In Defense of Parity, Chapter 4

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In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

An Exegetical Defense of the Parity of the Eldership in the New Testament

Pastor Sam Waldron

As we have seen, Poh Boon Sing teaches that there is a distinction between pastors and elders. To be specific, Poh teaches that all pastors are elders, but that not all elders are pastors. To put this yet another way Poh teaches that there are two types or classes of elders: teaching elders (also called pastors or ministers) and ruling elders. This might appear to mean that he is teaching the three-office view of church government. But to be scrupulously fair, Poh’s view is not that simple. He would say rather that in one sense there are two offices and in another sense there are three offices.

He is not alone in holding or assuming this distinction. This distinction is held or at least assumed by many in their views of church government. It was, however, Poh’s assertions that moved me to re-study the whole issue of whether any distinction exists in the Scriptures between pastors and elders. In this study I re-examined every occurrence of the roots of pastor and teacher in the New Testament. The results of this re-examination are presented in this chapter. The question which this paper addresses, then, is simply this: Is there a distinction made in the New Testament between the pastor-teacher and the other elders? To put the same question in other words, Are there two types or classes of elders: teaching and ruling elders?

The key text on this subject is Eph. 4:11. It is the only text in the New Testament where the noun, pastor or shepherd, is used of an office in the church. I do not disagree with Poh about the fact that there are four not five classes of ministry mentioned here. This is clear from the fact that the Greek leaves out the word some before the fifth description, teacher. There are only four classes distinguished here. The pastor and teacher are the same person or office. The correct translation to bring this out would be “pastors even teachers” or better yet “pastor-teachers.” The Greek allows and even suggests such a translation.

Where we disagree about this text is with regard to the relation of these pastor-teachers to the elders of the church. Do these words describe a special class of elders in the church or are they simply a description of what are in other words, the elders of the church? Are these the teaching elders as opposed to the ruling elders? Or are they simply the elders of the church described here as pastor-teachers?

Before we attempt to display the New Testament answer to this question, there is a matter of clarification which must be addressed. There are three major Greek words related to this study:

Ποιμην, επισκοπος, πρεσβυτερος

The View defended here is that each of these three terms refer to the same office in the church. The confusing thing is that each of these three terms can be and have been translated in two distinct ways. Note the following diagram:






The Pastors=The Bishops=The Presbyters
The Shepherds=The Overseers=The Elders

The outline of our study is suggested by Eph. 4:11 itself.  The meaning of two Greek words are disputed in Eph. 4:11: the word translated pastor and the word translated teacher. The most disputed and important is, of course, pastor, but we will double-check our study of this word by examining the relation of the office of teacher to the office of elder. We will examine the New Testament to see whether either one of them are used in such a way as to justify a distinction between pastors and elders or whether they are used in such a way as to indicate that elders and pastors hold one and the same office.

Section 1: The Ecclesiastical Significance of Ποιμην and Its Relatives in the New Testament

I. The Use of the Noun Meaning Shepherd

In Luke 2:8, 15, 18, 20 there are references to the literal shepherds who visited the baby Jesus the night He was born. In Matt. 9:36 and Mark 6:34 there are references to the multitudes who are like ‘sheep having no shepherd’. This is probably a veiled reference to the Lord Jesus. All the other uses in the New Testament except one are references to the Lord Jesus as the Shepherd of His sheep (Matt. 25:32; 26:31; Luke 14:27; John 10:2,11, 12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25).

The only use of the term, shepherd, in the new Testament to refer to an ecclesiastical function or office is found in Eph. 4:11. In that passage pastor-teachers (the best way to translate the Greek here, since teachers is epexegetical of pastors) are mentioned in a series with other positions of authority in the early church: apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Since these other positions were temporary, pastor-teachers are the only permanent office in the church referred to in the passage. There is clearly no explicit contrast instituted here between pastor-teachers and ‘ruling elders’ in this passage. This passage provides no evidence by itself for a distinction between pastor-teachers and other elders in the church. It cannot, therefore, be a proof-text for that position which posits such a distinction. Such a distinction must be justified or rejected from the teaching of the rest of the New Testament.

As we have seen, Poh argues that only the verb meaning to pastor or shepherd and not the noun meaning pastor or shepherd is found in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter. 5:2. Thus, he wants us to assume that there is a clear and important distinction between the use of the noun and the verb in the New Testament. This is his defense against (the apparently obvious conclusion to be drawn from these passages) that in them elders and overseers are identified as pastors. When Poh makes such an important distinction between the noun and the verb meaning shepherd, the unwary might think that there are many uses of both the noun and the verb in the New Testament an examination of which would justify this crucial distinction of Poh’s. The fact is that the only ecclesiastical use of the noun shepherd in the New Testament is found in Eph. 4:11. There are no other ecclesiastical uses of the noun from which to discern the meaning of the word or to justify a distinction between pastors and elders. We are not, therefore, wrong to inquire as to the ecclesiastical use or meaning of the verb meaning to shepherd in the New Testament. The meaning and use of the verb is, in fact, a critical part of the New Testament data relative to whether there is a distinction between pastors and elders.

II. The Use of the Verb Meaning To Shepherd

Matt. 2:6; Rev. 2:27; 7:17; 12:5; 19:15 are Messianic and refer to Jesus shepherding His people or the nations. John 21:16 is the admonition to Peter to shepherd Christ’s sheep. The verb, shepherd, is used in parallel here with a verb (Βοσκω) which means to tend or feed (notice John 21:15, 17). Jude 12 speaks of false teachers in the church who “shepherd themselves”.

There are three uses of this verb in the New Testament of more direct ecclesiastical relevance and which may shed light on a distinction between pastors and elders in the New Testament: Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 9:7; 1 Pet. 5:2.

Acts 20:28 occurs in Paul’s address to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. These leaders are described in Acts 20:17 as elders (or presbyters) and in Acts 20:28 as overseers (or bishops). Paul commands these elder-overseers to “shepherd” the church of God. Their position as shepherds in the midst of the church of God is emphasized by the twofold use of the related word (It is derived from the same root as shepherd.), flock, in vv. 28 and 29. According to verse 28 they are to be on guard for themselves and for all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. According to verse 29 they are to do this wary of the danger of savage wolves coming and not sparing the flock. Though Paul has not explicitly used the noun, shepherd, here to refer to the elder­overseers of this passage, it is patent that he would have had no difficulty in doing so. He tells all the elder-overseers to shepherd and to shepherd that which bears to them the relation of the flock which they are to guard. Clearly, this passage is completely opposed to any distinction between elders and pastors.

1 Cor. 9:7 is Paul’s defense of his rights as one who labors in the ministry of the gospel to be remunerated for his labors. He uses the verb, to shepherd, once in this defense and the noun, flock, twice. The implication would appear to be that the work of shepherding is worthy of financial remuneration. We must remind ourselves, however, that in this context Paul is clearly thinking only of those who have been set aside to shepherd God’s flock full-time (cf. 9:1-14). At any rate this passage says nothing about a supposed distinction between pastors and elders.

1 Pet. 5:2 contains an exhortation to the elders of the churches to which Peter the Apostle is writing. Peter identifies himself also as an elder thus intimating that he is not using the term, elder, to refer merely to an older and respected man, but to an office of the church. The elders are here commanded to do two things. They are, first, to oversee the church. The verb used is derived from the same root used in the New Testament to refer to the office of overseer or bishop. Thus, the plain implication of a number of other New Testament passages that elders are bishops (overseers) is confirmed.

The second command issued to these elders is that they are to shepherd the church. We must observe that the church is described twice here by means of the figurative use of the word, flock, (1 Pet. 5:2, 3). As before in Acts 20 both the verb related to shepherd and the noun related to shepherd meaning flock are used. Clearly, elders who are to oversee and shepherd that which is to be considered by them as the flock of God must here be regarded as shepherds or pastors. 1 Pet. 5:2 is also, therefore, utterly opposed to any distinction between elders and pastors or shepherds.

Section 2: The Ecclesiastical Significance of Διδασκαλος and Its Relatives in the New Testament

We found in the study of shepherd in the New Testament that in only one place was it used in its noun form to describe an office in the church. That place was Eph. 4:11. In Eph. 4:11 another noun is used (epexegetically) to further define the work of a pastor. It is the word, teacher. It is important, therefore, to examine this word as well.

We have found that there is no reason to distinguish in any way officially between elders, overseers, and pastors in the New Testament. Indeed, there is every reason simply to identify the office of elder (presbyter) with the office of overseer (bishop) with the office of shepherd (pastor). In itself this implies very clearly that no official distinction is to be made between an office of teacher in the church and the office of elder. Yet in order further to vindicate and clarify the biblical equation of the offices of pastor, bishop, and presbyter it will be well to look at the ecclesiastical significance of ‘teacher’ in the New Testament.

