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Apr 15, 2011


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Barry King

I agree that churches should not have elders as a separate office in addition to the Pastor and deacon. What do you think of a plurality of pastors just as most churches have a plurality of deacons? Or should we have singularity in regard to the pastorate and plurality in regard to the diaconate? My questions, in either case, assume a context of robust congregationalism.


I don’t know much about Presbyterian church government so I can’t speak to that aspect of the article but I have never heard the argument from any Calvinist Southern Baptist that “elder” and “pastor” are separate offices. My church, and others like it, believe in having multiple pastors who have the same amount of oversight in the church but different roles. The word elder isn’t used to create a different office, but simply to avoid some of the confusion that has been created by the “CEO” model.

I think it’s pretty clear in the New Testament that there are to be multiple elders/pastors in the church. I also think that there are distinctions in their roles. The pastor who does most of the preaching can be looked to as the lead (or senior) pastor even as his vote is ultimately equal to everyone else’s (see 1 Timothy 5:17).

I understand the concern you may have that people within the SBC are moving things in the direction of Presbyterianism, but I am writing these things to encourage you that I don’t see that goal in my church or the churches around us of like mind. We want to be faithful in leading our own churches, and we still believe the SBC aligns with our convictions where it should matter. Of course, I don’t speak for everyone, so I can understand that you write more for the “radicals” than for me.

Grace and Peace,


There is certainly a place for elders in the Church... whether that is seen as a special "office" or not is the question. Those who are sick are to be brought before the elders (plural) of the Church to be anointed with oil (James 5:14.)
Does this mean that the office of "Elder" is something special and independent of the Pastor? Well... most SBC Churches I'm aware of have a plurality of Pastors: Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children's Pastor, etc. Endowing persons with the titles of "Youth Pastor," "Children's Pastor," etc. is at least certainly less biblical than acknowledging the existence of elders in the congregation.
But there's the difference. An elder in the Church doesn't need to be "ordained" as an elder. The congregation recognizes those men in the Church who are mature in the faith. These men, along with the Pastor, are the elders. They hold no special, recognized, office in the Church... but when a man is in need of Biblical council, he knows that these men are trustworthy to receive his confidence.
The main "office" in the Church that the New Testament constantly refers to is "Brother." All Christian men bear this title. The Elders are those men whose faith is mature... whom their fellow brothers find confidence in and seek council from. Many of these men are also Deacons... men set apart for service to the congregation. A select few are also Pastors... men trusted to care for the entire congregation. A good Pastor (Bishop) knows who the elders are and recognizes deacons among them. Not every elder has the time or vocation to fill the roll of a deacon. Elders are simply men mature in the faith. Though it might be a Pastor's choice to officially recognize these men, it is not necessary, and possibly counter productive, to do so. The natural recognition of a man's spiritual maturity by other believers should be enough. To place the title on someone whom a brother would not necessarily recognize naturally as an elder might lead to abuses of the "office." Deacons are merely elders who have the time to spend serving the brothers. A wise elder can recognize if the situation of their life makes service as a deacon possible. A Pastor is merely an elder who has been recognized as such and has been set apart, as his vocation, to care for the congregation.
Church government is not governed best by a plurality of elders but by a plurality of brothers who recognize the wisdom of elders and submit to the authority of a pastor to whom the elders maintain confidence in. And yet the service of a plurality of elders (men mature in the faith) is necessary for a healthy congregation.

Eric Opsahl

I've been a member two Baptist churches with both Elders and single pastor. My current church has multiple Elders and deacons.

Many very competent men of God have written on the subject, we will not agree.

Do you have a strong disagreement with Elders, Do you see it as harmful. or can you say that it isn't harmful and may work, you just don't think it's the Biblical model.

If you have studied the issue, you can understand how we do have Biblical reasons for that model, though you disagree with the reasons.

I see a huge benefit of multiple elders in that the leadership has checks and balances, as opposed to one central leader. Wouldn't you say that it's good to have multiple men seek God as they lead the Church?



I agree with much of the heart behind what you're saying, but I think you're mistaken when it comes to elders being distinct from pastors. The words pastor, bishop, and elder are used interchangably in the New Testament. So an elder wouldn't be someone who could potentially be a deacon because, presumably, the deacon would have the role of serving the church's physical needs in a way that would free up the elder to have more time for serving his role.

