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Western Baptist Review, 1845

The following has been in hand for some time; but our attention has been so engaged with other matters, that we have not had leisure to respond to its enquiries:

JANUARY 22, 1845.
Bro. WALLER: I have, for some time past, believed that there were in the primitive churches ordained Elders who did not preach the gospel; and after a careful examination of the New Testament, I have been strengthened in my opinion. Although the absence of such officers from Baptist churches may not heretofore have worked any great mischief, yet I think the condition of many of our churches requires them; for numbers of our bishops have their memberships in congregations other than those to which they minister. How can such be elders to their flocks? And many churches thus situated have only monthly preaching from their bishops; and certainly there ought to be, in such cases, officers whose duty it should be to take the over-sight of the flock, and lead them into green pastures. Will you, when at leisure, and other engagements do not interrupt, give your views on this subject? and especially on Acts xiv. 23, and 1 Tim. v. 7? I know that others are carrying this matter to great lengths; but their abuse of it should never deter us from pursuing the gospel plan.
Yours in brotherly love,

In answer to the above, we will substitute the following from a correspondent; for although written with reference to others, and rather caustic withal, still as it discusses and fully meets the inquiries of "A Baptist," they supercede the necessity of any comments of our own. The number of offices established by divine enactment in the gospel church, is a question of no ordinary moment. There are two extremes to be found among those Protestants who contend for three sets of offices. The one says that there, are bishops or hierarchs, elders or preachers, and deacons; and the other, that there are bishops or preaching elders, lay elders, and deacons. Our excellent brother, "A Baptist," has embraced the latter opinion. In our judgment, there are but two offices known to the New Testament. But we leave the matter in the hands of our correspondent, as follows:
Could the Apostles again sojourn among men, they would doubtless be startled, as well as amused at the curious practices and notions, attributed to them by Christians in the nineteenth century! They would be wonderfully enlightened about some of their own doings and teachings. Their minds would be disabused of many false impressions concerning primitive manners and customs. For latterly, new light has beamed upon the darkened understandings of men, and marvellous revelations have been disclosed. That prolonged, vociferous, and almost deafening cry for the "ancient order of things," so recently heard in our land, and the echoings of which have waked the dull sleepers in mystical Babylon, hath so sharpened the already razor-edged acumen of some consequential dignitaries, that many 'usages,' stamped 'apostolical' in a modem mint, and which for ages have lain buried under the rubbish of creeds, or been lost amid the strifes of partyism, have been wrested from the ruthless grasp of oblivion, raised from the dead, and promulged for the world's edification and glorification! Credit our would-be spiritual guides, and it was, 'apostolical' to baptize in order to "the remission of sins;" that is, plainly, by the application of a material substance to remove material substance, to remove moral pollution from that which is immaterial!! And when they have demonstrated this truth beyond the possibility of successfu1 contradiction, and lauded their own superior sagacity and rectitude in strains of superlative grandiloquence, they propose, with becoming gravity, another all-important step. In the super-abounding benevolence of their hearts, they would have us established in all things after the pattern of the fathers. "Lay elders" are proposed - preachers who do not preach! And, mirabile dictu! that is not an apostolical church which does not have a non-preaching" as well as a preaching preacher! And even some who style themselves Baptists, have been partially seized with this reformation mania; and never dreaming of their fallibility; boldly assert their belief of the dogma, that in the primitive church, there were ordained elders who did not preach the gospel. Here they plant themselves, and challenge successful negation. Thus circumstanced, this question becomes serious, and demands deliberate investigation. To this purpose this article is devoted. Though no great harm would result should it obtain, yet what a spectacle would the world present, practising as 'Christian and Apostolical' the ridiculous invention of a sickly imagination!! Is it then true? Is it accordant with primitive teaching? That there were numbers in those days calling themselves preachers, who did not preach the 'gospel' I admit. For such exist now. Many go forth in Christ's name, professedly 'proclaimers' of God's glory, who, unmasked, are simply 'proclaimers' of their own inveterate perverseness or doleful ignorance. They glorify self at God's expense. True, they are not in every church. God forefend such a calamity! Yet they are so lamentably numerous, that in many places they make the gospel stink in the nostrils of the world.