I. The Use of the Noun Meaning Teacher

Διδασκαλος is used approximately 58 times in the New Testament. The vast majority of these uses occur in the gospels (48 times) and are a title of the Lord Jesus Christ (38 times) or a reference to Him (4 times). The other uses in the gospels refer to the Jewish teachers of the law (Luke 2:46; John 3:10) or occur in the saying found in Matt. 10:24, 25 and Luke 6:40: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master…”

None of the uses in the gospels are references to an ecclesiastical office in the church, but they are instructive in some other respects. Again-as with shepherd, overseer, and elder-the term, teacher, is first of all and preeminently a title of the Lord Jesus. There is then a sense in which the teacher in the church represents or stands in the place of Christ. The use of the term, teacher, to refer to the Jewish doctors of the law is also instructive. It tells us that inseparable from being a teacher is thorough knowledge of the teaching of the Scriptures. The uses in Matt. 10:24, 25 and Luke 6:40 indicate that a teacher occupies a position of authority over against his students (who are called his disciples). The use of teacher and disciples is suggestive when applied to the church.

The other ten references in the New Testament are more instructive. Rom. 2:20 refers to a Jew who regards himself as a teacher of the law. In 1 Tim. 2:7 and 2 Tim. 1:11 Paul describes himself as a teacher in his apostolate to the Gentiles. 2 Tim. 4:3 speaks of professing Christians who will heap to themselves teachers. Heb. 5:12 is the rebuke of those addressed in the epistle that “by this time you ought to be teachers”. Yet instead of being capable of instructing others in the faith, they are still immature. This is clearly not a reference to an office in the church or a special gift to teach, since it is the generality of Christians (including women) who are addressed.

This last point is particularly plain when we come to the first of the passages which make more particular reference to what may be an office or special function in the church which we should try to imitate today. James 3:1 warns, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.” James is clearly thinking of a limited class of men within the church (of the gatherings of which he has just been speaking). This is clear from the fact that he identifies himself as a teacher, warns against many becoming teachers, and announces a stricter judgment for this class of men. It must be noticed that there is no distinction in this passage between teachers and other elders. The assumption, in fact, probably runs in the other direction.

Acts 13:1 speaks of the leadership of the church in Antioch as consisting of “prophets and teachers”. The term, prophets, refers (as it does without exception in the New Testament) to those who are (or claim to be) the recipients of direct or supernatural revelation from God. In other words, it refers to those who have the extraordinary gift of prophecy and were resident in the church at Antioch. The term, teachers, then, refers to those who possessed the ordinary gift of teaching the Word of God and labored officially in the ministry for the church at Antioch. Each of the leaders of the church at Antioch, then, was one who proclaimed the Word of God as a matter of gift and office. The only difference is that some were prophets, and others were teachers. It must be noticed that there is no distinction in this passage between teachers and other elders. These prophets and teachers may have constituted the whole leadership of the church in Antioch.

1 Cor. 12:28, 29 also mentions prophets in conjunction with teachers. Again the distinction is clearly between those with the extraordinary gift of prophecy and those with the ordinary gift of teaching. Here, however, the emphasis is not upon offices, but upon gifts or functions in the body of Christ. Many of the other gifts mentioned in these verses clearly do not refer to offices in the church. The body imagery of the context (1 Cor. 12:12-27) in which each member of the body is said to have a special function also makes this clear. Since the functions of all the members of the body are under discussion, the subject of offices in the church cannot be Paul’s subject.

It is for this reason that nothing certain with regard to ecclesiastical offices can be deduced from the separate mention of the gift of “administrations” in v. 28. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich give the translation “administrations” and says that the plural “indicates proofs of ability to hold a leading position in the church”. A related word used twice in the New Testament (Acts 27:11; Rev. 18:17) means ‘pilot’ or ‘shipmaster’. Thus, the idea of leadership is clearly contained in the word. It is clear from verse 28 that teaching and administration are two distinct gifts. It is certainly not clear that they represent two distinct offices or even two classes within one office. In fact, since both 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 mention both leadership and teaching ability as necessary for the office of overseer or elder, the assumption should rather be that some measure of both gifts is necessary to be an elder-overseer in the church. There is no indication, therefore, in this passage that any distinction exists between the office of teacher and the office of elder.

This discussion has included all the uses of the word translated, teacher, in Eph. 4:11. We must conclude from it that there is no reason in any of these passages to deduce a distinction between the offices of teacher and elder in the church. There are, in fact, good reasons to infer exactly the opposite.

II. The Use of Related Words Having to Do with Teaching in the New Testament

Of the many uses of relative words to Διδασκαλος in the New Testament the following have some relevance to the subject at hand.

A. Romans 12:7

Like 1 Cor. 12:28, 29, Rom. 12:7 is dealing with spiritual gifts and not directly with the subject of office in the church (Rom. 12:3, 6). The Apostle’s exhortation is that the one with a teaching gift (ο διδασκων – a relative of the word we are considering) should be “in the teaching”, that is to say, he should give himself to his teaching. Later in verse 8 the Apostle mentions the gift of leading (οπροισταμενος) and exhorts the one with this gift to lead with diligence.

The fact that Paul regards these two gifts as distinct is undeniable. This distinction has seemed to not a few to justify the idea of a distinction between a ruling elder and a teaching elder. Yet again we must insist on the fact that the distinction of the gifts does not require a distinction in the office. Office and gift as everyone must recognize-are two different things.

The conclusion that there is some sort of official or qualitative distinction between a pastor and an elder or a teaching elder and a ruling elder is, however, not simply unnecessary. It is in light of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 downright wrong. For the fact is that in the qualifications for the office of elder-overseer in that passage the elder as a part of the qualifications for the office is required to be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2–the same root used in Rom. 12:7) and able to rule (1 Tim. 3:4, 5 -the same root as is used in Rom. 12:8). Clearly, all elders must possess both the gifts of teaching and ruling. The only difference allowable is one of degree. A difference in degree of gift does not and cannot justify an official distinction between teaching and ruling elders.

B.  1 Tim. 3:2 (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24; Titus 1:9)

Amidst the qualifications for the overseership (or eldership) found in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 is found the qualification, able to teach (the translation of the NASB of the Greek word, διδακτικος. This word is used only twice in the New Testament: here and in 2 Tim. 2:24. It is, of course, derived from the same root as the word for teacher in Eph. 4:11. Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich defines it as ‘skillful in teaching’. Louw and Nida define it as ‘pertaining to being able to teach’. The parallel use in 2 Tim. 2:24 seems to emphasize that “the servant of the Lord” must have the proper spirit of a teacher and be full of patience and gentleness and not quarrelsome even when wronged and opposed. Also associated with being able to teach are two other traits. The first is the refusal to engage in the kind of speculations which only produce quarrels and divisions (v. 23). The true teacher has a sense of orthodoxy and priority. The other is the realization that God must be the great teacher or else human instruction will do no good (vv. 25, 26). The true teacher is a man of humility before God.

The description of “the servant of the Lord” as one who is able to teach is significant for our study. We suppose that it will be admitted on all hands that the servant of the Lord describes someone who, whatever in addition he may be, is certainly a pastor. The use of διδακτικος to describe such a one strengthens our conclusion that no distinction is to be made between the ordinary elder or overseer of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and the pastor-teacher.

Also important in the interpretation of 1 Tim. 3 is the parallel listing of the qualifications of the eldership given in Titus 1:5-9. Three terms are used in parallel to describe the office under discussion in Titus 1: elder (v. 5), overseer (v. 7), steward (v. 7). The qualification ‘able to teach’ is not given explicitly in this list of the qualifications. Yet the idea or concept is clearly present in verses 9-11 where Paul insists that an elder must hold sound doctrine (a word with the same root as the Greek word, teacher) in such a way as to be able to use it both positively and polemically — “to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict”. Clearly, the elder-overseer-steward of Titus 1 is and must be a teacher. Confirming this conclusion is the use of the term, steward. This term as it is elsewhere used in the New Testament clearly describes one who is charged to feed the people of God with instruction in the Word of God (Luke 12:42; 1 Cor. 4:1, 2; 1 Pet. 4:10).

C. 1 Tim. 5:17

This is perhaps the most important passage in the debate about teaching and ruling elders or the pastor/elder distinction. It deserves the expanded discussion that it will be given in the next chapter. Yet its major instruction is clear with regard to the issue at hand.

First, it clearly does not make a distinction between the office of pastor and other elders. This terminological distinction is absent from the passage. True, we may be used to calling the elder of the church who works hard at preaching and teaching a pastor and calling the other overseers just elders. Yes, we may easily read that understanding into this passage, but there is utterly no justification for that in this passage itself. Two obvious facts about the passage should wake us out of our dogmatic slumbers and into the realization that this passage does not teach the pastor/elder distinction to which we are accustomed. First, it is clear that more than one financially supported elder who labors in the Word and in doctrine is contemplated. Second, it is clear that other elders who do not labor full-time in the Word and in doctrine may also be financially supported.

