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CHAPTER V.
THE OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH.


      Having investigated the character and duties of the ordinary members of the church, I shall now proceed to consider,

      Church officers are persons chosen or appointed to superintend church affairs. That certain officers are actually appointed by Christ in His church needs no proof, since the sacred Scripture abounds with incontestable evidence of the fact. Assuming this, therefore, as an acknowledged truth, I proceed to consider, as was proposed,

      I. The different orders, classes or kinds of officers divinely constituted in the church of God.

      There are two kinds, and in my own opinion only two kinds of orders, of permanent officers established by divine authority in the Christian church. These distinct orders of officers are usually and appropriately called

Elders and Deacons.

      The word elder literally signifies a senior, or the one most advanced in age, wisdom, and experience. But in the customary language of the Jews the word elder denoted a ruler and counselor. Hence, it is indifferently applied by them both to civil and ecclesiastical officers, or to officers both in church and state. This word transferred by the Apostles to those officers who held the first rank or place in the New Testament church. And accordingly the word elder is generally used by the New Testament writers to [55] denote a person whose office it is to teach, oversee, and rule the flock or church of God.

      This order or class of officers is spoken of in the Scriptures under various other names, as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, bishops, ambassadors, ministers, stewards, angels, &c.

      But why is one kind of officers designated by some many different titles? Because of the various duties and offices assigned them. These titles are merely descriptive of their different employments.

      Pastor, for example, signifies one who takes care of and feeds a flock of sheep. This is the duty of the elder with respect to the flock or church of God; hence they are styled pastors or shepherds.

      Bishop denotes an overseer; hence, elders are called bishops or overseers. For similar reasons they are called by many other names, as was observed.

      There are some, however, of opinion that bishops are not the same persons with elders, but constitute a distinct and superior order of standing in the church of Christ. But this opinion, I think, is wholly indefensible from the Scriptures. For the Scriptures, so far from proving that bishop and elder denote different officers, do explicitly teach us that they are the same officer. Accordingly we find,

      1st. That Scripture confounds bishops and elders together.

      2d. That wherever the different classes of church officers are spoken of there are never more than two mentioned together.

      That there is no essential difference between the office of bishop and elder, but that they both belong to the same order, I allege from the facts following:

      1st. The Scripture confounds them together.

      When the Apostle Paul had called together in Miletus the elders of the church at Ephesus, he addressed them as overseers (episkopos), bishops.

      "And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus. and called the elders of the church" (Ac 20:17). [56]

      A part of the direction which he gave to these elders is recited thus:

      "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" (Ac 20:28).

      On these two verses thus connected I remark:

      First. That at Ephesus there were several elders of the church.

      Second. That these elders were bishops, or overseers, as the original signifies. Consequently these passages show that elders and bishops mean the same persons.

      Again, when the Apostle says he left Titus in Crete to ordain elders in every city, he proceeds to give the qualifications of an elder under the name of a bishop. "A bishop must be blameless," &c. [Tit 1:7], plainly suggesting that an elder and a bishop are the same officer. His words are:

      "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" (Tit 1:5).

      "If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot, or unruly" (Tit 1:6).

      "For a bishop must be blameless as the steward of God" ( Tit 1:7).

      The reason here given by St. Paul why Titus should ordain or constitute elders in every city, who should be blameless, is that a bishop, or a man who has the oversight of others, must himself be blameless as an example to those he oversees.

      If a bishop was the same person with an elder, the application of pertinence of this reason will be obvious. But if they were different person, it seems difficult to conjecture why it should have been assigned. The word elder appears to me to be the proper and peculiar title of that officer, and the bishop to be merely descriptive of one, and that a subordinate one, of his employments, viz.: overseeing the affairs of the church, preaching being evidently the supreme employment of a Christian minister. [57]

      The same truth is no less forcibly and decisively attested by the fact,

      2d. That wherever the standing officers of the church are spoken of in the Scriptures no more than two orders are ever mentioned.

      In the address of the Epistle to the Philippians, in the first chapter, first verse, St. Paul says:

      "Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus, which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Php 1:1).

      Concerning this passage I observe:

      First. That there are but two orders of ecclesiastical officers mentioned in it, namely, bishops and deacons.

      Second. That elders and bishops being the same, and belonging to one order of officers, there is no mention of elders. On any other supposition the omission of them is inexplicable.

      Third. "Had it been addressed to bishops, elders, and deacons, it would have been thought by an advocate for prelatical episcopacy absolutely decisive in favor of three orders of ecclesiastical officers. As it now stands, and as it is uncontradicted by any other passage of Scripture, I think it equally decisive that there are but two." The same may be said of other churches. For there is no reason to conclude that the Philippian church was, in this respect, differently constituted from other churches.

