Elders, Pastors of the Lord’s Church : Acts 20 + 14

Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.

Acts 20:28 ASV

The Holy Spirit hath made you bishops … For the use of the title “bishop” as applied to elders, and the seven titles given this office in the New Testament, see under Acts 14:23, above. How had the Holy Spirit made those men bishops?

The Spirit had given the qualifications for men to meet in order to qualify for the office and had commanded that they should be appointed.

Church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood … No verse in the New Testament, nor any other statement that could be imagined, could possibly exceed the power of this in declaring the eternal importance and necessity of the church Christ established.

Here the heretical notion of salvation “by faith alone” is shattered and countermanded forever.

By any definition, salvation by “faith alone” means salvation without the church of Jesus Christ; and in such a view the crucifixion of our Lord is reduced to the status of a senseless murder.

If men are saved, in any sense by the blood of Jesus, they must be saved through the church of which that blood is here declared to be the purchase price.

If one person can be saved without the church, then all men may be so saved; and such a proposition is emphatically contradicted and denied by Paul’s words here.

The Lord … as translated here is from the Greek word “God,” and should be so rendered. This is one of ten New Testament references to Jesus as “God,” and no matter how offensive this may be to human ears, the plain truth is that the sacred text here is unassailable.

No critic may intelligently deny that what is written here is: “The church of God, The church of Christ, which he purchased with his own blood.”

In addition to those, it may also be recalled that the apostle John referred to Christ as “the only begotten God” (John 1:18). Both the Johannine reference and the passage here, however, have been mistranslated deliberately by the scholars.

The purpose of such unusual declarations in the New Testament is evidently that of affirming unequivocally the godhead and deity of Jesus Christ.

And when they had appointed for them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed.

Acts 14:23 ASV

Elders in every church … This is the first mention of appointing elders in the New Testament, and the fundamental truth of there being a plurality of elders in each congregation is thus evident from the very first.

Appointed … Arguments based on this word which would require elders to be voted upon are not valid. As MacGreggor noted:

The word “appointed” means literally “chose by show of hands” and, strictly speaking, should imply some form of popular voting. But it had come to be used of choice in general without reference to the means.

The New Testament simply does not bind upon Christians any certain method of choosing either elders or deacons.

It was Paul who appointed the elders in these churches, and it would be a mistake to suppose that he yielded the right of choice to ignorant Gentile congregations, described by himself as “weak, base, despised, and foolish,” without taking the utmost precautions and providing firm guidance for them.

Strong agreement is felt with Boles, who said, “Any method (of appointing elders) which promotes unity and does not violate a principal may be used.”


It is widely agreed that during the apostolic age, elder = bishop (overseer) = pastor, and that there was a plurality of these in each local church, forming the presbytery.

As a matter of fact, there are no less than six New Testament words which refer to exactly the same office, that of elder mentioned here.

Bishop ([@episkopos]) translated “overseer”

Presbyter translated “elder”

Pastor translated “shepherd”

Furthermore, the term “stewards” is associated with this same office in the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 4:1,2). Also, Paul said, “The bishop must be blameless as God’s steward” (Titus 1:7).

One of the most significant things regarding Paul’s appointment of elders in these churches is that of their inexperience.

None of those appointed had been Christians any longer than two or three years at the most, and some of them, no doubt, a much shorter time.

In the light of this, those settled congregations of our own day who “operate” for ten or thirty years without naming any elders are proving by their failure their unwillingness to follow the pattern in evidence here.

The usual excuse is that “none are qualified”; and if it is supposed that absolute perfection in meeting the qualifications Paul himself laid down for this office is required of all who may be appointed, it may be that none were ever qualified in the history of the church.

However, the overriding commandment is “to appoint”; the “qualifications” are guidelines; and to make the guidelines an excuse for nullifying the commandment is sinful.

Prayed with fasting … Despite the fact of there having been no formal or ceremonial fasts prescribed for Christians, either by the Lord or by any of the apostles, it is quite evident that fasting was an approved device for deepening spirituality and that even apostles observed occasions of fasting.

There is no reason why devout persons in any age should not follow their example.

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