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Question #72

Elders and deacons, who selects them and how many should there be?

I'm researching the subject of elders and deacons. I'd like a Bible answer to two questions. Who selects the elders and deacons? How do we determine how many a congregation should have? Thank you for your help.

The Answer:

The scripture dictates no maximum number for elders or deacons. It does dictates a minimum number for elders – two. When scripture speaks of the appointment of elders or of elders serving in a congregation, it is always in the plural. Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders (plural) in every city. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church that they had established. Acts 14:23. (There is no contradiction here. Every church had elders (plural). Since in many places there would be one church in a city, when elders (plural) had been appointed in every city they had been appointed in every church.) “Elder” is singular when it speaks of an individual who is an elder or of the qualifications of an elder (each individual elder must have each qualification). How many elders should there then be? The minimum is set by scripture. The maximum logically requires at least enough to shepherd the flock in a single congregation.

Assuming that the seven men sought out in Acts chapter 6 to deal with the problem that had arisen in connection with the Grecian widows were deacons (an assumption with which not all people agree), some suggest that there must also be a plurality of deacons. It seems more likely, however, that seven were selected not as a requirement, but because the apostles determined that this number would be sufficient to meet the need. Since deacons are to serve, it seems reasonable that the appropriate number for a congregation is the number required to serve all perceived needs of the congregation.

The scripture is also silent on the procedure for the appointment of elders. The only intimation is Titus 1:5 where Paul reminds Titus that he was left behind to appoint elders in every city. While this certainly authorizes a preacher to appoint elders, there is reason to conclude that the selection is not by the preacher or the elders. In Acts chapter six the apostles distinguished between searching out the seven men, which was to be done by the church (Acts 6:2-3a), but reserved the appointment of them to their task to themselves (Acts 6:3b). The scripture is silent concerning an appointment ceremony. It does not define who should lead in the ceremony, how many should participate, or whether there should even be a formal appointment ceremony. Some Biblical principles would apply; it must be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40); it should contribute to the peace and harmony of the congregation and be of such nature that it will edify the congregation (Romans 14:19).

In common practice, where there are elders, they generally take the lead. Input is sought from the congregation. Generally, only the elders know the names of the men suggested or the number of those suggesting a particular name. Thus, in some cases, if not in most, the body of elders becomes a self perpetuating group. If the elders engaging in this process are unqualified or if they are fearful of those who might have differences from them on matters of opinion, the eldership will grow stagnant. There is no requirement that all elders see alike on matters of opinion. In fact, it is often from honest discussion of differences of opinion that the best ideas are born. It is only in matters of faith that elders must be of the same mind. Significantly, that “sameness of mind” is not determined by majority vote; it is determine by the Word of God. In matters of faith elders have no decisions to make. They have already been made by the Chief Shepherd. 1 Peter 5:4.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)