Q. What is the radical idea of the term Church?
A. It is derived from the Hebrew word קָהָל and the Greek word εκκλησια the roots of which signify to call; and denotes any assembly convened by invitation or appointment.
Q. How is it used in the scriptures?
A. It is variously employed in the scriptures, and imports 1. The whole body of the elect, Eph. v. 23, “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.” 2. A small worshipping society of private Christians; Col. iv. 15, “Salute Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” 3. Regularly organized congregations; Rev. ii. 1, “Unto the angel of time church of Ephesus write.” 4. The whole visible catholic society, consisting of all who, in every age, in every place make a public and credible profession of the true religion together with their children; Acts vii. 38, “This is he that was in the church in the wilderness;” Acts ii. 47, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved;” Act viii. 3, “Saul made havoc of the church.”
Q. In what sense are the epithets visible and invisible applied to the church?
A. The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be, gathered into one under Christ the head thereof. 2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal, under the gospel, (not confined to one nation, as before, under the law,) consists of all those throughout the world, that profess the true religion, together with their children. Eph. i. 22, 23; ch. v. 27; Acts ii. 38, 39, 41, 47; Matt. xix. 14.
Q. Are both of these views comprehended in the one church of which Christ is the Head, and over which he exercises mediatorial rule?
A. Yes; but it is the visible organic church of which we now principally treat.
Q. What are the marks by which the visible church catholic, as an organic body, may be known?
A. They are not those to which the Roman apostasy pretends, “antiquity,” “universality,” “continued succession,” “power of working miracles,” and the like, because these are not exclusive properties. 2. But the characteristics of the visible church catholic, are what belong to it, and to it alone. They are—soundness in doctrine—a lawful and regular ministry-and the due administration of gospel ordinances. Acts ii. 43; xiv. 23; Mat. xxviii. 19, 20; Acts xx. 7; 1 Cor. xi. 2.
Q. Is the Lord Jesus Christ the exclusive Head of this visible catholic, ecclesiastical society?
A. Yes; he alone is Head of his body the church, and governs her with an absolute supremacy.
Q. In what is his title to exclusive dominion over the church founded?
A. His title is founded, 1. In the appointment of the Father, Ps. ii. 6, “Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion.” 2. In the gift of the church to him, John xvii. 6, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them me.” 3. In his incorporating it by covenant. It is a covenant society; not founded in the covenant of grace, merely, but Christ hath made with it an express ecclesiastical covenant, as illustrated by the transaction with Abraham, Gen. xvii. 1-14, “I will be a God unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee”—which evidently has a respect to an ecclesiastical relation—hence Abraham is entitled the “Father of many nations,”—Gentiles as well as Jews. 4. It is founded on the purchase of the church with his own blood; Acts xx. 1 8, “Feed the church of God which he bath purchased with his own blood.” 5. This right is founded in the circumstance that he is the maker and builder of the church. Heb. iii. 3-6, “For this man was accounted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who bath builded the house is worthy of more honour than the house—and Moses, verily, was faithful in all his house as a servant—but Christ as a son over his own house.” Also, 1 Pet. ii. 4, 5; Eph. ii. 22.
Q. By what passages of Scripture can it be established that the Lord Jesus Christ is the exclusive Head of the church?
A. 1. By Psa. ii. 6, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” 2. Ps. cxlix. 2, “Let the children of Zion be joyful in their king.” 3. Is. ix. 6, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given—and the government shall be upon his shoulders-and he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it.” 4. Is. xxiv. 23, “The Lord of hosts shall reign on Mount Zion.” 5. Zech. ix. 9, “Rejoice, O daughter of Zion—behold thy King cometh unto thee.” 6. Zech. vi. 13, “Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, said shall sit and rule upon his throne.” 7. Luke i. 33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” 8. Acts v. 31, “Him bath God exalted a prince—to give repentance to Israel.” 9. Rev. xv. 3, “Just and true are thy ways, thou KING OF SAINTS.” 10. Eph. iv. 18, “Who is the Head, even Christ.” 11. Eph. v. 23, 24, “Christ is Head of the Church”—“The church is subject unto Christ.” 12. Col. i. 18, “And he is the head of the body, the church.”
Q. Does not the Pope of Rome claim to be head of the visible church?
A. Yes; this is his blasphemous claim. 1. In the Creed of Pope Pius the Fourth, he claims to be “Successor of St. Peter, prince of the apostles, and vicar of Jesus Christ.” 2. The Council of Florence, A.D. 1438, decreed, “That the human Pontiff is head of the whole church, and to him, in St. Peter, was delegated, by our Lord Jesus Christ, full power to feed, rule and govern the universal church.”
