The Marks of the Church: Order, Part 2
The Marks and Works of the Church
Order, Part 2
This morning we will be continuing to study “Order,” the second mark of the church. As I stated last week, there are two parts to “Order.” The first part we covered last week. This was the spiritual aspect of church order. That was the idea that Christ is King of the Church. To flush this idea out, we looked at three different metaphors that describe Jesus’ relationship to the church. These metaphors were Christ as Cornerstone, Christ as Head, and Christ as Chief Shepherd. Jesus is the kind, loving, and caring King. He reigns in heaven but lives with his people in the church. No pope, no priest, no pastor does this. Only Christ.
This week we will begin to cover the material or physical order of the church. Now it is important to not overemphasize the physical order. It is possible to have Christ reign over his church without a physical order. It is conceivable for there to be no elders, no pastors, no deacons, no authority structure in the church. Jesus could do this. This is not what he has chosen, however. Jesus has chosen to use weak, sinful people to accomplish his glorious causes in the church.
This is what theologian says about this issue:
Christ could have exercised his [authority] without any service from humans. If it had so pleased him, he could have dispensed his spiritual and heavenly blessings without the help of institutions and persons. But this was not his pleasure; it was his pleasure, without in any way transferring his sovereignty to people, to nevertheless use their services in the exercise of his sovereignty and to preach the gospel through them to
The physical order is not as important as the spiritual, nor is it necessary. It is conceivable to have Christianity without physical order. Physical order ought not be overemphasized. Jesus is King and he does not need any help running his church.
Now, with that said, it’s also important to not underemphasize physical order, either. We live in a world where this is a strong current of thought. We live in a “spiritual but not religious world.” We live in a “I love Jesus but I hate religion” context. We live in a “where two or three are gathered in my name there is the church” type of world. Let me share a story with you to illustrate this point. This is from one of my seminary professors.
Several years ago, when some of my friends and I prayed over our food at a fast-food joint, two scraggly men approached from across the restaurant and introduced themselves as a church. They explained that after visiting all the churches in the area they decided that none of the churches was preaching the true gospel, so those two men got together and decided, “We’ll be our own church.”
This is not what Scripture teaches regarding church. Church is more than this. Church is more than “Where two or three are gathered in my name.” For something to be a church, that thing must have physical order. It must have authority structures.
So, we can overemphasize physical order, and we can we underemphasize physical order. There is a balance that must be struck between the spiritual order and the physical order. Well what is that balance? This is the balance: Jesus, the King of the church who now resides in heaven, has given to the church universal and the church local the authority to accomplish his purposes here on earth. Let me say that again: Jesus, the King of the church who now resides in heaven, has given to the church universal and the church local the authority to accomplish his purposes here on earth. Under this definition, “the local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.”
Well, Chance, how do you defend this idea from Scripture? Great question. Turn with me to Matthew 16:13. This passage reads,
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon BarJonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In this passage, Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter responds correctly that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus approves of Peter’s approval. Jesus then tells Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church.” This has been a thorny text for interpreters. Roman Catholics believe this passage is justification for the papacy. The papacy is thought to be the continuation of Peter’s ministry. Thus, Jesus builds his church upon the papacy. I don’t find that idea persuasive.
At minimum, what Jesus is saying is that there is a delegation of authority. Jesus is delegating to Peter specifically and to the church broadly a certain authority. This authority is captured in the idea of “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” This refers to a supernatural power. If you remember from my sermon on Easter where Jesus has the keys of death and hades in Rev 1:18, keys are a symbol of authority. With keys, you can open and close doors.
That supernatural authority is specified in “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The specifics of what this means are not are concern this morning. More so, I want you to see that Jesus has given his keys to the church, and this delegation of the keys means that the church, both globally and locally, has authority.
The church is not peripheral to Jesus’s purposes in this world. The church is central. Nonnegotiable. It is not an enemy of the faith, nor an antagonist to the faith, The church, this church, is central to our Christian confession. The local church has an authority over us that we must recognize.
How is that earthly authority that Jesus has given to the local church ordered? That is the central question we will be asking this week and next week.
