Dear 100 Hour Board,
Why is it that young male missionaries in your church are referred to as "elders?" In the New Testament, the term elder (presbuteros) and the term bishop (episkopos) are used interchangeably. See Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Acts 20:17,28 (in Acts 20:28, episkopos is translated "overseer"). Some of the qualifications of an elder listed in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 include being "the husband of one wife" and "having faithful children." In my experience, none of these young men from your church are old enough to have been married much less have any children, faithful or not. If these men are not qualified for this office according to the New Testament, why do they hold it? I don't mean to come off strong, but I just find it odd that you would call these young men "elders."
I have the same question for deacons. It is my understanding that you appoint deacons around the age of twelve. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 lists the qualifications of deacons, one of which is to "be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." Certainly these young men cannot meet this qualification.
I'd love to hear what your church teaches about these passages.
Here's a talk from one of the previous president's of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Church"). The main quote I want to reference is:
The requirements of a bishop today are as they were in the days of Paul, who wrote to Timothy:
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
“Not given to wine, no striker [that is, not a bully or a violent person], … not a brawler, not covetous;
“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
“(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
“Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (1 Tim. 3:2–6.)
In his letter to Titus, Paul adds that “a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; …
“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:7, 9.)
Those words aptly describe a bishop today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Words spoken by a prophet is about as authoritative as it gets in the Church, so we'll take this as the Church's official stance regarding bishops.
Now, to your statement regarding that elders and bishops are essentially interchangeable: well, kind of. We believe all bishops are elders, but not all elders are bishops. This distinction is also taught elsewhere in Christianity (sources: 1, 2, 3). This distinction, however, is not universally accepted. Some believe that elders and bishops were not being distinguished from each other, but are, as you say, interchangeable.
So that's why the Church can call men at age 18 elders, and not require them to satisfy the requirements set out in the New Testament for that of a bishop. In the 3rd chapter of 1 Timothy, I don't see the mentioning of Elder (I'm referring to the King James Version), but I do see mentions of bishop.
Your question about deacons is a bit more intricate. Here's a general conference talk from Joseph Wirthlin who describes that it is unique because Timothy is talking about ordaining men to the office of deacon, while the Church now ordains youth to the office of deacon. I am inferring that the rules about marriage don't apply because of the age difference, but that the other characteristics should apply. I don't have a scriptural basis for telling you why this is the case.
Now, I got this question a lot on my mission in Texas. While I don't have biblical answers to these questions, I can say that the Church interprets the scriptures differently from the interpretation outlined in your question. This is not me telling you that you are wrong and the Church is right, it is merely to answer the question you asked.
I hope this helps and I'm happy to have further discussion on this and other topics if you'd like to send me an email.
-Sunday Night Banter