Questions From Readers
▪ How does the holy spirit work along with the modern-day Governing Body in the appointment of elders?
The apostle Paul told Christian elders from Ephesus: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.”—Acts 20:28.
Paul did not explain in detail how God’s spirit functioned in such appointments. However, we can gain insight from what occurred when the first-century governing body considered a question concerning circumcision. In summarizing their conclusion, they wrote: “For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things.” (Acts 15:28) How did God’s spirit, his impersonal active force, contribute to the binding decision reached at that time?
Acts chapter 15 shows that first Paul and Barnabas outlined the question. Then a discussion took place. The apostle Peter related what had led up to baptism of the uncircumcised Gentile Cornelius and his household. Peter explained that ‘God bore witness by giving them the holy spirit, just as he did to us also.’ (Acts 15:7, 8; 10:9-48) Next Paul and Barnabas ‘related the many signs and portents that God did through them among the nations.’ (Acts 15:12) Thus, by its operation on Peter, Cornelius, Paul, and Barnabas, the holy spirit indicated that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised.
Yet there were additional operations of the spirit involved in that decision reached by the governing body. We can assume that they had asked for the help of the spirit on their deliberations. Such help may have moved the disciple James to recall the prophecy at Amos 9:11, 12, and to see its application. That prophecy had, of course, been written under the inspiration of the holy spirit. (Acts 15:13-20) Furthermore, “the apostles and older men in Jerusalem” who made up the governing body were Christians who were anointed with holy spirit and who manifested its operation in their lives, such as by producing its fruits.—Acts 15:2; Romans 8:14-17; 1 Corinthians 7:40; Galatians 5:22, 23.
So without there being some audible directive from heaven on the circumcision question, those of the governing body could accurately say that “the holy spirit” had led to their decision.
It is similar with the appointment of Christian men to be elders, or overseers, in the congregations today. Periodically a group of elders (likely including a traveling overseer of the Society) meet to consider recommending brothers for appointment as overseers. Those in the group have themselves been appointed as elders and they manifest in their lives that they have the spirit. Their discussion is opened with prayer for the spirit’s guidance. Then, during the meeting, they analyze whether each brother being considered measures up to the qualifications for elders set out in the Bible, which have been recorded under the direction of holy spirit. (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-9) They also consider whether the brother evidences in his manner of life that he is “full of spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) If they agree that he is of that sort and meets the qualifications to a reasonable degree, their recommendation is forwarded to the spirit-designated Governing Body or its chosen representatives. Later the congregation may be informed that the brother has been appointed.
Understandably, the appointed elder is still imperfect and may have limitations. But the apostles were imperfect, both before Jesus chose them and later when they served on the governing body. (Luke 9:46, 54; 22:54-62; Galatians 2:11-14) They certainly did, though, have God’s spirit and were appointed under its guidance. Comparably, brothers and sisters can be confident that ‘the holy spirit has appointed the overseers, to shepherd the congregation.’ (Acts 20:28) It is regarding such men that the counsel is given: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.”—Hebrews 13:7.