Growing up in Baptist churches I became accustomed to the “Baptist way”. “The way we do it is just the way it is.” Over time that Baptist denomination became more and more worldly, to the point where I began to look elsewhere for spiritual food.
I was initially attracted to fundamental, independent, Baptist churches because of articles by men like David Cloud, which explained the principles of simply believing the normal plain-sense meaning of the words of Scripture, also known as the “literal hermeneutic”.
Over time I came to the realization that there is a limit to how much of the bible Baptists actually take literally. It came as a shock when I realized that their traditions often take precedence over what the bible actually says.
Very often these churches are run by one man who is known as the pastor, or the elder, of the church. His rule is not to be questioned.
In the church where I was saved and baptized, I remember one preacher explaining that “the bible doesn’t really tell us how churches are to be run, so it appears that there is some room for variation within biblical New Testament churches.” At the time I thought he was correct, after all he was a preacher, and who was I?
Imagine my surprise then, when years later, I found that the bible actually does give instructions as to how the leadership of Christian churches is to be organized.
One of the first things we should note is the words of Jesus Christ Himself;
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Luke 22:25
8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. Matthew 23:8-11
First note that the idea of one exercising lordship over another is a fundamentally Gentile thing. Jesus was telling us that the organization of churches is to be like the Jewish synagogue, and not like Gentile governments. Leaders of churches are there to serve the church, and not the other way around.
Paul’s letters to Timothy are letters of instruction to a young pastor. These letters contain some terms and ideas against which Baptists have generally rebelled.
People really want to have a man to whom they can look toward, to make the hard decisions, but when they do this it often goes to his head. In the end he often becomes a dictator, and the ministry of the gospel becomes secondary. It becomes more about him and his position than about serving the church, or the Lord Jesus Christ.
A church with which I am acquainted, has a board of “trustees”. Let me ask you; have you ever seen this term in your bible? It is not there. This is a term that someone has invented, and added to their system of church governance. There is a biblical term for the position of leadership of the church; “the elder”.
The term “elder” was not a term only applied to the preacher, or pastor. In the New Testament church throughout the New Testament there was always a plurality of elders who ruled the church. There was always more than one!
There is actually a word in the biblical Greek for the ruling body of elders; Presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος, Greek word #4245 in Strong’s ). This is the word from which the presbyterian denominations derive their name, and is often translated “elder” but also “presbytery”.
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. I Timothy 4:14
I have heard pastors say “the elder was not an ordained position, but simply refers to any older man in the congregation”. This is wishful thinking on the part of a man who likes to have the preeminence in the local church. There are at least two places in scripture where “elder” was referred to, specifically as an ordained position.
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. Acts 14:23
Notice the language here; there were ordained elders in every church. It does not say that they had ordained “an elder” in every church, but elders. Plural!
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: Titus 1:5
The “cities” in those days would be considered small towns today. There was only one church in these “cities”, but there were always more than one elder ordained to that position, in each church.
This is the outworking of Jesus’ command in Luke 22 and Matthew 23, that they were not to run the church like a Gentile government. Like the Jewish Synagogue, the church was designed so that the elders could share the burdens of ministry. It was also designed as a system of checks and balances, so that one man would not become preeminent. The elders had real power in the church, and could remove elders who fell into sin, including the pastor, or “overseer”. (Sometimes translated as “Bishop” in the KJV)
Most “pastors” rebel against this system of accountability, and tell us that they “answer to God” as if they don’t answer to the congregation. This is why we have church “trustees” who are really qualified to be elders. The resulting system of compromise has resulted in many abuses over the years, some of which have become very famous and have brought great shame on the church. If the world hates you because you preach the gospel, that is one thing, but if they condemn you because of your open sin, this is something else! http://www.biblicalevangelist.org/jack_hyles_chapter3.php http://www.biblicalevangelist.org/jack_hyles_story.php
Notice Paul’s remarks to Timothy about the elders. Remember that Timothy was the pastor of this church;
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. I Timothy 5:17
Notice that though Timothy was a pastor, there were other elders who also ruled within the church. Notice also that not all elders laboured in the word and doctrine, though some of them did. Timothy was not the only regular preacher at that church.
In first Timothy 3 the word translated as “bishop” really means an “overseer”. This would be the presiding elder, or pastor. A biblical “bishop” did not have responsibility for more than one church, and as an elder he could also be removed if he fell into open sin, and did not repent.
19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. 20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I Timothy 5:19-20
Note that the original did not have chapter numbers or punctuation. This is one thought carried through these two verses, and an elder, including a pastor, who sins can and should, be rebuked publicly. The elder in question is the same elder who was ordained to that position in Acts 14:23, and Titus 1:5. Of course there needs to be two or three witnesses. God doesn’t want the church to be governed by gossip.
So where did the idea come from that the pastor is the only elder within a church? The short answer is the Roman Catholic church! The early reformers were universally trained by the church of Rome, and when they got saved and left, they carried with them the traditions they were trained in. For the most part they thought that the Catholic church had been truly Christian at one time, and merely needed reformation. As a result a great many errors were brought into protestant churches.
The Roman Catholic church actually refers to its priests as “the elder” of the church. This “elder” is ordained to that position by Rome. The idea of the one man pastorate is one of those Roman Catholic, Gentile, traditions which Jesus warned us against!
Because men like to be honored and called “Pastor, Pastor” they continue to interpret Scripture in a way consistent with the Roman Catholic Church!
So many Baptists rail against the errors of Rome, yet all the while perpetuating her errors!
What is my point in bringing this up? It has to do with Revelation 17:5 “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
Here is a question to ponder; What is a daughter? Who are the daughters of the Harlot?
My wife is a daughter of her mother. She is the same type of entity as her mother. Her mother is a woman, and so is the daughter.
A daughter is a woman who comes out of a woman. Therefore the daughter’s of the Harlot church are churches that came out of the church of Rome.
Most Baptists would agree with me on this, but they would stop short of saying that Baptists are daughters of the Harlot themselves. The only church I was ever a member of was a Baptist church, but I have to say that the more I study, the more Baptists appear to be a part of Revelation 17:5. I have only looked at one aspect of Rome’s teaching infecting Baptist churches here, but it doesn’t take a lot of study to find that the apple did not fall far from the tree!