Elders and the Dereliction of Theological Duty by Phil A. Newton

“Perhaps even more dangerous is the disappearance of theology in evangelical churches while spiritual leaders–in dereliction of their duties–ignore that it is happening. David Wells has pointed out, ‘No one has abducted theology,’ as in the abduction of a child. Rather, ‘The disappearance is closer to what happens in homes where the children are ignored and, to all intents and purposes, abandoned. They remain in the home, but they have no place in the family. So it is with theology in the church. It remains on the edges of evangelical life, but it has been dislodged from its center. Watchfulness of a congregation demands attentiveness to the church’s theological understanding. Neglect of theology cracks the church’s foundation, and ultimately affects its practice. In our day, one of the chief results of such neglect is the rise of pragmatism, which has moved the church away from a biblically centered ministry that effectively changes the church to a church structure that more resembles the world than the New Testament pattern. Wells adds, ‘It is evangelical practice rather than evangelical profession that reveals the change.’ As evangelicals, we still profess to believe the confessions and creeds of the church, but our practice reveals that we often do not understand the theological implications of what we profess. Spiritual leaders must remain alert and watchful for this kind of neglect.”

-Phil A. Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership


“…a mysterious element in the whole work of selecting elders” by Phil A. Newton

“This is indeed a mysterious element in the whole work of selecting elders. A congregation seeks to nominate godly men who are confirmed by the qualifications in the Word. The work of the presbytery is to examine the men and present them to the congregation for approval. Then a church sets them apart in a solemn service of ordination. Yet behind it all is the invisible work of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who will ultimately appoint them to this office in the church. John Stott writes,’This splendid Trinitarian affirmation, that the pastoral oversight of the church belongs to God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), should have a profound effect on pastors. It should humble us to remember that the church is not ours, but God’s. And it should inspire us to faithfulness.’

I confess that I do not understand all of this working of the Holy Spirit. But I am humbled by the truth that the Holy Spirit, who corporately dwells among the church (Eph. 2:22), works to set men apart for the noble work of elders. And because the Holy Spirit does this work, the church must pay heed to the importance of both the exercise of its ministry and its response to the elders’ leadership.”

-Phil A. Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership

“What if I come to Christ, and He refuses me?” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“Suppose you stand in the Slough of Despond forever; what will be the good of that? Surely it would be better to die struggling along the King’s highway towards the Celestial City, than sinking deeper and deeper in the mire and filth of dark distrustful thoughts! You have nothing to lose, for you have lost everything already; therefore make a dash for it, and dare to believe in the mercy of God to you, even to you.

But one moans, ‘What if I come to Christ, and He refuses me?’ My answer is, ‘Try Him.’ Cast yourself on the Lord Jesus, and see if He refuses you. You will be the first against whom He has shut the door of hope. Friend, don’t cross that bridge till you come to it! When Jesus casts you out, it will be time enough to despair; but that time will never come. ‘This man receiveth sinners’: He has not so much as begun to cast them out.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Around the Wicket Gate

“Out with your hand, man, and take Him at once!” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“I have heard of a Sunday-school teacher who performed an experiment which I do not think I shall ever try with children, for it might turn out to be a very expensive one. Indeed, I feel sure that the result in my case would be very different from what I now describe. This teacher had been trying to illustrate what faith was, and, as he could not get it into the minds of his boys, he took his watch, and he said, ‘Now, I will give you this watch, John. Will you have it?’ John fell thinking what the teacher could mean, and did not seize the treasure, but made no answer. The teacher said to the next boy, ‘Henry, here is the watch. Will you have it?’ The boy, with a very proper modesty, replied, ‘No, thank you, sir’. The teacher tried several of the boys with the same result; till at last a youngster, who was not so wise or so thoughtful as the others, but rather more believing, said in the most natural way, ‘Thank you, sir,’ and put the watch into his pocket ‘Then the other boys woke up to a startling fact: their companion had received a watch which they had refused. One of the boys quickly asked of the teacher, ‘Is he to keep it?’. ‘Of course he is,’ said the teacher, ‘I offered it to him, and he accepted it. I would not give a thing and take a thing: that would be very foolish. I put the watch before you, and said that I gave it to you, but none of you would have it.’ ‘Oh!’ said the boy, ‘if I had known you meant it, I would have had it.’ Of course he would. He thought it was a piece of acting, and nothing more. All the other boys were in a dreadful state of mind to think that they had lost the watch. Each one cried, ‘Teacher, I did not know you meant it, but I thought—’. No one took the gift; but every one thought. Each one had his theory, except the simple-minded boy who believed what he was told, and got the watch. Now I wish that I could always be such a simple child as literally to believe what the Lord says, and take what He puts before me, resting quite content that He is not playing with me, and that I cannot be wrong in accepting what He sets before me in the gospel. Happy should we be if we would trust, and raise no questions of any sort. But, alas! we will get thinking and doubting. When the Lord uplifts His dear Son before a sinner, that sinner should take Him without hesitation. If you take Him, you have Him; and none can take Him from you. Out with your hand, man, and take Him at once!”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Around the Wicket Gate  

