I recently participated in an elder ordination service at LifePointe Christian Church. One man, on his knees, before the congregation. Surrounding him, a plurality of elders placing their hands upon him and praying for his service to the Lord, the church, and to his family.
The answer to the question, “how is the church governed?” was demonstrated by this momentous occasion. However, for the misinformed or even biblically illiterate, what is the Biblical evidence regarding this manner of church government, rule by elders?
Surveying the New Testament, one finds a crystal clear picture of how the church is to be governed. Acts 14:23 says, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
The Book of Acts illustrates the missionary exploits of Paul and Barnabas, chapter 14:23 describing the appointing of elders “for them in every church.” Receiving these appointed elders are “the disciples” (v. 23) of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (v. 21). This mandate of appointing elders in every church is normative for the fledgling New Testament church government.
This same command of selection is expressed by the apostle Paul in describing the purpose of Titus’ missionary journey to Crete, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5).
Elders appointed in every town (Titus 1:5).
Elders appointed in every church (Acts 14:23).
Every church included the church of Ephesus where their “rule by elders” is evidenced when Paul “sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him” (Acts 20:17).
Even the letter of James, a general letter addressed to various churches, indicates the sick are to “call for the elders of the church” (James 5:14). Wayne Grudem demonstrates the significance of this passage due to its broad audience and an assumption by James that every church reading this letter would contain elders (Systematic Theology 912).
Peter echoes a similar call to Christians dispersed in “Pontus, Galtia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). This address to five unique Roman provinces contains an exhortation by the Apostle to “the elders among you” (1 Peter 5:1). Again, we witness an assumption of elder rule in the churches addressed in 1 Peter.
The author of Hebrews does not specifically use the term “elders” but twice mentions the importance of “leaders” in the church. Christians are exhorted to “remember your leaders” and “imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7) and to “obey your leaders” and “submit to them” (Hebrews 13:17).
Analyzing the evidence above, one must come to a clear, biblical prescription of church government.
The church is governed by elder rule. As Christians, you and I are called to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (Hebrews 13:17). These leaders are appointed men functioning in the role of elder. This is the consistent pattern of church government found throughout the New Testament. We find no biblical evidence that any church is under the rule of only one elder.
In addition, Grudem acknowledges “we do not see a diversity of forms of government in the New Testament church, but a unified and consistent pattern in which every church had elders governing it and keeping watch over it” (Systematic Theology 913).