“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”
Simply spoken, many in the western church today assume that the church is a kind of democracy — or perhaps a democratic republic for those who practice presbyterian forms of government. In a democracy, people have the right to vote or the privilege of voting (depending on the structure of said government). In some cases, voting may need to be earned, but the principle remains the same: the people have a say in the decisions that are made by the body and majority rules. Similarly, in a democratic republic, the citizens elect representatives who, in turn, vote on behalf of those who elected them into office. Contrary to much of the rhetoric in America, our country is structured as a democratic republic, not as a democracy.
Yet, while the church does have elected officers who are charged with various roles and tasks, she is not, nor has ever been, a democracy or a republic. The church is a monarchy with Christ as the King. The role of those elected Elders and Deacons in the church is not to rule but to serve (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Indeed, there is a reason that Elders are called ἐπισκόποι (episkopoi) or “overseers,” for an overseer has the responsibility to safeguard a task or a group of people so that things are done in accordance with the wishes of the King.
One of the important descriptive uses of the term ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos — the singular of episkopoι) is found in the Greek translation of 2 Kings 11:18. In context, after the death of King Ahaziah of Judah, his mother, Athaliah, ordered that all of Ahaziah’s sons were to be killed, allowing her to assume the throne. Joash, one of Ahaziah’s sons was rescued by his aunt and his nurse and hidden away for six years, until the priest Jehoiada could organize the temple guard and anoint the young Joash to be the King. There is much more to the story than this, as court intrigue fills the pages of the history of the Israeli monarchy, nevertheless, these temple guards (who were mature Levitical priests) played an essential role in protecting Joash (as well as the Temple) and then seeing that temple reforms took place (like the destruction of the altars of Ba’al).
After the coronation of Joash and the execution of his grandmother, the priest, Jehoiada made a covenant between God, the King, and the people that committed the people once again to being “the Lord’s” (2 Kings 11:17). When the altars of Ba’al were torn down, “watchmen” — episkopoi were posted over the house of the Lord. Further, in 2 Kings 12:11, it is to these same watchmen that the offerings for the temple repairs needed were given and it was by these same men that those funds were dispersed. Thus, what was the role of these overseers? It was not to rule in the manner that they saw fit. Nor, was it to rule in a democratic fashion. They were called upon to protect and facilitate the worship of God. Is that not what Elders in the Christian church are called upon to do? Is this not why Elders are to be able to instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict said doctrine (Titus 1:9)? And note, the doctrine that they protect is not simply that which they happen to like, but it is that doctrine that has been decreed by the King of the Church…namely by Christ Jesus himself. If a church’s Elders are not capable theologians and apologists in their own right, how will the church sail a straight path through the storms brought about by antichrists in this world (Ephesians 4:11-15)? If church Elders simply exist to manage the business of the church, how are they fulfilling their Biblical task?
Friends, if you desire as I do, that the church be a transformative influence on the world around us, as it was during the first three centuries and as it was during the Reformation and the century thereafter, then the church must repent of its worldliness. It must repent of functioning more like a country-club or a civic organization. It must repent of convenience and it must repent of its comfort. It must be willing to obey Christ in each and every manner that the Scriptures set forth and it must call its people to do the same. It must stop thinking like a business and it must start thinking like a military outpost in enemy territory. It must stop worrying about its programs and activities and start asking, “how do these programs and activities prepare us for worship?” They must stop telling people that God loves them just the way they are and start telling people to “repent and believe.” They must begin caring more about God and his decrees and be willing to put self to death.
Indeed, Elders — real, Biblical Elders, must gird up the loins of their mind not just to refute the errors found in the world, but also those errors found in the church and her worship. Like in the days of Joash, the idols need to be torn down and Biblical worship needs to be rebuilt. Then, maybe, just maybe, the church will stop rejecting the decrees and commands of God, start honoring God in worship (not self), and finally become relevant.