“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers… 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. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed…”
“…the apostles, Barnabas and Paul… when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
Order of Contents
Binnie, William – ‘The Concurrence of Popular Election & Official Ordination’ in The Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1882), p. 132 ff. 16 pp.
Who may Nominate Persons for the Church Offices of Elder & Deacon?
This is an important question. While Scriptural and natural principles are involved, yet there is rightly a certain amount of indifferency and liberty in the way the details may be wrought about.
Many American, presbtyerian churches have been influenced by democritization: The lay people are first given the opportunity to nominate whom they will to be Church officers. The congregation then votes to narrow this down to a select, approved few. Those that are thus chosen are put before the session of elders, and the elders then, trying their qualifications and call, make the final decision as to whom of them become Church officers. The pastor, having the consent of the session of elders, and who ought to have the consent of presbytery, then ordains the new officers by conferral of ecclesiastical power.
One problem with this is that the session of elders is limited as to who they may make officers, insofar as they are limited to whom the lay-people put before them. But lay-persons may not have the best knowledge or wisdom as to who would make the best, or even capable, church officers, and desirable persons may be left out.
One proof-text sometimes used to justify the people having the first choice, though it be in the context of civil rulers, is that of Dt. 1:13-18. However this is a very democratic reading of this passage, which would seem to be historically improbable. It would seem to be more likely in the passage that the representatives and leaders of the massive population went about in an organized way to choose the most qualified men, in concurrence with the people’s consent.
Classical presbyterianism, as practiced by the Church of Scotland during the Westminster era,† was, generally speaking, for the session of elders (who would likely best know and were representatives of the people, and may inquire into the mind of the people and receive suggestions from them) to seek out, try, approve and set before the congregation whom they thought were best fit for church office. The people, limited to whom the session put before them, would then either give their consent to these individuals, or not (the denial of consent was prohibitive).
† Pardovan, bk. 1, Title 7, ‘Of Ruling Elders’, pp. 34-35
This method is practiced by some presbyterian denominations today, and has a number of benefits in efficiency: the congregation doesn’t have to go through the unpleasantries of persons thought well of by the people, but not qualified for church office, being turned down by the elders.
However, there is a significant drawback to this method: No one will ever be proposed to church office besides those whom the current elders put forward. The people have no way of nominating persons to be elders (other than giving the elders their input). Yet, the current elders are not all-knowing or all-wise, and are fallible. They may be overly picky according to their own opinions and interests, more so than Jesus and the apostles were. This method also, in point of fact, allows the current elders to be controlling (a common temptation to men), which is especially an issue if the elders and the people are not of a harmonious mind.
It should be noted that in Acts 6:1-7, which is in the ecclesiastical context, the apostles tell the lay-people (vv. 2-5, there were no elders at that time) to “look ye out among you seven men of honest report.” That is, in this situation, the lay-people had the first choice. However, that may have been accidental to the circumstances, precisely because they had no elders. It was not necessarily determinative for how the process must proceed for when, later, the churches would have elders.‡
‡ So Pardovan, p. 34, section 2
One thing Acts 6:1-3 does show, is that the Church governors do have the right and power to assess and determine the need for further officers, and how many may do the job. That is, the elders may determine how many persons may be selected for Church office, according to the need and circumstances, though they have not the right to unilaterally determine which individuals those will be.
The two methods above, however, are not the only possibilities, nor is it clear that the second method (described by Pardovan) was in fact a full representation of the exact and exclusive practice of the Post-Reformation era Church of Scotland:
George Gillespie (1637) gives a very important qualification below, quoting the Scottish First Book of Discipline (1560), ch. 8, that after the elders put forward persons to the congregation for their consent to be elders:
“…if any man know others of better qualities within the Church than these that be nominat[ed], they should be put in election, that the Church may have the choice.”
That is, the people are not constrained to elect for officers only those persons put before them by the elders, but have a right to put forward their own nominations. This greatly diminishes the ability for the current elders to be controlling, and greatly boosts the ability of the people, not simply to consent to new governors over them, but to choose who they should be (though subject to the further consent of the elders), that the best men may have full opportunity to be officers in the Church for her good.
This practice, which appears to be the fuller practice of the Post-Reformation Church of Scotland, it is proposed, does things in the best way, keeping the advantages of both other practices above while minimizing their deficiencies.
English Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 1, p. 163
“And as for the other sort of elders, together with deacons, we judge the ancient order of this Church [of Scotland], to have been most convenient for providing of well-qualified men for those functions and offices.
