The Book Corner
Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership. Alexander Strauch. Littleton. Co: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1986. xiii, 422 pp. Cloth, $12.95.
One would have to admit that Alexander Strauch is on to something significant in his book on biblical eldership. The subject is an unfortunately neglected one. Strauch makes the claim that, so far as he is aware, no other book in English expounds all the New Testament texts on eldership. He thinks this is the most important feature of the book. That is, of course, an important feature, although I am sure he would also say that the quality of the exposition of every text concerning eldership largely determines the value of the work.
The four parts of the book have to do with biblical eldership in its leading features, a lengthy exposition of Scripture pertaining to eldership, a third section on some related topics, such as ordination, the laying on of hands, and the appointment of elders, and a final section suggesting some ways to implement biblical eldership.
The author’s intent, as indicated in quite a few places in the book, is to clear the subject of biblical eldership from the encumbrances of ecclesiastical tradition and erroneous understanding. Other viewpoints of the polity of eldership are not treated in full, the purpose being to expound what the author considers to be biblical teaching. What emerges is a view of church polity (polity is the form of a religious organization’s government) generally held by the Christian Brethren.
Has the author succeeded in his aim? Subject to some of the strictures mentioned below, I think he has. He certainly has clarified the subject of ministry in the local church and the biblical principles of church government. There are some areas of the subject that he has not handled to the reviewer’s complete satisfaction, but then the reviewer probably could not handle them either. The appointment of elders is an example, for the New Testament does not clarify such things as successive appointment to the extent we would desire.
There are some strictures that occurred to me as I read the book. First, characteristic of many of us in evangelicalism is a certain provincialism, that is, an unfamiliarity with other church traditions. The author sometimes reflects this, particularly in his treatment of Presbyterianism, a tradition that has articulated elder rule through its history. However, its elder rule is founded upon the representative principle, involving election by local church members. The points Strauch wants to make might have been clearer with a bit of explanation.
Second, the author has sought to use the original text in his work, and I certainly applaud that. His use in clarification of word meanings is generally acceptable, although occasionally the root fallacy appears (cf. p. 226). The reference to the Granville Sharp rule (p. 264) is misleading, for Granville Sharp expressly excluded plural nouns from his rule. Thus, he should not be quoted as supporting the translation of “pastor-teacher” for the phrase, “pastors and teacher,” in Ephesians 4:11. Strauch does not specifically do this, but seems to approve the doing of it by one of his authorities.
The exegesis of 1 Timothy 3:2 and 5:17 is somewhat tendentious. The former text is a noted problem text, and its discussion should be handled with a careful treatment of support for contending interpretations. Strauch opts, after a treatment that is quite slanted, for a view not held by any well-known New Testament scholar through the centuries. The phrase, “the husband of one wife,” probably means either married to one wife, or married only once. The notoriously difficult phrase should be evenly handled, treating the evidence as fully and fairly as possible. The translation, one wife kind of husband, which Strauch accepts, is highly unlikely, especially if referred to a man who has had two or more wives (for that is possible, if the reference is to a man whose wife, or wives, have died). I can find to this point no Greek grammarian, nor any well-known translation, supporting the rendering suggested by Strauch. “Kind of” is misleading; the phrase simply means literally a one wife husband,” or better simply the husband of one wife.
These strictures and a few other ones of lesser importance aside, this book cannot fail, if read, to underline the importance of the subject for the churches. While a large and sometimes repetitious book, it would serve as an excellent text for the study of eldership by young and older men interested in the work of an elder. Strauch is a man of gift and experience, and I am grateful for his work.
The Christian Brethren, if we may use the term employed by the British of them, are in dire need of capable and scholarly defenses of their leading principles, such as ministry by gifted men and not by a man, or men, claiming the office of pastor, the freedom of utterance by the male priests and ministry by gifted men in the meeting of the church, the preeminent place of weekly observation of the Lord’s Supper in the context of that meeting, in stewardship the dependence upon the Lord for financial needs, the biblical ministry of women in church life, and the government of the church by men appointed by the Holy Spirit, meeting the qualifications set out by the New Testament, and recognized by the brethren. This work is a step along the way.
—S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.