The Duties of Members Towards Their Pastors and Elders

Numbers 16:1-5; 1 Timothy 5:17-25

Preached during the morning worship service on September 19, 2010 at Davao United Covenant Reformed Church on the occasion of the ordination of Rev. Vic Bernales

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The Punishment of Korah by Sandro Botticelli (1481-82)

The Punishment of Korah by Sandro Botticelli (1481-82)

This afternoon, Davao United Covenant Reformed Church will solemnly and officially ordain Brother Vic Bernales as Minister of the Word. What is this thing called ordination, and why ordain a man for ministry?

Christians today have a very low view of ordination. In a recent conference called “Verge: Missional Community Conference” in Texas, thousands of attendees were told that because Christians are a royal priesthood, “As a priest there’s a particular people or there’s a particular place that God has called you to.” They were told that every single person in their churches is a minister, and were asked to come forward in a kind of ministry altar call. Two thousand people who felt God’s calling to the ministry came forward and were “ordained” by a conference speaker.

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In this age of anti-intellectualism and anti-authority coupled with a low view of Scripture, creeds, church, and ministers, ordination is looked upon as unusual, unnecessary, and maybe even Roman Catholic. Unusual, because so many men (and women) are self-proclaimed and self-ordained pastors and “bishops.” Unnecessary, because of a deformed view of the “priesthood of all believers” and church offices. And Roman Catholic, because of unfamiliarity with the Protestant view of the calling of a minister.

As the new and true Israel, the body of Christ is now “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession… called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). All the promises made to Israel are not abolished but are actually fulfilled in Christ and in the church. Thus, the Old Testament priesthood is abolished, replaced by Christ our only Great High Priest, the only mediator between God and mankind (1 Tim 2:5). And he is also the Greatest Prophet and the King of Heaven.

And because we are united to Christ, we too share in Christ’s three offices of Prophet, Priest and King. We proclaim salvation to all who believe in our Passover Lamb, and we pray for and forgive one another. As we do these things, we stand like the Old Testament high priest in the Most Holy Place.

But this Reformation teaching of the “priesthood of all believers” has been corrupted and abused by many believers. Listen to these words:

These “frenzied individuals” were “dashing about aimlessly without an assignment, “[despising] the ministry of men and even Scripture itself, in order to attain the Spirit. They then proudly try to peddle all the delusions that Satan suggests to them as secret revelations of the Spirit. [People] with absolutely no qualifications, who force themselves upon the Church, are fanatics, driven by an evil spirit. There are many, for instance, who boast that they are moved to action by the Spirit, and pride themselves in a secret call of God, when all the time they are unlearned and totally ignorant.”

Is this a description of the condition of many churches today? Certainly! But these words were not written by R. C. Sproul, but by John Calvin almost 500 years ago! This kind of “free-for-all” priesthood is not what that the Protestant Reformers taught, but which is also very commonly taught today as “everybody’s a minister” priesthood. While John Calvin rejected and severely criticized the Roman Catholic Church of an exalted priesthood vested with extraordinary powers by virtue of their ordination, he also condemned the free-for-all and “confusing” self-appointed pastors and elders who sprouted everywhere.

Only certain men are to be ordained as God’s appointed Ministers of the Word. But this does not mean that ministers are special to God in such a way that they have a direct hotline to God in heaven, or that their prayers are more powerful than the rest. Standing before God, all believers, ministers and laypersons alike, are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and because of this, all of us have inherited the Promised Land of heaven forever.

But this is where the distinction has to be made. All believers share in all the spiritual blessings of eternal life, but not all believers are pastors and elders. While the Reformers did not distinguish between men and women, slaves and free, and Jews and Gentiles, they firmly separated the vocation of ministers and laypersons. Today, many Christian think of their secular vocations or everyday jobs as less important and less sacred than that of a pastor in “full time ministry.” However, to think that the work of a laborer, engineer, teacher, or farmer is inferior and less “spiritual” than that of a minister is to demean God’s common grace in creation to endow each human being with the dignity of work. For a Christian, all work is done for God’s glory and “as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Eph 6:6-7).

As for pastors and elders, they are God’s specially appointed servants of Christ doing the work of preaching and teaching all that the Lord has commanded them. The end of the apostolic age meant that the unique, foundational office of apostleship also ended (1 Cor 3:10-11; Eph 2:20), but the apostles’ teachings continue to be handed down and entrusted to Christ’s appointed ministers (2 Tim 4:1, 2; Jude 3) until Christ returns to earth. Timothy and Titus were examples of those who were ordained to the ministry by the Apostle Paul, and in turn they and others were instructed to appoint elders in every city and church (Acts 14:23; Tit 1:5).

