Welcome to the 2020 Reformation Conference of Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus) in the Philippines. It is a an honor to be speaking before you, and I thank the consistory of ZCRC(Imus) for inviting me to this precious conference. We always remember your church, and other reformed brothers and sisters in the Philippines. Because of COVID-19, I know it’s been difficult for you more difficult than what we have here in our place in California. But we pray that all this the coronavirus will subside, and all the restrictions will be lifted in the coming weeks or months.
So I’ve been assigned the topic of Biblical Overseers or Biblical Office-bearers. And various views and practices regarding office-bearers are found in many churches today. Office-bearers, a word that many churches and Christians, have never heard of. Some churches have no office bearers only a church board. Many churches do not have ordained pastors on so any leader can preach and administer the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Others have deacons and no elders. Even those churches have that have pastors elders and deacons, often do not have a clear idea of what these three offices are.
What are the foundations of it? What are the duties and responsibilities? What are the qualifications of office-bearers? So what are the biblical qualifications for office-bearers? What are the separate responsibilities of these different office-bearers? What are the biblical basis for this office bearers?
And so this last question is what we will discuss in this lecture. In the [next] session Pastor Lance will discuss the qualifications and responsibilities of office bearers. So the following will serve as our outline for this lecture and I believe that you have the outline in your hands so you could follow the lecture. So firstly, what is an office bearer? The second heading is Biblical Foundations for Office-bearers and in this heading, we will look at elders and deacons both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament; and then lastly, I will be discussing current issues regarding office-bearers.
Biblical Foundations of Eldership
So first of all, what is an office bearer? An office-bearer is one who has been especially appointed by God to a specific work of the ministry for the building up of his church. So this office bearers are distinct from general office (the general office given to all believers as prophets, kings and priests). Prophets to confess and declare God’s Word. Priests to offer their lives and and worship as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. And kings to fight against and conquer temptation sin, and Satan and to reign with Christ over all creation for eternity.
So an office-bearer is given special gifts by the Holy Spirit, preaching of the Word, and administering the Sacraments, and also the ministry for the poor. So this is not to be confused with the extraordinary gifts given to the New Testament apostles and prophets, miracles, healings, speaking in tongues prophecies. These gifts have ceased since the canon of Scripture was completed with the writings of the New Testament Scriptures.
Reformed churches recognized three office-bearers: pastors, elders, and deacons. Presbyterian church churches often recognize two offices: elders and deacons. Their elders are of two kinds: the ruling elders, and (the preaching) or teaching elder. Teaching elders are equivalent to pastors in reformed churches and ruling elders are equivalent to elders in reformed churches. Therefore, the Presbyterian church government is sometimes humorously referred to as the two and a half office government.
This Presbyterian form of church government is open to abuse some Presbyterian sessions (the assembly of elders equivalent to Reformed consistories) question the distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders in violation of their own church order. They claim that all elders whether teaching or ruling elders can preach and administer the sacraments. So this view is against the New Testament definition of pastors as distinct from ruling elders whose tasks are the same as those of the teaching elder or pastor except for preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments.
So that is a short Introduction to what is an office bearer. So second, we will look at the Biblical Foundations of Office bearers. How can we fully understand and appreciate our present church government? We must learn from all of Scripture from the Old Testament and the New testament. And so we begin our study of the Biblical Foundations of Eldership from the Old Testament. So the Hebrew word for elder as “zakin” is derived from a word which means “old beard” zakan. So an elder is a man old enough to have a full beard. It can also mean old man or full of years, and also one with gray hair. The Greek word for elder is “presbyteros”, an old man. A man with experience and wisdom. However a man can be old but not wise. How young can a man be eligible to be an elder?
In Israel in the Old Testament full legal maturity is 20 (Exodus 30:14) but a 20 year old man usually doesn’t have maturity and wisdom. Levites, between 30 to 50, are eligible to serve as priests in the tabernacle or temple, and however at the age of 25 can start serving as an apprentice or a trainee for a priestly function. David became king at 30. Joseph became second in command of all Egypt when he was 30 years old. and Jesus started his earthly ministry at about 30 years old. Paul and timothy were also considered young in Acts 7:58, and 1st Timothy 4:12.
So the Hebrew word for head or chief is sometimes synonymous with the Hebrew word for elder. The Greek word “episkopos” translated sometimes as bishop and more often as overseer is interchangeable with presbyteros or elder. So for example in Acts 20:17, Paul summoned the elders presbyteros of Ephesus but in verse 28 of the same chapter, he calls them overseers or “episkopos”. In 1 Peter 5:1-2, the apostle calls elders “presbyteros” also overseers episkopos, and Titus 1:5, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders “episkopos” in every city in every town in every church but in verse 5, he calls these elders also episkopos, or bishop or, overseer so therefore there is no additional office of bishop above the office of elder or ruling elder, or pastor or teaching elder.
