Who Has the Authority to Lead the Elect of God?
Jesus said the church he would build would endure (Matt.16:18); therefore, we know this body of true believers exists on earth. Because we know it exists, we also know there are spiritual leaders who have been given the responsibility to guide and teach this body of believers in the path of righteousness and in their performance of the work of the church; otherwise, the church would have ceased to exist.
Although the church still exists on earth, many centuries have passed since its establishment. During this passage of time, the Father's truth has been perverted in almost every conceivable way by quasi-Christianity, Satan, evil spirits, and others who have sought to destroy it.
Around 300 A.D., the historical record of the early church and its spiritual leadership seems to have almost completely disappeared. The records that do exist of individuals and groups of individuals who attempted to maintain the teachings of the early church throughout the centuries show a total lack of continuity in the succession of spiritual leadership.
Because no unbroken succession of spiritual leadership can be shown in the historical record, it is extremely important to find out if the spiritual leaders of the group of people with whom you associate have been sanctioned by Christ. Moreover, it is imperative that you know how to recognize a person whom Christ has sanctioned as a spiritual leader.
Jesus promised to establish an enduring body of believers and delegated the authority and responsibility for the care and protection of his Father's chosen people to the apostles who, in turn, delegated some of their authority to other men. He also warned those who would come to believe the message he brought from his heavenly Father and follow his teaching, to beware of those who would attempt to destroy them through clever deceptions.
When asked by his disciples what sign would precede his ascent to power and the end of that age, he gave the following two warnings about deceptive individuals:
"Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. . ..And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (Matt.24-5, 11 KJV).
There are many people in this age who claim to be followers of Christ and use the name of Jesus in their ministry. The problem is to determine the difference between those whom Jesus Christ has sent to serve as elders, those whom Satan has sent to mislead the elect, and those who think that Jesus has sent them, but have actually sent themselves.
In many cases, it is very difficult to determine if a person is truly under the authority of God the Father and Jesus Christ, because there are many sincere people in the world who honestly believe that they are serving the Father and Christ through their efforts to preach what is found in the Bible and their performance of physical and supernatural works. However, sincerity is not a test of righteousness nor is it a proof that Christ has authorized a person to do a work for him and his heavenly Father. Sincerity is just an indication of how dedicated a person is to what they are doing:
"Not everyone that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them I never knew you: depart from me you that work lawlessness" (Matt.7:21-23 KJV Para). See also Mk.13:6; Lk.21:8.
There is no doubt that many people today have the ability to perform awesome natural and supernatural works. And many people who do these things claim they are doing them on behalf of Jesus Christ. However, Jesus said that many would come in his name (appropriating his name) and deceive many. It does not matter if a person intentionally or unintentionally deceives another person, because the end result is the same. Therefore, if God the Father has called you to salvation, you must be extremely cautious with whom you associate on a spiritual level.
There are many who are able to present their beliefs about the Bible and God with great zeal and persuasiveness; however, this does not mean what they preach is true or what they teach is taught for the right purpose. Each individual the Father has called to salvation during this age is warned to test the spirits in order to determine if the source or intent of a belief, teaching, or supernatural work is good or evil (1.Jn. 4:1).
CHOOSING AND ORDAINING ELDERS
The question of how spiritual leaders were selected and ordained during the early church is easily answered in the Book of Acts and the writings of the apostles. However, no credible documentation exists showing a continuity of elder succession descending from the early church to this present age. Therefore, the questions that must be answered are how are elders of the church selected and ordained today and who does the selection and ordaining? In order to answer these two questions, what took place in the early church regarding the selection and ordination of apostles, elders, and other spiritual leaders must be understood.
The Early Church
At the beginning of Christ's ministry, he chose twelve men to be his close companions and to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God. He also chose seventy others and commissioned them to proclaim the same message. Although Jesus gave all of these men the power to heal and cast out evil spirits, none of these eighty-two men had the holy spirit residing within them until after Christ's death and resurrection.
