Physical walls encompassed major cities constructed during the historical eras represented in the Bible. The Bible highlights city gates and some of the significant societal activities located at the gates.
Here is a link to a quick summary of such references: https://www.gotquestions.org/city-gate.html
The author of this article states, “a gate was a place where rulers met, and counsel was given” Biblical references make mention of elders sitting at the gate.
Elders functioned as governors of justice concerning relationships and behaviors within the city. These leaders were gatekeepers. They helped shape the culture of the city.
Ruth 4:11-12 documents one of my favorite gate stories.
“And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the Lord will give you from this young woman.”
“Boaz officially claimed the position of kinsman-redeemer by meeting with the city elders at the gate of Bethlehem. There, the legal matters related to his marriage to Ruth were settled.”
What I find outstanding in this event is the role of the elders in declaring a blessing over Ruth and Boaz! These leaders shaped culture through their administration of justice and the impartation of wisdom. They also shaped culture through their decrees.
Elders at the gate were positioned to govern access to the city. For example, God gave instructions concerning the establishment of Cities of Refuge for Israel. (Joshua, chapter 20). Asylum seekers made their case before the elders at the City of Refuge gate. It was the elders’ responsibility to decide their fate.
Under the Old Covenant, the litany of potential curses for Isreal’s disobedience included the absence of elders at the gates. The lack of elders at the gates was one of the curses experienced in Jeremiah’s day.
“Servants rule over us; There is none to deliver us from their hand.” (Lamentations 5:8)
“Princes were hung up by their hands, And elders were not respected.” (Lamentations 5:12)
“The elders have ceased gathering at the gate, And the young men from their music.” (Lamentations 5:14)
By inference, we can deduce that God regarded it as a blessing to have elders seated at city gates.
Christian thinkers often ponder issues related to the nature of the local church. When does a gathering of believers become a local church? This question is worth considering. I think the appointment of elders officially establishes a local church. It was the Apostle Paul’s practice whenever he evangelized a city to appoint elders for these gatherings of new believers. Paul had certain qualities of maturity in mind for who would serve best as gatekeepers for a local congregation. (1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1)
Elders are the gatekeepers for the local church. They help shape the culture. These leaders evaluate existing ways of thinking and spiritual powers that influence the life of the gathering. The more a people group submits to a way of thinking, the more that way of thinking becomes a spiritual power. That mindset takes on a life of its own and can become a source for either blessings or curses.
Elders also guard access to the gathering by remaining alert to ways of thinking and spiritual powers that desire to establish a foothold in a local congregation. Only godly ways of thinking and spiritual powers that produce blessings should enter through the gate. (Acts 20:28-31)
Local church Elders can also shape church culture by decreeing blessings. Ruling over one’s tongue is a virtue promoted throughout Scripture. Wisdom counsels, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)
The Apostle Paul affirmed this virtue for the church.
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:6)
Different ways of thinking can create conflict in a local church. For example, during my first tenure as a Senior Pastor, I encountered differences of opinion regarding the Pastor’s salary level. On one occasion, I visited one of the members who was a local rancher. He invited me to join him in his pickup truck so he could show me his land and facilities. During the tour, he proceeded to make his case that I should not expect to make much money as the Senior Pastor. He represented a way of thinking residing in the church and the Deacon Board. Over time younger men were elected to serve on the Deacon Board. They had a different way of thinking about a Pastor’s salary. They had first-hand experience in knowing what was financially necessary to raise a family. Using Federal government employee pay scales, these younger men were able to convince the older Deacons of the need for a pay scale increase. The Deacon Board all agreed to increase the pay scale gradually over the following three years. Ironically, the third year was the year I was led to resign from the church. I console myself by the realization that ensuing Pastors were able to start their ministry at a more family-friendly salary level.
The new accepted mindset that a Pastor should make a sufficient salary became a spiritual power in that church. It replaced the former way of thinking and its existing spiritual power. This new spiritual power opened a door of blessing for the financial provision necessary to provide for that upgraded salary.
A gathering of people, whether it be a nation, a local community, or a corporation, requires mature gatekeepers. For example, the Business Roundtable recently updated the Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. Here is the link to the text:
CEOs from the largest U.S. companies participate in The Business Roundtable. The Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation is a reflection of their value system. These business leaders purpose to be responsible gatekeepers for our society.
Wherever we have influence or are empowered to choose gatekeepers, we should help position mature leaders at the gate. Where appropriate, we should be willing to consider becoming such a gatekeeper!