The Ruling Elder

by Samuel Miller



While we justly attach so much importance to the persons and services of the Reformers, and recur with the deepest reverence to their opinions, we owe scarcely less respect to the judgment of a number of other men, who have lived since their time, and of whom the world was not worthy. Men whose testimony can never be quoted but with veneration, and whose characters give an ample pledge of research at once profound and honest. To the decision of a few of these illustrious men on the subject before us, the attention of the reader is respectfully requested.

The decisive opinion of Dr. Owen, undoubtedly one of the greatest divines that ever adorned the British nation, in favor of the scriptural warrant of the office of Ruling Elder, was given in a preceding section, and need not now be repeated. I may, however, add, that the more weight ought to be attached to this opinion on account of Dr. Owen's ecclesiastical connexions, which, as is well known, were by no means adapted to give him a bias on the side of Presbyterian order.

The venerable and eminently pious Richard Baxter, was no Presbyterian. Yet he expresses himself in the following very unequivocal language, on the subject under consideration. "When I plead, that the order of subject Presbyters, (or lay-Elders,) was not instituted in Scripture times, and consequently that it is not of divine institution, I mean, that, as a distinct office, or species of Church ministers, it is not a divine institution, nor a lawful institution of man; but that, among men in the same office, some might, prudentially, be chosen to an eminency of degree, as to the exercise; and that according to the difference of their advantages, there might be a disparity in the use of their authority and gifts, I think was done in Scripture times, and might have been after, if it had not then. And my judgment is, that, ordinarily, every particular Church (such as our parish Churches are) had more Elders than one, but not such store of men of eminent gifts, as that all these Elders could be such. But as if half a dozen of the most judicious persons of this parish were ordained to be Elders, of the same office with myself; but because they are not equally fit for public preaching, should most employ themselves in the rest of the oversight, consenting that the public preaching lie most upon me, and that I be the moderator of them, for order in circumstantials. This I think was the true Episcopacy and Presbytery of the first times."[1]

Although it may be doubted whether this venerable man be correct in his whole view of this subject; yet it will be observed by every attentive reader, that in maintaining the existence of a plurality of Elders in each Church, in primitive times, and that a great part of these Elders were not, in fact, employed in preaching, but in inspecting and ruling, he concedes every thing that can be deemed essential in relation to the office which we are considering.

The Puritan Congregationalists of England, about the year 1605, in the summary of their Faith and Order, entitled, English Puritanism, drawn up by the venerable Mr. Bradshaw, translated into Latin for the benefit of the foreign Protestants, by the learned Dr. Ames, and intended to express the sense of the general body of the Puritans, speak thus on the subject of Ruling Elders.

"Since even in the best constituted Churches, they know that not a few enormous offences will arise, which, if not timely met, will do injury both to those who believe, and those who are inquiring; while, at the same time, they see that the authority of a single person in a parish, resembling the papal, is contrary to the will of Christ: they think, as the case itself requires, and as appointed of God, that others also should be selected from the Church, as officers, who may be associated with the ministers in the spiritual government."

These are inspectors, epitimhtai, a kind of censors, whose duty it is, together with the ministers of the word, as well to watch over the conduct of all the brethren as to judge between them. And they think that this office is instituted, that each may take the more heed to himself and his ways, while the ministers enjoy more leisure for study and devotion, and obtain, through the assistance of their co-adjutors, a more accurate view of the state of the flock; since it is the peculiar duty of the inspectors to be always watchful over the manners and conduct of all the members of the Church."

"To this office they think that none should be preferred, but men very eminent for gravity and prudence, established in the faith; of tried integrity; whose sanctity of life and upright example are well known to the whole society."

"In the choice of these Elders, respect should always be had to their outward circumstances. They should be able to support themselves in some respectable manner; though it will not be an objection to them that they pursue some mechanical art, provided they be morally qualified."[2]

