APT TO TEACH WHAT?
T. PIERCE BROWN
A few minutes ago, a well-known brother and I were discussing some of the wonderful elderships we have known, and he suggested that it would be a good thing for elders to get many of the retired preachers who are now available in many congregations, to serve as elders, for their knowledge, background and experience could be an invaluable help. That made me think of writing an article relating to the subject. Paul says in 1 Tim. 3:2 that one of the qualifications of the elders is that he be “apt to teach.” In some of the congregations I have served, I had to ask the question, “Apt to teach what?”
Many years ago one of the elders where I was preaching asked me very seriously, “Why don’t we use instrumental music in the worship?” Not having learned the fine art of diplomacy nor having attained the suave demeanor that only comes after years of practice, I said, “I don’t know why you do not. It is probably because you are too stingy to buy a piano. But I do not because I do not have any Bible authority for it!”
I wondered how he got to be an “elder” in the first place, and he told me that he had been appointed by a great Evangelist and Bible teacher who had been there in a gospel meeting. It sounded as if the preacher had come by and established the church and, not wanting to leave it without leadership, sort of arbitrarily appointed this fine man to the office! He did not realize he was still leaving it without leadership! Some years later the thought occurred to me, “With that kind of leadership, no wonder they hired me!”
On another occasion, I preached for a congregation where I discovered that one of the “elders” was a premillenial Anglo-Israelite!! When I found out about it, I made a few pertinent or impertinent remarks, both publicly to the congregation and privately to the eldership, which resulted in some unusual things. He left before I did and the congregation did not split!
But the point of this article is that I would like to recommend to all churches, with or without elders, that as they go through the process of selecting elders, one more little step be added to make sure the elders are not only apt to teach, but apt to teach the truth. Jesus said in John 8:32, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I feel sure that a proper knowledge of the truth would have made us free from so many of the problems that have plagued the church over the years.
In almost every congregation with which I have worked over the last 45 years, as we would get ready to select additional elders, I would suggest that we hand out to every member a list of the qualifications that Paul laid out in Timothy and Titus, and that they list those men whom they recommended that had those qualifications. Even if your congregation or eldership does not believe in the principle of Acts 6:3 that the group “look out from among yourselves” qualified men who may be appointed to the work, but have a sort of self-perpetuating “board” which suggests other men to be selected to the “board,” the following suggestions are still worth noting.
Each person who suggests a name for the eldership, whether it be one of the elders who is doing the suggesting or simply a member of the congregation, tell him that you have in mind suggesting him as an elder, but before you do, you would like to hand him a list of questions you would like to have him answer. Have on that list a few simple things that you assume that he knows, such as “What is wrong, if anything, with the use of instrumental music in worship?” Or even, “Who preached the first gospel sermon?” Or, “What particular verses do I need to know to tell a person what he must do to be saved?” Or one or more questions relating to his attitudes about various things such as “Is `social drinking'(or maybe even a non-social snort from time to time) acceptable?”
If the elders have the right and responsibility (and they do) to ask the preacher what is his stand on any question, and check his Bible knowledge and aptness to teach and/or preach, and if they have the same right and responsibility to so screen their Bible school teachers (which is probably NOT done in most cases), they certainly have the same, or greater, responsibility to do so in the case of appointing a man to the eldership. If we had a few brave leaders who would lead off in such a bold and unorthodox move, we might get a custom started that would prevent some of the ungodly messes that happen all over the world because of leaders who are ignorant of the most basic knowledge of God’s word.
When I was the preacher, educational director, personal work director and general flunky, I had to (in order to live with my conscience) move some teachers out of the teaching staff who had been “teaching” (holding classes) for many years, but were unable to pass a simple exam on basic Bible knowledge, much less on the arts of pedagogy. I have a sad feeling that many would not get into the eldership if we began to practice the same kind of practical application of finding out whether or not they met the most basic requirements of being “apt to teach.” It may be argued that a man does not have to be “apt to teach a class in a public way” in order to be qualified, but it surely could not be successfully argued that he was “apt to teach” if he did not even know WHAT to teach!
President Reagan has suggested a “drug testing” program for federal workers. At the risk of doing violence to the English language, I might suggest that we find out who has been, or prevent others from being, “drug” into the office of the eldership!