Do We Need To Use the Titles “Elder” and “Deacon”?


Do we need to use the titles “elder” and “deacon”? While the titles “elder” and “deacon” are not essential to the church’s ministry, there are several good reasons why churches should use these biblical titles.

First, it demonstrates that Scripture is our authority, not human wisdom. Using scriptural titles demonstrates that we are following God’s directions, not taking it upon ourselves to decide what the church’s leadership structure should be. God has provided the church with a basic structure that we should closely follow. To stray from that structure, or to decide that we don’t need to call our leaders what Scripture calls them, is to say that we know better than God.

Second, it helps the congregation to know what to expect from the leadership. When a church uses the terms “elder” and “deacon” like the Bible does, a church member can easily look to the Scripture to see their “job descriptions.” They can look to Scripture and know exactly what to expect from their leaders.

Third, it holds leaders to biblical qualifications. There are no biblical qualifications for trustees, council members, “leadership teams,” or other titles of our devising. There are, however, biblical qualifications for elders and deacons. Using the biblical terms for these offices is necessary in order to ensure that the biblical standards for leadership are being upheld. This is especially important in the case of elders, who must be able to teach God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:2). It immensely benefits the church when those who oversee the church’s affairs have a solid grasp on Scripture and are able to teach Scripture. In this way the church will be consistently, practically shaped by God’s Word, not by human wisdom.

Benjamin Merkle

Benjamin Merkle is a professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

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