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Plurality of Elders

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.


I know this is probably an unusual question but I am a long time fan of your web-site and I highly respect your opinion on matters dealing with the Scriptures. A situation has come up where a church that has no other elders other than the pastor is going to be without any elders as the pastor is resigning. A few are saying when he leaves the church will be without any "spiritual protection." Others are saying that we will have the spiritual protection even though there will be no church leaders.

First I wanted to know what you thought in the way of spiritual protection for this church? And also if you had to debate either side of this issue which verses would you use to make your point?

I would appreciate any light you could shine on this matter.

A fellow brother in Christ

I personally believe the most Scriptural form of church government is a plurality of elders. I also believe that elders are essential for spiritual guidance, example, and yes, "protection" of those in the congregation.

Consider the following verses. Note how all of them use the word "elders" or "those who rule over you" in the plural indicating there was more than one elder in the church being written to. Note especially Hebrews 13:17 where the importance of spiritual oversight by the elders in specifically mentioned.

Ac 11:30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Ac 14:23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Ac 15:2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

Ac 15:4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

Ac 15:6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.

Ac 15:22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

Ac 15:23 They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.

Ac 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.

Ac 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

Ac 21:18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

1Ti 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

Tit 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are , and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you-

Heb 13:7 Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.

Heb 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

Heb 13:24 Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.

Jas 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

1Pe 5:1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:

1Pe 5:5 Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (NKJV: bolding added).

Now, this church is in a difficult situation. Without a pastor and no elders for guidance, there is a good chance it will flounder. On a practical level, who is going to preach on Sunday? Who is prepared to do any needed counseling, visitations, and the like?

On a spiritual level, who are the people supposed to look to for guidance? Eventually someone will step in to fill the void, but will it be God's choice or just the first person who is willing to fill the slot? And in the meantime, it can almost be assured the congregation will dwindle.

At my church we have a plurality of elders. Recently, the pastor went on a seven week sabbatical. While he was gone, the elders were able to step in a preach on Sundays and carry on other needed activities and spiritual guidance. As a result, the church continued without any problems. This is not to say the pastor wasn't missed, but simply that with a plurality of elders, there wee people already there to fill the void.

And if the pastor were to leave, the elders would be leading in the selection of a new pastor. And while they were looking, the church could continue, so there would be no rush to find someone.

So if you're asking my advice, I would say the best thing this church could do is to select several elders now to fill the void, then let them begin the process of finding a new pastor, and the sooner the better.  

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