George T. Jones
Every student of the New Testament knows that the Divine arrangement of church government requires for a plurality of elders in every congregation. The authority of these men does not extend beyond the limits of the congregation served by them (1 Pet. 5:2). There is no organization or unit of government besides the local congregation. These several congregations are presided over by their respective elders. There is no higher or nobler work than serving faithfully as an elder of the church. “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Tim. 3:1). The qualifications for this office are high, having been made so by the Lord. Not every male member of the church can or does qualify for the eldership. Likewise, the duties of an elder are diverse. Paul declares that elders who faithfully discharge their obligations are worthy of signal honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Various titles are applied to elders in the New Testament. All of these seem to imply some phase of their work. As an elder (Acts 20:17), he is a man of some maturity and experience. As a pastor (Eph. 4:11), he is to shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28). As a bishop (1 Tim. 3:21; Acts 20:2,8), he is an overseer, superintendent and watchman.
It is not feasible that one article should give even a sketch of all the duties of elders. The design of this paper is to focus attention on elders as watchmen of the church. That the good men chosen to serve in this capacity have a distinct responsibility as vigilantes is not to be questioned. In commanding Christians concerning the proper attitude toward elders, the author of Hebrews wrote: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). After charging the elders of the Ephesian church to take heed to themselves and to all the flock, he further admonished them: “Therefore watch.” These passages should set forth the particular watchfulness to which elders are to be devoted. They are on vigil as those who shall account for the spiritual welfare of the souls under their charge. These men are on guard as a shepherd is over his sheep. They watch as one who shall give account to the Great Shepherd for the safe conduct of their sheep (1 Pet. 5:3-4). What a weighty charge; what a solemn obligation! What strength of character and spiritual discernment are required for this office!
We like to picture an elder as a spiritual watchman on the spiritual walls or outposts of Zion. If an army should encamp, having fear of being attacked unawares by the enemy, sentries will be posted propitiously along the outskirts of the camp to warn of the approach of unfriendly force, before it, is too late to repel them. At the same time, these sentinels will be on the look out for any sign of a traitor within the camp who might lend comfort to the enemy. This illustration presents a graphic picture of the work of elders as watchmen. In cautioning the elders at Ephesus, Paul described dangers from within and without. “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
Because of the purity of the church and the imperious need of maintaining that purity, the elders must be on constant watch against encroachments from without. Faithful elders of the church will not allow any foreign factor or influence to disturb the peace and purity of God’s people. In the first instance, dutiful elders will have fortified the flock against such anticipated onslaughts by seeing that they are fed on the wholesome nutriment of God’s word instead of skim milk lectures on ethics and social customs. At the same time, the elders must be in constant observation of the flock to make sure that any among the disciples is not “speaking perverse things” to stir up trouble.
Watchfulness is the only safeguard from apostasy. Watchfulness now on the part of elders is one of the greatest needs of the church. Certain ominous sounds from within the camp of spiritual Israel ring untrue and portend disaster unless checked. An apostasy is not improbable. Churches are being told that they can support human institutions (educational) either by occasional donations or by placing said institution in the budget and contributing to it regularly. There are other signs. Too many pulpits do not have the familiar ring they once had. From too many pulpits there is never a word of reproof and rebuke. Have we become so angelic that we need no correction? Too many evangelists no longer point out specific sins; they are no longer “allowed” to refer to denominations by name and warn against the errors taught by them.
Who is responsible? Are not the elders? If a preacher teaches error or fails to preach the truth, all of the truth; and, refuses to “reprove and rebuke” all error and sin in a plain and unequivocal manner, should not the elders mark him? Instead of desiring a preacher who will declare the whole counsel of God, there are too many elders who are looking for preachers who can preach in such a sweet manner that none is ever offended! If he ever rebukes, he must do it so tactfully that the one rebuked hasn’t the slightest idea for whom the rebuke was intended! Let a preacher follow this course and he will be mighty popular with some elders. Why, some elders(?) even want their preachers to join the “Ministerial Alliance” and rub elbows with the big shot denominationalists.
What a blessing it would be to the cause of Christ if all elders would stand up like men on all such occasions. When a preacher who will not preach the truth come along, let them stand up to him and see that he is properly disposed of. If an unscriptural proposal is made, let the elders literally meet the innovators at the door telling them they will receive no sympathy. Only in this way can another apostasy be missed.
We should be thankful for the faithful elders among us. They will have no small part in the fight in the current apostasy. Every disciple owes a great deal to the elders who watch for his soul. Those who want to see the church kept pure should pray fervently for such faithful servants of God. May the Lord bless the churches with more faithful Watchmen on the Walls of Zion!