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1990 Issue 1

Why a special double issue of our magazine on church government, when there are so many other critical issues before us? Many people yawn when they hear the subject of church government So, why a special issue on it?

Kevin Reed answers: "The church is not a mere social club. The church is a kingdom established by Christ and subject to his rule. In the Bible, he has given an ecclesiastical government by which his people are to be ruled. Just as Christ has instituted civil government to ensure civil order, so he has established church government to preserve order in the church. A man is not free to dispense with the church's government anymore than he is at liberty to disregard the civil authorities." (Biblical Church Government; 1983, Kevin Reed. pg. 3.)

The Church is a Christocracy: Jesus Christ, is its Head and King. No aspect of Christ's relationship to the church stands out more emphatically in the Bible than this fact.

"Jesus Christ, upon whose shoulders the government rests, whose name is called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace: of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end: who sits upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it and to establish it with judgment and justice from henceforth, even forever; having all power given unto him in heaven and earth by the Father, who raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, far above all principalities and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all: he being ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things, received gifts for his church, and gave officers necessary for the edification of his church, and perfecting of his saints." (Isa. 9:6,7; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:20-23; Eph. 4:8,11; Psa. 68:18) (The Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church Government)

This article is a condensation and paraphrase of Thomas Witherow's irrefutable little book, The Apostolic Church: Which Is It?, first printed in 1856, and reprinted several times from 1954 to 1983 by the Free Presbyterian Publications, 133 Woodlands Rd., Glasgow, Scotland. I do add some of my own remarks along with some quotes from The Book of Church Order of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, but the genius of the article is that of Witherow. Professor Thomas Witherow studied under the great Thomas Chalmers of Edinburgh. He became Pastor at Maghera, Ireland and Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Magee College, Londonderry, in 1856.

"The church is the assembly or fellowship of the people of God, constituted by the call of God, a people formed for himself to show forth his praise and to bear witness to him in the performance of prescribed functions, Matt. 16:18; 18:17," wrote John Murray in his Collected Writings, (Vol. I, page 232f). In criticizing the use of the word, "invisible" to describe the church, Murray said that "according to Scripture we should speak of 'the church' and conceive of it as that visible entity that exists and functions in accord with the institution of Christ as its Head, the church that is the body of Christ indwelt and directed by the Holy Spirit, consisting of those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, manifested in the congregations of the faithful, and finally the church glorious, holy and without blemish." (pg. 236)

It scarcely needs to be stated that in the institution of the New Testament those exercising the ruling function in the church of God are sometimes called elders and at other times bishops. In either case, the reference is to the same office, and the development whereby diocesan episcopacy has gained currency in the government of the church is without any warrant from Scripture and therefore can plead no sanction from the head of the church. It is quite apparent from Acts 20:17,28 that the same persons are in view when in verse 17 they are called 'elders' and in verse 28 'bishops'. Again in Titus 1:5,7 it is equally apparent that the same office-bearers are denominated elders in verse 5 and referred to by the name bishop in verse 7. Otherwise there would be no force or relevance to the statement in verse 7, 'For the bishop must be blameless as the steward of God.'

The idea behind the word office is a biblical one. It refers to a position-task to which Christ has appointed us. It is always functional and never merely titular. It involves, not grand titles and honors, but hard work for the Lord, I Thess. 5:12-13. As Nigel Lee points out: "An 'officer' who will not do his required work and fulfill his vocational task, is a contradiction in terms! 'Preachers' who do not really preach, 'ruling elders' who do not really guide, and 'deacons' who do not really help are the henbane, (a plant, the roots, leaves and seeds of which are poisonous) of the church. If, after loving correction, they cannot or will not function in those official roles, they should be removed from the ministry of that special office and instead rather be encouraged to function in the general office of all Christians. -- ...all occupants of the special office should be encouraged and are worthy of honor. Indeed, those special officers who function praiseworthily--such as those 'elders who rule well'--need to be counted worthy of double respect and honor. For a faithful officer is one who works--and who works well!"