Our church by-laws specify that we have a three-tiered church authority. This structure consists of elders, deacons, and members. Well, is this three-tier structure supported by Scripture? (This is a very important question. Our authority here at CBC is Scripture.) Yes, it is. For this answer, turn to Phil 1:1. Philippians 1:1 reads, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
In this passage, we see a three-tiered order to the church. There are “the saints,” “the overseers,” and “the deacons.” We’re going to cover these in a different order than they appear in the passage. We will move from most authoritative to least authoritative. We will begin with this concept of “the overseers.” We are not going to get to all three tiers of this structure this morning. We will address deacons and church members next week. This week will be solely dedicated to discussing “overseers.”
Overseers and Elders
As mentioned above, our church by-laws state that one of the tiers of authority we have is elders. What you will notice about this Philippians 1:1 passage is that it does not use the word “elders.” Instead, it uses the word “overseers.” In the NT, the word “overseer” and “elder” function as synonyms. The NT uses the two terms interchangeably. Turn with me to Titus 1:5. We will read through verse 7. The passage states,
The reason I left you in Crete was to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain.
Look at verse 7. Paul says to Titus he left Titus in Crete to “appoint elders.” So here we have the term “elders.” Elders were appointed in Crete. “To appoint” here is an official designation. Titus is to appoint men as elders, an official office within the church. Verse 6 then gives some info about the qualifications. Verse 7 continues these qualifications. But look at how Paul begins verse 7. He doesn’t say “elders.” He says “overseer.” Paul is not talking about a different office. The “for” in verse 7 is linking verse 7 to verse 6 and 5. Paul uses “elders” in verse 5 and “overseer” in verse 7 to refer to the same office.
That office we call here at CBC the office of elder. The elder is the chief ruling office here at CBC. We could also call that office “overseers.” There would be no problem with that. We could also call that office “pastors.” There also would not be any problem with that, either. At CBC, we call that office elder.
Although the terms refer to the same office, the terms express different aspects of that office. The term “overseer” refers to what it is an elder does, their function. An elder oversees the spiritual matters of the church. The term “elder” refers to what it is an overseer is. The term “elder” refers to the moral qualifications. Elders are intended to be mature, godly, and respected. “Overseer” refers to what elders do; “elder” refers to what elders are.
Well what are the qualifications for being an elder? To answer this question, turn with me to 1 Tim 3:1. We will read through verse 7.
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.
There are several qualifications, but they can be broken down into qualifications of desire, doctrine, and devotion.
The first category is desire. For a man to be an elder, he must desire it. This qualification comes from 3:1. Paul says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” I see here that desire for the office of elder is one of the requirements for being an elder. You must desire it. The Greek word behind the English word “aspire” means “to have a strong desire to do or secure something desire, long for.” Elders can’t be on the fence about this. This is a strong desire. It is a strong desire to lay down your life, your time, your resources, your comfort, to build up Christ’s church. This desire is essential.
1 Peter 5 illumines this idea of “desire.” Turn with me there. Beginning in verse 1, we will read through verse 2.
So I exhort the elders among you, mas a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.
This passage states that elders are to shepherd “willingly, not under compulsion.” Elders are to desire the task. They are to want to do it. This same idea is expressed in 1 Tim 3:1. Desire is essential for the office of elder.
The second requirement for an elder is doctrine. An elder must committed to correct doctrine and able to articulate and defend that doctrine. Look at verse 2. It states, “An elder must be,” then look at the end of verse 2. “An overseer must be [must be what? End of verse 2] must be able to teach.” Elders have the qualification of being able to teach.
To expound what this idea means, turn back to Titus 1:9. We visited this passage early. It reads, “He [an elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Notice what this Titus passage says. An elder must “hold firm to the trustworthy word.” Hehimself must have good doctrine.
However, there’s more to it than that. He must also “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine.” An elder must know be able to instruct in doctrine. As Christians, we believe in many doctrines—the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the deity of the Holy Spirit, inspiration, inerrancy, creation, election, predestination, regeneration, justification, sanctification, election, predestination, spiritual gifts, creation, the millennium, etc. An elder must know these doctrines and be able to effectively communicate them.
