ELDERS or BISHOPS

 

The above picture is a depiction of Simeon holding the Lord Jesus as an infant in the temple.  To me it captures the essence of eldership and speaks of men who have matured beyond the trappings and ambitions of religion, and hold within their bosom the simplicity of Christ.  Even though elders or bishops are clearly men; I cannot look at this picture without thinking of Anna the prophetess who coming in the very moment that Simeon was holding the Child also "gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem."

 

Rather than making a futile attempt that places women in an eldership role as well; we should recognize the over abundance of textual evidence that clearly shows otherwise, and yet at the same time we should also remember that the text in no way limits women from five fold ministry roles having been given the support of their husband (if married) and the presbytery of elders and bishops.

Where elders or bishops are concerned we find that in a quick review of the last section having carefully examined this; the only difference one can see between an ep-is'-kop-os (bishop) and a presbuteros (elder) appears to be details of their life circumstance. 

Both ep-is'-kop-os and presbuteros are older men and yet bishops are married with children, while an elder for the sake of the gospel may have been called by the Lord to remain single, or perhaps he was married and him and his wife remained childless.  The point of this is to simply say that there appears to be no authoritative difference between a bishop and elder; rather the difference appears to be experiential, or the circumstances of ones life . 

Clearly to be in a governmental role of elder or bishop calls for some of the qualifications applying to both as for example you would not want an elderly man serving in a governmental role if he was a novice or new believer in the faith.  Just as obvious an elder or presbuteros must also be blameless; demonstrating that the old nature does not dominate his life; as it would clearly be unacceptable to have an elder taking part of the oversight of a church who was quarrelsome, self-willed or lacked self-control. 

Personal Responsibility in Leadership

Paul clearly spoke of working with his own hands along side Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth as tentmakers.  These were times that he took care of His needs as well as the needs of others. 

According to 1 Thessalonians 2:6-9 Paul carefully walked this out: "Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God."

There were other times when Paul accepted the support of others so that he could minister in another location as 2 Corinthians 11:7 clearly reveals "
I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you.  And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself."

How do we know when it is appropriate for a minister to receive financial support for the ministry He is involved in? 

First of all I think it is important to establish the clear directive that five fold ministers called by the Lord who have been separated by the Holy Spirit for the work of ministry and who have been set forth through the laying on of hands of the presbytery should have a certain expectation concerning finances as 1 Corinthians 9 clearly points to. 

One can never be certain of these things and yet in my mind there appears to be some level of frustration directed towards the Corinthian church in most of this chapter as Paul writes in verses 11-14 what is clearly the obligation of this church towards him and yet at the same time a lack of this support does not hinder his willingness to minister to them or did he allow a hindrance to the gospel...  "If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel."

We see in this next verse a proper balance as I believe Paul made it abundantly clear that he wasn't in it for the money as the  passage shows his heart in mentioning these things is really to lighten the burden for ministers after him.  "But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. 

Taking into account one other scripture and coupling it with the responsibility given to deacons to oversee or administer the financial resources of the ecclesia; I believe we can get a broad brush picture that serves as a framework for finances in the church.  In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 Paul gives this directive for Timothy to use in establishing this framework:  "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,”  and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 

Paul in these verses when speaking of the elders who labor in the word and doctrine was obviously speaking of those elders who have served and continue to serve in a dual role as five fold ministers. 

Many reading this do not understand the price these older five fold ministers gladly pay in order to serve the Lord.  Discounting the ones who draw a regular salary; there are many who go their whole lives working with their own hands at any odd job they can in order to meet their needs and be available for what the Lord has called them to do.  

The ones I am speaking have never been part of the religious system, or over the years as they became spiritually aware of the false ecumenical system they were part of; these ones left with no promise for provision except a peace in there heart that God would meet their needs. 

Putting this discussion in the first century context it was written in; Paul is simply saying --- 'When you have older five fold ministers who are no longer physically able to work with their own hands but have been given over to "laboring in the word and doctrine" then this is a  laborer (who) is worthy of his wages.  I believe this is a clear rendering of this scripture, and these older ministers who have made no provision for the flesh are certainly able to partake of the daily distribution that the deacons of the local ecclesia oversee.

