Pastor or Elder: More than just Semantics
In our modern church life, because our whole church experience centers on “the Pastor”, I find this subject of biblical leadership (i.e. pastor/elder) of a local community very interesting.
I have looked “high and low” to research the subject of pastor in the Word of God and can only find one verse that mentions, by name, a pastor in the entire Bible!
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (Eph 4: 11)
Please notice that the verse prior to this makes it clear that a pastor is a gift to the Body. “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Eph 4:8)
What we do read about are elders. They are spoken of over 200 times in the Bible! (NASB Version)
What is more, it is clear from Acts 20:17,28 that the apostle Paul thought of “elders” and “overseers” as the same person. What I cannot get out of the NT is that this same person is our current notion of a “pastor” as mentioned in Eph 4:11. The Eph 4 passage describes “pastor” as a gift of Christ (along with apostle, prophet, evangelist and teacher), whereas I Tim. 3 and Titus 1 describe the “Qualifications of Elders”, which rules out the suggestion that it was a gift of the Spirit.
Here is the conundrum: A pastor was a gift given to the Body “at large”, like an evangelist or prophet, while the Elder is a role of leadership in a specific local church given because of spiritual qualifications.
If I receive a gift it does not hinge upon my qualifications or gender.
Two things strike me most when I read about elders in the NT:
1. They were chosen.
Elders were “appointed” (Acts 14:23 NASB) on the basis of moral and spiritual qualifications not as a result of receiving the gift of “eldering”. They were appointed because they led exemplary personal and social lives. Being an overseer in the church is not a gift of the Holy Spirit like the gift of prophecy or tongues or giving or service ( Rom 12/ I Cor 12).
Spiritual gifts are given as gifts; not based on gender or qualifications. As far as I can see, one of the only settings in the NT church life that speaks to qualifications and life experience are “elders of the local church”.
When I say that they were chosen, this means that they did not chose themselves, and offer themselves up for service, which is the standard practice in our church world today!
“In the New Testament we hear nowhere of men being invited to offer themselves for any office in the church. The apostles did not offer themselves to be apostles, the seventy did not offer themselves, St. Matthias did not offer himself, the seven deacons in the Acts did not offer themselves: in no church of apostolic foundation was there any suggestion that anyone was appointed because he offered himself. In the Pastoral Epistles, Timothy and Titus were not told to invite men to offer themselves. ‘If a man desire’ does imply that there were men eager to be appointed; but that is quite a different matter from appealing to men to offer.” (Roland Allen The Case for Voluntary Clergy)
2. They were not professional clergy or paid elders.
There is no suggestion that as elders were put in place throughout the Roman world – from Jerusalem to Rome – that they abruptly left their former jobs and became “professional clergy”. This has been a confusing point for centuries but there is no biblical evidence that local elders were paid, full-time professional clergy. Much that is written in the NT regarding full-time wages and support is written in the context of apostles who traveled the world on foot to spread the gospel and found churches where none existed. (See Acts 18:3; 20:34; 1Cor 4:12; 9:6; 2 Cor 11:6-9; 1Thes 2:9)
Many will point to the passage in 1Thess. 5:17-18 (“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor…”) as THE proof text that elders (or modern day pastors) should be paid a wage. While I would agree that this is talking about money as well as honor, I cannot agree that this is a predetermined “salary” but rather gifts. Even the IRS makes the same difference!
Let’s follow Paul’s train of thought on not taking money as an apostle but rather working with his own hands in this lengthy passage from 2 Thessalonians:
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any one of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example.” (2 Thess 3:7-9)
Paul was so committed to spread the Gospel of a “free Savior” that he denied himself, at certain times, monetary support due him as a right inherent in spreading the Gospel. Sometimes Paul says “I robbed from other churches” so that he could be there to preach the Good News to the people but on other occasions he clearly went out of his way to chose instead to toil with his own hands and earn his own bread.
But over and above this argument is that he was defending himself as an apostle not defining church practice for elders! Moreover, it is very difficult to see this as a explanation for “professional pastors” as we know them today.
I will close with another pertinent quote from my dear friend Roland Allen in his description of the appointing of biblical elders:
”The second qualification which we demand and the apostle [Paul] omits is a readiness to resign all means of living other than that of the sacred ministry. Of this there is not a trace in the apostle’s list of qualifications: there are, on the other hand, many points which suggest the opposite. The men whom he desired to see ordained were all men who were capable of maintaining themselves and their families without any assistance from the church. They had in fact been doing so, and there is nothing to suggest that they would cease to do so. They were men of a well-established position in life. They might, of course, cease to earn their living in their accustomed way when they were ordained, but it is hard to imagine that they would necessarily do so; for there is not a hint that it was considered necessary or desirable by the apostle. It would have been quite simple, and to us quite natural, to have put in a clause to the effect that the bishop [elder] must abandon all worldly pursuits and give himself wholly to the care of the church, but there is not a word about it. Such silence rather suggests that the man will continue to live his life as he has been living it and providing for his family as he has been providing for it.…
The stipendiary system [paid clergy] grew up in settled churches and is only suitable for some settled churches at some periods: for expansion, for the establishment of new churches, it is the greatest possible hindrance. It binds the church in chains and has compelled us to adopt practices which contradict the very idea of the Church.” (The Case for Voluntary Clergy)