Elder Overseer / Deacon and Lay Elder?

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RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
For some quick context and background; I attend a 1689 Baptist church and when thinking of church leadership I think in terms of congregational lead structures. However, I am interested in hearing views from other forms in addition to the one I am in. So when you respond please let me know what form of church government you are responding.

My question sits with the concept of Elder/Overseer in a church. When churches grow usually the number of Elders who are included in the ranks grow as well. Some of the Elders are training and come directly from seminaries who receive double honor (ie. wages). Others were normal congregants not trained in seminary but pass the requirements of being an Elder. However, since they're not formally trained I have seen elders refer to some of them as Lay Elders. This appears to be a Baptist phenomenon (example: 9 Marks) but I can't speak on behalf of Presbyterian circles. Can you share your thoughts on the following questions:

1. Is it biblical to refer to an Elders as a Elders and Lay Elder? (ie. one formally trained and/or staff vs one raised up who doesn't have formal training)
2. Does a Lay Elder have the same authority as an Elder/Pastor/Senior Pastor?
3. Is it biblical to have a title of Lead Pastor for one person and Associate Pastor or Pastor for another person?
4. When there is conflict between Elders how is it resolved?

As always thank you for your insight.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
1. Lay elder was the term Episcopalians used when disputing with Presbyterians over whether the office of ruling elder was biblical. Presbyterians took it as a derogatory term. Going on their understanding of the Scriptures, Presbyterians refer to the office as that of ruling elder.
2. The biblical offices are teaching elder, ruling elder, and deacon. The ruling elders' office is to rule and in that he has equal status to the teaching elder, whose office is to teach in addition.
3. Division of labor is a natural thing and as long as the scheme does not itself denigrate the office or cross divine prescriptions there may be different ways of addressing multiple TEs in one congregation.
4. Conflict should be settled personally, and if not, by the elders in their local session, and still if not there, on appeal to their presbytery, and then regional synod, or national synod or finally ecumenical. It is clear churches are connected in Scripture and while the different levels are left to circumstantial matters, the divine prescription is to use such broader presbyteries to govern the broader church and settle controversies that arise.
This is spelled out in detail in works on Presbyterianism, but I would point especially to the English Presbyterian work, Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici which is scheduled to come off the press in a month or six weeks at RHB in a new critical edition.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
1689 church here. There are two church offices: elders and deacons. The Bible recognizes no hiearchy of eldership, therefore there is parity--all elders have equal authority. We call it parity and plurality--the latter because we esteem it prudent and blessed to have more than one elder. Everyone called to be an elder must meet the requirements in Timothy and Titus, including an aptitude to teach.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
For some quick context and background; I attend a 1689 Baptist church and when thinking of church leadership I think in terms of congregational lead structures. However, I am interested in hearing views from other forms in addition to the one I am in. So when you respond please let me know what form of church government you are responding.

My question sits with the concept of Elder/Overseer in a church. When churches grow usually the number of Elders who are included in the ranks grow as well. Some of the Elders are training and come directly from seminaries who receive double honor (ie. wages). Others were normal congregants not trained in seminary but pass the requirements of being an Elder. However, since they're not formally trained I have seen elders refer to some of them as Lay Elders. This appears to be a Baptist phenomenon (example: 9 Marks) but I can't speak on behalf of Presbyterian circles. Can you share your thoughts on the following questions:

1. Is it biblical to refer to an Elders as a Elders and Lay Elder? (ie. one formally trained and/or staff vs one raised up who doesn't have formal training)
2. Does a Lay Elder have the same authority as an Elder/Pastor/Senior Pastor?
3. Is it biblical to have a title of Lead Pastor for one person and Associate Pastor or Pastor for another person?
4. When there is conflict between Elders how is it resolved?

As always thank you for your insight.
I am a Presbyterian.

