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Seventh-day Adventists Believe ... (definition of an elder)
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The New Testament Officers of the Church. The New Testament mentions two church officers—those of the elder and the deacon. The importance of these offices is underscored by the high moral and spiritual requirements set for those who would fill them. The church recognized the sacredness of the calling to leadership through ordination, the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6; 13:2, 3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5;22).

1. The elders.

a. What is an elder? The "elders" (Greek, presbuteros) or "bishops" (episkopos) were the most important officers of the church. The term elder means older one, implying dignity and respect. His position was similar to that of the one who had supervision of the synagogue. The term bishop means "overseer." Paul used these terms interchangeably, equating elders with overseers or bishops (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7).

Those who held this position supervised the newly formed churches. Elder referred to the status or rank of the office, while bishop denoted the duty or responsibility of the office—"overseer."7 Since the apostles also called themselves elders (1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), it is apparent that there were both local elders and itinerant elders, or elders at large. But both kinds of elder functioned as shepherds of the congregations.

b. The qualifications. To qualify for the office of elder a person must be "blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, soberminded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:1-7; cf. Titus 1:5-9).

Before appointment to the office, therefore, the candidate must have demonstrated his leadership ability in his home. "The family of the one suggested for office should be considered. Are they in subjection? Can the man rule his own house with honor? What character have his children? Will they do honor to the father's influence? If he has no tact, wisdom, or power of godliness at home, in managing his own family, it is safe to conclude that the same defects will be carried into the church, and the same unsanctified management will be seen there."8 The candidate, if married, should demonstrate leadership in the home before being trusted with the responsibility of the leadership of "God's household" (1 Tim. 3:15, NIV).

Because of the importance of the office Paul charged, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily" (1 Tim. 5:22).

c. The elder's responsibility and authority. An elder is first and foremost a spiritual leader. He is chosen "to shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28). His responsibilities include supporting weak members (Acts 20:35), admonishing the wayward (1 Thess. 5:12), and being alert for teachings that would create divisions (Acts 20:29-31). Elders must model the Christian lifestyle (Heb. 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3) and set examples of liberality (Acts 20:35).

d. The attitude toward the elders. To a large extent, effective church leadership depends on the loyalty of the membership. Paul encourages believers to respect their leaders and "to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake" (1 Thess. 5:13). "Let the elders who rule well," he said, "be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17).

Scripture makes clear the need to respect church leadership: "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account" (Heb. 13:17; cf. 1 Peter 5:5).

When members make it difficult for the leaders to perform their God-assigned responsibilities, both will experience grief and miss the joy of God's prosperity.

Believers are encouraged to observe the leaders' Christlike lifestyles. "Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7, NIV). They should pay no attention to gossip. Paul warned, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses" (1 Tim. 5:19).