Is it biblical to have only one elder?

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Bern

Puritan Board Freshman
1)Is it acceptable under normal circumstances to have a church ruled by a pastor, with only deacons under him? (ie. no other elders in authority?)

2)Is church membership a biblical requirement?

3)Depending on the answers to the above... are both these situations acceptable simultaneously? (ie. One pastor and deacons, with no official membership accept those who are in the church phonebook being informally considered members)

4)What happens if a single pastor cannot find anyone within the church suitable for a role as an elder?
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
1)Is it acceptable under normal circumstances to have a church ruled by a pastor, with only deacons under him? (ie. no other elders in authority?)

In Reformed churches the goal is to have more, and in some, it takes two elders to make a quorum, so only one often means direct oversight by another church.

2)Is church membership a biblical requirement?

Absolutely! I steal from you, you bring it to my church, and I'm in trouble. I'm not a member, and I thumb my nose at you! If you had any idea what trouble is caused in my county by people not members of churches but walking around as "elders to the church universal" you'd be a quick convert to the historic Christian teaching on the subject!!!

3)Depending on the answers to the above... are both these situations acceptable simultaneously? (ie. One pastor and deacons, with no official membership accept those who are in the church phonebook being informally considered members)

NO! How is discipline done? How are hard questions dealt with? "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety"

4)What happens if a single pastor cannot find anyone within the church suitable for a role as an elder?

He needs the back up of related churches. Often in Reformed circles a stronger church will "loan" an elder to a young or struggling church.

Best, and God bless your fellowship.
 

Bern

Puritan Board Freshman
Personally I think it is biblical to have more than one elder and membership should be a requirement. I just wanted to know where people stand on this, and what the scriptural backup is for the position they hold.
 

MMasztal

Puritan Board Sophomore
Many and maybe most non-Reformed Baptist churches tend to have only one elder being the pastor. They have deacons which serve a dual role of elder/deacon. In presbyterian churches, there are typically at least 2 elders, the pastor and a ruling elder. If the Presbyterian church is a new, i.e., not particularized, it may have only the pastor as a ruling elder, but it will be under the care of a parent church whose session oversees the small non-particularized church. I don't believe a church can be particularized unless they have at least one ruling elder.

As a Presbyterian, I subscribe to the separate offices of elder and deacon with their associated Biblical functions.

As far a "membership" being required, I subscribe to that, but I'm not so sure I can defend that. While Heb 10:25 would seem to mandate regularly attending services, it doesn't seem to require specific membership.
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
Our church has no elders or deacons right now so I would have to say it's biblical but not ideal. We are a church plant and are not on our own....our "mother" church is in Hanover Park, IL.
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
Our church has no elders or deacons right now so I would have to say it's biblical but not ideal. We are a church plant and are not on our own....our "mother" church is in Hanover Park, IL.

Right, but that's why he specified churches under "normal" circumstances. Because of your status as a church plant you are actually supplied with elders and deacons from other church in your presbytery.
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
Our church has no elders or deacons right now so I would have to say it's biblical but not ideal. We are a church plant and are not on our own....our "mother" church is in Hanover Park, IL.

Right, but that's why he specified churches under "normal" circumstances. Because of your status as a church plant you are actually supplied with elders and deacons from other church in your presbytery.

Possibly, however we see them maybe three times a year so it isn't like we have elders supplied to us or to help our pastor out with the work load that he has. So it's more figurative than literal.
 

raekwon

Puritan Board Junior
If we're going to answer the question as asked -- "Is it biblical to only have one elder" -- I think we would have to say "no". I can't think of one example in the Bible of a discussion of elders that didn't speak of them in the plural. Scripture seems to assume that a local church needs and will have a plurality of shepherds over her.

Of course, there will always be cases of extraordinary circumstances where a church will either have one or no elders. Prayer should be made in such cases that God would send shepherds to his church.
 

lynnie

Puritan Board Graduate
1)Is it acceptable under normal circumstances to have a church ruled by a pastor, with only deacons under him? (ie. no other elders in authority?)

That was how Lloyd Jones had it in a church of thousands. I don't agree (I think plurality is biblical) but the point is that some real good pastors/teachers could see it that way.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Graduate
I can't think of one example in the Bible of a discussion of elders that didn't speak of them in the plural.

Though I support a plurality of elders, many SBC anti-plurality types will appeal to 1 Tim. 3 where Paul speaks of Bishop in the singular and Deacons in the plural as evidence for their position. While I wouldn't recommend isolating this passage away from the rest of Scripture, in this important text, it does speak of the office of Bishop in the singular. And seeing that Baptists make no distinction between Elders/Bishops/Pastors, these verses might as well say "elder."


I Timothy 3:1 & 8
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife & etc...

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued & etc...
 

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
1)Is it acceptable under normal circumstances to have a church ruled by a pastor, with only deacons under him? (ie. no other elders in authority?)

