The Offices of the Church

“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”

Eph. 4:11-12

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”

1 Cor. 12:28

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Order of Contents

Extraordinary Offices
Regular Offices
.     That Pastors are a Distinct Office from Ruling elders
That there are Only Two Orders of Regular Offices: Elders & Deacons
The Nature of the Office’s Authority
That the Higher Offices Contain the Calling, Authority & Functions of the Lower Offices
That Persons may Change Offices
That Persons may Hold more than One Office at a Time
May Church-Officers Hold Civil Office?

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The Extraordinary Offices

The Offices of Apostles, Prophets & Evangelists

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The Regular Offices of Christ’s Church

Pastors

Teachers

Ruling Elders

Deacons

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That Pastors are a Distinct Office from Ruling Elders

Isbell, Sherman – Order in the Offices, a Book Review  1995  13 paragraphs

This article is the best short piece on the Biblical teaching that the Minister is a separate office from, though it shares numerous functions with, the office of Ruling Elder, and that this was the view of the Reformation and Puritan eras.  

Isbell reviews Mark Brown’s book ‘Order in the Offices.’  Brown (of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) compiled numerous essays all related to the office of Minister, but the authors generally take the newer American view espoused by Charles Hodge and Thomas Smyth, and many in the OPC, that Ministers do not fall under the category of the Biblical Greek term ‘presbyter’, whereas the Reformation and Puritan eras did teach and practice that.

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That there are Only Two Orders of Regular Offices: Elders & Deacons

Intro

While the four regular offices of the Church (Pastors, Doctors, Ruling Elders & Deacons) each have their distinct callings, authority, functions and ordinations (which may not be blended, confused or transgressed), yet pastors, doctors and ruling elders are all known and encompassed in Scripture by the term ‘elder’, or ‘presbyter’, and ‘overseer’, or ‘bishop’, and may all sit on the presbytery (unlike deacons).

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Quote

George Gillespie

A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies...  (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 1, ‘Of the vocation of men of Ecclesiastical order’

“Now beside the apostles, prophets and evangelists, which were not ordained to be ordinary and perpetual offices in the Church (Fr. Junius, Animadversions on Bellarmine, Controversy 5, bk. 1, ch. 11), there are but two ecclesiastical orders or degrees instituted by Christ in the New Testament, viz. elders and deacons.

Excellenter Canones d•…os tantum sacros ordines appellari censent, Diaconatus scilicet & Presbyte∣rat•…, quia hos solos primitiva Ecclesia legitur habuisse, & de hi•… sol•… praeceptum Apostli habe•…,’ says the [Medieval] Master of Sentences [Peter Lombard] (bk. 4, Distinction [?]).

…Scripture makes no difference of order and degree betwixt bishops and elders; it shows also that they are one and the same order.  For in Ephesus and Crete, they who were made elders were likewise made bishops, Acts 20:17 with 28; Tit. 1:5 with 7.  And the Apostle, Phil. 1:1, divides the whole ministry in the Church of Philippi into two orders, bishops and deacons.  Moreover, 1 Tim. 3, he gives order only for bishops and deacons, but says nothing of a third order.  Wherefore it is manifest, that beside those two orders of elders and deacons, there is no other ecclesiastical order which has any divine institution or necessary use in the Church.

Now elders are either such as labor in the Word and doctrine, or else such as are appointed for discipline only.  They who labor in the Word and doctrine, are either such as do only teach, and are ordained for conserving in schools and seminaries of learning the purity of Christian doctrine and the true interpretation of Scripture, and for detecting and confuting the contrary heresies and errors, whom the apostle calls doctors or teachers: Or else they are such as do not only teach, but also have a more particular charge to watch over the flock, to seek that which is lost, to bring home that which wanders, to heal that which is diseased, to bind up that which is broken, to visit every family, to warn every person, to rebuke, to comfort, etc., whom the apostle calls sometimes pastors, and sometimes bishops or overseers.

