What is an Elder Supposed to Do?

eldersatwork

When Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every town (1:5), he immediately listed qualifications to find those men (vv. 6–9). What he spent little time on was the specific tasks they were supposed to do as elders.

From the remainder of the letter, it can be surmised that elders who oversee the church must silence false teachers (1:11), teach what accords with sound doctrine (2:1), model good works for others (2:7), exercise authority in matters of doctrine (2:15), and protect the flock from divisive persons (3:10). Yet, these are only some of the tasks mentioned in the New Testament. Today, I want to enumerate seven others, beginning with Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21..

Seven Tasks of an Elder Who Oversees the Flock

1. Feed the Flock.

It is arguable that the genesis of the pastoral office began on a seashore in Galilee. In John 21 Jesus went in search of Peter. Days before, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied Christ three times. Crushed by his own disloyalty, Peter returned to fishing. However, as Jesus had called him to be a fisher of men before (Matt 4:19), he again came to restore Peter to Jesus’ ministry.

In verses 15–19 Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me more than these?” (Presumably motioning to the fish). Each time Peter responded, “You know I love you.” And each time, Jesus assigned him a pastoral task: “Feed my lambs” (v. 15); “tend my sheep” (v. 16); “feed my sheep” (v. 17). Using this pastoral metaphor, Jesus announced the primary duty of an elder (cf. 1 Pet 5:1)—to feed the flock of God with the food of God, i.e., God’s holy Word! Continue reading

Establish Elders for the Sake of Evangelism


evangelistThe saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

— 1 Timothy 3:1–7 –

I’ve gotten out of the habit of curating and quoting other blogs recently. But as our church continues to look at Titus 1 and the role of elders in the church, I find David Murray’s post on 1 Timothy 3:1–7 extremely enlightening—especially, his final point.

In numerical fashion, Murray lists ten realities about elders from 1 Timothy 3:1–7.

  1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy
  2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer
  3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…
  4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task
  5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be
  6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless
  7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach
  8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well
  9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert
  10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders

In his blog post, he explains each of these. They parallel a number of the points I made in yesterday’s sermon on Titus 1:5–9. However, it’s the last point that he makes that deserves our consideration. As to the evangelistic impact of elders, Murray writes,

Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.

“Electing elders is an evangelistic act.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think it is an under-appreciated truth.

The Vital Role of Elders in Evangelism, Church Growth, and Church Health

To many, church leadership structures are a secondary or tertiary matter. In recent days, I’ve had more than a few comments downplaying the importance of leadership structures.

Especially when a church is struggling or filled with strife, it is easy to think that revival or changed hearts is needed. There is no denying the need for repentance and reconciliation. But to dismiss the role elders (or the lack thereof) plays in church health misses much of what the Pastoral Epistles teach.

Church health—and by health I mean ability to protect, proclaim, and display the gospel—is necessarily retained and promoted by true elders. And when the structure of elders is missing or leaders in the church are less than what 1 Timothy 3 describes, it should not come as a surprise that evangelism, church growth, and church health are all in decline.

May God be pleased to raise up godly elders in your church and mine—not just for the sake of church leadership, but as David Murray reminds us, for the sake of evangelism too.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Saving Faith Savors Christ . . . and so much more

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
– John 3:16 –

johnWhile John’s Gospel includes many themes, one stands above the rest: belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In fact, John 20:31 discloses why John wrote his Gospel: “These are written so you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Coming right after Thomas’ pronounces his faith in Christ, “my Lord and my God” (v. 28), John reveals his intentions. He desires for you and I to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God as the singular way that we might find eternal life.

