1. Is it in the Bible?
2. What do we believe it means?
Someone who has been going to a particular church for a long period of time, has shown the correct skills and is promoted to this position of authority within the church.
3. What does it really mean?
Since the church has for centuries had strong tradition of human government and the definition of "ministry" being a kind of rulership or authority over others, we readily fit Bible words into his tradition. the word "elder" in the Bible simply means someone which is older. In the times of the Bible, it was a very important tradition to honor and respect people who were older. this certainly is a very good, Godly concept. But tradition has turned this good attitude into a "one-way-street" of rulership. Tradition makes elders in a church who are some how more important than others people in the church--and this reenforces our ideas of promotion and hierarchy in church function.
In the church in he Bible, "elders" were simply older people who, we are taught to give honor and respect toward. But by no means is "elder" a title of authority over others, nor a ministry or rulership. elders were expected o give a good example to younger people.
Look at jesus attitude.....
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise
lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them
are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. (Luke 22:25-26)
Jesus is here saying that a leader ought to act like a younger, not an elder-! He is calling for the church to be equals--and not exercise authority one over another.
The bible is clear that there should be cooperation (the KJV uses the word "submission"--but the Greek word means to cooperate) from younger to elder AND fro m elder to younger--in the same way.
1Pe 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
It is interesting to notice ho the KJV translator tried to hide this fact by translating the same Greek word (hupotasso) as "submit" for younger to elder--but as "be subject" when referring of the actions of elder to younger. The truth is that the Bible tells us to submit (cooperate!) equally with one another regardless of Spiritual or physical "age".
In our wrong tradition of church meeting,"elders" are often those who make "big decisions" in terms of money and building--etc. In the simply apostolic system of the Bible, within the simple home meeting of believers--there is no need for these "big decisions" to be made in the first place. If we met in the right terms, it would be much easier to function together as equals.
The Bible speaks of elders teaching within the church. Some take this to mean that one must then be an older/experienced Christian in order to hold the position of teacher. Biblically, "teacher" is considered the least important ministry function (1cor 12:28) and in fact teaching was (and is!) the safest ministry function. The 1st, foremost function of the church was (and is!) the apostolic ministry, a ministry which, in the times of the Bible, was strenuous, and in fact dangerous. Certainly not a ministry for the elderly! Perhaps this is why the Bible suggests that elders teach--but of course like any ministry gift--God ordains it in any believer at any time as He wishes...
Heb 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
A little extra understanding about bishops and elders.....
5 ¶ For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest
set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in
every city, as I had appointed thee:
6 ¶ If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:
11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. (Titus 1:5-11)
If we look at these verese and compare them with 1timothy 3, we will see an interesting consistency. these are the requrements for being a "bishop". Look closely. this advice is saying to tkae any believers who are older ("ordain elders") and give them the jjob of being bishops. Notice the plural--"bishops". So many people read this and thin the Bible is saying that Paul is saying to take one person and make them a leader with authority over a geographic area. the key word in these verse is "any".
Paul is saying here that "anyone" who fits this description should be made a bishop.
Paul was interested in making as many home meeting places as possible. Of course these meeting places should be in homes which are safe, secure, not with unruly children, operated by people who are not drunken, or doing the work for greed.
These verses, the whole "title" of bishop or elder are really all about having home meetings for Christians, run by people who are qualified---but many houses of God. Notice how he says there are some who have been evil and "subverted whole houses".
Part of the operation of Christian leaders is to release other leaders--in fact to qualify "any" who can meet these simple requirements.