Q. Is there any foundation in Scripture for this supremacy of Peter and his alleged successors?
A. Not the least; on the contrary, every aspiration after supremacy was decidedly rebuked and forbidden by our Lord, and the strictest fraternal parity enforced. 1. Matt. xx. 25-27, “And Jesus called them unto him and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them, but it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you let him be your servant.” 2. Mat. xxiii. 8, “But be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father, (Pope) upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even Christ. But ho that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” 3. Mark ix. 3, “And he sat down and called the twelve, and said unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Q. Are there not numerous arguments confuting this blasphemous claim?
A. Yes; many. 1. Paul rebuked Peter, and reckoned himself his equal. Gal. ii. 11, “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” Also, verse 14. 2. If the dignity of the person left any authority with the city where he resided, then Antioch had equal claims with Rome; and Jerusalem, where Christ suffered, was to be preferred to all the world, for it was really the mother church. 3. Peter had a limited province—the circumcision, as Paul the uncircumcision; the latter being of the greatest extent. And hence, Peter was not considered the universal pastor. 4. This claim was denied by the primitive church writers. CYPRIAN and other bishops, wrote to the bishop of Rome, as to their “fellow-bishop,” “colleague,” and “brother;” they were opposed to appeals to Rome; and asserted that all bishops were equal in power, as the apostles had been. 5. When the Emperor Mauritius gave the title, “Universal Bishop,” to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, complained of the, ambition of that title, which he calls “equal to the pride of Lucifer!” 6. It was not till the year 606, that Boniface the Third received, from the brutal usurper Phocas, the title of “Universal Bishop.” 7. This power was not, for centuries after, acknowledged in Germany, Scotland, England, &c, and even several sees, as Ravenna, Milan and Aquileia, plead exemption from the papal authority. From all this it is manifest, that the Pope’s power is a usurpation; and the Pope is the “Man of Sin,”—“the Antichrist,”—“the son of perdition—who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God, sitteth in the temple of God, allowing himself that he is God.” 2 Thess. ii. 4.
Q. Do not civil rulers claim a supremacy over the church?
A. Yes; They have often usurped this prerogative of Jesus Christ, and exercised a despotic authority over his church.
Q. Is there any foundation in the scriptures for this claim?
A. Not the least. The scriptures exhibit civil rule as having for its object things external, relating immediately to the outer man, in subserviency to the religious interests of society, and as having no power over things ecclesiastical.
Q. Do not the Scriptures substantially prohibit civil rulers from exercising ecclesiastical power?
A. They do. 2 Chron. xxvi. 10-20, “It appertaineth not to thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to bunt incense; go out of the sanctuary.” Yea, the Lord punished his presumption and “smote him with leprosy, and they thrust him out of the temple.” This instance clearly proves that civil rulers have no ecclesiastical power. Their whole authority is civil, and all they do in relation to the Church is in their capacity of civil rulers. They have no authority (as will be seen in another section,) in or over the church.
Q. What are some of the claims of our Lord Jesus Christ in relation to the church, as its exclusive and sovereign head?
A. He claims the exclusive right to appoint to the church, 1. Her doctrine; Gal 1:11, “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of men, neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ;” also, verses 8, 9, and 2 John 10. 2. All her officers; Eph. iv. 2, “And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors, and some teachers—for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Phil. i. 1, “To all the saints that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” 3. All her institutions of worship; Matt. xv. 9, “But, in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” 4. All her laws; Is. xxxiii. 22, “The LORD is our lawgiver.” Isa. ii. 3, “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion Shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
Q. What are the officers which Christ, as her head, has appointed in the Church?
A. They are, 1. Extraordinary; Eph. iv. 11, “apostles,” “prophets,” “evangelists.” 2. Ordinary; pastors and teachers, ruling elders and deacons. Eph. iv. 6, “Some pastors and teachers.” 1 Tim. v. 17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in word and doctrine.” 1 Tim. ii. 8, “Likewise, must the deacons be grave.”
Q. What are the respective functions of these officers?
A. The functions of the pastors are, to instruct and rule the church; Matt, xxviii. 19, 20, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations-teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Acts xx. 28, “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.” Heb. xiii. 17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account.” 2. The function of the ruling elders, is simply to rule; 1 Tim. v. 17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour.” 3. The functions of the deacons are, to receive and disburse the ecclesiastical funds, and exercise a care over all other temporalities of the church-giving a special attention to the poor; Acts vi. 1-6, “And in those days,” &c.
Q. Are the ministers of the church clothed with a despotic and discretional power?
A. No; their power is simply stewardly and ministerial.
Q. Is it not rebellion against Christ as the Head of his church, to reject any one of the officers of his appointment, or to deny any officer the exercise of any one of the functions of his office?