Belief in John’s Gospel

Once we tune in to John’s emphasis on belief, we discover that the verb ‘believe’ (pisteuo) occurs 98 times in John’s Gospel. Interestingly, the noun ‘faith’ (pistis) doesn’t occur at all. Clearly, John’s Gospel is meant to create faith in its hearers, not just describe what it is. Nevertheless, by paying attention to the way John speaks of believing, it is possible to learn what faith is. And importantly, belief is more than just mental agreement. In fact, when all the promises of eternal life are considered, it becomes apparent that saving faith savors Christ. That is, those who truly believe do far more than merely assent; they approach Christ the way a starving man approaches a feast.

Indeed, in a book that testifies to who Jesus is, the beloved disciple spends ample time considering the nature of saving faith. He indicates that Jesus knew of a faith that did not save (2:23–25) and so he labors in his Gospel to show that saving faith “receives Christ,” “comes to Christ,” “honor Christ,” and “feeds on Christ”—to only name a few descriptors. Although John states plainly in John 3:16 that eternal life is the reward of believing, we will see genuine faith does far more than simply believe. Continue reading

Preparing Your Heart for the Lord’s Supper

10In the crush of modern living (i.e., busy, scattered, fatigued, etc.), adequate preparation for the Lord’s Table is often overlooked. Combined with hearts that naturally pull away from grace and truth, growing Christians must take time to prepare for the Lord’s Supper. Time is needed to reflect on who God is, what Christ did, what you need to confess, and how you need to put to death sin in your life.

Still, even if time is made, some may wonder: How should I prepare my heart?

I was thinking about that as I preached on this subject on Sunday, and this is what I shared with our congregation. I pray it might help you as you prepare for the Lord’s Supper—this Sunday or the next time your church takes communion. 

How do you prepare for the Lord’s Supper?

When God descended on Mt. Sinai, he told the Israelites to take three days to prepare themselves for his arrival (Exod 19:10). Likewise, when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, they took three days to prepare for their entrance (Josh 3:5). So it is that the people of God, whenever they entered God’s holy presence, must purify themselves (cf. Leviticus 8–9).

In the New Testament Jesus picked up the same idea. When he celebrated the Passover, he went to each of his disciples and washed their feet (John 13). Though Peter objected at first, he learned the Master must wash him in order for him to abide with Jesus. Just the same, when Paul spoke of taking the Lord’s Supper, he addressed the need to consecrate ourselves for communion (1 Cor 11:17–34). Continue reading

Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

mealYesterday our church took the Lord’s Supper. Detouring from the book of Titus for a week, we considered the significance of Jesus’s gospel-proclaiming meal.

In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, we observed how Paul corrected the twin problems of (1) divisions at the Lord’s Supper and (2) indifference to the divisions with three solutions (vv. 17–22). First, he rehearsed the gospel of Jesus Christ by re-explaining to the Corinthians what the bread and cup symbolize (vv.23–26). Next, he called for all participants to examine themselves before taking of the meal (vv.27–32). And last, he challenged the church to “receive one another” as they came to the Table (vv.33–34).

Paul’s view of the Lord’s Supper is a worthwhile reminder of how serious this meal is. He warns that when divisions go unchecked at the Lord’s Table, the church and its members eat the meal in vain (v. 20). While the bread, the cup, and the church may be gathered, it is possible that the people eat their “own meal,” not the Lord’s Supper (v. 21). Such a sober reminder calls us to examine our hearts and repent of anything that would bring division in the body of Christ.

At the same time, those who are resisting sin and trusting daily in the gospel need not worry about taking the meal in an unworthy manner, as many earnest saints often do. The warning is directed to those resisting repentance, not resisting sin. On this point, Ray Van Neste offers a helpful corrective about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:28.

It is a fairly common practice for believers voluntarily to abstain from Communion because they feel they are not properly prepared at that given time. They think they should not partake of Communion if they are struggling with sin. This . . . arises from a misunderstanding of the call to examine ourselves. The warning . . . is against partaking in an unworthy manner, referring to the unrepentant self-centeredness of the Corinthians who were ignoring other members of the body. The warning does not apply to those who are struggling with sin but are looking to the cross in repentance, hating their sin and yearning to be pleasing to God. (Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Suppered. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, 386)

All in all, the Lord’s Supper is a vital part of the Christian experience. It calls the hard-hearted to repentance and it invites the broken-hearted believer to taste afresh the grace of God. Sadly, it has been misunderstand and misapplied in too many contexts. Hence, the reason why we considered it yesterday.