A Replacement for Judas
Before the Festival of Pentecost, when the holy spirit was given to those who were worthy of receiving it, the apostles selected a replacement for the traitor Judas who had committed suicide:
"And they [the eleven apostles] selected Joseph who was called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And when they had prayed, and said, You Lord, who knows the hearts of all men, show which of these two men you have chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas through transgression fell . . . And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:23-26 KJV Para.).
The following are three important things revealed in Acts 1:23-26:
The apostles selected two men whom they thought were qualified to fulfill the responsibilities of an apostle.
They asked God the Father to make the choice between these two men.
The method they used to have the will of God the Father revealed to them was through the use of lots. It is logical that they would use this method because it was used by the priesthood to gain certain kinds of knowledge and insight from the Creator God and to determine his will in certain other matters, such as which goat was to be sacrificed and which goat was to be set free on the Festival of Atonement (Lev.16:7-10).
An Apostle to the Gentiles
The circumstances and events that surrounded the call of Paul to serve the Father and Jesus Christ as an apostle (Acts 9:1-31) reveal some major clues to understanding how to recognize spiritual leaders who are in the service of the Father and Jesus Christ today and those who will serve in the end of the age just before Christ returns:
Paul was a Pharisee who was well versed in the law and the prophets; therefore, he had the necessary foundational knowledge upon which the Father and Christ could build a spiritual relationship with him.
When presented with the truth concerning Jesus, Paul recognized this truth because the Father had opened his mind to this understanding through the power of the holy spirit.
Ananias was personally told by Jesus in a vision to baptize Paul into the Family of God.
The disciples at Damascus accepted Paul into their fellowship because of what Ananias told them and by the things that Paul began to teach concerning Jesus Christ.
The disciples in Jerusalem and the rest of the congregations of God recognized Paul as one of the Father's elect and as an apostle because they believed what they heard about him from reputable men, such as Ananias and Barnabas. Moreover, they recognized that Paul taught the truth about Jesus and God the Father's good news.
Aside from these five clues, there is another major point to consider concerning those who were selected to become apostles: none of the apostles were selected to fulfill their responsibilities by men; they were all selected by God the Father (Jn.6:44, 65) through Christ's authority from his Father as the chief administrator over his earthly family and nation of king-priests. This shows us that, during the early days of the church, Jesus Christ was very much involved in determining who would be used to proclaim the gospel and minister to his Father's elect.
Ordaining Spiritual Leaders
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find an authorization for non-elders to select or ordain individuals for service as spiritual leaders of congregations, as is the custom in some congregations today. However, the following scriptures leave no doubt that the apostles, evangelists, and elders of the early church had the authority to ordain elders at their discretion as they established congregations in the places where they evangelized.
Those Who Are Sent
"How, then, shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tiding of good things!" (Rom.10:14-15 KJV).
Paul's Instruction to Titus
"To Titus, my own son after the common faith: grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set things in order, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you" (Tit.1:4-5 Para.).
The Greek word for elders here is presbyters, which means elderly, older, a senior. Specifically, it denotes an Israelite of the Sanhedrin. Figuratively, it denotes a member of the celestial council.
Titus was a convert of the apostle Paul and was regarded as a son after the faith. In this scripture, Paul gives an authorization for an elder to ordain other elders. Titus 1:6-9 shows some of the prerequisites necessary to be considered a candidate for the eldership of the early church.
"And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts 14:23 KJV).
Other Spiritual Leaders
Besides apostles and elders, there were several other positions of spiritual leadership and responsibility, such as prophets and teachers, noted as being within the early church for which no formal public ceremony of ordination is mentioned. It is important to be aware of these positions of responsibility, because some of these will exist among the Father's elect during the end of the age.
Under the first covenant with national Israel, the Creator God chose men who were to serve as priests from the tribe of Levi and, specifically, from the descendants of Aaron (the first high priest of Israel). After Israel's rebellion in the wilderness, God chose some men who were not descended from the tribe of Levi or Aaron to fulfill physical and spiritual responsibilities within the houses of Judah and Israel.
