Home > Systematic Theology > A Treatise on Church Order: Ministry- Church Officers- Bishops- Chapter VIII- Section IV

A Treatise on Church Order: Ministry- Church Officers- Bishops- Chapter VIII- Section IV

CHAPTER VIII

THE MINISTRY

SECTION IV.–CHURCH OFFICERS

BISHOPS

The churches should choose, from among the ministers of the word, bishops or pastors to teach and rule them.

Numerous passages of Scripture speak of persons who bore rule in the churches. “Obey them that have the rule over you.”[30] “The elders that rule well.”[31] The term bishop signifies overseer, and implies authority to rule. Among the qualifications necessary for a bishop, one was, that he ruleth well his own house; and the reason assigned is, “If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”[32] It is clear, from this passage, that the bishops were invested with an authority bearing some analogy to the authority which the head of a family exercises over his household.

The question has been much discussed, whether the authority of a bishop is restricted to a single local church. Episcopalians maintain that it extends to the churches of a large district called a diocese; and that the Scriptural title for the ruler of a single church, is presbyter or elder. Against this opinion, the following arguments appear conclusive. The single church at Philippi contained more bishops than one.[33] The elders of the church at Ephesus are styled overseers or bishops.[34] Peter addresses elders as persons having the oversight[35] of the flock, that is, the authority of overseers or bishops. In Paul’s epistle to Titus, after the ordination of elders is mentioned, the qualifications of a bishop[36] are enumerated; and the connection plainly indicates that elder and bishop were titles of the same office.

The bishops were the pastors or shepherds of the flock committed to their charge. The bishops or elders of the church at Ephesus were required to “feed the flock.” The elders whom Peter addressed were commanded to “feed the flock;” and their office as shepherds is presented to view as subordinate to that of Christ, “the chief shepherd.” Since the churches are to be fed, not with literal food, but with knowledge and understanding, the office of teaching is included in that of pastor. Hence a bishop was required to be “apt to teach.” In enumerating church officers, Paul mentions both pastors and teachers. It appears from this that there were teachers in the primitive churches, who were not invested with pastoral authority. These were ministers of the word, authorized by the commission to teach the observance of all Christ’s commands, but not authorized to rule. The ministers of the word are officers of the universal church, but, as such, they have no authority to rule in the local churches. This authority belongs to the pastors or bishops.

The ruling authority of a pastor is peculiar in its kind. Though bearing some analogy to that of a father in his family, or of a governor in civil society, it differs from these. Christ distinguished His rule from that of earthly kings by the absence of coercion: “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.”[37] So the spiritual rulers under Christ have no coercive power over the persons or property of those under their authority. A well marked distinction between their authority and that which is exercised by civil rulers, is drawn in these words of Christ: “Ye know that the princes of the gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”[38] Another peculiarity of their rule is that they cannot govern at their own will. This would be to act as lords over God’s heritage. Such power, if exercised by them, is a usurpation, and does not legitimately belong to their office. The only rule which they have a right to apply is that of God’s word; and the only obedience which they have a right to exact, is voluntary. The civil ruler is armed with the sword, and coerces obedience. Zion’s King has put no carnal weapons into the hands of church rulers, and all coercion is inconsistent with the nature of the authority intrusted to them. No submission to the Lord is acceptable but that which is voluntary; and the same kind of submission which the ancient Christians rendered to the Lord, they rendered to their spiritual rulers:–“They first gave their own selves unto the Lord and unto us by the will of God.”[39]

The surrender of their property was voluntary. Peter’s address to Ananias and Sapphira proves, that this was true, even in the general surrender which was made by the first church; and it is clear that the contributions afterwards made by the churches, were made not of constraint but willingly. They who claim or indirectly exercise a coercive power over the property of church-members, are taking the oversight for filthy lucre’s sake, and have no sanction from the authority of Christ, or the example of his apostles.

Since the obedience of churches cannot be coerced, no one can begin or continue the exercise of spiritual rule over them, but at their will. Hence their bishops must be persons of their own choice. The apostles, though all collected at Jerusalem, and invested with full power from on high to do all that appertained to their office, did not appoint even the inferior officers of the church until after they had been chosen by the whole multitude of the disciples. In this procedure they recognised and established the right of the churches to elect their own officers. Even the appointment of an apostle to take the place of Judas appears to have been made by popular vote: and much more ought that of bishops over the several churches. The Greek word rendered ordain in Acts xiii. 48, signifies to stretch out the hand, and is supposed to refer to the mode of popular election by the lifting up of the hand; but, whether this criticism be just or not, the proof that church officers were so elected is sufficient without the aid of this passage.