Nor were these venerable men the only Independents who declared, in the most decisive manner, in favor of this class of officers. The celebrated Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the Westminster Assembly of divines, and who is styled by Anthony A. Wood, a very "Atlas and Patriarch of Independency," is well known to have been one of the most learned and influential Independents of the seventeenth century, and, one of the most voluminous and instructive writers of his class. In his "Church Order Explained in a way of catechism," the following passage occurs:-"What sort of Bishops hath God set in his Church?" Answer, Two; some Pastors and Teachers; some Ruling Elders, under two heads; some labor in word and doctrine, and of those, some are Pastors, some Teachers, others RULE ONLY, and labor not in the word and doctrine."-Again; "what is the office and work of the Ruling Elder? Answer, seeing the kingdom of God is not of this world, but heavenly and spiritual, and the government of his kingdom is not lordly, but stewardly and ministerial; and to labor in the ministry of exhortation and doctrine is the proper work of the Pastors and Teachers; it remaineth, therefore, to be the office and work of the Ruling Elders to assist the Pastors and Teachers in diligent attendance to all other aids of rule besides exhortation and doctrine, as becometh good stewards of the household of God. As, first, to open and shut the doors of God's house, by admission of members, by ordination of officers, by excommunication of notorious and obstinate offenders. Secondly, to see that none live in the Church inordinately, without a calling, or idle in their calling. Thirdly, to prevent and heal offences, whether in life or doctrine, that might corrupt their own Church, or other Churches. Fourthly, to prepare matters for the Church's consideration and to moderate the carriage of all matters in the Church assemblies. Finally, to feed the flock of God, by a word of admonition, and, as they shall be called to visit and pray with their sick brethren. The ground of all this is laid down in Romans, 12. 8. where the Apostle, besides him who exhorteth and teacheth, maketh mention of another officer, who ruleth with diligence, and is distinct from the Pastors and Teachers, and that is the sum of his work to rule with diligence. Thus you see the whole duty of these Ruling Elders, and how they are to assist the Pastors and Teachers in all other acts of rule besides word and doctrine. Use 1. From hence observe the great bounty of God unto Pastors and Teachers, that God hath not left them alone in the Church, as Martha complains to Christ that Mary had left her alone to serve: the ministers of the Church have no such cause to complain: for, as he gave the Levites to the Priests, to help them in their service, so hath he given Ruling Elders to such as labor in the word and doctrine, that they might have assistance from them in ruling the Church of God. Use 2. It may serve to answer a cavil that some have against this office, who say, that, if God hath given these officers to the Church, he would then have set down the limits of these officers, and not have sent them forth with illimited power. To which it is answered, that their power is strongly limited, as a stewardly or ministerial power and office. It is the power of the keys, which Christ hath expressed in his word, and it consisteth in those things that have been spoken of God's house, to open and shut the doors of God's house, by admission of members, &c. This is such a rule as is no small help to the spirits and hearts of those who labor in doctrine; and no small help it is also to the whole Church of God; and when they are wanting, many evils will grow, and those without the possibility of redress and amendment, much idleness, much confusion, many offences. Though other ministers have been in the Church, we may see how much, in the want of these officers, the Churches have been corrupted."[3]

The character of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, one of the most learned and pious Fathers of New-England, and a distinguished advocate of Independency, is too well known to require remark. In his work entitled "A Survey of Church Discipline," &c., he speaks thus of the office under consideration:-"We begin with tile Ruling Elder's place, for that carries a kind of simplicity with it. There be more ingredients required to make up the office of Pastor and Doctor, and therefore we shall take leave to trade in the first, quo simplicius ac prius. That there is such an office and officer appointed by Christ, as the Scriptures are plain to him, whose spirit and apprehension is not possessed and forestalled with prejudice. The first argument we have from Romans 12. 7, which gives in witness to this truth, where all these officers are numbered and named expressly. The second argument is taken from 1 Cor. 12. 28. The scope of the place, and the Apostle's intendment is, to lay open the several offices and officers that the Lord hath set in his Church, and so many chief members, out of which the Church is constituted as an entire body." And, after making some other remarks for the right discovery of the Apostle's proceeding and purpose, he adds:-"From which premises, the dispute issues thus. As Apostles, Prophets and Teachers are distinct, so are Helps and Governments distinct: for the Spirit puts them in the same ranks, as having a parity of reason which appertains to them all. But they were distinct offices, and found in persons as distinct officers, as verse 30- Are all Apostles? Are all Teachers? Therefore, the same is true of Governors. A third argument is taken from the famous place, 1 Timothy v. 17 which is full to our purpose in hand, and intended by the Holy Spirit of the Lord, to make evident the station and office of Ruling Elders, unto the end of the world."[4]

The praise of the Rev. John Cotton, one of the most distinguished of the first ministers of New-England, was in all the Churches, in his time. In a small work, entitled, "Questions and Answers on Church Government, begun 25th Nov. 1634," the following passages occur. "Quest. What sorts of ministers or officers hath God set in his Church? Answer. The ministers and officers of the Church are some of them extraordinary, as Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists; some ordinary, as Bishops and Deacons. Quest. What sorts of Bishops hath God ordained in his Church? Answer. There are three sorts of them, according as there be three sorts of Elders in the Church, though under two heads; some Pastors, some Teachers, some Ruling Elders. That is to say, such Elders as labor in the word and doctrine, and such is rule in the Church of God; 1 Tim. i. 13; 1 Cor. 12. 28; Rom. 12. 7, 8; 1 Tim. 5. 17. Quest. What is the work of a Ruling Elder? Answer. Seeing the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but heavenly and spiritual; and the government of his kingdom is not lordly, but stewardly and ministerial; and to labor in the administration of exhortation and doctrine is the proper work of Pastor and Teacher-it remains to be the office of the Ruling Elder to assist the Pastor and Teacher in all other acts of rule besides, as becomes good stewards of the household of God. And therefore, to put instances, as, First, To open and shut the doors of God's house, by admission of members, by ordination of officers, by excommunication of notorious and obstinate offenders. Secondly, To see that none live in the Church inordinately, without a calling, or idly in their calling. Thirdly, To prevent or heal offences. Fourthly, To prepare matters for the Church's consideration, and to moderate the carriage of all things in the Church assemblies. Fifthly, To feed the flock of God with the word of admonition, and, as they shall be called, to visit and pray over the sick brethren."[5]