For the eighth head of the First Book of Discipline, touching the election of elders and deacons, ordains that men of best knowledge and cleanest life, be nominat[ed] to be in election, and that their names be publicly read to the whole church by the minister, giving them advertisement, that from among them must be chosen elders and deacons: that if any of these nominat[ed] be noted with public infamy, he ought to be repelled: and that if any man know others of better qualities within the Church than these that be nominat[ed], they should be put in election, that the Church may have the choice.”
Who has the Power to Ordain?
Not individual ministers or elders, not simply multiple ministers or elders, but the constituted presbytery over that area (and not ministers or elders of other presbyteries).
See the many articles and quotes which affirm this principle on our webpage: Independent Churches do Not Have the Authority for Greater Excommunicaton. The power for ordination (and defrocking) goes hand-in-hand with the power of greater-excommunication as these things constitute the highest powers given to the Church.
Scottish Second Book of Discipline 1578
Ch. 6, Of Elders and their Office
“4. Their office is, as well severally as conjunctly, to watch diligently upon the flock committed to their charge, both publicly and privately, that no corruption of religion or manners enter therein.”
Ch. 7, Of the Elderships, and Assemblies, and Discipline
“3. All the ecclesiastical assemblies have power to convene lawfully together for treating of things concerning the kirk, and pertaining to their charge.
11. The power of these particular elderships is to give diligent labours in the bounds committed to their charge, that the kirks be kept in good order; “
Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland (1641)
“…we will distinguish with the School-men a two-fold power, the power of Order, and the power of Jurisdiction; which are different in sundry respects.
1. The power of Order comprehends such things as a minister by virtue of his ordination, may do without a commission from any Presbytery, or Assembly of the Church, as to preach the Word, to minister the Sacraments, to celebrate marriage, to visit the sick, to catechize, to admonish, etc. The power of Jurisdiction comprehends such things as a minister cannot do by himself, nor by virtue of his ordination; but they are done by a Session, Presbytery, or Synod; and sometimes by a minister, or ministers, having commission, and authority from the same, such as ordination and admission, suspension, deprivation and excommunication, and receiving again into the Church, and making of laws and constitutions ecclesiastical and such like; whereof we boldly maintain, that there is no part of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, in the power of one man, but of many met together in the name of Christ.
2. The power of Order is the radical and fundamental power, and makes a Minister susceptive, and capable of the power of Jurisdiction.
3. The power of Order goes no further than the court of conscience; the power of jurisdiction is exercised in external and ecclesiastical courts.
Fourthly, the power of Order is sometime unlawful in the use, yet not void in itself. The power of Jurisdiction when it is unlawful in the use, it is also void in itself. If a minister do any act of Jurisdiction, as to excommunicate, or absolve without his own parish, wanting also the consent of the ministry and elders of the bounds where he does the same, such acts are void in themselves, and of no effect. But if without his own charge, and without the consent aforesaid, he baptise an infant, or do any such thing belonging to the power of Order, though his act be unlawful, yet is the thing itself of force, and the sacrament remains a true sacrament.”
Part 2, ch. 3, p. 131 ff.
The word […] ‘Presbytery’ we find thrice in the New Testament: twice of the Jewish presbytery at Jerusalem, Lk. 22:66; Acts 22:5, and once of the Christian presbytery, 1. Tim. 4:14, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.” Sutlivius and Downame have borrowed from Bellarmine two false glosses upon this place (De Presb., ch. 12, p. 75,81; Serm. in Apoc. 1:20; Iren. lib., 2, ch. 11, p. 161).
They say by […] here, we may understand either an assembly of bishops, or the office of a presbyter, which was given to Timothy. To these absurdities let one of their own side answer. Whereas says Dr. Forbes, some have expounded the presbytery in this place to be a company of bishops, unless by ‘bishops’ thou would understand simple presbyters, it is a violent interpretation and an insolent meaning. And whereas others have understood the degree itself of eldership, this cannot stand, [De presb […].1.] for the degree has not hands, but hands are men’s. I find in Sutlivius, a third gloss: He says, that the word presbytery in this place signifies the ministers of the Word, non juris vinculo sed ut cunque collectos, inter quos etiam Apostoli erant [Not by a bond of law, but at anytime being collected together, even as the apostles were].
Answer 1: If so, then the occasional meeting of ministers, be it in a journey or at a wedding or a burial, etc. shall all be presbyteries, for then they are ut cunque collecti [at sometime collected together].
2. The apostles did put the Churches in better order than to leave imposition of hands or any thing of that kind to the uncertainty of an occasional meeting.
3. The apostles were freely present in any presbytery where they were for the time because the oversight and care of all the churches was laid upon them: Pastors and elders were necessarily present therein, and did by virtue of their particular vocation meet together presbyterially, whether an apostle were with them, or not.
