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Dub McClish

The Writings Of Dub McClish
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The Prime Function Of An Elder

Jerry C. Brewer

Most folks have a skewed view of an elder’s function, including many of those who serve in the eldership. Elders are viewed by many members of the church as sort of a “board of directors” who set congregational policy, which is then carried out through the preacher, who is looked upon as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Another way to put it is that many people consider elders much like a school board, with the preacher as a superintendent. Because of this unbiblical view of elders, many who serve in that capacity may have adopted the same idea of the prime function of an elder. To many people, the elder is one whose primary concerns are the arrangement of the church building, its paint color, the hiring of folks like janitors, secretaries, and the preacher, and as a watchdog over the treasury, among other things. Some even look upon the eldership as simply an “advisory committee” as evidenced by the Palm Beach Lakes elders in Florida who publicly stated they would serve in that capacity for Apologetics Press (AP). Even though they are ostensibly its overseers, AP also has a board of directors. In an open letter to AP supporters, announcing the firing of Bert Thompson, the elders wrote,

For the past eighteen months, the eldership of the Palm Beach Lakes church of Christ has overseen the work of Dr. Bert Thompson and Apologetics Press. With great sorrow, on May 24, 2005, this eldership supported the Board of Directors when they terminated Dr. Bert’s association with A.P. …The Board also recognized and has encouraged A.P. to focus on its core mission, defending the Christian faith with a relentless pursuit of excellence, which has become a hallmark at A.P. The PBL elders plan to work with the Board in an advisory capacity, provide strength and counsel to Bert and to continue overseeing this amazing, effective organization. (“Open Letter To Contributors And Friends Of Apologetics Press,” May 31, 2005).

That is a foreign concept to New Testament teaching and is one of the reasons many churches have taken the road to apostasy in the last few decades.

There is no better description of the work of an elder than that expressed by the apostle Paul in his final address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus:

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them . Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31).

There are three facets to the prime work of an elder. All are listed in Paul’s words of inspiration to the Ephesian elders and the key to his admonition is the word “feed” which should be translated “shepherd”. The Greek term from which the word “feed” is translated in this passage is poimaino, which McClintock and Strong define as, “to tend as a shepherd.” Of this term, J. W. McGarvey wrote,

Let it be noted, then, and never be forgotten, that the term employed in these passages expressed the entire work of a shepherd, of which feeding was very seldom even a part in the country where this use of the term originated. The shepherds of Judea, and those of Asia Minor, pastured their sheep throughout the entire year. Their duty was to guide them from place to place, to protect them from wild beasts, and to keep them from straying; but not to feed them. …It is made the duty of the eldership, first, to protect the congregation against false teachers from abroad; second, to guard carefully against the influence of schismatics within the congregation; third, to keep watch both within and without, like a shepherd night and day watching his flock, so as to be ready to act on the first appearance of danger from either direction (all emphasis his) (A Treatise On The Eldership, 1962, A Reprint of The Edition of 1870, DeHoff Publications, Murfreesboro, Tenn., pp. 25, 26).

Brother McGarvey succinctly summed up the duties of an elder in those three points, and it should be carefully noted that all three involve a constant awareness of what is being taught on the part of elders. In recent decades, this has been the most neglected work by elders and, as a result, churches have plunged headlong into apostasy. Not only that, but many elders in our day are so concerned with fellowshipping “Brother Big Somewhat” that they ignore his false doctrines and apologize for him. That has certainly been the case of many of them regarding Dave Miller and his false teachings on “marriage intent” and “reaffirmation/reevaluation of elders.” His apologists are legion and many of those are elders. Hear brother McGarvey again:

The first of these duties is again emphasized in the epistle to Titus, where Paul requires that elders shall be able, by sound teaching, both to exhort and convict the gainsayers, and adds: ‘for there are many vain and unruly talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped.’ Ti. i: 9-11. The duty of watchfulness is also mentioned again, and in a manner which shows most impressively its supreme importance. Paul says, ‘Obey them who have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.’ (emph. his) Heb. xii: 17. From these words it appears that the object of the watching enjoined, it is not merely to keep out false teaching and to suppress incipient schism, but to do these in order to save souls from being lost. That priceless treasure for which Jesus laid down his life is at stake, and the elders of each church, like the shepherds of each flock, must give account to the owner of the flock for every soul that is lost. (Ibid, pp. 26-27).

I would not want to go to judgment in an elder’s shoes who refuses to take the doctrines of a false teacher seriously, making no effort to stop his mouth. The prime— and most important— function of an elder is to watch for souls by guarding against wolves that would devour the flock. Those wolves, dressed in sheep’s clothing, are everywhere, within and without, and the elder must be a constant watchman over the flock of God. Woe unto the elder who does not “take heed…to the flock” in the gravest of all duties imposed upon him by the Lord.

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