Elder Rule -- By: Howard L. Bixby

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 10:1 (Spring 2006)
Article: Elder Rule
Author: Howard L. Bixby


Elder Rule

Howard L. Bixby

Seminary Dean
Vice President for Seminary Academics
Professor of Leadership and Church Growth
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

If an elder is a bishop and a pastor who is called by God and affirmed by a church to lead, shepherd, and teach the congregation, to prepare it for Christ, and to present it a growing, maturing, set-apart bride of Christ and if the Chief Shepherd will judge and reward the pastor(s), then there are implications for church governance. One of these implications revolves around the term elder rule.

While there is a trail of references to church leadership and church governance throughout history, the more intense considerations have seemed to surface in the churches during the later part of the twentieth century. With increasing frequency and sometimes heated passion, the subject of elder rule is also currently being debated. With an eye toward summarization and clarity, this follow-up presentation is offered as a sequel to “What is an Elder?”1

Before properly addressing the topic of elder rule, it is important to understand the biblical elder office. We must know what the office is before we can determine whether the individuals occupying it can “rule.”

In the first section of this two-part presentation, the question, “What is an elder?” was answered. A brief summary will be helpful.

  • An elder (πρεσβύτερος) in the NT is one who rules, leads, represents, judges, or governs. This is a pastoral office from the Jewish perspective.
  • The term bishop (ἐπίσκοπος) is used of one who oversees, superintends, guards, or provides directive care. The term bishop is used of the NT pastoral office and came from the Greek culture.
  • A pastor (ποιμήν) is one who shepherds, feeds, guides, and protects. God has used this term of himself and appoints men to carry on these functions for the church.
  • All three terms are used interchangeably of the pastoral office in the NT church (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5–7; 1 Pet 5:1–4). Elder, pastor, and bishop are terms addressing different aspects of the same office. All are associated with...
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