Because the bishops must labor in word and doctrine, as well as rule, the churches should elect them from the ministers of the word. As they have no right to coerce the churches, so the churches have no right to coerce their acceptance of office. The relation must be voluntarily entered into by both parties. This voluntariness on the part of ministers is necessary to the proper exercise of their office: “Not of constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”[40]The minister cannot coerce a support from the church, but God has ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel.[41] The duty of a church to support its pastor is clearly taught in the word of God; and without the performance of this duty on their part, they have no right to expect his services; and they, in a manner, put it out of his power to render them.

DEACONS

Deacons should be chosen by the churches, from among their members, to minister in secular affairs.

By apostolic direction, the church at Jerusalem chose from among themselves seven men, honest, and of good report, who were appointed to serve tables. This measure originated in the expediency, that the apostles might give themselves to the word of God and prayer. The same expediency requires that pastors should be relieved from secular burdens, and be left to the spiritual service of the church. We know that deacons existed in the church at Philippi;[42] and directions were given to Timothy respecting the qualifications necessary for the deacon’s office. These facts authorize the conclusion, that the deacon’s office was designed to be perpetual in the churches. The mode of appointment should conform to the example of the first church. The persons should be chosen by popular vote, and invested with office by ministerial ordination.

Some have thought that deacons, as well as bishops, are called elders in the Scripture. We read of bishops and deacons in connection, but never of elders and deacons;–of the ordination of elders,[43] without the mention of deacons, when deacons were needed as well as bishops; and of contributions sent to the elders at Jerusalem,[44] after the deacons had been appointed, who were the proper officers to receive and disburse them. It is argued, moreover, that the distinction which appears to be made, in 1 Tim. v. 17, between preaching and ruling elders, naturally suggests that the ruling elders were the deacons of the primitive churches.

In the Presbyterian church, a distinct class of officers exists, called ruling elders. The only Scripture authority claimed for this office, is the text last referred to. This text, however, does not distinguish between different classes of officers, but between different modes of exercising the same office. The word rendered “labor,” signifies to labor to exhaustion. Not the elder who merely rules, is accounted worthy of double honor, but the elder who rules well; and the special honor is not due to the elder, as merely invested with the office of ministering in word and doctrine, but as laboring therein–laboring to exhaustion. Thus interpreted, the text furnishes no authority for Presbyterian lay elders; and no argument for supposing that deacons are called elders.

The other arguments to prove that the deacons were included in the eldership of the primitive churches, are not without plausibility, but they are not conclusive; and they are opposed by the facts, that all the elders of the church at Ephesus are called bishops; that all the elders addressed by Peter are said to have the oversight or episcopal office; and that the elders whom Titus was to appoint appear to have been all bishops, inasmuch as the qualifications for the deacon’s office are not subjoined to those which are described as necessary for the other office.

Among the qualifications of the deacons’ office, it is not required that they should be apt to teach; and they are therefore not appointed to act as public teachers of the word: but other qualifications are mentioned, which indicate, that they are expected to be forward in promoting the spiritual interests of the church. An obligation to do this rests on every member; and deacons are not released from it by their appointment to minister in secular affairs. Instead of becoming immersed in secularity, they are expected, by the proper exercise of their office, to purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith.[45] If deacons were everywhere active in holding up the hands of the pastors, as Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses, the prosperity of the churches would be greatly advanced, and the success of the gospel far more abundant.

[30] Heb. xiii. 17.

[31] 1 Tim. v. 17.

[32] 1 Tim. iii. 4, 5.

[33] Phil. i. 1.

[34] Acts xx. 28.

[35] 1 Peter v. 2.

[36] Titus i. 5, 7.

[37] John xviii. 36.

[38] Matt. xx. 25-27.

[39] 2 Cor. viii. 5.

[40] 1 Peter v. 2.

[41] 1 Cor. ix. 14.

[42] Phil. i. 1.

[43] Acts xiv. 23.

[44] Acts xi. 30.

[45] 1 Tim. iii. 13.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

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