After the establishment of the early church, certain individuals were selected and authorized by Christ to fulfill specific responsibilities. The scriptures show that Paul was personally selected by Jesus for his task (Acts 9:1-18) and Barnabas was selected as a prophet and teacher (Acts 13:1) before he was separated to the ministry as an evangelist.
Below are some individuals who were selected and separated for specific responsibilities outside the eldership ordination process:
"Stephen was full of faith and power, and did great wonders and miracles among the people" (Acts 6:8 KJV Para.).
"Now in the church in Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen" (Acts 13:1 Para.).
"And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them" (Acts 15:32 KJV).
"And God has set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of languages" (1.Cor.12:28 KJV Para). See also Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17; 21:9-10.
The English word prophets in the New Testament scriptures is translated from the Greek word prophetes, which means a foreteller; by analogy, an inspired speaker.
It is important to understand that, during the early church, some men were chosen to perform specific responsibilities, although they were not ordained as elders. Additionally, the evangelist Philip's four virgin daughters were selected as prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9).
Nowhere in the scriptures is it found that prophets or teachers were ordained to their function by either the priesthood or the eldership. What is found are prophets and teachers who were personally selected to a position of service, authority, or responsibility by the Creator God (Jesus Christ) after which they were acknowledged by God's people as they fulfilled these positions.
The scriptures show many individuals (men and women) under the covenant with national Israel and the Father's agreement with his earthly children given responsibilities outside of physical bloodlines or a formal ordination ritual. Therefore, there is a precedent for this same situation to exist during the end of the age.
Authority Within the Church
When we review all of the scriptures which pertain to the ordination of men as apostles or elders within congregations of the Father's elect, it becomes apparent that all apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors, miracle workers and other spiritual leaders, besides congregational elders, were selected by God the Father and Jesus Christ for their offices (1.Cor.12:28; Eph.4:11-12).
As the chief apostle and high priest over the church (Heb.3:1), Jesus Christ is the only one whom the Father has authorized to call and place individuals into positions of spiritual leadership for the care and protection of his people and the ministry of proclaiming his good news message.
It is also clear from the Bible and secular history that the apostles of the early church who comprised its governing body were authorized by Jesus Christ to ordain elders to local congregations. Secular history shows that this authorization continued until the organized effort of the early church disappeared sometime after the death of the apostle John.
SPIRITUAL LEADERS TODAY
The same qualifications and prerequisites are necessary to be an elder today as during the time of the early church. Additionally, the same cautionary measures should be taken before selecting and ordaining an elder to this function and responsibility. However, a prospective elder's true spiritual character is not always apparent, which can lead to a man being ordained who is not truly qualified to serve as an elder.
Although elders are ordained within the congregations of the elect, an honest review will show that many of these men are not qualified to serve the elect as an elder for one or more of the following reasons:
They may be unconverted.
They are not authorized by Jesus Christ to lead the elect.
They are Satan's servants disguised as servants of God.
Their motive for leading is self-serving.
They are living in rebellion against God including blatant sin.
They are afraid to teach truth for fear of losing their positions.
They are otherwise not fulfilling their responsibility according to scripture.
If all elders who serve God's people were qualified, there would be unity of belief and a spirit of cooperation and teamwork among the spiritual leadership of the various congregations of the elect, instead of the current doctrinal and organizational chaos.
No Central Authority
It is evident that, during this age, no central authority exists on earth governing all of the Sovereign Father's family of king-priests scattered throughout the nations or teaching the Father's truth clearly and concisely. Because no central authority exists to govern the elect in this age and no elders can be found who exhibit the same credentials as elders of the early church, how can you be assured that those who lead the congregation you attend are serving your best interests?
Fortunately, the scriptures are full of instructions concerning how to recognize the difference between an elder who is authorized by Jesus Christ to lead, teach, and serve his heavenly Father's elect children and one who is not. Therefore, it is your responsibility to spend the time and effort to study the Bible in order to have the knowledge with which to determine who is or is not an elder authorized by Jesus Christ.
One Body, One Spirit, and One Faith
"There is one body, and one spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph.4:4-6).
