Call to worship
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
Grace to you from God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Lord and from the Holy Spirit who is our Comforter. Amen.
Doxology: Hymn no 46: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”
Father in Heaven through Jesus Christ, we bring praise to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are yours. You change times and seasons; You set up kings and deposes them. You give wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. You reveal deep and hidden things; You know what lies in darkness, and light dwells with You. (Daniel 2:20-22)
Lord we pray that our worship of You will acceptable in your sight, as we come into your presence in an through the righteousness of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen
Hymn No 25: “Great is your faithfulness”
Hymn No 310: “Brother let me be your servant”
Scripture Reading: Old Testament: Numbers 11:16-30
Let us sing the Lord’s Prayer: Hymn 512
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
The Law of the Lord: Exodus 20:1-17
Declaration of pardoning
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
Hymn No 400: “And can it be that I should gain”
Verse 1: All
Verse 2: Ladies first four lines; then all.
Verse 3: Men first four lines; then all.
Verse 4: All.
Offering and Dedication
Prayers of intercession
Scripture Reading: Old Testament: Exodus 18:13-23
Brother and Sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,
The Bible does not gives us an absolute clear-cut model for church government. The ground rule of the Scriptures nonetheless is this: Christ is the Head of his church, and He chooses to rule his people by means of elected people, ordained for the purpose.
There are mainly three forms of church government. They are the Episcopalian form of church government; the congregational form of church government, and the presbyterial form of church government.
In the first model authority does not rest in a body of church leaders but rather in an appointed official. The structure of such a church is hierarchical with a national head in the form of an archbishop. Churches following this for of government are the Roman Church, the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church.
In the congregational model there is no authority higher than that of the local church. Leaders are elected, but the authority lies within the members of the church who elect or decide on a basis of a majority vote of the members. These churches usually have no national confession of faith or church body binding them together.
The name of our denomination is “The Presbyterian Church of Australia”. The word “Presbyterian” comes form the Greek “presbuteros” which means “elder”. The form of church government is thus a church governed by elders, duly elected, ordained and inducted. These elders, on a local level, meet together in what is referred to as the Session. We are part of a denomination, whereby local churches give expression of church unity by grouping together in bodies called “presbyteries”. Presbyteries further group together in “Assemblies” to form the Presbyterian Church of Queensland. Further, nationally the state assemblies group together as the General Assembly of Australia.
Where do we get this idea from that we should be ruled by elders? From the Scriptures of course! Not only did the apostles in the New Testament appoint elders in the churches they planted, giving them charge to tend to and govern the flock of the Lord, but we also see that God ordained this form of government way back in the Old Testament.
As soon as God’s people of old left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, before they got to Mount Sinai, something significant happened that would change the way in which God would govern his people for the rest of their history.
Moses was the leader. Following him were six hundred thousand men, women and children excluded. Calculations set the total number of Israelites on 3 to 4.5 million Israelites. They were a stiff-necked people, never satisfied with the leadership of Moses and Aaron. The grumbled about water, food, meat, sicknesses, and on top of that, they had no peace with one another. To settle arguments between them, they would arrange audience with Moses who would set aside whole days to hear disputes between the people.
Moses had advice from his father-in-law: have other people elected to help you. Why? You will wear yourself out; the people will be worn out; you will never enter the land of promise. Later, in Deuteronomy 1, Moses recalled this incident as a God-given gift to the people of God, having only their welfare in mind. These men, gifted and talented by God, were there to stand between them and God, zealous for the honour and glory of God as they would nurture and tend God’s people with and from his Word, preparing them to be holy in amongst the heathen nations.
The question is: who will be elected to assist Moses in his task?
Not a one-man show
If we apply this principle for our day, and as we see it applied in the structure of our denomination too, it should be clear that God never intended for his church to be a one-man show. It is not God’s plan to vest all power and authority, as well as the care of his flock in one person. It is not God’s will, and it is not practical. It might be God’s will to have ministers and elders, but even the minister is not to be seen as the “head” of the church. He is merely the leader amongst leaders. For practical reasons, and by virtue of his office of minister of Word and Sacrament, the minister takes the lead, but final responsibility lies with the body of elders.
It is therefore wrong to think that the minister should be everywhere and doing everything. It is wrong to think that it is not good enough if we had a visit only of the elder whilst in hospital and not also of the minister. A minister who allows this to happen in his church is growing an immature eldership, whilst the church will never grow. On the other hand, he will never grow in his own spiritual life, as he will never have time to really delve deep into the treasures of the Scriptures, due to the lack of time. He will wear himself out, and as Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses said: it is not good for the people. You cannot handle the work alone.
