Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Biblical Eldership (1) – “Why?”

Bible Readings

  • Deuteronomy 1:9-18
  • Numbers 11:10-30

Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, 

We will have eldership election in the near future. We have already announced this to you.  But before we get to the actual meeting to elect elders, we will listen to what the Scriptures teach about eldership. There will be three sermons, following three questions about Biblical eldership.

  • The “why?” about eldership
  • The “what?” about eldership
  • The “who?” about eldership

Principles of Church government

Let’s begin at the beginning, where all Christian denominations should start. 

The supreme rule for practice and doctrine

We need to hold the Scriptures as our supreme standard for life and worship.  What we believe about church government, should be in agreement with the Scriptures. So, all men in church government must, first of all, believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is infallible, sufficient, authoritative and inerrant.  If anyone has a different view on the Scriptures, such a person should not be trusted to become an elder of the church of Christ.

Christ, the Head of the Church

The Scriptures teach that Christ is the Head of the Church.  The Bible says in a few places:

And He [God] put all things under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23, NKJV)

… may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16, NKJV)

and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:10, NKJV)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NKJV)

… holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. (Colossians 2:19, NKJV)

Presbyterians hold these principles as precious and authoritative:  Christ is our only Mediator, He is our High Priest, and like a father, He cares for his church.  We have therefore an aversion to any earthly office other than what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures.  We, therefore, have no human as head of the church. Not even as a representative.  We also have no priest, and we call no one our priest because in Christ the priesthood has come to an end.  The Bible also warns against calling anyone “father”: 

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9, NKJV)

What we have is the Holy Spirit who guides us by his Word to understand the Scriptures and order all temporal things of church government.  We seek our rule from the Bible, and we submit to its authority.  The Bible teaches us that Christ is our Head, and that is enough for us.

General forms of church government

Papists

Papists believe that the pope is Christ’s representative on earth and that he is the head of all churches and Christians on earth.  Under him there are all manner of offices, including priests, bishops, deacons, canons, arch-deacons, and what not! The pope can declare what is sinful, forgive sin and make infallible proclamations, and even add doctrines not found in the Scriptures.  We reject this notion as fundamentally in contrast and opposition to the teachings of the Scripture.

Episcopal

Episcopal churches understand the Scriptures to teach that every congregation should only have one bishop, in which the oversight of that church rests.  They do believe that there should be a hierarchy from top to bottom, with an archbishop having leadership over a group of churches.  He appoints bishops, who appoints others under him.  The system gets fairly tricky for Presbyterians because we find it difficult to see where canons, archdeacons, vicars, and other office holders come from.  The Anglican Church and some branches of the Methodist Church are episcopal denominations.

Congregational

Congregational denominations do not have any hierarchy.  Their church government is mostly a free arrangement of leadership chosen “demographically”, which means the majority of members decide who will be leaders, and congregational meetings have the authority to hire and sack leaders, and even determine the general teachings of a denomination.  A congregation in a congregational system usually opt to join a broader group of churches (like the COC movement) but can walk away when the majority decides so.  Most charismatic churches follow this form of church government.

Independent

Some other independent churches is a sort of a mix between episcopal and congregational.  These congregation usually starts with leaders in a strong conviction of certain aspects of Bible teaching or a clash of leadership personalities.  These leaders then, in the end, become the de facto bishops, and in many cases, everyone who disagrees with the leadership has to leave.  These leaders are their own authority, and they are not accountable to any structure.  Many of these leaders claim direct revelation from God in the form of visions or something similar in addition to the already declared will of God in the Scriptures.  

Presbyterian and Reformed Churches

Presbyterians and reformed denominations fall in a different category.  Christ is our Head, the Bible is our rule, leaders/elders are chosen by communicant members of the congregation, and perform their duties under the authority of the Scriptures.   What their decisions must be in agreement with is the Scriptures, the agreed confessional creeds and the general rules of the denomination. 

Our system has checks and balances.  Elders are accountable to a wider group of elders, the presbytery.  Members have the right to approach this court if they think that elders have contravened the Scriptures, the Confession or the general rules of the denomination.  There is other courts too:  the General Assembly, and the General Assembly of Australia, and these are also bound by the Word of God and the rules accepted by the denomination as a whole.

The word “presbyterian” comes from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means elder, or overseer.  Presbyterian” in our name refers therefore to the form of church government we adhere to.

The “Why” of eldership?

Our understanding of eldership finds its roots in the Old Testament.  Our Scripture readings this morning takes to those beginnings.

God appointed Moses to be the leader to take his people out of slavery of Egypt to the Land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As assistant Moses had his brother Aaron, who later became the first High Priest.

The people were numerous, they were divided into their clans and had their clan leaders.

