« PrécédentContinuer »
church, and was the pastor over a single congregation. Jerome states that at Alexandria, "until the middle of the third century, the presbyters always chose one of their own number as president, and gave him the title of bishop.” But an extended citation of authorities is needless, for the existence of a presbytery in each church, composed of elders equal in authority, is attested by all the reliable records of the Post-apostolic age.
The question whether such a presbytery remains a part of the permanent constitution of the church, obligatory in all ages, has received different answers. The earlier Baptist confessions of faith—those of 1643 and 1689—recognize the plural eldership. The discipline adopted by the Philadelphia Association in 1743 presents it in the modified form of a ruling eldership, in which form, also, it still exists in some of the English churches. Among our churches the plural eldership is commonly regarded as a feature peculiar to the Apostolic age, rendered necessary by the absence of a class of men specially trained for the pastoral office, and by the special circumstances of the churches in that period of persecution, when they were often compelled to meet in small companies at separate houses, and their members were scattered in prisons and placed in positions of peril and suffering, thus requiring a larger number of instructors and far greater and more varied labors in the pastoral care. It is also urged that most churches do not possess several men adapted to such an office, and that the leadership of a single man would be more efficient than that of several men. With this view, in which there is much weight, our churches are generally organized under a single pastor, and many of the duties of the ancient presbytery, in the spiritual watch-care of the church, are transferred to the deacon's office. It is supposed that, in the changed circumstances of our age, this arrangement is not only lawful, but more expedient, especially as under it the pastor and deacons practically constitute a presbytery, and, so far as concerns the spiritual oversight, are often effectively doing its work.
On the other hand, it is said : There is serious reason to doubt whether an institution which rests on what seems the uniform example of the apostles can rightfully be set aside; as also whether, in the absence of such a guiding and conserving body within it, our church organization is not essentially weakened, alike in the purity and power of its church-life and in the wisdom and steadiness of its evangelizing efforts. Certainly, a permanent presbytery within the church, embodying its best experience and intelligence, and specially set apart to conserve its spiritual interests, would seem adapted both to give steadiness to its operations and maintain uninterrupted its worship and ordinances amidst pastoral changes, and to accomplish, far more perfectly than is possible under a single pastor, the spiritual oversight in visitation from house to house and the prompt, intelligent, and effective administration of discipline.
5. A ruling eldership, as it exists under the Presbyterian constitution, has neither precept nor example in Scripture.
The "ruling elders” in the Presbyterian Church are a body of laymen, presided over by the pastor, to whom are committed the admission and discipline of members and the spiritual oversight of the church. They have no authority to preach or administer ordinances. Two passages are quoted as authority for this office, which, however, evidently do not refer to permanent offices in the church, but to the gifts exercised in the incipiency of Christianity, several of which might be exercised by the same person. Thus, "Having then gifts differing
according to the grace given unto us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; ... he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. xii. 6-8). And: “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongue (1 Cor. xii. 28). Now, in this enumeration of gifts and functions "he that ruleth” and “governments tioned, and it is inferred that these designate the ruling eldership. But it is plain that the reasoning which would interpret these as designations of a permanent office in the church would require that “he that showeth mercy' and "help," and all the other functions mentioned, be also interpreted as each the designation of a distinct permanent office; and the result would be at least eight permanent officers in the church. Certainly, such an interpretation must be false. Paul's direction to Timothy is also cited : “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor” (compensation), “especially they who labor in word and doctrine;" in which, it is alleged, a distinction is made between the "elders that rule” and the elders that “labor in word and doctrine." On this we remark: The apostolic churches, as already seen, had a plurality of elders; but all of these, though of equal authority and of like functions, did not possess in an equal degree the same gifts. While one would be eminent in preaching, another would excel in the pastoral care; and another still would be distinguished in both these departments, and, thus specially gifted, would devote his whole time to the office. It is of this class Paul here speaks—those who not only rule well, but also excel in public instruction, and consequently devote themselves wholly to the office. These, he says, should receive, not the ordinary compensation given to elders, but a double compensation, proportioned to the greater time and labor devoted to the work. The passage does not furnish the slightest evidence of a difference of office between the elders; on the contrary, the Greek adverb, here rendered “especially," in all ordinary usage implies that the persons emphasized after it constitute a part of the class mentioned before it. Besides, in Scripture an essential qualification for the eldership is that a man be “apt to teach”—a qualification certainly not necessary for ruling. In accordance with this, the biblical language habitually implies that teaching was combined with ruling in the functions of the elders, as in the following words of Paul: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God” (Heb. xiii. 7, 17). Plainly, also, a ruling eldership, according to the Presbyterian conception, which assumes authority to admit and discipline and exclude members, is disproved by all those passages, heretofore cited, which show that these functions belong only to the church assembled as a congregation.
II. DEACONS. The word diakonos signifies, in general, one who serves, a servant employed in any capacity ; but its special application in Scripture is to the second class of church officers. Of these we have probably the earliest record in the appointment of “the seven” (Acts vi. 1-6); for the work to which they were set apart—"to serve tables ” or supervise the temporal affairs of the church-is one of universal and permanent necessity, while it is also recognized as distinct from that assigned to the ministry—“prayer and the ministry of
the word "--and is designated by the verb diakonein, the appropriate term for the work of the deacon's office. The general sense of Christendom has, therefore, interpreted this as the institution of that office, and the subsequent references to the office in the New Testament confirm this view.
The following facts appear in Scripture: 1. The office is permanent in the church, for deacons are mentioned with bishops as ordinary officers, and their qualifications alone, besides those of bishops, are specifically stated (Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. iii. 8-13). It is evident, also, that the need of such officers is permanent. 2. They are chosen by the whole congregation of believers, and are ordained by the ministry. The term of service, whether long or short, is not prescribed, and is doubtless to be decided by each church for itself. Experience has shown the desirableness of election for a limited period rather than for life, the body of deacons being so organized that a part go out of office at stated intervals, thus ensuring at all times a diaconate which shall possess alike the stability and wisdom which experience brings, and the energy and efficiency which may come from the occasional substitution of younger and more active men in place of the infirm or incompetent. The term of service, however, should not be so short as to require frequent changes. This takes from the dignity and moral power of the office, and introduces an undesirable element of instability. 3. The duty of the deacons is to administer the temporal affairs of the church, such as the relief of the poor, the support of public worship, the care of the church property, and the provision for the due administration of the ordinances. This is evident from their original appointment. They were to serve tables "—that is, attend to the pecuniary arrangements for the temporal sustenance