Greetings to the Father, Son, Spirit, angels and saints in Christ. Today we will continue to examine the roles of the elders in the early church. We understand from the scripture that the elders were responsible for administration as well as laboring in the word and doctrine. The role of elder was filled by evangelists (e.g. Phillip), prophets (e.g. Ananias), pastors (Saul and Barnabas), teachers (Saul and Barnabas) and apostles (e.g. Peter). We also discovered that one individual could carry out several roles as the need arose. For example, Stephen and Phillip were both administrators and evangelists. Additionally, the Holy Spirit shows us by the example of Saul and Barnabas, that one individual could fulfill more than one role in laboring in the word and doctrine. To date, we saw that both Saul and Barnabas switched between the roles of evangelist, pastor, teacher as the need arose. This is not contradictory to scripture since Jesus in His ministry filled all of these roles and we are exhorted to grow up into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ (Eph 4: 13). Whatever the role or roles, however, elders are people full of the Holy Ghost and who also demonstrate evidences of the fullness of the grace and power of God in their lives by the fruit of the spirit as well as by signs and wonders, even after the example set in the early church by the Holy Ghost.

ELDERS RESOLVE DOCTRINAL ISSUES/EARNESTLY CONTEND FOR THE FAITH

Conflict arose in the early church when certain men came down from Judea to Antioch and taught the gentile believers that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas opposed this teaching, to the extent that the scriptures said that they had “no small dissension and disputation” with teachers of this false doctrine (Acts 15: 2). Paul (also Saul – Acts 13: 9) and Barnabas had to earnestly contend for the faith as overseers of the flock (remember that they had started new churches and had ordained elders in various cities). They agreed to go up to Jerusalem with these teachers in order to resolve the issue with the apostles and elders (Acts 15: 2). The issue was resolved due to the major contributions made by Apostle Peter on the issue of the salvation of the gentiles after he had received a personal revelation as well as through Paul’s and Barnabas’ report on the work of the Lord among the gentiles (Acts 15: 7-12). Apostle James arose to bring a wonderful conclusion to the matter. He ended the conflict in a very peaceful manner by reminding the brethren that it was God’s will for all men to be saved through faith and that they should not trouble the gentiles on the issue of circumcision, but require them only to abstain from idol worship, from fornication and also to refrain from eating strangled meat and blood (Acts 15: 13- 21. James’ reference to the tabernacle of David is no mistake because David’s tabernacle was a place which incorporated worship and spiritual revelation, going beyond the norms and rituals of the sacrifices for sin. As a result of the Spirit of wisdom in Apostle James, the apostles, elders and brethren sent letters back to the gentile believers giving the wonderful solution to the problem (Acts 15: 22- 29).

This scripture, in my opinion, provides major guidelines to the elders of the modern day church since our understanding of scriptures are contested with false religious teachings that contradict scriptural truths OR our own teachings are not fully representative of all the dimensions of scriptural truth. At times our own religious doctrines hold some measure of truth but at times do not fully lead people into all truth. For example, I grew up in a well respected international Pentecostal organization, one of the earliest to be formed in the USA. Early members were called “holy rollers” in the inception, because the organization grew out of people who earnestly sought the Lord and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (often accompanied by rolling on the floor) and taught the life style of holiness. One of the teachings was that the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues. This was chiefly emphasized and until recently, this raised questions in my mind, when one person that I knew showed evidence of the infilling by prophesying on a regular basis, after the manner of Peter. My belief was confounded because this individual (my brother) did not receive the gift of tongues until a long time after. Furthermore, the book of Acts did not always document the evidence of speaking in tongues every time believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. I know now that this teaching is just a partial understanding of one portion of Acts 2 and does not take Joel’s prophesy into full consideration as well as the other events of Acts 2. This is why we need spiritual revelation in the modern church, because God’s truth is not exhaustive. Paul in Rom 11: 33 exclaimed about “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God”, His “unsearchable…judgments” and His ways that are “past finding out”. I personally believe that God has so much information to reveal to our spirits on every truth of scripture, that we will continually discover new truth to add to known truth as long as we live. How else will we move from “glory to glory?”