People are sinful 

Rebellion against Moses and Aaron was common practice.  They always wanted to go back to slavery, because the journey through the desert just seemed too hard.  They doubted God and rebelled against his law.  And then, there was this constant towing away from the declared command of the Lord to not mix with the people the came in contact with along the way.  And, of course, there were the constant disagreements and sometimes heated disputes between people, with one party always believing they were done in.

There is a need for discipline and good order 

This, of course, spells general church life in the 21st century too.  Our sinful nature drags us away from God’s declared will for our lives.  We begin to love the world more than we love God.  The world easily dictates to us how we should live, and we can readily start to doubt the faithfulness of God.  Our relationships one with the other can sometimes be volatile, and we need mediation and godly outcomes.  In short, discipline and good order need to be maintained for the glory of God.  We need elders!

One leader is not enough!

Moses was a human being with his own strengths and weaknesses.  It all got too much for Moses.  His father-in-law gave him good advice:  

“The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. (Exodus 18:17–18, NKJV)

Moses found himself face-down in the presence of the Lord.  What he understood very well was that the people he had to lead did not belong to him, but were God’s people. He could not deal with the people other than what God wanted him to do. In fairly harsh words he prayed to God,  This is too much for me. 

If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favour in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” (Numbers 11:15, NKJV)

He has come to the end of his line. How does he provide for the people?  How can he care for the people?  Should not God care for his own people?  

Although God did provide the water, the manna and the quail, other aspects of care God provided through elders whom He enabled for the task.  Although God could directly care for them, He appointed leaders. 

Shared but Divided responsibility and accountability

To maintain discipline and order within the camp, God appointed 70 elders to work closely with Moses.  Moses remained the intercessor between God, between the leaders and the people, but from that day on, the men upon whom God poured out his Spirit to set and enable them for their task them apart for service would be a help for Moses.  

I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone. (Numbers 11:17, NKJV)

What seemed impossible for Moses becomes possible through the provision and enablement of God.  Where would the meat come from?  Where would the men come from? 

“The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ (Numbers 11:21, NKJV)

How did God answer? 

“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.” (Numbers 11:23, NKJV)

God first sent his Spirit to rest upon the seventy men, and He gave them the ability to prophesy—which through the Scriptures was always a sign to the rest of people of God’s authentic appointment—and then He provided the quail.  

This is how elders do their work.  They are appointed by God; they need to care for the people because they are God’s own people; they need to continually keep their eyes focused on God for whom nothing is too hard.  Elders share in the responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the people, they are called to maintain spiritual discipline and good order. When the people of God slide back to the slavery of sin, the elders encourage, teach and admonish.  And in all, it is their task to lead God’s people to live to the glory of their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Why do we need elders?  

We are sinful and rebellious, and we need spiritual direction and care.

Elders share in the burden of this care.  It is not good for one person to take the full load.  It is not the plan of God for his church.

May our Lord give us clear guidance as we pray for men to fill the vacancies of elders in our congregation.  We need to make sure that the men we elect are indeed spiritually mature, displaying a sure conviction that they called to the office.  Let us pray.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 February 2019

Advertisements

The Holy Spirit, our Helper

Enabled to be Christ’s Church

Wind the clock back to this situation:  Your’e back at school after being away on a enjoyable holiday.  It is the beginning of athletics season, so a big chunk of the day goes into preparation on the sport fields.

You notice that, after all the good things of the school holidays, running have become quite hard.  Just once around the oval and you develop this stitch in your side, and it makes you feel you’re going to die!  But not far behind you is the trainer-teacher who keeps telling you that if you want to to win the prize and come first you need to be fit.

How many times did you then and there decide running is not for you.  But it was the dedication of your trainer and the encouragement of your parents and friends that make you keep going and eventually taste victory.

There was a time that the disciples of our Lord would be inclined to give up the race and go back to their fishing boats.  It was the during the final few hours they spent with our Lord.

A few things happened:  There was this episode with Judas Iscariot during their last supper with Christ.  Then Jesus broke this news to them:

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. (John 13:33, NIV)

This is followed with the well-know statement of our Lord:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (John 14:1–2, NIV)

Some verses down chapter 14 of John, our Saviour was to them like the trainer who spur on the unfit athlete:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12–13, NIV)

But like those on the field running to reach the winning post, they should compete by abiding by the rules:  “If you love Me, Keep my commandments” (John 14:15)

This is the point where we forget about the prospective runner preparing for the race; the analogy stops here for the Christian Church and its members. Athletes do it by own achievement and strength.  Let’s understand that we will not reach heaven in own strength; instead, let’s focus on the Word of God.

God’s plan unfolding through the ages

God’s saving grace

God’s original plan of populating this planet with people living to his glory in a place He prepared for them to do so without limits, was interrupted when Adam and Eve rebelled and as a result plunged all who was born from them in to sin.  God’s plan was interrupted, not frustrated.  His grace would set into motion his rescue action.  Although the human race deserved to be destroyed by the holy God who hates sin, He decided to rescue them.  There in paradise He promised someone who would crush the head of the serpent.