Along with positively knowing doctrines, an elder must also know false doctrine. Look what Paul says at the end of verse 1:9. An elder must “also . . . rebuke those who contradict it.” In order to do this, an acquaintance with false doctrine is necessary, too. To rebuke false teaching, one must know what false teaching is and how it does not align with correct doctrine. So, elders must know good doctrine as well as bad doctrine.
The office of elder is a theological office. Elders are theologians. They operate in the realm of thought. Thinking correct thoughts about God and his world are essentials, and elders are those persons in the local church who are responsible for maintain doctrinal purity.
Along with devotion and doctrine, the third qualification for an elder is devotion. An elder’s life must be marked by a radical devotion to Jesus Christ. Paul gives us thirteen different qualifications to look for in an elder. (By the way, these qualifications for an elder are commandments for all Christians. It is not just elders who should follow these commandments. All Christians should. So, while I am specially dealing with elders, what I say is applicable to all Christians. Elders are to embody how every Christian should act.) In 1 Tim 3:2, we get the first qualification. It says, “an overseer must be above reproach?” The idea is that an elder’s life must life rises to the level that no accusation of evil can stick to you. An elder’s reputation must be
able to withstand assaults from opponents inside and outside the church.”
Second, an elder must be “the husband of one wife.” This is a difficult phrase to understand, as there are several interpretations for it. I take this as ultimately a reference to sexual purity. Elders must be pure in their hearts. No infidelity. No porn. I do not take this to mean that an elder must be married. If that were the case, neither Jesus nor Paul could be elders. That seems like a silly idea. Instead, the idea is that an elder does not lust and fornicate with other women, either in his mind or in his body.
Third, an elder must be “sober-minded.” This refers to level-headedness. An elder must be able to restrain his impulses and act wisely.
Forth, an elder must be “self-controlled.” Again, this goes back to restraining one’s impulses. Fifth, an elder must be respectable. From this translation, it seems that an elder must be courteous towards other, that an elder must respect other. This is not what this word means. On the contrary, respectable means that an elder must have “characteristics or qualities that evoke admiration or delight.” He must be well thought of by others.
Sixth is the quality of hospitality. Elders must open their homes for others. Elders must show that they love God and love others through the ministry of their home. The home is not just a place to go and get away from the world (although it is this). There have been times in my life when the days have been so difficult that you just want to shut the door and be with your family. That’s okay. God gives us homes for safety and security. However, the home is also for sharing with others. Elders must minister to others through their home.
Seventh, able to teach (we already covered that).
Eight, an elder can’t be a “drunkard.” Some drink is okay. Too much is not permitted. I was raised Southern Baptist. So that means there were two things we could never do: drink and dance. I have sensed changed my position. Dancing is still forbidden but consuming alcohol is okay. With reference to elders, elders must be self-controlled with alcohol. They cannot be given to drunkenness.
Ninth, elders must be “gentle, not violent.” They must not hurt others.
Tenth, they can’t be quarrelers. Elders must be bridge builders and peacekeepers. Bitter arguments are forbidden.
Tenth, they can’t be greedy people who love money.
Eleventh, an elder must “manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.” Elders, if they have children in the home, must keep them under submission. Elders must love their children and lead them. I take this idea, too, as a reference to elders’ wives. An elder must lead their wife spiritually.
Twelfth, an elder “must not be a recent convert.”
And thirteenth, an elder “he must be well thought of by outsiders.” An elder must even be respected by non-Christians. In business dealings, grocery shopping, and running errands, an elder is to garner respect from those outside the Christian fellowship.
There are many ethical requirements here. The idea is that you must be a man of devotion. A man devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One belief that we hold to that sets us apart from other churches is that we do not believe that women can serve as elders. We believe that this office is exclusive to men. One passage that teaches this exclusion is 1 Tim 2:12. This passage reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
This is one of those beliefs that really puts us at odds with our culture. We live in the shadow of third-wave feminism. This world that we live in encourages sexual freedom, birth control, and abortion. This world teaches women that children are a burden, that children are a hindrance to their careers. This world teaches women that traditional values and norms are a part of the patriarchy that oppresses women. This world would highlight 1 Tim 2:12 as one of the chief problems with our world. This world would say that what I am teaching today is reprehensible and oppressive.
