1. Term derived from OT and NT (Ex 3:16; Lk 7:3). The Gk. word presbyteros (elder) in the NT is a synonym for bishop (overseer) (Acts 20:17, 28), ruler (1 Ti 5:17), pastor (or shepherd) (1 Ptr 5:14). Large congs, had a number of presbyters or elders (Ja 5:14; Jerusalem Acts 15:4, 6, 23; 21:18; Ephesus Acts 20:17, 28). At least some elders preached and taught (1 Ti 5:17). In course of time differences in rank were introd. into ch. offices, with elders in the lower ranks.
2. In the modern ch., eldership is characteristic of Presb. chs., which derive their name from this institution. Two classes of elders, teaching and ruling, are distinguished. The former are the pastors; the latter are laymen set apart as assistants to pastors in overseeing and ruling the congs. Pastor and ruling elders form the session, lowest of the ruling powers of the ch.; the Gen. Assem., composed of representatives of elders and pastors, is the highest legislative body of the ch. See also Polity, Ecclesiastical, 7; Reformed Churches, 1.
3. In the Luth. Ch. the terms elders and deacons* are often used synonymously with reference to laymen chosen by a cong. for a specified term to assist the pastor in his official duties. They and the pastor form the Board of Elders; with reference to the cong. they have only advisory or executive, not legislative, power. The office of trustee is often united with that of elder, trusteeship being prescribed by law when congs., are inc. Duties of trustees concern property management and maintenance.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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