I think a very relevant part of all of this is the question of how we hear God through men. We may not have thought this through clearly before God, but I would say that if we can't hear God through men, we may not be able to hear God at all. Some have tried to solve this question by just pointing every man to the scriptures. We need the scriptures, but the scriptures speak about God using men. "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (I Peter 4:10-11). This speaking and ministering is not just quoting the scriptures. We are commanded by the scriptures to speak truth one to another in love. It is a great working, with responsibility on both speaker and hearer.
I think there is a good example in scripture that may help us. Consider the situation of Paul when he was working to help the Corinthian church. He was giving them some very strong direction and they were having trouble receiving it from him. He made a very strong appeal to them. "We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (II Corinthians 6:1). He was ministering the word of God to them for their benefit, but they were reasoning in their minds and looking at things naturally. He then gave this instruction: "O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open" (II Corinthians 6:11-13). God was not going to send an angel, and I really doubt that God was going to speak to them another way. They needed to recognize God coming to them through Paul. That was God's choice in this situation. It is God who chooses how to speak to us, and we all need to be continually sensitive to God's choice in any particular situation. More often than not, God will use men in some way because that works the ultimate purpose of God: bringing us together in oneness. No member can say to another member, "I have no need of you."
I made a statement earlier which some may question. I said that the function of the father in the spiritual family is fulfilled through eldership. For this to be true, the elders must move in the grace of God and speak the mind of God. Remember, they are not functioning on their own but in the grace of God. Their responsibility is to hear God, but not for every member in every situation. As a group of spiritual men, the primary focus will be to hear God for those matters pertaining to the whole body. Then in wisdom and love, they must minister (serve) that word to the whole body until all see and can move together in faith. They do not just "lay down the law," so to speak. They do not say, "We have heard God, so you must obey." That is not the spirit of Christ. They may have heard God (and we trust that is so), but the heart of God is love, and benefit only comes as each member is able to move in faith.
So the question is this: is each member able to hear God through the eldership in matters pertaining to the whole body? If so, then it will allow us to move quickly when we need to, without a lot of questioning and delay. It obviously takes time to develop this confidence and relationship. We are not just blindly following the elders or obeying man. We are recognizing the voice of God (the Spirit within each member gives witness) and we are responding to God. Without a proper relationship in the Spirit, we will either move in a form ("They are the elders, so we must obey") or we will want to know all the details of every situation so we can decide for ourselves in all matters. Either way leaves the eldership ineffective. Our goal is to move as one body under the authority of Christ. The family of God is a place where God is Father in reality, not just in theory. For this to be a reality, each member must be spiritual, led by the Spirit, and able to hear God through men.
One of the great dangers I have observed in a body that has functioning eldership is for members to take the authority in a natural way. In other words, when they have a question, they go to the elders to get an answer. An elder may give them an answer that is good, but then the member goes and acts on what they have heard without getting understanding from God. When questioned about their action, their answer is often, "The elders told me to do this." I personally consider that an utter failure. The elders are not God. They are not the head of the body. Their place is to minister the word of God to each member so that each one can move in faith. If a member has really heard God through an elder, the answer to the question should be, "God showed me what to do," and they should be able to give an answer that witnesses to truth in the Spirit. The responsibility of the elders is to leave each member with God. Anything less than this does not minister faith or build a right relationship with the Lord.
Each member must always be pointed to the Lord. The expectation must be from God and not from men. Yet each of us must be open to recognize the channel God chooses to use. He may answer us as we are on our knees in prayer. He may answer us as we read the scriptures, or as we listen to public ministry. He may speak through a brother or sister. These are just some of the ways that God may choose to speak to us. But overall, God always speaks by the Spirit. God is spirit, it is the anointing that teaches us, and the Holy Spirit is given to lead us in truth. Without this spiritual working, we will not be left connected to God.
All of this is demanding, because it will not work without each member having a real relationship with God. It must be real. Yet is this not what God wants? I think we all want the fullness of God's provision. Eldership is part of God's provision for the body, and without it the growth of the body will be limited and many needs may go unmet. Let us press in to know God in these things, and we will begin to see why God's way is the only way that will bring us into His full riches.