Ruling Elders and the Sacraments

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by Grant Jones, Jul 18, 2018.

  1. Yes

    8 vote(s)
  2. No

    11 vote(s)
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  1. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Well, there was post 52 up thread....

  2. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Four-office, if I were to put a name to it. I understand the order of "elder" to include essentially two kinds of elders, elders who are ministers, and elders who are not. Additionally, there are two kinds of ministers, pastors and teachers/doctors. So, at the end of the day there are pastors, teachers, elders--all of whom are Biblical presbyters; and deacons.

    There are, of course, the extraordinary offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist. Apostles ceased with death of the Twelve, and prophets and evangelists are only raised up by God in extraordinary times (that, of course, would be a subject for a different thread).
  3. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    So if someone were to have your above definitions of the "Ordinary" offices, they could also say you have the 2-Office View in a sense?
    Presbyters (or Elders with 2 orders and a few kinds within the orders) and the that somewhat fair?
  4. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Yes, someone could say that. Someone could also characterize it as a three-office view, since pastors and teachers are both ministers. I don't get hung up on the labels too much. The nuances are where the most important distinctions are made.

    The reason I prefer the four-office designation is that I'm convinced that function constitutes office. If there are different functions, there are different offices.
  5. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks. I am just trying to make sure I understand the I think through this. I am now getting more of a handle on it.
  6. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    It's an issue that you'll hear a number of different views on. That's why Presbyterian churches don't make their officers subscribe to every detail of a form of government, but only to the general principles.

    Regarding my statement about function and office, it's noteworthy that the Latin word for function is officium, and that some of the older English-language writers will sometimes refer to officers as functionaries.

    I've often heard two-office men describe two different functions of the office of elder, but I don't think that holds up to a scrutiny of the actual relation of funcion to office.
  7. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    As Bruce noted, the word "elder" does not appear in the Westminster Standards.

    To see the standards right here at PB:
    (This is an option in the Rules drop-down link above on our pages that not a few of our members overlook. ;) )

    You can then use your browser to find word and phrase matches.

    As to some historical information on the discussions within the Assembly on the matter, see:
    The History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines
    By William Maxwell Hetherington, D.D., LL.D.

    A PDF version:

    Nicely formatted and edited version:

    In particular, Chapter 3. Afterwards you can search out "ruling elder" therein as the topic arises afterwards, in Chapter 4.

    See also:
    The Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards
    by Alexander F. Mitchell

    Online downloadable version:

    The discussion of elders and ruling elders is liberally seasoned throughout.

    Unless you are quite flush with cash, maybe your church or local library/university has access to the gold standard of Assembly discussions, too:
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  8. Doulos McKenzie

    Doulos McKenzie Puritan Board Freshman

    I would love to see someone try to make an argument from scripture that REs are not allowed to administer the sacraments. Any takers?
  9. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    If you will read some of the linked papers, I think you will see arguments that are based upon scripture.

    Also see the scripture proofs for the Westminster Standard Sections that have been referenced in this thread.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 20, 2018
  10. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Your subscription is to a Reformed Confession. The Reformed RPW does not teach it is required to prove a negative, but a positive warrant for worship and discipline in the church. You ask for a "proved that... not." That isn't the way it works.

    We (in Reformed and Presbyterian churches) lack warrant for elders to administer the sacraments. That's enough for us to say that it is not warranted. There is no biblical precedent. So, unless one manages an argument proving there is no difference between an elder and the minister who is ordained to administer the sacrament, then elders may not; nor may deacons or the laymen generally, for none of them are ordained to that service.

    Elders in OT Israel were important people, but not authorized and ordained to serve at the altar. There was a whole litany of rites for the Tabernacle that none but Levites, and still none but priests, and some even just the high priest might perform. They had to be ordained to that work.

    Heb.5 says that not even our Lord Jesus assumed the duties of his unique High Priestly role except as one called and ordained as Aaron was. Now, those who serve the sacramental meal or pour the water of baptism are appointed as Christ's hands, ordained to act in his stead and by his command. Is this the duty of the elders? Where is that so taught?

    Is this the duty of ministers? Paul describes his apostolic service for Christ as "ministry," prominently in 2Cor, e.g. 1:19-22; 2:15-17; 3:3-6; 4:1-5; 5:1:20; 6:1-4. The apostles were commissioned to baptize (and by extension to serve both sacraments) in Mt.28:19, and Paul did baptize, see 1Cor.1:14. The apostle's ordinary services devolved to the ordinary ministers of the church as they departed (though not their extraordinary services).