2)Is church membership a biblical requirement?

3)Depending on the answers to the above... are both these situations acceptable simultaneously? (ie. One pastor and deacons, with no official membership accept those who are in the church phonebook being informally considered members)

4)What happens if a single pastor cannot find anyone within the church suitable for a role as an elder?

From a presbyterian standpoint, that is not a session. None of the presbyterian denominations allow for a single elder for a church, and every pastor I know would request a temporary session to cover the ruling of the church. It really would not make a lot of sense ... the OPC has
A quorum of a session is two ruling elders, if there are
three or more, or one ruling elder if there are fewer than three,
together with the pastor or one of the pastors of the local congregation.
In no case may the session conduct its business with fewer than
two present who are entitled to vote.
Which would mean that no session could meet. I believe the PCA is similar.

-----Added 10/12/2009 at 12:35:53 EST-----

Our church has no elders or deacons right now so I would have to say it's biblical but not ideal. We are a church plant and are not on our own....our "mother" church is in Hanover Park, IL.

Right, but that's why he specified churches under "normal" circumstances. Because of your status as a church plant you are actually supplied with elders and deacons from other church in your presbytery.

Possibly, however we see them maybe three times a year so it isn't like we have elders supplied to us or to help our pastor out with the work load that he has. So it's more figurative than literal.

You might be surprised by the amount of help those that lead the church get. I've been in three church plants, and while some less than mature pastors might not want the oversight of a "parent" church (I've seen it) those that have such oversight get much benefit from having a parent church. Sometimes a pastor assigned to a church plant in a remote location must act alone, but it is far from the desirable means of operation. Even Paul in planting churches did not go alone.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
Strive to have a plurality of elders, but never ordain a man to eldership who is not qualified.
 

Jimmy the Greek

Puritan Board Senior
Our church has no elders or deacons right now so I would have to say it's biblical but not ideal. We are a church plant and are not on our own....our "mother" church is in Hanover Park, IL.

Right, but that's why he specified churches under "normal" circumstances. Because of your status as a church plant you are actually supplied with elders and deacons from other church in your presbytery.

Possibly, however we see them maybe three times a year so it isn't like we have elders supplied to us or to help our pastor out with the work load that he has. So it's more figurative than literal.

Maybe a bit off topic but: We were a sister church plant (or spin-off) when we started. We had "provisional" elders identified as part of the new work. I don't see how you can function on a weekly basis without functioning leadership present. In your case, Sarah, are elder(s) present from the mother church?
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
Right, but that's why he specified churches under "normal" circumstances. Because of your status as a church plant you are actually supplied with elders and deacons from other church in your presbytery.

Possibly, however we see them maybe three times a year so it isn't like we have elders supplied to us or to help our pastor out with the work load that he has. So it's more figurative than literal.

Maybe a bit off topic but: We were a sister church plant (or spin-off) when we started. We had "provisional" elders identified as part of the new work. I don't see how you can function on a weekly basis without functioning leadership present. In your case, Sarah, are elder(s) present from the mother church?

I rarely see them. However, I should be fair and say that they might be doing more work which is behind the scenes that I just don't know anything about. I'm sure that if we requested to speak to one they would be available. One was here yesterday and ppl could sign up to talk with him. He and my pastor did take my mother aside to see how everything was going for her. Not next week but the week after that it's my turn. But this is the first time I've seen them there doing this type of work. Not that I think they should do more I'm just saying....
 

Nathan Riese

Puritan Board Freshman
There are two questions asked in this thread:
Title: Is it biblical...
Post: Is it acceptable...

No, singularity of eldership is NOT biblical. I know some argue for singularity using the bishop (singular) deacons (plural) point of view out of 1 Timothy 3. Let me assure you, that type of conclusion has no exegetical basis.

Daniel Wallace's article speaks well to this matter.
Who Should Run the Church? A Case for the Plurality of Elders | Bible.org | Home of NET Bible on-line, Bible Study tools, Free Bible

Also, attached is a class presentation I've made on the subject. Not every detail is included, but it's a basic summary of the main points. I'm not really sure if the attachment will work or not. the outline is from my powerpoint, so it's not the best looking.


Is singularity of eldership acceptable? That's a different question based on circumstance.

For example of acceptablility contrary to biblical validity consider the biblical command to go to church, but the acceptability of those who are bedridden who are not able to attend.

Now, consider that perspective in light of your questions. It is Biblically shown that churches were appointed a plurality of elders in the New Testament, not a singularity of eldership.
Does the situation in the church allow the possibility for a plurality of eldership to take place? If the situation does allow for that, then it is not acceptable.

Does the situation in the church not allow the possibility for a plurality? i.e., if there is a church plant and no one is yet qualified for the position of elder. Yet discipleship can take place and as soon as the church is able, an appointment of another to the office should be made so that there is a plurality. This is a case in which the exception shows acceptability. hope this helps!
 
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