Election and Sound Doctrine?

I really like to dabble on the piano. My wife and I will find a song that we like (really, she likes it and I just agree to learn it with her and also grow to like it myself) and will begin learning it. When I play the piano, I cheat. I use what would be the equivalent of a power chord on the guitar. I will be playing and she will be singing. She is awesome! She is singing and I’m playing and I will inevitably play a wrong chord or the placement of one finger will be off and the sound is horrible. I ruin the entire song because I am not sound in my piano playing. I don’t devote any time to really practicing or studying the instrument.

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The doctrine of our Lord is much the same. When we do not dedicate our time to the study of Scripture or submit to the teaching of those who do, our faith will turn out very shallow and our doctrine will not be sound. In light of election, how important is sound doctrine? How important is it to have shepherds who are dedicated to the serious and intense study and prayerful proclamation of God’s very word? How important is it that we speak, live, and operate in God’s grace in accordance with sound doctrine?

1 Peter 5:1-8 HCSB

Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

In the same way, you younger men, be subject to the elders. And all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.

Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.

Biblical eldership

So far in our study, we have discovered together that Peter has applied the doctrine of election, which emphasizes God’s sovereignty over everything (even salvation), to our submission to God and to one another. It is because of God’s work of election that we can actually consider one another of equal value. It is because of God’s work of election that we can pursue genuine and unconditional love toward one another. As Peter continues to write, building upon election, he exhorts elders and non-elders in the dispersion. Within the context of the doctrine of election, we can realize what biblical eldership should be amongst God’s people.

In order to understand the passage at hand, we need to perform two very brief word studies together. First, the word for elder (from the root πρεσβυτερος), could have one of two meanings. Either the word refers to someone who is aged or it refers to the office of elder, pastor, bishop, overseer. This word is used in both verse one and verse five. This would indicate that the word has the same use in both verses. The use of this word, by Peter, almost certainly refers to the office of elder because he exhorts the elder to serve as a shepherd and overseer, keeping guard over the flock of God. Thus, we are introduced to the office of elder within the text of Scripture and we will reserve our second brief word study for the next section.

What, then, is a biblical elder to be? First, positional elders are to be the under-shepherds of God’s people. In Acts 6:1-7, there is a complaint that arises in the church:

In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

Peter, who in his own letter claims to be a fellow elder, describes the office that he holds. His statement is that it is not right that he and those who fill the office with him to neglect the ministry of the word to handle other tasks of ministry. He also states very clearly that he and the other elders would devote themselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry. In his own letter, Peter writes to other elders, instructing them to shepherd the flock of God which is among them. How does an elder shepherd God’s flock? Park one of this answer is this: preach God’s word and live a life devoted to prayer. This is where the doctrine of election, as Peter presents it, enables the ministry of the positional elder. If God is sovereign, then God’s Word must be preached as it is given. The elder must be subject, in his own life, to God and not to his own whims. If God is sovereign, then there is only one place a preacher can get his messages for the congregation. He cannot receive his messages from his own contemplation or creativity. He cannot preach messages from his own life or experience. He cannot try to be clever or think that he has any rhetoric whatsoever that people might glean from him. The truth is, the ministry of the elder is not about the elder at all. The elder is a servant, and in order to shepherd the people of God, the only word that he can utter is the word of God, the explanation of that word, and the application of that word. Anything more or less and the elder fails to shepherd God’s people. The elder, then, arrives at his message only by the serious and intense study of God’s word as God has given it. If he comes by his message by any other means or by any epiphany of his own, he is not an elder by biblical standards. He is an impostor.

The second way that an elder shepherds God’s flock is by being an example to the flock in the way of the very word he preaches. This being said, we know that no one is perfect. In light of God’s election, then, it becomes the absolute duty of the elders to set an example not in perfection (for this is not the gospel), but in the way of the gospel of God’s grace; making themselves vulnerable and being honest about their shortfalls so that the chief shepherd will receive all honor and glory.

