John T. Willis

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Elders and Deacons--Part I

As we continue our study of the history of the Church of Christ denomination, the "role" of elders and deacons has paid a MAJOR role. In this and following blogs, I am giving ONLY my own experiences and my own view as I understand the Bible. I will try to make this as clear as I can, and would appreciate responses. Remember, I was baptized at Highland in Abilene, Texas in 1947. I taught 15 years at Lipscomb in Nashville, Tennessee from 1956 to 1971. I became a member at Highland again in 1973, and became an elder at Highland in 1976. Thus, I have been an elder for 38 years. I will strive to make each point clear, first about elders, then about deacons.

I. The Bible gives us ONLY a very few texts, and almost all of them are not very helpful about the work or function of elders or deacons.
    a. The texts for elders are: Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17-38; 21:18; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-19; Titus 1:5-9; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 2 John 1; 3 John 1. Almost all of these texts do nothing but allude to elders. In addition, Philippians 1:1 uses the term "overseer" for "elders," again only as an allusion. The ONLY substantive texts are Acts 20:17-38; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9;
1 Peter 5:1-5. All these texts describe the QUALITIES [NOT QUALIFICATIONS] of an elder, and state almost nothing about their function or role in the church. [It is significant that there are several references to Jewish elders in the New Testament as well as the "elders" in the heavenly realm in the Book of Revelation. Those texts are not relevant for this discussion].
   b. The texts for deacons are: Romans 16:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Some would like to add Acts 6:1-7, but this is extremely questionable. Again, these texts do not discuss the role or function of deacons in the church.
   c. This brings us to a VERY IMPORTANT point. Church of Christ people have written numerous books and articles about elders and deacons. But the ideas in these books and articles come primarily out of the minds of the writers, not out of the Bible. Most controversies and practices and beliefs in the church [this is true of the Church of Christ denomination and other churches] are not rooted in the Bible, but in the ideas of prominent, influential people in different churches. This is a fact that no one can successfully deny.

II. Most local Churches of Christ think of "elders" as little popes. No one would express this thought, but this is the reality. Ordinarily [not always], Churches of Christ ASSUME that we have a hierarchy. The ordinary RANKS are:
     a. God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
     b. Elders.
     c. Deacons.
     d. Teachers and/or [often PAID] Staff Members.
     e. The ordinary members of the church.
There is a DEEP problem about this view. There is NO FOUNDATION AT ALL for the ASSUMPTION that we have a hierarchy. On the contrary, EACH MEMBER of the Body of Christ is on the SAME STATUS. Each member is alike: a member of the body--Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; etc. Each member has an very important FUNCTION in the body, the church. The eye is NOT more important than the hand; the ear is NOT more important than the foot. It is contrary to God's will to think that some in the church have a more important role than others in the church. Philippians 2:1-4 emphasizes this point, stating:
       "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
         Let EACH ONE OF YOU look not to your own interests,
         but to the interests of others."

III. The Bible uses SIX terms to describe ELDERS.
      a. Presbyter. The Greek word "presbuteros" means "older person." In the ancient Near East, including the Hebrew Bible, people of older age were usually respected by younger members of the community, and thus they were called "presbyters" or "elders" or "older people."
      b. Elder. This is the English equivalent of the Greek word for "presbyter."
      c. Bishop. The Greek word "episkopos" means "overseer." In the ancient Near East, including the Hebrew Bible, people who "over saw" or "co-ordinated" or "arranged" or "organized" or "put together" a project of some sort, whether it be a cooperative effort or systematically organizing a city or collecting data for trying to carry out a plan, etc. Over time the word "episkopos" was shortened in English to the word "bishop."
     d. Overseer. This is the English equivalent of the Greek word for "episkopos."
     e. Pastor. The Greek word for "shepherd" [poimen] was translated into Latin as "pastores." From this Latin word came the English word "pastor." Thus, a pastor is a shepherd. For some reason, in English we do not use a word built off of "poimen."
     f. Shepherd. This is the English equivalent of the Greek word for "poimen."
These SIX terms are synonyms. They supply ONLY a TINY bit of information about the function or role of elders. It is incorrect and very divisive to be dogmatic about the role or function of an elder. Our only hope about this is a little common sense.

[To be continued]

Share YOUR insights and thoughts and reversals and fears and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, September 26, 2014

Yahweh Blesses a Faithful King and Destroys His Enemies--Psalm 21

The superscription of Psalm 21 is brief: "To the leader. A Psalm of David." This gives no information for the content of this psalm. Psalm 21 does not allude to a specific event, but rather deals with a general issue facing every king of Israel. On the one hand, the earthly king must TRUST in Yahweh alone. On the other hand, when the king trusts in Yahweh, Yahweh overthrows any of his enemies. Psalm 21 naturally falls into two parts. The composer of this psalm is not the king, because he refers to the king in the third person. He is probably a priest or a prophet or a member of the king's court. Throughout this psalm, the composer consistently addresses Yahweh in the second person singular.

I.  The Psalmist praises Yahweh for blessing the earthly king of Israel. Psalm 21:1-7.
     a. The psalmist begins with exuberant voice: "In YOUR [Yahweh's] strength the [earthly] king [of Israel] rejoices, O Lord." The king greatly exults in Yahweh's help. 21:1.
     b. The poet proclaims that Yahweh answers the prayers of the king: rich blessings, a crown of fine gold of his head, life, and length of days "forever and ever." The term "forever" in the Bible occasionally means "endless time," but MOST passages in the Bible have in mind "a long period of time in contrast to a short period of time." An excellent example of the use of "forever" is 1 Samuel 1:22, in which Hannah uttered this prayer:
      "As soon as the child [Samuel] is weaned, I will bring him,
        that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there FOREVER."
Later, 1 Samuel 1:28 makes clear that "forever" means "as long as he lives." 21:2-4.
     c. The psalmist declares that Yahweh BESTOWS [gives] the king "glory" and "splendor" and "majesty" and "blessings" and "joy." None of this comes from the king, but ONLY from GOD!!! 21:5-6.
     d. The reason for all this is that the king TRUSTS in Yahweh, not in himself, and thus through the STEADFAST LOVE [Hebrew--hesed] of Yahweh the king will not be moved. 21:7.

II. Yahweh will DESTROY and SWALLOW UP his enemies. Psalm 21:8-13.
     a. The composer suddenly turns from talking about the earthly king to talk about his enemies. He assures the king that he will "find out" all his enemies, those who hate him. The verb "find out" means something like "defeat." The king will be like a "fiery furnace" against his enemies, not because of his own power, but because Yahweh will SWALLOW them up in his wrath and fire will consume them. 21:8-9.
     b. The poet continues to assure the king that he will DESTROY the descendants of his enemies. When his enemies PLAN evil and DEVISE mischief against the king, they will not succeed. Instead, the king will put them to flight and aim at their faces with his bows. The king here is like an archer who shoots arrows to defeat his enemies. 21:10-12.
     c. The psalmist concludes by praising Yahweh for his strength and power. 21:13.

Share YOUR concepts and beliefs and reservations and expressions and feelings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis