Exploring Eldership: Starting with the Local Church

An exploration of New Testament eldership and church leadership should start in the New  Testament.  If we want to see what kind of leadership the local church should have, we should probably start by trying to define the local church.  My attempt is to get a basic idea of what the church is.  This is not an effort to define the various marks or functions of a local church.   

We get the English word, "church" from the Greek word, ekklesia.  Technically we first see that word in Matthew.  It comes up 3 times and is only used by Jesus.  Until Acts, we don't see it again.  In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says he will build his church.  I think this is big C Church. The universal Church, which is a collection of all local church and all Christians, living and passed away.  Then in Mathew 18:17 we find the other two uses of ekklesia in the gospels.  Jesus says if a brother has sinned against you (and you've already addressed it with him and after that brought other witnesses) then tell it to the church (ekklesia).   And if he won't listen to the ekklesia than there's a good chance the guy does not believe and live by the gospel, so treat him like a lost person.  (Meaning, change your expectations of him and keep sharing the gospel with him.) 

Technically, ekklesia has a wide range of meaning.  It can mean an assembly or a legislative assembly.   It can be a summoned body or a casual gathering of people.   A gathered group of people with shared beliefs is another way the word can be used. There are uses of ekklesia that suggest that it can refer to a gathered group of Christians.  Church is one of its meanings. Many of the New Testament uses point to the Universal Church.   

We see what looks as if it's the start of the New Testament Church in Acts 2:42-47.  This shows the reader what they were doing although there is no mention of the local church by the name of "church" yet.   Ekklesia (the word) first comes on the scene in Acts 5:11.  The word makes 23 appearances, 20 of which refer to either the local church (often in plural form) or the Universal Church.  Three uses of Ekklesia (all in Acts 19) refer to a non-Christian legal gathering.  A study for another time might include what the local church does.  What constitutes that a group of gathered Christians is or is not a church?  This, however, is not why I'm looking at ekklesia.  I'll come back to this. But first, let's look at the early understanding of the Greek word in question. 

The LXX is the short-hand for the Septuigent (which means 70).  The Septuagint is the first translation of the Hebrew Bible (and the Apocrypha).  This translation started some time about 275 years before Jesus was born.  It's helpful to see how the 70 translators understood Greek and Hebrew while doing the translation.  They used the word ekklesia a  couple hundred times.  Most of those uses were in regard to the Jewish congregation.

Here's why it matters. 

Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 are why a brief investigation of ekklesia seems like a helpful exploration.  In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas saw fit to appoint elders for the disciples in every church.  So the gathering of people following Jesus needed an elder or elders in each local gathering.  That sounds like leadership in the local church and an elder or elders are involved.   In Titus 1:5, Paul is writing to Titus to give him guidance and advice.  Paul said he left Titus in Crete to finish the work that Paul started (or put what remained into order).  While we do not see the specific mention of local churches, Paul does tell Titus that he needs to appoint elders in every town.  I can't imagine these elders were being appointed for anything but the local churches.  

Based on what we see in Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5, it seems there were churches in need of elders.  Maybe they didn't have elders before, but that's hard to prove from these Scriptures.  Could it be that Paul and Barnabas were elders?  Or maybe there were a limited amount of appointed elders in Crete by putting things in order meant finding more of elders.  No matter the case, Paul felt the ekklesia needed elders.  

What's the point?  It seems that according to the Bible, the local gatherings of believers needed an elder or elders at some point.  

* This article is part of a continuing series called, "Exploring Eldership."  Be on the lookout for additional articles on this journey.