Congregational Prayer, Apart from Necessity, is to be by Ministers

Under Construction, Unfinished

And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.  And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.  Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon…”

Ex. 30:7-9

“Then the twelve…  and said, ‘It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.  But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.'”

Acts 6:2,4

“Paul..  called the elders of the church.  And when they were come to him, he said unto them…  And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.”

Acts 20:16-18,36



Order of Contents

Quotes  12+
Latin  1





These are only some notes

In the Old Testament, at the first appointment of the public Church ministry (after the patriarchal age), the priests, and priests only, were to offer burned incense to God with prayers (the incense being symbolic thereof, per the Book of Revelation).

This is confirmed in Luke 1:9-13 which explicitly connects the priest’s office with prayer. The whole people praying without at the time of incense, I imagine, referred to them praying silently to themselves. I doubt every person prayed aloud (as the publican and Pharisee in another circumstance, each for themself) or that someone was audibly leading all the people in prayer. Hence the only one praying audibly for the congregation, would have been the priest.

I don’t believe OT ecclesiastical ruling elders were offering incense, and there certainly is no example of them leading corporate prayer. I don’t believe it was in the function (or authority) of their office. The same was true of the scribes in Jesus’ day, or NT ‘doctors’.

In Ex. 16 with the rebellion of Korah: Korah was a Levite but not a priest (Num. 16). The Levites saw to the maintenance and provision of the Temple, were doorkeepers, etc., something akin to NT deacons. Korah (out of jealousy) desired to take on the regular authority and functions of the priesthood (v. 10).

So God told Korah’s family and the priests to get their censers out to burn incense (symbolic of authoritative praying for the congregation, and authority thereto), to see which God would accept. God’s decision was rather conclusive: Korah’s family got burned alive and swallowed into the earth.

The moral of the story?: Lesser officers do not have all the authority and functions of higher offices, and corporate prayer was reserved to the priestly office alone.

I do not believe there are any precedents for laymen performing congregational praying in the OT.

Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Government says:

“That the ministers of the gospel have as ample a charge and commission to dispense the word, **as well as other ordinances**, as the priests and Levites had under the law, proved, Isa. 66:21; Matt. 23:34, where our Saviour entitleth the officers of the New Testament, whom he will send forth, by the same names of the teachers of the Old.”

The OT teaching appears to be clear. In God’s selecting an office to a particular authority and function, it by definition of his sovereignty and the RPW, excludes all others from doing it.

In Acts 3:1, the ‘hour of prayer’ at the ninth hour, or 3 pm, was very likely the time of the evening sacrifice in the Temple; hence the prayer they were going for was that public prayer offered by the priest with incense.

The teaching ministry in Acts 6:4 was specifically devoted to the ministry of the Word and prayer. We often, I think, understand that primarily in a private context. But the context was public: the table-serving dispute and service was public, the apostolic group, and how they were teaching the Word daily in the Temple, etc. was public. If it had said ‘studying the Word’, that might be private. But it says ‘ministering’ the Word. Ministering to others is public. Was their being devoted to prayer possibly primarily signifying public prayer? Either way prayer is here specially linked to their office, just as much so as the ministry of the Word.

As Rutherford notes, Acts 6:6 and 13:3 link those public prayers along with the authority to ordain.

If the judicial court in Mt. 18 is ordained persons, or the presbytery, as Rutherford argues at length (and I agree with), then, according to v. 19, there is a very special authority and efficaciousness that their public prayers have (as such sentences of discipline ought often to be public).

In Acts 20:36 it is the apostle Paul praying publicly.

The public, corporate praying done in the Church in 1 Cor. 14:14-15 was likely by the teaching ministry. The singing theredone was likely charismatic, or prophetic. The praying there mentioned was connected with speaking in tongues, a miraculous and prophetic act. While Paul’s use of the pronoun ‘I’ likely is general, referring to others praying as well (such as in v. 13), yet Paul often uses such first person pronouns in the epistles, not to refer to all lay-men, but to the ministry.

On James 5:14-15, the Form says “where preaching and prayer are joined as several parts of the same office. The office of the elder (that is, the pastor) is to pray for the sick, even in private, to which a blessing is especially promised; much more therefore ought he to perform this in the publick execution of his office, as a part thereof.”

Its true that the Scottish view (in contrast to some English presbyterians, such as at Westminster) held ruling elders to be presbyters, or ‘elders’, but there may be more nuance to it:

Rutherford in A Peaceable and Temperate Plea, while he affirms ruling elders to have been called elders (such as in 1 Tim. 5:17) and part of the eldership, yet in several places (such as 1 Tim. 3 and Acts 20) refers the term presbyter, or ‘elder’ to refer primarily to the ministerial office. In some ways ministers are full elders, having more functions and authority in being full overseers, or ‘bishops’ over the flock, being proper members of presbytery (whereas ruling elders are not), etc.

Therefore it may be the case that James 5:14-15 may refer to ministers, the presbytery, etc. If James was the first epistle of the NT, it may be questioned how widespread ‘Church governors’, or ruling elders, were at the time.

Rutherford and others tended to interpret the offices strictly by what their name implied. Thus ‘Church governors’ (Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12), or ruling elders, only governed the Church and ruled (not anything else). ‘Teachers’ or doctors’ only taught (though they ruled as well, being higher than ruling elders and hence encompassing their authority and functions). Yet ministers were to be about the whole ministry of the Word and worship, ministering the saints’ prayers to God as their mouthpiece (as the Form says), they being particularly fit for that, given the responsibilities of their office.

And, of course, whatever authority, functions and responsibilities an office has, God gives gifts to persons called to that office to fulfill (and not the same gifts to others).

1 Tim. 2:8 does not say that Paul wills that ‘all men’ pray everywhere, but that ‘men’ pray everywhere, not necessarily specifying which men; but the men that do, are to do it in this manner. In Ps. 134, the ‘servants’ lifting up their hands in the evening in the Temple were the priests.

While 1 Tim. 2:8 may have a broader reference to any holy man, everywhere, in social prayer, yet the general exhortation of Paul ought to be applied according to the specifics of the men it applies to: that is, it may apply to holy men generally for social prayer and apply to ministers with respect to their authority in corporate prayer.

Either way, Biblical interpretation, I think, doesn’t start with 1 Tim. 2:8, but starts in the Old Testament like we did.

In Revelation, while there are a lot of things to take into context, reformed commentators commonly take the beasts and elders about the throne as the Church ministry. Rev. 5:8 reads, alluding to the censers of the priests of the OT, yet it being in the NT: “the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.”

Deal with 1 Cor. 11 praying

The things I have looked over only speak of catechizing with respect to the minister, teachers and licentiates, such as in Westminster’s Form and the First and Second Books of Discipline.

The reason it may have been seen to be limited to these offices is because catechism naturally involves explaining what is being catechized, that is further teaching, interpreting and expounding doctrine. The First Book of Discipline says:

” the minister must take great diligence, as well to cause the people to understand the questions proponed, as the answers, and the doctrine that may be collected thereof.”

Hence, teaching is regularly involved, which is a function limited to ministers, teachers and licentiates. Being ‘apt to teach’ for ruling elders, I am not sure involves a regular exercise of teaching, as the office, of itself, is church-governing.

It is true that fathers are to catechize children, per the Scottish Directory of Family Worship, though a distinction might be made between catechizing one’s own children versus the obligation and function of catechizing the Church’s children.

Regarding caring for the poor:

If something is a distinctive of a lower office, then by definition the higher offices have it. However, if something is warranted and attributed to a higher office, then lower offices do not have it, unless it were warranted and attributed to them as well, in my understanding. That is, one cannot assume that lower offices have the authority and function of higher offices.

I am aware, I think, where caring for the poor is explicitly given to the Levites of old, and to deacons in the New (Acts 6). Therefore the higher offices have it, and we see the associations of elders in the epistles, and the apostles, etc., looking out for the poor in the New Testament with communicating donations, etc.

However, congregational prayer is linked (only) with the priests of the OT (and prophets, a higher office), and by consequence to ministers of the NT. If it is so linked with other ordained offices, that needs to be clearly shown. Therefore, lower offices, or others, than what is warranted do not have that function.

However, none of our constitutional documents (that I have found) speak of congregational prayer by laymen, or any other offices than that of minister and licentiate (being called to the office of minister).

Scottish First Book of Discipline:

“To the kirks where no ministers can be had presently, must be appointed the most apt men that distinctly can read the common prayers and the scriptures, to exercise both themselves and the kirk, till they grow to greater perfection; and in process of time he that is but a reader may attain to the further degree, and by consent of the kirk and discreet ministers, may be permitted to minister the sacraments;”

“To a reader, therefore, that is lately entered, we think forty marks, or more or less, as the parishioners and reader can agree, sufficient: providing that he teach the children of the parish, which he must do, besides the reading of the common prayers, and books of the New and Old Testaments. If from reading he
begins to exhort, and explain the scriptures, then ought his stipend to be augmented; till finally he comes to the honour of a minister.”

The Scottish Second Book of Discipline, ch. 4, answers the Reformation Scottish question, I think:

“7. Unto the pastor only appertains the administration of the sacraments, in like manner as the administration of the word; for both are appointed by God as means to teach us, the one by the ear, and the other by the eyes and other senses, that by both knowledge may be transferred to the mind.

8. It appertains, **by the same reason**, to the pastor to pray for the people, and namely for the flock committed to his charge; **and to bless them in the name of the Lord,** who will not suffer the blessings of his faithful servants to be frustrated.”

The ministry of the Word, which was given to ministers (not ruling elders, etc.), in that age, in my reading, encompassed congregational praying.  Acts 6 to the Word and Prayer.





Taffin, Jean – ch. 5, ‘Of Our Duty to Assist at Public Prayer’  in The Amendment of Life…  (London, 1595), pp. 97-101



William Perkins

The Art of Prophesying (London, 1607), ch. 11, pp. 145-7

“Of Conceiving of Prayer

Hitherto has been spoken concerning preaching of the Word: it remains now to speak of the conceiving of prayers: which is the second part of prophesying, whereby the minister is the voice of the people in calling upon God, Lk. 11:1:  “One of his disciples said unto Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.'” 1 Sam. 14:24.

Here are to be considered:

2.  The form thereof.

1.  Let there be one voice, and that the minister’s alone, the people being in the meanwhile silent, and showing their assent at the end, by saying Amen. Acts 4:24.  Who when they had heard these things, they lift up their voice with one accord unto God, and said, etc. Neh. 8:6.  And Ezra praised the Lord the great God, and all the people answered, Amen, Amen. 1 Cor. 14:16,  “Else, when thou blessest with the spirit, how shall he that supplieth the place of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks.  Justin in his 2nd Apology to Antoninus, says:  “When the president hath finished his prayers and thanksgivings, all the people that are present, cry out with a favourable approbation, saying, ‘Amen’.”  Athanasius Apolog. ad Constant. Imp. Euseb. lib. 7. cap. 8. Ierome Prooem. 2. in Gal.”


The committee of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Session 14, Dec. 6, 1638) – ‘Animadversions on the [Anglican] Service Booke’  in ed. James Gordon, History of Scots Affairs, vol. 2 (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1841), bk. 3, ch. 50, ‘Animadversions on the Service Booke’, p. 61

“Tenth, ‘The presbyter, clerk and all the people together, must repeat the Lord’s Prayer with a loud voice,’ p. 42.  How much confusion is there here, and are not the presbyters of the clergy?”  [‘Clergy’ is the plural form of ‘clerk’, which meant any officer.]


James Gordon, History of Scots Affairs, vol. 2  (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1841), vol. 3, pp. 222-3

on popcorn circular prayers amongst lay groups in 1640, Aberdeen, and the Church outlawing it with some sensible legislation, Rutherford though in Baillie’s Letters, advocated prayers by private Christians together, not by ministers.


George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland...  (Edinburgh, 1641), pt. 1, ch. 2, ‘Of the Function of Ruling Elders…’, p. 15

“The power of order alone shall make the difference betwixt the pastor and the ruling elder; for by the power of order, the pastor does preach the Word, minister the sacraments, pray in public, bless the congregation, celebrate marriage, which the ruling elder cannot.”