If you desire to better understand how Paul speaks about this meal in 1 Corinthians, I pray that yesterday’s message might serve you. You can find it here: “Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Holy Heart for a Holy Meal.”

At the same time, for those interested in diving deeper into the theology, history, and practice of the Lord’s Supper, let me encourage you to pick up The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comesedited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford. As I preached on 1 Corinthians 11, I found Jim Hamilton’s chapter particularly helpful.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Seven Things to Know About Elders

eldersEarlier this week, I highlighted three things about elders in the New Testament: (1) the term ‘elder’ is interchangeable with pastor and overseer; (2) elders function as a plurality of leaders in the local church; and (3) elders may or may not be compensated, which is to say an elder may be vocational or non-vocational.

Today, I want to pick up where I left off and add to the picture of elder leadership in the New Testament. What follows are seven truths about elders—three concerning the title (presbuteros) and four concerning the function of elders in the New Testament church. Again, this list won’t cover everything, but it is intended to show what Scripture says about this vital office. Continue reading

What does the New Testament say about elders?

elders“Elder” (presbuteros) is not a very Baptist word. Or at least, it hasn’t been readily in our vocabulary since the nineteenth century, when the likes of J. L. Reynolds, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, wrote, “The permanent officers of a Church are of two kinds: elders (who are also called pastors, teachers, ministers, overseers, or bishops) and deacons” (see his “Church Polity, or the Kingdom of Christ in its Internal and External Development,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Lifeed. Mark Dever).

Nevertheless, “elder” is a term used 76 times in the NT. Nine times it is used to speak of those advanced in age; four times of Israel’s forefathers; twelve times to refer to the heavenly elders in John’s Apocalypse; and the Gospels and Acts apply the word to the religious leaders of Israel twenty-nine times. The remaining uses of the word “elder” (20x) refer to leadership in the local church. (See Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, p. 54).

While we can’t consider every facet of eldership, let me offer three observations about elders and their function, as found in the New Testament. Continue reading

Why Should You Study Church History?

chIn the introduction of his book, Christian History Made Easy, Timothy Paul Jones gives a compelling answer to that question. Let me quote him at length.

In a classic Peanuts comic strip, Sally carefully labels her paper, “Church History.” As Charlie Brown glances over her shoulder, Sally considers her subject.

“When writing about church history,” Sally scrawls, “we have to go back to the very beginning. Our pastor was born in 1930.

Charles Schulz’s comic strip may be amusing, but it isn’t too far from the truth. In sermons and devotional books, Christians encounter names like Augustine and Calvin, Spurgeon and Moody. Their stories are interesting. Truth be told, though, most church members have a tough time fitting these stories together. The typical individual’s knowledge of church history ends with the apostles and doesn’t find its footings again until sometime in the twentieth century.

Still, the story of Christianity deeply affects every believer in Jesus Christ. The history of the Christian faith affects how we read the Bible. It affects how we view our government. It affects how we worship. Simply put, the church’s history is our family history. Past Christians are our mothers and fathers in the faith, our aunts and uncles, our in-laws and –in a few cases—our outlaws!

When a child in Sunday School asks, “How could Jesus be God and still be like me?” she’s not asking a new question. She is grappling with an issue that, in AD 325, three hundred church leaders discussed in a little village named Nicaea [ni-SEE-ah], now the city of Iznik in the nation of Turkey. Even if you’ve never heard of Iznik or Nicaea, what those leaders decided will influence the way that you frame your response to the child’s question.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why are there so many different churches?” the answer is woven somewhere within two millennia of political struggles and personal skirmishes. When you read words like “predestined” or “justified” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, it isn’t only Paul and your pastor who affect how you respond. Even if you don’t realize it, Christian thinkers such as Augustine and John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards also influence how you understand these words.