This being stated, I have to ask a question as we consider biblical eldership together. How does this conversation benefit the flock? There will be many reading this who simply don’t care about biblical eldership because it just doesn’t apply to them. They are not elders. First, it teaches us what sort of work we should hope for from our own elders. Secondly, if God has designated an office in the church for people who are consecrated for the proclamation of His word and the shepherding of His people in the way of His word, then we receive a very clear message: God, who is sovereign, has given His word that we might receive it and apply it to our lives. The communication and the reception of sound doctrine is of utmost importance to God, who is sovereign. Just to make this point more evident for us, I want to examine two more passages within God’s word:

“Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them, for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words” (Romans 16:17-18 HCSB).

“As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!” (Galatians 1:9 HCSB).

The content of our doctrine is so important to God that if there is material present that is contrary to the doctrines given in Scripture, we are instructed to avoid those people and to let them be accursed to us. God feels very strongly that the content He desires us to be shepherded by is the content that He has given. Nothing more, and nothing less. There are two ways that we receive the content of doctrine. One is by teaching, and the other is by example or practice. If we were, then, to have a church where the church operated by a standard other than that consisting of sound doctrine and is unwilling to repent and turn back to Christ, we should turn away and let that church be accursed to us. We better be absolutely sure that we are operating in accordance with sound doctrine in our teaching, in our lifestyles, and in the operation of the organizational church. This is one of the things that sanctification brings about in our lives. We remember that this is a work of God. God has elected His people. They are saved by Christ’s atonement at Calvary. He sanctifies His people, bringing them, holistically, into sound doctrine. If we find that we are not being sanctified in this way, it may be the case that we have not actually trusted in Christ, but instead serve our own appetites. When we recognize that God is the one who elects, sound doctrine is of utmost importance; from the heart of the individual to the operational system of the organizational church.

Biblical humility

We now arrive at our second brief word study. Since we looked together at the word for elder, it seems proper to also look at the word for “younger men,” or “younger people” in verse five. The word for young, here, is νεος.

It could refer to one who is younger, a new convert, or someone of a subordinate position. Since Peter is writing positionally in this text, the best interpretation would be that Peter is here addressing those who are subordinate to the ministry of

the elders.

For this, I really don’t like the word subordinate. I want to remind us again that election is the work of God. Christ is the chief shepherd. We are all of equal value before God. Peter is even sure to emphasize that elders are not to shepherd God’s people out of compulsion, for dishonest gain, or lording their eldership over the people. When he refers to those who are subordinate, he simply means those who are under the leadership of the elders that God has put in place. Those who are under the teaching of the elders are to be submissive to the elders and submissive to one another. If God, in His work of election, has created the office of elder so that those who serve as elders can devote their time to study and to prayer, being careful to serve God’s instruction to the flock; it only seems like we would benefit from subjecting ourselves to the teaching of sound doctrine, humbly accepting it and choosing to apply it to our lives.

In this, though, there is a great warning for elders and for those who are subordinate to the ministry of the elders. If we ever make this place of service about us, if we become prideful in a position that God has designated for His glory, then we are accursed and we make an enemy of God. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Biblical view of doctrine

Peter ends this passage with a warning. Bear in mind that he is writing to Christians who are dispersed. He began with God’s work of election. This warning, then, applies specifically to those who are in Christ. It does not apply strictly to atheists or agnostics or heretics or false believers. It is a warning meant for those who belong to Jesus Christ.

“Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (v.8).

Be serious about what? The proclamation and reception of sound doctrine. Be alert concerning what? False teaching, a watered down gospel, doctrine that is contrary to the text of Scripture. The devil is prowling around looking for Christians to eat up, to destroy, to devour, and to take out of play. How does Satan cause us to be ineffective? He tempts us to communicate false doctrine in our teaching, in our lifestyle, and in the operation of our organizations. If the work of election is God’s work, then His word is the only source of sound doctrine. Let us, in every moment, go back to the Scriptures that God has inspired to insure that we hold biblical beliefs and biblical practices. Everything that we need for life and ministry is written for us in the Scriptures. Salvation is by grace. By God’s grace, we are drawn into sound doctrine together.

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