Although it is true that our heavenly Father has only one true body of believers on earth. It is also true that, within this body of believers, there are many congregational associations, many of which have differing beliefs and teachings concerning the function, conduct, and authority of an elder. Some of these beliefs have the potential to adversely impact one's walk with their heavenly Father and their Savior.
Some congregational associations of the elect are led by elders who are righteous, some are led by elders who are not righteous, and some have a mixture of both righteous and unrighteous elders. Therefore, it is extremely important for anyone who is truly seeking to obey God the Father and Jesus Christ and grow toward spiritual maturity to take charge of their own spiritual welfare and diligently seek to associate with people who are truly in harmony with godly laws, precepts, and principles.
Beware of Counterfeit Christians
Since the early years of the church, there have been many counterfeit prophets, apostles, and ministers of Christ. However, the word of God proves these individuals to be liars and deceivers as wolves among the sheep who devour the unsuspecting, the ill informed, and the naive:
"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (2.Cor.11:13-15 KJV). See also Deut.13:1-5; Jer.23:21-22; Rev.2:9; 3:9.
Jesus warned his disciples that many would come pretending to be righteous, but who in reality would be seeking to destroy them. In addition to this warning, Jesus said that these unrighteous individuals could be recognized by what they produced:
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but are in reality wolves . By their fruits you shall know them, Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs from thistles? So every good tree produces good fruits; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruits. A good tree cannot produce evil fruits, nor a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruits is to be cut down and thrown into the fire. Then surely from their fruits you shall know them" (Matt.7:15-19 Para.).
One of the best ways to determine who is or is not an elder authorized by Christ to lead, teach, and serve the elect, is to analyze the message they bring and the life they lead. In order to do this, you must know the difference between a correct message and a false message and the difference between righteous and unrighteous individuals.
If it is found that an elder's message and lifestyle conforms to the Father's truth, then he should be given the honor and respect due as a servant of the elect. If his message or lifestyle is found to be inconsistent with or in opposition to truth, he must be dealt with in accordance to the biblical instructions concerning such individuals.
The holy spirit is the custodian and repository of all truth and resides within the elect to reveal and teach truth. Therefore, through the guidance of the holy spirit, it is possible to receive insight into what is necessary in order to recognize the difference between righteous and unrighteous attitudes and behaviors:
"It is the spirit of truth; which the world cannot receive, because it sees it not, neither knows it: but you know it; and it dwells with you, and shall be in you" (Jn.14:17 KJV). See also Jn.15:26.
"I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when it the spirit of truth, is come, it will guide you into all truth: for it shall not speak of itself; but whatever it shall hear, that shall it speak" (Jn.16:12-13 Para.). See also 1.Cor.2:11.
Knowledge about the physical realm of existence is discerned by the human spirit, and knowledge and insight into things of the spirit and the spirit realm are revealed through the holy spirit:
"For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man within him? So also no one has known the things of God except the spirit of God. But we have not received the spirit of this world, but the spirit from God; that we may freely know the things given to us by God" (1.Cor.2:10-11 Para.).
The Father's elect are not human as others are human. The elect have the Father's holy spirit residing in them, which provides access to spiritual knowledge, understanding, and insight.
"Which things we also speak, not in words taught in human wisdom, but in words taught by the holy spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things" (1.Cor.2:13 Para.).
Comparing attitudes and behaviors to known spiritual standards will reveal who is or is not authorized by Christ as an elder and who is or is not fulfilling the function and responsibility of a true elder.
"But a natural man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But truly the spiritual one discerns all things, but he is discerned by no one. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Who will teach him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1.Cor.2:14-16 Para.). See also 1.Cor.2:11.
A human with only the spirit of man cannot receive or understand the things of God, simply because they are of the original human creation. However, the Father's earthly children are not of the original creation; they are a new and different creature with the ability to discover and understand the true meaning of physical and spiritual things as they pertain to the Father's plan for the salvation of humanity. It is the power of the holy spirit that resides within the elect that enables them to discern who is or is not a servant of God during the end of the age.