A. Undoubtedly; because Christ is jealous of his own authority in Zion, and will not give “His glory to another.”
Q. Where do you find the divine warrant for the office of Deacon in the New Testament church?
A. In the following Scriptures: 1. Acts vi. Where we are informed of the origin and the design of the office. 2. 1 Tim 3: 8-12. Where the inspired apostle describes their necessary qualifications,—“Likewise must the DEACONS be grave,” &c. 3. Phil. i. 1. Where the apostle exhibits their existence in the church equally with the bishops—(“with the bishops and deacons.”)
Q. What are the duties of this office?
A. To take charge of and disburse the temporalities of the church giving special attention to the poor.
Q. Where do you find the evidence in scripture that all the temporalities of the church are entrusted to the deacons?
A. In Acts vi.
Q. How does this passage prove that the temporalities of the church are confided to the deacons?
A. 1. The church had one common fund at that time, Acts ii. 44; iv. 34, 35. 2. This was laid at the apostles’ feet, Acts iv. 34-37. 3. This business was more than the apostles could manage consistently with their higher employments, Acts vi. 2. 4. The seven were set over the same business, Acts vi. 3, 4.
Q. Did the apostles except any part of this common fund?
A. No. It was ALL delivered over to the deacons.
Q. Did this officer exist universally in the church in apostolic times?
Q. What evidence have you from history?
A. Mosheim says, “That all the other Christian Churches followed the example of that of Jerusalem in whatever related to the choice and office of deacon.”
Q. Does any other historian confirm this?
A. Yes. Several; Brown of Haddington, Dr. Miller of Princeton, and others.
Q. What is the testimony of Brown?
A. He states in substance—That deacons were universal in the apostolic church.
Q. What says Dr. Miller?
A. Dr. Miller states,—“For the first two hundred years every flock of professing Christians had its pastor or bishop, with its bench of elders, and its body of deacons.”—TRACT on Presbyterianism.
Q. What says Buck, in his Theological dictionary, on the existence and duties of this office in the primitive church?
A. Buck says, “The office of deacon originally was to serve tables-the Lord’s table, the minister’s, and the poor’s table. They took care of the secular affairs of the church, received and disbursed moneys—kept the church’s accounts—and provided every thing necessary for its temporal good.”
Q. Did the Reformation Church of Scotland recognise this office as it existed in the primitive church, in the full extent of its duties as illustrated above?
A. Yes. In her Second Book of Discipline she says: “The office and power of the deacon is to receive and distribute THE WHOLE OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL GOODS unto them to whom they are appointed, that the patrimony of the kirk and poor be not converted unto private men’s use, nor wrongfully distributed.”
Q. Is there any evidence that this Second Book of Discipline was “binding law in said Church alter the adoption of the Westminster Standards?”
A. Yes; abundant. As a specimen, take the act, of the year 1649, abolishing patronage; in which patronage is said to be “contrary to the Second Book of Discipline,” in which, upon sound and good ground, it is reckoned among abuses that are desired to be reformed. The Form of church government was adopted Feb. 10, 1645—four years before the passage of the act which quotes it as authority. Cruikshank, vol. 1, p. 78.
Q. Does the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States recognise the office in like manner?
A. Yes. She declares that the “deacon’s power is about the temporalities of the church.”
Q. Do our brethren in Scotland thus recognise the office?
A. Yes. In their Testimony they say: “Deacons are ordained upon the choice of the congregation, and are associated with the teaching and ruling elders, in distributing to the necessities of the poor, and managing other temporalities, of the church.”
Q. Is this office perpetual in the church?
A. Yes: 1 Tim. iii. 8, 12, and Phil. i. 1. Its perpetuity is the same with that or the bishop or pastor.
Q. What say the Standards of the Reformed Presbyterian Church respecting the perpetuity of this office?
A. The Westminster Form of Church Government says of the “deacon” “WHOSE OFFICE IS PERPETUAL.”
Q. Has Christ instituted in his church, ordinances of divine worship and Christian fellowship?
A. Yes; Christ has sanctioned’ either by express institution, or by his administrative example, 1. Public prayer. 2. praise. 3. Reading of the scriptures. 4. preaching the word; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the presence of his disciples he lifted his eyes to heaven, in solemn supplication to the Father. He sung with them a hymn before going out to the Mount of Olives. When he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, he “stood up for to read.” “Go ye into all nations and preach the gospel to every creature,” was among his last directions to the apostles and their successors. He commanded them also to “Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” In reference to the ordinance of the supper, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And, as for that portion of time which is consecrated to the peculiar observance of all these institutions, it is written, “The Son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath.” There is not an institution of divine worship by Which the devotional feelings of the church are expressed, or the edification of the body promoted, which bears not the stamp of the Saviour’s authority; find in observing them all, the true saint has the satisfaction to know, that he is “serving the Lord Christ.”