    Today's ministers are the basic carriers of the church's ministry. When the church--with its elders--has called a minister, they have a full-fledged ministry present in their midst for their needs. Such possession is a true sign of God's blessing. While they wait, and those services are performed by visiting ministers, they are reminded of that lack for which they endure.

    Today's ministers continue as "stewards of the mysteries," (2Cor.4:1); and yet not all the work is given to them alone. But just as Moses called for the tribes to give up judges (Ex.18:25-26) so that the load he was called to bear would be more efficiently borne; just as these were ordained as officials, but not to the same office as Moses or the priests, so too are the elders of today called to their own office.

    Apostles are elders too, 1Pet.5:1, as Moses was a judge. Peter can characterize his labor as (in one sense) just one among the rest. Yet, he is an apostle, and they are not apostles. In like manner, ministers know they are elders too. They can sit among the elders in session and rule with them, not above them as their "fellow." But, in terms of what he alone is called to do--while the elders are not--he does the special work of the ministry. He is (in this sense) a minister, and they are not ministers. They are elders.
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  11. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    So you would argue that the Westminster Confession is contra-scriptural and contains lies?
  12. Doulos McKenzie

    Doulos McKenzie Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm just asking that a solid argument be made from the scriptures.
  13. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

  14. Doulos McKenzie

    Doulos McKenzie Puritan Board Freshman

  15. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    As noted immediately above (by Patrick), Bruce Buchanan has just made such an argument.

    You should understand in terms of historic Reformed and Presbyterian polity that the question has not been whether there is warrant for the office of minister but whether there is warrant for the office of ruling elder, reflected, for example, in the discussion of the words επίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος in which not only was the former taken to mean minister/pastor but the latter was understand as a TE (to use the PCA term). In the Roman church the former was taken to mean higher clergy (bishop), while the latter referred to the parish minister (priest).

    My point is not that there is no clear NT warrant for the office of ruling elder, certainly there is in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 (gifts of leading and administrating), but I believe elsewhere as well, including I Timothy 3 by inference, though I take that chiefly to refer to ministers. I should say that I think that the chief warrant is from the OT institution of elders in the gates and their relations to the Levites, which continues in the NT economy, seen at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), in which elders join apostles in joint rule, the extraordinary office of apostle giving way in the Pastorals to the ordinary one of minister/pastor (with elder continuing on). Bruce alludes to this and I have written of this in various places, one example being here:

    To imply, as your "challenge" seems to, that the biblical argument for ministers only administering the sacraments has not been made on this forum is not accurate. And it is certainly the position of our doctrinal standards.

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  16. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior


    Thanks for the OPC article. Very helpful, particularly, for the 3-office view, but also helpful for those who hold the 2-office view. In my humble opinion, I think the PCA has the 3-office view in practice... but on paper (BCO) claims a 2-office view. As such, would I be okay to approve the PCA BCO (for serving as a Deacon), while also holding to more of a 3-office view (which I believe I hold)? In your opinion?
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 21, 2018
  17. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    It's sometimes called a 2 1/2 office view: one office of elder, but two functions within that office.
  18. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    Haha...I see
    or the 4 office view;) (joking).
  19. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior



    There are men in the OPC who self-identify as two-office and in the PCA as three-office. I have dear friends among both groups. As long as they are able to follow the provisions of their respective church orders, all is well.

    The OPC is a soft three-office church and the PCA is a 2.5 office church (as Tyler indicates). Thus they come near each other in this. That the latter is true is seen in this discussion and that the PCA requires a separate ordination for RE's and TE's and restricts ordinary ministerial duties (preaching the Word and administering the sacraments) to TE's (except in the case of the licensed RE, with respect to preaching).

    Having said all that, the judicatories (courts) of our churches set and monitor the boundaries of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

  20. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you. Your insight and knowledge have served to at least bless one saint this very morning!
  21. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    I am happy to know that as a (Hattiesburg) Mississippi boy myself!

    I hope that all is well there in Rankin County. Welcome to Presbyterianism!

  22. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    I'd mention it to the elders, but I don't think you'd be asked to take it as an exception. The BCO supports the 2 office view, but it certainly isn't explicit (or there wouldn't have been a need for the study report).
  23. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    The PCC in Singapore hold the two and a half position.
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  24. ScottishPresbyterian

    ScottishPresbyterian Puritan Board Freshman

    This has been a useful thread for me, I think I will read some of the links with more attention when I have more time. The thing which has always struck me is that in Acts 8 it seems fairly clear that the one preaching to the Samaritans and baptising the Ethiopian eunuch is Philip the deacon.