Second, it does not make a distinction between two types of elders: teaching elders and ruling elders. Its distinction is between elders who rule well and those who additionally labor in the Word and doctrine. This is not the simplistic distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders. The passage does not assert that some of “the elders who rule well” do not teach. The fact is that 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:9 Paul makes abundantly clear that all elders must teach and do teach. Laboring in the Word and doctrine clearly denotes something more than merely being able to teach. It refers to an abundance of labor in the work of teaching­— a degree of toil in the work of proclaiming the word—which surpasses that of even other well-ruling elders. The contrast is not between no teaching and teaching. It is between some teaching and a great degree of teaching. The teaching elder/ruling elder distinction so often deduced from this passage may be misleading in important respects.

Third, the passage does not say that all elders must work hard at preaching and teaching. It allows for elders who may work full-time at something else. This disallows the interpretation which would make all elders full-time preachers.

Fourth, the passage does say that the priority of the church in terms of supporting elders must be on “those who work hard at preaching and teaching”. This certainly teaches the primacy of the proclamation of the Word in the leadership of the church.

Fifth, the passage does assume that there are different degrees of the gifts of leading and teaching within the eldership and that these different degrees of gift may lead to differences of functions or roles within the eldership and to differences in regard to financial support.

The inevitable conclusion which must be reached on the basis of our study of the New Testament is this: There is no warrant for a distinction between the office of pastor and the office of elder in the New Testament. There is nothing in the New Testament or in 1 Tim. 5:17 which even remotely suggests such a distinction.

We must also conclude that the terminology which distinguishes teaching and ruling elders is liable to serious misunderstanding and often is not a good way of describing what the New Testament teaches with regard to the eldership. All elders are pastor-teachers. All elders must have the gifts of leadership and teaching. Because of these things the teaching elder/ruling elder distinction potentially misrepresents the teaching of the New Testament and leads to cloudy and even false understandings of biblical church government. It seems to impose a rigidity on church government and steal an element of holy flexibility from the church of Christ by fitting the potential variations of the New Testament eldership into the rigid forms of evangelical or Reformed or Baptist tradition.

Let me, however, qualify these comments about the teaching elder­—ruling elder distinction and terminology. Though this terminology tends to obscure certain important facets of the New Testament’s teaching about the eldership, it must be admitted that if this distinction and terminology is well qualified, it may be acceptable occasionally to use it. As I have said, there is no absolute distinction between teaching and ruling elders. It is true, however, that such terminology is often intended not to stress absolute contrasts, but merely to emphasize prominent characteristics. If this is how it is intended and understood, then it may be said in defense of this terminology that it is true that some elders in terms of their overall ministry are prominently characterized as teachers, while other elders in terms of their overall ministry are prominently characterized as rulers. In this sense the teaching elder terminology is not intended to deny that teaching elders rule, and the ruling elder terminology is not intended to deny that ruling elders teach. The stress is simply on what prominently characterizes their public profile and ministry.

In Defense of Parity, Chapter 3

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In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

A Contemporary Reaction to the Parity of the Eldership

Pastor Sam Waldron

Perhaps the most extended treatment of and public attack on the parity of the eldership within recent days comes in the form of a book that has for its express purpose to give ecclesiological guidance to Reformed and Baptist churches in the Particular Baptist tradition. The breadth of this book is far broader than the ecclesiological issue with which our little book is concerned. Yet a study of the contents of its content justifies the statement that one of the underlying motives which issued in its production must have been a desire to refute the parity of the eldership as it has come to be held by many in the Reformed and Baptist tradition. This is my reason for taking the time in this little book to set before you Poh Boon Sing’s view of the Eldership as expressed in his Keys of the Kingdom.

Poh Boon Sing is a Malaysian Reformed Baptist who has experienced imprisonment for his faith. His book appears to represent the views of a number of Reformed Baptists and is being given some ‘press’ by them not only in America, but in the British Isles. It is in many respects, a good, learned, and helpful book. There are, however, a number of practical areas of ecclesiology where I have severe misgivings about Poh’s views. In this chapter, then, after having given some account of the overall thrust of the book, I will limit myself to his views of the parity of the eldership. It is always difficult to be completely fair with someone with whom you disagree. Therefore, I shall attempt to allow Poh to speak for himself as much as possible.

There are eleven chapters in Poh’s book:

Chapter 1: Autonomy

Chapter 2: The Headship of Christ

Chapter 3: Rule By Elders

Chapter 4. The Priority of the Ministry

Chapter 5: The Validity of Ruling Elders

Chapter 6. The Unity of the Eldership

Chapter 7. Popular Election

Chapter 8: Ordination

Chapter 9: Rule With Consent

Chapter 10: The Gathered Church

Chapter 11: The Communion of Churches

The heart of those things with which I am concerned is found in chapters 3-6, but there are relevant things said both in earlier and later chapters. The drift of his views is signaled in fact in his introduction where he says this:

Other churches, some of them influential, believe in the “equality of elders and carry this to an extreme, calling every elder “pastor”. Closer scrutiny will reveal a Presbyterian influence in this system [p. 5].

Poh persists in describing the view which he is opposing as the absolute equality of elders. This description is an unfortunate over­simplification of our views.

A less disagreeable and very important aspect of Poh’s treatment of the subject is also signaled in his lengthy and generally very good historical introduction to the eleven chapters of his book. He premises an important distinction between Independency and Congregationalism.

A shift in the meaning of the terms began to occur very early. The extreme Independents began to forsake rule by elders for popular democracy. The followers of Robert Browne appeared to have carried his teaching about the autonomy and power of the church to an extreme. Isaac Watts (1674-1748), writing to his brother Enoch, mentioned that “there were some of the Independents heretofore called Brownists, some of whom were very irregular in the management of church affairs, but they are not to be found now.” John Owen alluded to the existence of “democratical confusion” in his days which hindered him from considering any other alternative to Episcopacy, apart from Presbyterianism, to which he adhered until his change of mind in 1644. He described in disdain the system of church government which was “absolutely democratical or popular”. The term “Congregationalism” began to mean that the congregation has power to rule the church, or, otherwise expressed, the power of self-rule. The term “Independency” began to mean that the congregation is autonomous, although maintaining close fellowship with like-minded churches [p. 22].

It is Independency that Poh sets himself to defend throughout his book. In Chapter 3, Rule by Elders, for instance, he asserts that in Independency, “Unlike Congregationalism, church officers do not have their authority delegated by the church. Instead, that authority is communicated from Christ immediately, and through the church” [p. 89]. Throughout this chapter it is John Owen’s view of the whole matter which is presented. Poh follows Owen to a fault. He adopts Owen’s view that “prophecy” in Scripture sometimes merely refers to the ordinary gift of preaching [pp. 94, 95]. He also presents very favorably Owen’s four office view of the church (pastor, teacher, elder, deacon), although he seems a trifle uncomfortable with it as well [pp. 96-100]. Reading the 1689 Baptist Confession through the lens of John Owen he concludes this discussion by saying, “Like the other Independents, the Particular Baptists believed that all pastors are elders, but not all elders are pastors” [p. 100]. While at other points it is difficult to be certain as to how to distinguish Poh from Owen, it is clear at this point (as his later chapters make clear) that Poh is stating his own position.

In Chapter 4 entitled, “The Priority of the Ministry,” Poh begins to argue more systematically for his favorite theory of the distinction between pastors and elders. He begins by arguing for the priority of the ministry. Here in a way that I have nothing to quarrel with he argues for the primacy of the Word, of preaching, and the importance of financially supported full-time preachers for the church. Utilizing Eph. 4: 11 and 1 Tim. 5: 17 he argues properly and powerfully for the importance of the preaching ministry in the church [pp. 111-114].

At this point, however, Poh begins to introduce his theory of the pastor/elder distinction. He argues that in Eph. 4: 11 “the ‘pastors and teachers’ are therefore teaching elders. The context of the passage also shows that only teaching elders are referred to here” [p. 115]. He buttresses his view by appealing to the popular doctrine of the call to the ministry. He argues that a distinct call to the ministry of the Word assumes that it is a distinct office as over against the office of ruling elder. [Cf. Poh’s comments on pp. 177, 181 about a contradiction within A. N. Martin’s views on this subject.] Thus, he proceeds to say:

Within the office of elder, therefore, we find certain elders who also occupy the office of pastor or minister. This would be the significance of the 1 Tim. 5: 17 passage…. There are two sorts of elders: those who rule and teach (often called “teaching elders” for convenience), and those who only rule (called “ruling elders” for convenience)…. Our concern is only to note the truth that the teaching elder occupies the office of elder as well as the office of pastor or minister. There are, nevertheless, two basic offices in the church, not three completely different ones: that of elders, and that of deacons…. Thus, the Christian ministry has the priority not only because of the primacy of the word, the primacy of preaching, and the necessity of the call to the ministry, but also because it encompasses the two offices of the elder and minister of the word. As an elder, the pastor rules with the other elders. As a minister of the word, he alone preaches regularly in the church. [p. 117].