1. It is biblical to distinguish between elders who labour in word & doctrine and those who only rule well (1 Timothy 5:17), noting however this has to do with function & the division of labour, not authority. But even as the latter could/should still be trained (formally or informally) I do not see the need to speak of "lay elders," if only to avoid the idea that one function is above another in terms of authority.
2. All elders have the same authority. Even Peter, an apostle, considered himself on the same level as other men in the church when he spoke as "also an elder" (1 Peter 5:1). Note that in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 & 1 Peter 5 the qualifications for the office are all the same. Indeed, they are all addressed as one: elders (plural) James 5:14, 1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:5, 1 Peter 5:1. And even when Paul uses a different term ("bishop" or overseer Titus 1:7) it is mentioned in the qualifications of elders. In other words, a different term does not distinguish levels of authority.
3. It is not strictly biblical but some churches use it to distinguish between men of differing ages and experience. Nevertheless keep in mind 1 Timothy 4:12. Personally I do not care for this distinction but perhaps it can be used wisely.
4. Conflict in what sense? Personal? Doctrinal? Obviously all the elders need to be involved in resolving the conflict and, perhaps, alongside wiser men in the congregation. In Presbyterian polity we can resort to the wisdom of the larger body of the church. With the allowance of local leadership, you could also seek the help of elders of like-minded congregations.
 
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CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
*Sigh* I'm sure I need educated on this point, but if I don't speak up, how might I be corrected? In my view, 1 Timothy 5:17 is simply too ambiguous and too brief to model an office within Church governance. And, even if one grants that it does, how can one defer extra "honor" to an office without including a greater measure of authority as well, at the very least that of respectful influence?

The three-office paradigm, wherein two of the offices carry equal authority, manifests a fatal inconsistency. The establishment of a separate office ipso facto assigns a different kind of authority to it; and when those two offices work together, different levels of authority necessarily arise. There is nothing good or bad in this; it is simply the way human organizations work.

We agree that the authority of the Church is primarily ministerial; and we generally assign the lion's share of the ministering to the teaching elder. Thus, he logically carries more authority than the ruling elder. Despite the slender biblical justification for the three-office view, this functional hierarchy is essential to the peace of the Church, because the vast majority of the sheep are instinctively three-office, in the sense of ranking authority -- which, again, is not bad; it is just the way we are created. Even so, the doctrine that the two offices are equal in authority serves the Church as a convenient fiction, being a prophylactic against teaching elder domination and ruling elder flaccidity.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
if one grants that it does, how can one defer extra "honor" to an office without including a greater measure of authority as well, at the very least that of respectful influence?
I think you might be confusing authority against influence. Regardless of rank your authority is equal but without granting a special title some may have increased influence. One verse mentioned above mentions Peter making himself equal to newly established churches as an example (1 Peter 5:1). He grants himself the same title with equal authority yet he has more influence. Leadership is a gift not a rank or title.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
4. Conflict in what sense? Personal? Doctrinal? Obviously all the elders need to be involved in resolving the conflict and, perhaps, alongside wiser men in the congregation. In Presbyterian polity we can resort to the wisdom of the larger body of the church. With the allowance of local leadership, you could also seek the help of elders of like-minded congregations.
Let's say its doctrinal and a matter of interpretation.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
And, even if one grants that it does, how can one defer extra "honor" to an office without including a greater measure of authority as well, at the very least that of respectful influence?
One very simple way is by maintenance. The elder who gets paid has the single honor of respect for his office, along with the others, but in addition the double honor of support to enable his concentration on his labor. I've now had the privilege to have some firsthand acquaintance with the inner workings of the elders at three different churches -- OPC, URC, and RCUS. I think it's fair to say that in none of them was the pastor the dominant spirit at the elder's meetings.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
I think you might be confusing authority against influence.
Yes, authority is to be distinguished from influence. Influence is the power to induce a change of mind in another; authority is the power to cause a change of action in another. Yet, because man is a moral being, possessed of mind and will, authority is heavily dependent upon influence.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
Regardless of rank your authority is equal but without granting a special title some may have increased influence.
Well, being as rank is defined as the hierarchy of authority, it's not clear with the first clause might mean; but the intent of the sentence as a whole seems to be that formal authority may differ from informal influence. Yes, this is true, indeed, very commonly true. Yet, by the same token, it is also true that de facto authority may differ from de jure authority. My contention is that the informal influence sustains the de facto authority.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
One verse mentioned above mentions Peter making himself equal to newly established churches as an example (1 Peter 5:1). He grants himself the same title with equal authority yet he has more influence
Yes, Peter presents himself as an elder, sharing the respect and responsibilities of that office with the installed leadership of the congregations to which he writes; but he also claims another, superior, office, that his readers do not share, namely, that of apostle ("a witness of the sufferings of Christ"). This passage illustrates the principle that the authority of the greater office includes within itself the authority of the lesser. In the application to the three-office view, the authority of the teaching elder includes the authority of the ruling elder.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
I've now had the privilege to have some firsthand acquaintance with the inner workings of the elders at three different churches -- OPC, URC, and RCUS. I think it's fair to say that in none of them was the pastor the dominant spirit at the elder's meetings.
Yes, the three-office view is a remarkable paradigm. It cannot be justified by a strict exegesis using the regulative principle; nor is it a pure distillation of the natural political functioning of society. It is, instead, a distinctive compromise between the two, well tested by time. As such, it is normative for Church governance -- a never-fully-obtainable ideal always to be aspired to. Even so, it does not command absolute moral obligation, instead permitting adjustments necessitated by circumstances and culture.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
Yes, Peter presents himself as an elder, sharing the respect and responsibilities of that office with the installed leadership of the congregations to which he writes; but he also claims another, superior, office, that his readers do not share, namely, that of apostle ("a witness of the sufferings of Christ"). This passage illustrates the principle that the authority of the greater office includes within itself the authority of the lesser. In the application to the three-office view, the authority of the teaching elder includes the authority of the ruling elder.
I believe you would agree that the authority of Apostle was unique to antiquity. No longer can any church member claim such authority in which we are left between the terms Overseer and Elder. I recognize that some churches like to refer to some elders as Teaching Elder to represent role. Because apostleship is no longer an office how would you distinguish authority of rank using the only two terms of Overseer and Elder? The requirements and duties of both offices are the same when reviewed. I think the prefacing of using the terms Teaching or Ruling indicate function. However, prefacing a statement of ruling does indicate rank which in my mind doesn't align with scripture.

