Serious reading today has to a large degree become a lost art. Since the office of Elder is primarily dependent on the self-read, and self-trained layman. This bids fare to become a serious matter with regard to the future welfare of the church. Already a common complaint for many consistories is that they are hard pressed to find competent men for the slate of nominees. No doubt the reason is not inability in most cases, but simply a lack of developing that latent ability through study and good reading.
Let us remember degeneration within the church or denomination will be controlled or accelerated to a large degree by the ability and qualifications of those who fill this kingly office. If the office is to be filled with men of insufficient knowledge, ability and background concerning the spiritual things, it will eventually bring on a creeping paralysis in the spiritual life of the church. The inevitable would take such a church down the same path as other churches or denominations before us, of whom it can no longer be said that they are sound of doctrine. Unless qualified men are placed in this important office that church or denomination will hasten the day when this office will degenerate from a kingly office in the service of the Master to a merely formalistic office. This becomes a gradual process of which there is no immediate awareness within that particular church or denomination.
Must Have Knowledge
When examining the duties of this office we can see why an Elder must have knowledge of the things spiritual if he is to serve the Lord honorably. An Elder must be knowledgeable so as to guard against the inroads of Modernism and Arminianism. The ruling Elders are appointed by Christ himself to rule the church and becomes mutually responsible with the teaching Elder for the welfare of individual souls and the church at large.
They must be able to judge the content of a sermon to determine its Reformed qualities. The Elder should be able to comfort the sick and sorrowing, plead with the wayward, and comfort and/or admonish the saints with the word of God, as the occasions demand. He must be apt to teach. He should understand the real purpose of and be able to properly conduct family visiting.
In order to perform these duties it is sensible to suppose that he is a man acquainted with and able to discuss the pertinent passages of scripture. He must know the doctrines of the church and be able to defend them. He must be thoroughly familiar with the contents and rules of church order. He must have more than a passing acquaintance with the catechism. In general he should be a man well read in the spiritual realm, otherwise it would be impossible to measure up to this Kingly office.
Furthermore, an Elder is required to sign the Formula of Subscription ‘To Defend the Reformed Doctrine and militate against any errors. In addition he must promise by implication publicly to perform all the aforesaid.” This can hardly be said ing is a lost art.
A New and Different Age
Why do we find a scarcity of quality men among us today? Simply because the younger men coming up today are the products of a new and different age. The laymen of yesteryear found life less complicated and spent evenings studying with Bible and Commentary or a religious book.
On the whole the laymen of a former day had more time to read and study. He could speak intelligently concerning the deeper truths of Scripture because he was not a stranger to them. He was also capable of debate on doctrinal subjects. By comparison, life today is extremely busy and complicated. There is much to occupy our time! Our business or workplace, the do it yourself projects, the sporting events, transporting our children to school, television, computers, etc. Little wonder with all these activities that one finds little time for serious study during the week.
Consequently the family altar is no longer in vogue. Often there is only time for hurried devotions at mealtime. The lack of attendance in many of our Men Societies indicates that there is hardly time for an hour of group Bible Study. Need we wonder why it is often difficult to find qualified men for the Kingly Office of Elder!
Examination Special Instruction
All this is not written to cast reflection on the ability of present Elders, many of whom no doubt are very capable. But what of the future?
The only reason given in the past for our failure to offer special training for Elders was that our constituency generally was quite well informed. Also that it might induce some to seek the office, who for other reasons might prove to be unsuitable for service. These objections are somewhat obsolete when one considers the present day situation. It would seem the time has come to re-evaluate our thinking under present day circumstances.
Mr. Dow R. Haan, Sr. is a member of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.