The Westminster Assembly

Chad Van Dixhoorn, God’s Ambassors (Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), p. 8.  Van Dixhoorn quotes from: Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly 5:119 (Doc. 42).  HT: Seni Adeyemi

“When the gathering [i.e. the Westminster Assembly] came to write a preface for its Directory for Public Worship, including a history of episcopal abuses, the assembly complained not only about prior attacks on preaching, ‘justling it out as unnecessary, or, (at best) as farre inferior to the Reading of Common Prayer,’ but also the way in which enforced use of the Book of Common Prayer had led to an ‘idle, and unedifying ministry’ content with

‘sett forms made to their hands by others, without putting forth themselves to exercise the guift of prayer, which our Lord Jesus Christ pleaseth to furnish all his servants whom he calls to that office.'”


Quote Westminster, Form of Presbyterial Church Government


Get Rutherford quotes from Elders page


A Peaceable & Temperate Plea…  (London, 1642), ch. 18, p. 272

“2nd Quaere:  Seeing hence it follows [on congregationalist terms] that single believers are to pray publicly, and exhort publicly, and authoritatively convince gainsayers at the ordination and deprivation of pastors, if they may not also publicly preach and administer the sacrament?

I answer:  If you give to single believers one pastoral act, you may with the like weight of reason give to them all.”


Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline

p. 36

“for deacons serve tables, but attend not to word and prayer, Act. 6. 2, 3, 4.”


p. 171

“Mr. [Thomas] Hooker [a congregationalist]: ‘It is not warrantable that one not in office (says Mr. Rutherford), but a private Christian, should pray, exhort, preside in the framing of a Church and in ordaining of pastors.  [Rutherford’s] Answer: The practice of the Church of Scotland will say to this, we allow not public prophesying of unofficed men.’

(Margin Note: Some chief and ordinary church-prophesying and church-praying is given to the unofficed church, as to the only kindly subject by Mr. Hooker: Mr. H., Survey, part 1, ch. 8, p. 52.)

[Rutherford’s] Answer:  1.  Here is ordinary prophesying, such as that of the apostle Peter at the calling of Matthias (Acts 1[:15-22]) and public Church-prophesying and praying, such as is by the prophets or presbytery of the Church of Antioch, Acts 13[:3]. when Paul and Barnabas were called to be apostles to the gentiles…”


p. 179

“…for if we speak of a constant rule, as now we must do, when apostles are removed, if the Church of believers be a visible Church, having the Keys and using them, even to admit officers [as in Congregationalism], and to excommunicate them, they:

1.  Dispense censures and govern, who have no call to carry on censures and government, by preaching the Word, or exhorting and praying, for there are no officers as yet, etc.”


David Dickson

A Brief Explication of the Last Fifty Psalms from Ps. 100 to the End  (London, 1654), on Ps. 134, verse 2

“5. Prayer to God, as the mouth of the people, is a part of the office of the Lord’s ministers: for so much is imported by pointing at the gesture of the supplicant: ‘Lift up your hands in the sanctuary,’ that is, in the place where the people assemble.”


McWard, Robert  1671

The True Nonconformist (1671)

p. 267

“…the rule in our way [amongst the Scottish covenanters], is as certain, though not so stinted, as that in yours [in the Anglican Church with their set forms], and that our ministers, appointed to be the people’s mouth in public prayer and worship, are not only tried in their utterance for preaching but also for prayer;”


pp. 287-288

McWard, a Scot and the protege of Rutherford, argues against the English liturgy.  The English apologist objects that if all may sing concurrently, then all may pray concurrently.


The English Presbyterians & Independent Puritans c. 1662

‘Appendix, Presbyterian Exceptions’, p. 145



On Glasites and Sandemanians the first, apparently in Scotland, to introduce elders and brethren doing corporate prayer, ed.Cameron, Scottish Dictionary of Church History & Theology, p. 744.




Voetius, Gisbert – p. 482 of Ecclesiastical Politics, vol. 1, book 2, tract 2, section 1, ch. 1, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Prayers’




“And to the office of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense…”

Num. 4:16

“Now Korah…  the son of Levi…  they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?’

And when Moses heard it…  he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, ‘Even to morrow the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.  This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company; And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the Lord to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.’  And Moses said unto Korah, ‘…He hath brought thee near to Him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?’…

And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron…  And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, ‘Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.’…

To be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company…”

Num. 16:1-21, 40

“…let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him…”

James 5:14




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