About Jesus Steve Sweetman
The more I study the
Bible the more I’m convinced that concerning many New Testament
concepts we are so far out of the loop that we don’t know there’s a
loop to be out of. The
following is one such example
Imagine yourself a young
Jewish man in the good old days when
One place you’d find
support would be at the gate to your city where a number of older
retired men hung out for the sole purpose to make themselves available
to people like yourself. Upon
your request they’d offer you timely and valuable counsel to help you
through the struggles of life. You’d
be thankful to have these wise men as your friends, men who cared dearly
These older men were
called elders. They
graciously offered themselves to help care for people in their village.
Yet as so often is the case, things get more complicated and
structured as time goes by. By
the time Jesus appeared on earth these elders had been incorporated into
the ruling council of
The Sanhedrin and
synagogue rulers were just as much of a political and social
organization as they were a religious order.
These men were well paid professionals who viewed themselves as
holy and caring men, but in fact they were far from that.
In general they were nothing like the caring elders found sitting
at the gate in centuries past.
Elders who were once a
group of caring men who gave themselves to serve God’s people became
institutionalized into a rigid organization that eventually opposed the
very God they claimed to serve.
Now imagine yourself as
Timothy, one of Paul’s hardest working helpers.
Paul asks you to affirm elders in the cities where both of you
had led people to Jesus. These
men would care for the Christians in those cities.
In order to recognize such men you’d need a clear understanding
of what elders should be like, don’t you think?
So what character qualities would you be looking for in these
I’m sure you’d
remember Paul’s list of character qualities he sent you. (1 Tim. 3)
From Paul’s letter you’d understand that elders were to be
the caring fatherly type, much like the elders of old who sat by the
gate. These men would
provide love, support and counsel to individual disciples.
You’d also understand
that the elders you are to affirm would not look at all like the elders
you see in the Sanhedrin. They were domineering, arrogant, prideful, and
enjoyed the power and authority they had over you.
You’d also remember Jesus telling His disciples that Christian
leaders shouldn’t lord it over His people as the Gentile rulers do,
something the Sanhedrin did as well. (Luke 22:25-27)
The elders that Timothy
was to locate and affirm also looked nothing like our modern day church
board who manage the affairs of the church.
Timothy was looking for men who were already sincerely caring for
real live human disciples. He
really wasn’t looking for administrators.
In my thinking there’s
a strange and sad similarity to how both Judaism and Christianity have
evolved. In the case of
Jewish elders, they eventually left their seats at the gate for a seat
of privilege in the Sanhedrin or synagogue. First century Christian
elders evolved by means of numerous summersaults into the church’s
hierarchy we see today. In
both cases men who began as a group of older men caring for people
evolved into a highly structured group caring for organizational assets
and programs. This is the “institutionalization
I’d suggest that we put
Paul’s teaching into practice. You
might say that we live in a very different world and following Paul’s
thinking isn’t reasonable or workable. I say that basic human nature
and human needs never change. We
still need and always will need, love,
support, and good care, which is the role of elders.
Testament thinking is extremely difficult if not impossible in today’s
westernized church. It’s
hard to make drastic changes without dismantling everything and starting
over. And starting over
isn’t usually an option after spending so much time, energy and money
on what we’ve built. Nevertheless,
I believe the Scripture still stands as God’s divine blueprint for all
of life, and that includes church life with elders who care for real
human disciples of Jesus.
Note – I’ve greatly
simplified the above to keep it short.
I’d like to recommend my article on “Plurality Of Elders”.
The “one man pastor” isn’t New Testament thinking in my opinion.
Click the following link. It’s about 3 times longer than this article.