Q. Is it not daring presumption and an act of rebellion, to worship by any observance of our own invention?
A. Yes; for Christ, 1. Rebukes it. “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” 2. He gives us two alarming examples of his jealousy in this respect. The cases of Nadab and Abihu, who, for offering “strange fire,” were consumed by “a vehement flame,” from the presence of the Lord—and the worshippers of the golden calf who were miserably slain.
Q. Does not the efficacy of ordinances depend upon the dominion of Christ in his church?
A. Yes; Christ, upon his ascension to the right hand of the throne of God, “received gifts for men, even for the rebellious—that the Lord might dwell among them” among which gifts are the Holy Spirit, whom he sends forth as the Spirit of truth, to lead men into the knowledge of the truth; and it is by the word of Christ rendered “quick and powerful,” by the energy of the Spirit that men are convinced of sin, enlightened in the knowledge of Christ, and their wills renewed—and are thus enabled to embrace the Saviour, as he is offered in the gospel.
Q. Has Christ instituted a form of government in his church?
A. Yes; he has not left his church in a state of anarchy or confusion or to be modelled according to the fancies of men, as may best serve their political views and designs. Every piece of the Old Testament tabernacle was to be placed according to the pattern shown in the holy mount; much more the New Testament church, which is called “the true tabernacle of David.” Compare Acts xv. 16, with Amos ix. 11.
Q. What texts demonstrate an established government in the New Testament church?
A. Many; its examples, 1 Thess. v. 12, “We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you.” 1 Tim. v. 17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour.” And, Hebrews xiii. 17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves.”
Q. How many forms are there of church government, for which their advocates claim a scriptural warrant?
A. Four: the papal, or spiritual monarchy; the episcopal, or spiritual prelacy; independency, or spiritual democracy; and presbyterianism, or spiritual republicanism.
Q. What is the distinctive characteristic of each?
A. The first maintains the necessity of one supreme, universal, infallible head of the whole Christian body, and throughout the world, who is the authorized vicar of Christ. The second contends for all order of clerical prelates, above the rank of ordinary ministers of the gospel, who are alone, in their view, empowered to ordain, and without whose presiding agency there call be no regular church. The third holds that all ecclesiastical power resides in the mass of the church members and that all acts of ecclesiastical authority are to be performed immediately by them. The fourth maintains that Christ has made all ministers who are authorized to dispense the word and sacraments, equal in official rank and power; that in every church the immediate exercise of ecclesiastical power is deposited, not with the whole mass of the people, but with a body of their representatives styled elders; and that the whole visible church catholic, as far as their denomination is concerned, is not only one in name, but so united by a series of assemblies of these representatives, acting in the name and by the authority of the whole, as to bind the whole body together as one church, walking by the same principles of faith and order, and voluntarily, yet authoritatively, governed by the same system of rules and regulations.
Q. What is the first proof of the absolute parity of the ministers of the word?
A. Mark x. 42-44, “But Jesus called them to him, and said to them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles, exercise lordship over them, and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever shall be great among you, shall be your minister, and whosoever will be the chiefest shall be the servant of all.” (See also Mat. xx. 25, 27; xxiii. 8-12; Luke xxii. 25, 20.)
Q. What is the second argument?
A. 1 Pet. v. 3, “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage (literally clergy,) but being ensamples to the flock.”
Q. What is the third proof?
A. The highest ordinary officers mentioned in 1 Cor. xii. 28, and Eph. iv. 11, are “pastors and teachers,” as given and set by Christ in the church, “for the work of the ministry.”
Q. What is the fourth proof?
A. Presbyter and bishop are convertible terms; that is, they apply to the same individual, exercising one and the same office. Presbyter or elder is expressive of the authority, and episkopos, or bishop, of the duty of the pastor. Acts xx. 17-28, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders (presbyters—Greek,) of the church, And charged them, saying, Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,” (or “bishops”) Also, 1 Pet. v. 2, “The elders which are among you I exhort, which am also an elder, feed the church of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof,”—episkopountes—episcopising, or watching, or performing the duty of a bishop. In both these passages, elder is the official title, and bishop the term expressive of the duties of the elder.
Q. What is the fifth argument?
A. The officers of the church are ordained by a plurality of elders, in which act they all stand on an equal platform. Acts xiv. 23, “And when they had ordained them elders in every church.” 1 Tim. iv. 14, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” Paul and Barnabas acted as presbyters in ordination, and as members of a presbytery, and Timothy was ordained by the same—a plurality of elders acting in these solemn transactions as equals, and not by a lord over God’s clergy.
