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BIBLE AND THEOLOGY FORUM
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THE PLURALITY OF ELDERS

There exists a rather small Christian movement called the "Plymouth Brethren" or "Christian Brethren." A primary distinction of this group has been the insistence upon a plurality of elders in a local church. It is noted that such is always the case in the New Testament. Thus the practice of having one pastor over a local church is decried by them.

However, it appears to be overlooked by this group that the plurality of elders refers to the "City Church," that is, all the Christians in a given city or locality. And it appears evident that there were more than one house church in cities with numerous Christians in that city. Our modern notion of a "local church," simply does not exist in the New Testament, so far as I can tell. All the Christians in a city are part of, e.g., The Church of Corinth. Yet persons who habiltually meet at someone's home are part of the church that meets in so-and-so's house (see Philemon), evidently one of the house churches in Colossae.

Now the NT simply does not define for us any specific governmental rules for a house church, so far as I know. We may ask whether or not a house church had only one elder/pastor? According to 1 Peter 5, the elder has his cleros (apparenlty a segment of the people of God).

Now what about our modern local church? In some cases a modern local church might have a congregation the size of a New Testament city's population. In other cases less. But we have persons in various denominations, with various preferences driving miles past each other to attend a church which appeals to their choice. In a given neighborhood, the Christians go to many different churches. And we have no city-church structure of elders ruling over all the Christians in a city nowadays. Neither is this practically possible, due to our deep differences of doctrine.

So what happens in a local church today, a church that has but one designated pastor. If he is the only person in the congregation who has the gift and qualifications, there would be no justification to appoint some of the church's members to the eldership in order to have a plurality.

But on the other hand, in the absence of other elders, the pastor is by himself as a leader of the congregation. It seems almost inevitable that he will end up meeting with the deacons, and they becoming involved in the overall leadership of the church. In fact, as they may have lived through 10 different pastors who came and went, they may end up with more leadership authority than the pastor has.

And this brings us back to square one. If there is no board of elders in a church, it would seem very difficult to limit deacons to being deacons. Yet if there are a number of elders in a church, any of them that teaches the Word of God is entitled to financial support for that function (Galatians 6). And in the New Testament there are no "senior pastors" or "assistant pastors."