So, if the history of Christianity affects so much of what we do, what’s the problem? Why isn’t everyone excited about this story? Simply this: A few pages into many history books, and the story of Christianity can suddenly seem like a vast and dreary landscape, littered with a few interesting anecdotes and a lot of dull dates.

Despite history’s profound effect on our daily lives, most church members will never read Justo Gonzalez’s thousand-page The Story of Christianity. Only the most committed students will wade through all 1,552 pages of Ken Latourette’s A History of Christianity. Fewer still will learn to apply church history to their lives. And so, when trendy novels and over-hyped television documentaries attempt to reconstruct the history of Christianity, thousands of believers find themselves unable to offer intelligent answers to friends and family members.

What we don’t seem to recognize is that church history is a story. It’s an exciting story about ordinary people that God has used in extraordinary ways. What’s more, it’s a story that every Christian ought to know. (Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones, pp. 6–7: Book and DVD)

Do you believe that? I hope you do. Continue reading

Where Do Infants Go When They Die?

childrenDaniel Akin has rewritten the article that he and Albert Mohler wrote on where infants go when they die (HT: Denny Burk). It’s entitled,”Why I Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven.” In his brief essay, he gives six biblical reasons why we can know that infants and those who die before the “age of accountability” die in the Lord. Here they are:

  1. The grace, goodness and mercy of God would support the position that God saves all infants who die. (Matthew 18:14; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 John 4:8)
  2. When the baby boy who was born to David and Bathsheba died, David spoke as one who trusted that he would see this child again in the presence of God. (2 Samuel 12:15-18)
  3. Those who know sin and choose to do it are held accountable; those who do not know the difference are not. At the judgment seat, it is our sins done in the body that will be judged. (Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16; James 4:17; Revelation 20:11–15)
  4. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom, he seems to indicate the presence of children in heaven. (Luke 18:15–17)
  5. Scripture affirms that the number of saved souls is very great. This points to the fact that those who die as children will be received into heaven. (Revelation 7:9) 
  6. Some in Scripture are said to be chosen or sanctified from the womb. (1 Samuel 1:8-2:21; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15)

Interestingly, just days before I came across President Akin’s update, I wrote my own essay for our church. Some of my arguments stem from his earlier essay; some come from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-WhirlAltogether, I pray they may encourage and assist you (or someone you love) as you grieve the loss of a child who has been called home by King Jesus.

Where Do Infants Go When They Die?

Continue reading

John 3:16: A Word-by-Word Meditation

john316For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Last night I preached at Bethel Baptist Church in North Vernon on who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and what it means to believe in him. (You can find the audio here). My text was John 3:16, actually John 3:14–16, and I sought to help those at Bethel’s revival service to understand how God is inviting them to come and be saved by faith in his Son.

John 3:16 is the gospel in miniature, a veritable gold mine for precious truth, and a passage that solidifies the believer’s faith with every word. Indeed, it seems that every single word contributes to the beauty of the verse. So, with that in mind, I want to run through the verse, word-by-word.

God

While there are many so-called ‘gods’ in the world (even if someone doesn’t call them what they are), there is only One, True, and Living God. He is the triune God who has existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The One who promised to turn back the curse through Abraham’s offspring, the holy God who gave Moses the law, the God who promised an eternal throne to a son of David, the God who inspired the prophets, and turned all of history to bring salvation to the world through the Incarnation of God the Son.

Specifically, in John 3:16 “God” refers to the Father, the One sent his Son to redeem the world. In this sense, he is not some angry deity in the sky who demands blood atonement; he is the loving Father who redeemed sinners by the voluntary death of the Son. This is the God of John 3:16. Continue reading