Q. What is the sixth argument?
A. The apostles, in ordaining elders, acted simply as presbyters. Timothy was ordained by a presbytery, of which presbytery Paul was a member, 2 Tim. i. 6.
Q. What is the seventh proof?
A. All the elders have equal authority as rulers. 1 Tim. v. 17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour.” According to this, all elders have equal authority as rulers-the only distinction which can justly obtain among them, is not in the sense of rule, as superior or inferior- of greater diligence and fidelity in the performance of presbyterial duty.
Q. What proof is there of the existence of a class of officers, designated by the title, Ruling Elders, distinct from the pastor or teaching elder?
A. There is abundant proof; First, The New Testament church was modelled after the pattern, substantially of the Jewish synagogue. The order of the synagogue was substantially as follows. There was a preacher or angel of each synagogue; this angel was not the bishop of a diocess or province, but of a particular congregation, assembled in one synagogue or place of worship; there was associated with him a number of rulers, entitled, Luke xiii. 14, the rulers of the synagogue; and a third class—collectors and distributors of the funds.
Q. Did our Saviour sanction this order in his ministrations on earth?
Q. Did the apostles and evangelists preach in the Jewish synagogues, and organise congregations upon this simple and efficient model?
A. Yes. Acts xiv. 23, “And when they had ordained them elders in every church,” or congregation. As there was it plurality of elders ordained in each congregation, it is just inference that, associated with the angel, bishop, or pastor of the New Testament congregation, after the model of the synagogue, is a bench of elders, whose function it is to conduct its government. Second, 1 Tim. v. 17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Evidently, “Elders that rule well,” are justly denominated “ruling elders.”
Q. Is there a manifest distinction among these elders?
A. Yes; There are some whose sole business it is to rule; another class who, besides ruling, “labour in word and doctrine.” Because, if this distinction be not observed, the passage would run—substituting equivalent expressions, thus strangely: “Let the elders that do their duty well be counted worthy of double honour, especially the elders that do their duty!” This passage, therefore, requires distinction into ruling elders and teaching elders; that is, a class who rule only—another class which, besides ruling, teach, in which only they have a pre-eminence.
Q. Are not those who labour in word and doctrine contrasted with those who only rule?
A. This is the force of the word μαλιστα. It is used in several passages evidently with this view. Gal. ii. 10, “Let us do good unto all men, especially (malista) unto them who are of the household of faith.” 1 Tim. iv. 10, “Who is the Saviour of all men, especially (malista) of those who believe.” All elders that rule well are worthy of regard—but there is a reason why some elders should be regarded which does not belong to all; their duty, besides ruling, is labouring in the word and doctrine; therefore, the they are to be particularly honoured for this peculiarity, by which they are distinguished from the others who rule only. It would indeed be strange if it was the duty of each and all elders, besides ruling, to labour in word and doctrine, that Paul should account men worthy of double honour, who neglected the chief part of their duty! For the text plainly shows that some rule well, but do not labour in word and doctrine; others, in addition to ruling well, are commended for labouring in the word and doctrine. It is evident, therefore, that there are two distinct classes of elders properly designated by the appellations of RULING ELDERS AND TEACHING ELDERS. The former rule only. The latter, besides ruling, teach the words of eternal life.
Q. What other proof have you for the office of Ruling Elder.
A. Rom. xii. 7, 8, “Let us wait on our ministering—he that teacheth, on teaching—he that ruleth, let him do it with diligence.” Paul compares the church, in this chapter, to the human body—and as in that body all the members have not the same office, so all the members of the church have not the same office. There are gifts differing according to the grace given to each. In the passage quoted, evidently the ruler is distinguished from the teacher—ruling from teaching. The elders that rule are distinct from those who have, besides, the office in the body of teaching, and have grace distinguishing them for this work.
Q. What further proof?
A. 1 Cor. xii. 28, “Teachers—governments.” In addition to the standing ministry in the church, whose chief office is to teach, there is a class of officers endowed with authority to govern (as the word means) as assistants to the teachers in the government of the church.
Q. What additional proof?
A. James v. 14, “Is any man sick among you let him call for the elders of the church,” or congregation. These elders are evidently over the same congregation. If they are remote from each other, the afflicted individual could not have access to them in his exigency; and taken in connexion with Acts xiv. 23,—the ordination of a plurality of elders in each congregation—it is evidence in favour of the distinct order of officers entitled RULING ELDERS.
Q. Is there a series of judicatories, rising one above another, by which the church is bound together as one homogeneous community?