The venerable John Davenport, it is well known, held a distinguished place among the early lights of the Massachusetts and Connecticut Churches. In a treatise entitled "The Power of Congregational Churches asserted and vindicated, &c.," although his plan did not require, or even admit, that he should treat expressly and at length on the officers of the Church; yet he repeatedly, and in the most unequivocal manner alludes to the office of Ruling Elder, as belonging to the Church by divine appointment; as altogether distinct from the office of both Teaching Elder and Deacon; and as being of indispensable importance to the edification of the Church.[6]

Nor are these the sentiments of detached individuals merely. They were adopted and published, about the same time, by public bodies, in the most solemn manner. In a work entitled Church Government, and Church Covenant discussed, in an answer of the Elders of the several Churches of New- England, to two and thirty questions sent over to them by divers ministers in England, to declare their judgment thereon:" In this treatise, Ruling Elders are spoken of, as of divine institution, and as actually existing, at the time, in the Churches of New-England. The fifteenth question is:-"Whether do you give the exercise of all Church power of government, to the whole Church, or to the Presbyters thereof alone?" To which it is answered:-"We do believe that Christ hath ordained that there should be a Presbytery or Eldership; 1 Tim. 4. 14; and that in every Church, Titus i. 5; Acts 14. 28; 1 Cor. xi. 28, whose work is to teach and rule the Church by the word and laws of Christ, 1 Tim. 5. 17, and unto whom, as teaching and ruling, all the people ought to be obedient, and submit themselves; Heb. 13. 17. And, therefore, a government merely popular, or democratical, (which divines and orthodox writers do so much condemn, in Morillius, and such like,) is far from the practice of these Churches, and, we believe, far from the mind of Christ." The twenty-third question is, "What authority or eminency have your preaching Elders above your sole Ruling Elders; or are they both equal? Answer. It is not the manner of Elders among us, whether Ruling only, or ruling and Teaching also, to strive for authority or pre-eminence one above another.-As for the people's duty toward their Elders, it is taught them plainly in that place, 1 Thess. 5. 12, 13, as also in that of 1 Tim. 5. 17; and this word (especially) shews them that, as they are to account all their Elders worthy of double honor, so in special manner their Teaching or Preaching Elders."[7]

But there is another testimony of the same class, of still higher authority. In a volume entitled, "The Result of three Synods, held by the Elders, and Messengers of the Churches of Massachusetts Province, New-England," there is abundant evidence to the same effect. These Synods met in 1648, 1662, and 1679: Each of them was called by the General Court, or Legislature of the Province, and the results published by the court, with their sanction.

The Synod of 1648, consisting of the divines of Massachusetts and Connecticut, and which drew up what is commonly known as the Cambridge Platform, distinctly recognized the office under consideration as of divine appointment. It speaks as follows, (chapter vii.) "The Ruling Elders office is distinct from the office of Pastor and Teacher. Ruling Elders are not so called to exclude the Pastors and Teachers from ruling; because ruling and government is common to these with the other: whereas attending to teach and preach the word, is peculiar unto the former; Romans, xii. 7, 8, 9; 1 Timothy v. 17; 1 Corinthians xii. 27; Hebrews xiii. 17."-

The Synod of 1679 gave its sanction, most unequivocally to the same doctrine; not only by unanimously renewing their approbation of the Platform of 1648, but also by new acts of the most decisive character. Two questions proposed to the Synod of 1679 were, First, "What are the evils that have provoked the Lord to bring his judgments on New-England? Secondly, What is to be done, that so many evils may be removed? In their answer to the second question, the Synod say, "It is requisite that the utmost endeavours should be used, in order to a full supply of officers in the Church, according to Christ's institution. The defect of these Churches, on this account, is very lamentable; there being, in most of the Churches, only one Teaching officer, for the burdens of the whole congregation to lie upon. The Lord Christ would not have instituted Pastors, Teachers, and Ruling Elders, (nor the Apostles ordained Elders in every Church,) if He had not seen that there was need of them for the good of his people. And, therefore, for men to think they can do well enough without them, is both to break the second Commandment, and to reflect upon the wisdom of Christ, as if he did appoint unnecessary offices in his Church."[8] It may not be improper to add, that this Synod, assembled in consequence of the "General Court of the Colony having called upon all the Churches therein to send their Elders and Messengers, that they might meet in form of a Synod, in order to a most serious inquiry into the questions propounded to them; and that the Result, when proposed, was read once and again, each paragraph being duly and distinctly weighed in `the balance of the sanctuary,' and then, upon mature deliberation, the whole unanimously voted, as to the substance and scope thereof"[9]

