The Back Page – On Bishops and Elders

The Back Page

On Bishops and Elders

“We don’t have bishops and elders at Second Cape. Sounds sort of Catholic to me!” But the New
Testament church had both.
“Bishop” is how the KJV sometimes renders the Greek noun episkopos, “overseer, one responsible
to see to it that things are done in the right way, guardian.” We can hear our word “Episcopal” in
Although the New Testament envisions that every member— each with a unique contribution
—ministers in the church, it does not propose that they all launch off on their own, unexamined and
unaccountable. The word of God and people’s souls are too valuable for such a “method” so open to
error or abuse. So overseers were installed—not to be bossy, but to ensure that everything was done
properly, and all teaching biblical. The fact that bishops were to be genuinely helpful, not ivory-towered
bosses, may be seen in James 1:27, which says that pure and faultless religion consists of caring for
(episkopeō, a verbal form of episcopos) widows and orphans. 1 Peter 5:2–3 teaches that oversight
should be exercised (episcopeō) willingly, eagerly, and by way of example. Jesus is called the episcopos
of our souls (1 Pet 2:25).
An “elder” (presbyteros) is one who, because he is older chronologically and/or more mature
spiritually, is a leader. Cities, synagogues, and churches had elders. We can hear our word “Presbyterian”
in presbyteros. The elders helped the apostles decide whether Gentile Christians needed to submit to the
Jewish law or could trust in Christ alone (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 23), obviously a weighty issue. The elders at
Ephesus were entrusted with the care of the church—as both its overseers (episcopoi) and shepherds (or
pastors, Act 20:17, 28). Elders were to rule or lead (1 Tim 5:7).
Instructively, churches did not always choose their own elders. In Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas
appointed elders for the churches they had planted.
Church government in which the vote of the youngest and most carnal Christian counts as much as
does the counsel of a mature saint is a very Western (and particularly American) democratic idea. But the
question may reasonably be asked whether or not it is a biblical one.

The Back Page – Music

The Back Page


“‘…now bring me a harpist.’ While the harpist was playing, the hand of Yahweh came on Elisha” (2
Ki 3:15). On this occasion, music preceded and prompted the prophet’s hearing from God.
Good music has never been peripheral in God’s program. When the Almighty laid the earth’s
foundation “the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7). In Revelation we hear a new song: “You are
worthy…!” (Rev 5:9). Music at the beginning and the end.
Music in between as well. When Yahweh rescued Israel from Pharaoh, Moses and Israel sang the
song of Exodus 15. Jesus and the Eleven sang a hymn after the Last Supper (Matt 26:30). God’s
deliverance of David put a new song in his mouth (Ps 40:3).
It is no wonder then that Christians are urged to make music—“Speak to each other with psalms,
hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts” (Eph 5:19). A psalm is a
song sung to harp accompaniment. The Bible’s longest book contains 150. A hymn, in classical Greek
literature, was a festive ode in praise of gods or heroes. Spiritual songs, obviously enough, celebrate God,
and counsel proper human response to him. What is important is not trying to draw fine distinctions
among these three types of music. The point is to see in them something of the variety with which we
believers may pour out our souls. We sing with both our spirits and our minds (1 Cor 14:15). We sing
both to the Lord (in worship) and to each other (in encouragement).
Reasons why the 1517 Reformation was not snuffed out, as were earlier ones, include wide
distribution of both Luther’s vernacular German Bible and his tracts. But historians also credit Luther’s
hymns. His congregation could learn them at church on Sundays, then sing them throughout the week at
work and at home. As they sang, they were reminding themselves of the “new” truths he was teaching,
and reinforcing them in their hearts. Among Luther’s hymns is “A Mighty Fortress,” one we still sing.
What songs fill your heart and spill from your lips?

