On Extraordinary Acts of Church Government under Necessity, Superintendents & Assessor Elders, etc.

“But the priests were too few, so that they could not flay all the burnt offerings: wherefore their brethren, the Levites [who did not have that function by office], did help them, till the work was ended, and until the other priests had sanctified themselves: for the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests.  And also the burnt offerings were in abundance…  So the service of the house of the Lord was set in order.”

2 Chron. 29:34-35

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Order of Contents

On Extraordinary Acts of Church Government under Necessity
On Superintendents
On Assessor Elders
On Christians & Congregations being under the Presbytery apart from Having any
.       Local Session

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On Extraordinary Acts of Church Government under Necessity

Webpage

On an Extraordinary Calling

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Article

Guthrie, James – pp. 32-39 of Protesters No Subverters, & Presbytery No Papacy; Or, a Vindication of the Protesting Brethren & of the Government of the Kirk of Scotland  1658

In 1655 the protesters, who had a a dominant control of some of the higher Church courts in Scotland, made an overture to the General Assembly, due to the perceived declined state of the Church (especially as moderated by Resolutioners), to set up extraordinary commissions and visitations to purge and purify the Church ministry.  This overture passed.

The Resolutioners strongly objected on ecclesiastical principles to this.  Here Guthrie, the leading spokesman of the Protesters, defends the extraordinary overture and ensuing course of action on Biblical, Church and natural principles and prior precedent in the Church of Scotland.  Part of his justification (which is right), is that if the Church has been given power of Christ to protect and promote its well-being, then by definition, in extraordinary circumstances of declension, the Church has power, and must, take extraordinary action towards its own well-being, though such a course of action be inconsistent with the regular structure and operations of the Church..

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Quotes

1600’s

William Gouge  1632

The Saint’s Sacrifice: or, a Commentary on the 116th Psalm…  (1632), Section 115, p. 258, on Ps. 116:19

“4.  There are places of persecution where no liberty is granted for public assemblies: and places of peace, where Churches have much rest, and great liberty.  In places of persecution bounden duties must rather be performed in private, than omitted.  For matter of circumstance must give place to matters of substance: matters of conveniency to matters of necessity.

Wherefore to leave extraordinary persons to their extra­ordinary warrant…”

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Samuel Rutherford

Due Right of Presbyteries  (1644)

pt. 1, p. 299

“2.  I grant the whole, and yet nothing is concluded against us.  For the power of the keys is not given to the catholic presbytery as to the first subject, to be a mean of edification in an ordinary and constant way; but only in an extraordinary and occasional way, in those things which concern the power of jurisdiction belonging to the whole catholic Church.

By ‘extraordinary’ here, I mean not that which is against a particular law of God, and cannot be done without a divine dispensation of providence, but by ‘extraordinary’ I mean that which is raro contingens, and does not oft fall out; as almost it never fal­ls out that the universal Church has need to excommuni­cate a national Church, for all and every one of a national Church do never fall away from the faith.  Yet a remote power for excommunication is in the catholic visible Church.”

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p. 412

“Hence our Fifth Conclusion: when there is an equal rupture in the body, nothing extraordinary would be attempted if ordinary ways can be had:  if Saul the ordinary magistrate had, at God’s commandment, killed Hagag, Samuel the prophet should not have drawn his sword…”

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pp. 415-6

“…but the truth is, neither the king’s judgement, as a certain rule to the representative Church, nor [is] the representative Church’s judgment a rule to the King, but the Word of God [is] the infallible rule to both.  Judgment may crook, truth cannot bow; it stands still unmoveable like God, the father of truth;

but in this case if both err, excellently says Junius (contra Bellarmine, on Councils, bk.1, ch. 12), the magistrate erring, the Church may do something extraordinarily; and the Church erring the magistrate may do something also in an extraordinary way, as common equity and mutual law requires, that friends with mutual tongues bick [quarrel?] the wounds of friends.”

