It would be difficult to estimate the harm that has been done to the saints of GOD over the years by the promotion of the concept of a clergical or ruling class of men, who have, supposedly,been set over churches. We see the results of this played out over and over again even to the extent that it is quite often true that various churches are referred to as Elder or Pastor So and So’s church. This is an error which is lightly regarded by most just like the concept of referring to a meeting house, in which an assembly gathers, as a “church”.
These errors are not in themselves earth shattering but subtly alter the proper concept which the scripture gives of what the church is, (in the minds of GOD’s people), as well as how the church is to function as an interactive body; rather than as a school class which waits on its instructor. Many times, churches are largely dependent and often unable to function without, the ministry and input of a particular individual. This insures the weakness of the body.
In many (if not most) churches the scriptural concept of the purpose and function of those who have been called to be elders, is changed from one of servitude to one of being served, from one of waiting upon one’s ministry to that of dictating what ministry others might perform.
The desirability of a plurality of elders is manifested by the penchant of men to seek out followings and spheres of influence which they guard (ostensibly) with the noble motive of being a protector from harm which might arise from “false doctrine”. The reality is that in many cases this “guarding” is done to protect their own sphere of influence by silencing any voice of dissent or difference of opinion in scriptural matters, as much as it is out of concern for the wellbeing of the flock. A plurality of elders cannot in itself prevent this, since in many cases those who are elders in plurality simply pursue the same notion, in plural fashion. But a plurality does bring a natural check upon the singular aspirations of those who would be lords over GOD’s heritage.
It seems relatively clear from what we read in Paul’s letters that there was a free discourse among the saints of GOD in the early church. The strength of the body is not seen by mimicry of the gifts of others but rather by the free exercise of the gifts which the SPIRIT gives to the body for the profit of the whole. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal (i.e. the whole).” (1Cor 12:4-7)
Now what we have said here is not meant in any way to overturn or diminish the proper use of the gifts and calling of those who are elders (pastors, bishops, overseers) among the saints of GOD. Our purpose is to call attention to the fact that these are callings which are not to be set up in the minds of men as being somehow more important than those of any other member of the body or that some privilege or power is conferred upon them which is kept from the rank and file.
The Greek word, “poimen”, appears eighteen times in the NT. Seventeen of those times it is translated into the English word, “shepherd” and once as “pastor(s)”. From that we can conclude that a “pastor” is likened to a shepherd. As we study the practices of shepherds we can begin to see the proper function of “pastors”. The same is true when we look at the word which is used for “bishop”. The Greek word “episkopos” occurs five times (in the actual text). Four times it is translated as “bishop” and once as “overseer(s)”.
The most widely accepted notion of the function of a bishop, is that he is someone who has great power to make decisions and has underlings of various levels under him. No such concept, however, is found in the scriptures. An overseer is not an autocrat who makes decisions but is rather one who is charged as a guardian to watch over the well being of the flock and to watch for their souls (see Heb. 13:17) as one who must give an account.
The roles of pastors and overseers overlap in many instances and sometimes these gifts and callings may be found in the same person or persons, among the saints but are certainly not limited to those who are grand orators. The fulfillment of these roles is not meant to minimize, but rather to enhance the ministry of the saints one to another, in the body. (see Eph.4:9-13) This “work of the ministry” of the saints, one to another, (bearing one another’s burden’s and each esteeming the other above one’s self,) is the sign of a healthy and nurturing body.
Peter defines the very role of “shepherds” (i.e.; pastors) and “bishops”, (overseers) by pointing out the ONE who is the ultimate SHEPHERD and BISHOP. Any activity on the part of those who have received these gifts and callings which is not patterned directly after the example of HIM, is a departure from the scriptural ideal for these offices.
CHRIST is the GOOD SHEPHERD. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) CHRIST spared no expense in HIS determination to minister to HIS sheep, even to the laying down of HIS mortal body in their behalf. HE is the pure EXAMPLE because the sheep are his. HE goes on to say that “hirelings” cannot and will not do the same. Let no man say he has ever loved the people of GOD completely, for only the GOOD SHEPHERD could do so. Yet we are exhorted to “follow in HIS steps”. HE is the ultimate SERVANT who humbled HIMSELF before HIS disciples teaching them that the greatest among them would of necessity be their servant.
CHRIST is the GREAT SHEPHERD. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” (Heb 13:20) “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (John 13:1) Because of HIS greatness, it was impossible that the grave should ever hold HIM, especially in light of the everlasting covenant which HE sealed with HIS own blood to manifest HIS utter triumph over HIS enemies and those who were hidden in HIM from before the foundation of the world. (see Isa.63:1-6) The very best of “shepherds” cannot continue by reason of death in order to demonstrate the glory of HIM who was dead and is alive forevermore.
CHRIST is the CHIEF SHEPHERD. “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (1Pet 5:4) HE would not leave HIS children without a COMFORTER, nor would HE depart from them never to return. It is unfortunate that many view their role as “a shepherd” as one might regard a job which they can depart from according to their own needs or desires. The role of pastor (i.e. shepherd) must never be connected with gain of any sort whether it be money, comfort, or influence.
How precious to consider that CHRIST, our CHIEF SHEPHERD, will never leave us nor forsake us, but will preserve us until that day when HE shall return to gather HIS purchased possession.
HE is the “BISHOP” of our “souls”. HE ever watches over that which is HIS even unto their own predetermined death. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (Psa 116:15) HE may lead HIS people through the valley of the shadow of death, yet HE will comfort them there for it is a pathway with which HE is personally acquainted. In this HE has perfectly fulfilled Peter’s exhortation to the elders to be “examples to the flock”. How sweet to be reminded of our BISHOP. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15-16)mam