But to the question, were there not two orders of elders in the primitive church, the one devoted to teaching, and the other to ruling! I give an unhesitating negative. "The Book" to which I appeal, recognizes but two classes of Christian officers, Bishops or Elders, and Deacons. No distinction is drawn between a bishop and an elder. In Bible usage they are one and the same person. Presbuteros (elder) may perhaps more particularly designate the dignity of the office, whilst episcopos (bishop) more fitly describes its functions. Proof of the assumed position is at hand. In Acts xx. 17, 18, we thus read: "And from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders (presbuteros) of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them." Here then follows the solemn charge of Paul to these elders, of the Ephesian church! Mark his language in the 28th verse: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (episcopos,) to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood." There is no room nor necessity for comment here. Paul and Luke, both inspired men of God, apply, without qualification or reservation, the different epithets, episcopos and presbuteros (bishop or overseer and elder,) to the same persons. Would two orders of officers have been thus unceremoniously confounded? It would argue wilful imposition, or the grossest ignorance, immediately on the part of the Evangelist and Apostle, and indirectly on the part of the Holy Ghost. Most monstrous doctrine!

Nor will it answer to imagine some of the elders absent from this convocation, and hence not included in Paul's injunction. "The elders" means all the elders, unless it be otherwise definitely intimated. But we find no such intimation. All, then, were present; and all were commanded to "feed the church of God," over which they were "bishops." Now, Peter fulfilled a like commission, by "laboring in word and doctrine." Presuming that he righteously executed the will of Christ, we see that all these elders were in duty bound to "labor in word and doctrine," or to "preach." The Ephesian church then manifestly had only one order of elders, and all of them were preachers. If lay-elders are essential to an apostolical church, here was a church which, though founded by the Apostles, and taught by the Apostles, yet was unapostolical at the very time that Paul was instructing its elders! How absurd the dogma. To presume that other churches had them, is to venture too far into the regions of conjecture. We might as well presume they acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope.

But Paul has, in other places, inculcated the same doctrine. In Titus i. 5-7, we read: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elder [presbuteros] in every city, as I had appointed thee; If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly; for a bishop [episcopos] must be blameless as the steward of God." What means such language, if episcopos and presbuteros designate two officers? Paul commissioned Titus to ordain elders, if he could find persons of a suitable character; but why specify qualifications? "Because a BISHOP must be blameless, as the steward of God." There is no signification in words, if more than one office is here introduced. It is too plain for serious contradiction. I prefer the testimony of Paul before all modern disclosers of primitive manners and customs. It is then undeniably evident; that the Apostle used the words episcopos and presbuteros interchangeably; and that they invariably designate the same office.

It is not necessary here to prove that a bishop is a preacher. Paul requires him to be one "apt to teach," (1 Timothy iii. 2,) as also, one qualified to "rule," (1 Timothy iii. 4, 5,) and "able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayer." All bishops, then, are both teachers and rulers; for these qualifications belong to the office, and admit no exception. If, then, as I have, I think, abundantly demonstrated, all elders are bishops, and all bishops preachers, the existence of lay-elders is utterly impossible, and their supposition, wholly gratuitous.

It simply remains to notice the arguments on the other side. The favorers of lay-eldership point with confidence to this text: 1 Timothy v. 17, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine." This, they presume, implies the existence of elders who did not "labor in word and doctrine." But such a construction is plainly contradictory to other Scriptures, and wholly unnecessary. They emphasize the wrong word. The stress lies upon "well." "Let those, who, besides laboring in word and doctrine, also rule well, be counted worthy of double honor." Ruling and teaching are uniformly united. Hebrews xiii. 7, "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God." 1 Thessalonians v. 12, "And we beseech you brethren to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you." Hebrews xiii. 17 "Obey them that have the rule over you, and Submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief." These texts do not even intimate that any honor, reverence, or submission is due to those who simply ruled in the church; whilst all are urged to 'remember,' to 'know' and 'obey' the preaching-rulers. Those elders who discharged their duties were worthy of honor or maintenance; but those who performed their work well, wisely, prudently, diligently, were worthy of double honor. So Burkitt, and Gill, and Jenks, and Wesley, and Scott, and other distinguished commentators. And this construction is simple and natural, and in harmony with all other scripture. How improbable that mere rulers, immersed for the most part perhaps in secular business, should be thus bountifully maintained at the expense of the church; whilst the poor minister who did as much for the church, and in addition, preached, received no more! But Paul esteemed preaching as the highest and most honorable christian office; he preferred preaching to baptizing, much more certainly to ruling: how is it possible, then, for him to have accounted rulers, worthy of double honor! Paul was not so inconsistent.

But again, our modem reformers of unchristian usages point to Acts xiv. 23 - "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." And these, we are gravely told, were lay-elders! But this is a mere assumption, without a particle of evidence. It is a singularly easy mode of settling a perplexing difficulty; but it will not do. It is taking for granted the thing to be demonstrated. It is virtually affirming, "elders were ordained in all the churches;" ergo, 'they were lay-elders!' Truly a most admirable and potent 'ergo.'!! This, to be courteous is pure guess-work. And what right, I ask, has anyone to fancy himself more expert, or more scient in the art of guessing than his neighbors? But we are not forced to such extremities. We may, and we must hang our faith on solid arguments. If we cannot find good reasons for our purposes, are not at liberty to guess conclusions.