ELDERS NEED TO RECEIVE SPIRITUAL REVELATION THROUGH PRAYER AND FASTING

Our elders who labor in the word and doctrine therefore need to spend time in the word and prayer in order to receive the visions and revelations from the Lord that will bring to light the truths of scripture. As we saw in Acts 15, there was agreement on the issue in the mouths of three or more witnesses – Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James. They collectively filled the roles of apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and pastors, who as Paul taught, are set in the church to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4: 11, 12). This is what is meant by coming into the unity of the faith (Eph 4: 13). Each of these men had received personal revelation from the Lord on the issue of the salvation of the gentiles and subsequent infilling with the Holy Spirit. The brethren in the Jerusalem church responded positively to the collective wisdom of the Lord in them. There are several implications here for the modern church. If elders who should be laboring in the word and doctrine are spending the majority of their time on jobs requiring a major contribution of their time, this allows less time to hear from the Lord. Even in the church itself, if the elder works full time in ministry yet spends a greater proportion of time on administrative matters, the word of God will not prevail. Acts 2: 7 says that “the word of God increased” when the apostles relinquished the administration of the food pantry to other persons. Apart from the salvation of souls, the word of God increases when we produce believers who measure up to the fullness of Christ. This is the chief role for those who minister in the word and doctrine as taught in Eph 4: 11-15. In order for the elders to achieve this outcome, then we must know Him and His truth by personal revelation. When I say know Him, I believe that we must know Him by personal revelation, like the disciples (later called the apostles), knew Him when they spent three years in His presence. We must know Him like Ananias, Paul and Stephen did. I believe that the Lord can become as real to us as our family members are real to us. We can know Him, not in an abstract way, but know His heart, hear Him speaking to us. I believe that all believers know the Lord’s voice, but there is a dimension of revelation that takes us from “Glory to glory” in the knowledge of Christ. This is why Paul told the Ephesians (and us) that “God…may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know…” (Eph 1: 17, 18).

ISSUES OF SPIRITUAL REVELATION AND FEAR OF PEOPLE

I just want to return to the conflict related to the circumcision of the gentile believers in order to show the importance of spiritual revelation. Paul spoke to the Galatians on the issue of the “gospel which I preach among the gentiles” (Gal 2: 2). This gospel was that salvation was by faith, after the example of Abraham. The crux of the matter is that Abraham believed God and was counted as righteous and that Christ was the seed of Abraham in whom all men would be saved if they believe (Gal 3). Paul told the gentiles that he had received this gospel by revelation from the Lord (Gal 1: 11, 12) and therefore would not give way to false teachers (Gal 2: 4, 5). This is the wonderful benefit of being fully convinced of truth that the Lord Himself explains to you. Paul explained that Peter was the central catalyst of the issue of the circumcision of the gentiles because of his hypocritical behavior (Gal 2: 11- 21). Is it possible for elders to be hypocritical even after having received personal revelation? Yes it is. Peter had received instructions from the Lord on the salvation and infilling of the gentiles, yet due to his fear of the Jewish believers, he did not walk “uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (Gal 14). This is a fascinating scripture to me, because it involves high level hypocrisy in a chief elder of the early church (to the Jews) as well as the issue of the rebuke of an elder by another elder. The admonition of the Lord to elders is that we should be careful to walk in the truth that is revealed to us in scriptures as well as in the understanding in that truth received by personal revelation. Peter was so influential in his actions that he even caused other elders to become carried away in the same behavior.

Paul’s revelation tells us that hypocrisy among the chief pillars, like Peter, can be perpetrated in other leaders. Hypocrisy in leaders will cause conflict among brethren. For example, if you teach holiness and modest dress, why should leaders have their cleavages showing? If elders teach us about our connections, why would the males connect with female members in the church or with members whose conduct is questionable or even with those who are using you to get ahead? Some believers, for example, tell other members about their connections with church leaders, causing questions and confusion in their minds. They may say things like, I launched my business and did so and so’ wardrobe, I have so and so’s cell number, pastor said he wants to see me. Meantime, the other believers wonder what is up, why the apparent favoritism? Mind you, these connections have no apparent spiritual value, but are of a social and friendship nature, not necessarily beneficial. The other members may never say anything, but they lose confidence and rebel against leadership in insidious ways like failing to pay tithes to the particular church (however detrimental this may be). Elders must know the context in which they live and work and the spirits that are in the church. Americans, for example, value the buddy system and appear to live by systems of cliques and groups. This is an element of the spirit of America that has been revealed to me through hard personal experience since coming to this country. Are the American church leaders aware that this is a spirit that has crept into the church? How much are you involved in it even though you are aware of it? Do you know of the impact of your personal conduct on the believers? This is a yoke that needs to be broken in the name of the Lord. I feel that I should end here although I had planned to deal with ministry outside of the local church as well as Elders Judas and Silas. God bless you richly.

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