Monthly Archives: July 2001

Elders in the First Century by Randy Baker

It is evident from many New Testament scriptures that elders were an important part of the first century church. Titus 1:5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge. . . . The first century churches were not considered complete without the proper local leadership that God prescribed. Paul understood the eldership to be an important topic and wrote clear guidelines for the church to follow.

In the 21st century, we commonly see the terms “elders,” “presbyters,” “bishops,” “pastors,” and “overseers” referring to different roles that man has developed. In the first century church, however, all of these terms referred to only one God-defined role. In Acts 20:17-38 Paul is instructing the elders from the church of Ephesus. They are referred to as elders in v17 (Greek word presbuteros) and he also calls them bishops in v28 (Greek word episkopos). Paul also describes that their work was to feed the flock (to shepherd or to pastor from the Greek word poimen). A similar interchangeability of terms is used in I Peter 5:1-2. All of these words, which describe different aspects of the role, refer to the same individuals – the elders. Men have turned this role into a variety of different offices, but there is no authority for this from scripture. (Elders and deacons are indeed different roles, but we won’t cover that topic in this article.)

As I Timothy 3:1 shows, theirs was to be a working role, not just a position of status or honor. They were to feed the flock, the local church which they were in charge of, as shown in I Peter 5:2. They were to rule over those in their charge (I Timothy 5:17), and to oversee their activities (Acts 20:28), and to watch out for those who would teach error (Acts 20:31).

The authority of the elders came not from themselves. They were not to believe or teach anything that had not been delivered to them (Galatians 1:7-8). Their function was to teach, demonstrate by example, and enforce what the Holy Spirit had showed them to be true. The Lord has not changed this role description.

How many elders were intended to be over each congregation? There is no precise number given. We do see, however, that there was always a plurality of bishops. Paul and Barnabas helped select “elders in every church” in Acts 14:23; the “elders” of Jerusalem are referred to in Acts 15:2; Paul talks with the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:17-38; Titus was instructed to appoint “elders in every city” (Titus 1:5); the sick were told to call for the “elders of the church” in James 5:14 – here James refers to those sick from a local congregation and they were to call for their elders to pray for them. The Scriptures never refer to one elder (pastor, bishop, overseer, or shepherd) being over a congregation of God’s people.

Neither is there evidence in scripture of elders presiding over more than one congregation. Peter instructed the elders to “tend the flock of God which is among you” (1 Peter 5:2). Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops.” In this case, Paul was speaking to those who were elders of the congregation in Ephesus – the saints at Ephesus were the ones the Holy Spirit had entrusted to them. Nothing is ever suggested to show that elders were shepherding anyone but the members of their local flock.

Who is eligible in God’s sight to perform this work of oversight of local congregations of the saints? Paul was clear with two first century preachers about what to teach on this matter. The qualifications are clearly laid out in Titus 1:5-11 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 11 and they indicate that only a certain type of individual living a certain lifestyle met the requirements for pastoring over His flocks.

Can a woman rightfully perform the role of being one of the presbyters of a local congregation of God’s Christians? The inspired qualifications given in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 leave us answering “no” to this question. The woman cannot be the “husband of one wife.” This scripture in no way gives any suggestion that men are better than women – only that God has differentiated their roles according to His will.

It is up to us to adhere to the authorized description of leadership for the Lord’s church. If we change, or update the qualifications that were given, we do it on our own authority and not God’s. We must follow that pattern that we know God finds acceptable just as the first century church did.

No More Inspiration, Miracles, Tongues or Healings by Bill Blue

In previous articles, we have discussed the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, their purpose, how they were distributed, and the fact that they no longer exist. This article will discuss the implications of the end of miraculous gifts.

Remember, there are two reasons why miraculous gifts do not exist: (1) no Apostles are alive to impart the gifts of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, and (2) miraculous gifts accomplished their purpose (1 Cor. 13:8-12; Eph. 4:11-14).

No more inspired men.

Because inspiration is a miraculous gift (1 Cor. 12:8), and the era of miraculous gifts has ended, then divine inspiration no longer exists. Thus, there is no one living today who is divinely inspired.

Remember, what purpose did inspiration serve, but to reveal God’s will (1 Cor. 12:7, 13:8-12, 14:12; Eph. 4:11-14; Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:4; Acts 1:8)? Now that we possess the Bible, which was written by divinely inspired men (2 Pet. 1:20-21), we can learn God’s will by reading the Bible. Thus, inspiration is no longer needed.

Paul warns that false teachers (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; Acts 20:29-30) and men claiming to be inspired will come (2 Cor. 11:12-15). He also writes that the Scriptures are inspired and can assist us in dealing with “evil men and imposters” (2 Tim. 3:13, 16). Thus, it is our individual responsibility to search the Scriptures and determine whether what is being taught or preached is true (Acts 17:11). If we must do this for ourselves, of what value is modern day inspiration if it cannot alter what is written (Gal. 1:8-10; Rev. 22:18-19)?