So an elder in the Old Testament was probably most probably the father or or the head of household. A tribal chiefs from come from the elders who were heads of families. There were the elders of Israel (Leviticus 9:1; Joshua 7:6) for example. Elders of the tribes, and elders of the clans and there were also elders of cities. Other ancient near Eastern nations had also elders, for example Egypt had elders, Moab and Median also had elders, and Gibeon had elders. Elders were also judges, and judges were first mentioned when the burden of of judging the people became too big of a burden for Moses. So they were to judge over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (That’s in exodus 18)
So from the time of Moses to the time of the Monarchy of the kings of Israel, the elders had these functions. So first, they represented the people. Moses went to Pharaoh with the elders of Israel. When Moses petitioned the Pharaoh to allow the people to go so that they can worship in the mountain. There was a close relationship between the elders and the people. The elders laid their hand on the sin offering, and so they represented the people. During also Aaron’s ordination, and the ordination of his two sons Nadab and Abihu. So the elders represented the people. Secondly, the elders sometimes elected Israel’s leaders. For example, they elected (they chose) Jafta to be their judge. Thirdly, the elders taught the law to the people in many places in the Old Testament. So the elders have these functions. When Moses felt overburdened as Israel’s leader, the Holy Spirit enabled 70 elders of Israel for their task of ruling and judging the people. So that was from the time of Moses all the way to the monarchy.
During the monarchy the elders came to Samuel to demand for a king. They also suggested to Samuel to make David as king. So they the elders anointed him as king. So the elders were not part (of usually) of David’s counselors so perhaps the elders supported the rebellion of Absalom against David because they lost their influence on the king. Solomon installed governors in 12 districts of Israel not among the 12 tribes. And so the elders had even less influence during the time of Solomon. Solomon also had the son named Rehoboam and Rehoboam consulted the elders about the heavy tax burden that his father Solomon imposed on the people. So this resulted in the division of the kingdom. So the Northern kingdom called Israel, they have a capital Samaria, and Samaria had elders. and the elders of the southern kingdom retained their influence on the king and the nation.
So in the Southern kingdom, Judah was conquered by Babylon, and they were exiled to Babylon. So during and after the exile, the elders continued their functions even during the time of the exile. So they gave counsel to the people. So later on, during the time of the the kings (the evil kings), the elders became idolatrous. They led the people in idolatry’s worship so they became according to Ezekiel 34 they became a curse for the people because of their sins. After the exile, the elders again became Israel’s leaders, consulted by the Medo-Persians about their return to Canaan. So back in Canaan, the elders called all the people to deal with with their sins of intermarrying with their pagan neighbors, and they began to be idolatrous, and so it was the elders who called them to repent.
So in the New Testament the family unit the household is the basic unit of the congregation. believers met in each other’s home the church is called the family of believers and Christians are children of God in these churches. So believers are brothers and sisters in Christ. Elders would be chosen from the heads of these family units. So the Greek word presbyteros is used to translate the Hebrew word “zakin” for elder in the Greek Old Testament or what is called the Septuagint. Each synagogue has a ruler most likely an elder. Therefore, there is a clear continuity between the Old Testament elder and the New Testament elder.
The elders in Acts 15 are mentioned with the apostles in the council of Jerusalem are most likely the elders of the local church in Jerusalem. Elders were appointed in every church and town where there is there was a church. So Jerusalem, the first church, had elders together with the apostles because the apostles started from Jerusalem. The elders were likely also like the apostles eyewitnesses of Christ during his ministry and during his resurrection. They were also given gifts of miracles and signs according to Luke 10 and James 5. Each church established had elders, more than one elder, two or more, and so there is a plurality of elders. The local council of elders was called a presbytery in Greek is “presbyterion,” and this is the the same term used for the Jewish council of elders that tried Jesus. And also Paul, the apostles Peter, and John also called themselves elders but there is clear distinction between the offices of apostle and elder.
So what is the difference between a teaching and ruling elders. So the functions of teaching and ruling are distinct in 1 Corinthians 12:28. Both are shepherds of God’s flock which is derived from the chief shepherd of the flock. Both are able to teach the word, and both are tasked with decision making in the church in the old testament, both priests and elders taught the Word of God but normally from Moses, all the way to the post-exilic period after Babylon, the priests taught the people in the New Testament, the Sanhedrin the Jewish ruling council was composed of both priests and teachers of the law. The Sanhedrin is sometimes referred to as the full assembly of the elders of Israel. so elders is a generic term for both priests and teachers.