It is well known that in the Westminster Assembly of divines there was a small number of learned and zealous Independents, who opposed some of the most prominent features in the Presbyterian form of government with much ardor and pertinacity, and who protracted the debates respecting them for many weeks. But it is equally well known, that all the most able of those divines were warm advocates of the office of Ruling Elder, not only as a useful office, but as of divine institution. The recorded opinion of one of them, the Rev. Dr. Goodwin, has been already stated. No less pointed in maintaining the same opinion, were Messieurs, Bridge, Burroughs, and Nye, forming with Dr. Gooodwin, a majority of the whole number. And, accordingly, in their "Reasons against the Third Proposition concerning Presbyterial government," they admit, that "the Scripture says much of two sorts of Elders, Teaching and Ruling; and in some places so plain, as if of purpose to distinguish them; and, further, that the whole Reformed Churches had these different Elders."[10]

The following very explicit extract from the well known work of the learned Herbert Thorndike, (a divine of the Church of England,) on "Religious Assemblies," chapter iv. p. 117, will show his opinion on the subject before us. Speaking of the language of the Apostle in 1 Cor. xii. 28, he says:-"There is no reason to doubt that the men whom the Apostle here calleth doctors, are those of the Presbyters which had the abilities of preaching and teaching the people at their assemblies; that those of the Presbyters that preached not, are here called by the Apostle governments."

The following remarks of the Rev. Cotton Mather, well known as an eminent Congregationalist of Massachusetts, and author of the Magnalia Christi Americana, have too much point, and convey too much instruction, to be omitted in this list of testimonies. "There are some who cannot see any such officer as what we call a Ruling Elder, directed and appointed in the word of God; and partly through a prejudice against the office; and partly, indeed chiefly, through a penury of men well qualified for the discharge of it, as it has been heretofore understood and applied, our Churches are now generally destitute of such helps in government. But unless a Church have divers Elders, the Church government must needs become pendantic or popular. And that a Church's needing but one Elder, is an opinion, CONTRARY NOT ONLY TO THE SENSE OF THE FAITHFUL IN ALL AGES, but also to the LAW OF THE SCRIPTURES, where there can be nothing plainer than Elders who rule well, and are worthy of double honor, though they do not labor in the word and doctrine: whereas, if there were any teaching Elders, who do not labor in the word and doctrine, they would be so far from worthy of double honor, that they would not be worthy of any honor at all. Towards the adjusting of the difference which has thus been in the judgments of judicious men, some essays have been made, and one particularly in such terms as these. Let it be first recognized, that all the other Church Officers are the assistants of the Pastor, who was himself intrusted with the whole care of all, until the further pity and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, joined other officers unto him for his assistance in it. I suppose none will be so absurd as to deny this at least, that all the Church Officers are to take the advice of the Pastor with them. Upon which I subjoin, that a man may be a distinct officer from his Pastor, and yet not have a distinct office from him. The Pastor may be the Ruling Elder, and yet he may have Elders to assist him in ruling, and in the actual discharge of some things which they are able and proper to be serviceable to him in. This consideration being laid, I will persuade myself, every Pastor among us will allow me, that there is much work to be done for God in preparing of what belongs to the admission and exclusion of Church members; in carefully inspecting the way and walk of them all, and the first appearance of evil with them; in preventing the very beginnings of ill blood among them, and instructing of all from house to house, more privately, and warning of all persons unto the things more peculiarly incumbent on them: in visiting all the afflicted, and informing of, and consulting with the ministers, for the welfare of the whole flock. And they must allow me, that this work is too heavy for any one man; and that more than one man, yea all our Churches, do suffer beyond measure, because no more of this work is thoroughly performed. Moreover, they will acknowledge to me, that it is an usual thing with a prudent and faithful Pastor himself, to single out some of the more grave, solid, aged brethren in his congregation, to assist him in many parts of this work, on many occasions in a year; nor will such a Pastor, ordinarily, do any important thing in his government, without having first heard the counsels of such brethren. In short, there are few discreet Pastors, but what make many occasional Ruling Elders every year. I say, then, suppose the Church, by a vote, recommend some such brethren, the fittest they have, and always more than one, unto the stated assistance of their Pastor, in the Church rule, wherein they may be helps unto him. I do not propose that they should be biennial, or triennial only, though I know very famous Churches throughout Europe have them so. Yea, and what if they should by solemn fasting and prayer be commended unto the benediction of God in what service they have to do? What objection can be made, against the lawfulness? I think none can be made against the usefulness of such a thing. Truly, for my part,-if the fifth chapter of the first Epistle to Timothy would not bear me out, when conscience, both of my duty and my weakness made me desire such assistance, I would see whether the first chapter of Deuteronomy would not."[11]