If pastors and elders are God’s specially appointed gifts for the building up of the church through Word and Sacrament, why do many Christians think that the ordained ministry is not required for the church? Why is “everybody’s a minister” promoted by many pastors and lay leaders? Would you want to go to a dentist if you broke your leg? Would you want to go to an auto mechanic to help you do your taxes? Would you want to hire an accountant to fix your leaking roof? Then why do Christians want to ask untrained, unlearned and self-appointed men and women to preach and to teach in their churches? Why do many young people trust Biblically-illiterate 16-year-old theological idiots to write songs for worship?

What about the laying of hands on Brother Vic which pastors and elders will do this afternoon—is there Scriptural warrant for this practice? In the Old Testament, Moses transferred his authority to Joshua by laying his hands on him (Num 27:18-23; Deut 34:9). In the New Testament, laying on of hands is done as an act of commissioning and sending (Acts 6:1-6; 13:3). Thus, it is clear that there was laying on of hands by God’s authorized servants on those who were called and sent to proclaim God’s Word, and that there was spiritual gifting that accompanied this rite, which the one ordained has to consistently use in order to “fan into flame the gift of God” (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).

Together with the story of the rebellion of Korah and more than 250 leaders of Israel against Moses and Aaron, our text tells us what the duties of God’s people are towards their God-ordained pastors and elders: (1) submission in the Lord; (2) honor in love; (3) wise selection.

I. Submission in the Lord

Our text begins with, “Let the elders who rule well…” What does “rule well” mean?

Most people today do not want to become members of a church. Why? Because they do not want to be “ruled” by or “submit” to church officers, particularly pastors and elders. Those two words are bad words in our current culture. Our church once encountered a man who visited our church. Though he regularly attended another church, he said he does not want to become a member because that means two things: (1) submission to elders; and (2) he is more knowledgeable and spiritually mature than those elders.

The New Testament has a few words of warning to this proud and insolent man:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thess 5:12-13).

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb 13:17).

The Greek term “over you” in the first passage means that pastors and elders are “to exercise a position of leadership, rule, direct, [and] be at the head of” members of the church. The second verse commands believers to “obey” and “submit to” their leaders. What does obedience and submission to the rule of church officebearers consist of?

Hebrews 13:17 uses a synonym of “submit” which we find elsewhere in these relationships: master-slave relationship, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1); husband-wife relationship, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:21); and Christ-church relationship, “Now as the church submits to Christ…” (Eph 5:24).

How do you as members submit and obey to your pastors and elders? First, you are to submit to them in matters related to your spiritual life. Can they tell you what school your children should go to, or what job to take, and where to move? Obviously, one of the main considerations in making these decisions is whether or not your school or job or home location would hinder your spiritual growth. If they would, your pastor and elders might recommend other options for your consideration. In this way, they “[keep] watch over your souls.” But their oversight and rule over you concerns your spiritual life, not your private personal life.

Second, you are to submit and obey to your pastor’s preaching and teaching, for this is the means by which your souls are nourished. The first mark of a true church is the preaching of the pure gospel of Christ. Preaching and hearing God’s word is God’s ordained means of creating faith in a believer (Rom 10:17). It is one of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: a believer comes in through faith; an unbeliever is shut out through unbelief.

Therefore, you as members are to regularly and diligently attend to the preaching of the Word in the worship service and receiving the Word in faith, love and obedience. Your attitude towards the preaching of the Word is that these are “words of eternal life” (John 6:68), and God’s Word sanctifies because his “word is truth” (John 17:17).

Preaching then is a most solemn vocation, assigned by God to his Ministers of the Word. Thus, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, the minister labors in the preparation of his sermon—doing exegesis, research, meditating, and praying for the Spirit’s illumination. Why do we then only say, “I was really blessed!” when we have guest preachers and celebrities singing and giving testimonies, but not after every sermon that our pastor has carefully and solemnly prepared? Why do we only appreciate a sermon or a lecture when the pastor uses entertaining humor? Why are our ears glued to a message when it is not the gospel, but a lesson in marriage relationships or financial success?

Third, members are to watch that the preached Word is the Word of God, not the pastors’ opinions or inventions or false and out-of-context interpretations. Like the Bereans of Acts, who after “they received the word with all eagerness,… [examined] the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). You are to guard the church against the schemes of false teachers and deceivers.

Fourth, your submission and obedience is not only towards the pastor’s preaching and teaching, but also to their admonitions (1 Thess 5:12), reproofs, corrections, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). You are to submit to your pastor’s counsel and advice in matters of sin or doctrinal error. You are not to despise them, and in case you do and reject your pastors’ and elders’ admonition and rebuke, you are to submit to their discipline. This discipline is not intended to get rid of a troublemaker, but eventually to persuade you to repent and to turn back to Christ.