We’re okay with this. We’re okay to stick out like a sore thumb. We’re okay going against culture. Cultural trends come and go. That’s okay.
We believe that God made both men and women. Both men and women are made in the image of God. They have the same value. They are equally glorious creations of God. There are differences, though, between men and women. We believe these differences are good and beautiful. We believe that these differences play out in how men and women act. We believe that how men and women generally act should define their roles in church. One way that these differences express themselves in the church is that office of elder is exclusive to men. This is not a repressive doctrine but is part of the beautiful order that God has given to the church.
Now we turn to the tasks or duties of the office of elder. We covered the requirements, not we will cover their responsibilities.
There are two responsibilities.
Able to Teach
The first we have already touched upon in the requirements. Elders “must be able to teach.” This requirement illumines the chief task of the elder. Elders are to teach. They are to pass on sound doctrine and to defend sound doctrine against false teaching. Elders have a teaching office. They are the one responsible for the proclamation and explanation of the gospel in the local church.
The second responsibility is to shepherd. For this idea, turn to 1 Peter 5:1. We reviewed this passage last week. Read with me through verses 3.
So I exhort the elders among you, mas a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not
domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
You see that “exercising oversight” in verse 2? That’s the second task of the office of elder. The chief NT dictionary defines this word as “to accept responsibility for the care of someone, oversee, care for.” What a beautiful verb. Elders are not executives or business men. They are lovers of people. They love people. Because they love people, they will be personally invested in the lives of their congregants. Rejoice with them when they rejoice. Weeping with them when they rejoice. It is an intimate involvement. It is a relation of love. That’s what we have to offer you as elders—love.
The task of the elder is twofold—to teach and to care for the flock.
Let’s review where we’ve been this morning. Jesus has given authority to the church. This was evidenced in the Matthew 16 passage. In the apostolic period, Jesus transferred the keys of authority to the church. This authority in the church has a certain order. To explore this order, I went to Phil 1:1. In this passage, Paul discussed a three-tier structure in Philippi. One element of this structure was overseers. I argued that overseers were a synonym for the term elder. All of this was an introduction.
After the introduction, I discussed the qualifications and duties of the office of elders. I argued for three sets of qualifications. The first was desire. To be an elder, you must desire it. The second was doctrine. Elders must hold to correct doctrine and be able to communicate this doctrine clearly and effectively. Last, an elder must have devotion. Their lives must be marked by godliness. They must live a life that is above reproach. Regarding function, elders are to do two things—uphold correct doctrine and oversee their people. They are to lovingly preach and lovingly shepherd. They are intimately involved in the life of the church and people. They offer care, encouragement, wisdom, exhortation, and, most importantly, love.
I have one point of application this morning. Submit to the leadership of the elders. This is an odd thing to say in our world. In a culture of autonomy and skepticism, to ask for submission is threatening to people’s freedoms. However, this is what Scripture teaches. Turn to Heb 13:17. This is what this passage says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” The Bible tells you as members of this church to submit to the elders. Submit to their leadership and governance.
Now, this is not a blind submission. This is not an ultimate submission. Many people have been hurt when they blindly submit to elders. Don’t do that. But do follow us as we follow Christ.
Let me end with a story to illustrate what I mean by submission. At my church in Dallas, the elders decided that they needed to change the pews out of the church for more modern looking chairs. I don’t remember all the reasons for this. One reason, I think, related to how our church’s size. We were a shrinking congregation and the pews made us look awkward in the worship center. With chairs, the size problem was not as big of a deal. So, the elders decided to get rid of the pews. Well, some people really didn’t like this. They disliked it so much that they left the church over it. That’s not submission. That’s not what God wants. Don’t be like that. Put away your preferences. Put away how you want to see things run. Submit to our leadership. That is
what Scripture says, and that is what we ask of you. Pray with me.