Bishops/Elders

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

- 1 Peter 2:12

In the course of church history, several models for church organization have emerged. Two of the most prominent are the episcopal model and the presbyterian model. Under the episcopal model, churches are subservient ultimately to bishops/elders who themselves are subject to bishops/elders in even higher authority. This model is practiced prominently in the Roman Catholic Church where one bishop, the Bishop of Rome, is above all of the others.

A second prominent model is of the presbyterian variety. Under this model of church government, individual congregations submit themselves to a plurality of elders who in turn submit themselves in some cases to other groups of elders (called “presbyteries”). Unlike the episcopal model, there is no single bishop at the top; ultimately, authority remains with the local group of elders.

You may have noticed in the preceding paragraphs the many references to bishops/elders without separating the titles. This is because the Bible does not distinguish between these titles either. The Greek word for elder (presbuteros) and the word for bishop (episkopos) are used interchangeably in the New Testament to refer to the overseers of the church. These overseers are the men in the congregation invested with the responsibility of ruling, shepherding, and teaching the people of God.

Today’s passage does not refer directly to the office of overseer or elder. However, it is important because of its reference to the Day of Visitation. The original readers of Peter’s epistle would have been well aware of the Day of Visitation as it was a common way to refer to the final Day of Judgment that God will exact upon all creation. The word for visitation is actually a variation of the same root from which we get the word episkopos, or bishop.

This gives us much insight into the task of the bishop/elder. On the Day of Visitation, some will receive mercy because they are in Christ, but others will receive judgment because they do not know the Savior. The job of the elder is to prepare God’s people for that day, bringing restorative judgment to some in the form of church discipline so that they will not see eternal punishment and offering mercy and compassion to others as a taste of the eternal mercies to come in heaven.

Coram Deo

Do you delight in the authority given to elders to shepherd the people of God, or do you think that they have no business getting involved in the personal lives of God’s people? God has ordained the office of elder so that His people can be prepared for Christ’s return. Ask the Lord to convict and help you submit to your church elders.

Passages for Further Study

Num. 11:16–17
1 Tim. 3:1–7
Tit. 1:5–9
Heb. 13:17

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