As these statements make clear, Poh – apparently oblivious to any contradiction in the matter – moves back and forth terminologically. First, he states the truth that there are only two offices in the church. Then, he states that the pastoral office encompasses the two offices of elder and minister of the Word.

In the following pages Poh argues that there should be clear leadership in the church. According to his viewpoint this requires that one man be the leader. He argues that Moses as the leader of Israel, Peter as the leader of the Apostles, James as the leader of the Church at Jerusalem, Paul as the leader of his missionary team, and the angels of the book of Revelation chapters 1-3 prove this theory [pp. 118, 119]. He concludes:

The word ‘priority’ includes the idea of ‘primacy’ and more…. Of the two types of elders, the teaching elder has the priority over the ruling elders.

There are practical implications to the principle of priority of the ministry. We mention two only here. First, a church should seek to appoint a teaching elder, or pastor, before a ruling elder. ….

Second, if there are more than one elders in the church, the pastor should be the leading elder. Elders lead the church, and the pastor (or one of them, if there are more than one pastors) leads the eldership. …. If the pastor is not the leading elder, his liberty to preach, to plan, and to lead the church will be hampered [p. 119-­120].

Having argued for his theory biblically and stated some of its practical ramifications, Poh proceeds to present his case from church history. He begins with the astounding statement that “The position of the 1689 Confession of Faith on this matter is crystal-clear” [p. 120]. Reading it through the lens of the Savoy Platform (and by the way ignoring differences between the 1689 and the Savoy Platform) and John Owen he believes that the 1689 Baptist Confession perfectly exemplifies his pastor/elder distinction [pp. 121-126].

Poh concludes this chapter with a section entitled, Denials of “Priority”, and deals with two which he names: “Absolute Equality” in America which derives from Presbyterian influences, he thinks, and “Absolute Equality” in the United Kingdom which derives from Brethren influences. He summarizes this section as follows:

Some Reformed Baptists are advocating a view of the eldership in which all elders are regarded as equal, with no distinction between them apart, perhaps, from the different functions they perform. To them, all elders are pastors. One stream of opinion, arising from America, appears to have adopted Presbyterian ideas into a Baptist setting. Another stream, arising from the United Kingdom, appears to have been sympathetic to the charismatic movement and Brethrenism. Their emphasis on the equality, or parity, of elders, has the effect of undermining the Christian ministry. The principle of ‘the priority of the ministry’ is thus denied [p. 134].

So as to remove any doubt as to who he is talking about with regard to “Absolute Equality” in America, it must be said that he cites chapter 26 of S. Waldron’s book entitled A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith and A. N. Martin’s tapes on the subject of the eldership.

In Chapter 5 Poh presents what he calls “The Validity of Ruling Elders”. The reactionary character of some of the opening sentences of this chapter set the tone for this chapter.

As will be shown below, the current fad to restore a plurality of elders, coupled with the emphasis on the equality of all elders, in Reformed Baptist circles, is in reality a struggle over the validity of the office of ruling elders [p. 139].

How Poh can believe in a plurality of elders in the local church, behold the widespread departure from this biblical doctrine, but use the derogatory language the current fad to restore a plurality of elders is mystifying. It manifests at any rate that there is a reactionary current in Poh’s thinking.

By saying that he is arguing for the validity of ruling elders Poh intends to distance himself from two other views and argue for what he calls the “Independent view”.

He is for ruling elders over against the Presbyterian view. Here he argues that the authentic Presbyterian view denies that ruling elders are the elders of the New Testament [p. 140f.]. Thus, from Poh’s perspective the Presbyterian view really does not uphold the validity of ruling elders, since ruling elders are not New Testament elders at all. This classification of Poh’s is not really fair to the historical facts. Poh’s own book shows that calling this the Presbyterian view is not quite fair. Indeed, he himself shows that such great Presbyterians as Samuel Miller, R. J. Breckinridge, J. H. Thornwell, and R. L. Dabney held that ruling elders were elders in the New Testament sense of the word. While Charles Hodge and Thomas Smyth held that ruling elders were not New Testament elders (but only official representatives of the church), Poh himself shows that the Westminster Assembly was divided on the issue. [p. 140, 141].

Poh also means to say that he is for the validity of ruling elders as opposed to those who hold the absolute equality view. He cites a Presbyterian man named, Thomas Witherow, who defended the view of equality in the presbyterian controversies on this issue. Witherow held that there was no New Testament distinction between ruling and teaching elders. Hence, in the sense that Poh believes in them, Witherow, and the absolute equality view, hold that there is no office of ruling elder as distinct from that of teaching elder [pp. 146, 147].

It is in this section while he is arguing against the absolute equality view that the low point of Poh’s book is reached. Poh must be allowed to speak for himself:

We note here two dangers that the Absolute Equality View is prone to: namely, the extremes of the ‘committee syndrome’ and authoritarianism. The ‘committee syndrome’ sets in when there is no clear leadership provided by the pastor. All the elders are regarded as pastors. They are equal in power. They have equal right to preach. The elders may end up preaching in rotation, as have occurred in Brethren circles. There is also the constant tension of having to give deference to one another, or to prevent a strong personality in the eldership from having the preeminence in any way. The fact that one or two churches have functioned well with this system is no proof that it is correct. It only proves that the men involved have been long-standing friends who would have operated well in any other situation [pp. 153, 154].

It is difficult to restrain a sense of injustice at the many misrepresentations of the plurality and parity of the eldership as we hold it to be found in this paragraph. For instance, there is no need or desire in such a system to restrain and limit the gifts of a strong preacher or teacher. Such a system tends to enable and protect such a teacher or preacher to labor so that he may labor to his utmost at the thing he does best. We who believe in the parity of the eldership recognize vast differences in gifts and maturity among elders equal in office.

It is also difficult to restrain a sense of indignation at the cavalier disregard for the biblical mandate for humility and a servant spirit among the elders. We become indignant at the idea there can be no clear leadership where there is no single leader. Two responses occur to us. First, Jesus ought to be the senior pastor of every church. Second, the Bible teaches that wisdom consists in the ability to cooperate for great goals without a king (Prov. 30: 27).

But unfortunate as these paragraphs are, the following two or three paragraphs are worse. In them he argues that “The Absolute Equality view is prone to the danger of authoritarianism.”  This view is then associated with “heavy shepherding”, being “cocksure”, and “the Diotrephes spirit” [pp. 154, 155]. In other words the assertion is made that somehow believing in parity of the eldership leads to an overbearing, harsh, and domineering eldership in which the proper freedoms of individual church-members are infringed. There are many problems with this charge. The main problem is that the charge is completely illogical.  To accuse the view of church government which is most calculated to restrain a Diotrephes by placing him in a context of official equality to other elders or pastors is outrageous. Any Diotrephes who chose such a system within which to operate should have his head examined.

The following pages also reveal that a sense of personal irritation is skewing Poh’s thoughts. There is here plain over-reaction. Consider such statements as these:

When no other man is qualified or ready to be appointed as another elder of the church, there will be much fuss made of placing the single pastor under the pastoral oversight of another church [p. 156].

A church with only one elder should not be condemned as unbiblical or sinful when there are no other qualified men around to be appointed [p. 157].

Reformed Baptists who practice ‘plurality’ have themselves become authoritarian oligarchies. …. The principle of ‘plurality’ is being bandied about as a new form of ‘shibboleth’. In the face of these new problems, it would not be wise to stress ‘plurality’. No, it might not even be right to do so [p. 159].

In Chapter 6 Poh concludes his extended treatment of the eldership by speaking of “The Unity of the Eldership”. He asserts that the claim that “all elders are pastors” [p. 165] is based on three wrong assumptions.

The first wrong assumption is that “no significant distinction is to be made between the elders since they occupy the same office”. Here he cites 1 Tim. 5: 17, Eph. 4: 11, and Revelation 1 through 3 to prove that such a distinction is found in the New Testament.

The second wrong assumption, says Poh, is that “all elders are pastors”. Here Poh argues that only the verb meaning to pastor or shepherd and not the noun meaning pastor or shepherd is found in Acts 20: 28 and 1 Peter 5: 2. He then argues: “All elders do the work of shepherding, but it does not follow that they are the same as pastors of the church” [p. 166].

