Ruling Elders

“And God hath set some in the church…  governments…”

1 Cor. 12:28

“…he that ruleth, [let it be] with diligence…”

Rom. 12:8

“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine.”

1 Tim. 5:17

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Order of Contents

Articles
Books
Quotes
.        Why Elders are Needed in the Church
.        Ruling Elders are Ordained Officers, not Lay-Persons
.        The Office is for Life
.        Ruling Elders Should be Paid
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     Ruling Elders do Not have the Calling or Authority for Preaching or Laboring
.                 in, or Ministering, the Word in Public Worship by Office
       Ruling Elders do Not have the Authority for Congregational Prayer by Office
.        Ruling Elders are Not to Lay on Hands in the Ordination of a Pastor.
.        The Power of Ordination of Rulings Elders Comes from a Presbytery
.        Ruling Elders, Unlike Ministers, Respresent the People

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Articles

Guthrie, James – A Treatise of Ruling Elders and Deacons  

Guthrie (1612?–1661) was a Scottish covenanter.

Binnie, William – The Ruling Eldership, p. 122, 9 pp.  from The Church

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Books

Gillespie, George – An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland in the Points of Ruling Elders, etc.  EEBO  1641  270 pp.

The classic, and fullest, historic, reformed piece on the office of the ruling elder.  Gillespie sets forth the (right) view that the ruling elder is a distinct office from minister, is not a lay-position, and is still an ‘elder’, or Biblical ‘presbyter’.

Miller, Samuel – The Warrant, Nature and Duties of the Office of Ruling Elder  1842  310 pp.

Miller follows the paradigm of Gillespie and was the last American to get the office right, before the American presbyterians mainly in the north, Hodge, Smyth, etc., and the presbyterians in the South, Thornwell, Dabney, Breckinridge, etc. went separate directions. 

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Quotes

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Why Elders are Needed in the Church

John Calvin

Commentary on 1 Cor. 5, v. 4

“It is to be carefully observed, that Paul, though an apostle, does not himself, as an individual, excommunicate according to his own pleasure [in 1 Cor. 5], but consults with the Church, that the matter may be transacted by common authority.  He, it is true, takes the lead, and shows the way, but, in taking others as his associates, he intimates with sufficient plainness, that this authority does not belong to any one individual.

As, however, a multitude never accomplishes anything with moderation or seriousness, if not governed by counsel, there was appointed in the ancient Church a presbytery, that is, an assembly of elders, who, by the consent of all, had the power of first judging in the case.  From them the matter was brought before the people, but it was as a thing already judged of.

Whatever the matter may be, it is quite contrary to the appointment of Christ and his apostles — to the order of the Church, and even to equity itself, that this right should be put into the hands of any one man, of excommunicating at his pleasure any that he may choose.  Let us take notice, then, that in excommunicating this limitation be observed — that this part of discipline be exercised by the common counsel of the elders, and with the consent of the people, and that this is a remedy in opposition to tyranny.  For nothing is more at variance with the discipline of Christ than tyranny, for which you open a wide door, if you give one man the entire power.”

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Ruling Elders are Ordained Officers, not Lay-Persons

Samuel Rutherford

Lex Rex, Sprinkle Edition, p. 216, speaking of his Anglican opponent  1644

“…his invectives against ruling elders, falsely called lay-elders…”

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The Office of Ruling Elder is for Life

Quotes

George Gillespie

Assertion of the Government of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1641), Part 1, ch. 14, pp. 104-106

“As for the maintenance and the continu­ance of the office of Ruling Elders, we love not unnecessary multiplication of questions, let every Church do herein what they find most convenient.

The manner of our Church, in these things, is such, as best befitteth the condition of the same, & such as cannot be in reason condemned; Neither is a stipend, nor continuance in the function till death, essential to the ministry of the Church, but separable from the same.  The Levites of old served not at all times, but by course, and when they were 50 years old, they were wholly liberat[ed], from the burden and labor (though not from the attendance) of the Levitical service, and ministers may still upon the Church’s permission, for lawful reasons and urgent necessities, be absent a whole year, and lon­ger too, from their particular charges. The apostles, when they were first sent through Judea, took no stipend, Mt. 10:8-9.  Nei­ther did Paul take any at Corinth, 1 Cor. 9:18.  The ministers among the Waldenses, work with their hands for their maintenance.  The old patriarchs were priests and preachers, to their families, and maintained themselves by the work of their hands, fee­ding of flocks, tilling the ground, etc.

These things I do not mention as rules, to be followed by us, but to show, that the intermission of the exercise of the ministry, the want of maintainance and laboring with the hands, are not altogether repug­nant, nor inconsistent, with the nature of the vocation, of the ministers of the word, but in some cases hic & nunc [here and now], may be most approveable in them, much more in Ruling Elders.  The revenues of our Church are so small that they cannot spare stipends to Ruling Elders, which maketh them willing to serve without stipends, and lest they should be overburdened with this their ser­vice, though they be chosen and called to be Ruling Elders as long as they live, at least till they merit to be deposed, yet our book of policy [Second Book of Discipline] alloweth them that ease of intermission and serving by course which was allowed to the Levites of old in the Temple.  

The double honor which the apostle commandeth to give unto elders that rule well, Tim. 5:17, needeth not to be expounded of maintenance and obedience; for by double honor we may either simply understand much honor, or by way of comparison double honor in respect of the widows, whom he had before commanded to ho­nor, 1 Tim. 5:3, as Calvin expoundeth the place.  Both these Interpretations doth Oecumenius give upon the same place.”

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Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea, p. 290  1642  Rutherford overlooks the term ‘lay-elders’ here from the opponent.

