Were elders only needed for a limited time and in limited places?


First, greetings in Christ and may His peace be with you.  I'm a brother and find your site very useful!

I do have an issue on this page: Can a church be scriptural without elders?

In the beginning of the commentary, there's a sentence that goes: "Obviously there can be congregations without elders, else Timothy and Titus would not have been given the job to appoint them."

Could you show me where in the Scriptures Timothy was to appoint elders?  I know Titus was, but I don't see anything saying Timothy appointed them, only Paul's description about the qualifications of elders and deacons in the first letter to him.

I'm actually struggling with the concept of elders in today's church.  The Scriptures call the position of elder the "office of overseer" in I Timothy 3:1, so it's an official position within the church.  Given that it is an office, you would think there would be clear scriptural guidance on how a man is put into that position.  What we have is a list of qualifications, Titus being told to appoint men on Crete, and then Acts 20:28 saying the Holy Spirit made them overseers.  With just those things, it sounds to me that perhaps these men were needed at a time when the Holy Spirit was still giving men the ability to prophesy, speak in tongues, etc.  They didn't have the completed Scriptures, so they needed strong Spirit-led leadership in as many congregations as possible. 

Plus, consider that elders only lead by the authority of the word of God.  We have that word now, so male leadership in the congregation would come from the same authority.  Why would "elders" (the office of the elder from the Scriptures) be necessary if we already have these things in place?  It's not a requirement to have elders in a congregation of the Lord's church.  They're not voted in, and only in one area of the scriptures do we have someone appointing them but it was a specific location that historically had significant issues (Crete, Titus 1:12-14).  According to the scriptures the Holy Spirit made them who they are and we know a list of qualifications.  That's pretty much it unless I'm way off on this.

Do you know of any churches that perform the activities in James 5:14-15?  My research into those verses show that anointing the sick with oil was done at a time when men were performing miraculous abilities by the Holy Spirit.  The sick were to seek out elders and have these activities performed.

Is there any indication in all of the New Covenant that leads us to believe that the office of the elders would have continued past the end of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Thanks for considering my thoughts.


When we read any message, there are three ways ideas are communicated: telling, showing, or implying. See: The Basics of Communication: Tell, Show, Imply. Titus was told, "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). Notice that this command to appoint elders in every city was something discussed with Paul before and being repeated in this letter. The purpose of the command was to "set in order the things that are lacking." The correction to what was lacking was to "appoint elders in every city." Therefore, the implication is that congregations without elders are lacking something.

To claim that this was a command only for Titus and only on the island of Crete is putting a restriction not born out in the text. Titus was told, "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15). What he was commanded was to be taught to others and that would include the appointment of qualified elders. We also know that elders were not limited to Crete. Jerusalem (Acts 15:2), Ephesus (Acts 20:17), and Philippi (Philippians 1:1) all had elders. Paul and Barnabas traveled through Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch where "they had appointed elders in every church" (Acts 14:23). James was written to "the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad," in other words to Christians everywhere, in which James encourages people to call for the elders when they are sick (James 5:14). Peter is written to Christians "scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (I Peter 1:1) and he talks about the elders among them and tells young men to be subject to the elders (I Peter 5:1,5). There is no indication that the duties of elders existed for only a limited time.

After giving the qualifications for both elders and deacons, Paul told Timothy, "These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15-16). Timothy was to put these things into practice. He was to "instruct the brethren in these things" (I Timothy 4:6). The list of qualifications are not given to Timothy to have nothing done with them. Rather, in regards to deacons, Timothy was specifically told, "These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach" (I Timothy 3:10).

There was guidance in how men became elders in deacons. We have the example that the church was to select men for the duties, based on their reputation, to which they were then appointed (Acts 6:3). I Timothy 3:10 tells us that they were to be tested against the qualifications. Titus 1:5; Acts 6:3 and Acts 14:23 tells us that apostles and preachers did the appointing to the office. By the way, this is how the Holy Spirit made men overseers -- the Holy Spirit is the source of the Bible (I Peter 1:20-21), which contains the qualifications for these offices. When men are appointed according to the standard set by the Holy Spirit, it is proper to say they were made overseers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). They certainly didn't become overseers by an act of human invention.

One of the things you seemed to have missed is a knowledge of all that elders do for a congregation. Yes, we have the complete word of God, but the elders in the New Testament were not appointed to reveal God's Word. Their duty involved the teaching and enforcing of God's Word. See: The Work of Elders Is the "Critical" Matter and What Difference Do Elders Make?

In regards to James 5:14-15, see: What does "anointing him with oil" mean?