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Congregational Authority (Part 2)

2014.06.30 raised handsLast time I wrote, I gave the first of three points that demonstrate the authority of the congregation. Here is a second way that the Bible describes the congregation exercising authority.

(2) The congregation is involved in the selection and election of deacons and elders.

That deacons are selected by a congregation finds clear precedent in Scripture. When the first deacons were chosen,1 the apostles told the church in Jerusalem to “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (Acts 6:3). The congregation’s involvement was to select men that the apostles would approve for the needed ministry at hand.

The details of congregational involvement in the selection of elders is not as clear as the involvement in selecting deacons, but I believe there is enough evidence to present a plausible case that elders assumed their office by a means similar to deacons. For me, I come to this conclusion with two arguments.

First, the action of appointing in Acts 6:3 stems from kathistēmi (καθίστημι), the same word used by Paul when commanded Titus what to do with elders in the cities of Crete (Titus 1:5). Admittedly, Paul does not detail how to carry out the command, but if this terminological link could assume some details of process from Acts 6:3, there is evidence, albeit meager, to suggest that Titus led the churches in Crete to appoint elders in a manner similar to the deacons of Jerusalem in Acts 6:3.2

Second, along with Titus 1:5, I would add that Acts 14:23 could suggest congregational involvement in appointing elders as well. The word denoting the action of appointing is cheirotoneō (χειροτονέω), a word that can literally mean “to raise the hand.” This verb became synonymous with an appointment to office, such as the church appointment of an individual to the office of elder. It is not out of bounds to assume that some form of congregational vote could have taken place for the appointment of these elders.3

To summarize, albeit the details are scant and scattered, I believe the process of appointing deacons is clear in Acts 6. Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 give some clues that I judge to evidence a similar process of appointment for elders.

I should add a postscript that, in every one of these situations, apostolic authority is involved. The Twelve led the appointment of deacons (Acts 6), Paul commanded Titus to oversee the appointment of elders on Crete (Titus 1), and Paul and Barnabas led the appointment of the elders in their respective churches (Acts 14). I would suggest that, given the absence of apostles today, some type of leadership is helpful when a church goes through the appointment of elders or deacons, a leadership granted by the congregation. This leadership can manifest itself differently from one setting to the next, but it should at the least be guided by the Spirit and Word of God.


About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.

  1. This is a debated point. See Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 227. Merkle points out that some object to this conclusion because apostles were leading the church and not elders and because the seven are not explicitly identified as “deacons.” “Still,” he says, “Acts 6 does provide a pattern or paradigm that seems to have been continued in the early church.” []
  2. Cf. Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2012), pp. 95–96. []
  3. Ibid. []