The sin of man increased to the point that God sent the great flood, but He rescued Noah and his family.  God made a choice some time later and called Abraham, not because he was more deserving of God’s grace than all his contemporaries, but because of God’s saving mercies.  The Bible tells us clearly:

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. (Joshua 24:2, NIV)

God made a covenant of grace with Abraham, which had implications for the whole world in Jesus Christ.  We will come back to this.

Abraham’s family increased and eventually ended up in Egypt.  Once again it was God’s grace which saved them:  He did not give his commandment first and then afterwards saved those who kept it; it was the other way round.

On their way to the promised land God gave them instructions as to how He would want them to worship Him:  it included all sorts of sacrifices, the priesthood, a specific place of worship, and specific ways of how they should approach them.  The focal point of every sacrifice was blood:  it was sprinkled on everything, from the High Priest, to the altar and its utensils, on the people, and even on the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place.  This sprinkling of blood proclaimed cleansing and restoration.

God also cared from them  between Egypt and the Promised Land providing water, food, shelter, clothing, healing, and protection against the enemy.  All along they had to understand that they were in his hands, and their existence was for his glory.  Yes, they rebelled again and again, but after many long years the decadents of those who left Egypt inherited a land where they did not need to build houses and cities, or create sowing fields for them to so put in their crops.

Sinful inability

But Israel kept falling away from the Lord.  The daily sacrifice, the recurring days of special festivals, the failure of the priesthood, of the kings and the prophets cried out for a perfect sacrifice that would end all sacrifices, for a perfect king would reign forever, and a perfect priest who would intercede perfectly for ever before God.

There was something else that needed to be replaced:  the heart of stone within the stiff-necked people of God had to be replaced with a heart able and ready to serve God.  We read about it this morning:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)

We know this was fulfilled in Christ and the Holy Spirit.  God did the work according to his only plan and purpose.  He called a people for Himself, the Church.  And his Son, Jesus Christ, was sent to pay the price and buy them with his blood.  And Jesus was born from the Holy Spirit when Mary became his mother.

People born from above

John tells of this in chapter one:  The world was made by the Christ, because He was God.  But is was filled with the darkness of sin.  Christ was the light who came – but He found that his own people did not recognise them.  Yet, his ministry would bring to God his people.  Who were they?  Listen:

…all who did receive Him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13, NIV)

Jesus went out setting the plan of God in action.  He called the disciples, who never in their wildest dreams would first think of following Him. People heard about Him and Nicodemus, one of the teachers of Israel, went to Jesus to hear more about his Kingdom.  But our Lord said to him:

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3,5, NIV)

It is the Spirit of God who does the work of a rebirth from above so our eyes can be opened to see the kingdom of God so we can enter it.

The promises fulfilled

When we then come to chapter 14 of John, the disciples heard that Jesus was about to leave them.  And Jesus told them to keep his commandments.  And there was the stitch in their sides!  Complete the race – but how?  How would they be able to run the race and complete it successfully?  How would they, simple fishermen as they were, be able to keep his commandments?

The serpent crushed

The promises of God were now in the process of being fulfilled.  Christ has come, and in the space of a few hours since He gave them this command, He would crush the head of the serpent.  He would give his life as perfect priest, perfect prophet, and perfect king.  But He gave them the promise of the Holy Spirt – He is the one who replace the heart of stone for the heart of flesh to enable them to love their Saviour with a complete heart.

Hearts cleansed

The Spirit is the other Helper – Jesus was the first, but He is completing his mission; He is now going back to the Father as the crown prince to rule over the kings and nations, to intercede for his church and to prepare a house for them.

The Holy Spirit is the next helper, and He makes it his business, not to bring new teaching and a more blessed form of salvation for them, but to be with them and in them as Christ was/is to his church. Indeed, He reminds us of the salvation of Jesus Christ:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26, NIV)

The Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of those whose eyes are opened to know Jesus Christ.  His work is for the people of God.  The world does not know him, and the world does not see Him.

He is the unlike all other spirits who misled the people of God to worship other gods.  He is the Spirit of truth.  He intercedes for those who are bought by Christ for the Father.  The new life based on the redemption of Christ, is now brought about and sustained by the Holy Spirit.  Both the Saviour and the Comforter live in and with God’s elect.  Sprinkled and cleansed in the blood of Christ, they received a heart of flesh and are enabled to live by God’s commandments.

Now they are enabled to be the true people and nation of God, not limited by the national boundaries of Israel and the blood of Abraham, but called by God and blessed by God through the promise He made with Abraham:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3, NIV)

Paul stresses this point when he says:

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29, NIV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 15 May 2016