IN OUR DEMOCRATIC civilization it is somewhat out of style to think in terms of one person having authority over another. The sociologists and pundits can probably explain this development but, whatever the cause, we see it at every level. Children (we are told) resent parental authority. Students in many places claim the right to run their schools. Citizens are frequently offended when the policeman gives them a ticket. Even criminals on trial feel that they should run the court instead of the judge.
In spite of all this, God’s Word enjoins on believers submission to every proper authority. Children are to obey their parents, not only because it is right, but because of their relationship to the Lord (Colossians 3:20). Husbands are to rule the home-in love, not force (Ephesians 5:23-25). Christians should obey civil officers, in keeping with the will of God (Romans 13:1-7). This is not difficult for the one truly “born again,” for his whole life is now governed by humility, not pride, and it is pride which lies behind all rebellion (I Peter 5:5,6; Philippians 2:3).
God has also given a “government” for His people as the church locally. Qualified men are to be recognized as “elders” (indicating maturity). These elders are then to be “overseers” (“bishops” comes from the Greek word here). The church is to recognize their rule and submit to it (Hebrews 13:17).
God has also specified the exercise of this rule. It is not to be “as lords over” but “examples to” (I Peter 5:3). It is a rule based on respect for character and experience, not that domineering authority sometimes exercised by secular “overseers” (Hebrews 13:7; Matthew 20:25-28). God illustrated the rule He had in mind by calling these men “shepherds” (“pastors”). They are to lead and feed the church as shepherds of a flock (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). This was not a New Testament figure of speech originally, but was frequently used by God of the Old Testament rulers among His people. God Himself was the Chief Shepherd there (Psalm 23) and various leaders were under-shepherds (Ezekiel 34). In the New Testament, Christ is the Chief Shepherd-the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-14). Elders are to tend His flock as under-shepherds who must give account.
When men are ordained to be pastors in a congregation, God assigns them a definite work and responsibility. They are to accept this responsibility “not by constraint, but willingly.” Their appointment indicates the church’s willingness to follow as they lead the way. God expects each believer to respect their work, accept their guidance and follow their lead (Hebrews 13:17; I Timothy 5:17; I Thessalonians 5:12,13). This guidance ought to be exercised on an elder-member basis as well as that of elders-church, a point not always understood.
Sometimes churches and elders have failed to take these responsibilities as seriously as they ought. That failure has always resulted in members that were spiritually weak, constantly straying and finally lost. These Christians have lacked the spirit of oneness and love that
should have been theirs as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Some of God’s people have held to a form of godliness but denied its power. That is strong language, but it is inspired (II Timothy 3:5).
Let each Christian elder resolve to take his work seriously as a shepherd over God’s flock. Shepherds are men who care for sheep. And let each true believer submit to the proper rule of his elders. They cannot lead unless someone follows. God will supply life, health and growth.