The third wrong assumption, says Poh, is the assumption of equality. He says, “The claim is made that since all are elders, all are equal in power, in standing before the church, and in rights to performance of all duties” [p. 167]. Here Poh, by the way, manifests his tendency to define office in terms of function and to assume that those who hold the parity of the eldership do not take into account the vast differences in gifts, maturity, financial support, and circumstances between different elders who are equal in office. Elsewhere, for instance, he says, “As far as authority is concerned, all elders have equal rights to perform all those functions” [p. 165].

Poh manifests his confusion further on page 169. Here he argues: “A difference in functions indicates a difference in gifts and therefore, a difference in the individuals who possess those gifts. Since that is the case, how can there be absolute equality of persons?” One can only respond to such argumentation by saying that we never thought of arguing for the absolute equality of persons. We can state our view in the very words which Poh uses to state his on the same page, “The only equality taught in Scripture with regard to leadership in the church is that of the office of elder itself.” We would have no disagreement with Poh, if only he did not introduce in some sense a pastoral office above that of elder. Thus, in the same paragraph Poh goes on to say, “The pastor is to be the leading elder …. If there are more than one pastors in the church, one of them should be acknowledged as the leading elder” [p. 170].

The extent of the authority which the pastor possesses in his peculiar “office” is revealed in statements of Poh both in Chapter 6 and later chapters. He asserts that the elders are responsible for what is preached in the church, and yet that the pastor is not subject to the elders of the church with regard to his preaching. Here are his own words:

Any defect in the teaching of the church must not be blamed on the preacher alone, but on the whole eldership. This does not mean that the ruling elders should be dictating to the preacher on what he may, or may not, preach. The preacher must be given the liberty to plan out a preaching syllabus, and to preach according to his assessment of the needs of the church, as he is led by the Spirit of God. On his part the preacher needs to take into account the occasional suggestions of the other elders with regard to his preaching [p. 174].

There is similar inconsistency and ambivalence with regard to the elders and pastor in Poh’s description of how elders’ meetings should handled. Of course, the pastor, should be the chairman of officers’ meetings.

The deacons would meet with the elders often. The elders would meet by themselves often. In all such meetings, the pastor should normally be the chairman. If there are more than one pastors in the church, one of them who has been recognised and approved by the church as the leading elder would be the chairman [p. 252].

Poh then describes how the pastor should resolve issues which come before the officers or elders.

In a meeting, he would put forward his proposal or decision with regard to any issue affecting the church, to the other elders. He explains to them why ‘possibility A’ should be adopted and why ‘possibility B’ should be rejected. He then asks for questions, comments, or suggestions from the other church-officers. Once the questions have been answered the comments heard, and the suggestions considered, he calls upon the meeting to give its consent to adopt ‘possibility A’ [p. 252].

All this might sound as if the other elders are allowed little or no initiative. But, of course, Poh does not want us to think he means that: “This is not to say that none of the elders, apart from the pastor, may initiate a suggestion or propose an item for the agenda of the meeting. All we are saying is that the leadership of the pastor should be recognized in practice” [p. 253]. Poh will have to pardon us for thinking that he is very ambivalent about other elders taking initiative in the pastor’s church!

Poh’s arguments against the view of the eldership commonly held among us raise a number of interesting and important questions which I think we would do well to consider more closely. Among them are the following:

  • Is there any evidence for a distinction between elder or overseer and shepherd (pastor) in the New Testament?
  • What validity has Poh’s argument that only the verb and not the noun is used in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5?
  • What is the identity of the pastor-teachers of Eph. 4: 11?
  • Is it really wise to speak of a distinction between ruling elders and teaching elders?
  • Does 1 Tim. 5: 17 teach such a distinction?
  • In what does the parity of the eldership consist?
  • In what does legitimate diversity among elders consist?
  • Does the 1689 Confession support or refute the pastor/elder distinction?
  • Is the popular view that the seven angels of Revelation 1 through 3 are the pastors of the seven churches really correct?
  • What is the proper response to the instances of individual leaders pointed out by Poh?
  • Is there really a tension between the common view among us of a distinct call to the ministry of the Word and the view that the office of elder is the same as that of pastor?

Many of these questions must and will be addressed in the following chapters.

In Defense of Parity, Chapter 2

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In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

Parity and Diversity in the Eldership

Part Two-Diversity

Pastor Greg Nichols

We now unfold diversity in the eldership following the same overall outline we used to develop parity. We first establish the Biblical Concept of diversity; second, we expound its Manifold Substance; and third, we apply some of its Practical Implications.

The Biblical Concept of Diversity in the Eldership

1 Tim. 5:17 – Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching.

Rom. 12:6-8 – And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the measure of our faith; or of ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teaches, to his teaching; or he that exhorts, to his exhorting: he that gives, let him do it with liberality; he that rules, with diligence; he that shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

1 Cor. 12:28,31 – And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diverse kinds of tongues … But desire earnestly the greater gifts.

1 Pet. 4:10,11 – According as each man has received a gift, ministering it among yourselves as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaks, speaking as it were oracles of God; if any man ministers, ministering as of the strength which God supplies: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

The warrant for diversity in the eldership rests on the shoulders of a few texts. Yet these texts are mighty men, able to carry the weight convincingly to the conscience. First among them is 1 Tim. 5:17. Here Paul explicitly requires diversity of valuation and honor, “let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor.” Some elders in virtue of grace and experience have a good track record. Since they rule with sustained proficiency and skill, they deserve special respect and appreciation from God’s people. Herein lies the first type of diversity in the eldership. Yet, in this same text, Paul implicitly discloses a far deeper diversity, one which touches the very form and structure of the eldership, “those who labor in the word and in teaching.” Some elders, not all elders, labor in the Word as their calling. Whereas some elders spend their day laboring at farming, engineering, carpentry, medicine, or law, other elders labor full-time in the study, exposition, and proclamation of the Scriptures. All elders have the same office, rank, and authority. They all belong to the same ruling body of church officers. Yet all do not have the same ministerial vocation or career. Only some are preachers, or ministers of the Word, while the rest labor in various mundane callings. What is the basis for this diversity of vocation? Why do only some of the elders labor in the Word as their life’s occupation? Although this text does not answer, three other texts rush to offer their support (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28,30; 1 Pet. 4:10,11). These passages describe a rich diversity of spiritual gifts among the people of God. Although some of these gifts were temporary, passing away with the apostles, others remain until Jesus comes. The Lord, in his grace, continually showers upon his church militant a rich supply of ability to teach, to exhort, to give, to rule, to show mercy (Rom. 12:6-8), to help, and to counsel (1 Cor. 12:28). Herein lies the explanation for diversity of vocation in the eldership. Some elders, but not all elders, are so gifted to teach and preach that they should be set apart to labor in the Word of God as their life’s work. These must be recognized by the church and supported as ministers of the gospel, who give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). Thus, Scripture teaches that the eldership displays a diversity of vocation, of proficiency, and of giftedness.

The Manifold Substance of Diversity in the Eldership

Having established the biblical concept, we now unfold its threefold substance. We begin with diversity of vocation, then take up diversity in proficiency, and conclude with diversity of giftedness.

Diversify of Vocation in the Eldership

Difficulty surrounds our exposition of this topic because Scripture paints a sweeping picture of ministerial work. This portrait includes both permanent and temporary forms of ministry. It includes both the ordinary gifts conveyed in all generations, and the extraordinary, restricted to the founding of the church in the apostolic generation. Consider these 12 texts:

  • Acts 6:4 – But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.
  • Acts 13:1 – Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers.
  • Rom. 12:6-8…. whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the measure of our faith; or of ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teaches, to his teaching; or he that exhorts, to his exhorting.
  • 1 Cor. 9:14 – Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel
  • 1 Cor. 12:28 – And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers.
  • Gal. 6:6 – But let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teaches in all good things.
  • Eph. 4:11 – And he gave some, to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers.
  • 1 Tim. 4:6 – If you put the brethren in mind of these things, you shall be a good minister of Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Tim. 5:17 – Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching.
  • 2 Tim. 3:16,17 – Every Scripture is inspired of God … that the man of God may be complete.
  • 2 Tim. 4:5 – do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
  • 1 Pet. 4:11 – if any man speaks, speaking as it were oracles of God.

These texts epitomize the biblical testimony. Proceeding with caution, we recognize that some things said of the apostolic generation of ministers, with its apostles, prophets, and evangelists, do not pertain to the pastor-teachers who abide in every generation. With this warning in mind, we observe that in reference to the permanent preaching vocation, these texts address three key questions: What is this vocation called? How should this vocation be conferred and maintained? What are the essential duties and aims of this vocation? We now take up each of those basic questions and issues.