However there is distinction between the functions of priests and teachers, the Pharisees and scribes were teachers of the law and not the priests. The tradition of the elders in Matthew 15:2 should actually be the tradition of the elders, the teachers of the law. Paul says that a minister has the priestly function of preaching in Romans 15:16. And so the priestly office in the Old Testament has been taken by the pastoral, or ministerial, or teaching office of the elder. The ministry of reconciliation between God and men in the Old Testament, this was the function of priests when they offered sacrifices for the sins of the people.
So this ministry of reconciliation is now the function of ministers or pastors. In the Old Testament the priests spoke for god and so also Christ’s ministers are ambassadors for Christ. They spoke for Christ. The Old Testament priests spoke the Word of God, and so also ministers and pastors also preached and taught the Gospel. Paul distinguishes often between elders who rule, and those who preach and teach. And so in 1 Timothy 5:17, he says, ‘let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.’ So there is separate roles of ruling and teaching gifts of serving and teaching are distinct also in Romans 12:6-8, and then in several texts teachers and pastors are mentioned without mentioning elders, and so it implies that pastors or elders who are pastors or teaching elders are distinct from elders who are ruling elders. So that is the Biblical background of Office-bearers in the Old Testament and then the New testament.
Current Issues Regarding Eldership
So today we have issues regarding elders. So the issue that I will take up is the issue of women functioning as or being ordained as elders. The present egalitarian culture opposes the exclusion of women from being office bearers, particularly from being elders and pastors. Three scripture passages are formed the basis of the argument for women serving as pastors and elders. So I would briefly discuss these passages and how they are interpreted.
So let me read 1 Timothy 2:11-14, ‘let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man. Rather she is to remain quiet for Adam was formed first then Eve and Adam was not deceived but the woman was deceived, and became a transgressor.’ And so this is not a cultural rule when during the 1st century Greco-Roman world. The males (they say) dominated the women so this is not a cultural rule. Rather it is a rule from Creation because Adam was created first, and it was Eve or the woman who was deceived, and sinned first and so this does not prove that in the 1 Timothy 2:11-114 that women should not be quiet in the church.
The second passage is 1 Corinthians 11:3-5;8-9 ‘…but I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Jesus Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. Since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For man was not made for from woman, but woman from man, neither was man created for woman, but woman for men.’ so in this passage we read that Christ is the head of every man, and the head of every woman is men. The main issue again is based on the Creation account. Man is the image and glory of god, but woman is the glory of man. The man was created first, and the woman was created for men. And so the issue of have head coverage is secondary and cultural. And so the man takes precedence over the woman in church offices.
So the third passage is 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, ‘…as in all the churches of saints the women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission as the law says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.’ So this passage is very commonly opposed by the egalitarian view. Women were permitted to pray prophesy and sing in worship, and we read that in various places. However in this passage, women are commanded to be silent in the church three times so when Paul writes as the law also says he most likely is referring to the Creation account again. This passage should be interpreted in the light of Paul’s commands that prophecies must be weighed, and if women are forbidden to teach or have authority over men, then weighing the prophecies by women would be a tantamount to teaching or having authority over a man, if the one who is prophesying is a man.
So if women cannot be pastors or elders in the church what role do women have in the church? So men and women share the same spiritual gifts given by Christ to all believers. Priscilla and Aquila some say taught Apollos but they thought Apollo’s at home most likely not in the church, and what teachings did Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos, we don’t know. So the role of women is in Titus 2:4 -5 where Paul commands Titus that older women must teach younger women, and so this is a very important role because women are usually at home, and they are with the children and especially the young women in the church can be taught by older women. So that is the Biblical background of the office of pastors and elders.
Biblical Foundations of Deacons
So we come now to the Biblical background of Deacons. So what are deacons? A deacons are office bearers charged with a ministry of mercy to show the love of Christ for the poor and the afflicted for providing for the poor and the afflicted n Matthew 25.
There are no deacons mentioned in the Old Testament. However the New Testament church had the Old Testament Scriptures to inform them of the principles regarding the poor and the afflicted. So in the Old Testament, there are the poor in Israel, mentioned very frequently. So there there were three kinds of the poor in the Old Testament in Israel: the materially poor, the powerless, and the oppressed and the afflicted. The materially poor are usually peasant farmers the the landless the widows, and the orphans, sojourners, strangers, and foreigners, and the Levites (Levites had no inheritance so they depend on the tithes given by the people). So how did the Old Testament Israel provide for their poor? So God commanded Israel to provide for the poor because of his love for all his people, and the people must love their neighbor. So God set his people free from slavery and he from oppression by the the Egyptians and also the Babylonians. He defends the poor and avenges them according to Psalm 68:5. The Lord provides for his people and so no servant it says must leave empty-handed. The Jubilee every 50 years released all slaves and debts. God’s law highlights joy when the poor share in God’s gifts. so the Kinsmen redeemer in a family or in a clan takes care of his poor relatives needs. So during harvest the poor can gather leftovers as as Ruth did. So they also had to work hard to meet their needs as Ruth did working in the field all day. So the Old Testament laws for taking care of the poor begins with the family, and then the community, and then the nation or king. But in spite of God’s laws, the poor and afflicted were often neglected and ignored. This was one reason why God punished Israel with a Babylonian exile. They did not take care of the poor and the afflicted.