That much needed distinction aside, I think you made several good points. To some degree this discussion is over semantics, however, it can have a big impact on how the church operates. I've seen that difference in the two churches I have been a member of in my adult life.

Grace and Peace,


Acts 14:23 – “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”

According to Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, kata ekklesian should be translated “in each individual church,” (p. 241) with kata taken in the distributive sense, “indicating the division of a greater whole into individual parts” (p. 406). Daniel B. Wallace notices that if kata is “taken distributively here, it argues for plurality of elders” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 377).

Notice that there are plural elders “in each church.”

James 5:14 – “Is any of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Notice that “the elders of the church” are called upon to pray, not “the elder of the church.”


Harrell seems rather ignorant of the position he is arguing against.

(1) Calvinistic Baptists do not argue for the separate office of elder in addition to pastor. They argue for plural elders instead of a single elder. Since "elder" and "pastor" are synonyms, they are arguing for plural "pastors" instead of a single "pastor."

(2) Calvinistic Baptists usually do not make the distinction between "ruling elder" and "teaching elder" like Presbyterians do. They believe that this distinction is based on a mistranslation of 1 Timothy 5:17.

(3) Harrell fails to mention Acts 14:23 and James 5:14. A polemic against plural elders cannot be taken seriously if fails even to mention these two passages.

(4) Harrell has not done good research at all. The strongest exegetical argument against plural elders is R. Alstair Campbell’s thesis, in which plural elder references refer to leaders of house churches coming together to preside over the city church (but this is merely a hypothesis at best with no direct biblical evidence). Harrell doesn't seem to be aware of the existence of the strongest argument for his side.


Thank you for a great overview of this issue. I have personal experience and direct observation that "Elder Rule" is the preferred church governance by the young, restless and reformed (YRR) in my area. I have noted this in several new church plants, in addition to traditional SBC works where new pastors of a reformed leaning move quickly to convert church structure. In one instance, this issue resulted in a split as the new young bull knocked over shelves in an old china shop determined to change church polity at all costs.

The YRR have a tendency to recruit new staff of like-mind to join their team of elders, who then move together to transition church membership to reformed theology belief and practice. Under "elder rule", they use their pastoral authority against any members who question their theology or direction. The pattern is common enough in my area to appear as if these young reformed leaders are all using the same play book.



While I've not been a member in a church that had the specific office of elder, every church I have ever been in has had elders. These are the men who keep the church strong in doctrine, make sure the church is not running off into a ditch, and are the ones just about every other member goes to when they have concerns or problems. I have been in churches where the pastor ruled over the people in a manner like Moses did over the children of Israel, and I can tell you that doesn't work either. No new people came in, members kept leaving, and eventually the church split. Every Baptist church I have seen is congregational, that is, each member has a vote on how thing will be done. Are there truly Baptist churches that don't follow the congregational model? Neither a single pastor nor a group of elders should rule over the members. It's Christ's bride, not man's slave.


So many of these current-day arguments in SBC life remind me of the little girl who complained about her brother: "He's breathing my air!"

Within the SBC, I know of Calvinist and non-Calvinist churches who have elder systems. This is not just a Reformed issue.

Too often in these debates, we are majoring on the minors. What difference does it make if my fellow brother in another church has an elder system? Sure, it's interesting to debate, but when we start telling all elder-led churches to "leave the Baptists alone," we've crossed the line from simply disagreeing to being disagreeable (and ornery).

It matters little to me what is and is not "Baptist." The question should be what is "biblical." Yes, they should be the same, but let's focus on Scripture and Scripture alone in these discussions.

We're going to spend eternity with people of all theological persuasions. We oughta learn to get along with them.

God, help us.

Bart Barber

Barry King, here's my belief: There can be multiple pastor/elder/overseers in a single congregation. We have four such critters here at FBC Farmersville, all of whom are ordained as pastors/elders/overseers. We have robust congregationalism and two biblical offices: pastor/elder/overseer and deacon.

Barry King

I agree entirely, Bart. To me it also makes no difference if some of these men are not fully supported (financially!)by the church.
If this is what is meant by elders I have no problem with it. I think it is Biblical. Alas,sometimes something more is meant or intended.

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