      Correspondent with this address to the Philippian church, and pointing to the same thing, is the instruction given by St. Paul to his son Timothy.

      The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy at large in the qualifications of ecclesiastical officers, and discusses this subject in form, and more extensively than we find done in any other part of the Scripture. But even there we find no other officers mentioned beside bishop (or overseer) and deacon.

      The omission of elder can only be accounted for as before, viz.: because bishop and elder are the same person. In the church at [58] Jerusalem, which was the only Christian church in the world for about twelve years after the ascension of Jesus Christ, we read of no bishop, but of elders and deacons (see the fifteenth and sixth chapters of Acts).

      Thus, I think, it may be fairly concluded that Scriptures have established but two orders, or classes, of officers in the Christian church, viz.: elders and deacons.

      And in the review of the whole of what has been said on this subject, it may be fairly concluded that elders and bishops are the same persons, and consequently belong to the same order of church officers, destined to exactly the same purposes, and invested with exactly the same powers.

      Some have thought that in the primitive churches there were extraordinary officers, such as Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists; and that they have no successors in their respective offices. This may be so in some respects; yet I think it is more in accordance with truth to say that there were certain persons in the primitive church who were endowed with extraordinary gifts and authority, such as Apostles, Prophets, &c. For, in my opinion, these officers were not of different or superior orders, but distinguished from other elders of the church by extraordinary gifts and employments. They, no doubt, all belonged to the eldership of the church. In other terms, they belonged to the order, or rank, of officers who were usually and appropriately called the elders. All other names, as I have already said, were only descriptive of some, or any one employment of the office of an elder. The Scriptures very generally give to one person, or officer, different names and titles, as for instance,

      Jesus Christ is call "Apostle" (Heb 3:1), "Bishop" (1Pe 2:25), "Counselor" (Isa 9:6), "Governor" (Mt 2:6), "Prophet" (Lu 24:19), "Ruler" (Mic 5:2), "Shepherd" (Joh 10:11-14). Besides these, He has, perhaps, more than one hundred other different titles.

      Christians are called believers, brethren, disciples, the righteous, saints, &c. [59]

      Thus, also, we find many other persons designated by various titles. In like manner, Christians and elders have various appellations and titles given them. Apostle properly signifies a messenger sent upon any special errand. It is sometimes, and very generally, applied to those persons who were immediately called, and sent by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel (Mt 10:2 Ga 1:1). At other times, it is given to the ordinary traveling elders of the church (Ro 16:7 Php 2:25), though in our translation the last is rendered messenger. Peter and John are likewise called elders (1Pe 5:1 3Jo 1:1). Seeing, then, that these characters are promiscuously used in sundry passages, we may infer that they are not used to signify different kinds of officers, but merely to designate different persons belonging to that order of church officers called elders.

      The word prophet comes from the Greek prophetes, which signifies one that foretells future events. But this term is also applied by St. Paul to those who preach, or spake to the church in public (1Co 14:29). These prophets, or preachers, doubtless, were the elders of the church.

      Evangelist denotes one who publishes glad tidings, or a preacher of good news. Such were Philip, Timothy, Titus, Mark, Silas, &c. Such were all the teaching elders of the church. And such they are, or ought to be, now.

      Judging, then, from the import or meaning of these terms, it would seem no more likely that these names were the appropriate titles of extraordinary and distinct kinds of church officers, than that the terms steward, bishop, minister, &c., are.

      The passage where the Apostle says that Christ, when He ascended to heaven, "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" [Eph 4:11], is no conclusive evidence that they were to constitute so many distinct orders of men, but only that He intended different employments for them. This is evident from the fact that these different appellations are often confounded [60] together, and indifferently applied to persons of that one class of permanent ecclesiastical officers which is commonly designated by the word elders.

      When an elder is employed as a missionary, and sent out to preach the gospel and plant churches, he may properly be called an apostle, or an evangelist. When he is engaged in feeding and governing churches, he may be styled a pastor, a prophet, a bishop, a minister, &c. The reason, therefore, why so many different names are given to one order or kind of officers is because they have so many different duties to perform.

      If, then, my view of this subject be correct, there are, according to the doctrine of the New Testament, but two kinds of officers appointed in the church of God, viz.: elders and deacons. And agreeably to this view there is a striking correspondence between the orders of officers in the Jewish and the Christian church. In the former there existed a high priest, ordinary priests, and Levites. In the latter Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest of our profession; elders corresponded to the ordinary priests, and the deacons to the Levites.

      This order of things was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, when he spoke of the days of the Messiah, or the Christian Economy. "And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith Jehovah" (Isa 66:21). [61]

 
 
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