A. Yes; First, the congregational session. Second, Presbytery. Third, The synod, general assembly, &c.
Q. What proof in scripture is there for the congregational presbytery or session?
A. There is sufficient proof. First, The New Testament churches, or congregations, were modelled after the Jewish, synagogue, which was governed by an estate of elders. Acts xviii. 8-17; Mark iv. 35, 30, 38. Second, Christ refers with approbation to the order of government among the Jews, (which we will show again,) Matt, xviii. 15-21: “Tell it to the church.” Now the Jews had a lesser court of sanhedrin, called “The assembly of three,” in every place of the number of one hundred and twenty inhabitants. There must be something similar in the New Testament church. The congregational court to which we tell the offences of the offending brother. Third, Heb. xiii. 17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves,” relates first in order to the congregational rulers, as is plain from the reason assigned for submission, for they “watch for your souls.” The immediate rulers who had to care of the particular flock; confirmed by ver. 7. Fourth, 1 Thess. v. 12, “Know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you.” A plain proof of a number of congregational rulers who immediately governed the people, clothed with the power of authoritative admonition, and to whom they were to be in meek subjection.
Q. How can you prove the divine right of presbytery?
A. The arguments are numerous. We select one—the church of Antioch. First, there were several single congregations in this one church. 1. The multitude of believers:—Acts xi. 21, “A great number believed.” By the preaching of Barnabas “Much people were added to the Lord;” (verse 24.) Barnabas and Saul, for a year together, ought much people, and disciples there so mightily multiplied, that there they were first designated “Christians;” verses 25, 26. 2. From the multitude of preachers at Antioch: Acts xi. 20, “Divers preached” there—three or four at least. There Barnabas was sent, verses 22-24. he went for Saul to help him, so great was the harvest; verses 25, 26. There came a number from Jerusalem; verses 27, 28. Five more are to be added, who are named Acts xiii. 1-3. “Yea, Paul and Barnabas continued in Antioch teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also;” xv. 35. Now sum up all. What a multitude of believers, and what a college of preachers, were here at Antioch! How is it possible that all these preachers should be occupied in one congregation (and they were not idlers,) dispensing the ordinances of Christ to them only? Or how could so many members meet in one single congregation at once, ordinarily, to partake of all ordinances. Now these numerous believers and preachers are called, Acts xiii. 1 “The church that was at Antioch;” evidently in regard of one joint administration of church government among them, by one common presbytery?
Q. What other proof?
A. In Antioch we have clearly two examples of presbyterial meetings. 1. Acts xiii. 1-3, “Now there was in the church in Antioch church that was at Antioch, certain prophets, (who prophesied by preaching or expounding the word,) and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon, that was called Niger, and Lucius, of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” This was evidently a presbyterial act. Paul and Barnabas were separated to missionary labour, by “the laying on of the hands of the presbytery,” with all due formality. 2. Acts xv. “And certain men which came down from Judea, taught the brethren and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When, therefore, Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” Can anything be plainer than that, the question of circumcision was brought before the assembly of the elders of Antioch, and reasoned at length, but they came to no decision upon the merits of the question, but, as it concerned the whole church, wisely “determined” to refer it to the highest ecclesiastical tribunal for its decision—to which synodal assembly they appointed their delegates? They decided, decreed or ordained, as the Greek for “determined” means—to send Paul, &c. Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, &c., offer equally forcible and conclusive arguments to the same point.
Q. Is there any proof for the divine right of synodal assemblies?
A. Yes; The proof is conclusive. First, The unity of the church is a valid argument. The fourth chapter of Ephesians discusses this unity, and any one who will candidly examine it, will be convinced that the ministry is given for the purpose of governing it as a unity, until the end of time. There is but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism;” and there is but “one body.” To this one body the pastors and teacher—as the ordinary ministry—are given—given, moreover, to preserve this unity, “till we all come in the unity of faith—unto the perfect man.” Being with this view given to the church, how can they preserve this unity, but by assembling in a judicatory, where they can act for the whole—take the oversight; feed, govern, and direct the whole church of God? A synod is, therefore, demanded by the unity of the church: and this unity is preserved where Christ is really recognised as the Head, and his laws are honestly administered by a synodical assembly. If synods have failed to preserve this unity, it will be found that they have deliberated upon the principles of a carnal expediency, and were not governed by the word and truth of Christ.