    I know it is generally accepted in most Presbyterian circles that administering the sacraments is within the purview of Teaching Elders only - but I'm not sure its clear either from the Scriptures or the WCF. Does "minister of the word, lawfully ordained" exclude the Ruling Elder (who has indeed been lawfully ordained)? To put it another way, is there a scriptural reason to believe that a minister of the word is exclusively a Teaching Elder, and not a Ruling Elder?
  25. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Why would we assume Philip was not promoted to a higher office?
  26. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    The answer to your question is "yes". The Ruling elder is ordained as a Ruling Elder, not as a minister of the gospel. Even two office churches recognize that; the question shouldn't even come up in a three office church.
  27. ScottishPresbyterian

    ScottishPresbyterian Puritan Board Freshman

    Because we shouldn't assume things into a Scripture to suit a viewpoint. A much more pertinent question is, why should we assume he was? We know that much later in the book of Acts he was called Philip the Evangelist, but the events of chapter 8 seem to follow pretty closely on the death of Stephen in chapter 7, which follows quite closely on the ordination if the deal ons in chapter 6. It would be quite strange to have Philip ordained a deacon and then very quickly made an evangelist.

    Thanks Edward, I know that is the answer recognised by most Presbyterian churches, the bedrock of my question is, what is the basis for this answer?
  28. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Because the specific duties of deacons and pastors are spelled out cleanly in Acts 6.
  29. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The improper assumption is that Acts is giving you all the information you might possibly need. Your Baptist friends would say you are assuming things into Scripture to suit a viewpoint, when all they read in Acts is that there was a profession of faith, followed by a baptism. No-infant-baptism slam dunk?

    Acts does not progress, ch by ch, at a steady pace. There's a forty-day unpacking of the first few vv of ch1, ten more days over twice as many. The lion's share of ch2 is a few hours on Sunday morning. Then weeks and weeks in the last few vv. Ch.3 is one afternoon some weeks or months later. Ch.4 is the whole next day after that, and then another interlude of time not measured, taking you 11vv into ch.5.

    Ch.s 3-7 are all about the differentiation of the NC community from the OC community, and the escalation of hostility from the latter toward the former. Interspersed in that narrative are two lesser episodes of 1) the common-goods situation, culminating with Ananias and Sapphira; and 2) the devolving of the diaconate into a separate body of the ministry.

    We could not say but in a general way where we on a neutral timeline we are, regarding the internal progress of the church in the lesser episodes, when compared to the external progress in the main narrative. Perhaps there is a gap of many months, or even a year, between the arrests in ch.5 (persecution stage 2) and the death of Stephen in ch.7, stage 3. That would allow for plenty of "space" for the ordination of deacons soon after the events of ch.5, and the activities that followed the death of Stephen when the great persecution began in ch.8.

    Moreover, that persecution would likely be felt most in the loss of prominent leaders, especially elders and teachers. That would result in reorganizations and natural promotions of those in a lesser body of the ministry (a deacon) to the duties and functions of preacher, a higher ministerial duty. This is a rational reading of the events as they actually transpired.

    We can't decide what the responsibilities of deacons, vs. elders etc. are, just by reading an historical account. That will give us a picture of "what's going on," while leaving many blanks to be filled in by our imagination. But to really tell how things "ought to be" in the church, we have to go to the epistles, and maybe foundationally (in terms of the ministry) to the pastoral epistles. Then, we can check our theology against the picture we have of what was happening in Acts and other historical mentions.
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  30. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    I don't think anyone would argue that we should assume that Philip was ordained an evangelist. We would argue that it may be deduced that he was ordained an evangelist.

    When we consider that Philip was administering the Word (8:4) and sacraments (8:38), it is reasonable to deduce that he was ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament, especially seeing that he is later called an evangelist. The only other person called an evangelist is Timothy (2 Tim 4:5), who was a special kind of minister of the gospel, with prerogatives that did not belong to ordinary pastors, but who was not an apostle. In Eph. 4:11, evangelists are listed among the teaching offices of the church: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers."

    I Tim 5:17: "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." If not all elders labour in word and doctrine, then not all elders are ministers of the word.

    As to who the "ministers of the word" are in the WCF, XV:i states, "Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ." So, all ministers of the word are preachers. This is the same group that Paul described as those who "labour in word and doctrine" above. They are "teaching elders."
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