This brings us to your fifth and last duty as members: you are to partake dutifully in the sacraments, in the knowledge that the sacraments are the second means by which you receive God’s grace and nourishment for your souls. All of you who have professed faith in Christ, are members in good standing of a true church, and observe the commandments of Christ in your lives, are commanded to receive the sacraments in faith. But to you who reject your pastor’s admonition and discipline, you are to submit also to your exclusion from the sacraments, for receiving the Lord’s body and blood in “an unworthy manner” is guilty and brings down God’s judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:27-30).

We are to submit to the pastor’s and elders’ spiritual rule and to their preaching and teaching.

II. Honor in Love

Moreover, we are also to honor our pastors and elders, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17). The word “labor” is sometimes translated “toil” and implies physical, emotional and spiritual hard work to the point of exhaustion. Paul uses the same word to describe his tentmaking as “working with our own hands” (1 Cor 4:12), and he has shown the Ephesian elders “that by working hard in this way we must help the weak” (Acts 20:35). Thus, pastors who preach and teach labor as hard as any other worker even to the point of weariness of both body and soul.

For this reason, pastors and elders who labor diligently for the sake of their flock are worthy of “double honor,” respect and high esteem (1 Thess 5:12-13). How do you as members show honor and respect towards your pastors and elders?

First, bestowing double honor means that you are to respect and honor them over and above all other brethren in the church. You are to have a high regard for them, their abilities and their labor for Christ. What are the kinds of things said in your conversations about the Lord’s Day worship and preaching on Sunday nights and Monday mornings? Are they highly respectful, cordial and affectionate of your pastor and his preaching? Granted, his preparations may vary from week to week, are your criticisms spoken in sincerity and love, for the sake of unity and building up of the church? If you don’t agree with the pastor’s preaching or teaching, would you come in humility—not fear—to discuss, consider, and even grapple with your disagreements?

Second, you are to show double honor to your pastor through ample, generous financial support, because “the laborer deserves his wages” (1 Tim 5:18). Does this mean you must pay your pastor double what a worker who does similar work, if there is such kind of laborer whose responsibilities are as grave and as serious as a minister’s? No, not at all, but it means wages that are sufficient to provide for him and his family. Like all other laborers, pastors deserve his just wages, a direct quotation from our Lord himself (Luke 10:7). Even the ox who toils in the field all day long deserves to rest and eat (Deut 25:4).

Paul himself says he deserves receiving financial support from the churches:

Do we not have the right to eat and drink? … Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?…Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:4, 7, 11, 13-14).

A great problem in the Philippines is the lack of financial support for pastors, most of the time because the congregation is poor. I know several pastors who work as tricycle drivers to support themselves and their families because the offerings in their churches are not even enough for paying rent for their meeting place. But to congregations whose members have more than sufficient incomes, the Bible commands them to provide sufficiently for their pastors.

Third, you are to be careful in your words, opinions and especially in your accusations or charges against God’s ordained and appointed ministers. This is a very serious matter, so any charge against them must be substantiated by two or three credible witnesses; no hearsay or third-hand information must be allowed (1 Tim 5:19; Deut 19:15). When you bring charges against them, it is not merely before the earthly court of a church, but also before a solemn heavenly court—in the presence of God, Christ and all the heavenly host! (1 Tim 5:21)

Certainly, we are called to be Bereans, examining what our pastors and elders preach and teach. On the other hand, believers are not to constantly be critical of their minister, always listening for any hint of false teaching or error in Biblical interpretation. How can they do their work if the congregation is constantly prying into—even opposing—their preaching and teaching, looking over their shoulders with suspicion?

But the warning to be careful in accusations is not given only to members but also to pastors and elders who are persistent in erring and sinning. They are under stricter rules for discipline in that the rebuke is public, done “in the presence of all,” because they have betrayed their congregation’s trust (1 Tim 5:20). Because God had ordained them as shepherds over his people, they are more accountable than the sheep, and no leniency is to be given to them. They are examples for the congregation, so that the rest of the people will stand in fear of sinning like them.

In view of the above, there must be a certain balance of trust and love between pastors and elders and the congregation. The members are to honor them in love—with their generous giving and with a respecting attitude towards them. And the officebearers are to dutifully, diligently and faithfully do the work of God’s ordained servants.

III. Wise Selection

Because the office of eldership is a God-ordained, solemn appointment, the congregation must take care in the selection and election process. Judgment on the church comes because of carelessness and disobedience to God’s strict requirements for elders. If the elders are not qualified, they cannot perform their duties well, and the church will not be administered and ruled in good order. And thus, there will be divisions, jealousies, gossip that will make the church ineffective in its mission to build up the members and preach the gospel to its neighbors.

