Greg Beale has a fascinating section on elders in his new A New Testament Biblical Theology, pp. 819-23. Here he underscores the importance of the office for protecting the church from false teachers, especially those who arise within her ranks. It is this internal struggle which is part, a significant part, of the tribulation of the church since the inauguration of the last days. This is one reason why elders are necessary: they are the bodyguards of the flock; and the flock more often than not needs to be protected from the wolves in sheep's clothing who have sneaked in under the fence.
Two questions flow from this. First, what implications does this have for those who play with false teaching or false teachers within a churchly context, be it a church conference, a Sunday service or a presbytery meeting? I do not mean those who appear on seminar panels with atheists and heretics outside of the ecclesiastical realm. I mean those who bring these people into things such meetings of the church as the church or platforms where all are proposed as believers. It surely means that they have failed to fulfill their role as elders and have become part of the problem, not part of the solution. Alleged open-mindedness, curiosity or outward-looking geniality are no excuse. The office of the elder is to keep the serpent out of the garden. It is that simple. And if you cannot stand the social stigma and cultural marginalisation that goes with the task -- inevitably goes with the task, one might stress -- that is OK; you simply need to step down from your position and do something for which you are better equipped.
Second, why do evangelicals, who claim to be people of the Bible, so often try to solve the problems of the church by looking to non-ecclesiastical confederations as the primary platforms to make their stands for the truth? Faced with blasphemy and false teaching in Ephesus, Paul does not develop a strategy of setting up parallel organisations above and beyond the church to solve the problem; rather he instructs Timothy to appoint qualified men as elders. Not a perfect solution -- these men were presumably fallible and sinful like the rest of us -- but it is the biblical solution. That should surely count for a lot in any context where the Bible is taken with appropriate seriousness.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Keeping Snakes out of the Garden
Typically good stuff from Carl Trueman on the vital role of elders: