Thus, we come to the point where we understand that both pastors and elders teach Biblical Law. Pastors (AKA New Testament priests) emphasize the mysticism angle in their ritual leadership. Elders emphasize the practice of the Covenant. They work together and the elder should protect the pastor from the distraction of administrative decisions (Acts 6:1-7). This is the proper division of labor between the Two Witnesses found in both the New Testament (Revelation 11:1-14) and the Old Testament (Zechariah 4).
But in coming to this point, we have to stop and reevaluate our understanding of the positions common among the New Testament churches. It doesn’t help at all that the first few English translations came from the hands of men who bore a tremendous bias in favor of the Western Medieval traditions. The terms they used matched what they had, not the context of the actual New Testament times.
The fundamental model is the shepherd sheikh of the Ancient Near East. In Hebrew thinking, this is the starting point in the mold of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Israel. The sheikh’s domain was his personal household, his extended family and their servants. Actual family members should be obvious. Servants were either hired or associates who made their life as part of the household. They were not quite family. There were also slaves, though it was seldom slavery as we think of it in our modern times. These three broad categories will portray what church membership is like. Some folks are genuine family, presumably spirit-born and heart-led. Servants are those who want to be involved, but are not quite up to the demands of family. Slaves are those who don’t really want to be involved, but don’t seem to have much choice. They tend to play along because that’s the easiest path.
This shepherd sheikh and his household is a church. It is natural that he would associate with a wider clan, and clans would associate with a tribal nation as the covenant draws more and more new members in more places. This is not bound by law, but by voluntary association under a covenant. Instead of being so much focused on blood kinship, Christians have a kinship of spiritual DNA. Their association is mostly functional based on how well they can get along over the obvious necessary differences that arise in different contexts and cultures.
The first and most visible New Testament office is the apostle. This is equivalent to a missionary, though not so much like those we have today. This is an office that tends to combine the work of both pastor and elder (see 1 Peter 5 where Peter calls himself “elder”) until the local folks can generate their own church leaders, a natural result of their spiritual growth. Elders generally arise from the native community to approximate the function of kings in the Old Testament. On a lower level, this is the head of household, the shepherd sheikh. He needs a priest to handle the rituals and body of teaching, someone dedicated to the task. But since the elder rules by that teaching, he has to know it as well.
We need to understand that Paul’s letters to Timothy were in the vein of senior apostle to junior apostle. It’s not about how to do things, but how to get things going in the right direction. Thus, the term “overseer” in 1 Timothy 3 points to a senior elder over several church bodies, not a priestly figure. It’s what elders aspire to be. This is echoed in Titus 1, which uses both terms in the same context. Likewise, deacons were assistants to elders, lay members who volunteers to help keep things running. Elders and deacons are ordained to their positions.
Now we begin to see that the New Testament does talk a lot about elders, but for centuries the mainstream has mistaken them for pastors/priests. The church office of elder was the key to the existence and function of the local church body. The pastor was a hired gun, so to speak, and bore a much smaller burden of actual work. Their mission is equivalent to the Old Testament priest — essential and influential, but interchangeable with other priests. They have their own career track and profession, and it’s common that they would move from church to church. Elders are organic to the body itself.
Until we get this stuff right, churches can hardly be a biblical witness of God’s truth.