Dear Brother G.
We appreciate the painstaking way in which you discuss from the Scriptures the questions arising in The Forum.
The recent topic, “elders,” is not too well understood by some of us, so while in the City, I thought that I would tell you that there is a number of good sisters who would like an explanation from the Scriptures of the four offices in the Church: clergy, bishops, deacons, and priests.
Thanking you for your help,
S. E. K.
Dear S. E. K.
Many thanks for your letter and interest in the major subject of eldership. Your request merits quite a comprehensive answer, and it is hoped that it may provoke further inquiry on the part of students of the Word of God. In opening the discussion in these pages on the important subjects raised in your letter, let it be suggested that, first of all, we determine whether or not there be any offices (as the word is understood in Christendom) in the Church.
There are three Scriptures in which the word “office” occurs in the King James version in connection with Church constitution that we might examine carefully and prayerfully. The first, Romans 11:13, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.” The word here actually is diakonia, and would be better rendered “ministration” or even “service.” Mr. Darby translates the clause, “I glorify my ministry.” The second Scripture is found in Romans 12:4, “For we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office.” The word here is praxis, and might be rendered by “use” or “work.” The third Scripture is the most important of the three for our present inquiry, 1 Timothy 3:1, “This is a true saying, if any man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” This same word occurs In Acts 1:20, and is rendered “bishoprick,” so that it would be correct to render 1 Timothy 3:1, “If a man desire a bishoprick he desireth a good work.” In fact the word “office” is not in the text. To quote from Mr. Darby again, he translates this verse, “If anyone aspires to oversight, he desires a good work.”
In all these cases it is obvious that God does not provide offices to be filled, but services, tasks, and ministries to be performed, and a stewardship to be administered. In Scripture the emphasis is not placed upon position and honour, but upon action and work.
The idea of officialism exists in Christendom, but not in the New Testament. The great ecclesiastical hierarchies that have arisen throughout the history of the professing Church do not find their foundation in the Bible. In this regard we might speak of organized officialism; men who by a majority vote are placed in certain offices for certain periods of time. That there is an absence of any such procedure in the Divine records of the apostolic Church must be clear to any sincere student of the Word of God.
Assumed officialism: There is nothing more distasteful than a fleshly display of self-assumed importance, a presumed superiority that results in arrogance and intolerance. One recalls the words of the Apostle John, “I wrote unto the church: but Dio-trephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and for-biddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 9-10).
Would not the words of Christ rebuke the haughty spirit of officialism? “And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And He said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as He that serveth” (Luke 22:24-27). May the blessed example of the Lord Jesus in His gracious humility inspire us and guide us.
In the will of the Lord, we shall take up some of the other details of your letter next month.
Very sincerely in Christ,
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It is a precious thought that God never gives up His saints, however faulty they may be. At a Bible Reading long ago, while it was being taught that the believer in Jesus, stands in the eternal sunshine of God’s favor, the question was asked, “But what if I turn my back upon Him?” The reply was given, “He will shine upon your back !”
“Elijah the Tishbite”
—by W. W. Fereday