Some faiths believe that their church is lead by someone living today who is divinely inspired. Others believe that their church was either started or restored centuries after Christ by someone who was divinely inspired. If inspiration ended shortly after the death of the last Apostle, then these faiths are based on a lie.

No more revelation.

No inspired men means no inspired writers. How can a book be divinely inspired if the person writing it was not divinely inspired?

Although this principle seems simple enough, consider all the faiths that claim to have “new,” “further,” or “additional revelations.” Consider also the catechisms, disciplines, and creed books that churches study. None of these books are inspired because none were written by inspired men. At best, these books represent uninspired commentary and opinion; at their worst, they are fiction disguised as truth.

If we have God’s inspired word in the Bible, and it is complete, then we do not need catechisms, disciplines, creed books, or further revelations. If these books say more than the Bible, then the say too much (Gal. 1:8-10). If they say less than the Bible, then they say too little (Rev. 22:18-19). If they say what the Bible says, then we do not need them because we have the Bible.

Since the New Testament was written, there have been no more revelations (Jude 3). If peoples’ beliefs in what the Scriptures say are based on books not found in the Scriptures, and these books contain error, then they jeopardize their own souls (Matt. 15:13,14; Acts 20:29-30).

No More Tongues, Miraculous Healings, or Miracles

We have discussed tongues in previous articles. Tongues were not gibberish, but languages understood by others speaking the same language (Acts 2:4-11, 10:46; 1 Cor. 14:7-33). People received this gift not for the edification of a local congregation filled with everyone speaking the same language, but to assist someone in evangelism in areas where he did not speak the native tongue (Acts 2:6-11; 1 Cor. 14:22). Thus tongues, like inspiration and revelation, had their purpose in the initial dissemination of God’s word. That purpose having been accomplished, there no longer remains a reason for the gift to exist (and no one is alive today to impart it through the laying on of hands).

The same is true of miraculous healing and miracles. Their purpose was found in assisting in the spread of the Gospel. They accomplished this by proving that the person speaking was speaking on God’s authority (Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:4). For if the preacher could miraculously heal the lame, then what he was preaching must be true because miraculous abilities come only from God and He would not give that ability to someone who was preaching a lie (Acts 3-4:22).

Although miracles no longer exist, this does not mean that God no longer cares or provides for us; He does, even in ways we may not understand or be able to explain. There is, however, a difference between miracles and providence. (There will be a future article discussing the difference between miracles and providence.)

Implications

If the era of inspiration, revelation, tongues, healings, and other miraculous abilities has ended, then belief that these things exist today is not based on truth. People who have their faith in these things do not believe the truth and churches that preach these things do not preach the truth. Although miraculous abilities existed in the First Century, their purpose in revealing God’s will has been accomplished. God’s inspired word is now recorded in the Bible. God’s word is truth. If we want to believe in something, and have our faith centered on something we can preach and teach, then let it be the truth, and not a desire for something that no longer exists.

When that which is perfect has come by Bill Blue

In previous articles, we have discussed the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, their purpose, how they were distributed, and the fact that they do not exist today. The purpose of this article is to discuss why they no longer exist, and when the spread of miraculous gifts ended.

One reason why miraculous abilities passed away is because we no longer have apostles. Other than the Apostles (Acts 2:1-4) and Cornelius (and his friends and relatives, Acts 10:24, 44-46), we do not read of an occasion in the New Testament where someone receives a miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit unless an Apostle first laid hands on that individual with the intent of passing on gifts. Philip was unable to do this even though he could perform miracles (Acts 8:5-19). Yet, Peter, John, and Paul – all Apostles – laid hands on someone who immediately thereafter received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-19; 19: 6). Therefore, although an Apostle could lay hands on someone and that person receive the Holy Spirit and a miraculous gift; no one else could do the same even if they could perform miracles. Thus, when the last Apostle died, the ability to pass on the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ended also.

In 1 Cor. 13:8-11, Paul said that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit would “fail,” “cease,” and “vanish away” when that which is perfect (or complete) has come (vs. 10). Paul contrasted the miraculous gifts, which were “in part,” or incomplete (vs. 9-10), with something perfect or complete. According to Paul, miraculous gifts were needed by the early church to assist in its maturity, it being like a child (13:11), until that which could complete its maturity came.

Similarly, Paul also wrote that: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, … till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, … that we should no longer be children, tossed to and from and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men. …” (Eph. 4:11-14)

What is complete? What did Paul expect “to come” that would make these incomplete gifts obsolete, and immature Christians mature? When would Christians come to the “unity of the faith,” and what would protect Christians from “the trickery of men?” How was this to be accomplished? To answer these questions, we must consider the purpose of miraculous gifts. If we can establish that they accomplished their purpose, then we can understand why the era of miraculous gifts ended.