Q. What is the second proof for synodal assemblies?
A. Christ refers with approbation to the forms of procedure in the Jewish courts, in which the synagogues were subordinate to the Sanhedrin. There were three judicial assemblies among the Jews. The first consisted of one hundred and twenty; the second of twenty-three, and the third of three judges. The former was called the great sanhedrin; the second the sanhedrin of twenty-three, and the latter the assembly of three. The great sanhedrin sat in Jerusalem; the lesser in every place containing more than one hundred and twenty inhabitants, and the assembly of three, in every place of the number of one hundred and twenty inhabitants. This is the system of which our Redeemer approved as we have his judgement, in the eighteenth of Matthew; and he intimates very clearly from the 18th to the 20th verse, that the principle embodied in these judicial tribunals would be extended throughout the New Testament dispensation. This system was rigidly observed until after the destruction of the second temple. The assembly of three, and the sanhedrin of twenty three, were subordinate to the great sanhedrin, which had both appellate and original jurisdiction. From the recommendation of our Saviour, we may safely conclude, that a supreme assembly after the example of the great sanhedrin, will meet his approbation. He commends the court of two or three. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And when he says, “Tell it unto the church,” he shows explicitly his approbation of the judicial system by which the body of his people, under the former dispensation, were governed; for he gave the law which is recorded in Deut. xvii. 8-12, and which seems to lay down the principle of appeal according to this simple and essentially righteous judicial system.
Q. What is the third proof?
A. At Jerusalem a synod composed of the rulers of the several churches met, debuted, and determined a point of controversy in the church. We have a record of the fact—and the transactions of this synodal assembly in the fifteenth of Acts. We have here, 1. An authoritative decree; 2. Enacted by a representative body; 3. Exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction over churches and presbyteries.
Q. What is the proof of the first position?
A. As to the first Acts xvi. 4, is conclusive. “As they went, through the cities they delivered them the decrees for to keep which were ordained by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.” Τα δογματα τα κεκριμενα. Dogma does not mean advice, but a decree that must be obeyed. The decrees of the Roman emperor are designated by the same word; Luke ii. 1; Acts xvii. 1, “There went out a decree (δογμα,) from Caesar Augustus.” “These all do contrary to the decrees (δογματων,) of Caesar.” The decrees of the Caesars were not simple advice—but, authoritative, and to be obeyed at the peril of the subject: so the acts of this synod were authoritative decrees—binding the conscience of the members of the church.
Q. What is the proof of the second position?
A. As to the second, the synod was a representative body. The apostles were not alone in this grand assembly—nor did they as members act in their apostolic character—but as elders (1 Pet. v. 1,) in their presbyterial capacity; verse 6 “The apostles and elders came together for to consider this matter.” The whole church; verse 22, The brethren verse 23. Those who are styled the whole church in the 22d, are called “the brethren,” in the 23 verse. The latter signifies, as a technical term, men of equal rank to others specified, (Acts xxii. 5, and xv. 40, xx. 32.) The equals of the elders of Jerusalem at Damascus. The elders of Ephesus, officially—and the members of the synod—equals in authority—delegates from the churches that were not of Judea. The “whole church” is the church representative. The private members of the church at Jerusalem could not be styled the whole church—and upon the principles of independency, could not bind by their acts the church in Corinth &c.; And upon the principles of Presbyterianism the members of the church in one city could not bind by their acts the members of another city. The whole church universal was not present in Jerusalem in its collective members. It was the church representative in her delegates—the brethren from the distant cities and provinces of the church. Antioch sends, as we have seen, her delegates—and other presbyteries are there in the person of their delegates—so that the decree is the act the of the ολη τη εκκλησια,—the whole church representatively.
Q. How do you prove the third position?
A. As to the third, these decrees were sent down to the whole church, to be kept—as decisions binding the conscience of all its members, officially or personally considered. Acts xvi. 4, “They went through all the cities and delivered them the decrees for to keep.” The decrees respected, and bound all the churches. Paul was now in Derbe or Lystra, in Lycaonia, having passed through Syria and Cilicia, and from Lycaonia he travelled through Phrygia and Galatia into Macedonia. Through whatever cities he passed where there was a church, he delivered them the decrees of the synod of Jerusalem “to keep.” The word φυλασσω, rendered “to keep,” signifies not only to keep in safety with care as a deposit, but to observe, so as not to violate, as a command; Matt. xix. 20; Mark x. 20, “All these things have I kept, (the same Greek word) from my youth up.” These decrees of the synod were to be observed as the commandments of Christ. Second, We have seen the question was referred from the presbytery of Antioch, which, as will be seen, acquiesced in the decision of the synod. Third, All the churches submitted to the decree; Acts xv. 30, 31, “So when they (commissioners of synod) were dismissed, they came to Antioch, and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle, which, when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.” And in the 46th verse, Paul and Silas are said to have “gone through Syria and Cilicia confirming the churches.” How confirming them but by giving them the decree; of the synod deciding the question by which they had been unsettled in their judgements? This is clearly made out by the 4th and 5th verses of the sixteenth chapter: “And so as they went through the cities they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem—and so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.” The whole church submitted cheerfully to the decision of the supreme judicatory: even the gainsayers seem to have been silenced by the authoritative decision of so august a body, acting in the name of the church’s exalted Head; and peace, establishment, and prosperity, were the happy results of this judicial decision, and the submission of the church to those who had the rule over them in the Lord, whose “authority was for edification and not for destruction.”
