In Art. 31 of our Belgic Confession we state that elders "ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God." Because we dealt with the election as such when discussing Art. 3 CO., we may omit here what was said at that time, and restrict ourselves to a few additional remarks regarding this point.
The elders ought to be chosen by the church — and the "church" is not a specific, select group of men who have all power concentrated in their persons, but the congregation. This does not mean that they are the "executives" of the congregation, and are obliged to do what the congregation decides.
Also in New Testament times the elders were chosen, as appears from Acts 6:5; they were appointed, Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5. And yet the apostle urges the overseers to remember that it is the Holy Spirit Himself who had made them guardians of the flock of Christ. It is from the Lord that the elders have received their authority and it is He to whom they have to give account. The Lord gives us the requirements for the overseers specifically in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. From these passages it appears that God sets high standards. It is a grave responsibility indeed, when one is called to be an overseer and guardian of the flock of the Great Shepherd. The necessity of having a good reputation extends even to those who are without. On the other hand, no one should get the notion that an elder's authority and position rest on his own, personal qualifications. His authority and position rest solely on his having been called by the Lord Himself.
But since this call comes through the church, those who extend the call are to act according to the rules given by the Lord. For this reason some consistories have the custom of reading the relevant parts from 1 Tim.3 and Titus 1 before composing a list of candidates for the office. Thereby the brothers remind themselves anew of their great responsibility when presenting names to the congregation.
The Scripture gives the title "overseer" to the brothers whom we call "elders." In the Greek language they are called "episkopoi" and from this comes our word "bishop." They are bishops over the flock of Christ. It is their task to have supervision, the oversight over Christ's church. This shows their high position. It is also symbolic for this high position when the pews for the officebearers are on an elevated platform, so that they can keep an eye on the assembled congregation and also can keep track of who is attending church faithfully and who is negligent.
At the same time the brothers have to bear in mind that authority is never given for the sake of the one who receives it, but only for the sake and benefit of those over whom it is exercised. As this applies everywhere, so it applies in the church of Christ: the overseers have received their authority to keep the flock of Christ close to the Great Shepherd and in the path of obedience.
This article formulates this as follows: "that every member may conduct himself properly in doctrine and life according to the Gospel." The Bride must be prepared and preserved so that she may greet the Bridegroom with joy and unstained garments. It is clear that high standards have to be set for one who is to serve in this office.