Elders

Book Review: The Elder and His Work

Elder DicksonDavid Dickson (1821-1885) served as an elder in his church in Edinburgh, Scotland for over 30 years. That being the case, it gives his book on the office of elder much more weight than its relative brevity (under 100 pages, not counting the Introduction and study questions added by the editors of this edition) might suggest.

The individual chapters are surprisingly short, which makes the book very readable. It is not written in an overly academic fashion and is easily accessible for anyone who might be looking for a basic introduction to this important subject.

Dickson includes chapters on the importance of the office of elder, which is sometimes overlooked in our day.  This is followed by a chapter dealing with the biblical qualifications for the office of elder. There he does not simply go through the lists of qualifications found in 1 Timothy and Titus, but also refers the reader to many of the other New Testament passages that speak of the qualities and qualifications of a good elder. If anything, he boils all of these things down and summarizes them for the reader.

Most of the remaining chapters of the book are devoted to the duties and work of the elder, including such things as visitation (to which he devotes at least two chapters), encouraging family worship among the church’s membership, prayer meetings,  and dealing with cases of church discipline. Considering the relative absence of many of these very things in our churches today, surely we need to recover the biblical picture of the importance of the office of elder, as well as the duties involved.

He finishes the book with very helpful chapters on the elder’s relationship with his minister and session (i.e. fellow elders), and on various “incidents” that the faithful elder may encounter in his ministry, some encouraging, and others quite the contrary. These (like most of the book) are based on his considerable firsthand experience in the field of labor as an elder himself.

The editors of this volume (George Kennedy McFarland & Philip Graham Ryken) served together at 10th Presbyyerian Church, in Philadelphia, PA. The former is a ruling elder and the latter is a teaching elder (i.e. pastor). They added a great deal to this edition by means of the Introduction, the study questions at the end of each chapter (which makes it useful for study in groups, such as elder training), and a good number of footnotes, which serve to explain certain terms, highlight some of the more notable names that Dickson mentions in his quotes or illustrations, etc.

If you are looking for a resource on the subject of elders in the church, this is a very good place to start. It is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but Dickson packs quite a bit of information and insight into this brief primer. If you yourself are currently serving as a ruling elder (or are considering doing so), you may find this to be a very helpful and encouraging book!

You can order a copy of the book for yourself here: The Elder and His Work

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The Prayer Meeting as a Gauge of the Spiritual Life of the Church

Elder DicksonPerhaps the only thing rarer in the church these days than the Sunday evening worship service is the prayer meeting. And even when there is a regular prayer meeting, it is surely often one of the most sparsely-attended gatherings of the church.

Why is this the case? Did our Lord Jesus not say (quoting Isaiah 56:7) that “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46)? The church, then, should be characterized by (among other things) prayer.

Now, it is certainly possible that a church can be a praying church without necessarily having a weekly prayer meeting. But it sure helps, doesn’t it? If your church has a regular prayer meeting, even if  it is not well-attended, take heart. Don’t give up on it. Great things often come from small beginnings.

In his book, The Elder and His Work, David Dickson (1821-1885) makes the following observation:

“In a country village of which we know, there has been a prayer meeting conducted now for more than a hundred years. That place has been blessed three or four times with a revival of religion – shall we not say in answer to these prayers? This interesting fact was also told us: that when the tide of blessing was about to come in, the numbers began unaccountably to increase till the place was too strait for them; even outside the door there were many earnest attenders. The people knew that the tide was far out when the number fell to five or six. Then they began to pray again for a turning of the tide, and a spring tide came. Alas! in many of our congregations the tide is far out, if we are to judge by attendance at prayer meetings, which are a kind of gauge of spiritual life; yet let those who attend them continue to pray on.” (p.79)

That observation may be somewhat anecdotal, but it certainly strikes me as true. I have long been convinced that we will know that something really special is happening in the life of our church when our weekly prayer meetings start being strongly-attended.

