Eldercraft is my term for the collection of skills and experiences necessary for being a biblical elder. We define “elder” as half of the leadership team described in the Bible as God’s Two Witnesses: priest and king. A biblical king is the elder over his entire nation. It can be a simple birthright because we naturally presume a godly elder will raise decent sons, but with a biblical background we also presume God’s veto. Sometimes that veto could be voiced through the combined acclamation of all the lower ranking elders, under the presumption that they speak for their clans and households. In other words, there is no one precise protocol. It’s tribal and mystical.
In the New Testament, Gentile churches inherited the Hebrew pattern of simply recognizing the church as your new covenant family household. Elders were built in, and the presence of Jewish Christians helped guide the process. The process is hardly mentioned because it was assumed everyone understood it — elders were organic to any family structure across the entire world in those days. It was a common element by law in that part of the world that whatever served as your civil government was required to work through the head of household, and very rarely work directly with any individual member of the household. Cultural meaning might vary widely, as did the symbolism used, but in the Old Testament, it was the image of a shepherd and that carried over into the New Testament. Elders weren’t appointed or elected; they were just presumed to be there. Somebody has to take charge of the earthly human organizational aspects of a family household. Priests (often translated “pastor” in the New Testament) were appointed, ordained in some fashion by other priestly figures, and priest and elder were expected to work together through a generally recognized division of labor — spiritual shepherd and earthly shepherd. Each enabled the work of the other.
In our context today, just about anyone is liable for taking up the shepherd’s staff sooner or later, and holding it until they simply can’t get the sheep to follow any more. It’s not something amenable to ambition, but is a duty thrust upon folks who often had other plans. Then again, if you are endowed by God with a spark of leadership, you can probably see it coming. Still, most elders don’t spend time preparing for the role except as they add their divine talents to the same teaching and guidance given to everyone else. The difference is that God provokes a certain kind of grasp of the teaching that builds a shepherd’s character. It is not about paying your dues, but a matter of winning confidence so that others naturally follow. About the closest we could come to making it a craft is that one elder discerns someone else coming up in faith who can carry the burden.
(Side note: An apostle as missionary performs both functions. He’s not a ruler, but a powerful emissary of our Divine Emperor. An apostle acts as both senior elder and high priest in practice.)
A critical element in the role is playing judge. While there is some sort of “separation of powers” in effect, it’s only in that an elder/king would not be caught dead without advisers to help him see beyond himself. Solomon made it a custom to include the presence of his own mother as a feminine element to balance things in his council. Do you think I would ignore advice from my own mother? But in our virtual parish setting it made much more sense to recognize a female “Mama Elder.” Anyone who makes their talented presence felt here may be called upon, male or female, because I refuse to imagine that I’ve got it all figured out. I need the input from others who can help me to judge more righteously, and I pass this on as the legacy of eldercraft.
Unlike rabbis, we don’t echo each other slavishly. Don’t memorize my stuff; give it a listen and take what you can use. My eldership rests entirely on your voluntary cooperation; that’s what “covenant” means. My judgment is not binding on you, but rests entirely on the authority of the Holy Spirit to make it real to you in the convictions of your own heart.
For example: I keep running into a particular issue with email and offline queries about Muslim migration into the US. In order to touch that at all, we have to establish a baseline: America is horribly corrupt socially and legally, defying the Covenant of Noah in more ways than most of us can point out. Noah applies to all human governments so long as there are rainbows in the sky.
One of the single biggest errors of American social culture and law is interference in the family. The State is not Mama/Daddy; it has no valid claim to wield authority on behalf of some imaginary social consensus. That “consensus” was never valid; it has always been manipulated for the convenience of those in power. Those in power have always been folks with a highly immoral lust for power. The system has never conformed to Noah at all.
However, God is permitting the current system of government in the US to run, so we are bound to play along on limited terms. Much of our compliance is under protest, but even that is subject to tactical considerations of knowing when to speak out and how. Meanwhile, since we know that Noah’s Law is wired into reality, to include a certain amount of human instinctive consciousness, we should hardly be surprised at certain trends in how American society proceeds under this awful system. A certain amount of defensiveness about any immigrants with radically different cultures is entirely normal and we should never disparage that.
The same thing applies to Muslims migrating into the US. They bring their own brand of partial compliance to Noah, and I’ve already noted some of that here on this blog. In some ways, they are closer to Noah than America could ever be, having the advantages of being a tribal society with an instinct for tribal government, and having a cultural inclination to sometimes operate by the heart-mind. Their Sharia Law is basically an example of tribal government and is far closer to Noah, not in particulars, but in form. The reason Muslims agitate in favor of allowing them some Sharia Law is so they can carry out their moral obligations to keep a secularized intrusive government out of their family business. Honest Muslim men have admitted that the primary issue is how they handle their wives and children.
I fully understand that most Americans bristle at the idea that we can’t use our legal and social system to protect what we imagine to be civil rights for women and children, for example. But we also bristle when CPS takes our children, or when a judge awards custody of children based on some Byzantine process. You can’t have it both ways, Americans. You either have to allow Muslim men to treat their wives as property according to their customs, or stop bitching when the State treats your family as its property.
It doesn’t take much more wisdom to work out the high probability that God will use the invasive nature of Islam as part of His wrath against Western Civilization. Once you let that sink in, you are in a better position to discuss what we should do about this mess.