Blogging Through Acts: Duties of Elders

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. ~Acts 20:28

“There is nothing more moving in the records of human suffering and patience than the story of Paul’s Ephesian experiences as he summoned the elders of the church upon the shores of Miletus in his parting address to them.” [1]

Acts 20:17-38 is indeed a very moving account of Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus. Over the course of Paul’s three year ministry among them, their hearts had become knit together with his. Now, as Paul meets with them on his way to Jerusalem, he gives them these admonitions, believing he could possibly be seeing them for the last time.

In addressing these elders, he instructs them of their duties. First among them is to pay attention to their own personal walk with God. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves…,” he says in verse 28. Paul also wrote to Timothy, pastor of the church at Ephesus, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. [2] So elders are to watch over their own souls.

Their next responsibility is to watch over and feed God’s flock. “…[A]nd to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, [3] to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” the verse continues. Take heed is a verb that means to pay attention to, or to apply one’s self to. They were to pay attention to not only themselves, but also the church of God. How do they take heed to the flock? By feeding it. Feed here actually means to tend a flock, to be like a shepherd; to do everything a shepherd does, like ruling and governing, nourishing, cherishing, and supplying everything the sheep need. [4]

The epitome of a shepherd is none other than the Lord Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd. In John 10 the behavior of a good shepherd is contrasted with that of a hireling, who has no interest in his duty and is unfaithful in discharging it. A good shepherd, on the other hand, will lay down his life for his sheep, if necessary, to protect them from wolves. Jesus says that the hireling will flee at the sight of danger because the sheep aren’t his and he cares nothing for them, while the good shepherd cares for his own. The wolves here – and in Acts 20 – represent false teachers, or anyone whose goal it is to slaughter the sheep. So a true shepherd will protect his sheep from those who want to devour them. Jesus is that Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for us, His sheep.

“I’m fighting back tears as I write this.” This line from a song by Tony Rueda, though taken out of context, accurately describes how I feel about writing this part. The situation I’m about to address is a grievous one for me because of the respectable ministries involved, the vitriol which has been expressed online, and the feedback that I am expecting for expressing my take on the situation. I hesitate to even share it at all.

By now you have no doubt heard of the Dr. James White-Dr. Yasir Qadhi controversy. [5] In my opinion, this event was wrong on many levels, from interfaith to national security. Both of which end up putting a false face on Islam, as if it is not inherently violent. The fact is that it always has been since its inception and remains so to this day, despite Dr. White’s assertion that “there is no consistent Islam”. [6] As one Egyptian-born, Arabic speaking Christian who has translated the Quran into English is fond of saying, “There are moderate Muslims, but there is no moderate Islam.” That is not the focus of this post, however. My intent is to focus on whether Dr. White fulfilled his responsibility as an elder by holding this dialogue.

Dr. White, renowned apologist and author, is also an elder in his church, which means he is bound by the commands and requirements listed here, in 1 Timothy, and in Titus. Dr. White brought Dr. Qadhi, a wolf, in front of the sheep and allowed him to teach Islam and blaspheme the Lord Jesus unrefuted. [7] Dr. White noted at the start of the event that it was not a debate, but a “dialogue,” as advertised. That, to me, is a mistake. We as Believers should never put ourselves in a position where we cannot speak truth. It is unwise, and represents a false alliance, an “unequal yoke,” as if there could be any agreement between Christianity and Islam. [8]

For the record, I have no objection to White going to the mosque the next night (assuming he actually shared the Gospel). I am not opposed to going into mosques or to outreach to Muslims in general. Obviously, they need the Gospel too, but to bring them before the sheep and to give them a teaching platform presents a danger. And if you’re going to say that Dr. White preached the Gospel to Muslims at the mosque, then you have to logically conclude that Dr. Qadhi got the opportunity to preach Islam to God’s sheep. Can God keep His sheep? Of course. But God has given the Church under-shepherds whose responsibility it is to protect and guard them. Even if a shepherd is confident in his ability to protect his sheep, he will not bring a wolf into the sheepfold. To even suggest that he would do so would be preposterous and an egregious dereliction of duty on the part of the shepherd! Under-shepherds have been placed in their position in the Church by God Himself and are accountable to Him for how they carry out their office.

If Dr. White wants Christians to learn about Islam, can’t he teach them? Didn’t he learn Arabic? Didn’t he write a book on Islam? Why bring in an imam with questionable alliances (to say the least) to teach the blasphemous, anti-Christ lies of Islam? Do you really think that he’s going to present the true face of Islam? I highly doubt it, especially when his religion permits – and in some situations, encourages – its followers to lie to infidels in order to further its cause. So why give him a platform? In my opinion, if Dr. White’s goal was to educate Believers on Islam, and if he wasn’t comfortable doing it himself, he would have been better off inviting a former Muslim who is now a Christian, someone bound to tell the truth. There are plenty of them.

A true shepherd will guard the flock against wolves, not bring them into the sheepfold. God values this highly – the NT constantly warns about wolves and wolves in sheep’s clothing – because He values the Church highly, having ‘purchased her with his own blood.’ I’m not saying that James White is a false teacher or a hireling, but in my Biblical opinion, he did not behave like a true shepherd in this instance.

Footnotes:

[1] F.B. Meyer, The Life of Paul: A Servant of Jesus Christ, p. 135

[2] 1 Timothy 4:16

[3] The term “overseer” refers to the function of the elder

[4] Definitions taken from Strong’s and Thayer’s

[5] If you haven’t, the linked article sums it up well.

[6] Yet somehow Qadhi is a “consistent Muslim”

[7] Links to the entire “dialogue” with time-stamped clips found here http://www.reformedapologeticsministries.com/2017/06/a-definitive-look-at-james-white-and.html?m=1

[8] See 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, Ephesians 5:11, 2 John 9-11

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One thought on “Blogging Through Acts: Duties of Elders

  1. Pingback: The Dangers of Interfaith Dialogue | gpluslighthouse

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