Guest Post by Cris Dickason

The talk about how much scriptural and doctrinal/confessional knowledge and commitment are expected of REs as well as TEs got me wondering. It is purely anecdotal, but I get the impression that term-elders are more prevalent in the PCA than “life-term” elders (whatever non-term elders are called). I wonder if in terms of doctrinal/confessional stability, presbyterial stability (oversight of the gateway into the ministry of TE’s), are term-elders a little bit of a liability? Does a revolving door on the office of RE hinder rather than help a Church? Phrasing it that way allows one to consider implications at the local church level, the regional/presbytery level ans well as the church-wide level.

In practice I’ve been on both sides of the issue. When at the Canadian-American Reformed Church in Blue Bell, PA, I did terms as both elder and deacon. Actually, the Church was always small enough (sometimes there was only 1 deacon – makes for boring deaconal meetings), the deacon was added to the consistory, making the deacon basically an RE with a deaconal focus. Now I am back in the OPC and am an elder (not a term elder) at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, PA.

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12 Comments

  1. Mary Kathryn said,

    June 1, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Personally, I prefer life elder commitments. I think it’s possible that both members and elders might take their duties less seriously, if they are short-term. Certainly at the presbytery level, having disparity b/t REs and TEs in this matter, gives the REs less continuity and creates an imbalance there. Either way, much more care should be taken in their election.

  2. June 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    The Board of Deacon has unanimously decided…

  3. greenbaggins said,

    June 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I agree completely, Mary. I would also add this (a point made by Tim Witmer): a reason often given for term eldership is that we need to make sure that “bad” elders rotate off. Of course, in addition to getting rid of good elders also, what are we saying about the gifts and calling of God? Aren’t we saying that God could give someone the gifts of being an elder, and then that person could lose them? Even a person who doesn’t exercise his talent will not lose it (witness the wicked servant who didn’t use his talent: he still had it at the end).

  4. Cris Dickason said,

    June 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Liability of term elders: an expectation can develop that most of the men in a church are supposed to “get a turn” at being on the session. That is completely outside the scope of determining who is fit for office.*

    Liability of term elders: one can not simply turn off at will the shepherd’s heart/mind, just because the term is up. You create a group of unemployed shepherds, with limited backing for the use of their gifts, since they could be seen to compete with the current members of the session.

    Liability of life-tenured elders: Fatigue! Ruling elders should be allowed to take a sabbatical of some kind if needed. Either excuse them from special committee assignments, shuffle the Visitation lists, etc.

    Others? Maybe pros & cons is better than “liabilities”?

    *Fitness for office is a gift from the Lord, and also a call to which the elder (or deacon) needs to apply himself. I’m not saying I’ve “arrived” as an elder and have it all together.

  5. Tom Troxell said,

    June 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve known of term elders who rotated off Session never to be re-elected.They continued to be recognized as an elder but had no real authority and they were never asked/required to demit (or be divested) the same was a TE might be required to demit/be divested, never having a call, yet remaining on the role of Presbytery. These elders later caused problems of one sort or another.

  6. Jeff Cagle said,

    June 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Liability of life-tenured elders and deacons: control.

    A particular elder can become the go-to guy for X area of ministry. He asserts control over, say, the CE committee … now and until he dies OR is painfully pushed out OR graciously gives way to someone else.

  7. BJ Mora said,

    June 1, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    I’m not speaking from personal experience as an elder but as an inactive deacon, ordained at my previous church as “lifetime” service (OPC BCO XXV.2).
    I would guess that smaller churches, having fewer men to choose from, would tend to appoint officers for lifetime service.
    In the OPC, when “limited term” officers are ordained, they do not “lose” their office but may be commissioned by their Session or higher bodies to other appropriate duties.

  8. andrew said,

    June 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Term-elder:

    pro – allows the easier use of gifted younger men. With life elders you either keep increasing the size of session (too unwieldy?) or wait for elders to die off.

    con: elections can increase tension and division in a church, especially if there is some underlying factions, or disagreements. more elections = more falling outs

  9. David Reece said,

    June 1, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    I think the idea of term elder is a bad idea, but I think the real problem arises from the practical use of three offices in the church.

    The Bible has two continuing offices, elder and deacon. Every elder is a teaching elder or he is no elder at all. Does not the scripture say that an elder must be apt to teach and also a teacher of sound doctrine?

    All elders should be equal in office. Obviously the men in office will be unequal in ability, but no two men are equal in ability.

    for more information please read the article at the following link: http://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=83

  10. June 1, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Interesting post and discussion. BCO is clear that ruling elder is a perpetual office. So, even if not on a Session, an RE still serves in any of a number of ways. I see strengths in both sides.

    During my military years, if elders didn’t rotate off of Sessions, I could not have ever served on a Session during my active duty career. Additionally, REs here like the break that they get rotating off of the Session for a few years. We also have provision for continuing on the Session beyond a normal term.

    I’d say that lifetime Session membership works better in less transient areas, whereas dynamic areas like the DC area need provision for elders to serve as they move through. The nature of the calling and office don’t change either way.

  11. June 1, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Just as an aside, there are some men (and congregation members) who are under the impression that, if a man becomes a deacon, he can – if he’s a good boy and keeps his nose clean – “step up” to the office of ruling elder, as if the office of deacon was not a legitimate office but merely a stepping stone to something “better.” In my opinion, more Reformed people need to be informed that the office of deacon is of equal standing with the office of elder. They are separate but equal offices, as offices, in the church.

  12. michael said,

    June 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    For me, if we are going to rank one office over or below another, the highest rank in the Church is that of the “True Believer”, from the youngest among us to the oldest!

    All other gifts and callings are lessor services to this High Holy Calling and Election that all that have been called and chosen before the foundation of the world is to attain to; and to these gifts and callings we bear before the brethren we ought to pray that with these gifts and callings this highest of all the free gifts and callings and elections one can attain making sure the full Grace of God strengthens that heart and soul all the while holding the True doctrines of Faith before an unbelieving and sinning world and especially before believers!

    The question then is this based on the admonition from Paul and James:

    1Ti 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.

    Jas 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

    How is it that the lessor services are held to a strictness more severe?

    Whether or not we hold an office in the Church or world, we ought to all tremble at His Word!

    And then there is this:

    1Co 12:31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

    1Co 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

    Rev_19:10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

    So, I conclude the highest and best work the highest and best gift can do is testify to the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and put to death the deeds of the flesh putting no confidence in that flesh in all humility in the Spirit.


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