How do Scriptures describe the role of elders? There are many aspects. One on which I’ll focus in this post relates to their role as overseers and rulers. This seems to be a challenging part of the Scriptures for those living in Western democracies, in which rule of society tends to be (at least in theory) populist.
Acts 20:28 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.
1 Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Hebrews 13:24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
1 Timothy 3:4-5 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
Romans 12:8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Titus 2:15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.
Cf. 1 Timothy 2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
There is an important caveat:
But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
That caveat is important. It should prevent the rulers of the church from overstepping their bounds and becoming like Rome’s hierarchy. Nevertheless, even the caveat notes that there will be leaders in the church. Christ’s leadership of the church provides a moral example for those leaders. That example is not fulfilled through a pastor ceremonially washing the feet of his sub-rulers (as Rome’s bishop does), but through rendering practical assistance, comfort, and encouragement. In understanding that his role as shepherd involves authority over the sheep, but has as its purpose the benefit of the sheep.
It remains quite interesting to me that the “Reformed Apologist” above pulls plenty of passages from Scripture showing the type of authority that the Church is endowed with yet attempts to “proof-text” his position with a “caveat” concerning the manner in which Gentile rulers at that time lorded over their subjects.
However, TurretinFan’s own words call him out on his ignorance on the Church and the role played by the Pope and all of the bishops in union with him as one of the pope’s titles is “Servant of Servants.” This means that he and every other priest in the Church must, above all things, serve as Christ did. The example set forth by Our Blessed Lord is not only one of selfless service to God and neighbor but also one of authority – not as the pagans, who exercise such authority for their own desires, but as men of God who must excercise their authority to properly shepherd the flock entrusted to them.
TurretinFan’s comments are spot on with exception to this false perception of the Church’s hierarchy. Reenacting the “washing of the feet” is more that to provide symbolism, it serves to remind both shepherd and sheep of humility, service, sacrifice, charity, etc.