Key Passages: Passages that refer to “deacons,” using this word “servant” in a more official capacity to refer to a position within the church, are 1 Tim 3:8-13 and Phil 1:1. Other passages that possibly refer to deacons are Acts 6:1-7; Rom 16:1.
1 Timothy 3.8-13 – 8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The Bible teaches that elders are the governing office of the church. They are tasked with leading, managing, and overseeing. However, in the New Testament we find that the congregation is incredibly involved in the church’s affairs, and may, according to some, be seen as serving a governing role.
The question then is how these two things relate to each other. In many churches it is assumed that the elders lead, yet the congregation also exercises some expression of involvement or governance. So who leads (or governs), the elders or the congregation? And if both, how so? How do those two relate?
The below outline seeks to present various models of how this question is answered. It also seeks to present the various Biblical and theological content that potentially impinge upon this issue.
The Bible speaks to our ecclesiology. Polity is not a matter of Biblical indifference or a subject where the Bible leaves us open to organize ourselves as we like (contra. other traditions). We believe the sufficiency of scripture extends to the fact that the Bible guides us on how we as a church are to be governed.
This is why we look to scripture on these matters. We look to them for instruction here. Its voice is what determines our polity. Continue reading
The following is from a correspondence I had with some area pastors over the question, Must those who hold the office of elder (aka: pastors, overseers) be old. Or, in other words, can they be young? Does the term “elder” necessitate a certain age criteria?
On the age of elders:
The word undoubtedly comes from the Jewish context, in which it refers to the leadership office within the Jewish community. The term seems to originate from the fact that those leaders were generally the aged and experienced men in the community.
However, the word seems to come to serve as something of a technical term for that leadership office, not necessarily implying in any absolute way a certain age requirement. (We want to avoid the etymological fallacy here of equating etymological origin with meaning.) This seems to be the type of use that is carried over into the New Testament church context, where it serves as a technical term for the leadership office.
But don’t hear me wrong. The terms used for the office seem to convey something of the meaning and nature of the office. So, for example, the parallel term “overseer” implies that this office is one of oversight. Likewise, designating the office as “elder” implies a certain wisdom and experience. (So, whereas the terms “overseer” and “pastor” seems to designate something of the function of the office, “elder” seems to designate a qualification to the office.) And no doubt (cf. 1 Pet 5:5) this sort of wisdom and experience implied by the term “elder” often does come with age (although age does not guarantee this maturity any more than youth makes this impossible). So I don’t think it’s entirely moot or irrelevant to consider the age of potential elders.
But, especially when we note the context of the church as a “spiritual” community, it becomes clearer that the sort of wisdom and experience in view here is likely that of one’s Christian faith. So for example, an older man who newly coverts would not qualify, even if he is an “elder” in terms of his physical age. This is made clear when Paul says that an elder cannot be a recent convert (1 Tim 3:6), which seems to show that it is a candidate’s “spiritual” experience that is in view in the idea of “elder.”
On the other hand, this implies that a young man may be qualified if particularly wise and experienced “spiritually.” Paul seems to assume this when he tells Timothy not much to allow anyone to look down on him for his youth (1 Tim 4:12). He also assumes this when he gives instruction to elders on how they are to relate to those who are much older than them (1 Tim 5:1ff), which implies these elders must be relatively young, or at least much younger than many of their congregants (so not the “elders” of this community as far as physical age).
Again, this is not to say that age is not a relevant factor. Often times experience does come with age. But I would hold that the Bible does not outline age as an absolute requirement (or qualification for that matter), given the sort of maturity in view — primarily “spiritual.”
Doug Wilson wrote a good article on this here.