The other sort of elders are ordained only for discipline and Church government, and for assisting of the pastors in ruling the people, overseeing their manners and censuring their faults…  and many more of our divines, who teach that the apostle, 1 Tim. 5:17, directly implies that there were some elders who ruled well, and yet labored not in the Word and doctrine, and those elders he means by them that rule, Rom. 12:8 and by ‘governments’, 1. Cor. 12:28, where the apostle says not ‘helps in governments,’ as our new English Translation corruptly reads, but ‘helps, governments,’ etc. plainly putting ‘governments’ for a different order from ‘helps’, or deacons.

Deacons were instituted by the apostles (Zanchi, in 4 Prac., col. 766-767) for collecting, receiving, keeping and distributing of ecclesiastical goods, which were given and dedicated for the maintenance of ministers, Churches, schools and for the help and relief of the poor, the stranger, the sick and the weak, also for furnishing of such things as are necessary to the ministration of the sacraments (Junius, Animadversions on Bellarmine, Controversy 5, bk. 1, ch. 13).  Beside which employments the Scripture has assigned neither preaching, nor baptizing, nor any other ecclesiastical function to ordinary deacons.”

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The Nature of the Office’s Authority

Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649), ch. 2

pp. 26-7

“…there is another judgment [besides that proper to individual believing Christians] that is ministerial, official and authoritative…  that what the shepherd teaches others God revealed to him first, and is put forth in a ministerial and official judging either in synods, or in public pastoral sermons and authoritative, but ministerial publishing the will and mind of Christ.  Mal. 2:7, ‘They shall seek the Law from his mouth.’ Heb. 13:7,17.  That way the people depends upon the ministerial judgment of synods and pastors…

For pastors and synods teach fundamentals of faith ministerially to the people, and by hearing of them is faith begotten in the hearers…

For this judgment authoritative as it is in the head of the Church (Christ) as in the fountain and only Law-giver, so it is ministerially only and by way of office in the elders, as the will and mind of the king is in the inferior judge, the ambassador or herald, not in the people; and the people are obliged ‘to obey those that are over them in the Lord, who watch for their souls, as those who must give an account’…  and of this it is said, ‘he that heareth you’ (ministers of the Gospel, not the people) ‘heareth Me, he that dispiseth you dispiseth Me.’

And this is more than  a privilege of order and honor, which one Christian has above another in regard of eminence of graces, gifts, and of wisdom, experience, and age: it is a privilege of office to speak in the name of the Lord, and yet it is inferior to a privilege of the law, because the Lord only imposes laws upon the conscience: for it is a middle judgment less than legislative, supreme and absolute over the conscience; this is in none save only in the King and head of the Church, and is royal and princely;

Yet is it more (I say not more excellent, it not being saving of itself as in believers) than a privilege of mere honor and order, for though it lay no more bands on the conscience to obtain faith, because it is holden forth by men, it having no influence on the conscience because of men, whose word is not the formal object of faith, yet has it an official authority from pastors (which is not merely titulary) so as they may ministerially and officially command obedience to their judgment as far as it agrees with the mind of Christ, no farther: and when it is disobeyed may inflict censures, which private Christians cannot do, and puts these who disobey under another guiltiness than if private Christians did speak the same word, to wit not only in a case of disobedience to the Second Commandment, but in a state of disobedience to the Fifth Commandment formally, as not honoring father and mother; whereas to disobey that same word by way of counsel in the mouth of a brother, though it be the breach of the Fifth Commandment also [if the brother be superior in age, gifts, etc.], yet not in such a manner as when we refuse to hear the messenger of the Lord of Hosts; and his judgment as a messenger of God is public and binds as public to [the] highest obedience to the Fifth Commandment; but as it is a judgment of faith common to the doctor with other Christians, it binds as the mind of God holding faith in the Second Commandment what we are to believe.”

