Elders in the Life of the church
Phil A Newton/Matt Schmucker, Kregel (2014)
This examination of the office of elders in the life of the church has come as a timely book to review as I have just been studying the book of James and right at the end of that letter comes the instruction that if any one of you is sick ‘let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil’ (5:14, NIV). This begs the question ‘who are the elders?’ and how many of us have experience of them?
Elders are all about leadership. Mark Dever makes the point in the foreword that ‘the church is a reflection of God’s Son. That’s why leadership of the church is of utmost importance’. For those churches without elders the leadership role has traditionally fallen to the minister/pastor/deacon, often with the support of a team of stewards. For authors Newton and Schmucker, the usual experience has been that of elders. Indeed, both of them are from a Baptist background and have been or are elders themselves. There is then, inevitably, a Baptist bias to the book and the first section concentrates on this.
The second section concentrates on four key central texts in order to show the biblical teaching on elder leadership. These are Acts 20, 1 Timothy 3, Hebrews 13, and 1 Peter 5. The authors offer detailed exegeses of these passages and demonstrate arguments that purport to be grounded in biblical truth. The third, final section offers some practical guidance for those churches considering changing their structure to a plural elder leadership.
This book is a well-thought-out and well-argued case for improving a local church’s structure by making the transition to elder leadership. But it won’t convince everybody. It will be of interest to biblical scholars and existing elders and may also appeal to those who wish to improve their general knowledge of elders in the church.
Reviewed by Ray Taylor