But why, it is asked, if there were no lay-elders, were a plurality ordained? Whether we could or could not answer this question, the truth of our position would not be affected. It is sufficient for me to show that the existence of lay-elders is not in proof. Why obligate me to prove that two or three preachers were necessary in a church? It is extraneous, and wholly disconnected from the point at issue. But there are reasons obvious and natural. First, the churches were exceedingly large! That at Jerusalem numbered, by the lowest computation, more than eight thousand. For three thousand were added on the day of Pentecost; five thousand on a subsequent occasion; and Luke informs us that "the Lord added to them daily the saved." Other churches, as of Corinth, and Antioch, might have been as large as this in Jerusalem. Now, we may fairly infer that one bishop was utterly inadequate to the necessities of such vast bodies. For, having no public places of assemblage, they were forced to meet in private houses, which could not possibly accommodate more than a twentieth part; their meetings were frequent, several perhaps every week; and numbers were constantly convicted, and needed instruction; one elder could not perform even a moiety of the duties devolving upon him. Hence others must be consecrated to the work. The church at Ephesus, as I have demonstrated, had a multiplicity of elders, who labored in word and doctrine. If they were necessary there, they were equally demanded elsewhere. Secondly, they had suitable men.. Supernatural gifts abounded in the early ages of Christianity. In every church, numbers were, by the immediate agency of heaven, fitted for the glorious and responsible work of the ministry; and such miraculous visitation was an intimation by Jehovah that he desired and would approbate their ordination. It was an expression of the will of the Holy Ghost and of Christ. It revealed the high and holy purpose of Heaven. "Separate me this man for the work whereunto I have appointed him." And who dare withstand the Divine mandate? Here is a perfect answer to every cavil about a plurality of elders: God himself set them apart! Other considerations, equally satisfactory, might be adduced; but I have already performed a work of supererogation.

If it is urged, that as primitive churches had a multiplicity of elders, so must ours in order to be apostolical; I answer, that it is a non sequiter. We have no proof that all the churches had a multiplicity. And it is far from being evident, that any apostolic injunction existed, requiring such a regulation. But I do not object to the number; though I utterly deny that the rejection or want of a plurality constitutes us 'unapostolical.' I only reject a certain kind and quality, viz: lay-elders, who, I have proved, are an abomination unknown to the Bible, uncommissioned of Heaven; and all others who are not "apt to teach. But we lack proper material. We have not the men in every church qualified for elders. The days of supernatural endowment have ceased. Christians are no longer baptized with the Holy Ghost; and miraculously empowered to speak with tongues and prophesy. If suitable persons can be found, let them be ordained. Paul has specified the requisite qualifications. Measure them by the Apostle's standard, cast them in his mould, and I care not if every Christian be an elder. But let us not, by over-anxiety to be 'apostolical,' become unapostolical. The Apostles ordained men, called and qualified of God. If we would strictly follow them, we cannot do otherwise. An improper consecration is plainly unapostolical. Much prayerful consideration is needed here; yet none comparatively is exercised. Many are introduced to the high and holy office of the gospel ministry, without the first necessary characteristic. Great impudence, nicknamed "boldness in the faith," and stentorian lungs, furnish perhaps their only recommendation. Possessed of these, how seldom is it that even the greatest ignoramus in the Scriptures is rejected, on demand of ordination. One, not yet master of the ABC of Christian doctrines, is solemnly, aye, with the invocation of Heaven's highest, holiest benediction, set apart to expound those truths, upon the right comprehension of which depends the eternal destiny of immortal souls. This practice is a gross violation of the plainest dictates of common sense, a mockery of God's word, and withal a most horrid imposition on the churches. Many good men both see and feel this distressing evil; yet lack the moral courage to arrest its further progression. In vain the Apostle enjoins, "lay hands suddenly on no man." Like puppets, they lend themselves for the damning purpose of imposition. It will not answer to say, that God has not constituted us judges of whom he has called. God never has and never will call a novice to preach his gospel. He has need for no such workmen. And, ministers who ordain them become emphatically "partakers of other men's sins." They degrade themselves, reproach their holy calling, and hurl a fire-brand into the heart of the church. And God will hold them responsible. Yes, they who contemn Jehovah's high behest, by imposing sacred hands

"On skulls that cannot teach, and will not learn,"

must expect to feel his chastening rod. O that there might be a reformation in this matter! May God, as of old, indicate whom be hath called to bear his name before the Gentiles, and raise up laborers in his vineyard, whose efforts he will graciously own and bless.

R. R. L.

[From Western Baptist Review, John L. Waller, editor, Frankfort, KY, September, 1845, pp. 308-313. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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