The Ruling Elder in the PCA

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Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
I am considering pursuing ordiantion (with the blessing of my Pastor) for ruling elder. During this time, I have been reading Samuel Miller's "The Ruling Elder." Next on the list is "The Reformed Pastor." Eventually, my desire is for the position of teaching elder (after seminary). My question is concerning the office of ruling elder:

1) Elders are supposed to be apt to teach. However, ruling elders are to NOT to teach OR administer the sacraments. They are to know their doctrine to shepard the flock, etc. What are the standards of their aptness to teach? Should they have the same qualifications in this area as a teaching elder? If not, how trained in doctrine/scriptures SHOULD they be?

2) After reading some PCA Position Papers on the office distinctions of elder, I realized that our church is in violation of the PCA in that our ruling elders administer the sacraments, and even during our Pastor's Sabbatical, each had their turn at preaching from the pulpit. Given this information, should I pursue this office? Should I bring this to session/presbytery?

Help! :candle:
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Jeff,

I am not sure what you mean. Ruling Elders certainly do "administer the sacraments" in the sense that they distribute the elements in the Supper and often assist and pray during a baptism. The BCO merely forbids REs from leading in the administration of the sacraments without a TE.

REs are also permitted to teach. They are merely not permitted to preach regularly without being licensed. The definition of regularly varies from Presbytery to Presbytery. For example, Great Lakes Presbytery (my presbytery) defines it as preaching in the Presbytery more than 12 times per year (regardless of location). Mississippi Valley Presbytery defines it as preaching in a single church more than once per month.

Don't jump to conclusions before you have all the evidence.
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Thanks for your reply Fred. The Position Paper I am refering to can be found HERE. Maybe I am ignorant of the role of position papers and their authority in the PCA.

Here is a short excerpt:


C. ADMINISTRATION OF SACRAMENTS BY RULING ELDERS:

Of all the questions before this Committee, this one has provided the most discussion in the Church and the most division among brothers. It was the lengthy discussion of the minority report on the floor of the Second General Assembly which brought the initial formation of this special Ad-Interim Committee. Papers included in the Appendix to this report, (Majority and Minority Reports of the Ad-Interim Committee to the Second General Assembly and "Ministers of the Word," by Donald A. Dunkerley), present some of the basic issues involved. Your Committee finds that there is one overriding factor which forces us to the conclusion that we have reached that only Teaching Elders should be allowed to administer the Sacraments in the PCA. And that factor is the clear prohibition of any other performing these tasks by our Confessional Standards. The Confession of Faith, Chapter 27, Section IV, states: "There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained." In addition, Larger Catechism Question No. 176 states: "The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and His benefits; both are seals of the same covenant; are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other." If the PCA were to make the major change of allowing Ruling Elders to administer the Sacraments, it would be necessary that major changes be made to our Confessional Standards. While the Standards must never be set above the Scriptures as the rule of faith and practice, yet we have certainly given strong testimony to their lasting quality and trueness to the Scriptures, and changes should only be made when there is clear and overwhelming evidence, biblically, that they are wrong. We find no such evidence in the case of administration of the Sacraments. The administration of the Sacraments, by its very nature, is a proclamation of the Word of God by example, and as practiced consistently throughout most of Reformed Church history, should only be done in conjunction with the preaching of the Word. The continuation of this practice is necessary to continue good order in the Church.

In response to the question raised by the motion from the floor at the First General Assembly concerning the administration of the Sacraments by the Ruling Elders (see Minutes of the First General Assembly, 1-39, p. 34), your Committee would recommend the following:

Recommendation No. 8:
That the General Assembly affirm that in keeping with the Confessional Standards of the Church, only properly ordained Teaching Elders may administer the Sacraments. Adopted

I realize the PCA BCO doesn't explicitly teach that ruling elders can not adminster the sacraments, but it does state this:

When a man is called to labor as a teaching elder, it belongs to his order, in addition to those functions he shares with all other elders, to feed the flock by reading, expounding and preaching the Word of God and to administer the Sacraments.

Don't jump to conclusions before you have all the evidence.

That is why I am asking the Puritanboard don't you know?
:)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Jeff,
The term "adminster the sacraments" is a technical term, in the use of the church and its governing documents. The ruling elders do properly assist the minister (TE) in the conduct of the service, i.e. in serving the elements to the congregation. But to "adminster the sacrament" is the same thing as to preside over the distribution and to conduct the worship of God by means of the sacrament. It is unlawful for someone not ordained to that office (including REs) to so preside. That is the exclusive resposibility of a "minister of the Word and sacrament." The REs assist the minister in a way analogus to the disciples serving the 5000 and collecting the leftovers. It was Christ who "adminstered" that meal; the disciples did not.

Questions of this kind may have arisen in the PCA (whereas in the OPC, for example, I am not aware of such questions demanding the same level of attention) because of the PCA's formal equivalence of the TE and RE office. Historically, Presbyterians have not shied away from affirming a three-office view, in which ministers (TEs) are properly clergymen, and RE's laymen.

Thus, the question: if REs are not essentially different from TEs, why can't they adminster the sacraments (L.S. & baptism), even if (perhaps) the circumstances must be carefully defined (as in the case of preaching)? The Confessional answer (as given in that position paper you cited) is that, however the office(s) is defined, only the minister (TE) may administer the sacrament. If one is not present, it is not lawful to perform them, even as Saul could not lawfully sacrifice when Samuel was delayed in arriving.

Incidentally, historically it has also belonged to the office of ordained minister, as successor to the apostles (and to the prophets and priests in Israel), to pronounce the apostolic benediction (2 Cor. 13:14) at the close of the worship service. As a licentiate, I have read aloud or quoted the Levitical blessing (Nu. 6:24-26), and only when no ministers were present; but I have never pronounced an apostolic benediction. I understand that the Dutch Reformed may feel a little differently about a licentiate's permissions.

And if I may intrude upon Fred's ground, and answer your quetion too, Scott,
The license Fred refers to is a license to preach. Presbtery may grant such to a RE, or to a man in preparation for the ministry (who is seeking a regular call to the office of minister). This license allows a man to exercise the critical function of "feeding the flock of God," though the regular ministry of the Word (and sacrament) by a man called and ordained is unavailable for whatever reason. By licensing, the church exercises its authority over the ordinary public worship of God (especially the preaching function), while making allowance for extraordinary needs in the church and creating opportunities for qualified men to make their gifts known to the church at large. There is no license to administer the sacraments.

[Edited on 4-24-2005 by Contra_Mundum]
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Thanks for your replies everyone. I talked to my Pastor today and he reaffirmed basically what Bruce stated about the term "Adminster the Sacraments."

All this in mind, what are the "teaching" qualifications for ruling elders? How well indoctrinated should they be vs. a teaching elder?

By the way, a couple of the elders talked to me today about attending Presbytery (and maybe even General Assembly) to familiarize me more with the process and structure of the PCA! I am looking forward to it :banana:
 
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