1. The biblical designations for the ministerial vocation

Paul refers to men in this vocation as those “who preach the gospel”, as “him who teaches”, as “pastors and teachers”, and as “those who labor in the word and in teaching.” Peter speaks of “the ministry of the Word.” Thus, the New Testament uses no single designation for elders who labor in the Word as their calling in life. It employs a rich variety of designations, drawn from the focal point of their labor, the Word of God, from the nature and exercise of their ministerial gifts, and from their very identity as servants of Christ. In virtue of the special relation of their work to God and Christ, they are men of God (2 Tim. 3:17) and ministers of Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6). In virtue of the special relation of their work to God’s Word, they are ministers of the Word (Acts 6:4; 1 Pet. 4:11) and of the gospel (Eph. 3:6,7). In virtue of the teaching and preaching gift which they regularly use in their work, they both are teachers (Acts 13:1; Rom. 12:7,8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Gal. 6:6; Eph. 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:17) and preachers (Rom. 12:7,8; 1 Cor. 9:14). Surely even the most scrupulous will not condemn us for calling those who preach the gospel, “preachers”, or those who labor in teaching, “teachers.” Paul seems to use “teacher” more frequently and prominently. Yet, some might object that if we call ministers of the Word, “teachers”, we could obscure the fact that all elders must be apt to teach and able to exhort. We might obscure the fact that all elders may teach privately or preach occasionally. We might obscure the fact that all elders rule by teaching, in that their judgments must carry men’s consciences. We desire to obscure none of these things, but to shed light on the profound difference between an elder who by vocation is a farmer, engineer, or carpenter, and an elder who by vocation is a preacher and teacher. How then should we denominate and address those elders who labor in the Word? In virtue of their ruling office, they are bishops, pastors, and elders. In virtue of their life’s work and vocation, they are preachers, teachers, and ministers of Christ, of the Word, and of the gospel. Since Scripture does not bind our conscience, we should not bind the consciences of others. It is not unbiblical to address them either in terms of their office, or their vocation, or even, in terms of a combination of both. For example, in virtue of his office we could address a gospel minister as “pastor”, or “bishop”, or “elder.” In terms of his vocation we could address him as “minister”, or “preacher”, or “teacher.” In theory, we could use any combination of terms for his office and vocation, such as, “bishop-preacher”, or “elder-minister”, or “pastor-teacher.”

Since Scripture speaks directly about these designations, we should not be careless with them. Yet, since the Bible shows considerable flexibility, neither should we be hyper-dogmatic about them. For example, some may prefer at times to denominate elders who labor in preaching as “pastors.” This could be valuable to underscore that pastoral office regulates the design and manner of the teaching vocation. Even the 1689 London Confession, in 26:10, seems to use the term “pastor” this way, “The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in His churches, in the ministry of the Word and prayer … it is incumbent upon the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things.” Here our Confession defines the work of gospel ministers and enjoins financial remuneration for them. Yet, while speaking about their work, our Baptist fathers denominate them, not in terms of their work, but in terms of their office, as “pastors.” Is this communion of idioms inexcusable? I think not, even if men seize upon it for their own ends. I must concede that their choice of words is liable to abuse. Indeed, since it could obscure the fact that all elders are pastors and bishops of the flock, some do twist this very use of the term “pastor” to support their own view that some elders are not pastors. Search and see that our Confession in 26:11 equates bishop and pastor as synonyms to denominate the ruling office, and in 26:8,9 bishop and elder. Should we conclude that our Baptist fathers were careless about terms? Not at all. As Pastor Waldron proves so convincingly in Chapter 6, the framers of our Confession were not oblivious to the legitimate implications of their terms. Thus, they carefully revised some of the terms used in the Savoy Platform of Polity. They deliberately chose designations which would distance our Confession from the “four office” view. The Savoy Platform, Paragraph 13, says, “although it be incumbent upon the pastors and teachers of the churches to be instant in preaching the word by way of office” (26:11).  The Baptist fathers changed it to, “although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches to be instant in preaching the Word by way of office.” They changed “teacher” to “bishop”, because, in terms of his office, the pastor laboring in the Word is a bishop, not a teacher. In this our Baptist fathers serve as a good model. They were careful about terms, but not overly scrupulous.

How shall we apply all this to those elders who do not labor in the Word? How shall we designate them so as to distinguish them from gospel ministers? Again, since Scripture binds us not, we must not bind others. Again, since any designation we employ has both strengths and liabilities, we must avoid being either overly dogmatic or oblivious. We could call them “lay elders”, since in office they are elders, though in their vocations they are laymen, not clergymen. This could be valuable to underscore that Christ conveys the highest office in His church, not only to the clergy, but even to “laymen”, who work for a living as carpenters and fishermen. It could give clericalism a much needed slap in its arrogant face. Yet, this choice of terms could backfire on us. It could promote the invalid distinction between clergy and laity practiced by Rome. It could obscure the fact that these elders, just as truly as the preachers, are ordained bishops or pastors, equally possessing all the rights and prerogatives of ordination. Again, we could call them “ruling elders “, and call preachers, “teaching elders.” This could be valuable to underscore that Christ’s church has but one ruling office, that of elder. It could provide added benefit since it identifies the chief distinctive of the pastoral office, “ruling”, with those who hold merely the office, and the prime distinctive of the pastoral vocation, “teaching”, with those who have both the office and the vocation. Yet, this is not without liability. It involves redundancy, since there is no such thing as a non-ruling elder. More importantly, it could obscure the fact that the pastoral office always has a teaching, not merely a ruling function, and that even ruling elders must be able to teach and exhort. Again, we could call them “non­supported elders “, and call preachers, “supported elders.” This too could be valuable to underscore parity of office. This nomenclature could also be beneficial because it identifies the primary way, financial support, in which the church’s duty to her preachers differs from her duty to her other pastors. Yet it is not without liability. Since it points to no reason for financially supporting only some elders, it could obscure the propriety and basis for the very vocational distinction it purports to uphold. Thus, it could open the door for two extremes. It could encourage, on the one hand, a “no-preacher” view of the eldership, with the pastoral vocation eliminated, with all elders preaching part-time and receiving partial support; or on the other hand, an “all-preacher” view of the eldership, with non-vocational elders eliminated, with all elders preaching full-time and receiving full-support.

What then, should we just give up? I say not that we should give up altogether, but rather that we should all together give up regarding our brethren as offenders merely on account of their choice of terms. We all tend to prefer terms designed to counter evils which we regard as the most pressing or dangerous. Sadly, this oft grows out of bad church experiences. We may have seen ambitious elders, lacking greatly in preaching gift and love for the sheep, harass and criticize a godly preacher almost to madness because they coveted the pulpit for themselves. Then we may press for what amounts to a “three office” view. We may insist that we call only preachers, “pastor”, refuse ever to submit to ruling elders, or totally banish ruling elders from the pulpit. On the other hand, we may have seen preachers who love pre-eminence browbeat good but timid elders almost into lackeys and yes-men. Then we may press for what nearly amounts to full-blown Brethrenism. We may insist on equality in every respect among the elders, even to the point of requiring that elders equally share the pulpit and the chairing of meetings. Yet, brethren, carnal ambition always threatens both elder and preacher. Though our choice of terms can neither prevent nor cure it, yet it can assist in fostering biblical thinking. Thus, we prefer to speak of “vocational pastors”, who labor in the Word, and “non-vocational pastors “, who hold the office of pastor, but labor in mundane vocations. Yet, since no single set of terms can ever prove totally adequate, I prefer to use more than one, and explain what I mean by each. Combining terms may be useful at times. For example, we could call all the elders, “pastors”, and those elders who labor in preaching and teaching, “pastor-preachers”, and “pastor-teachers.” I also suggest that to counteract episcopal tendencies, it could help to call all the elders, “bishop “, occasionally, and even to speak of “lay bishops”, with mundane occupations.

2. The conferral and support of the ministerial vocation

How should a man enter this vocation? First, no man dare take it upon himself. God calls men out of their mundane occupations to be preachers. Christ gives such men as gifts to His church (Eph. 4:9-11). God’s people, both leaders and congregation, should recognize Christ’s gift. 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 2:2 teach that elders and preachers should play a prominent role in calling a man to this vocation. Acts 15:40 and Gal. 6:6 teach that the whole church should recognize and support those whom Christ fits to be preachers. Since the pastors, with the whole church, recognize that Christ has called a man to this work, it is incumbent upon the church to provide financially for each man they set apart to labor as a minister of the Word (1 Cor. 9:6-14; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17,18). The 1689 Confession (26:10) clearly affirms the church’s duty to provide a comfortable supply for her pastor-preachers.

