THE QUALIFICATIONS OF AN ELDER
In the Bible, there are clear guidelines concerning the qualifications of the elders. They must be able to rule themselves and manage their own family, and they must know how to deal with outsiders. They must have much assurance concerning God’s truth and must be able to teach it. We will list the qualifications as follows:
(1) Ruling themselves. Why does a person have to rule himself? When a person cannot rule his own temper, he cannot manage the church of God. Subduing one’s own heart and spirit is the most difficult thing to do. If a man cannot submit to the authority of Christ, he cannot make others submit to Christ’s authority. In 1 Timothy and Titus, the words concerning an elder not being one who drinks excessively, or who strikes others, etc., refer to the aspect of the self-control of an elder. In short, an elder must be one who can rule himself.
In addition, an elder must be the husband of one woman. All those who have had concubines cannot be an elder because this means that such a person cannot control himself.
(2) Managing one’s own house. If a man cannot manage his own house, he cannot manage the church. If he cannot manage his own children, how can he manage the brothers? The eldership is a position; it is not a gift. Teachers, shepherds, and evangelists are gifts. But eldership refers to a person’s position in the church. Therefore, such a person must be experienced and capable. His house is his testing ground. If he cannot make his wife and children submit to him at home, and if he cannot be a good husband or a good father, he cannot be a good elder in the church. In dealing with his own wife and children, God puts him to the test to see if he can deal with the brothers and sisters.
At the same time, God also uses our job and the things related to our office, school, and hospital as a test. If a man is efficient at his business, in managing a school, in conducting himself in his office, and in directing his children and servants, he can manage the church well. If a man cannot manage these things, he cannot possibly manage God’s church in a proper way.
(3) Having a good public testimony. An elder is a person who represents the church. Sometimes an elder has to represent the assembly to deal with outsiders. If he does not have a good testimony, the whole church will be slandered. When a person has a bad reputation in public testimony it does not necessarily mean that he is bad. However, if a person has a good reputation in public, it surely means that he is somewhat good. Therefore, a good reputation is important, while a bad name does not necessarily mean much. In this world, men primarily say bad things about others; few say good things about others. The Chinese say that those who are in the public eye are "under ten eyes and under ten fingers." Few people say good things about others. Most people tend to destroy the reputations of others. If men can find something good to say about a person and give good marks to him, then he surely must be somewhat good. If a greedy, self-centered, and defiled son of Adam can call a Christian a good man, then the Christian surely must be good.
(4) Having much assurance in the truth of God. Since the work of an elder is related to the church and not to a worldly organization, he needs to have much assurance in God’s truth. To do other things, it is not absolutely necessary to have a good reputation or to have much assurance in the truth; one does not need to be apt at teaching the Bible to do other things. Yet an elder must be apt to teach the brothers and sisters. An elder is a doorkeeper of the church. What happens when all the brothers want to preach? The elders must consider who should preach and who should not preach. They should find out who are flippant ones, undesirable ones, and incapable ones. They should be able to render the brothers much encouragement as well as discouragement. If they do not have much assurance in the truth, they will think that all the brothers are equally good and that everyone can preach. In this way, they will be men of no discernment.
At the same time, an elder must be one who can differentiate and judge. He should be able to judge the kind of teachings that should be introduced to the church and the kind of teachings that should be rejected. If the elders do this, the brothers will not become confused in the messages they hear. (For a detailed discussion of the above qualifications of an elder, see 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1.)
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE ELDERS
(1) The elders are the overseers. The Bible calls the elders the overseers. The work of an overseer is to oversee, which is to observe from above. In particular it means to detect the dangers that are coming to an assembly and to be aware ahead of time of the dangers that may come to individual brothers or to the whole assembly. Among us, we have many brothers and sisters. It is hard to avoid problems or weaknesses or to be free from sin, discord, dishonesty, failure to repay loans, disgraces, or scandals in dealing with outsiders. When these things happen, the responsible brothers or those who are doing the work of an elder should step forward to deal with such matters. They should not allow the leaven to enter the assembly. These unofficial elders should deal with all these shady matters among the brothers. This is their responsibility. They should come to your house to ask about these matters and deal with them. When they come into your house, you should submit to their decision because their decision is the Lord’s decision; their authority is the Lord’s authority.
The authority asserted by the Catholic Church is too much. Its failure lies in its outward practice. However, the inward reality of their proposal is correct. The problem is that they only have the outward form without the inward reality. If they had the inward reality, they would be right. They would have the proper authority if they were joined to the source in exercising their authority.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 22: The Assembly Life & The Prayer Ministry of the Church, Chapter 4, by Watchman Nee)