If we are interested in pleasing God and being acceptable to Him, doing His will is never an optional matter. The Lord leaves no doubt about the matter of having elders in every church to oversee it. The inspired record says that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in “every church” on their first missionary journey (Acts 14:23), and Paul left Titus in Crete for the same purpose (Titus 1:5).
Should the organization of the church today be exactly as it was in New Testament days? There are many congregations of the Lord’s church in our county that do not have elders and have not made any serious effort to appoint them as taught in I Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and I Peter 5:1-4.
God wisely planned for church government to be congregational in form with elders so that each congregation could tend to its own business. Also, God gave elders the responsibility and the authority to decide matters of expediency for the local congregation-- and not business meetings. Obviously in matters of faith and doctrine, every church must conform to the Bible.
Some congregations, for various reasons, have decided that they can get along better without elders. Some say, “A business meeting with everyone having an equal voice, is a better way to keep the peace and get things done.” The truth is, this is unscriptural, and the business of the church cannot be effectively managed. Others may say, “We have qualified men to serve as elders, but they have no leadership skills.” My response would be that one can be trained and does not have to be a Christian for a long length of time before he can become an elder if he fits the qualifications. The fact that elders must not be a novice indicates some length of time, but within a 5-10 year period is reasonable.
When congregations put “men’s business meetings” as being more important than appointing elders, it begs the question, “Why are God’s rules so important?” The main reason for having elders in the local church is simply that God said to do so!
We can never claim to obey God if we reject baptism as the means of entering into Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27). We can never claim to obey God if we reject the Bible as being God’s word (II Tim. 3:16; I Thess. 2:13). And in exactly the same way, we cannot claim to obey God if we reject His teaching with regard to appointing elders in the local congregation.
There may be a period of time when no man is qualified to be an elder, but even in such a case, there should be a plan in place to prepare men to become elders within a 5-10 year period of time. Churches of Christ existed for a while in the days of the apostles without elders. But when Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey, “They appointed for them elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Some of these churches had been in existence for 2-6 years without elders. But we clearly see that it is God’s plan that each Church of Christ have elders: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge” (Titus 1:5).
If members of a local congregation decide that they just don’t want elders, and fail to prepare qualified men for that godly work, this could lead to that church being unscriptural. We must remember that substituting business meetings for elders is a form of disobedience. The idea that something else for what God has commanded will do as well is a fatal idea, as Cain found out the hard way (Gen. 4:3).
The Lord planned the church, and He knows the best way for it to work and be managed. Let us accept His way!