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Sermons & Study Guides

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government Pt. 14 - Of Classical Assemblies.

James Dodson

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government

Of Classical Assemblies. 

The scripture doth hold out a presbytery in a church[1].

A presbytery consisteth of ministers of the word, and such publick officers as are agreeable to and warranted by the word of God to be church-governors, to join with the ministers in the government of the church[2].

The scripture doth hold forth, that many particular congregations may be under one presbyterial government.

This proposition is proved by instances:

I. First, Of the church of Jerusalem, which consisted of more congregations than one, and all these congregations were under one presbyterial government.

This appeareth thus:

First, The church of Jerusalem consisted of more congregations than one, as is manifest:

1st, By the multitude of believers mentioned, in divers [places], both before the dispersion of the believers there, by means of the persecution[3]and also after the dispersion[4].

2ndly, By the many apostles and other preachers in the church of Jerusalem.  And if there were but one congregation there, then each apostle preached but seldom[5];

which will not consist with Acts vi.2.

3rdly, The diversity of languages among the believers, mentioned both in the second and sixth chapters of the Acts, doth argue more congregations than one in that church.

Secondly, All those congregations were under one presbyterial government; because,

1st, They were one church[6].

2ndly, The elders of the church are mentioned[7].

3rdly, The apostles did the ordinary acts of presbyters, as presbyters in that kirk; which proveth a presbyterial church before the dispersion, Acts vi.

4thly, The several congregations in Jerusalem being one church, the elders of that church are mentioned as meeting together for acts of government[8];

which proves those several congregations were under one presbyterial government.

And whether these congregations were fixed or not fixed, in regard of officers or members, it is all one as to the truth of the proposition.

Nor doth there appear any material difference betwixt the several congregations in Jerusalem, and the many congregations now in the ordinary condition of the church, as to the point of fixedness required of officers or members.

Thirdly, Therefore the scripture doth hold forth, that many congregations may be under one presbyterial government.

II. Secondly, By the instance of the church of Ephesus; for,

First, That there were more congregations than one in the church of Ephesus, appears by Acts xx.31[9], where is mention of Paul’s continuance at Ephesus in preaching for the space of three years; and Acts xix.18, 19, 20, where the special effect of the word is mentioned[10]and ver. 10 and 17 of the same chapter, where is a distinction of Jews and Greeks[11]and 1 Cor. xvi.8, 9, where is a reason of Paul’s stay at Ephesus until Pentecost[12]; and ver. 19, where is mention of a particular church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, then at Ephesus[13], as appears, Acts xviii.19, 24, 26[14].

All which laid together, doth prove that the multitude of believers did make more congregations than one in the church of Ephesus.

Secondly, That there were many elders over many congregations, as one flock, appeareth[15].

Thirdly, That these many congregations were one church, and that they were under one presbyterial government, appeareth[16].


Question 1.—Does the Scripture hold out a presbytery in the church?

Answer.—Yes. 1 Tim. 4:14; Acts 15:2, 4, 6.  Thus do the Papists and Prelatists err who deny there to be a presbytery in the church.  They are confuted for the following reasons: 1.) Scripture mentions a plurality of presbyters or elders associated together in presbyterial churches, both in Jerusalem, Acts 11:30; 21:17, 18; and at Ephesus, Acts 20:17, 18.  2.) Scripture expressly mentions the very name of presbytery, 1 Tim. 4:14.  It is not said in this place “the hands of presbyters”, but “the hands of the presbytery.”—plainly denoting the whole body of presbyters associated together.  The word used here πρεσβυτέριον [presbuterion] is used only three times in the New Testament—once in this place and twice for the Jewish presbytery, Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5.

Question 2.—Does a presbytery consist of ministers of the word, and such public officers as are agreeable to and warranted by the word of God to be church-governors, to join with the ministers in the government of the church?

Answer.—Yes. Rom. 12:7, 8; 1 Cor. 12:28.  By the word presbytery, we understand a meeting of the presbyters or elders met together for the purpose of exercising the government of the church.  Pastors and other elders were necessarily present therein, and did, by virtue of their particular vocation, 1 Thess. 5:12, 13, meet together presbyterially for exercising acts of government, 1 Cor. 5:4.

Question 3.—Does the scripture hold forth, that many particular congregations may be under one presbyterial government?

