Today’s question: “What are your thoughts on ‘young elders’ in the church? Is there an age restriction for the office of elder?”
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Could we perhaps turn your observations around and ask: Has the church in contemporary Western culture changed it’s understanding of what the ecclesiastical eldership is in such a way that it doesn’t reflect and function out of the natural reality you’ve described? Are we appointing elders to so something that’s not really eldership?
Examining the obverse claim as you suggest is important. And a loss of clear understanding of eldership and a reconception of what elders are appointed to is a significant dimension of the problem.
I confess that the position you advocate isn’t the one I was expecting — possibly because I’ve been conditioned by having heard pulpit apologia for “young elders”, never in my recollection the case you argue well here.
I re-read Trollope’s Barchester Towers over the summer. It has two reflections on preaching in it, the first beginning with the memorable sentence: “There is, perhaps, at present no greater hardship inflicted on mankind in civilised and free countries, than the necessity of listening to sermons.” But it is the second that resonates with one aspect of your argument in this video. He is reflecting on “preachers” (or “ministers”) rather than elders per se, but here it is in any case:
I would just note that having a younger man (40-50ish) leading a church under the guidance and authorization of elders is a rather different sort of situation, with certain benefits to it.
Agreed! The situation Trollope is imagining doesn’t map wholly on to the possibilities you deal with in the video. I think you’ve pretty much nailed it. Quite counter-cultural (as your mention of “music” makes clear).
One problem with your helpful approach is the confusion of grammar. For Presbyterianism, everything is an elder (teaching, ruling, lay), which dilutes the meaning. And if we lack grammar for what we’re describing in official terms, it becomes difficult to have people have a sense of themselves in the role their performing. It’s no longer the case that older men understand eldership or even aspire to it; they see themselves just as young men in broken-down bodies.
Have you ever seen Alister Stewart’s work “The Original Bishops”? In it, he details how elderhood reflected an appointment from within the church of those older men who were to be respected and their opinion additionally weighted. Sometimes it was in terms of patronage (social or otherwise) networks, and sometimes it became a means to recognize an accomplished person, someone with wisdom beyond his age (so to speak). The elder was not an ‘office’ of the church (unlike episkopos or diakonos), but a recognition of informal power.
Unless men aspire towards eldership, towards possessing the wisdom to guide and to council, we’ll have a boatload of old fools. Hopefully this element of reality placed within the church will push through despite the current epoch.
No, I haven’t seen that work, although it is an attractive proposal. In many respects, such elders would seem to be comparable to the widows of the early Church—certain people in a natural condition of life that are officially recognized and supported by the church as examples of maturity and service to emulate and wise guides from whom to learn.
How would you respond to the idea that overseer, elder, and pastor are synonymous terms for the same NT office, since Scripture alternates between them in Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5–7; 1 Pet 5:1–2? If this holds, then much of your reasoning would seem not to apply, or else not even pastors should be under the age of 50 or 60. Also if there are any books you’d recommend on church polity and offices, I’d be curious what you’ve found helpful.
I think Bavinck is likely correct in seeing the elders as a broader class than overseers, but with the overseers as persons chosen from among the elders for particular office. All overseers are elders, but not all elders are overseers.
So are both “elders” and “overseers” church offices, just with the latter being more particular? Or do you mean that all older men in the church are ipso facto elders, and then some of these are appointed to office–namely, that of overseer?
I still struggle to see this fitting with Acts 20 and Titus 1. In Acts 20, Paul gathers the elders of the church of Ephesus, and says that God has made them overseers. This seems to indicate that all elders are overseers. Then, in Titus 1, Paul tells Timothy to appoint elders in every city, and grounds it by saying: “For an overseer must be blameless …”. The view that “elder” in such cases is a title for a particular church office, and that it is synonymous with overseer seems like the most natural reading of these texts. Furthermore, in 1 Tim 5:17, Paul says that some elders labor “in preaching and teaching.” This, I would think, describes what you mean by “pastor,” and categorizes even the pastor as one of the “elders.”
I’ll check out Bavinck though, for sure. I’m just not seeing it as of now. His treatment of this is in his Dogmatics, I presume?
‘Elders’ is sometimes used with reference to the overseers, but there is a broader body of ‘elders’, who aren’t appointed to formal office, but exercise an informal authority and oversight. The ordained overseers exercise a form of this authority in the name of Christ. This is similar to the way in which Israel already has elders prior to Exodus 18, but after that point, some of the elders are appointed to represent Moses’ rule over them (see also Numbers 11). So we have a general body of elders, a more particular body of elders who rule in the name of Moses, and a yet more particular body of elders who share in Moses’ spirit. Then we have Joshua, who personally acts in Moses’ name and authority.
For Bavinck’s treatment, see 4:341ff.
Alistair Stewart’s treatment (archaeological and historical, though self-consciously not presenting it as theological or prescriptive) argues that in Acts 20, there is a single group referred to as *the* elders of Ephesus. The way he reconstructs this, based on cross-comparison of grammar and evidence of first century churches, is that *the* elders were a designation for all of the various overseers of congregations (usually house churches of about a dozen to three dozen at most) within the city. And within the letter to Titus, the word is used in conjunction with the office of overseer because the word ‘elder’ has contextually defining elements, but is not itself a technical term within the NT, referring to a more common phenomenon within associations and political bodies (though I’m sure with an eye to OT usage).
I’ve not done sufficient study on the question, but this seems sound to me.
What do you suggest when the case is that you simply do not have older, biblically qualified men as you describe who can serve as elders in the church?
In such a situation, we should begin by asking why we do not have older, biblically qualified men. In some situations, you may need to make do with younger men—deacon material—exercising some of the roles of an overseer, while being clear upon the non-ideal character of the situation and seeking to establish a healthier arrangement somehow.
Yes, that’s what we’ve done. We do not have older qualified men because in decades past there was little emphasis on teaching biblical doctrine. So we do have older men but the ones that are spiritually mature are not able to teach.