“Question [Objection] 4:  But the ancients knew no lay-elders.

Answer:  Nor do we de jure [by right] know them [as a standing and universal law in all cases], they are Church-men, and should be for all their lifetime entertained upon the Church’s charges; what our Church de facto [in actual fact] does tolerate by reason of our Church’s poverty, is another question.”

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Articles

Murray, John – ‘The Ordination of Elders: Some Arguments Against Term Eldership’  being pp. 23-25 of The Presbyterian Guardian,  Feb., 1955.  Also reprinted as ‘Arguments Against Term Eldership’  in Works, vol. 2, ch. 29, pp. 351-356.

Reformed Reader – ‘Arguments Against Term Eldership’  7 paragraphs

The article summarized Murray’s argument.

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Ruling Elders Should be Paid if Possible

1 Tim. 5:17-18

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.”

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Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea, p. 290  1642  Rutherford overlooks the term ‘lay-elders’ here from the opponent.

“Question [Objection] 4:  But the ancients knew no lay-elders.

Answer:  Nor do we de jure [by right] know them [as a standing and universal law in all cases], they are Church-men, and should be for all their lifetime entertained upon the Church’s charges; what our Church de facto [in actual fact] does tolerate by reason of our Church’s poverty, is another question.”

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Ruling Elders do not have the Authority for Preaching, or Laboring in, or Ministering, the Word in Public Worship by Office

Samuel Rutherford

Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland, 1642, London

Ch. 20, Whether or not the government of the Church of Scotland can be proved by God’s Word to be lawful?

11th Article, Elders and Deacons

“Elders help the pastors in governing, but labor not in the Word and doctrine, 1 Tim 5:17, and yet visit the sick, oversee the ways and manners of the people, and so rule with diligence, Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28, and judge with pastors and doctors, Matt 18:18-20.”

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George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8

Digression 1, p. 171

“This number of preaching elders in one city, together with those elders which in the same city labored for discipline only ([Johann] Gerard [a Lutheran], Theological Places, tome 6, pp. 134, 136), made up that company which the apostle, 1 Tim. 4:14, calls a presbytery, and which gave ordination to the ministers of the Church.”

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Digression 4, p. 184

“…according to the Scripture phrase it is termed a ‘presbytery’.  It is made up of the pastor or pastors of every congregation, together with those governing elders which labor there (not in doctrine, but) in discipline only: of which things, we have spoken before (above, Digression 1 [pp. 161-2, 170-1]).”

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Ruling Elders do Not have the Authority for Congregational Prayer by Office  Pastors do

Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Church Government

“Pastors.


First, it belongs to his office,

To pray for and with his flock, as the mouth of the people unto God,[g] Acts 6:2-4, and 20:36, where preaching and prayer are joined as several parts of the same office.[h] 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 public execution of his office, as a part thereof.[i]

[g] Acts 6:2-4Acts 20:36
[h] James 5:14,15
[i] 1 Cor. 14:15,16

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Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea  1642

p. 194 (bottom)
p. 197 (top)
p. 272 (Query 2)

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Ruling Elders are not to Lay on Hands in the Ordination of a Pastor

Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Church Government

“Touching the Doctrine of Ordination


Every minister of the word is to be ordained by imposition of hands, and prayer, with fasting, by those preaching presbyters to whom it doth belong. (Acts 14:23Tit. 1:5Acts 20:17,28)

Touching the Power of Ordination


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.

Concerning the Doctrinal Part of Ordination of Ministers


4. Every minister of the word is to be ordained by imposition of hands, and prayer, with fasting, by these preaching presbyters to whom it doth belong. (1 Tim. 5:22Acts 14:2313:3)

10. 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. (1 Tim. 4:14)”

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Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea  1642

p. 80 (bottom)

p. 290 (Question 5)

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The Power of Ordination of Rulings Elders comes from a Presbytery

The power of ordination comes from a presbytery though only the implicit consent of the presbytery is needed for such a valid ordination in regularly constituted churches.

The English presbyterians directly after Westminster had the practice of their presbyteries examining and approving Ruling Elders elected by congregations as is seen in the instance of the Manchester Classis (Presbytery) on Aug. 14 & Sept. 11, 1649 on pp. 119 & 121 of ed. William A. Shaw, Minutes of the Manchester Presbyterian Classis, 1646-1660, Part 2  New Series, vol. 22 (Chetham Society, 1831).

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Ruling Elders, Unlike Ministers, Represent the People

George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 4, p. 186

“Now if Christ has committed the power of excommunication unto the Church, what have bishops to say for themselves, who appropriate the power [wholly] unto themselves, each one in his own diocese? (Calvin & Cartwright on Mt. 18; Paraeus on 1 Cor. 5)  For we cannot give the name of the Church unto a bishop: because he is but one man, and the Church is a company of many men.

Nay, nor yet can we give the name of the Church unto a company of bishops; for if they might be called the Church, it should be for this respect alone, because they represent the Church.  But soli Episcopi, etc. ‘Bishops alone’ says [Johann] Gerard [a Lutheran]:

‘or they who teach, cannot represent the Church, since hearers also pertain to the definition thereof, but the presbytery can represent the Church, whereunto not only they pertain who labor in the Word, but also elders or governors, put in authority, for expeding of ecclesiastical matters in [the] name of the whole Church.’

We grant then (Trelcatius, Instittutes of Theology, bk. 1, p. 291), that by the ‘Church’ [in Mt. 18], Christ means that company of Church governors whereby a certain particular Church is represented, but for as much as the Church consists of two integrant parts, viz. pastors and sheep, teachers and hearers, we therefore deny that the representative Church whereof Christ speaks can be any other than that eccle∣siastical consistory whereof we have spoken.”

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