Can you define the role/authority of Teaching Elder vs Ruling Elder? How is one labeled teaching elder vs ruling elder?
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
My contention is that the informal influence sustains the de facto authority.
I think we are in agreement. If we take a group of people without rank and place them in a room there will be one, or a few, that will stand out as leaders. These leaders are recognized by their abilities, character and how they carry themselves not by their title/rank. When selecting elders that should be the practice to find and raise up such persons. There is one verse in Timothy that speaks to double honor for those making a living in ministry. The bible does make a distinction between paid vs unpaid in measure of honor. Yet, it is my understanding that both are equal and the reference to double honor is receiving a wage.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
Well, being as rank is defined as the hierarchy of authority, it's not clear with the first clause might mean;
Poorly worded on my part. My point is that my influence designates ones ability to lead. This can be viewed as rank but its short of being granted a special title. The only titles I find in scripture are Elder/Overseer in which I see them as being synonymous. Anytime a church deviates from these they usually indicate a rank not granted in scripture. For example, these titles when paired together can indicate rank: Pastor vs Lead Pastor, Elder vs Lay Elder.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
One very simple way is by maintenance. The elder who gets paid has the single honor of respect for his office, along with the others, but in addition the double honor of support to enable his concentration on his labor.
Yes, maintenance is one of the functions of remuneration; but another is that it both expresses and stimulates the respect that fertilizes authority. Jesus commanded charity, because it makes the giver thereof more compassionate (Ac. 20:35); likewise, one is more likely to listen to advice that he has paid for. To customarily pay the teaching elder and not the ruling elder manifests and sustains a distinction in the authority of the two offices. Please note that I am not claiming this is wrong or unbiblical; all I am saying is that the three-office view teaches that the authority of the two offices is the same; but, in practice treats them as though they were different.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
I think I see. As I understand it, when it's claimed that the offices of ruling and teaching elder have the same authority, that's understood as it relates to the government of the church. They have the same ruling authority. But of course if the authority were entirely co-extensive, it's not clear what the need would be for a separate office. So the teaching elder does have some authority that the ruling elder does not; but it's not a greater measure of authority over one area, rather it's equal authority over the area of ruling, plus authority in the area of teaching.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
I believe you would agree that the authority of Apostle was unique to antiquity. No longer can any church member claim such authority in which we are left between the terms Overseer and Elder. I recognize that some churches like to refer to some elders as Teaching Elder to represent role. Because apostleship is no longer an office how would you distinguish authority of rank using the only two terms of Overseer and Elder? The requirements and duties of both offices are the same when reviewed. I think the prefacing of using the terms Teaching or Ruling indicate function. However, prefacing a statement of ruling does indicate rank which in my mind doesn't align with scripture.

