Saturday, May 2, 2009

5/3- Elders in the Church

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:23). The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. (Titus 1:5)

Calvin: There are four orders of office instituted by our Lord for the government of his church. First pastors; then doctors; then elders; and fourth deacons. Hence if we will have a church well ordered and maintained, we will do well to observe this form of government. (Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances 1541). But we know that church organization admits, nay requires, according to the varying condition of the times, various changes.(IV.7.17)

When Calvin was asked to come back to Geneva one of the first things he did was begin a consistory (session) of elders to help him run the church. He saw this not only as a biblical form of government, but the best available form. However, he also noted that time and circumstance sometimes warranted changes in the form of government. Calvin allowed congregational or Episcopal government of churches, but preferred representative (Presbyterian) form.
Dr. John Leith said this about Calvin: “John Calvin gave more attention to polity than did any other major reformer.” He attributed this to his four-fold division of the Apostles Creed which outlined his institutes into four books. The last book was on the church, sacraments, and the state. “Calvin also came into a situation that had preaching but no church organization. The old had been rejected, but the new had not yet developed…He did not have responsibility for a polity for a province much less a nation.”
Calvin saw weakness in the Episcopal (bishop reigning). The pope of his day and previous centuries were basically corrupted by their power and office. He saw an advantage of having many advisors (“With many advisors plans succeed”). He had some problem with everyone voting on everything. This would allow the new convert to have just as much vote as the experienced, wise and godly believer.
Part of having faith is trusting those who lead us to make wise decisions. The command to honor father and mother also applied (in Calvin’s view) to honoring those over us in the faith. Part of devotion to God is to listen, respect those who are over us in the faith- our mentors, our disciplemakers. As the followers of our Lord listened to the disciples in the early church, so are we to listen to the elders. Paul used to say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
Prayer: Lord, give us grace to follow you. In following you, help us to see you working in the ones you have placed over us.

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