The next grouping of five fold ministers while they are also laborers in the vineyard of Christ being worthy of wages; they are also still able to work and provide for their needs.  I believe as their heart is right before the Lord; they will always be looking for avenues or opportunities that allow them to work with their own hands or generate income without continually relying on other believers. 

However; I think we can easily perceive as we read about the activities of Peter and Paul that there were time when the demands of ministry consumed most if not all of their time.  Peter and Paul may have perished without deacons who were full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit who were looking out for the needs of their co-laborers in Christ and understood these five fold minister's responsibility to give themselves continually to prayer, fasting and the ministry of the word. 

What I believe we have been examining is a framework of governance that allows for deacons to work with five fold ministers in a role of advice and consent so that their needs as a minister of the gospel are met in a way that glorifies God and makes room for other ministers who may also be in a similar situation. 

Since having multiple ministers is a forgone conclusion in a local ecclesia where biblical governance is in place; I believe Paul wrote the following to Timothy with that thought in mind...  "No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier."   Speaking from experience; there are times when it is absolutely necessary for the body of Christ to come alongside a five fold minister who is engaged in the warfare surrounding the equipping of the saints as it is absolutely essential for them to give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.  

However Paul also alluded to an atmosphere of competition that can develop where multiple ministers are engaged in the battle.  "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.

What has developed in the body of Christ today is a vast array of ministries all doing their best to turn out a "product" designed to somehow gain your interest enough for you to exchange your "donation" in return for there 'gift to you.'  This has cultivated a competitiveness in the body of Christ that resists growth in biblical leadership as the pool of those making donations continues to shrink. 

It is a vicious cycle that no one at the inception of their ministry really intended to operate from, but if a new ministry begins to draw financial support away from a well established ministry; an atmosphere that fosters ill will can develop.   In this I believe satan has gained much ground against the gospel as he has divided many five fold ministers striving over financial support as those who are 'established' are pitted against younger ministers who may even be seen as competition.

Paul in his praise of Timothy to the church in Philippi said "For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state.  For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus."  I believe Paul was acknowledging the vulnerability of every minister that in one way or another exists until we all one day will put on incorruption.

A framework of biblical governance to address these types of issues is absolutely essential as I believe these are times when having deacons clearly hearing from the Lord brings a much needed accountability to finances in the body of Christ.  In this age we can no longer allow the excesses of  'blessing' to fall on a few leaving many less charismatic and yet equally deserving  five fold ministers in lack.

While it is exciting to have multiple equipping ministries flourishing at the same time; deacons provide a needed check and balance as no one wants to grieve the Holy Spirit in leaving fellow ministers of the gospel in lack or even concentrating our financially support on various equipping ministries while the needs of the widows and orphans in the ecclesia are being neglected at the same time. 

Many churches do not operate from this type of framework; preferring instead to focus their monetary provisions on a singular minister and various building programs while much more biblically justifiable needs are totally overlooked

With this in mind; allow me the liberty to prioritize the financial structure according to the precepts we have examined in the overall scope of this discussion on biblical governance. 

I do this hopefully with the understanding that I have no authority to dictate details to any local assembly and yet I offer this framework with the same encouragement offered at the end of part 2 and at the end of the last scripture: "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things."

While the bulk of this part of the vision is discussed in the section Mercy Ministries let me offer this brief list of what I believe are biblically defined financial priorities.

The Father's will in this is clear: "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6)  The needs of the people  and the knowledge of a loving heavenly Father that spreads as a result of HIS resources being properly distributed vastly outweigh the burnt offerings that were placed before Him...  In other words the needs of the people have an overreaching precedence over the worship centers we construct in the name of God. 

Keep in mind as well that this brief overview of financial priorities within the ecclesia holds the viewpoint that the finances within a local area are cheerfully given by brothers and sisters as an act of worship... not coerced from people who are threatened with being under a curse for not tithing; as Galatians 3:10-14 affirms that we are no longer under this curse.  For more on this: see the "To Tithe or Not to Tithe" in the Articles section.

Here then is the short list for financial priorities in the ecclesia:

1.  THE PEOPLE

    a. widows

    b. fatherless 

    c. elders (who labor in the word and doctrine)

    d. younger five fold ministers

The listing of a thru d should not be seen as a prioritizing the daily distribution mentioned in Acts 6:1 as this daily distribution [ Greek - distribution -  diakonia - Strong's  #1248 attendance, aid, service of the deaconate, relief ] should be available to any on the list .   Instead it is a need based priority. 