3. The essential duties and aims of the ministerial vocation

Peter epitomizes a minister’s labor, “But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). These few words comprehend a preacher’s duties and functions. Prayer is the foundation of all godly preaching and teaching. When a pastor-preacher prays over his flock and sermons, he does his first work. A prayerless minister builds without a foundation. He labors in the flesh, not in dependence on the Spirit and strength which God supplies. The focus and hub of this work is God’s Word. A pastor-teacher’s manifold duties all revolve around it. The ministry of the Word, like a great tree, has many branches, each branch with its own object, focus, and design. This labor focuses on God Himself, on Christ’s church, His flock, on reaching lost men with the gospel, on faithful men, able to teach others, and on the Bible itself.

First, the ministry of the Word focuses on God Himself. In one sense, God Himself is its object (Acts 13:1,2). In this respect, a gospel minister acts as a man of God. He designs to make God’s will, revealed in Scripture, known to all who hear him. He speaks to men, not for himself, but for God. When he thus speaks in God’s name, he speaks to men exhortation, admonition, consolation, and confirmation (Acts 15:32; 1 Cor. 14:3). This often occurs in corporate worship, when God meets with His people, and speaks to them through the teaching and preaching of His Word. In this way a preacher especially represents the Lord. I must qualify this. I do not mean that prophets are present in the church today. Nor do I mean that gospel ministers receive direct revelation from God, or speak infallibly for Him. Nevertheless, preaching bears some resemblance to prophetic ministry, yet only to the extent that men, sent from God, preach and teach the Lord’s mind to those who hear (Rom. 10:14,15). Second, the ministry of the Word focuses on the church, Christ’s flock of sheep. In this sense its object is the temple of God, Christ’s disciples, viewed both individually and corporately (I Cor. 3:16,17; 6:19). In this connection, the minister of the Word acts as a pastor of his flock. He aims to present every man complete in Christ (Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:28; 2 Tim. 4:1,2) and to order the church in all its ways according to the will of Christ and the apostles (1 Tim. 4:6). Third, the ministry of the Word focuses on reaching lost men with the gospel. In this sense its dual object is lost men and God’s gospel. Here, a gospel minister does the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). He designs so to proclaim the gospel as to make it without charge, to saint and sinner alike. He also designs the eternal good of all lost men who hear him. Again, I qualify this. I do not mean to say that evangelists are present in the church today, as they were in the apostolic generation. I mean only that in this respect gospel preaching bears resemblance to their work. Fourth, the ministry of the Word focuses on faithful men, able to teach others. In this sense its object is men suited for and engaged in the Christian ministry (2 Tim. 2:2). Here a gospel minister acts as a teacher. He designs both to train faithful men for the ministerial vocation and to aid his fellow ministers. Fifth, and finally the ministry of the Word focuses on the Bible itself. Here its object is the Scriptures, the Word of God written. In this respect a gospel minister acts as a scribe (Rom. 16:22).  He designs both to preserve the inspired text and to translate it into the native language of his hearers (Neh. 8:1,4,8). He also designs to read the Scriptures publicly, in the language of his hearers, so that they can both hear and understand them (Neh. 8:8; I Tim. 4:13; Rev. 1:3). Evidently, no gospel minister can do all this single-handedly. In the church, God has so designed ministerial work that pastor-preachers must cooperate, each doing part of the work, all laboring together as a team for the glory of God and the good of their fellow men (1 Cor. 3:4-7, 12:28). Thus, each minister of the Word must strive with humility and integrity to discern and do his small part of this great work, and to rejoice in that labor which God has entrusted to his brethren (Rom. 12:3).

Diversity of Proficiency and Honor in the Eldership

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching (I Tim. 5:17).

Paul calls us to show special respect for good leaders, who rule God’s people proficiently. Here observe, first, the objects of special honor, “the elders who rule well … especially those who labor in the word and teaching”, second, the mandate for special respect, “Let … be counted worthy”, and third, the display of special appreciation, “double honor.” We now take up each of these briefly.

1. Consider the objects of special respect and appreciation.

Not all elders are to be objects of special respect, but those “who rule well.” Paul uses the Greek verb, προιστημι (proistemi), which means “to rule over”, or “to care for.” This same verb occurs in Rom. 12:8, “he that rules, with diligence”, and in 1 Thess. 5:12, “who are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” In Titus 3:8, 14, where the ASV translates it “to maintain”, it means “to be concerned about.” In 1 Tim.3:4, 12, it means to direct or manage a household. In 1 Tim. 3:4, 5 Paul uses another verb, επιμελεομαι (epimelomai), translated “take care of”, in parallel with προιστημι as a synonym. In Luke 10:34, 35 επιμελεομαι describes the Samaritan’s care for the wounded man. The Samaritan himself uses this verb when he charges the innkeeper to “take care of” him. The parallel sheds light on this use of προιστημι. The rule of elders, like parental oversight, combines management and care. Provision for needs joins enforcement of rules. Parents should make decisions and policies with the best interest of the family in mind. So too, elders should manage considerately, with the people’s good in mind.

Paul adds the adverb καλος (kalos), translated, “well.” What is the opposite of ruling well? Not ruling poorly or inadequately, for such men would not be qualified to hold the office at all. Paul speaks in comparative terms. Though all men qualified to be elders rule with a modicum of competence, some elders rule with marked proficiency. Paul refers to these. This comparative excellence in ruling stems from a number of factors, such as measure of gift, of grace, and of experience. Scripture also delineates the primary marks of proficient rule. First, ruling well involves ruling firmly. A parent ruling his household well has his “children in subjection with all gravity” (1 Tim. 3:4). When parents rule well, they run a “tight ship.” Children show respect and take directives seriously. Parents expect and enforce submission. Similarly, when elders rule well, church members show them a respect which they have earned and maintain. Proficient rulers are neither irresolute nor spineless. Second, ruling well means ruling diligently. Rom. 12:8 teaches that men should rule “with diligence.” According to 1 Tim. 4:15, one mark of diligence is evident improvement. Another mark is the prosperity it often brings (Prov. 21:5). Again, diligence, as a general rule, brings honor, not shame (2 Tim. 2:15). Again, a man diligent in his business usually obtains credibility (Prov. 22:29). Further, swift and earnest responses, not procrastination and insincerity, mark diligence. The word, σπουδη (spoude), translated “diligence” in Rom. 12:8, means to act swiftly out of genuine concern. In Rom.12:11 it is contrasted with being slothful or lazy. In Mark 6:25 and Luke 1:39 it is translated “haste.” In 2 Cor. 7:11,12 Paul cites the Corinthians’ zealous response as evidence of their diligence. Thus, diligent elders respond swiftly and sincerely. They usually obtain a good reputation among the churches. A flourishing church, blessed of God, indicates that its elders rule diligently. Third, ruling well involves ruling compassionately. It means truly caring about those you manage (1 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:8,14). This involves giving them individual attention, feeling compassion for them, and showing genuine concern for their souls (1 Thess. 5:12). Ruling well takes place, not from an ivory tower, but in close interaction and personal care. Elders who remain aloof from Christ’s sheep, or who have no heart for them, can never rule well. To sum up: How can you spot elders who rule well? Though all qualified elders rule with some degree of firmness, diligence, and compassion, proficient elders display these qualities in great measure. Thus, they run a tight ship. They respond promptly and sincerely. The church is improving and prospering. There is no cause for embarrassment. They truly care about their people.  Paul also adds the phrase, “especially those who labor in the word and in teaching.” He begins with the Greek word, μαλιστα (malista), translated “especially.” This word limits ideas. Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich offer as plausible translations, “most of all”, “above all”, “especially”, and “particularly.” The word conveys emphasis or primacy (Acts 20:38; 2 Pet. 2:10). Most render it, “primarily”, “especially”, or “chiefly.” Thus, Paul here identifies his special focus of concern. He has preachers who rule well primarily in mind.

2. Consider the mandate for special respect and appreciation.

Paul does not suggest special honor but requires it, “let … be counted worthy.” The word, αχιοω (axioo), translated “counted worthy of”, is rarely used in the New Testament (Luke 7:7; Acts 15:38; 28:22; 2 Thess. 1:11; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 3:3; 10:29). It means “to deserve”, “to be entitled to”, whether reward (1 Tim. 5:18), or punishment (Heb. 10:29). Thus, Paul means that we are obliged to think that proficient elders, chiefly preachers, are entitled to double honor. Failure to bestow that double honor would rob them of their due. It therefore behooves us to study carefully what this involves.