So in the New Testament, we find the background of the the poor (in the New Testament during the ministry of Jesus). So alms given to the synagogue funded the help for the poor. Alms were also given by passers-by who see the poor in the street. So deacons or the “diakonos” were chosen to take care of the poor in Acts 6:12. So in the New Testament, we read that Jesus often considered himself as a servant or a “diakonos”, and he is often called also a servant. In the Old Testament, he was called the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. Jesus he says he came to serve (Matthew 20:28), and Paul calls Jesus a servant in Romans 15:8, Jesus fed the poor, he healed the sick, the blind and the lame. He cast out demons, he saved tax collectors, and prostitutes. He served sinners by sacrificing himself on the cross. He washed the feet of his disciples like a common servant even a slave. To love God and neighbor is the summary of the Decalogue. Jesus says in Matthew 22 on Judgment day, those who help the poor among God’s people will inherit the kingdom of God (Matthew 25:31-46). The greedy who did not help the poor will be judged. And for example, the rich young ruler was told by Jesus to sell all his possessions, and give the proceeds to the poor, and he did not he was he left sorrowing. And also the poor are not just the the materially poor, but the spiritually poor. So Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, and then also in several parts or texts in the New Testament that refers to the poor as the spiritually poor.
So we read in Acts 6 when the apostles chose 12 men to be deacons. So seven men were appointed to make sure that no one’s needs were neglected or overlooked. So this is because the apostles were overburdened with serving tables which means with providing for the needs of the widows, and the orphans, and so they were neglecting the preaching of the Word. So this neglect could have caused division between the Hebrew-speaking Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews, and so they chose this man to serve the tables or to be deacons, the “diakonos” or servants.
Current Issues Regarding Deacons
And so the current issue that is most important today regarding deacons is the issue of “women” deacons. Some Presbyterian and Reformed churches argue that women can be appointed and ordained as deacons from two passages. And I will refer to them in this.
So two scripture passages form the basis for this argument for women serving as deacons. So again I would just briefly (very briefly) discuss this two passages and how they are interpreted. From Romans 16:1-2, ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe a servant of the church in Cenchreae that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.’ So Phoebe is called a “diakonos” and so was she a deacon? An ordained and appointed deacon and Phoebe is a woman? So the word the “diakonos” here can mean a person appointed as a deacon. It can mean a servant, or it can mean a helper. She might also have been a messenger for Paul from Cenchreae. This is not enough evidence that she was appointed or ordained to the office of deacon.
The second text that is most often cited for the appointment and ordination of deacons is 1 Timothy 3:11, ‘…their wives likewise must be dignified not slanderers, but sober-minded faithful in all things. So this text in 1 Timothy 3 is part of the qualifications for the office of deacons. It says ‘…their wives like wise must be dignified.’ So the word for wives here can also be translated women, and so if it is women, then it refers to women deacons. But there is no conclusive interpretation that this refers to women as deacons. So in addition to these two passages the New Testament is silent on women serving as the “diakonos” or deacons so the original deacons were men and so there should be no argument about whether a woman could be a deacon or not.
So appointing women as office bearers in church history followed a slippery slope pattern especially in modern history. Way back in 1936, the Dutch Reform Church permitted ordination of women deacons. So in 1957, all the offices pastors elders and deacons were open to women by the Dutch Reformed Church. The Christian Reformed Church in America opened all offices to women in 1995, and in many liberal Presbyterian churches, all offices have been opened to women since the 1990s. So when women are ordained as deacons, then women’s ordination as elders followed, and after this the ordination of women as pastors followed. And so this is somewhat like a slippery slope of women office bearers.
In conclusion let me read Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.’
Our Lord Jesus Christ is our good shepherd, and church office-bearers are under shepherds of his flock. They lead the flock into green pastures and still waters to satisfy their hunger and thirst. They lead the flock in their hunger and thirst for righteousness. They protect and preserve the flock from wolves who come in sheep’s clothing to destroy them. They comfort the flock with the rod of discipline when they stray from paths of righteousness. They welcome the flock to the table of bread and wine prepared for them, and when the Good Shepherd returns he will take his flock to his dwelling place where they would enjoy his goodness and mercy forever and ever.
May there be men who would be our Lords under shepherds, office bearers who would be good shepherds of his own flock.