“It is entering into Jesus, hiding in His wounds.” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“The dove is hunted by the hawk, and finds no security from its restless enemy. It has learned that there is shelter for it in the cleft of the rock, and it hastens there with gladsome wing. Once wholly sheltered within its refuge, it fears no bird of prey. But if it did not hide itself in the rock, it would be seized upon by its adversary. The rock would be of no use to the dove, if the dove did not enter its cleft. The whole body must be hidden in the rock. What if ten thousand other birds found a fortress there, yet that fact would not save the one dove which is now pursued by the hawk! It must put its whole self into the shelter, and bury itself within its refuge, or its life will be forfeited to the destroyer.

What a picture of faith is this! It is entering into Jesus, hiding in His wounds. “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.” The dove is out of sight: the rock alone is seen. So does the guilty soul dart into the riven side of Jesus by faith, and is buried in Him out of sight of avenging justice. But there must be this personal application to Jesus for shelter; and this it is that so many put off from day to day, till it is to be feared that they will “die in their sins”. What an awful word is that! It is what our Lord said to the unbelieving Jews; and He says the same to us at this hour: “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.” It makes one’s heart quiver to think that even one who shall read  these lines may yet be of the miserable company who will thus perish. The Lord prevent it of His great grace!”  

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Around the Wicket Gate

“Nothing can show God’s infinite abhorrence of any wickedness more than this.” by Jonathan Edwards

“God may save any of them without prejudice to the honour of his holiness. God is an infinitely holy being. The heavens are not pure in his sight. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity. And if God should in any way countenance sin, and should not give proper testimonies of his hatred of it, and displeasure at it, it would be a prejudice to the honour of his holiness. But God can save the greatest sinner without giving the least countenance to sin. If he saves one, who for a long time has stood out under the calls of the gospel, and has sinned under dreadful aggravations; if he saves one who, against light, has been a pirate or blasphemer, he may do it without giving any countenance to their wickedness; because his abhorrence of it and displeasure against it have been already sufficiently manifested in the sufferings of Christ. It was a sufficient testimony of God’s abhorrence against even the greatest wickedness, that Christ, the eternal Son of God, died for it. Nothing can show God’s infinite abhorrence of any wickedness more than this. If the wicked man himself should be thrust into hell, and should endure the most extreme torments which are ever suffered there, it would not be a greater manifestation of God’s abhorrence of it, than the sufferings of the Son of God for it.”

Jonathan Edwards, God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men

“…the soul and substance of all false religion in the world” by John Owen

“The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin…All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit. Men, as the apostle intimates, Rom. ix. 30-32, may attempt this work on other principles, by means and advantages administered on other accounts, as they always have done, and do: but, saith he, ‘This is the work of the Spirit; by him alone is it to be wrought, and by no other power is it to be brought about.’ Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”

-John Owen, The Mortification of Sin

“The Recent Demise Of Elder Plurality” by Phil A. Newton

“The past two hundred years have witnessed the demise of elder plurality among Baptists. Pastors are expected to abandon the shepherding role for that of becoming ‘ranchers’, a term used often by church growth leaders. Many well-known pastors resemble corporate CEOs rather than the New Testament office of a humble shepherd. Their staffs, too, have taken on the corporate board air. Churches have become big businesses, requiring corporate structures that mirror many successful companies. Some of the megachurch pastors have achieved such success that they now, in fact, advise businesses.