In other words a widow who has had a home secured through the work of her husband over the length of their marriage may need help with food, transportation, etc.   A younger five fold minister married with children  who is engaged in the warfare surrounding the equipping of the saints may require a greater amount of finances; however his needs do not take priority over the widow's or the fatherless, etc. 

Again this is where the advice and consent of the deaconate can be invaluable as they not only oversee the financial needs within the ecclesia; they also (being full of wisdom as stewards within the house) most likely have a general understanding of where a day or two's wages may be earned in the community and from time to time can help younger five fold ministers find work in that awkward season when they are transitioning into their calling. 

I believe there is give and take in this area as Paul clearly set an example for every five fold minister after him to be looking for avenues or opportunities that allow them to work with their own hands or generate income  without continually relying on other believers.  Yet he again also clearly taught "the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel."

Much earlier I mentioned that even Jesus waited on His ministry until He was thirty years of age.  Acknowledging the purposefulness of every word recorded in the bible; one should again consider why the Word of God mentions Jesus' age at the time He began His ministry. 

In the context of what was just shared a young man or woman in their late teens and early twenties in my opinion would better serve the cause of Christ by developing life skills that enable them to earn a decent living so that as they mature in their calling as a five fold minister; they will be able to apply those skills in a timely manner that honors Christ and furthers the gospel. 

Instead in my view a potential trap is set for many five fold ministers; as they gain an education that gives them little options except to look towards what is overall increasingly flawed religious institutional systems;  relying upon them for employment .

In part the trap is set when brothers and sisters in Christ make the mistake of thinking that ministry should have career benefits like other secular employment.  This assumption itself feeds the competitiveness mentioned earlier and is I believe why Paul chose to work with his own hands so that he did not become entangled "with the affairs of this life."

2.  STRANGERS IN THE GATE

    a. the homeless and destitute 

Deuteronomy 14:29 speaks of the care of the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates... This phrase is used repeatedly throughout the old testament and the intent is reinforced in the existence of the "daily distribution" previously mentioned in Acts 6 and in the book of James among other places  "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

As the phrase "within your gates" concerns the realm of responsibility and authority in a local ecclesia (Not membership in a religious system) preferential treatment to those "within your gates" is encouraged by Paul in Galatians 6:9-10 "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith."

3.  FACILITIES FOR THE PEOPLE*

    a. Group homes for widows without family or who

        do not own a home; as an alternative to nursing homes

    b. Orphanages emphasizing families as building blocks where children

        can be cared for until adoption into a family in the local ecclesia.

    c. Facilities for homeless people to live until they

        transition back into a productive role in the community

              

4.  BUILDINGS FOR PUBLIC MEETING

This last year I saw a video produced by Voice of the Martyrs about the church in China.  The video documented the history of the Chinese church over the last 100 years.  One part of this video dealt with the present day underground church which is approximately 120 to 140 million strong not including the registered "Three Self Church."  The point I need to make here is that all of the underground church in China meets in homes.  One part of the video showed a particular house church with people (I estimate about 300 to 500) jammed into all the rooms of the house including the basement.  The house was wired with close circuit T. V. so that everyone in the house could watch whoever was teaching... Point is the facility was already paid for by the one who owned the house; leaving the finances available for the needs of the people.

JERUSALEM - JUDEA - SAMARIA - THE REST OF THE WORLD

We should also acknowledge the clear directive of the Lord and the pattern for victory that he prescribed.  Not discounting or in any way minimizing the importance of Jerusalem in the land of Israel; we need to also recognize on every level the pure genius of this pattern that Jesus put forth.  Spiritually if we are obedient to the call of our hometown... our 'Jerusalem' then the spiritual authority to be His witnesses in Judea begins to take shape.  As we are obedient to Christ's commission and accept the responsibilities concerning the care of the fatherless, widows, etc., then one outcome of this is that the financial base for being effective in our 'Judea' will be stronger; allowing us to establish a foothold in our Samaria. 

* The brief suggestion concerning each type of facility is again simply for the purpose of prioritizing resources within the body of Christ.  The utilization of these resources is best determined by those called to these specific ministries as they work with the deacons and fivefold ministers within the ecclesia.

 

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