Appointing Elders

“It was for the sake of this that I left you in Crete — in order that the things that were wanting, you might set in order and appoint, according to the city, Elders, just as I instructed you.”

(Titus 1:5)

Paul left Titus with two jobs: finish putting things in order and make sure that the churches have elected Elders (with the implication that it is the role of the Elders to keep things in order). As to the things to put in order, it can be implied that some of the instructions that Paul is giving to Titus reflect the things left to be put into order, which we will discuss later.

As someone who, in many ways, is a Presbyterian at heart, we like to point out that καθίστημι (kathistami) refers to placing someone in a position of authority, thus one ought not just see Elders as a servant in the church, but overseers of the spiritual life of the church and in turn, we ought to be ready to place ourselves under the authority of men called and appointed to said task. That, of course, sounds easy until they instruct you to do something you don’t want to do…and then it is hard…really hard. But, to do so, honors God, and that is the right motivation.

Within Presbyterian circles, there is also the position that καθίστημι (kathistami) means “to appoint by the raising of hands.” This is not as straight-forward and clear-cut as many would like to suggest as to arrive at that conclusion requires some degree of inference. Literally, the word means “to put something (or someone) in place.” It can be used of placing a guard in a duty roster, God raising someone into a position of authority, or just making sure that things are done in an orderly manner. The inference about appointing by the raising of hands comes from the tradition of the Sanhedrin electing the High Priest by a matter of vote. Again, this election is referred to as a καθίστημι (kathistami — see Hebrews 5:1; 7:28; 8:3). Presuming one accepts this inference, we find grounds here for the election of our church officers. At the same time, one cannot make the statement that this is what the term means in any categorical sense, for to do so would suggest that there is an election of some sort taking place in Matthew 24:47 when the term is used of the master’s servants — a position that would be an utter misreading of the text.

There is one more note that I want to make about the appointment of these Elders — they are appointed by city. Each city (or each community) is to have its own Elders based on the model that we see Paul establishing here. These men will lead the church and keep it in order (for we have a God of peace, not of chaos). There is no hierarchy being portrayed here as is had by some denominations and groups. Further, there is no real justification here for networks of churches, covering multiple cities — at least not for ones who are ruled by a common body of Elders. Sometimes we pastors have a tendency (because of our Egos) to want to grow and build a little empire or churches, yet the model presented is that of churches in each and every town and each one having their own Elders. A shepherd should know his sheep by name.

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