The Back Page – lord Lord LORD

The Back Page

lord Lord LORD

In Bible times people sometimes used “lord” (’ādôn in Hebrew, kyrios in Greek) simply as a polite
form of address, similar to our “Mr./sir” or “Mrs./ma’am” in English. We find it used thus in Gen 23:6,
where the sons of Heth say to Abraham, “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us….” Some
translations replace “my lord” with “sir” in this verse. “Sir” is the normal way kyrios (“lord”) is translated
in John 4:11, when the woman at the well initially met Jesus but did not yet have any idea who he was.
She was merely being respectful.
Beyond that, the term “lord” sometimes describes one who is in charge, either because (s)he is the
owner (e.g., Matt 21:40, where “the lord of the vineyard” = “the owner of the vineyard”), or in a position
of authority (e.g., Sarah’s calling Abraham “lord” in Gen 18:12; 1 Pet 3:6). Often the Old Testament uses
“the Lord” (with a capital “L”) for God, as the one in charge par excellence.
LORD or the LORD or GOD (all caps) is how most translations render the Hebrew YHWH,
probably pronounced Yahweh, but more often mispronounced Jehovah. Yahweh is the name of the God
of Israel (e.g., Ex 6:3), just as Molech was the god of the Ammonites, and Chemosh the god of Moab (1
Ki 11:5–7). “The LORD” sounds more like a title than a name, but that is how most translations choose to
render it anyway.
When the New Testament says, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” which of these three is the intended nuance?
Certainly not “sir” or “Mr.,” for that would be trite. So it means either “the Master, the One in Control,”
or “Yahweh, the God of Israel.” Which one?
In Acts 2:36 Peter says that God has made Jesus to be both Lord and Christ. You cannot make
someone to be Yahweh. Either a person is God already or he is not, but you can’t take one who is not God
and somehow turn him into God.
We can argue for the deity of Christ on other grounds, but the use of “Lord” for Jesus, then, seems
rather to refer to the fact that God has made him to be Master, the Ultimate Authority, the Boss. Jesus
asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things I say? (Luke 6:46).” The issue here is
his authority, and our obedience to it.
Do you and I allow Jesus the control that is rightfully his?

The Back Page – The Lord’s Supper

The Back Page

The Lord’s Supper

It has many names—the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, the Mass. Whatever we call it,
this ritual is how we obey the Lord’s request that we remember him.
Roman Catholics take literally the Lord’s words, “This is my body; this is my blood.” For Catholics,
then, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of the Lord, though retaining the outward
appearance of bread and wine. Eastern Christians teach something similar. Anglicans seem ambivalent
about whether such transubstantiation occurs, but do affirm a Real Presence of Christ in the elements.
Methodists similarly affirm a Real Presence, but clearly deny transubstantiation. Lutherans teach that the
Lord’s body and blood are present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine, which nevertheless remain
fully bread and wine. Reformed churches (e.g., Presbyterians) affirm a spiritual presence of Christ for
Our understanding is that the bread and wine remain bread and wine. But because Jesus requested
that we eat and drink them in remembrance of him, they become for us pictures of his body that was
battered and his blood poured out for our sakes. They remind us of our need to feed on him for spiritual
life. He himself saves when we trust him to do that for us; the bread and wine do not.
The American flag is just a piece of cloth. It will never be other than cloth. But because of what this
specific pattern of colors and shapes represents, those who believe we should honor our country (despite
its flaws) do not disrespect the flag. “But it is only a piece of cloth, and will only ever be a piece of
cloth!” True, but this particular piece of cloth speaks to us of our nation. The bread and wine at the Lord’s
Supper will only ever be bread and wine. But because of the One of whom they remind us, and the price
he paid for our salvation, we do not treat the Communion bread and wine casually or disrespectfully.
Scripture urges that we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner. Those who do
otherwise invite judgments on themselves. But for those who believe, and who approach with faith,
humility, and a genuine desire to live in obedience and unity, the Lord’s Supper provides a warm
opportunity to worship and thank him, and to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The Back Page – The Church

The Back Page

The Church

“Church” translates a Greek word meaning “an assembly of people,” whether a regularly summoned
legislative body (as in Acts 19:39), a casual gathering (as in Acts 19:32, 40), or a community with shared
beliefs. The Greek Old Testament uses ekklēsia in this third sense for the nation Israel (e.g., Deut 31:30),
often to translate the Hebrew word qāhāl. It is possible that Christians began to describe themselves by
means of the term ekklēsia in order to affirm their continuity with Israel (through using a term found in
Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures), and to allay any suspicion, especially in political circles,
that Christians were a disorderly group.
At any rate, even though ekklēsia was used for Israel, the New Testament church is not somehow an
extension of that nation. The church is not some kind of “spiritual Israel.” It is something new. Jesus
implied its newness when he said, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18). Paul writes that the church—
Jews and Gentiles together in one body—was unknown before his time (Eph 3). True, Old Testament
Israel was an assembly (qāhāl, ekklēsia), but it was not the New Testament church. The church is not the
new Israel. 1 Cor 10:32 implies that there are three groups today—Jews, Greeks, and church of God.
The church is important in God’s over-all program, as was and still is the nation of Israel (though in
another way and for different purposes). We are called the Body of Christ (the way in which he is present
and functions in the world today), the Bride of Christ (very dear and forever joined to him), the pillar and
foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). God bought the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28); Christ will
cleanse it till it has no stain or wrinkle or blemish (Eph 5:27). God’s manifold wisdom will be made
known in the heavenly realms through the church (Eph 3:10). Paul speaks several times with awe of
God’s grace to him because he had dared to persecute the church of God (Acts 22:4; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13;
Phil 3:6).
A rather high calling that we would be included in such an assembly, don’t you think? Should we
not seek to learn how to properly care for and conduct ourselves in this, God’s church?