TO DO WHEN UNQUALIFIED ELDERS REFUSE TO RESIGN
A congregation is richly blessed when it has
godly men who love and uphold the truth. This is especially
true when the eldership of that congregation is made up of such
brethren. In recent years, some local churches of Christ have
had those within their membership who do not respect the Lord’s
arrangement for scripturally ordained elders as their overseers.
There are two extreme positions held within the church concerning
the authority of elders. One extreme holds that elders merely
serve as examples for the brethren to pattern themselves after.
The other extreme is for an elder or eldership to domineer in
an autocratic manner. Both of these extremes fail to depict
the true nature of the responsibility enjoined upon those men
who serve as elders.
Of course, elders of a congregation should
be godly examples. The essential qualifications for one to serve
in that capacity reveal this truth (I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
Also, it is expressly stated that elders, as shepherds of the
flock, are to be ensamples (I Pet. 5:1-4). The term “ensamples”
is translated from the Greek word tupos which includes the meaning,
“an example to be imitated.” However, every child
of God is to be an example to others (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:15).
Being an example to others is to be in relation to our following
the Son of God. This is emphasized by the Apostle Paul in the
following words, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also
am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1).
The overseers of a congregation have specific
authority designated unto them by the Lord through the inspired
scriptures. There are Greek designations in the New Testament
that depict their areas of responsibility and authority. Those
Greek terms are presbuteros, episkopos, and poimein. Presbuteros
is translated as “presbyter” or “elder”
and has reference to one advanced in life, a senior. It places
emphasis upon having wisdom and experience. Simply being older
is not adequate. Those selected as elders must be older in the
faith because they will need to draw upon their wisdom and experience
in living the Christian life. Since a new convert is a novice
in living the Christian life, he cannot qualify as an elder
(I Tim. 3:6). The term episkopos is translated as “overseer”
or “bishop.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament defines that word as “a man charged
with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are
done rightly, any curator, guardian, or superintendent.”
And the Greek word poimein is translated as “pastor”
and “shepherd.” Thayer defines it as a herdsman,
especially a shepherd. As a metaphor it has reference to a presiding
officer, manager, director, of any assembly: so of Christ the
Head of the church. Elders are under shepherds to protect and
to feed the spiritual flock of God (local congregation, Acts
20:28; I Pet. 5:1-4). Those three Greek references depict the
responsibility and authority of elders.
The limitations of the authority of elders
include the following: (1) in matters of faith, they have no
authority to either make laws or to set aside a “thus
saith the Lord” (II John 9). Whether or not Diotrephes
was an elder in a congregation, he did exercise power over one.
He would not even allow the brethren of that church to receive
an apostle (III John 9-11). There are some unqualified elders
that refuse to adhere to the inspired Word of God. (2) The oversight
of elders is limited to the congregation that appointed them
(Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1). (3) If they would gain and retain the
respect of their congregation, then elders must not lord it
over the flock (I Pet. 5:3). That is, they are not to rule over
the church highhandedly and autocratically. Just as the Apostle
John instructed a church not to follow the evil example of Diotrephes,
brethren are not to follow ungodly elders into error (III John
A local church is to submit unto faithful
elders as rulers over them (Heb. 13:7, 17). Many unfaithful
members of some congregations refuse to submit unto their bishops.
This causes dissension, unauthorized innovations into the church,
and often division. The inspired Word exhorts, Obey them that
have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch
for your souls, as they may do it with joy, and not with grief:
for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). There
will be those on the Day of Judgment that will be held eternally
accountable for failing to submit unto godly elders. That is,
elders who will not be swayed one way or the other from the
truth that was once and for all delivered unto the saints (Jude
However, we are not to allow ungodly shepherds
to lead us into error. There are many unqualified men who have
been appointed as elders. Often, congregations ignore the essential
qualifications for elders in selecting men to serve in that
capacity. Their criteria fall short of the inspired standard
given by the Holy Spirit. Only men who qualify by that given
by inspiration are Holy Spirit ordained elders. In stating the
qualifications for an elder, the Apostle Paul writes, “A
bishop then must be…” as he list those things mandatory
in becoming an elder (I Tim. 3:2). Congregations open themselves
up to severe problems by selecting men as their leaders who
do not meet the inspired qualifications.
What is a congregation to do when one or more
of its elders are not qualified to serve as overseers? Often
those who serve in any type of leadership capacity are criticized.
This is especially true of elders. When there are accusations
brought against one of the elders of a congregation in which
we have membership, what should we do? The Apostle Paul gives
instruction concerning this matter as follows: “Against
an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three
witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also
may fear” (I Tim. 5:19-20). To have grave accusations
against anyone this is a serious matter. This is especially
true concerning elders in that they often receive unjust criticism.
Therefore, the Apostle Paul commands, “against an elder
receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.”
If an accuser will not bring serious accusations against an
elder before two or three witnesses then their criticism of
an elder is to be rejected. However, if they are willing to
present serious charges against an elder before more than one
person then what they have to say may have credence. If the
accusations prove to be true then further action must be taken.
Paul declares, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that
others also may fear.” A congregation is responsible to
take action against a rebellious elder who will not repent and
resign from the eldership. The brethren who selected him when
they believed that he met the qualifications have the responsibility
to reject him as an elder when he ceases to retain those qualifications.
Some rebellious elders would split the church rather than to
resign when just accusations have been brought against them.
Among the seven things that God hates is “…he that
soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19).
Prayer and a love for the Lord’s church
will motivate us in striving to uphold God’s Word in dealing
with such a serious matter. We are taught by inspiration, “With
all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one
another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit
in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3).