After these strong attestations in favor of the office of Ruling Elder from the most pious and learned of the early Independents, or Congregationalists, of New-England-it will naturally occur to every reader, as an interesting question, how it came to pass, that Churches which once unanimously held such opinions, laid so much stress on them, and practised accordingly, for about three-fourths of a century, should have, long since, as unanimously, discontinued the office? The first company of emigrants, in 1620, brought a Ruling Elder with them; and the office was universally retained for many years afterwards. Yet, in 1702, when Dr. Cotton Mather published the first edition of his Magnalia, it had been, as would seem, from the quotation just made, in a great measure, laid aside; and before the middle of the eighteenth century, it had entirely disappeared from the Churches of New-England. A well informed and discerning Friend has suggested, that the chief reason of this remarkable fact, is probably to be traced to another fact alluded to in the following extract. In a small volume, printed in Boston, in 1700, and entitled, "The Order of the gospel, professed and practised by the Churches of Christ in Nev-England, &c.;" by Increase Mather, President of Harvard College, and Teacher of a Church in Boston:-In this work, one of the questions discussed is:-"Whether or not our Brethren, and not the Elders of the Churches only, are to judge concerning the qualifications and fitness of those who are admitted into their communion?" In answering it, he says:-"If only Elders have power to judge who are fit to come to the sacrament, or to join to the Churches; then, in case there is but one Elder in a Church, (as there are very few Churches in New-England that have more Elders than one,) the sole power will reside in that one man's hands."[12] On this passage, the Friend above referred to remarks, "I am inclined to think that he here means Ruling Elders; for, 1. Several Churches (whether in consequence of the recommendation of the Synod of 1679, I do not know) had then two ministers. 2. This question and answer of Dr. I. Mather's is annexed to a reprint in Boston (now lying before me) of "A Vindication of the divine authority of Ruling Elders in the Church of Christ, asserted by the ministers and Elders met together in a Provincial Assembly, Nov. 2d. 1649, and printed in London, 1650." But whether this was his meaning or not, it is abundantly evident from various other sources, that the Churches of New-England, while they retained the office of Ruling Elder, had but one such Elder at a time, and his business was especially to attend to discipline. The office was, of course, an unwelcome one; and it became more and more difficult to find men willing to assume it."

It appears, then, that our excellent brethren, the Puritan Independents, while they zealously maintained the divine warrant and the great importance of the Ruling Elder's office, misapprehended its real nature, and placed it under an aspect before the Churches evidently adapted to discredit and destroy it. Instead of appointing a plurality of these Ruling Elders, they seldom or never had more than one in each Church; and instead of uniting the Pastor with him, and forming a regular judicial bench for regulating the affairs of the Church, they seemed to have placed each in a sphere entirely separate, and independent of each other; nay, to have made the offices of Teacher and Ruler, wear an appearance of being rivals for influence and power. Certain it is, that the views entertained by each, of his proper department of duty, often, in fact, brought them into collision, and made the situation of the Ruler both uncomfortable and useless. Can it be matter of surprise, that, in these circumstances, the office of Ruling Elder in the congregational Churches of New-England, gained but little favor with the body of the people; that it came to be considered as, at once, odious and useless; would be undertaken by few; and, at length, fell into entire disuse?

The testimony of the Rev. Dr. John Edwards, an eminently pious and learned divine of the Church of England, who flourished during the latter half of the seventeenth century, is equally decisive in favor of this office. His language is as follows:-

"This office of a Ruling Elder is according to the practice of the Church of God among the Jews, his own people. It is certain that there was this kind of Elders under that economy.-There were two sorts of Elders among the Jews, the Ruling ones, who governed in their Assemblies and Synagogues, and the Teaching ones, who read and expounded the Scriptures. Accordingly, Dr. Lightfoot, in his Harmony of the New Testament, inclines to interpret 1 Timothy 5, 17, of the Elders in the Christian congregations, who answer to the lay-Elders in the Jewish Synagogue. For this learned writer, who was well versed in the Jewish customs and practices, tells us, that in every Synagogue among the Jews, there were Elders that ruled chiefly in the affairs of the Synagogue, and other Elders, that labored in the word and doctrine." "And so it was in the Christian Church; there was a mixture of Clergy and Laity in their consults about Church matters, as we see frequently in the Acts of the Apostles. The Christian Church retained this usage, for which they quote St. Augustine's, 137th Epistle, where he mentions the Clergy and the Elders, and the people. So in his third book against Cresconius, he mentions Deacons and Seniors, that is lay-Elders, for he distinguishes them from other Presbyters. One of his Epistles to his Church in Hippo is thus superscribed, `To the Clergy and the Elders.' See chapter 56th, in the fore-named book against Cresconius, where he mentions Peregrinus, the Presbyter, and the Elders (Seniores,)[13] And nothing can be plainer than that of St. Ambrose-`Both the Synagogue and afterwards the Church, had their Elders, without whose counsel nothing was done in the Church, &c.' Further, we read of these Seniors in the writings of Optatus, p. 41, and in the Epistles annexed to him, which the reader may consult. Thus it appears that this was an ANCIENT OFFICE in the Church) and NOT INVENTED BY CALVIN, as some have thought and writ."[14]

