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Bishops, Deacons, and the Church
by Carol Berubee

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Just what is a "pastor?" Is there to be a "senior pastor?" What kind of "church government" is Biblical? Should your pastor resign?

We will examine church government, the Body of Christ, and the infiltration of the Nicolaitans.

The Greek word for ‘elders’ is ‘presbuteros’ and in the New Testament it refers to the apostles and to those who are mature in the Lord, those who have been taught the truth by the Holy Spirit and by the apostles. ‘Elder’ is used generically many times to refer to those who are mature in the faith.

There are two types of elders specified under the New Covenant: bishops and deacons. This is not to say that there cannot be those who are viewed as ‘elders’ who are not specifically bishops or deacons.

Philippians 1:1 says, “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons…”


The Greek word for ‘bishop’ is ‘episkopos’ and it refers to those who are overseers or shepherds.

According to 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the bishop “must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Titus 1:7-11 says, “… a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.”

Here, we see that the bishop is one who is well-grounded in the faith and is so much so that he is able to act as a shepherd for the flock, as one who is able to help the flock to flee from false teachers. But this bishop must prove his faith not only by his ability to teach, he must display the fruit of the Spirit in all areas. His life must be witness to his professed faith. Notice that he also must have a good testimony in the world, among the lost.

In 1 Peter 5:1-4, we see the shepherd and we can assume that Peter must be referring to bishops, for we have just seen that Paul describes the bishops as overseers and shepherds. “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”

Clearly, we see here that the shepherd, or bishop, is not to ‘lord it over’ the flock. Rather, the shepherd is a fellow servant, but he is one who is more knowledgeable in the things of the faith; therefore, he is there to help the flock.

We see another word in Hebrews 13 that may also refer to ‘bishop,’ but is, at the very least, in reference to an ‘elder.’ The Greek is ‘hegeomai’ and is found in verses 7, 17, and 24. These immature Christians are exhorted to give heed to “those who rule over [them].” Those who rule must be those whose faith is borne out in their actions (v. 7). This is the same admonition as we saw with the bishops and deacons; their lives must be demonstrative of their faith in Christ. The connotation of 'hegeomai' is that of ‘guide,’ or ‘leader.’ In this sense, we see that those who are in a place of authority over immature Christians must be those who have the ability to guide, not only by a direct understanding of doctrine, but by experience. One cannot be a guide if he has not been to the place to which he guides others. He is a guide precisely because he has ‘been there.’


The other type of elder is the deacon. The deacon is one who is also a fellow servant, just as is the bishop. The deacon is an administrator, primarily, but not a teacher. The Greek word for ‘deacon’ is ‘diakonos’ and it literally means to ‘run errands,’ to ‘attend,’ to ‘wait tables,’ etc. As with the bishop, the deacon’s life must be proof of his sincere faith.

1 Timothy 3:8-13 says, “Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

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