In your first issue of Antithesis, Dr. Greg Bahnsen states: "It is in the essentials of presbyterian government, found today in various Reformed churches, that we find the above Biblical points coming to their best expression." (For the Record, p. 58). I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, especially in its caution, i.e., "the essentials" of presbyterian government are praised, not their every codicil. Leaving aside the traditional wisdom to "leave well-enough alone," and with the highest regard for "the essentials" of the Reformed position, I would like to point out an area of presbyterian government, which, though minor, does not have the sanction of Scripture. The Presbyterian position holds that elders must be elected by the congregation. While I believe that this is a permissible method under certain circumstances, it is not required by Scripture, and in many cases may not be desirable.
In this passage we are told that the apostles asked the church to "select from among [them] men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom," whom they could place in charge of the distribution of food to the Hellenistic widows. It is generally assumed that the seven were deacons, although the text does not specify that office or any other. All we know for certain is that the men were placed in charge of the distribution of material goods.
The fact that Philip and Stephen later performed other functions (baptizing in the one case and generally fulfilling the office of a preacher, or perhaps a prophet, in the other) may indicate that these men had other gifts and/or offices, but does not in any way indicate that their appointment to "office" is recorded in Acts 6. On the contrary, we cannot argue that their preaching and baptizing is the proper fulfillment of their appointment to wait tables!
It is important to note what we cannot deduce from this passage. (1) We cannot deduce that church officers are appointed with the will of the congregation because we do not know if the seven were appointed to any church "office" in Acts 6. They were appointed to wait tables, and no office is specified. While the traditional wisdom is that they were appointed deacons, the text does not specify, and the Scriptures nowhere limit the office of deacon to the ministry of material goods, or specify such a function. (2) Even if we assume these men were appointed to the office of deacon, we cannot transfer a protocol from this passage, on the alleged appointment of deacons, to the appointment of elders. The apostles made a clear distinction in kind between the ministry of food and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2). Given this distinction, where do we get the right to use Acts 6 as a model for the election of an entirely different form of ministry? It would be a very dangerous form of interpretation to assume that these men were appointed deacons, to which the text gives no testimony, and then assume that the same procedure applies to elders, who minister to spiritual rather than to material needs.
I Corinthians 16
Yet Acts 6 is not the only passage that relates to the ministry of material goods. We have another example of the selection of men for such ministry in I Corinthians16:3. There Paul tells the church that he intends to carry the Corinthian church's gift for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem with "whomever you may approve." Acts 6 and I Corinthians 16 show a pattern: the distribution of material goods is to be managed by representatives of those who give. This only makes sense, since it is consistent with a belief in private property and voluntary giving. If I wish to give over and above my tithe (which belongs to God and is to be managed by His officers), it is my prerogative to administrate those monies, i.e., my gifts of charity, as I see fit, and to place whomever I wish in charge of them. (See, e.g., Acts 5.) This is the message of Acts 6 and 1 Corinthians 16. It also conforms with reason.
This passage is often cited in defense of the election of elders. The English Bible tells us that "they," presumably Paul and Barnabas, "had appointed elders for them in every city." It is claimed that the word translated "appoint" implies "by show of hands," i.e., by election. Thus says Calvin. Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 3, 15. So, it is presumed, that the appointment of elders follows the same lines as the appointment of the seven.
There are several problems with Calvin's interpretation of Acts 14:23. First, it is not so clear that the word actually means "appoint by election." Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament specifically disclaims this meaning in Acts 14:23. "[T]he presbyters in Lycaonia and Pisidia were not chosen by the congregations....This does not involve a choice by the group; here the word means appoint, install." This is a lexical question that far surpasses my knowledge of Greek, but it ought to be noted that competent scholars disagree on the meaning of the word in this verse. We should be careful not to build a doctrine on a questionable reading of one verse.
Second, even if the word does mean appoint by election we cannot, on that basis alone, infer a congregational vote. The phrase "appoint by election" does not specify who is voting. It could easily be the apostles, or in the context of our local churches, the Session that votes. The text, even given Calvin's reading of "appoint," does not specify who votes. On the contrary, I think that reason argues against a congregational vote. It seems incredible to believe that the apostles would entrust to brand new converts, many of whom were just recently snatched from paganism, the awesome responsibility of electing their own spiritual leaders.