Answer.—Yes. Acts 15:2, 4, 6.  Thus do the Independents, some Anabaptists and others err who deny that many particular congregations may be under one presbyterial government.  They are confuted because: 1.) The church at Antioch, consisted of a great number of believers, Acts 11:21, 24—so many as to be first denominated “Christians” in that place, Acts 11:25, 26.  That there was a multitude of preachers appears in the fact that there were several preachers from Cyprus and Cyrene, Acts 11:20; unto this number Barnabas is added, Acts 11:22-24; additionally, prophets come from Jerusalem, Acts 11:27, 28; and other preachers are named later, Acts 13:1-3.  In fact, it is noted that Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch with many others, Acts 15:35.  How is it possible that all these preachers should busy themselves about one congregation? or how could so many members meet in one single congregation at once ordinarily to partake of all the ordinances?  Yet, though there were evidently many congregations, it was known as the Church at Antioch—signifying its unity under one government, Acts 13:1.  2.) The church at Corinth was composed of a multitude of believers, Acts 18:1, 7-10.  It was so great a number that Paul was constrained to spend a long time among them teaching and establishing them, Acts 18:11.  Apparently, there were numerous ministers and preachers among them, 1 Cor. 1:12; 4:15; 14:29, 31.  The apostle, regulating their public assemblies, refers to the fact that there were multiple congregations, 1 Cor. 14:34; yet, he addresses his epistles to the Church at Corinth, 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1.

Question 4.—Wherein does it appear that the church of Jerusalem consisted of more than one congregation?

Answer.—This appears from the following considerations: 1.) From the multitude of believers at Jerusalem, Acts 8:1; 1:15; 2:41, 46, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 9:31; 12:24; 21:20.  2.) From the multitude of church officers at Jerusalem, Acts 6:2; 8:14; 11:27.  3.) From the variety of languages among the disciples at Jerusalem, Acts 2:5, 8-12; 6:1.  4.) From the manner of the public meetings in those primitive times, Acts 2:46.  All which proves there were many congregations amongst those who dwelt at Jerusalem.

Question 5.—Wherein does it appear that all these congregations were under one presbyterial government?

Answer.—This is made evident because the elders of that church are mentioned as meeting together for acts of government; which proves those several congregations were under one presbyterial government, Acts 11:30; 15:4, 6, 22; 21:17, 18.

Question 6.—Wherein does it appear that the church of Ephesus consisted of more than one congregation?

Answer.—This appears from the following considerations: 1.) There were numerous prophets and preachers at Ephesus, established by Paul, Acts 19:1, 6-8, 10; 20:17, 28, 36, 37.  2.) These prophets were endued with the gift of tongues, which implies several congregations of several languages, Acts 19:6, 7.  3.) There was a multitude of believers, Acts 19:10, 17-20.  Paul testifies to this fact, 1 Cor. 16:8, 9.  All which proves there were many congregations amongst the Ephesians.

Question 7.—Wherein does it appear that these many congregations had many elders, as one flock?

Answer.—The apostle makes this very clear in his gathering the elders before his departure from Ephesus, Acts 20:17, 25, 28, 30, 36, 37.

Question 8.—Wherein does it appear that all these congregations were under one presbyterial government?

Answer.—Clearly, the apostle admonishes the elders to exercise a single governing over this flock, Acts 20:17, 28.  Additionally, Christ addresses the Church at Ephesus, Rev. 2:1-6.


[1] 1 Tim. 4:14; Acts 15:2, 4, 6.

[2] Rom. 12:7, 8; 1 Cor. 12:28.

[3] Acts 8:1; 1:15; 2:41, 46, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7.

[4] Acts 9:31; 12:24; 21:20.

[5] Acts 6:2.

[6] Acts 8:1; 2:47 compared with 5:11; 12:5; 15:4.

[7] Acts 11:30; 15:4, 6, 22; 21:17, 18.

[8] Acts 11:30; 15:4, 6, 22; 21:17, 18.

[9] Acts 20:31.

[10] Acts 19:18-20.

[11] Acts 19:10, 17.

[12] 1 Cor. 16:8, 9.

[13] 1 Cor. 16:19.

[14] Acts 18:19, 24, 26.

[15] Acts 20:17, 25, 28, 30, 36, 37.

[16] Rev. 2:1-6 joined with Acts 20:17, 28.