No other sense can the text suffer but that by presbytery we should understand consessus presbyterorum, a meeting of elders, and so do [John] Cameron and [John] Forbes themselves expound it.
Sutlivius objects to the contrary that the apostle Paul did lay on hands upon Timothy, which he proves both from 2 Tim. 1 and because extraordinary gifts were given by that laying on of hands.
Answer: There is an express difference made betwixt Paul’s laying on of his hands and the Presbytery’s laying on of their hands…
3. If the testimony of the Presbytery, by the laying on of their hands, together, with the apostle’s hands, in the extraordinary mission of Timothy, was required: much more may it be put out of question, that the Apostles committed to the Presbytery the full power of ordaining ordinary ministers.
The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), pt. 1, pp. 195-6
“…yea but ordination by precept and practice is never given but to pastors and elders in consociation, 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6; 2 Tim. 2:2-3; Tit. 1:5; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3; 14 23.”
A Peaceable & Temperate Plea (1642), p. 264
“…but there be wide differences betwixt ordination of a pastor which essentially makes him a pastor, and the people’s choosing him to be their pastor, as:…
2. The Word of God restrains ordination of officers to pastorsª (1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:5; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:1-3), and ascribes election of officers to the people (Acts 6:5).”
ª [That is, properly, presbyteries of pastors. Ruling elders sit with presbyteries as guest representatives, but are not properly members thereof. While the consent of the whole presbytery (including the Ruling Elders) is needed for the ordination of a pastor, only the pastors (and not Ruling Elders) are to lay hands on the one becoming a pastor. As the laying on of hands is a designation pointing out the one being prayed for, so the proper conferral of ecclesiastical authority in the ordination of a pastor only properly comes from the prayer of the pastors of the presbytery, as Ruling Elders do not have the authority to confer an authority they do not have.]
Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Church Government 1645
Touching the Power of Ordination
“Ordination is the act of a presbytery.[t]
The power of ordering the whole work of ordination is in the whole presbytery, which, when it is over more congregations than one, whether these congregations be fixed or not fixed, in regard of officers or members, it is indifferent as to the point of ordination.[v]
It is very requisite, that no single congregation, that can conveniently associate, do assume to itself all and sole power in ordination:
1. Because there is no example in scripture that any single congregation, which might conveniently associate, did assume to itself all and sole power in ordination; neither is there any rule which may warrant such a practice.
2. Because there is in scripture example of an ordination in a presbytery over diverse congregations; as in the church of Jerusalem, where were many congregations: these many congregations were under one presbytery, and this presbytery did ordain.
The preaching presbyters orderly associated, either in cities or neighbouring villages, are those to whom the imposition of hands doth appertain, for those congregations within their bounds respectively.”
Hutcheson and Wood were Resolutioners arguing against Protestors, for, in a constituted Church area, using a neighboring Protestor presbytery to ordain a minister into a church with Resolutioner sympathies. The authors, in this context, liken this to ministers being ordained by ad hoc presbyters assembled together, which such ordinations are invalid.
“It discusses with the same clearness and thoroughness [as his A Little Stone Pretended] the question of church authority, and is in fact perhaps the very best and most satisfactory discussion of that question we possess.” – James Walker
That One Elder does Not have the Power to Ordain
Ordination is a power of jurisdiction (including things like Church discipline, excommunication, defining dogma, etc.), which take officers acting together to do; it is not a power of order (things like preaching, administering the sacraments, etc.), which a minister may do of himself.
The extraordinary offices in Scripture, such as the apostles, prophets and evanglelists could ordain and excommunicate of themselves, however the regular offices in the Church cannot. Those who argued that one officer, usually a bishop, could ordain or excommunicate of themselves, Papists, Prelatists and Anglicans, usually argued continuity from the examples of the apostles, prophets and, especially, the evangelists (such as Timothy and Titus). Hence, part of the reformed counter-argument involved the principle of cessationism (amongst other things).
The reason why ordination of ministers and excommunication are specifically held forth prominently in these discussions is because they are the highest actions of ecclesiastical power in their kinds. All lesser actions in their kinds do not necessarily take the explicit power of a presbytery to do (the presbytery holding the root of Church authority), but they do take the consensus of elders (such as a local session), and may not be performed by one elder.
Gillespie, George – Digression 4, ‘Of the Power of the Keys & Ecclesiastical Censures’ in A Disputate Against the English-Popish Ceremonies... (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8
This topic was a live issue in both Scotland and England when Gillespie wrote this, just before the Second Reformation in Scotland (1638).
Malcom, Howard – ‘Ordination’ in Theological Index... (Boston, 1868), p. 333