Title: A Charge to the Church
CIT: The history of the church and its need for strong leadership.
CIS: A charge to the church at Tyler to support its leadership.
Let’s look at a quick history: at 1st, there were just the Apostles in leadership:
- The Apostles deal with the difficulties of the church themselves, that is, until Chapter 6. They needed help, so they ask for servants – διάκονος, deacons.
- I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the story: The widows of the Greek speaking Jews were being overlooked; The Hebrew speaking widows were getting cared for and there was some hostility rising up in the ranks. Acts 6.3-4: Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering…
At this point there are two offices in the church:
- Apostles – will devote themselves to prayer & the ministry of the Word.
- Deacons – to caring for the widows.
1. The Rise of Eldership: Now, somewhere between Acts 6.5 and Acts 11, a third office is created in the church – the elder. Acts 11.30 is the 1st place we see elders used in reference to the NT church. 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. We have no idea how this happened, but it makes sense. Elders are nothing new. The Jewish community had elders for centuries.
- Paul and Barnabas use this model when planting churches; Acts 14.23; And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. So, they planted churches, discipled new believers and appointed elders before leaving them alone.
- Indeed, this is what Paul told Titus to do in his letter to Titus (1.5): This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. So elders have something to do with order in the church, But we still don’t know much about what they do. Until the next chapter…
2. The Exercise of Leadership within the Christian Context: In the next chapter, as the church deals with the issue of Gentiles needing to be circumcised and practice the law, we see two offices together: Apostles and Elders (15.2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16.4). I want you to note also how the church is involved in the process. And the Church; Apostles and Elders lead, but the church isn’t left out of this. The church welcomes them and gives approval to their work.
- So now we begin to see a little bit of their purpose and work: along with the apostles, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, they are to deal with theological issues along doctrinal lines. It appears that these decisions were laid before the church (cf. v 22) for their approval.
- Acts 16.4 is the last time we see Apostles in the book of Acts. Now, to be sure, there were still Apostles. Paul is one and his ministry is the focus in the expansion of the church throughout the rest of the book. But what we do notice is that elders now take the place of the Apostles. There were only so many Apostles and as the church exploded across the Middle East and up into Europe, leadership needed to be established.
- So, we begin to see some of what elders are doing – we see some of their purpose. They are dealing with issues arising in the church. They’re leading and guiding the church in spiritual matters. Apostles, those who walked with Christ and witnessed his resurrection, are fading from the scene.
3. The Plurality of Leadership in the context of a single congregation.Now, the next time we see the elders in Acts is when Paul asks for them to come to Miletus. Acts 20.17: Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. We see a pattern in this text: plurality of leadership in elders serving a local church.
- Elders – plural
- Church – singular
We see this pattern each time the elders are mentioned with the church.
- 15.4, 22
- 14.23; And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
4. The Exercise of Authority: This is still yet another appearance of the elders. It occurs in Acts 21.17ff; the interesting part of this story, is that it relates yet another situation where elders deal with problems in the church. It appears that many Jews had come to know Christ through the years that Paul had served among the Gentiles. There were some who stirred up the Jewish Christians about Paul, saying that Paul taught that the Jews were to forsake their heritage, their traditions, the Law of Moses. Which, of course, was not true! James (not an apostle, but rather the Lord’s brother), and the elders encouraged and instructed Paul on what he could do to quell their fears.
Transition: So, from this beginning, we see the purpose of the elders is to serve the church by leading her in doctrinal matters and protecting her from division. Their job is to protect her from unsound doctrine. Keeping her pure and unified.
Listen to John Piper: In seeking guidelines from this incident for today’s church we would have to keep in mind that the office of apostle, being linked to the witnessing of his resurrection, was an unrepeatable office. The irreplaceable function of the apostles remains for us now in the apostolic word, which we have in the New Testament. Thus the leadership of the church using only the Jerusalem model would be a group of elders under the Holy Spirit in humble conversation with the apostolic word, the New Testament.
In other words, the apostles have all died. Their function is carried on by elders, who use the apostle’s teaching as recorded in Scripture to oversee spiritual matters in the church.
Transition: So, church, what does this have to do with today’s ordination service? My task today is to present a charge to you.
Conclusion: The Charge
1. In light of Scripture and calling placed upon Phil and Joshua and Jason and Lyle and me, I charge you, Calvary, to follow your leaders. Hebrews 13.17 says: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Your 1st charge is to obey and submit. Really, there is nothing new here. Paul encourages us to already do that in our Christian relationships and in our marriages. Cf.: Ephesians 5.
2. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 5.17-18 says: Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Your 2nd charge is to honor your elders. Specifically, in this case, I’m charging you with the duty to honor Phil and his family. The text says he’s worthy of double honor. I’m asking you to hold him in high esteem. Don’t ever slander him or the elders. Hold him in the highest regard: in your speech, in your actions, in your service.
3. The passage continues in v 19: Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Here is your 3rd Charge: Protect him from gossip, but also hold him accountable to the task he’s been given – as one who must give an account for his service. Elders are man and therefore subject to failure and sin. Elders are not perfect. They can be tempted to power and prestige. They can abuse their authority and responsibility to satisfy their own passions and pursuits. Protect them, but hold them accountable.
The passage continues in v 22 and offers you the warning about laying hands on a man too soon. I don’t think that’s the case here. For us, it is simply a reminder of the practice to lay hands on and pray for God’s blessing for Phil’s ministry and service. Let us now have the ordained men, both deacons and elders, come and lay hands on Phil.