"And then as to the reason of the thing, there should be no ground of quarrelling with this office in the Church, seeing it is useful. It was instituted for the ease of the preaching Elders, that they might not be overburdened with business, and that they might more conveniently apply themselves to that employment which is purely ecclesiastical and spiritual. Truly if there was no such office mentioned in the Scripture, we might reasonably wish for such a one, it being so useful and serviceable to the great purposes of religion. What can be more desirable than that there should be one or more appointed to observe the conversation of the flock, in order to the exercising of discipline. The Pastor himself cannot be supposed to have an eye on every one of his charge; and, therefore, it is fitting, that those who are fellow-members, and daily converse with one another; and, therefore, are capable of acquainting themselves with their manners and behaviour, there should be chosen these Elders I am speaking of, to inspect the carriage and department of the flock."[15]

The judgment of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Kromayer, a very learned Lutheran divine, and Professor of Divinity in the University of Leipsic, who lived in the seventeenth century, is very decisive in favor of the apostolical institution of Ruling Elders. "Of Presbyters, or Elders," says he, "there were formerly two kinds, those who taught, and those who exercised the office of rulers in the Church. This is taught in 1 Timothy v. 17; Let the Elders that rule well be accounted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. The latter were the same as our Ministers; the, former, were like the members of our Consistories.[16]

A similar testimony may be adduced from Frederick Baldwin, another distinguished Lutheran divine and Professor, of the same century, who is no less decisive in favor of the class of officers under consideration.[17]

The celebrated John Casper Suicer, an eminently learned German divine and Professor, in his Thesaurus Ecclesiasticus, after speaking particularly of Teaching Presbyters or Elders, in the first place, proceeds to speak of another class of Elders, who, (he says,) "chosen from among the people, (or laity,) are united with the Pastors, or Ministers of the Word, that they may be guardians of the discipline of the Church. To these the Apostle Paul refers in 1 Timothy v. 17, where, by the Elders who labor in the word and doctrine, he evidently understands that class of Elders of which we have spoken in the preceding section: and by those who rule well, he plainly refers to the class of which we now speak. For if he had intended to speak of only one class, why did be add, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine? This class are also designated by the term proistamenous, in Romans xii. 8, and by the term kubernhseis, in 1 Corinthians xii. 29."[18]

The very explicit testimony of Dr. Whitby, of the Church of England, was produced in a preceding chapter, when we were discussing the scriptural evidence in favor of the office under consideration. It need not, therefore, here be repeated, excepting simply to remind the reader of its decisive character. The concessions also of Bishop Fell, the Rev. Mr. Marshall, and the celebrated Mr. Dodwell, of the same Church, will also, in this connexion, be borne in mind. They may be found in the fourth chapter, in connexion with the testimony from the Fathers.

The pious and excellent Dr. Watts, though not a Presbyterian, must be considered as indirectly doing homage to this part of the Presbyterian system, when he says, (in his Treatise on the Foundation of the Christian Church, p. 125,) "If it happens that there is but one Minister or Presbyter in a Church, or if the ministers are young men of small experience in the world, it is useful and proper that some of the eldest, gravest, and wisest members be deputed, by the Church, to join with and assist the ministers in the care and management of that affair, (the admission and exclusion of members.")

The Rev. Dr. Doddridge, universally known as an eminently learned and pious divine of England, of the Independent denomination, in reference to the office in question speaks thus:-"It seems to be solidly argued, from 1 Timothy v. 17, that there were, in the primitive Church, some Elders, who did not use to preach. Nothing very express is said concerning them: only it seems to be intimated, James v. 14, that they prayed with the sick. It may be very expedient, even on the principles of human prudence, to appoint some of the more grave and honorable members of the society to join with the Pastor in the oversight of it, who may constitute a kind of council with him, to deliberate on affairs in which the society is concerned, and prepare them for being brought before the Church for its decision, to pray with the sick, to reconcile differences, &c."[19]

The same distinguished writer, in his Commentary on 1 Timothy, v. 17, has the following remark:-"Especially they who labor, &c. This seems to intimate that there were some who, though they presided in the Church, were not employed in preaching. Limborch, indeed, is of opinion that kopiwntes signifies those who did even fatigue themselves with their extraordinary labors, which some might not do, who yet, in the general, presided well, supposing preaching to be a part of their work. But it seems to me much more natural to follow the former interpretation."

