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Sermons & Study Guides

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government Pt. 6 - Other Church-governors.

James Dodson

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government

Other Church-governors.

As there were in the Jewish church elders of the people joined with the priests and Levites in the government of the church[1]; so Christ, who hath instituted government, and governors ecclesiastical in the church, hath furnished some in his church, beside the ministers of the word, with gifts for government, and with commission to execute the same when called thereunto, who are to join with the minister in the government of the church[2].  Which officers reformed churches commonly call Elders.

Question 1.—Were there in the Jewish church elders of the people joined with the priests and Levites in the government of the church?

Answer.—Yes. 2 Chron. 19:8-10.  Thus do the Prelates err that charge upon the Reformed churches the invention of what they term “lay elders.”  We confess that they are officers somewhat strange and new to the Church of England, but they are not strange or new to the Word of God, nor the primitive times, nor to the other Reformed churches.  That ruling elders are not new nor strange to the Word of God, in the Old Testament, appears for the following reasons: 1.) The Jews in the Old Testament, had two sorts of Elders; elders of the priests, and elders of the people, which correspond to our teaching and ruling elders, Jer. 19:1.  2.) These elders of the people did sit and vote with the priests and Levites in all their ecclesiastical consistories, and that by divine appointment, 2 Chron. 19:8.  3.) Although the Jews did decline in many things after the captivity, yet we find even in the days of Christ and the apostles, that the elders still sat and voiced in the council with the priests, according to the ancient form, Matt. 26:57, 59; 27:1, 12; 16:21; 21:23; Mark 14:43; Luke 22:66.  4.) These elders of the people differed from those elders which were civil magistrates, Acts 4:5; Judges 8:14; Deut. 5:23; Jos. 8:33; 2 Kings 10:5; Ezra 10:14.  And though it were possible, that some might be civil magistrates; yet, they did not sit under that capacity, in the ecclesiastical Sanhedrim, but as ecclesiastical elders.  5.) The Jews had elders of the people sitting and voting in their inferior consistories, Acts 13:15; 18:8, 17; Mark 5:22.  In which places we read of the rulers of the synagogue, who were neither priests nor Levites, and yet were rulers in church matters and had power, together with the priests, of casting men out of the synagogue, and of ordering synagogue worship, John 12:42; Acts 13:15.  6.) This association of the elders of the people, with the priest, in the Jewish church government, was by divine appointment.  Moses first instituted it, and afterwards Jehosaphat restored it, according as they were directed by God, Num. 11:16; 2 Chron. 19:8.  And it did belong to the Jewish church, not as it was Jewish, but as it was a church, and therefore belongs to the Christian church, as well as the Jewish.

Question 2.—Has Christ, who instituted government, and governors ecclesiastical in the church, furnished some, beside the ministers of the word, with gifts for government?

Answer.—Yes. Rom. 12:7, 8; 1 Cor. 12:28.  Thus do the Papists and Prelates err who maintain that this office of ruling elder has no foundation in the Word of God, but is a mere human ordinance brought into the church in only a prudential way.  They are confuted for the following reasons: 1.) Paul enumerates sundry officers of the church; and amongst others, there are helps (ἀντιλήμψεις-antilempseis), and governments(κυβερνήσεις-kuberneseis), 1 Cor. 12:28.  By helps, are meant deacons (as is observed by both our Reformed Divines and Chrysostom and others) and by governments, are meant the ruling elders.  This appears in the following considerations: a.) By governments, are meant men exercising government, the abstract for the concrete.  The apostle’s intent is not to speak of offices distinct from persons, but of persons exercising offices.  This is cleared, first, because the beginning of the verse tells us, God hath set some in his church; but this relates to persons, not to offices.  Secondly, 1 Cor. 12:28, 29, we see the apostle speaks concretively, of those things which he had spoken before abstractly.  Are all workers of miracles?  have  all  the  gifts  of  healing?  do  all  speak  with  tongues?  And  so,  by consequence, are all helpers, are all governors?  b.) The Greek word for governments, is a metaphor from pilots, or shipmasters (κυβερνήτῃ-kubernete; κυβερνήτης-kubernetes), governing their ships, Acts 27:11; Rev. 18:17; (thus, in James 3:4, the master of a ship is called a governor) and it notes such officers, as sit in the stern of the vessel of the church, to govern and guide it in spirituals, according to the will and mind of Christ.  2.) The apostle holds forth an enumeration of all the ordinary offices of the church, including he that ruleth, Rom. 12:6-8 (προϊστάμενος-proistamenos); which we take to be that of ruling elder.  These offices are reduced, first, to two general heads, prophecy, and ministry, and are therefore set down in the abstract.  By prophecy is meant the faculty of right understanding, interpreting, and expounding the Scriptures.  Ministry comprehends all other employments in the church.  Under prophecy are contained, first, he that teacheth, that is, the teacher or doctor.  Secondly, he that exhorteth, the pastor.  Under ministry are comprised, first, he that giveth, that is, the deacon.  Secondly, he that ruleth, that is, the ruling elder.  Thirdly, he that sheweth mercy, which pertains especially to those who have a care of the sick, whether the deacons or deaconesses, cf. 1 Tim. 5:9, 10.  Now, only those who are elders can bear rule in the church as we see in several places of Scripture, 1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:7, 17.  Further, whatsoever office bearer in the church is different from pastors and teachers, and yet rules, must needs be a ruling elder.  But in this place, we have one mentioned who is different from pastors and teachers, yet rules, Ergo.  3.) The apostle holds forth two sorts of elders in 1 Tim. 5:17.  The first sort only ruling (προεστῶτες-proestotes); and the other also laboring in Word and doctrine (ἐν λόγῳ καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ-en logo kai didaskalia); in this last sort we see both the pastor and teacher.

Question 3.—Are these governors with commission to execute their gifts when called thereunto, and to join with the minister in the government of the church?

Answer.—Yes. Matt. 18:15-20; Acts 20:17, 28.  Paul calls them who are elders (πρεσβυτέρους-presbuterous),  by  the  name  of  overseers  (ἐπισκόπους-episkopous); thereby showing the duty of elders; see also Paul’s division, Phil. 1:1 (ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις-episkopois kai diakonois). Just as those officers under the Old Testament, who kept charge of the holy things of God, and were appointed to see that none who were unclean in any thing, or uncircumcised, should enter into the Temple, to partake of the holy things of God, and had power to put difference between holy and unholy, which is a binding and juridical power, 2 Chron. 23:19; Ezek. 44:7, 8; Lev. 10:10; Ezek. 22:26; so, too, should the ruling elders assist the teaching elders to exercise the oversight requisite.

Question 4.—Are these officers commonly called elders in the Reformed churches?

Answer.—Yes.  We conceive they ought to be called either governors, 1 Cor. 12:28; or ruling elders, 1 Tim 5:17; not because their office is to rule alone (for the teaching elder is a ruler also, Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12), but because their office is only to rule.

[1] 2 Chron. 19:8, 9, 10.

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