Ordering the Church: Single Elder or Plurality of Elders?–Part 2

Posted: August 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

This post should be read in conjunction with part 1 of this series. 

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS

Before I can dive directly into the issue, it would be helpful to clarify what I am talking about.  The issue before us is not a simple one.  When thinking about church government there are a number of issues that one must work through.  It is not within the scope of these blog posts to work through all those issues, so basic assumptions will be stated first. 

I am writing from the standpoint of a Congregationalist.  That means that I believe that the final court of human authority rests not in some hierarchical structure but in the congregation itself.  In itself, this is a topic that deserves careful consideration and study. 

I will also write with the understanding that there are only two offices within the church.  Elder, Bishop, and Pastor are believed to refer to the same office and not three different ones.  W. B. Johnson, writing in 1846, notes that “all these terms are applied interchangeably to the office of ruler, as the same qualifications are required in all”[i].  The elder (presbuteros) and bishop (episkopos) are both used to denote the same office in Acts 20:17, 28.  Again, this point of theological debate is beyond the scope here.

Throughout these blog posts a plural elder model will refer to a church that has “shared leadership”[ii].  Alexander Strauch puts it in clear terms when he writes, “By definition, the elder structure of government is a collective form of leadership in which each elder shares equally the position, authority, and responsibility of the office”[iii].  The single elder model will denote when “the pastor is seen as the only elder in the church”[iv], oris at least the elder with ultimate authority.  This pastor will probably have a board of deacons, several other committees, and in some cases a staff that he works with, yet he is the elder of the church.

To state it succinctly, these blog posts assume that the congregation is the final human court of authority and that Christ has given his church the office of elder and deacon to lead it.  The question is whether this congregation appoints a single elder to exercise oversight or a plurality of elders?  As with all things the Bible must be our guide.  What pattern do we see emerging from the pages of God’s Word?


[i]Mark Dever, ed., Polity (Washington D.C.; Nine Marks Ministries, 2001), 191.

[ii]Desiring God Staff, “Do You Believe a Church Should be Governed by One Elder or Several?” [on-line], accessed 11 November 2009, available from http://www.desiringgod.org: Internet.

[iii]Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership (Littleton, CO; Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1995), 39.

[iv]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 928.

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