The importance of the office of Elder is everywhere evident in Scripture:

1. The continuity of the office from the O.T. into the N.T: While men were called and appointed to the specific offices of prophet, priest, and king in the O.T., it is the office of elder that is continued into the N.T. as a particular office that is still held by particular men. We recognize that the three offices of prophet, priest, and king converge and continue in Christ, and also in all Christians in some sense. But it is only the particular office of Elder that continues as a specific office that is held by some men and not others.

Few offices have deteriorated more radically than that of the elder. Its original purpose has been obscured, its functions lost, and its purpose altered.

To understand the meaning of the office of elder, it is necessary to remember that the office was not created by the church but taken over from the practices of Israel. As Morris has written,

"The first Christians were all Jews, and it is a reasonable inference that they took over the office of elder from the Judaism with which they were familiar. It will repay us accordingly to give some attention to the Jewish elders.

Deacons, along with all other church officers, are the gracious gifts of Jesus Christ to his church, Eph. 4:11, to move her toward unity, stability, and full maturity in Christ, Eph. 4: 12f. Without the diaconate, the entire church suffers, because, in a very real sense, the diaconate is the health, education and welfare department of the church. The socialistic "welfare state mentality" in America would never have arisen had the church been faithful to her diaconal responsibilities.

There are several assumptions that must govern our thinking as we examine the implications of Presbyterian polity for the role of women. First, the Bible is the inerrant and infallible rule for faith and practice. Biblical teaching is binding over all our practices. Second, we must diligently strive to subjugate our emotions to clear Scriptural teaching. In other words, the attitude of, "I just can't accept what the Bible teaches in a particular area because I don't like what it says" is totally unacceptable. Unfortunately, many professing Christians allow their "feelings" to dictate their living.

There's a reason for stating these two principles. This article could stir up some deep emotions, especially among women. The purpose of this article is not necessarily to give the final word on this issue. It is to begin some serious dialogue in the Reformed community concerning a woman's role in the church. Thus, I welcome any reply that deepens our understanding.

In the New Testament church, every believer in Jesus Christ joined himself and his family to a local congregation under the shepherding oversight of elders, Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17; I Thess. 5:12. These elders would lead them into the truths of the Bible so as to be "established in grace," Heb. 13:9, that they might grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, II Pet. 3:18. In that local congregation, the elders and all faithful members would work and pray toward the end that that church would be as pure as it can be on earth in both what it believed (doctrine) and in how it behaved (practice), Acts 19:8- 12; Rom. 16:17-20, to the glory of the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. This must be true of us today, for a strong church is a church that looks like the church the way the apostles left it. One of the vows a person must take to join the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States is: "Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to strive for its purity and peace?"

These assemblies are altogether distinct from the civil magistracy, and have no jurisdiction in political or civil affairs. They have no power to inflict temporal pains and penalties, but their authority is in all respects moral or spiritual.

The Jurisdiction of Church courts is only ministerial and declarative, and relates to the doctrines and precepts of Christ, to the order of the Church, and to the exercise of discipline. First, they can make no laws binding the conscience; but may frame symbols of faith, bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in practice, within or without the Church, and decide cases of conscience.

"But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Context {5:1-28): Paul is preparing the Thessalonian church for handling future crises successfully. He is showing it how to be ready when Jesus comes.

The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAP ARC) is an association of Reformed churches in America which was formed a number of years ago in order for Reformed churches to meet together to discuss mutual interests, concerns, testimony, and to allow for the opportunity to pursue the possibility of merger between denominations. This year our denomination, The Reformed Presbyterian Church in the U.S., was invited to send observers to the annual meeting which was held in October at Philadelphia.

The question being discussed in this brief article is whether ruling elders, in being elected and ordained, may be elected and ordained to the office for a limited and specified period of time, or whether election and ordination should have in view permanent tenure and exercise of the office. The position being taken by the present writer is the latter, namely, that the idea of being ordained to office for a limited period of time is without warrant from the New Testament, and is contrary to the implications of election and ordination.