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The Divine Right of Church Government  (1646), pp. 481-2

“If there be no formed Church endued with knowledge and discretion to choose their own elders, if there be godly men fit to be chosen, they are to convene and choose from amongst them elders, the godly magistrate is to join his vote and power, because there is a Church not yet constitute[d], it is now Perturbatus aut corruptus Ecclesiae status [the state of the Church is disturbed or corrupted], and I ever judged it a golden saying of that great divine Francis Junius:

“that when the magistrate will not concur, the Church in that extraordinary case may do somewhat, which ordinarily they cannot do; and again, when the Church does not their duty, the magistrate in that case may do something more than ordinary, to cause the Church [to] do their duty; for its a common Law, to ills out of order, remedies out of the roadway may be applied.” (Junius, Animadversions on Bellarmine, doci•, bk. 1, ch. 12, note 18, pp. 329-30)”

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The Westminster Confession  1645

Ch. 31, section 5

“Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs, which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary…”

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2000’s

Travis Fentiman

‘Introduction’ to On Positive Laws & Ordinances, & the Law of Nations

“Those who hold Church government to be of divine right may feel uneasy in calling it positive.  Rutherford, who wrote The Book on the subject, The Divine Right of Church Government (1646), did not.

One reason why Church government is positive is because it is a special arrangement that does not simply inhere in or derive from nature; rather, it has been appointed in special revelation by the will of Christ about redemption.  It is also political, in the sense of binding men in society.  Church government could be otherwise (if Christ had so appointed); however the specific form of it, namely classical presbyterianism, is the particular form that Christ has chosen and instituted as the Mediatorial King of the Church, his Kingdom.  The form of the government binds not from the nature of it (though it is in accord with the light of nature), but from Christ’s authority alone.

Church government was different in the Old Testament, and had changed, developed and progressed numerous times therein.  To say that New Testament Church government is positive does not mean that there is not any continuity between it and the Church government of the Old Testament; there is.  But there is also not a direct one-to-one correlation between the two either, which some persons find perplexing.

On the one hand, as these positive laws of Church government are binding as they are positive (just as the Mosaic ceremonial laws were binding to the Old Testament Church as they were positive), so under the normal circumstances of the Church in the course of history, every last spiritually prescribed detail (however minute) of Biblical, classical presbyterianism is binding by the authority and honor of Christ, the Church’s Lord.

However, on the other hand, it is also because the laws of Church government are positive, and as moral obligations (in necessity) override positive ones, that alterations in the regular government of the Church, grounded in natural principles, may, and should, legitimately occur in extraordinary and necessary circumstances (as the Bible and historic presbyterianism teach).

Because human, Church government is positive, according to the needs and circumstances of the Church in this age, it will greatly change and fall away with the renovation of all things in the Age to Come, when no teachers will be needed, as we will be beholding God face to face, immediately (Jer. 31:33-34; 1 Cor. 15:28).”


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On Superintendents

Quote

Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable & Temperate Plea…  (1642), ch. 20, 2nd Article, ‘Officers of the Church’

“As for the prelate, who is pretended to be the pastor of pastors and an ecclesiastical creature, having majority of power, both of order and jurisdiction above the pastor and doctor, the Church of Scotland did ever repute such an one the fifth element, and the sixth finger in the hand, as having no warrant in the Word, and therefore unlawful, Ex. 25:9; Heb. 8:5; 1 Chron. 8. 19. 11, 12, 13; 1 Kings 6:38, as also expressly condemned, Lk 22:24-26; 1 Pet. 5:3-4; Mt. 18:18; 1 Cor. 5:4-6; Acts 1:23; 15:24.

In the first constitution and infancy of our Church there were some visitors and superintendents for planting of churches, because breasts and hair of our churches were not grown, after the example of the apostles, who sent such to plant and visit churches, and appoint elders in congregations, Acts 8:14-16; 13:14-16; 14:23; Tit. 1:5-9; 21:17-18, but after the Church was planted there was no need of such.

Titular doctors, who were pastors only, and taught not in the schools, but were only previous dispositions to episcopacy, as [the] blue color prepares a cloth for purple, our Church never allowed, upon the grounds allowing lawful doctors, as the Scripture does, Rom. 12:7-8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11.”