Too many ministers are burned out because research shows that the average minister fills his daily program to in 60% of the duties expected from him, do what he is not even equipped for. This situation happened in the early church - the apostles’ time got consumed by other duties, and they were hindered in their main duty: prayer and the ministry of the Word (read about it in Acts 6). The result was the election of seven deacons who would take care of the widows and orphans.
For practical reasons, and by virtue of his office of minister of Word and Sacrament, the minister takes the lead, but final responsibility lies with the body of elders.
Back to the question: who must be elected as elders assisting the minister to fulfil the calling of pastoral care of the flock of God?
The elder: his task
The elders would share the task with Moses. The task was basically the same, the sphere of responsibility differed. (So by the way, we see the very same principles applied in the episode where God summoned Moses to elect 70 elders to appear with him at the Tent of Meeting. There God put his Spirit, who already rested upon Moses also on the elected elders to, not only visibly show his approval of the elders to the people, but also to enable them to perform the duties to which they were called to).
What similarity was there between Moses and the elders? This: as Moses had already been, they also became representatives. The word used in Exodus 18:20 has the following in mind: To speak on behalf of God, to represent God’s Word to the people. As representatives they had to inform the people the will of God. It included warnings of what would happen and the dangerous consequences of not living according to God’s will. It was the teaching of covenantal truth. Their admonition implied that somewhere in future events may change in some way conditional on present behavior. Their task was to call Gods’ people to covenant obedience and covenant living. They had to teach by admonishing and warning, based on the Scriptures.
The young King Jehoshaphat understood this very clearly. He instituted reforms in Judah to restore the glory of God through worship. He restored the eldership and appointed them as judges right through the land and gave them this charge:
“Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (2 Chronicles 19:6-7)
He further instructed:
“You must serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the LORD. In every case that comes before you from your fellow countrymen who live in the cities—whether bloodshed or other concerns of the law, commands, decrees or ordinances—you are to warn them not to sin against the LORD; otherwise his wrath will come on you and your brothers. Do this, and you will not sin. (2 Chronicles 19:9-10)
Elders, together with Moses, were responsible to teach the decrees and the laws. The purpose of this teaching from the law (the Torah) is that the people of God would know the ways of God. In what follows in verse 20 has in mind that the teaching would be thoroughly and comprehensively, in order that God’s people would walk in his ways as if it were second nature. Further, the effect of this thorough teaching would nurture a Biblical worldview. That is the meaning of the phrase “show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform” (verse 20).
The New Testament is also clear on this aspect of the duties of the elders. 1Tim 3:2 demands that an elder must be able to teach. Titus 1:9 says an elder must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. This is part of the pastoral care of the elder: to guard the flock against possible attack from the enemy by the way of false teaching.
Jethro advised that these elders should assist Moses in judging and judgement. This means that they would share the load as they adjudicate with the authority to punish, having the finality of the decision. It is the task of elders to exercise discipline with love in their hearts, but with zeal to protect the glory of God. Too often do elders shy away from this important task, with the result that teachings foreign to the Scriptures get a foothold in the church. Further, ungodliness is tolerated as worldliness creeps into the church. Elders must lead by example to act as rulers with a God-given authority to discipline in fairness.
The elder – his character
Moses was to select men with the next qualities: capable men, men who fear God, trustworthy men, men who hate dishonest gain.
(Just as a margin observation: If the Scriptures are read as a coherent whole there is no hint, not by the longest stretch of the meaning of the word or imagination, any reference to women to be elected into the eldership. It does not degrade the women to second class members of the church, but rather stresses the uniqueness of the duty of women in the church in other fields.)
Let’s look at these qualities one by one:
Capable: qualified for a task. This refers back to the ability to teach, to admonish, to know and apply the Scriptures. An elder is a man with a noble character, strong character, worthy person.
God-fearing men: Elders are men who by their life and example display how they respect God by ascribing to Him high status and honour as the one in authority over their lives. This respect for God, according to this word, might even border on fear.
Faithfulness: Reliability, trustworthiness. An elder must earn trust and loyalty because he sets an example for others to depend on him, because he himself adheres to a certain or standard, in this case the Bible. Another word in this regard is honesty or integrity, i.e., telling the truth, and living according to the moral standard of the Scriptures.
Hate dishonest gain: This implies to dislike, shun, not love, with the implication of aversion and hostility—‘to hate, to detest’. Gain: to take advantage of someone, usually as the result of a motivation of greed.
Jethro said to Moses: Do this, elect these men and see what happens (verse 23): Moses, you will prevail (have victory, you will be able to actually accomplish something). Further, your work will endure: formally, stand, it will last for an indefinite period of time. More: the people will benefit from it too: they will go home in peace: this term describes prosperity, completeness, safeness, health, satisfaction, contentment, to one’s basic needs or more being met and so being content.
Thus is the task and responsibility of the elders. May God help you to elect the right men, to his glory and the glory of his church. Amen.