Third, Acts 14:23 is not the only verse on the appointment of elders. If we wish to decide who does the voting in Acts 14:23, assuming Calvin's reading for the sake of argument, we need to consult a passage that forces one interpretation or another. For instance, if the "appointing body" were composed of only one man and there was still an indication of a vote, we could be relatively certain that it was the congregation who voted. However, in Titus 1:5 we read Paul's command to Titus to "appoint elders in every city, as I directed you." The word translated "appoint" here is an entirely different word and carries no connotation of election whatsoever. If the congregation were, as Calvin would say, the "voting body," we would expect to see the same word in Titus as we see in Acts 14:23. Its absence here pokes a big hole in the traditional Presbyterian interpretation. It seems clear to me that if "appoint" in Acts 14:23 does in fact mean "by election," it means "by the election of the apostles," and not "by the election of the congregation." This reading accords with the Titus 1:5 passage.
Fourth, allowing the congregation a vote in appointing officers does not take into account the difference in kind between the ministry of what belongs to men, i.e., material goods above and beyond the tithe, and the ministry of what belongs to God, i.e., His word. Men have every right to manage the disbursement of their own funds. Men have no right to tell God how to manage His church.
Fifth, election by the congregation has severe practical problems. Unlike virtually any decision of the Session, there is no appeal from a congregational vote. If the congregation votes down a candidate for unscriptural reasons, shouldn't there at least be an appeal process? (Rather, I say, have the elders appoint the men, and the congregation can appeal their decision to Presbytery if they see fit.) Further, the congregation of your average Presbyterian church is a hodgepodge of doctrinal persuasions. How are we to entrust the discernment of qualities such as "holding fast the faithful word that is in accordance with the teaching that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" to such (Titus 1:9)? I say it is unreasonable to do so, and God never intended it so. The elders are to judge the qualification of candidates and, with a majority vote of the Session, appoint them.
It seems clear to me that the biblical record supports the installment of elders by the judgment of the Session and the selection of men to administer material goods in whatever way the people desire. This accords with Scripture and with reason.
Mr. Krembiel feels that in most cases, the Session is best qualified to make appointment of new elders for the congregation. My article spoke of a two-step procedure in the selection of elders: certification of candidates by the governing board of elders and selection by the congregation of those men to whom they are willing to submit. How does Scripture direct us in the selection of congregational officers? The only passage which seems to answer that question in any detail is Acts 6 (the selection of original deacons), and accordingly, it is taken as the divinely approved paradigm for all church officers, despite Mr. Krembiel's resistance to that idea.
Mr. Krembiel first denies that Acts 6 deals with the office of deacon because the passage does not "specify" (explicitly mention?) that office as such. This is a weak argument. What the passage describes certainly has the characteristics of an office (e.g., election, approval, authority), and the function of this corresponds to what Scripture teaches to be a main function of deacons. Indeed, the very word (in verb form) is found in verse 2. If something waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, we should take it to be a duck; so it is with identifying deacons in Acts 6.
Mr. Krembiel secondly denies that the appointment of deacons in Acts 6 can be transferred as a protocol to the appointment of elders. His reasons are dubious, if not also theologically suspect. He resists applying the procedure for deacons to elders because his method of distinguishing between the offices of elder and deacon is to draw a hard and fast dichotomy between the realms dealt with by the two offices -- a categorical contrast between the essential kind of things that pertain to the two offices. They are so different, according to him, that a procedure for selecting the one kind of officer would not at all be appropriate for the other. In particular, he divides the work of the elders and deacons sharply into "spiritual" and "material" needs -- between what "belongs to God" and what "belongs to men" -- within the work of the church. This dichotomy is not supported by Scripture and is artificial. The offerings given to the church and used by the deacons -- whether from tithes or not -- just as much "belong to God" as the word of God handled by the elders. Ministering to the "material" needs of hurting brethren is just as surely a "spiritual" duty and benefit as is sharing Scripture with them.
If the false antithesis set up by Mr. Krembiel between the offices of elder and deacon is corrected, he loses his rationale for refusing to apply the procedure for selecting deacons to the selection of elders. I would argue that they both belong to the class of continuing church offices and, therefore, should have the one text which specifies a selection procedure applied to them both (in the absence of any Biblically based reason to the contrary). The authority exercised by the elders under Christ is very weighty indeed: the "power of the keys of the kingdom." Placing oneself under such authority by joining a church is a serious matter, one that is done voluntarily and can no more be compelled than can a profession of faith. Mr. Krembiel's preferred method of appointing elders (by those who are already elders) is well intentioned, but allows for the abusive possibility that the congregation will be ruled by some men against its will (involuntarily). Presbyterians have always opposed such potential tyranny -- as well as the actual tyranny experienced under Rome -- within the church of Christ.