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p. 33

“Synods should take care that no man despise their authority, as Timothy is exhorted by Paul, but their authority in matters of faith is conditional…”

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That the Higher Offices Contain the Calling, Authority & Functions of the Lower Offices

Paul Bayne, Commentary on Eph. 4

George Gillespie, Miscellany Questions, on Ordination

James Durham

The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal…  (Edinburgh, 1659), pt. 2, ch. 2, p. 70

“2.  We see also that though ministers are virtually both elders and deacons (as the apostles were), yet ought they to regulate their exercising of both these with respect to the former two.  And,

3. that elders and deacons ought in governing and overseeing the poor to have special respect to keep ministers from being burdened or toiled with these, that they may have freedom to follow the ministry of the Word as the main thing: Yea, even to have much access to privacy and solitariness, which is both most necessary for and a well becoming duty to a minister; This is a special end of the appointment of these officers, and in reference to which they are helps, 1 Cor. 12:28, both to the people and to the ministers.”

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That Persons may Change Offices

A Peaceable & Temperate Plea  (1642), pp. 292

“Now if dea­cons ex officio [out of their office], turn preachers, and give themselves to the Word and prayer, then by the apostles’ reason, Acts 6:4, they cannot serve tables, but they must have other deacons to take the burden of the poor off them, that they may give themselves to the Word.”

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That Persons may Hold more than One Office at a Time

Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries  (1644), pt. 1, p. 158

“Also, though it be true that one and the same man may both teach and exhort, and the comparison of the natural body [Rom. 12:4] does not in all things hold, for one member cannot both be the eye to see and the ear to hear [in the human body], but both are here a sort of eye to the Church; yet has Christ made the pastor and the doctor different.  It is needless to dispute if they differ in nature, and if it be a confounding of Christ’s order that one be both, when Christ has given gifts for both to one man, for first, the Word of God does difference them…”

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May Church-Officers Hold Civil Office?

Intro

Christ gives persons, and their spiritual gifts, as gifts to the Church, for her government and upbuilding (Eph. 4:11-13).  Therefore, holding Church is office is for life (apart from disqualifying oneself or extraordinary circumstances).  Due to the importance of the spiritual work and calling (Mt. 6:33; Acts 13:2; 1 Cor. 14:1,5), Church-officers are admonished:  “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”  This was the example of our Lord on earth (Lk. 12:13-14; Mt. 8:20-22), and his instruction to his appointed officers (Mk. 1:17-18; 28:18-20).  Paul’s tentmaking was done out of necessity and was only temporary (for the greater good); the rule is that ministers ought to give themselves “continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word”, for “it is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables.” (Acts 6:2,4)  If Church-officers serve in civil offices, a significant amount of their time will be spent on the temporal affairs of this life, contrary to their higher calling.

For these reasons and others, many reformed countries at the Reformation banned Church-officers from holding civil office.  The Romanists had also long and severely abused the practice, bringing in serious conflicts of interest while mixing jurisdictions.  The Anglican Church, however, and her prelates, commonly continued the practice.  The rise of the sects in London in the 1640’s, including congregationalism, commonly held that lay persons with ordinary, natural callings might regularly be pastors, as a matter of principle.  The New England puritans, being congregationalists, tended to hold this theological viewpoint, but also were in the unique circumstance of struggling for their communities’ survival in the wilderness, there being only so many gifted men in their small towns.

John Davenant  (1572–1641), being an Anglican, argues for the compatibility of Church-officers holding civil office.  It is true that Church-officers can hold civil office (such as the Judges, David, etc., though these were types of Christ in that capacity), however, this ought only to be for necessity out of extraordinary reasons in special circumstances.  Deacons and Ruling Elders commonly, today, hold secular positions while yet serving in the Church.  This is out of necessity, as Gillespie and Rutherford remarked during the Post-Reformation, due to the poorness of the Church, who has little to pay them for their labors.  In much of the Early Church and Middle Ages deacons and elders were able to be paid, and devote themselves, full-time.

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Article

Davenant, John – ‘Civil Jurisdiction is Rightly Conceded to Ecclesiastical Persons’  in The Determinations, or Resolutions of Certain Theological Questions, Publicly Discussed in the University of Cambridge  trans. Josiah Allport  (1634; 1846), pp. 275-279  bound at the end of John Davenant, A Treatise on Justification, or the Disputatio de Justitia...  trans. Josiah Allport  (1631; London, 1846), vol. 2

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Related Pages

Church

Church Government

The Regulative Principle of Church Government

Theories of Church Government

The Ruling of the Church

Church Membership