A Treatise on the Eldership
J. W. McGarvey  (1870)


      The first prerequisite to teaching is the possession of knowledge. Unless a man knows something that his pupils do not, he can not be their teacher. In order to be teachers, therefore, the Elders must be diligent in the acquisition of Scripture knowledge, and must be at all times better informed in the word of God than the chief part of the congregation. We say the chief part of the congregation, because it is quite possible that a congregation may contain individuals better acquainted with the Scriptures than the Elders, even though the latter be well qualified teachers.

      The work of teaching the practical duties of the Christian life, necessarily implies the exposure and rebuke of such practices and teaching as are inconsistent with these duties. Consequently, Paul says that Elders should be able both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. Ti. i: 9. Gainsayers are those who speak against what is taught. They are supposed to be actuated by some improper desire in their gainsaying, and are to be exhorted to abandon their course. After exhortation fails, they are not necessarily to be convinced, as the common version reads, [45] but to be convicted; that is, convicted of wrong. To convince a gainsayer might be an impossibility, and, therefore, too much to require of an Elder; but to convict one before the people is a very different and far easier task. This direction of the apostle evinces an expectation, that men would be found in the churches who would speak against the practical teaching of the Elders, and need to be exhorted and convicted. No Eldership of much experience has failed to meet with such characters. They are found especially among the apologists for various kinds of popular vices which are respectable in the eyes of the world, and in which worldly minded disciples are constantly tempted to participate.

      In what way the public teaching of the Eldership, as regards the mode of conducting it, can be made most effective, is an inquiry of immense interest to the churches of this generation. Various methods, meeting with various degrees of success, are now in active use. In some instances, the Eldership make no attempt whatever at public teaching, and very little at private teaching. This is an intolerable neglect of duty, for which the delinquents must eventually be called to a terrible account. If the neglect results from indifference, it is a great sin; if from incapacity, a resignation of the office should immediately take place. In other instances, an evangelist is employed to teach and preach on certain Lord's days in each month, and the remainder of the Lord's day meetings are devoted to the teaching of the Elders, who imitate as nearly as possible the matter and manner of the evangelist. In others, all the instruction on Lord's day is given by an evangelist, and a special meeting is held within the week for mutual edification and attendance [46] to public discipline, in which the Elders are the chief speakers. In others, one of the Elders, distinguished by his superior ability to teach and preach, occupied the stand on Lord's day, and the other Elders take part in the more private meetings during the week. In still other instances, especially among the churches of Great Britain and Australia, the principal meeting on Lord's day is devoted to instruction by the Elders, and to mutual exhortation by members under the direction of the Elders, while the evangelist preaches at other hours on Lord's day, and on some night within the week.

      If we estimate the results of these methods, we must confess that hitherto they have proved quite meagre. The efforts of the majority of our Elders are so little instructive and edifying, that not even the members of the church will attend, in good numbers, when it is expected that one of them will occupy the hour. Hence, there is constant complaint that the members will not come out to church except when the preacher is present. Again, the efforts of a large number of our evangelists, even of those with much experience, are quite ineffective, as regards the instruction of brethren in the Christian life, and the awakening of zeal and conscientiousness. Indeed, it is a rare thing to find a preacher, who is capable of speaking to edification in the same congregation for a series of years. This accounts, in a great measure, for the frequent removals of preachers from place to place. A congregation will rarely consent to the loss of a preacher who uniformly instructs and edifies them in public, and whose deportment is at all reputable. [47]

      If we turn from the work of public, to that of private teaching, we find the results still more unsatisfactory. In the great mass of our congregations there is an almost entire absence of private instruction by the Elders, or even by the evangelist, so that members of the church have to depend upon their own reading, and the weekly or monthly sermon, for all they know of truth and duty. Thanks to the activity and cheapness of the religious press, the ignorance thus resulting is not so great as it might be, but among those disciples who are too little educated to learn rapidly from print and preaching and those who are too much absorbed in other matters to read the Bible much, or to listen thoughtfully to preaching, there is a woeful ignorance in reference to some of the simplest principles of piety and morality.

[ATOTE 45-48]

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