Is the “tide” far out at your church? Maybe so. But who knows what the Lord may do (or when) if His people just continue to pray on together. If attendance at prayer meetings is a “gauge” of the spiritual life of the church, and if that gauge shows that our churches are in need of revitalization and revival, let us continue to pray together for a turning of the tide. Let us watch and pray for the spring tide to roll in.

David Dickson on the Importance of the Office of Elder

Elder DicksonIn his book, The Elder and His Work, David Dickson (1821-1885) starts with a chapter called “The Importance of the Eldership.” There he briefly makes his case that the biblical office of elder “is absolutely necessary for a healthy and useful church” (p.26). He writes,

“We need no new machinery in the Christian church. It is all provided ready to our hand in the Presbyterian system. What we need is more motive-power to set it going and keep it going. We need the baptism of the Spirit to fill us elders with love and zeal, that we may labor in our office and that the work of our hands may be established.” (p.26)

How often do we in the church look for “new machinery” (i.e. new programs, gimmicks, etc.) to increase our influence and outreach, while neglecting or overlooking the gifts that Christ has given to His church in the offices which He has ordained (both elder and deacon)?

It is not without reason that one of the primary things that the Apostle Paul tasked Titus with doing in the churches in Crete was to appoint elders. In Titus 1:3 he writes,

“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” (ESV).

Titus was to put things in order in the churches in Crete. And what was the first thing that came to Paul’s mind when he thought of a church being in good order? Elders. More precisely, a plurality of elders (i.e. more than one elder). It is not too much to say that in Paul’s mind, guided as he was by the Spirit of Christ, a church without elders was not properly in order, biblically-speaking.

Do we think that highly of the office of elder? Do we think of elders as being utterly essential to the life, health, and usefulness of the church? If not, it is a sure indicator that we need to recover the biblical view of the nature, qualifications, and work of the office of elder. If we were to do that, the church would almost certainly be in a much healthier condition, and would be far more useful to the Lord.

Book Review: Finding Faithful Elders And Deacons

Thabiti M. Anyabwile

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways!

First, it is thoroughly biblical from start to finish.  Anyabwile firmly grounds everything he says in Scripture.  His treatment of the qualifications of both deacons and elders (in that order) largely consists of a verse-by-verse or even phrase-by-phrase exegesis of 1 Timothy chapters 3-4.

Second, this book is short and to the point.  There is no filler or wasted space.  He gets right to the point and stays on point in each chapter.

Third, both church officer & laity alike will benefit from this book.  As a pastor, I not only found this book to be useful in clarifying my understanding of the nature and work of the offices of elder & deacon, but also found it to be more than a little edifying & encouraging as well.  Church members who want to be more well-informed in their nomination & election of church officers will also find it immensely helpful.

Another thing that I greatly appreciated was that Anyabwile did not just focus on the qualifications of elders or pastors (part 2 of the book), but also dedicated the entire third section of the book to the work that they are called to do.  Again, this section would be good for pastor/elder & laity alike.  We often have unbiblical notions or expectations about what our pastors and ruling elders are called to do,  and this can cause much confusion and unnecessary difficulty in the church.

There is much more that could be said, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend this book.  I will almost certainly be referring to it (and re-reading it!) in the future.  And I hope that I am not alone in that regard.

The Mother of All Heresies

Ambition 3

“Ambition is the mother of all heresies.”

This is Calvin’s remark about Paul’s words in Acts chapter 20, where the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesian elders that after his departure, “fierce wolves” would come in (v.29) or even arise from among their own number, “speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (v.30).

Ambition, either for a personal following, for financial gain, or both (as one often follows the other) may be found at the root of most or even all false teaching.  Calvin goes on to say,

“Pure handling of the Scripture aims to give Christ the preeminence, and people cannot appropriate anything for themselves without detracting from the glory of Christ. It follows that those who try to promote their own glory are corrupters of sound doctrine.” (Acts, Crossway Classic Commentary Series, p.339)

So if you are a minister of the gospel of Christ, beware of pride and the temptations of self-promotion.  Seek to make much of Christ in your public and private ministry of the Word.  It is no wonder that Paul admonished the Ephesian elders to “Be on guard” for themselves before telling them to be on guard for all the flock (v.28, NASB).