Question:

Were elders limited to the age of miracles? Was the church only supposed to have elders while the miraculous gifts were present? I have some one here who is claiming this and he bases it on Acts 20:28, Ephesians 4:11 and I Timothy 4:14.


Answer:

Stated to End?

In order to make this claim, one would have to prove that the office of an elder was stated to end when the miraculous gifts ended. However, there is no passage which states the eldership had a limited duration, let alone end when miraculous gifts would end.

Could it be that the office of an elder was tied in some way to the miraculous gifts, such that it could not exist without those miracles being present? I suspect that is a major part of this person's reasoning.

Required Miraculous Gifts?

In looking through the qualifications of elders in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, not one of the qualifications require a miraculous gift in order to meet the qualification.

Among the duties of an elder was to pray for the sick. "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15). However, the passage does not say the person prayed for would be miraculously healed at that moment. The promise is that God would answer the prayers, but it would be an unnecessary assumption to claim that God would miraculously intervene. So the miraculous gift of healing would not be necessary to fulfill this command.

Another possible case is when Timothy was given the miraculous gifts. "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership" (I Timothy 4:14). At first glance it would appear that the elders passed on the gifts of the Spirit, which would be puzzling since it is clearly stated that the gifts were given by the hands of the Apostles. "And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, ..." (Acts 8:18). However, notice that I Timothy 4:14 says the gift was given to Timothy by prophecy and was accompanied by the laying on of the elders hands. In the Greek, the word dia ("by") denotes the channel through which something happened. The word meta ("with") denotes something that accompanied another.

Another statement of Paul confirms this. "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (II Timothy 1:6). Again the word dia ("through") is used. The channel through which Timothy received the gifts of the Spirit was prophecy and the laying on of Paul's hands. I Timothy 4:14 merely tells us that the elders also laid their hands on Timothy to signify their blessings on the young man, but they weren't the channel through which the gift came to Timothy.

Paul told the Ephesian elders, "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" (Acts 20:28); so, where elders selected by the miraculous intervention of the Spirit?

Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every city. "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" (Titus 1:5). The verses that follow was a reminder of the qualifications Titus was to look for in men. If it was the Holy Spirit directly selecting men, then Titus would not need to know the qualifications. The Spirit would merely tell him which man, just as God told Samuel who to appoint as the next king of Israel (I Samuel 16:7). The reason Titus and Timothy were given lists of qualifications is because men were to do the selection based on the qualifications the Holy Spirit gave the apostle Paul through inspiration.

A similar type of statement is found in "Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as the stars of heaven in multitude" (Deuteronomy 10:22). How did the Israelite become so numerous? In one way it was because the God watched over them and protected them. But in another way, they were having children just like every other couple on earth. God made them numerous, but that making did not require a miracle for it to happen.

Did the Holy Spirit make men elders? Yes! Because the Spirit gave the qualifications. The criteria was God's and not man's. Did it take a miraculous intervention of the Spirit to select men for the office? Here the answer is "no."

Therefore, we find no requirement for miraculous gifts in the qualifications of elders, in the duties of elders, or in the selection of elders.

Only Involved in Starting the Church?

The foundation of the church rested primarily on the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). But elders were never mentioned as being a part of the foundation of the church. Paul did say "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13). While it is true the apostles and prophets' work was in the first century, we know this from other passages. It isn't proper to assume that pastors, evangelists and teachers also were limited to only the first century merely because they were included in the same list.

The apostles and prophets were the originators of the teachings for the church. These were the men inspired by the Holy Spirit to bring the word of God. That isn't true of pastors, evangelists, or teachers. A teacher taught the word of God to others. The evangelist was the herald of God's laws both inside and outside the church. The elder's job is to make sure the church stays true to the Gospel:

  • "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. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:28-29).
  • "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain" (Titus 1:9-11).

The need expressed in Ephesians 4:11-16 was to mature Christians so that they could do the work. That job continues so long as there are new Christians. Paul knew the work would continue even after his departure because Satan doesn't take a break.

There is no support in the Scriptures for the eldership to be limited to only the first century.