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Article

James Kirk – Patterns of Reformed, Superintendents


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On Assessor Elders

The Scottish Second Book of Discipline  1587

Ch. 7, ‘Of the Elderships, and Assemblies, and Discipline’  This is a constitutional document in the Church of Scotland of old.

“10.  …When we speak of the elders of the particular congregations, we mean not that every particular parish can, or may, have their own particular elderships, especially to landward; but we think three or four, more or fewer, particular kirks may have one eldership common to them all, to judge their ecclesiastical causes.  Albeit this is meet, that some of the elders be chosen out of every particular congregation, to concur with the rest of their brethren in the common assembly, and to take up the delations of offences within their own kirks, and bring them to the assembly.  This we gather from the practice of the primitive kirk [such as in the letters to the Corinthians], where elders, or colleges of seniors, were constituted in cities and famous places [and yet had jurisdictional oversight over the gathered churches in the greater area, sometimes in homes, etc.].

11.  The power of these particular elderships is to give diligent labors in the bounds committed to their charge, that the kirks be kept in good order; to inquire diligently of naughty and unruly persons, and travail to bring them in the way again, either by admonition, or threatening of God’s judgments, or by correction.”

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George Gillespie

A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies...  (1637), ch. 8, Digression 4, p. 189

“2. When we teach, that the pastor or pastors of every particular Church and congregation, with the elders of the same, being met together, have power to bind and loose, we understand this, only of such places wherein a competent number of understanding and qualified men, may be had to make up an eldership: otherwise let there be one eldership made up of two or three of the next adjacent parishes, according as was ordained by the Church of Scotland in the seventh chapter of the Second Book of Discipline [section 10]…

…set some bounds to the execution of their power: which bounds we also think good to be kept, viz. that if a Church be so small that it has not so many well qualified men as may be sufficient to assist the pastor in the governement thereof, then let one common eldership be made up out of it and some other neighbor churches…”


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On Christians & Congregations being under the Presbytery apart from Having any Local Session

Intro

This form of government was that which Geneva, Switzerland held during the time of John Calvin, at least for that time and those circumstances.  Different congregations and meetings of Christians were held in Geneva, though they were all governed only by the one presbytery in the city.  Many of those congregations had elders or minister(s) which governed them locally, and sat on the presbytery, but the congregations did not have constituted local sesssions.

There is a very pertinent relevance of this model and the following quote by Gillespie to the issue of Assessor Elders:  If presbyteries are governing congregations without local sessions in the Bible, then the elders on the presbytery, who have not been installed into office immediately over the congregation by that congregation’s vote, are acting as assessor elders.

If it be objected that the Christians, or congregation, must have given their consent to come under the governance of the presbytery (even though such a consent may be consequent on being so governed, and not necessarily be an antecedent, precondition to it), yet such a consent (antecedently recognized, or concurrent, or consequent) may, and should be present (in regular circumstances) upon the appointment of assessor elders over a congregation by a presbytery, which action does not presuppose, or require, a congregational vote.

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Quote

George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland, in the Points of Ruling Elders…  (1641; Edinburgh, 1846), Part 2, Concerning the Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, and the Authority Thereof.  

“Last of all, we are to distinguish between the condition of the primitive churches, before the division of parishes, and the state of our churches now after such division.  At the first, when the multitude of Christians in those great cities of Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, etc. was not divided into several parishes, the common presbytery in the city did suffice for the government of the whole [as described in the N.T.], and there was no need of a particular consistory [session] of elders for every assembly and congregation of Christians within the city, except perhaps to admonish, rebuke or exhort, or to take notice of such things as were to be brought into the common presbytery.

But after that parishes were divided, and Christian congregations planted in the rural villages, as well as in the cities, from henceforth it was necessary that every congregation should have at hand, within itself, a certain consistory, for some acts of church government, though still those of greater importance were reserved to the greater presbytery…”

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Article

Ashe, Simeon, William Rathband, John Ball et al. – p. 27  of ‘The Reply made unto the Said Answer [of the New England Congregationalist Puritans], & Sent Over unto Them, Anno 1640’  in A Letter of Many Ministers in Old England, Requesting the Judgement of their Brethren in New England Concerning Nine Positions…  Together with…  (London, 1643)

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