Elders in the Early Church
Sabbath School Lesson 2017 Quarter 2 Lesson 7 Sunday
So, let’s revisit the history and context of who Peter is addressing here in his letter, and what is happening at the time. These are brand new churches, the apostles are evangelizing like crazy, the Holy Spirit is moving, new members and new churches are being added all the time, and the needs became overwhelming pretty quickly.
So this rapid growth is a great problem to have – lots of churches would love to be able to say, “man, we just have too much growth…we are just adding too many members.” But the early church rapidly outgrew the apostle’s ability to manage it effectively, and there were logistical issues, growing pains, and a real need for more defined structure in the organization.
They had multiple ethnicities, cultures, nationalities coming together…but each with significant differences in traditions, beliefs, and practices (sound familiar?)…in fact, this first controversy or issue that arose was based on one group’s perception that they were being discriminated against by the other groups.
So these first elders were selected and ordained to handle some of the administrative, logistical, and organizational needs of the new churches, so that those who were preaching and evangelizing, and spreading the gospel would not be sidetracked or hindered by those tasks that were not the best use of their time or skills.
These elders were given many different roles in early Christianity – they helped establish more structure in their local congregations. And since many were already leaders of their local communities, they sometimes acted as teachers, as preachers, and they ensured that the needs and well-being of their communities were being met.
In the teachers section, there is actually a distinction made between the roles of deacons and elders. Although the apostles were the early church’s first leaders, Acts 6:1-6 describes the earliest attempt to draft additional leaders to share the organizational and structural responsibilities more effectively. These men were later called deacons, which mean those who minister to the needs of others. Subsequently, the apostles also found a need to appoint spiritual leaders in each church congregation and these men were known as elders, literally, older men of age and experience. The apostles were itinerant (traveling/roving) leaders, while the elders were local church leaders, and the deacons helped provide organizational and administrative support.
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