Addressing an important topic in local churches, this book is organized around forty questions: six on church offices in general; seven on background issues related to elders; seven on elders’ qualifications; eight on the plurality of elders; five on selecting, ordaining, praying, and removing of elders; and seven on the office of deacons. Between four and eight pages are devoted to each question, with five “reflection questions” at the end of each chapter.
Though some make a distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders, based on 1 Timothy 5:17, the author concludes that this distinction “cannot be adequately supported from Scripture” (p. 87). After discussing several views on the qualification “husband of one wife” for elders (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6), Merkle concludes that the best view is that it refers to “a husband’s faithfulness to his wife” (p. 128).
Though some suggest that Titus 1:6 means that all elders must be married and have children, Merkle writes that “these requirements merely reflect the common situation during the first century when most men were married and had children” (p. 134). Also he argues that the verse means the children should be faithful, not necessarily believers (ibid.).
Merkle also discusses reasons for and against appointing women to be elders. After devoting three chapters (questions 18–20) to this question, he concludes, “It is best that eldership in the church be limited to males” (p. 157). The question of plurality of elders is ably discussed on pages 161–65, in which he advocates a plurality.
Questions 29–33 address these issues: How should elders be selected? Should elders have terms or serve for life? Should elders be ordained? Should elders be paid? What should be done if an elder is caught in sin? Regarding ordaining elders Merkle writes, “Elders should be ‘ordained’ if by ordination we simply mean the public recognition of someone to a particular office and ministry. Perhaps it would be more appropriate, and biblical, however, to speak of their ‘appointment’ or ‘commission’ ” (p. 212).
Merkle is professor of New Testament at the Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary. This lucid work, based on his doctoral dissertation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will help pastors and church leaders think through these important leadership issues.
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