Can you define the role/authority of Teaching Elder vs Ruling Elder? How is one labeled teaching elder vs ruling elder?
Yes, the office of Apostle has expired in the Church Age, replaced by the authority of Scripture. Yes, "elder" and "overseer" are used synonymously in NT, so they are not to be distinguished in Church governance and service (e.g., 1 Pet. 5:1-2).

On the question of authority and role of teaching elders and ruling elders, I defer to the OPC Form of Government (https://opc.org/BCO/FG.html): Chapter V, paragraph 2, defines an office as the public recognition of the calling of Christ to exercise the special gifts of teaching, ruling, and serving in the Church. Chapter VI delineates the duty and authority of the teaching elder "to feed the flock of God, to be an example to them, to have oversight of them, to bear the glad tidings of salvation to the ignorant and perishing and beseech them to be reconciled to God through Christ, to exhort and convince the gainsayer by sound doctrine, and to dispense the sacraments instituted by Christ." Likewise, Chapter X directs the ruling elders "to watch diligently over the people committed to their charge to prevent corruption of doctrine or morals. . . . They should visit the people, especially the sick, instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourning, and nourish and guard the children of the covenant. They should pray with and for the people. They should have particular concern for the doctrine and conduct of the minister of the Word and help him in his labors." Although there is a distinction of authority to be discerned herein, the call to service for both offices is much more prominent.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
On the question of authority and role of teaching elders and ruling elders, I defer to the OPC Form of Government
Thank you for sending this information over as it is helpful. Do you by chance know where they derive their statements from in the scriptures? I see the statements made but I am not sure where in the scriptures they come to those conclusions.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
OPC does not publish an interleaved set of denomnation-approved proof texts for its Form of Government. However, you may rest assured that each of the directives has been carefully reviewed and thoroughly discussed from historical, theological, and scriptural perspectives. Is there any particular aspect that piques your curiosity?
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
If you will allow, I will slightly rephrase your question, to make sure I understand it correctly: Does the ruling elder bear any kind of authority that the teaching elder does not? The answer is, No, he doesn't. The exegete may base this conclusion on the observation that the governance qualifications are always listed for the office of elder, not distinguishing between teaching and ruling. For instance, "A bishop" must be "one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)" (1 Tim. 3:2, 4-5 NKJ). To state the matter negatively, there is no listing of a type of authority accorded to the ruling elder, but not to the teaching elder.
 

CovenantWord

Puritan Board Freshman
[All quotations herein are drawn from The Orthodox Presbyterian Church Form of Government, Chapter 1, Section D https://opc.org/BCO/DPW.html#Chapter_I.] To be sure, there is nothing sacred in the titles themselves, which are simply handy labels to express the mutually supportive functions of the two offices. An essential expression thereof is to be found in the governance and ministry of public worship, over which "the exalted Christ . . . rules . . . by his Word and Spirit, not only directly, but also through the ministry of officers in their ruling and teaching his church" (1a); and wherein He "applies himself and his benefits to the elect through his Spirit working in human hearts by and with his Word, especially in its public reading, its preaching, its sealing by the sacraments, and as it is received in faith by prayer" (1b).

Thus, in governance, the session, comprising both teaching elders and ruling elders, "is responsible to give immediate oversight to the conduct of public worship in the local church" (2a); and, in ministry, "[p]ublic worship is ordinarily to be conducted by those who have been ordained to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in the administration of his Word and sacraments." (2b). In particular, while ruling elders may assist in the ministry leadership of public worship, they "may not . . . pronounce the salutation or the benediction or administer the sacraments" (2d).

We have here an expression of the Reformed governance principle of seeking safety in the multitude of counselors and of the ministry principle of linking the preaching of the Word with the administration of the sacraments.
 
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