Let us now consider the evidence for a plurality of elders in each local church. First, Luke tells us that “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:23). One can counter this by pointing out that Luke mentions three cities earlier in verse 21 (Lystra, Iconium and Antioch), and the reference to elders in each church could refer to the number of singular pastors in each of the three cities and not to a plurality of elders in each local church within each city. Although this cannot be totally discounted on the basis of Acts 14:23 alone, it does seem more reasonable to expect Luke to say “in each city” rather than “in each church” if that is what he really meant. Second, Paul’s use of “especially” in 1 Timothy 5:17 suggests there were elders other than the preaching elders. If these elders were not the preaching elders of the local churches, then who were they and where did they serve? They must have served along with the preaching elders of each local church in caring for the flock. Third, there is also the example of a plurality of elders outside the context of the church. In the Old Testament there were the elders of Israel (Exodus 3:16-18) and the elders of a city (Deuteronomy 19:12). Fourth, there is the example of the “body of elders” (1 Timothy 4:14) who laid hands on Timothy when he was set apart for ministry. Finally, there is the example of praying for the sick. If a brother is sick, he should “call the elders of the church to pray over him…” (James 5:14). Notice the brother is not to call for the singular pastor or elder, but the elders. It is unlikely that James is saying a sick Christian is to call for the preaching elders of all the local churches of a city or region. Instead, it is more reasonable to suggest that the individual would call upon the elders of the church where he attends.
J B Myers