The celebrated Professor Neander, of Berlin, was mentioned in a preceding chapter, as probably, the most profoundly learned Christian antiquarian now living. In addition to the quotation from him presented in that chapter, the following, from the same work, is worthy of notice.

"That the name episkopos was of the same signification with presbuteros, is manifest from those places in the New Testament where these words are exchanged the one for the other; Acts xx. 17. 28. Tit. i. 5. 7; and from those passages where, after the office of Bishop that of Deacon is mentioned; so that no other office can be imagined between them. If the name episkopos had been used to distinguish any of these Elders from the rest as a ruler in the Church Senate, a primus inter pares, this use of it interchangeably with presbuteros would not have obtained."

"These Presbyters, or Bishops, had the oversight of the whole Church, in all its general concerns; but the office of teaching was not appropriated exclusively to them; for, as we have above remarked, all Christians had a right to speak in their meetings for the edification of the members. It does not follow from this, however, that all the Church members were capable of giving instruction: and it is important to distinguish a faculty for instruction which was under the command of an individual, from the miraculous and sudden impulse of inspiration, as in prophesy, and the gift of tongues; and which might be bestowed upon those not remarkably favored by natural gifts. The care of the Churches, the preservation and extension of pure evangelical truth, and the defence of it against the various forms of error, which early appeared, could not be left entirely to depend upon these extraordinary and often transient impulses The weakness of human nature to which was committed the treasure of the gospel, as in "earthen vessels," seemed to render it necessary that there should be, in every Church, some possessed of the natural endowments necessary to instruct their brethren in the truth, to warn and exhort them against error, and lead them forward in the way of life. Such endowments presuppose a previous course of instruction, clearness and acuteness of thought, and a power to communicate their ideas; and when these were present, and the Spirit of God was imparted to animate and sanctify, the man became possessed of the charisma didiaskalias Those possessed of this charisma were, on this account, calculated for all the purposes above alluded to, without excluding the remainder from exercising the gift imparted to them, of whatever kind it might be. On this account, the charisma didaskalias, and the situation of teachers, (didaskaloi) who were distinguished by this gift, was represented as something entirely distinct and peculiar. (1 Cor. xii. 28. xiv. 6. Ephes. iv. 11.) All members of a Church could, at times, speak before their brethren, either to call upon God, or to praise him, when so inclined; but only a few were didaskaloi, in the full sense of that term."

"It is very clear, too, that this talent for teaching, was different from. that of governing, (i.e. charisma kubernhsews) which was especially necessary for him who took his seat in the Council of the Church, that is for a presbuteros or episkopos. One might possess the knowledge of external matters-the tact, the Christian prudence necessary for this duty, without the mental qualities so peculiarly desirable in a teacher. In the first apostolic Church, from which every thing like mere arbitrary arrangements concerning rank were very distant, and all offices were looked upon only as they promised the attainment of the great end of the Christian faith, the offices of teacher and ruler, didaskalos and poimhn were separated. For this distinction, see Romans xii. 7, 8. In noticing this well defined distinction, we may be led to the opinion, that originally, those called, by way of preference, teachers, did not belong to the class of rulers, or overseers. Also, it is not clearly proved that they did always belong to the class of presbuteroi. Only this is CERTAIN-that it was considered as desirable that, AMONG THE RULERS THERE SHOULD BE THOSE CAPABLE OF TEACHING ALSO. When it is enjoined upon the Presbyters in general, as in the farewell of Paul to the Church of Ephesus, (Acts xx.) to watch over the Church and preserve its doctrine pure, it does not necessarily follow that the duty of teaching, in its strict sense, was insisted on; but rather a general superintendence of the affairs of that body. But when, in the Epistle to Titus, it is demanded in an episkopos that he not only `hold fast the form of sound words' in his private capacity, but that he should be able to strengthen others therein; to overcome opposers, and `convince gainsayers,' it seems to be implied that he should possess the `gift of teaching.' This must have been, in many situations of the Churches, exposed as they were to errors of every kind, highly desirable. And on this account, in 1 Tim. v. 17, those among the presbuteroi, who united the gift of teaching (didaskalia) with that of governing, (kubernhsis) were to be especially honored. This distinction of the two gifts shows that they were not constantly or necessarily united."[20]

