Monday 17 June 2013

Elders and Deacons: A Reformed, Puritan and Biblical Pattern for Church Government

I preached recently in Sheffield Presbyterian Church ( on "elders and Deacons". A young man who is a member in the church said to me that he believed that "if he asked most Christians he knows about church government, that they would have no idea what it is meant to be". My answer to him was that if this is not clearly taught and practiced then the alternative is for a secular and pragmatic leadership structures to be put in place in the church instead. Why substitute Christ's plan for his church with secular leadership structures, many of which do not convey the authority of Christ, such as musician worship leaders?

What does the Scripture say? Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus and told him the following:


"The 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.

Timothy was to seek out able men with sound doctrine and godly character who would "shoulder responsibility" for the churches in the Ephesus region. It was most likely a presbytery of elders as Acts 20:17-28 indicates. When you consider that being a Christian could involve beatings or imprisonment elders needed to be men with spiritual maturity and strength. There were teaching elders and ruling elders who together would govern the churches on behalf of Christ. 1 Tim 5:17 "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching".

The public worship and services is to be led by elders and they are responsible for the preaching and teaching of the flock of God. How different the church would look if this was the case. And oh by the way these elders are to be married men and women are not permitted to hold this office in the church.

"Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 3:8-13".

Deacons are a very important office when they are rightly understood. These are to be men who do not govern the church but are under the elders but they are responsible for the practice needs of care and compassion in the church. Much more can be said about these two offices but for now I want to raise the profile of the biblical offices of elders and deacons, so that readers of this blog would consider a biblical pattern for the church.

For further reading, I suggest John Calvin, "The Institutes of Christian Religion", Book 4.

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