In addition to asking the Father for spiritual insight and understanding, you must also put forth the effort to study and meditate on what is written in the biblical record. Doing this will give you the ability to determine what is or is not truth, and who is or is not fulfilling the function and responsibility of an elder.
In this age of the church, it is extremely important for you to know who is or who is not authorized by Christ as an elder.
Many in leadership positions within the congregations of the elect today cite various scriptures and obscure historical references in an attempt to validate their authority to lead the Father's earthly children. However, the facts show that none of these men can prove beyond doubt that they are authorized by Jesus Christ to be in a leadership position within the church. Therefore, the only way to know if a man is authorized by Christ or is fulfilling the function and responsibility as an elder is to compare his attitude, behavior, lifestyle, and performance with the biblical standards set forth for an elder.
The primary function and responsibility of an elder within the congregations of the elect is to lead by example, teach truth, and protect from harm in a spiritual sense. Elders are to serve their brothers and sisters in the faith, not be served by them. Jesus said the following about this service:
"You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion [lord it over] over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant: Even as the son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt.20:25-28 KJV ).
A true minister of Christ and elder within a congregation of the elect is a servant among servants. See Jn.21:15-17; 2.Cor.1:21-24; Heb.13:17.
Honor and Respect
"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and reprimand you; and esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves" (1.Thes.5:12-13 KJV).
Sometimes what is not said is just as important as what is said. Here, Paul exhorts the elect to develop a close relationship with their spiritual leaders. If this were not a problem, why would Paul mention it? It is essential for members of a congregation to truly know those who lead them in order for there to be trust, harmony of purpose, and spiritual growth. The mention of being at peace is also an indication that there was a problem which was causing disunity and turmoil within the congregation. It seems likely that Paul's instruction for the congregation to get to know their spiritual leaders and highly esteem them is the solution to this congregation's particular problem.
The writer to the Hebrews tells the elect to obey their spiritual leaders who are serving them, because they are protecting them from spiritual harm. Notice also that these elders will be judged on how well they perform their responsibility:
"Obey them who have the rule over you, and submit [yield] yourselves to them: for they are men standing guard over your spirit, and God will judge them on how well they do this, therefore, obey that they may rule you with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb.13:17 Para.).
The context of verse17 reveals that the elect should heed the counsel, reprimands, and instruction of the elders, because they were placed in their positions of leadership to benefit those whom the Father has called to salvation.
Although honor, respect, and obedience is due elders who serve the elect, honor and respect is not to be carried to the point of worshiping an individual. Additionally, obedience should be within the confines of godly laws, precepts, and principles.
Those Who Rule Well
"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (1.Tim.5:17 KJV).
Elders who rule well benefit all who are ruled. Ruling well is extremely difficult, because people have differing needs, desires, and personalities. When one considers all of the various aspects of leadership, an elder who rules well is truly deserving of respect and honor.
Honoring those who labor in truth and doctrine is not only important to the one laboring but also those who benefit from this labor. The prophet Hosea was inspired to record, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos.4:6). Without knowledge and understanding, one cannot make informed decisions. Therefore, those who labor diligently to research and teach God's word to the elect should be given the respect and honor due to them for their important service.
The apostle Peter issued the following extremely serious warning to both elders and non-elders about Satan who is actively trying to destroy the Father's elect children:
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (1.Pet.5:8-9 KJV Para.).
Satan and other evil spirits are continually seeking to destroy all people, including the elect; moreover, they specifically target men whom Christ authorizes as elders to lead and serve the elect, because a leaderless people are more easily conquered and destroyed.
Much of the doctrinal and organizational chaos within congregations of the elect today is the result of the elect being lead by a servant of Satan, unqualified elders, and elders who are influenced by evil spirits in their attempt to destroy the elect through a corrupted leadership.
Because your eternal life may depend on making the correct decisions about who to follow as a spiritual leader, it is important to spend the time and effort to prayerfully study the issue of spiritual leadership in order to have the knowledge with which to make informed decisions concerning those to trust and follow in spiritual matters.
By B. L. Cocherell b8w7