Even while the apostles were still living there were warnings given concerning those who would depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:17). Mankind has the tendency to pursue whatever each individual deems to be right in his own eyes (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Because this is true, numerous innovations have not only been introduced by denominations but also by some within the church of our Lord. In fact, this is exactly how digression came about in the past.
In recent years, innovations such as baby dedications and the reevaluation/reaffirmation of elders have been introduced into some churches of Christ. It is the unauthorized use of the reevaluation/reaffirmation of elders that will now be addressed. Just what is meant by that terminology? It is a process of determining whether a congregation’s elders will continue to serve as its overseers. Someone might be inclined to say, “Well, what is wrong with that?” The answer: There is not any scriptural authority for the reevaluation/reaffirmation process of determining whether men will continue to serve in the eldership.
The qualifications essential for a person to be selected as an elder (also referred to as bishops and shepherds) are found at First Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Only men who meet the specific qualifications stated in those two passages may scripturally serve as elders. The inspired Word provides the stipulations necessary to be qualified. Therefore, when men who meet the qualifications are selected as the bishops of a local congregation those brethren are Holy Spirit ordained (appointed) elders. Who are to appoint men to serve in the eldership of a local congregation? In Acts 6:1-6 is recorded a need that arose in the church at Jerusalem for men to oversee the daily distribution of the essentials of life. The apostles instructed the entire congregation to look out among themselves for men who met the stated qualifications given by them. When a congregation goes through the process of selecting, from among its own membership, men to serve as elders or deacons then the entire congregation should be involved in the process.
Some hold the erroneous concept that once a man is appointed as an elder he is always an elder. But the New Testament does not uphold that concept. There are several possible reasons why an individual could not continue to serve as an elder of a local church of Christ. First, if a man who is serving as an elder for one congregation moves away to a different locality, then he can no longer oversee the congregation from which he moved. Also, he is not an elder over the local church in the new locality when he places membership with it. That brother may later be appointed by the latter congregation after he has proved himself unto those brethren.
Second, it would be unscriptural for only one man to serve as the bishop of a congregation. The scriptures only authorize a plurality of qualified men to serve as elders in a local congregation (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Phil. 1:1; Acts 15:4-6). Therefore, when a congregation has but two men serving as elders and one of the men ceases to serve in the eldership, regardless of the reason, then the other brother is no longer an elder. He may later be reappointed by that congregation when he, along with at least one other brother, has proven himself qualified to serve in the eldership.
Third, a man who is serving as an elder may have personal reasons such as failing health that would hinder him from continuing to serve as an overseer. Usually, a brother who realizes that he can no longer serve effectively as an elder will graciously resign as an overseer.
Fourth, a man may cease to meet the qualifications for an elder and should therefore resign. But many in that situation refuse to resign! What is a congregation to do under such circumstances? The Apostle Paul gives instructions of how a congregation is to handle a situation when an elder ceases to be qualified and/or has some accusations against him. He states, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim. 5:19-20). Also, the Son of God provides instructions that would be applicable to any brother in error—including elders of a congregation. Jesus says,
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matt. 18:15-17).
The congregation that appointed a man to be one of its overseers has the right to reject him as such when he ceases to be qualified and proves himself as being unworthy to serve in that capacity. However, the reevaluation/reaffirmation of elders is an unscriptural and unwarranted process of determining whether men serving as elders will continue to do so. That process is little more than a popularity contest. In the first place, men are scripturally selected to serve as elders according to the qualifications given by the Apostle Paul. Often, men are selected as elders who are no more qualified than a recent convert. If a congregation will carefully follow the inspired Word given by the Holy Spirit concerning this matter then unqualified men will not be selected. The same qualifications essential to becoming an elder can disqualify him when he ceases to meet those qualifications. Thus, the congregation is obligated to reject him as one of their elders. Passages of scripture such as First Timothy 5:19-20 and Matthew 18:15-17 should be adhered to in determining whether an elder remains qualified.
The reevaluation/reaffirmation of elders is a method concocted by uninspired men in deciding whether a congregation wants those serving in the eldership to continue as their elders. As stated above, it becomes little more than a popularity contest. Such an unauthorized procedure has many potential dangers in its use. Even if the eldership obtains a 100 percent approval it is still flawed. The criteria of determining whether men serving as elders continue to do so, under the reevaluation/reaffirmation of elders, may be based on the personal likes and dislikes of the individual members of the congregation. The words of the prophet Jeremiah comes to my mind. He said, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). The reevaluation/reaffirmation of elders has a predetermined abstract percentage of approval for men to continue to serve as elders. Question: who has the authority to set a certain percentage for approval? Answer: Since it is an unscriptural procedure, no one has the authority to do so.
Within one congregation that used this unscriptural method, each elder had to have a 75 percent approval of the congregation in order to remain as an elder. In other words, a minority of only 26 percent of disgruntled members could oust an elder who is scripturally qualified. Such a man-made method can be the devil’s means of splitting a congregation.
Faithful brethren will continue to speak out against such innovations as the reevaluation/reaffirmation of elders. We are to “…earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The Apostle Paul exhorted, “Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple [innocent]” (Rom. 16:17-18).