The church I was raised in is an example of this negligence and disobedience by a church in the selection of elders. Elders are not selected by the congregation, but appointed by the church council. Usually the men—and women—who are appointed come from influential and rich families, but they hardly qualify as elders. Some are not even believers from the lives that they show—they are drunkards, they do not manage their household well, and they are lowly-regarded by their neighbors.

Paul again gives us a couple of rules with regards to the selection of elders.

First, selecting an elder should not be done in haste. Sometimes, the urgent need arises to choose an elder quickly if one of the elders is deposed, or if he leaves, or even dies during his term. Never should the selection process and ordination be done in haste—for any reason (1 Tim 5:22). If, out of negligence, people appoint unqualified men as elders, they are implicated in the future sin of those elders. The name of Christ and the church will be blasphemed among unbelievers. Is that your pastor? Is that your elder? How come they go to places where they shouldn’t go and do things that Christians shouldn’t do?

This is the reason why before Brother Vic was ordained, he had to go through three years of seminary studies and be examined for eight hours before the classis to make sure that he qualifies as a Minister of the Word in his doctrine, worship and life.

Second, the evidence of good works in the life of elder-candidates is very important in the selection process. Elders are to be selected based on the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Most of these requirements involve looking at the character and life of the candidates:

above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable… not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money… must manage his own household well… must be well thought of by outsiders.

Some requirements are to make sure that they are mature and of sound mind and doctrine so that they could preserve the truths of God’s word in their preaching and teaching. These strict qualifications are intended to ascertain the piety of those selected, because there is a sure danger that sins will appear later if they are not spiritually sound (1 Tim 5:24).

These are the godly and righteous qualities that are easily evident in an elder candidate, because “good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Tim 5:25). So it is the responsibility of the congregation to make sure that the proper evaluation of the candidates are thorough, without favoritism, and without haste.

Conclusion

You are to submit to your elders, honor your elders, and carefully select your elders. What are the consequences of disobeying these commands?

We read only the first five verses of the story of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On’s rebellion. These four men led a group of 250 other chiefs of Israel in a rebellion against God’s appointed prophet Moses and priest Aaron. Do you know what happened to them? The four leaders, together with all their families, were swallowed up by the earth, and the other 250 men were consumed by fire from heaven.

But that was not enough judgment for people to repent from their rebellion and turn to God. The next day, “all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the LORD’” (Num 16:41). So God again poured out his wrath on the people, killing 14,700 of them with a plague before Aaron interceded for them and prevented God from destroying all of Israel.

From the very beginning, mankind has rebelled against God’s ordained structure of authority—in the family, in the church and in society. And this rebellion always ended up in disaster: for Adam and Eve, for Israel in the wilderness, for the church in Corinth. Today, many apostate churches are in open rebellion against God’s Scriptural commands against women officebearers and against man-centered worship practices. We see from the story of Korah’s rebellion that God cannot wink on his people’s rebellion against his appointed ministers of the Word and against true worship.

But members are not the only ones accountable to God. Pastors, elders and deacons have a greater responsibility. Remember Israel’s shepherds in Ezekiel 34? They did not fulfill their responsibilities towards their flock, so God judged them and punished them severely, “Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep” (Ezekiel 34:10).

The Pharisees were supposed to be God’s shepherds, but they did not do the work of diligently and lovingly ruling and shepherding the sheep well. So Jesus pronounced seven woes on them, prophesying that God’s kingdom will be taken away from them, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matt 21:43). The leaders failed to carry out their obligations to God both in their personal lives and in leading the nation of Israel. Their privileged role in caring for God’s vineyard and kingdom will be taken away and given to the true Israel of God, the church of Christ. Christ’s words came to pass when the Roman legions sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70. After that event, by the second century A. D., the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other rulers of Israel practically ceased to exist. Their destruction was complete because of their failure as shepherds of Israel.

The Scriptures tell us how to do everything decently and in good order; that it is pastors, elders and deacons who administer and care for the church; that members are to submit to, honor and wisely choose these men. May we as the congregation of Christ—officebearers and members alike—faithfully submit to his commandments.

Amen.

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Dave says:

An unbiblical understanding of these issues seems to be a part of why many people in the U.S. who call themselves Christians stubbornly refuse to be members of a local church. Granted, every church has problems, and choices are limited in many locations. The situation is further exacerbated by churches which present the pastor as basically a “life coach” (and also which perhaps lack a functioning eldership), or by other churches where the pastor functions as a “little pope.” Whatever the case may be, however, those who reject the biblical model of submitting to the authority of the elders of a local church are without excuse. Sadly, they are examples of people who no longer endure sound doctrine.