Building up believers and the New Testament church


Holy Spirit-Ordained Elders

"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers ..." (Acts 20:28). I believe that in this statement by Paul to the Ephesian elders, we find the foundation of God's plan for leadership in His church. Paul said that the Holy Spirit had made men overseers (or elders). This is God's plan. He is the authority in His family, and thus He is the One who chooses the elders for leadership. We will consider how He does that, later on, but for now let us realize that we are dealing with God in this matter, not man. If we choose to lay aside God's way, we are choosing to ignore God. How serious is that? We dare not do that.

Authority is probably one of the most basic issues we face. Satan rebelled against the authority of God and led Adam and the human race into sin and death. Everything God is doing is to bring man back under His authority so He can take us with Him into eternity. Subjection to His authority begins now. Thus, overseers are responsible to move under His authority, and every member is responsible to recognize that authority and respond to God.

In many gatherings today, the view of authority is far from what God wants. It seems that it often goes either one way or another. Some men have considered themselves to be "the authority" and have brought great shame and confusion by exercising an ungodly authority over others. Such a misuse of authority can not be tolerated. Often in reaction to this, men have gone to the other extreme and refused to accept that man has any part in exercising authority in God's family. I agree that we are not interested in natural authority (i.e., that which originates in man), but God's way is to exercise His authority through man. That means that elders must be spiritual (under God's authority) and each member must be spiritual to be able to recognize the authority of God through eldership.

To not recognize that the Holy Spirit has ordained elders and to not be able to recognize the authority of God coming to us through a God-ordained eldership is to eliminate one of the essential provisions of God for our growth and edification. Rejection of God's plan in eldership leaves every man free to do what is right in his own eyes. It also leaves a gathering of people struggling to move forward without God's provision, and the growth of the gathering as well as individual members will be hindered. I do not believe that a gathering of God's people can rise above the level of existing leadership. Individuals may press on to some degree, but God has ordained that we will grow together. Thus, if we are not able to move together, our benefit from the grace God has given others will be limited. God has given grace to every member, and that grace is to be exercised and received according to the direction of the Holy Spirit. This is God's way, and an eldership properly functioning under God's authority is God's plan to facilitate the proper functioning of every member.

The working in the church of God is all spiritual. It is a failure to recognize and walk in this that often results in a wrong view of leadership. The leadership is often natural, and therefore, any exercise of authority will also be natural. Such leadership will not benefit us. Instead of dealing with the root problem (lack of relationship with God), the focus may become the form of leadership. Eliminating eldership and substituting another form does not solve the problem. The solution is for every member to come under the authority of God, be filled (controlled) with the Spirit, and in faith move in obedience to God's order. This will put eldership in its rightful place, with the whole body able to benefit from the God-given grace of oversight.