discuss a matter of doctrine perpetuated by members of that latter church.
We see the results of this meeting in Acts 15:23 and Acts 15:28:
…and they wrote thus by them, “The apostles and the elders, brethren, unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting…For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.”
We see here that the decision was made with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and made specifically by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and the elders of Jerusalem.
Now, let us return to the question: does the conciliar meeting of Acts 15 justify the modern synods, councils, and conventions of denominations today? By no means! The meeting in Acts 15 consisted of the church of Jerusalem and the Apostles: not delegations from all churches that existed at that time. The decisions made were made on the basis of the determination of the Holy Spirit and the approval of the Apostles and the elders of the church in Jerusalem, not by a majority vote of all members present. Therefore, it is evident that the meeting in Jerusalem seen in Acts 15 cannot justify the modern synods, councils, conventions, etc., of modern denominations.
It may be argued by some of these denominations that their councils and synods are guided by the Holy Spirit and are convened by the successors of the Apostles. The difficulty with this argument is that the meeting in Acts 15 was still not a meeting of all the “bishops” of the region, but only of the church of Jerusalem along with the Apostles. The belief of inspiration by the Holy Spirit and the belief of the bishopric still do not harmonize with Acts 15. Therefore, we may see that such synods, councils, conventions, and so forth are not practices performed in the New Testament.