Some theologians have difficulty in writing theology for the church rather than for the academy. Ben Merkle is not one of them. As evidence, I offer Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members, a slim little volume (112 pp.) intended to help your church think through matters of church polity. In this book, Merkle asks why church government is an issue worth discussing and why church members should care about how the church is structured and lead. And, he provides an answer: “Because the outward structure of a congregation directly relates to who leads the church, what a leader does, and to whom a leader is accountable, church government becomes an extremely important issue in the life and health of a church” (15). In a nutshell, Why Elders? establishes the biblical principles for church leadership and their practical implications for church leaders and members.
Merkle provides four answers to the question “why elders?” He argues that it is the pattern of the New Testament church (chapter 1); it provides help and accountability for a pastor (chapter 2); it produces a healthier church (chapter 3); it promotes the biblical role of deacons (chapter 4). Each answer (chapter) is focused on the evidence of the New Testament and its implications for every church member. Thus, members and leaders alike will benefit from this book, for both are called to make the Scriptures their standard for life and godliness (15; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).
The publication of books on “church leadership” has become a cottage industry in recent years. Many of the books have been helpful, but an equal number appear to be influenced more by business models or democratic ideals of leadership rather than biblical theology. It is in this context that Ben Merkle contributes his biblical theological treatment of the topic. Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members is recommended as a work of pastoral theology underlain by careful biblical theology.
For a more in-depth treatment, the reader may want to consult Merkle’s 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Kregel, 2008), also recently spotlighted here at Between the Times.
While I’m at it, if you are a prospective college student, seminary student, or Ph.D. candidate, allow me to invite you to come study under Dr. Merkle at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek here at Southeastern. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. from Southern. Before coming to Southeastern, he taught at Cathedral Bible College, Southern Seminary, and Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary.