The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Marty,

When I read your post above it did cause me to reflect a bit. I realized that some of the exegetical bases for Church Offices are founded less on "do such and such" (i.e. didactic principle) and more on descriptive passages. I will grant that the precise form might be hard to argue. I would agree, in principle, that Reformed bodies ought not be divided over the issue.

I would have to say that any Church Government would have to account for at least two involiable didactic principles:

1. That elders are to care for the souls of their sheep and will give account to Christ for the nature of that care. It's a bit late here so you'll forgive me if I don't produce the verses for this well established principle in both the OT and NT. This simply cannot be accomplish by "fly by". To use military terminology, there is a practical "span of control" beyond which a man cannot practically "supervise" those under his charge. A single pastor cannot possible hope to be intimately familiar with hundreds under his charge. Episcopal and Congregational forms tend to provide a much too broad span of control for a single elder to manage.

2. The unity of the faith. The Church is to strive for this and not simply the local congregation. In this both the Presbyterian and Episcopal governments succeed. I don't believe Independent bodies meet this requirement and tend to reflect the likes/dislikes of the men in charge.
 

toddpedlar

Iron Dramatist
Secondly, 1 Tim. 5:17 should be examined in connection with the fact that the apostolic church contained an office of ruling distinct from teaching, as is clear from Rom. 12:8, "he that ruleth," and 1 Cor. 12:28, "governments."

Yes, thanks. The only problem I have with these verses is that they're speaking of "gifts" in context, not so much office. Moreover, they're not connected explicitly with eldership. And finally, it's difficult to know precisely what the "ruling" and "governing" actually involves. For example, is the "ruler" (or "one who presides over") of Rom. 12:8 one who presides over the house-church because it meets in their home? Is it one who presides over help with the poor? In the end there is simply not enough exegetical evidence to draw a certain conclusion one way or another.

Hence, I don't see that the "ruling elder" is unbiblical; I just don't think the evidence is strong enough for it to be prescribed by Scripture.

Yes, I guess on that note, Matthew, you were right: we are back to the RPW. :)

God bless.

I do think you ought to check out Samuel Miller's "The Ruling Elder", recently reprinted by Crown Rights and sold for a nice price at Monergism Books. It's an EXCELLENT treatment of the case for, qualifications for and duties of the office.

You can also get it here.

Cheers,

Andrew My.... I mean Todd.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Secondly, 1 Tim. 5:17 should be examined in connection with the fact that the apostolic church contained an office of ruling distinct from teaching, as is clear from Rom. 12:8, "he that ruleth," and 1 Cor. 12:28, "governments."

Yes, thanks. The only problem I have with these verses is that they're speaking of "gifts" in context, not so much office. Moreover, they're not connected explicitly with eldership. And finally, it's difficult to know precisely what the "ruling" and "governing" actually involves. For example, is the "ruler" (or "one who presides over") of Rom. 12:8 one who presides over the house-church because it meets in their home? Is it one who presides over help with the poor? In the end there is simply not enough exegetical evidence to draw a certain conclusion one way or another.

Hence, I don't see that the "ruling elder" is unbiblical; I just don't think the evidence is strong enough for it to be prescribed by Scripture.

Yes, I guess on that note, Matthew, you were right: we are back to the RPW. :)

God bless.

I do think you ought to check out Samuel Miller's "The Ruling Elder", recently reprinted by Crown Rights and sold for a nice price at Monergism Books. It's an EXCELLENT treatment of the case for, qualifications for and duties of the office.

You can also get it here.

Cheers,

Andrew My.... I mean Todd.

:agree: The Ruling Elder rocks, er, it's a great resource.
 

toddpedlar

Iron Dramatist
Secondly, 1 Tim. 5:17 should be examined in connection with the fact that the apostolic church contained an office of ruling distinct from teaching, as is clear from Rom. 12:8, "he that ruleth," and 1 Cor. 12:28, "governments."

Yes, thanks. The only problem I have with these verses is that they're speaking of "gifts" in context, not so much office. Moreover, they're not connected explicitly with eldership. And finally, it's difficult to know precisely what the "ruling" and "governing" actually involves. For example, is the "ruler" (or "one who presides over") of Rom. 12:8 one who presides over the house-church because it meets in their home? Is it one who presides over help with the poor? In the end there is simply not enough exegetical evidence to draw a certain conclusion one way or another.

Hence, I don't see that the "ruling elder" is unbiblical; I just don't think the evidence is strong enough for it to be prescribed by Scripture.

Yes, I guess on that note, Matthew, you were right: we are back to the RPW. :)

God bless.

Incidentally, what do you do with the fact that there were to be a plurality of elders ordained in every church? Do you see them all as identical to pastors/teachers, then? Or do you see those commands as not prescribing (or narrative instances describing) a plurality of elders in each local congregation?
 

Dieter Schneider

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for that, how long are you going to last in the CofE?

I could do a Thomas Cartwright ;) But on a serious note, over the next year I shall be where I am at now geographically which means I shall stay at the evangelical congregation I am at now. But once my MSc is done I will DV relocate. The course is internationally recognised so "The world is my oyster" in one sense. But Scotland seems attractive (for a whole host of reasons), possibly Northern Ireland (the same applies but an Englishman in NI?). New Zealand and the States are also attractive but time will tell. Would value prayers :pray2:

Having mixed among Scottish Presbyterians for some 18 years I should (sadly) warn you about the lack of unanimity among Scottish Calvinists. Also remember - it is a different country.
 

JohnOwen007

Puritan Board Sophomore
I would have to say that any Church Government would have to account for at least two involiable didactic principles:

1. That elders are to care for the souls of their sheep and will give account to Christ for the nature of that care. [...]

2. The unity of the faith. [...].

Yes, Rich, thanks for your response. I think I'd have to agree with you, although I'm not sure I'd want to write off congregationalists completely when it comes to unity. Their system maybe the weakest at that point. I'm not sure I'd want to say it's unbiblical (not that you do).

My plea is to recognize that the categories of church polity (presbyterian, episcopal, congregational) are not an issue over which reformed Christians should divide, and that none of us has it completely right. A blueprint for a particular polity is very difficult to defend from the NT. None of the three are overtly unbiblical. For example, just because the ruling elder cannot be proved from Scripture, it doesn't mean it's wrong. It's extra-biblical rather than unbiblical.

God bless brother.
 

JohnOwen007

Puritan Board Sophomore
I do think you ought to check out Samuel Miller's "The Ruling Elder", recently reprinted by Crown Rights and sold for a nice price at Monergism Books. It's an EXCELLENT treatment of the case for, qualifications for and duties of the office.

Dear Todd thanks for this brother. Yes, I've read Miller. It's fascinating stuff. However, it suffers from the problems I've enunciated in some of my earlier posts above. For example, he often makes descriptive texts prescriptive rules. His treatment of 1 Tim. 5:17 doesn't grapple with the meaning of malista (to which I referred above).

Thanks for the links mate! Good cheap reformed literature is a wonderful resource.
 

JohnOwen007

Puritan Board Sophomore
Incidentally, what do you do with the fact that there were to be a plurality of elders ordained in every church? Do you see them all as identical to pastors/teachers, then? Or do you see those commands as not prescribing (or narrative instances describing) a plurality of elders in each local congregation?

Thanks Todd. As I said above, what do we do with Titus (and Timothy) who singlehandedly were to appoint elders (Titus 1:5)? What were they? Do they become a paradigm for a bishop? Just because we find something happening in a narrative, we must be very careful before we turn it into a prescription.

I think what's critical in this discussion is the issue of gift before we think of office (and ordination). In Eph. 4:11 we find that the words gifts (apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist) have a priority when it comes to equipping the body. There is no talk of office (and hence ordination) per se.

Churches existed before elders were appointed (Acts 14:23). Hence, churches can exist without office (elders). It seems to me that the word-gifts (a la Eph. 4:11-12) are critical to the growth and health of a church. The reason for office (elder / overseer / shepherd / pastor) is so that those with word-gifts can exercise their gifts more effectively. As the early church grew hence the need to create the office of elder / overseer / shepherd / pastor. We see this arise from Paul's earliest letters through to his last (namely the Pastoral epistles).

