The argument is being made more and more frequently that the preacher has authority to ordain elders because Timothy and Titus had the authority to ordain elders.
Maybe. But we really have to approach these questions with the greatest of humility — because it’s just not clear that the early church had a uniform practice for ordaining officials. Moreover, it’s far from clear that Timothy and Titus were ministers in the same sense as the modern pulpit minister.
For example, Paul instructed Timothy to ordain deacons as well as elders. But in Acts 6 — almost certainly about the first deacons — the deacons were selected by the membership, not the preacher.
Which is “the pattern”? Why might the process have differed? I have a theory, but in fairness, I have to tell you that it’s just a theory. I wouldn’t at all insist on this as doctrine.
I don’t see Timothy and Titus as examples of First Century located preachers. First of all, Titus was charged to ordain elders in multiple churches. He evidently had oversight of several congregations in Crete.
Second, Timothy and Titus were both subject to the oversight of Paul. If these men had fallen into serious sin, Paul could have disciplined them and even removed them from their duties.
Who, in the modern church, is the equivalent of Paul? Who would hold the minister to account if he were to need it — and if the elders were ordained by him? After all, I know of far too many cases where a church’s minister controlled the eldership by controlling the ordination process — perhaps not officially but practically. It’s always a very bad thing.
And what if the preacher is 23 years old? What if he has no experience? He has no sponsoring church to lean on for support. He has no supporting organization to call on for help. How does he deal with appointing elders when he’s in over his head?
As a result, my theory is that Timothy and Titus are the ancient equivalent of modern missionaries. And it would make perfect sense for the missionary who founds a congregation to ordain its first elders.
Missionaries are subject to the oversight of their sponsoring church, in modern practice. Many are also coached and mentored by a professional missions organization, such as MRN (an excellent organization). These men are not unaccountable. They have a “Paul” who can hold them to account and offer wisdom, counsel, and advice.
This theory explains why the Jerusalem congregation selected its own deacons and yet the church in Ephesus had its deacons appointed by the missionary. Well … kind of. The idea is that Jerusalem, as an established church, let the members ordain their deacons. The churches in Ephesus and Crete were mission churches, and so the missionary made the selections, in light of the inexperience of the new congregations.
The problem with my theory is that Ephesus has already had elders appointed years before when Paul served as apostle-in-residence there — as shown by Acts 20. 1 Timothy was surely written well after Paul had left (although there are just all kinds of dating issues with 1 Timothy).
It’s hard to reconcile the church having elders, presumably ordained by Paul, and the elders and deacons having to be ordained years later by Timothy unless we assume either of two things –
* It could be that Timothy’s ordination was of men selected by the members — rather like the modern practice. That is, it may be that the membership nominated the elders and deacons and the missionary then approved the selections. I have to admit that I have trouble finding any evidence of this in 1 Timothy. But it could be true.
* More likely, it could be that the church in Ephesus had fallen on hard times and had to be, more or less, replanted by Timothy. This is a very common circumstance in mission areas. The first generation of elders may have failed or may have been overcome by persecution, forcing Timothy to ordain a new generation.
I can’t prove this, but it would make sense and is very consistent with the mission world. Moreover, it’s consistent with the ordination of deacons in Acts 6 by the membership — by a mature, established church.
And this theory, as unprovable as it is, avoids the problem of overly empowering the preacher.
The papers are filled with scandals where a preacher committed sexual or financial sin and his leadership failed to act to deal with the sin because the leaders were under the thumb of the preacher.
We also see cases where a preacher leads a congregation into false doctrine — legalism, the prosperity gospel — and the leadership of the church is too intimidated by the preacher to cry foul.
I’ve worked with many nonprofit organizations where the executive director controlled the board — often leading to scandal.
My experience in churches and nonprofits is that any system that leaves the dominant personality — the preacher — unaccountable in practice is a bad system. Unaccountable elders may be a terrible system, but unaccountable preachers are even worse. It’s just so much easier for one man to fall into sin.
Therefore, I have no problem with a missionary having power to ordain elders — because those elders won’t be his boss. He answers to the sponsoring church. (Missionaries should not become located preachers, because when they do so, they cease to be effective as missionaries. Moreover, they create a serious conflict between the authority of the sponsoring church versus the local elders.)
However, I would object to the wisdom of giving that authority to a located preacher. If he controls the ordination process, he can easily become unaccountable — and I’ve seen horrible results from exactly that structure.
Elders are, at least, accountable to each other. They should also be accountable to the preacher and the membership, as described in earlier posts. This system works well when the other elders and the preacher are willing to exercise the ability they have to call an elder to account when necessary.
The problem with most elderships is not the inability to hold an elder to account but the refusal to do so because we church people are just so conflict averse. And this results from a lack of training and of good examples.
If our elders were better trained and if they were to associate with other elderships and hear of how other elderships hold one another to account, our elderships would be much more functional and our churches much happier.
Finally, as I said early on, I believe that ideally elders and the preacher work together as peers. Whether we find the job description of the modern preacher in 1 Timothy or the job description he works out with his elders, the responsibilities of the preacher and elders heavily overlap.
Both should be key players in the church’s teaching ministry. Both should carry pastoral responsibilities — to visit the sick, counsel those in need, and such. Both should be involved in discerning a vision for the church. Both likely have responsibility for the oversight of various congregational ministries. The preacher’s job description is just very similar to an elder’s. Therefore, they have to work together.
I strongly recommend that the elders meetings include the preacher. He should be a full participant in just about everything other than his own salary and benefits and job review. He should be seen as a peer, not a mere adviser. Churches just work better when this happens.
When it’s time to ordain new elders, the preacher should be part of the process. He should be in the room to advise whether a given candidate is qualified. He may well know things about a nominee that the elders don’t. They should combine their experience, knowledge, and wisdom in making certain only truly Spirit-filled men are ordained.
I have little interest in whether the minister should or must be an elder, because in my view, he is a peer of the elders whether or not he carries the title. And so it just shouldn’t matter whether he gets the title.
On the other hand, I can see the wisdom in keeping the preacher formally not an elder, because this sets up a dynamic making him more easily held to account by the elders — and making the elders more easily held to account by him.