Q. What principle is the basis of the presbyterian system of church government?
A. The principle of representation—and from the church the nations have derived the elements of republican institutions wherever they exist.
Q. Will not this principle bind the church in the millennium—and oven the nations respectively—throughout the earth—in one homogeneous community?
A. The principle will admit of any degree of extension. An assembly may be constituted to embrace the globe; and a just interpretation of the scripture seems to justify this opinion. Jer. iii. 17, At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord to Jerusalem; neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their own heart."
Q. Has Christ as the Head of his church authorized the exercise of discipline upon the household of faith?
A. Yes. The Lord Jesus Christ bath instituted DISCIPLINE in order to remove scandals, and prevent their unhappy effects, and no church can, without the faithful and spiritual application of it, hope for his countenance and blessing. First, Mat. xviii. 17, “If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him he unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” Second, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” Third, “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition reject.” Fourth, Christ reproves the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira for laxity in discipline; Rev. ii. 14, 20, “But I have a few things against thee because thou hast there them that, hold the doctrine of Balaam.” “Nevertheless I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman, Jezebel, to teach and seduce my servants,” &c. Fifth, he commends the church of Ephesus for fidelity in this respect; “This thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.”
Q. What Are some of the characteristics of the discipline which Christ authorizes as the Head of the church?
A. First, It should be faithful—the guilty should not escape. 1 Cor. v. 5, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when they are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Second, It should he administered in all orderly manner; 1 Cor. xiv. 40, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Third, In all meekness; Gal. vi. 1, “Restore such a one in the spirit of meekness.” Fourth, in a solemn manner; 1 Pet. iv. 11, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” Fifth, It should be exercised impartially; 1 Tim. v. 21, “Doing nothing by partiality.”
Q. What are the offences which should subject the members of the church to discipline?
A. They are, First, Errors in doctrine; Rom: xvi. “Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” Second, Immorality in practice; 2 Chron. xxiii. 19, “He set the porters at the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in any thing should enter in.” Eph, v. 11, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (See also Rev. ii. 20.) Third, Despising the authority, order, or ordinances of the church; 1 Cor. xi. 2, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.” 2 Th. iii. 6, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which ye received of us.” Fourth, Neglecting the public, domestic, or secret duties of religion; Heb. x. 25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Jer. x. 25, “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name.” Matt. vi. “But thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to the Father which is in secret.”
Q. What are the censures of the church?
A. They are for edification and not destruction, And are, First, Rebuke; Tit 1:3, “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Second, Suspension from the privileges of the church; 2 Thess. iii. 14, 16, “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, And have no company with him, that he may be ashamed; yet count him not as an enemy, but Admonish him as a brother.” Third, Excommunication or excision from the church; 1 Cor. v. 13, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” Gal. v. 12, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.”
Q. What advantage may be derived from the impartial and prudent exercise of church discipline?
A. The impartial and prudent exercise of church discipline is useful for vindicating the honour of Jesus Christ, maintaining the dignity of his ordinances, preserving the purity of the church, averting the judgments of God, And for the benefit of the offender himself, that by the administration of this ordinance of Christ, through grace, he may be humbled and recovered; 2 Cor. x. 8, “Our Authority which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction.”
Q. Would not the full recognition of the Headship of Christ over his church, and humble and implicit obedience to his authority in all things, greatly promote the unity, peace, establishment, and prosperity of the church?
A. Yes; Divisions, contentions, and schisms, usually arise in the church from a forgetfulness or rejection of the mediatorial authority of our Lord Jesus Christ in his Church. Men, even ministers of religion, are apt to act upon the principle—“Our tongues are our own, who is Lord over us?” In contrast with such—“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Q. Do not all Presbyterian denominations, at least, recognise the doctrine of Christ’s exclusive Headship over the church?
A. Yes; In theory—but many reject it practically, as they introduce inventions of their own into the worship of God—or adulterate republican presbyterianism by admitting into their administration many of the elements of democratic independency. The Reformed Presbyterians, more rigidly than all others, maintain Christ’s exclusive Headship over the church, tolerating no invasion of his prerogatives in this respect by rulers on the one hand, or by the people on the other.