Southeastern professor presents biblical view of eldership

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By Jason Hall

A biblical model of church governance is important for a church seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, a Southeastern professor argues in a new book on the importance of the New Testament office of elder.

Benjamin Merkle, associate professor of New Testament and Greek, has written Why Elders?: A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members. In it, he says every church should consider a multiple elder form of church government as the most biblical and most effective.

merkle“Church government is important, not primarily because outward structures are important, but because outward structures directly affect who can be a leader in the church, what each leader does, and to whom each leader is accountable,” Merkle said. “Thus, when we speak of church government or church polity we are really speaking of the roles, duties, and qualifications of those who lead the body of Christ.”

Merkle argues that while there are three different words for pastor or elder in Scripture, they are all referring to the same office. He structures the book to answer the question about elders in four parts: it is the pattern of the New Testament church, it provides help and accountability for a pastor, it produces a healthier church, and it promotes the biblical role of deacon.

“The church, as the body of Christ, should seek to be pure and spotless,” Merkle said. “If certain biblical patterns and principles are ignored or abandoned, then the church will reap negative consequences. Therefore, it is beneficial for the church to follow the wisdom of God as recorded in Scripture. “

Merkle said that while he hopes the book will correct certain false impressions of what elders are and what they do, his primary intent is not to attack other views but to present a positive view of biblical eldership for the average church member.

“Although the book is based on extensive research and scholarship, it is written in a manner that is understandable for the average church member,” Merkle said. “The book is only 100 pages in length and has no footnotes or endnotes.”

Merkle said he hopes the book can be an aid to anyone studying the issue of pastors/elders in the church, but he specifically thinks it can be useful for explaining to new church members what biblical eldership looks like, and aiding churches that may be transitioning to the elder model of church leadership.

Finally, Merkle said he included the chapter on the proper role of the deacon ministry to explain this important but often misunderstood office.

“The role of the deacons is not to lead the church but to serve the church,” he said. “Elders or pastors are the leaders and are given the role of shepherding and teaching or preaching. Deacons, on the other hand, are given the role of taking care of the physical and logistical needs of the church so that the elders can concentrate on their primary calling.”

Why Elders? was published by Kregel Publications and is available now in bookstores and online.

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