“APPOINT ELDERS IN EVERY CHURCH”
By Wayne S. Walker
In Titus 1:1-5, where “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ” wrote “To Titus, my true son in our common faith,” and told him, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.” Since other passages teach that God wants elders in every church, this necessarily implies that Titus was to appoint elders in every city where there was a church, or in every church in every city. This practice has been followed for many years in faithful churches of Christ where qualified men were to be found.
However, in contrast to this simple teaching of the New Testament, a man named Charles Holt (formerly a gospel preacher, now deceased) and those who follow after him have ridiculed the idea of appointing elders. In Sentinel of Truth (Vol. 3, No. 4), Holt wrote, “There is no ordaining or appointing of men (or women) TO BE—thus to become—‘elders’ and there is no ‘position’ called for by this term to which one can be elevated” (p. 1; emphasis mine, WSW). This was written many years ago, in the mid to late 1960s. Did Holt ever change his mind? Much later, in The Examiner (Vol. 1, No. 2; Mar., 1986), he wrote, “You do not, can not, make someone an ‘elder’ by ordaination [sic] or appointment….Nor can we appoint or ordain a man to be an elder” (p. 11). Let us now “examine” what the New Testament has to say about the appointment of elders.
- It should seem to be obvious enough that one should not need to say so, but the use of the word “appoint” itself indicates that elders were appointed, i.e., men were appointed as elders. The word in Titus 1:5, katasteses, from kathistemi, is defined in Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament to mean, “to set, place, put…to appoint one to administer an office.” A similar word, cheirotonesantes from cheirotoneo, is found in Acts 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.” This term is defined in Thayer’s as “to elect, appoint, create.” Thus, both passages teach that men were appointed as elders. For Holt’s assertions to be proven true, he would have to find a passage which reads that men who were already elders (older men) were appointed to do some other specific thing. The Bible just does not say this. We must necessarily infer, then, that being an elder is something to which one is appointed, not merely something that just happens or that one simply assumes.
- The use of the word “elder” in the New Testament shows that they were to be appointed. It is true that sometimes the term is used in a generic sense of an older man. But it can also be used in a context where it has an additional meaning. Again, we turn to Thayer’s which defines the word, “a term of rank or office; as such borne by…among Christians, those who presided over the assemblies (or churches): Acts ix.30.” This specific concept comes from the Jews and dates back to the seventy elders of Numbers 11:25. These were not just any and all older men among the Israelites, but a specific group of men who had particular qualifications and were thus chosen as leaders among the tribes to do a certain work. Similarly in James 5:14 we have “the elders of the church,” that is a specific group of men who could be identified separately from others and who held a special relationship to the congregation.
3. The work that is given to the elders in the Scriptures demonstrates that they must be appointed. In Acts 20:17-28 we read that Paul “sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. He told them, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” The word translated “overseers” or “bishops” means, according to Thayer’s, “a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian, or superintendent…the superintendent, head, or overseer of any Christian church. Those appointed as elders were to do the work of overseeing. This kind of work involves some degree of authority. Christ has all authority (Matthew 28:18). Thus, no one can take such a work upon himself—he must be appointed to it. Elders do not just assume or automatically grow into the work of being an overseer but are made overseers by the Holy Spirit through the process of their meeting the qualifications given by the Spirit (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9) and then being chosen and appointed by the congregation.
In conclusion, the New Testament speaks of “appointing elders.” That should be sufficient for those who wish to speak where the Bible speaks. However, no method of accomplishing this is specified. The passages studied in this article, along with Acts 6:1-6 as an example of a congregation choosing and appointing those to serve among them, suggest four basic steps. The first is finding men who meet the qualifications. The second is preparing the congregation by scriptural instruction on the subject to determine if there are any men who meet the qualifications. The third is selecting those men who are qualified from among the number, done by the entire membership. And the fourth is appointing or ordaining such men to the office by someone selected for this purpose, perhaps a gospel preacher. Please notice that the preacher himself does not do the selecting. That is done by the congregation. The preacher would merely appoint or ordain them, that is, set apart the men chosen by the multitude in some public way to be recognized for their work.
Thus it is clear from the Scriptures that not only are elders made so by God based on their age, knowledge, and experience by meeting the qualifications revealed by the Spirit, but also they are selected and appointed in the congregation by the action of men based upon those qualifications found in God’s word. Therefore, we conclude that this appointing involves decisions made by the local church. The fact that churches of Christ have appointed me as elders for years does not necessarily make the practice scriptural. But it is fair to say that faithful congregations of God’s people have followed the instruction to “appoint elders” because it is taught in the Scriptures. We should not abandon a scriptural concept just because Holt and his Examiner bunch question it. “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:15)
—taken from With All Boldness; July, 1991; Vol. 2, No. 2; pp. 19-20