A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


Appendix 1: Follow You, Follow Me (Some thoughts on eldership in a mission context)

1-1 Pastoral care in mission churches || 1-2 All Christians Are Equal || 1-3 All Christians Are Responsible || 1-4 The Strategy Of Jesus || 1-5 Elders And Deacons || 1-6 Bishops And Elders || 1-7 Paul As The Model Elder || 1-8 The Servant Leader || Appendix: Elders And Romans 13


Appendix: Elders And Romans 13

The question has been asked as to how the words of Romans 13 can stand true, with their implication that Government ministers are God’s representatives, punishing sinners and upholding righteousness, and therefore should be obeyed. Many young brethren are pressured by such ministers to join armies and in other ways too, to break the law of Christ. How, for example, could those words have been true in Hitler’s Germany or Taliban-controlled Afghanistan?

First it must be remembered that there are other passages which do command our submission to human authorities: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.  Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Pet. 1:13-17). Whilst these words stand true, Peter himself also disobeyed human authority, with the comment that we must obey God rather than men. When there is a conflict in allegiance created, we must obey God and disobey anyone or any institution that commands us to disobey Him. And Paul likewise- the man who was jailed repeatedly for breaking the law: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Tit. 3:1,2).

But the Romans 13 passage goes much further, saying that these “ministers” are ordained by God on His behalf, and therefore must be obeyed. Logically, therefore, one would have to obey whatever they said. Otherwise we would always be having to decide whether or not a Government minister was really ordained in God’s behalf, or not. And Romans 13 seems to imply that all ministers are “ministers of God”. And so for this passage I wish to suggest that it specifically refers to submission to the elders and apostles of the first century ecclesia, empowered as they were with the miraculous Spirit gifts and direct revelations of wisdom and judgment.

There is great stress in Rom. 13 that these “powers” punish evil / sinfulness. This is just not true of human Governments. Yet it is appropriate if the “powers” spoken of here are within the ecclesia. So we will consider the passage phrase by phrase- and we find that almost every Greek noun or verb in it is used elsewhere in a specifically ecclesial context.

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (:1).

The Greek for “Higher” means ‘to excel, to be superior, better than, to surpass”. The same word occurs in Phil. 2:3: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves”. We may respect human ministers but we can scarcely esteem them better than ourselves in a spiritual sense. Yet authority held by ecclesial elders is earnt and not demanded- based on our respect of them as brethren more mature in Christ than we are.

For there is no power but of God:  the powers that be are ordained…

“Powers” is s.w. [same word] 2 Cor. 10:8 “our [apostolic] authority”; “the power which the Lord hath given me” (Paul; 2 Cor. 13:10). “Not because we [the apostles] have not power” (2 Thess. 3:9). Those powers are “ordained”- s.w. Acts 15:2 , where Paul and Barnabas were “determined”, s.w. “ordained”, to go to Jerusalem as representative elders; the family of Stephanas “addicted themselves”, literally ‘ordained themselves’, to the work of ministry in the ecclesia. Note how here as in Rom. 13, the ideas or being ordained to be a minister also occur together.

[ordained] of God

In the sense of 1 Cor. 12:28: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues”.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth… (:2)

Alexander “hath greatly withstood [s.w. resisteth] our words” (2 Tim. 4:15)- the words of elders like Paul. This doesn’t mean that elders are beyond any criticism- for the same Greek word is used of how Paul “withstood” Peter when he gave in to legalism and rejected grace (Gal. 2:11).

 the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror… (:2,3)

“Terror” translates the Greek word used for how “fear” came upon the ecclesia when the elders exercised their powers of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:43; 5:5,11). Initially, Corinth showed such “fear” towards Paul (2 Cor. 7:11,15). Elders should rebuke publically those who sin, that others in the ecclesia might “fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). The situation in the first century as far as the authorities of the world are concerned was actually the very opposite of what we read here in Romans. The same word occurs in 1 Pet. 3:14, telling the believers to endure persecution from the authorities, not to cave in to their demands, and “be not afraid of their fear”. Note that the Greek word for “afraid” occurs in Rom. 13:3- we should be “afraid” of the powers God has placed in the ecclesia. The fact the two words occur together in both Romans and Peter leads us to the conclusion: ‘Respect and “fear” those who are elders truly; but don’t fear / respect those who are elders in name only and are in reality far from grace”.