The power given to the Apostles by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to enable them to preach the Gospel of Christ (Acts 1:8). With these abilities, the work of the Apostles was a great success (see article no. 17). In addition, some Apostles and other Christians, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the books of the New Testament (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

The Bible is that which is complete. Remember, when Paul preached in Corinth, many books of the New Testament were not written. However, once the New Testament was complete, then the need for miraculous knowledge ended because the church could consult the word of God in written form (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Christians no longer need to consult a divinely inspired brother or a miraculous sign to learn or confirm God’s word. Instead, we can do as the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and simply compare what is said to what is written in the Scriptures. The purpose of the Holy Spirit in delivering and confirming to us the will of our Father has been completed. It is now up to us to receive or reject that revelation – we have what is needed to know and obey the Father.

Not only are the Scriptures complete, but they are able to make Christians complete as well:

“[A]ll Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,
for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of
God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

In 1 Cor. 13:11 Paul alludes to the fact that the miraculous gifts were needed because the early Christians were like children in their knowledge. In Heb. 5:12-6:5, the writer refers to immature Christians as “babes,” and exhorts them to seek perfection through knowledge of God’s word. Thus, Christians become complete by studying (and living by) God’s word.

God’s word is “that which is perfect.” Unlike miraculous gifts that “ceased,” God’s word will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). The Scriptures are Christianity’s sole means and hope for unity. Inspiration no longer exists because its role has been fulfilled. Accordingly, the only thing all Christians have in common is faith in the Christ of the Bible. Although some “Christian” faiths have altered passages or added books to the Bible, directly disobeying God’s word (Gal. 1:8-10; Rev. 22:18-19), they have only corrupted that which is perfect.

Miraculous Gifts: That which is incomplete by Bill Blue

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether
there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish
away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is
perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Cor.
13:8-10).

We ended our article on the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (PAT no. 1-19) by promising to discuss “why these miraculous gifts do not exist today.” Space will not permit today’s article to discuss all of the implications associated with the end of the miraculous gifts, but it will serve as a beginning of that study.

Before we can understand why miraculous gifts ended, we must understand why Paul addressed the issue at all. Why was it necessary for Paul to write that miraculous gifts would be done away with?

On multiple occasions in 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the problem the Christians at Corinth had with partiality and esteeming one brother or sister above another. One basis for partiality was the possession of miraculous gifts. Christians at Corinth were esteeming some brethren over others because of a miraculous gift they possessed, and as a result, brethren desired to possess these abilities (much like Simon of Samaria in Acts 8:18-19).

Addressing this problem, Paul begins 1 Corinthians 12 by identifying nine miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (vs. 8-10), and pointing out that the gifts are distributed to individuals according to the will of the Holy Spirit (vs. 11), not according to any inherit ability of the Christians possessing the gift. Thus, why esteem the person? Paul then says that all members (individuals) of the body (church, 12:27) are valuable, and that no single member is more valuable than any other regardless of which, if any, miraculous gift a member may possess (vs. 15-30). Note the logic of Paul’s argument. If everyone is necessary (vs. 22), then why would we esteem someone simply because he possesses a miraculous gift?

Paul ends chapter 12 by instructing the “saints” at Corinth (Christians – 1:2) to “desire the best gifts,” and telling them that he will show them “a more excellent way” (12:31). Chapter 13 begins with the instruction that love is greater than the miraculous gifts because the miraculous gifts are incomplete, and will eventually “fail,” “cease,” “vanish away,” and be “done away” with (13:8-10). Again, note the logic of Paul’s argument. We should desire the best gifts, the most excellent way (12:31), not something that will vanish.

Instead of desiring miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul instructs the Corinthians to “abide faith, hope, love” (13:13); these three are the best gifts, and love is the greatest of the three (13:13). Unlike miraculous gifts, “love never fails” (13:8), and never suffers from the ills plaguing the Corinthian church (13:1-7).

Though miraculous, the gifts envied by the Corinthian brethren would not only end (13:8), but were imperfect and incomplete (13:9). Tongues could sound as clanging cymbals (13:1). Prophecy, knowledge, and faith – however miraculously acquired – without love were nothing (13:2). Thus, we should desire faith, hope, and love because they are greater than miraculous gifts.

Paul addressed the issue of miraculous gifts because the church at Corinth had a problem with envy and partiality; its members lost sight of why the gifts were provided in the first place, to assist in the spread of the Gospel of Christ (Acts 1:8), edify the church (1 Cor. 14:12), equip the saints (Eph. 4:12), and confirm authority from God (Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:4).

Towards the end of chapter 13, after having already told the Corinthians that the miraculous gifts they desired would be done away with (13:8-10), Paul then tells when this will occur and why:

“But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Cor. 13:10-12).

In the next article, we will consider these words and discuss when miraculous gifts ended and why.