The same writer says:-"We find another office in the apostolic times-that of Deacons. The duties of this office were from the first only external, (Acts vi.,) as it seems to have taken its rise for the sole purpose of attending to the distribution of alms. The care of the poor, however, and of the sick, and many other external duties were, in process of time, imposed upon those in this station. Besides the Deacons, there were also Deaconesses appointed, who could have free access to the female part of the Church, which was, on account of the peculiar manners of the East, denied, to a great extent, to men. Here the female had an opportunity of exercising her powers for the extension of the true faith, without overstepping the bounds of modesty and propriety, and in a field otherwise inaccessible. It was their duty, too, as experienced Christian mothers, to give advice and support to the younger women, as seems to have been the case from Tertullian, De Virgin. Veland. c. 9."[21]

Only one authority more shall be adduced on this subject, and that shall be from the pen of our venerable and eloquent countryman, the Rev. Dr. Dwight, whose character for learning, talents, and piety, needs no attestation from the writer of this Essay. Though himself a Congregationalist, and without any other inducement to declare in favor of Ruling Elders, than that which the force of truth presented, he expresses himself concerning their office in the following unequivocal terms:-"Ruling Elders are, in my apprehension, SCRIPTURAL OFFICERS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH; and I cannot but think our DEFECTION, with respect to these officers, from the practice of the first settlers of New-England, an ERROR IN ECCLESIASTICAL GOVERNMENT."[22]

This array of witnesses might be greatly extended, were it proper to detain the reader with further extracts. But it is presumed that those which have been produced are abundantly sufficient. It will be observed that no Presbyterian has been cited as an authority in this case. The names, indeed, of multitudes of that denomination, might have been produced, equal to any others that can be shown on the catalogue of piety, talents, and learning. But the testimony of more impartial witnesses may be preferred. Recourse has been had, then, to those who could not possibly have been swayed by a Presbyterian bias. And a sufficiency of such has been produced, it is hoped, to make a deep impression on candid minds. Romanists, Protestant Episcopalians, Lutherans and Independents, have all most remarkably concurred in vindicating an office, the due admission and scriptural use of which are, perhaps, of more importance to the best interests of the Church of God, than this, or any other single volume can fully display.


1.Disputations of Church government. -- Advertisement, p. 4, 5, 4to. 1659. [back]

2.NEAL's History of the Puritans, Vol. i. p. 449. 4to. Edit. [back]

3.Church Order Explained, &c, page 16, 19, 22, to be found in the 4th Vol. of his Works, four vols. fol. London, 1697. [back]

4.Survey, &c, part ii. p. 6. 8. 10. 11. 4to. London, 1648. [back]

5.A Treatise, 1. Of Faith. 2. Twelve Fundamental Articles of Christian Religion. 3. A Doctrinal Conclusion. 4. Questions and Answers on Church Government. -- p. 20, 21. [back]

6.The power of Congregational Churches, &c p. 56. 81. 94. 115. 12mo. London, 1672. [back]

7.The Power of Congregational Churches, &c p. 47. 48. 76. [back]

8.Result of Three Synods, &c, p. 109. [back]

9.Preface, p. 5. 6. [back]

10.Reasons, &c. p. 3. 40. [back]

11.Magnalia, &c Book v. Part ii, p. 206, 207. octavo edition 1820. [back]

12.Order of the Gospel, &c. p. 25. [back]

13.It will not escape the notice of the discerning reader that these testimonies from Augustine, Ambrose, and Optatus, which some have ventured, very unceremoniously, to treat with contempt, when brought forward on this subject, are regarded by this very learned Episcopalian, as evidence of the most conclusive character. [back]

14.The old and hacknied allegation, which has been the theme of high-toned Episcopalians and Independents for more than two hundred years, that Calvin invented and first introduced Ruling Elders, it will be observed is confidently rejected by this truly learned Episcopal Divine, who, from his ecclesiastical connexion, cannot be supposed to have had any other inducement to adopt the opinion which he has expressed, than his love of truth. [back]

15.Theologica Reformata, Vol. i. Ninth Article of the Creed, p. 526, 528. [back]

16.Historia Ecclesiastica, auctore HIERONYMO KROMAYERO, D.D.S.S.T.D. in Acad. Leips. 4to. p. 59. [back]

17.FRED. BALDUINI Institut. Ministrorum Verbi. Cap. 10. [back]

18.SUICERI Thesaurus Ecclesiasticus, Art. presbuteros [back]

19.Lectures on Divinity, Proposition 150 Scholium 5th. [back]

20.It is worthy of notice that this profound ecclesiastical historian, in another place, quotes Hilary (Ambrose) as speaking of the Ruling Elders, in the Synagogue, and in the Church, and interprets him as plainly teaching the distinction here made between teaching and ruling Elders, substantially as we have done in a preceding chapter. [back]

21.Kirchengeschichte [back]

22.Theology Explained and Defended, Vol. iv. p. 399. [back]


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