[not a terror] to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? (:3)

The Greek word for “afraid” is the same word in Gal. 2:12, which criticizes Peter for being “afraid” of the Jerusalem elders who were teaching legalism. Paul doesn’t mean we should fear an elder merely because they have the office of an elder; but we fear / respect those who are indeed spiritually “higher” than us.

do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

This certainly isn’t true of worldly authorities and rulers. They don’t praise righteousness, and they certainly didn’t in the first century. Yet the same word is used in 2 Cor. 8:18 of how Timothy was “praised” in the ecclesias. Good elders and healthy ecclesias will give praise / encouragement to those who deserve it.

For he is the minister of God (:4)

Gk. Diakonos, sometimes translated “deacon”. The word is used 31 times in the N.T., nearly always about ecclesial elders / ministers / servants. Paul speaks of himself and Timothy with the very same words: a “minister of God” (2 Cor. 6:4; 1 Thess. 3:2), who therefore ought to be listened to.

…to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain

This seems to be a reference to the ability which some elders had in the first century to execute physical affliction upon those who were disobedient. Peter smote Ananias and Sapphira dead. Paul seems to warn the Corinthians that he could “not spare” them if he convicted them of apostacy on his next visit. It  even seems that the sicknesses spoken of in James 5 are a direct result of sinful behaviour, and the gift of healing could be exercised by the elders in the case of repentance. Jesus Himself threatened immediate physical judgment, presumably through the hands of His representatives, upon some in the ecclesias of Rev. 2,3. Respect for elders is something taught throughout the N.T. letters- “remember them that have the rule over you” (Heb. 13:7). Here the writer clearly refers to elders in the ecclesia, for he bids his readers consider the end of those men’s faithful way of life and to follow their example. And yet they are described as ‘rulers’. It’s as if the point is that the real rulers of a first century believer were not the Roman administrators, but the ministers of God within their ecclesia. In illiterate ecclesias or those without access to the written scrolls containing God’s word, the elders would have played a more critical role in their relationship with God than in our age.

…for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also (:4-6)

This could be referring to the Lord’s well known example of paying tribute, and simply saying that the principle of submission to authority should extend out of the ecclesia, to all those who have power over us- so long as this does not contradict our conscience toward Christ. But it could also be a reference to some form of tithing or regular support of elders. There is historical evidence that this went on early in the Christian church.

“Be subject” uses a Greek word elsewhere used about submission to elders (1 Cor. 16:16). Note how the word occurs in 1 Cor. 14:34- the sisters were commanded “to be under obedience” to their men [Gk.]. I take this to refer to the need for those sisters to be submissive to their appointed elder. When we meet the word again in the command “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22,24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1,5), I take this as meaning that they should treat him as they would an elder- in that Paul assumes he will teach and inspire her as the elders ought to have been doing.

 for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing (:6)

The question arises, what thing?  If the reference is to their reflecting of God’s judgment against those who sin, this is simply not true of human Governments. The first century authorities were persecuting the Christians, fabricating untruth against them, killing them, and insisting that those who refused to accept Caesar as Lord be punished. The words can only be true of the ministers of God of whom we read elsewhere in the N.T.- i.e., the ecclesial elders.

The Greek phrase for “attending continually” is a catchphrase usually employed to describe the zealous pastoral care of the early apostles: “These all continued with one accord in prayer…continuing daily with one accord…and breaking bread…we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry [another Romans 13 idea!] of the word” (Acts 1:14; 2:46; 6:4). By using the phrase, Paul is undoubtedly pointing us back to the example of the early apostles / elders.

Render therefore to all their dues (:7)

The Greek for “dues” is found in Rom. 15:27 about the due which the Gentile believers owe to materially support their Jewish brethren. We have no ‘due’ to this world (Rom. 13:8 Gk., s.w.), but our due is to love each other in the brotherhood. But admittedly Paul does seem in the next verses to extend the principle of submission further than just within the ecclesia. In the same way as elders should only be respected if they had earnt that respect, and were leading brethren in the way of Christ, so too the authorities of the world should only be followed insofar as they did not lead believers into disobedience to Christ: “…tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (:8-10).