A candid look at polity in churches at large today raises questions regarding our diligence to conform to Scripture. Are our churches more conformed to the image of Christ? Are we so transformed by holiness of life that we are the salt and light in our communities that our Lord declared us to be? Are the moral and family values of church members appreciably different from the typical American home? Are local congregations nurtured and disciplined as were our New Testament counterparts? Are the inflated membership rolls that have been fomented by the success-driven, CEO model for the church legitimate bragging rights in denominational circles? Does the average church display the kind of unity that the apostles exhorted and for which Jesus prayed? Do church staffs make the most of godly, capable leaders within their congregation? Are pastors and staff members held accountable to anyone besides themselves? Could it be that the alarming rate of immoral behavior among ministers is due to a disconnection between the church staff and a plurality of godly elders comprised of staff and lay leadership?

Baptist forebears sought to anchor their church structure and practice in the teaching of Holy Scripture. Shunning conformity to the world’s designs that were prevalent in their times, these stalwarts used the truths of Scripture to forge a path for their heirs. In the end, whether or not Baptists historically practiced plural eldership is secondary. The primary focus for church leaders today must be to understand the teaching of God’s Word, and then to order the local church accordingly. History merely serves to affirm the veracity of Scripture.”

-Phil A. Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership

A Brief History of the Plurality of Elders Among American Baptists by Phil A. Newton

“David Tinsley a prominent Baptist serving in Georgia in the late eighteenth century alongside Jesse Mercer’s father, Silas Mercer—-was ordained four times: “The first was to the office of a deacon, the second to that of a ruling elder, his third ordination was to the office of preaching the gospel, and in the fourth place he was ordained an evangelist by Col. Samuel Harris, while he officiated in the dignified character of the Apostle of Virginia.” The first two of these offices represented non-paid, non-staff positions in the local church, placing Tinsley as part of the plural eldership in his church. His service with the noted leader Silas Mercer demonstrates the prominence given to plural eldership among Baptists.

Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association 1707-1807 — notably the leading association of Baptists in the Colonial period– gives ample evidence of plural eldership. In 1738, a question before the association sought to determine whether a ruling elder who had been set apart by the laying on of hands and “should afterward be called by the church, by reason of his gifts, to the word and doctrine [i.e., as pastor], must be again ordained by imposition of hands.” The answer was simple: Resolved in the affirmative.” A cursory reading of the Minutes clearly demonstrates the commonality of plural eldership among eighteenth-century Baptists in the Northeast a distinction between ruling elders and those ministering the Word appears to have been the norm in the Philadelphia Association; ordination of ruling elders was left to the discretion of the individual churches. Plurality was clearly their practice.

In the South, some Baptist churches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries practiced plural eldership.’It was sometimes a formal recognition of the ordained ministers, the elders of their membership,’ writes Wills. ‘These elders assisted the pastor as necessary in preaching and administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They were leaders of the congregation by their wisdom, piety, knowledge, and experience. Such churches recognized the gifts and calling of all elders among them.’

It is found at this point that many Baptists made a distinction between ‘ruling elders’ and ‘teaching elders.’ Ruling elders focused on the administrative and governing issues of church life, while the teaching elders exercised pastoral responsibilities, including administering the ordinances. By 1820 the title ruling elders had actively faded in Baptist church life, ecclesiastical authority coming to reside in the congregation. Some then considered that the pastor and deacons constituted the eldership. Not all agreed, including the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.B. Johnson, who ‘taught that Christ strictly required each church to have plural eldership,’ which implied a distinction between plural eldership and plural diaconate.”

-Phil A. Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership

“The danger facing modern congregations is to read into the Scriptures a twenty-first-century concept of church government.” by Phil A. Newton

“The danger facing modern congregations is to read into the Scriptures a twenty-first-century concept of church government. We have added plenty of “bells and whistles”: church staff positions soley for preaching, mass media, recreation, committees for every imaginable need, corporate structure rivaling “Fortune 500” companies, and seminars that show every church “how to do it.” This drive to increase growth and expand ministry has complicated the church’s structure. The consequences have been twofold: ministry, with both its privileges and burdens, has shifted to the “professional” staff, while bypassing gifted leaders whom God has already placed within the ranks of membership; and nurturing, equipping, and discipling believers to be salt and light in the world gets lost in the shuffle of big events and choreographed performances. Both the church and the spiritually needy world suffer as a result. That is why understanding the biblical basis for elders is crucial in establishing vibrant, Christ-centered churches.”

-Phil A. Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership