Biblical EldershipWHEN RESEARCHING FOR MY Master’s degree, I referenced close to 1,000 books on various aspects of the church[1]. One of the few modern authors that impressed me with his Biblical approach was Alexander Strauch for his chapter on “The Interdependence of Local Churches” in Understanding the Church[2]. By that time he had already written Biblical Eldership but sadly, I did not have access to it, else I would have quoted from it extensively. At the 2015 CWM conference in Brisbane I saw, and acquired, a copy of Biblical Eldership from the CWM bookstore and so here are my opinions on this excellent book. In short, the book is a must read for all in leadership or who aspire to leadership.

In writing any book on church order and structure, the most difficult thing is sweeping aside the biases of man- made traditions of the past 2,000 years and returning to the purity of the text of the New Testament alone as the only source of information. Strauch does this extremely well and the book is entirely based on the Scriptures. He does not draw from any of the many traditions of the past 2,000 years. His own tradition is Plymouth (Open) Brethren, which, of any tradition, is the closest to Scripture[3], but this does not seem to colour his thinking at all. Not only is the book entirely based on Scripture, he examines in detail every single text of the New Testament that deals with, and even just touches on, elders. In my opinion there is no other more detailed and more complete examination on what the Bible says about elders in the New Testament church anywhere.

If there are any negatives then these would be the lack of a comprehensive index and the issue of repetition: The book has a detailed Scripture index as well as an index of authors quoted in the book. It does have a “General Index” but at 2.5 pages this is very superficial and not sufficient. However, these days that is easily overcome by using the “View Inside” facility of Amazon.com[4].

Repetition is a function of the way the material has been ordered in the book. In Parts 1, 2 and 4 (chapters 1-6, 14-15), the author deals with the subject topically, dividing the information into logical topics such as “Qualified Leadership” (Ch. 4) and “Servant Leadership” (Ch. 5). In Part 3 (chapters 7-13), he examines each Scripture in sequence from Acts through James. This “repetition” is not altogether a bad thing as it helps to look at the data from different perspectives. Also in Part 3 he goes into a lot more detail which he does not do in the topical sections. In looking at some of the reviews on Amazon.com (4.6 out of 5 stars), the only negative reviews seem to come from those who wish to defend a particular tradition or prejudice. These include those who want to see women in eldership, those who defend the clergy/laity divide and professional pastors, those who support boards of elders as political figureheads and/or preacher bosses or those who are invested in a democratic (congregational) model.

Obviously the book will irritate anyone who simply wants to perpetuate a tradition without examining such tradition against Scripture. However, for those who are committed to finding and implementing a “structure” that resembles that of the New Testament as close as possible, this is an invaluable resource. So if you are insecure about your ministry and method, don’t read this book – it will shake your ideas. If you want to base your ministry and the structure of your church on the Bible, your understanding will be incomplete without reading and absorbing this book. It is beyond any doubt the definitive book on eldership and church leadership.

Endnotes:

[1] The thesis was later converted to the book: Building Blocks of the Church – also available from CWM book store

[2] Joseph M Vogl, John J Fish III (Eds.) Understanding the Church. The Biblical Ideal for the 21st Century. Loizeaux. Neptune, NJ. 1999.

[3] Not that their view is perfect. For instance they sometimes have a skewed view of full-time elders but Strauch does not seem to hold this prejudice since he himself is full-time in “his” church in New Jersey. Another peculiarity of the Brethren is an almost universal rejection of formal theological training which is contradicted by the fact that the movement has produced some excellent theologians over the years.

If you find the book on Amazon and then “Look Inside”, you will find a search facility far more powerful than any indexing system. This search will produce the page numbers for all the occurrences of a word or even for a complete search string in the book

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