Qualified elders have many duties to the church which Christ built, but there are some thing in which even an elder cannot do. Here are some areas in which elders have no authority.
In Relationship To Preaching
Elders of a local church surely have every right to request and even insist that a certain biblical doctrine be preached. A man who preaches should surely comply with their request, as long again, as their request is in harmony with Divine Writ. However, elders do not have a right to tell a preacher not to preach on a matter which is clearly God’s Word. Not admittedly, it could very well be that preaching a certain matter at a certain inappropriate time could do more harm than good. Elders surely have the right to make judgments in those area. However, elders do not have the right to tell a man not to preach on a matter which God quite obviously desires to be taught. Many a gospel preacher has gotten into “hot water” because he preached much to the disapproval of certain elders. Teaching on such matters as church discipline, qualifications of elders, marriage and divorce, etc. Paul said that he had not failed to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He later told Timothy to “preach the word, be instant in season and out of season . . . ” (2 Tim. 4:2). Preachers are not employed by a group of elders. Gospel preachers labor for the Lord and merely labor with elders. Elders need to be reminded that they too are workers for the Lord and must give answer to the “chief Shepherd” some day (1 Pet. 5:2) .
Over More Than The Local Church
Elders these days are over everything from benevolent societies to other congregations. One can search the law of Christ from one end to the other and find that elders have only authorization from God to be over one organization. In one’s search in the New Testament, one also finds that there is only one organization through which God works in the first place – the local church. 1 Peter 5:2 clearly limits the scope of the territory over which elders may rule to “the flock of God which is among you.” When men usurp God’s standard and place themselves over more than God intended, they are in essence telling God that He did not give them leadership over enough. Such human wisdom and greed for preeminence is the very thing God has sought to avoid through His Divine arrangement of limiting who and what elders may “have the rule over” (Heb. 13:17).
A Christian’s Personal Business
The responsibility of elders is to spiritually feed and lead God’s people. It is not their business to meddle in the personal lives of members, as long as saints are not in sin. What a Christian’s recreation, job, hobbies etc. are should not be the concern of others. However, when any action appears to be jeopardizing the soul of a Christian, it is then their concern. That is the concern of every Christian who loves and seeks the best for his brethren.
Changing God’s Word
No one, not even elders are allowed to alter God’s Word (1 Cor 4:6). They cannot add to it, take from it or have a private interpretation (Rev 22:18,19 f; 2 Pet 1:20). Elders cannot allow instrumental music just because they think it sounds good (Eph 5:19). Elders cannot allow women the right to speak in the assembly when God silenced them (1 Cor 14:33-40). Elders cannot make new days holy and call for other days of worship when the bible said the saints met each first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Elders are under the same restrictions as all Christians are when it comes to changing God’s Word. All such additions and subtractions are strictly forbidden, even for elders (Gal 1:6-9 f; 1 Pet 4:11)!
This list is by no means complete. There are other areas where elders simply do not have the oversight or power to get into. Godly elders duties are many without adding to their authority.
We are grateful to God for His wisdom and planning in giving us men who spiritually are seeking the well being of many. However, where there are the best laid plans, there always seems to be someone abusing them. May God bless those men who “rule well” (1 Tim. 5:17) and don’t go beyond what God has commanded them to do.