Blessings Todd.
 

AV1611

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks Todd. As I said above, what do we do with Titus (and Timothy) who singlehandedly were to appoint elders (Titus 1:5)? What were they? Do they become a paradigm for a bishop? Just because we find something happening in a narrative, we must be very careful before we turn it into a prescription.

Titus was an apostolic delegate commissioned by Paul to appoint elders in Crete. Once he died that responsibility died with him.

Timothy was an Evangelist which was a temporary office according to most commentators. Did Timothy appoint elders?

We do indeed need to be very careful before we turn it into a prescription and so you also need to make sure that the description of Titus and Timothy does not become a prescription for prelacy. :handshake:

Churches existed before elders were appointed (Acts 14:23). Hence, churches can exist without office (elders).

This is not correct for is elders were not essential then why would have Paul charging Titus say "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee"?
 

JohnOwen007

Puritan Board Sophomore
Dear AV,

Thanks for the questions. Here are some clarifications.

Titus was an apostolic delegate commissioned by Paul to appoint elders in Crete. Once he died that responsibility died with him.

Where does the Bible say that that responsibility died with him? Are the elders that Paul appointed in Acts 14:23 also apostolic delegates whose responsibility disappears when they died? It seems that you're bringing the idea to the text, not deriving it from the text.

Timothy was an Evangelist which was a temporary office according to most commentators.

But according to Scripture there's no evidence that the "evangelist" was temporary. That was an idea first given air by Eusebius of Caeserea (4th century), and it was kind of assumed from then on for quite some time. But it's not what most commentators would say now. Rightly it was called into question after the 17th century because the Bible nowhere says it.

It is true that the "apostle" and the "prophet" appears to be temporary from Eph. 2:20. But nowhere does the Bible say evangelists are. Moreover, the "evangelist" is a gift (Eph. 4:7-11), but is nowhere described as an office. We must be careful to distinguish between gift and office. Christ gifts his church, and one can exercise the ministry of the word and leading without being appointed to an office.

Did Timothy appoint elders?
The text doesn't explicitly say, but it's likely given that he is given the same sorts of instructions about the qualities of an elder in 1 Tim. 3 as Titus (in Titus 1). Moreover, he's charged by Paul not to engage in the laying on of hands (appointment of elders) lightly.

We do indeed need to be very careful before we turn it into a prescription and so you also need to make sure that the description of Titus and Timothy does not become a prescription for prelacy. :handshake:

I actually wasn't arguing that. I was merely saying that if you're going to use Acts to argue that we must have multiple elders, then one can use the same hermeneutic to prove the necessity of bishops.

Churches existed before elders were appointed (Acts 14:23). Hence, churches can exist without office (elders).

This is not correct for is elders were not essential then why would have Paul charging Titus say "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee"?

Firstly, Acts 14:23 shows clearly that churches existed before elders were appointed. Paul went back to churches to appoint them.

Secondly, just because Paul charged Titus to appoint elders, does it follow that churches must have elders to be churches? The letter of Titus was not written to us but to Titus. It was not written to us but for us. In other words, the letter of Titus is occasional. So, we have to dig deeper into the argument to see how things apply now.

We are given the exact reason why Titus was to appoint elders, it was because of the spread of false teachers on Crete (Titus 1:10-11). That is, it was for a specific situation; Crete in the first century.

The principle I would argue from this is: it would seem that elders (which are also called overseers and shepherds) are for the "well-being" (bene esse) of the church, not the "being" (esse) of the church. We can have a church without elders. But so that certain word-gifts (Eph. 4:11) can be fully discharged (especially as churches grow) then an office of elder needs at some stage to be created. This is what we find happening over the writing of the NT. Office develops.

As I have argued in the above posts, there is no clear evidence for an office of ruling-elder, as elders had to be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Moreover, there is no mention of elders in the process of local church discipline in Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5, and Gal. 6.

One more time: that doesn't mean ruling elders are unbiblical, just extra biblical. But it does mean a church doesn't have to have them.

God bless brother.
 
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