3. Consider the display of special respect and appreciation.

What does “double honor” mean? The Greek word τιμη (time), “honor”, has two related uses. First, it describes the respect, credit, or praise which virtue deserves and elicits (Rev. 4:11). Second, it describes the price or value of something (Matt. 27:6,9; Acts 4:34; 5:2,3; 7:16). Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich also observe these two uses of the word. They offer the translations, “honor”, or “reverence”, for the first use; and “price”, or “value”, for the second.  1 Pet. 2:7 displays the connection between these uses. The NKJV renders it, “to you who believe, he is precious.” It could literally be translated, “to you who believe, the honor.” It means that Christ is very valuable to believers. Price is oft the measure of the value people place on something. When men honor someone, they regard him as valuable, precious, of great price. Thus, Paul enters the orbit of valuation. Elders who rule well, chiefly preachers, should be considered “doubly valuable.” The Greek word διπλη (diple), “double”, means “twofold” or “twice.” Metaphorically, it expresses emphasis (Matt. 23:15; Rev. 8:6). Thus, commentators interpret “double honor” various ways. Calvin says, “I have no objection to Chrysostom’s interpretation of `double honor’ as meaning support and reverence, and anyone who wishes may follow him. But it seems more likely that there is a comparison here between presbyters and widows.” Hendriksen lists five views: (1) both salary and respect, (2) twice their current salary, (3) twice the salary of widows, (4) respect as brothers and as rulers, and (5) respect both as elders and as elders who rule well. What shall we say? Though Calvin’s view captures an element of truth, the fifth view, in my judgment, epitomizes Paul’s main point. Remembering his chief concern should keep us on the right trail. All elders are very valuable to the church, and she should highly esteem them (1 Thess. 5:12), but elders doing a good job are doubly valuable, that is, emphatically more valuable, and she should increase dramatically her esteem for them. This primarily applies to her vocational pastors, her preachers.

How then should the church express her heightened esteem for preachers who rule proficiently? In 1 Tim. 5:18 Paul enforces this command, “For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his hire.” Two considerations strongly indicate that the special honor due to proficient preachers includes financial remuneration. These are the support Paul cites and the terms he employs. The terms “labor” and “hire” belong in the orbit of salary paid for work. In 1 Cor. 9:8-12 Paul appeals to these same texts to support his teaching that those who work as gospel preachers have a right to earn a living from that work. In 1 Cor. 9:14 he merely alludes to Christ’s polity of financial compensation, here he cites it explicitly (Luke 10:7). Thus, if Paul intends only increased respect, the scriptural support he cites is misleading at best. Nevertheless, commentators differ about this. Calvin argues for including financial remuneration, “to return to Paul, he orders that a livelihood be provided especially for the pastors who are engaged in teaching.” Hendriksen agrees, “this double honor must not be so interpreted as if any idea of remuneration is completely excluded from it … Paul is emphasizing that the respect of which excellently ruling elders are worthy implies that those among them who devote themselves entirely to gospel-work have a right to wages, and that these wages should not be withheld.” Lenski, however, disagrees, “It is generally assumed that the elders were paid for their services in the apostolic churches. We are convinced that this assumption is not tenable. The probability is that none of them were paid.” He then tries to explain how Paul, though he didn’t have salary in mind, could cite such texts, “the analogy lies in the worthiness and not in the identity of what the three are worthy of: the elders worthy of what naturally should go with their office-honor; the ox worthy of what naturally goes with the task for which he is employed-wisps of grain; the workman worthy of what naturally goes with his work-pay for his work.” Lenski, ironically, clearly points to why financial remuneration can not be excluded. Paul primarily has workers in mind, vocational pastors. A worker is worthy of what goes naturally with his work-pay for his work. The fact that even the ox is worthy of grain teaches that preachers have a right to receive salary for their labor (1 Cor. 9:6-14). Therefore, the special appreciation due to proficient preachers includes financial remuneration. All vocational pastors deserve both the respect arising from their office and the salary due for their work. The ones who rule well, being doubly valuable, should receive far more respect and salary. This displays that the church values them, not only as pastors and workers, but as good pastors and good preachers. How does this apply practically? Although Paul does not spell out the exact situation he writes to correct, the context, as Calvin says, provides a strong clue. When he sets church policy for widows in 1 Tim. 5:3-16, he corrects misplaced priorities in the use of church funds. The church should care for “widows indeed”, but not “be burdened” if Christian family members can relieve them (1 Tim. 5:3,4,16). Similarly, and more so, it should provide with right priorities for good preachers. It should not force such to work two jobs, while it sends funds elsewhere. Rather, it should honor them, not with a widow’s subsistence, but with a far better living. This also implies that compensation for preachers should be related to the quality of their work. Though proven preachers should receive more salary, Paul implies, not ten-fold increase, but a modest raise. This deters greed and idolizing very gifted men.

What then of other elders who rule well, proficient lay bishops? Paul’s directive also applies to them. As Lenski says, they deserve what goes naturally with their office, respect and appreciation. When they discharge their office well, they deserve emphatically more respect and appreciation. Further, if their proficiency stems from a larger measure of gift to preach, they should, in due time, be fully supported to preach as a vocational pastor. If they display a superior ability to manage, they might in a larger church even be fully supported to labor in oversight. Further, at times special tokens of esteem for proficient rule may be proper. For example, a non-vocational elder who for many years faithfully visits his flock may be given a new car as a token of special appreciation. Churches have many other options, as limitless as love can invent, and as manifold as need may require.

Diversity of Giftedness in the Eldership

Christ gives his church a vast number of men endowed with a wide assortment of ministerial gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28-31; Eph. 4:9-11; 1 Tim. 4:13,14). He bestows this rich deposit to further his glory and kingdom (1 Pet. 4:10,11). We consider three things about these gifts: (1) What they are; (2) How they are discerned and recognized; and (3) How and when they should be exercised and employed.

1. The Identity of pastoral gifts

In general terms, each pastor and preacher is himself a gift to the church. In Eph. 4:11, Paul names apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers, as gifts of Christ. Only the pastors and teachers abide in every generation. Some good men, such as John Owen, allege that the terms “pastor” and “teacher” describe separate offices. Owen also regards both of these as distinct from the office of ruling elder. Thus, he sees four offices: pastor, teacher, ruling elder, and deacon. In his Works, Vol. 16, pp. 42-130, he develops this “four office” view. On pp. 42-74, he seeks to establish from Scripture the general concept of the eldership. On pp. 74-96, he expounds the call and functions of “pastors”; on pp. 97-106, of “teachers”; on pp. 107-130, of “ruling elders.” He sums it up this way, “So the pastor in the church was to rule, and teach, and administer the sacred mysteries; the teacher to teach or instruct only, but not to rule or dispense the sacraments; and the ruling elder to rule only, and neither to teach nor administer sacraments.” As Pastor Chanski shows, we agree with much of what Owen says. However, we do not share his view of Eph. 4:11, on which primarily he bases the idea that pastor and teacher are distinct offices. Hodge, commenting on Eph. 4:11, makes these most insightful remarks:

According to one interpretation we have here two distinct offices-that of pastor and that of teacher. ‘The latter,’ says Calvin, ‘had nothing to do with discipline, nor with the administration of the sacraments, nor with the admonitions or exhortations, but simply with the interpretation of Scripture’ (Institutes IV, 3,4). All this is inferred from the meaning of the word teacher. There is no evidence from Scripture that there was a set of men authorized to teach but not authorized to exhort. The thing is well nigh impossible. The one function includes the other. The man who teaches duty and the grounds of it, does at the same time admonish and exhort. It was however on the ground of this unnatural interpretation that the Westminster Directory made teachers a distinct and permanent class of jure divino officers in the church. The Puritans in New England endeavored to reduce the theory to practice, and appointed doctors as distinct from preachers. But the attempt proved to be a failure. The two functions could not be kept separate. The whole theory rested on a false interpretation of Scripture. The absence of the article before διδασκαλου proves that the apostle intended to designate the same persons as at once pastors and teachers.

Thus, Paul views the body of elders, with its parity and diversity, as Christ’s gift to His church, “some pastors and teachers.” Christ gives His church each man, and all the men, whom God puts into the office of pastor or bishop, and calls into the vocation of preacher or teacher.

In specific terms, a ministerial gift is a God-given capacity or ability to perform some aspect of the Lord’s work for His glory and men’s good. Scripture delineates various pastoral gifts. Some gifts relate mainly to the ruling office, some primarily to the preaching vocation. In Rom. 12:6-8, the ability to teach (12:7) and to exhort (12:8) relate mainly, though not exclusively, to the preaching vocation. The ability to manage or govern (12:8), relates chiefly, though not only, to the ruling office. In 1 Cor. 12:28-31 Paul first lists three ministerial vocations which God placed in the church, apostles, prophets, and teachers. Apostles and prophets were restricted to the founding of the church (Eph. 2:20). Teachers are permanent, set by God in the church in every generation. I take it that Paul refers mainly to official teachers, elders who labor in the Word, whom he denominates in terms of their vocation. Yet I concede that the phrase may encompass, not only preachers, but, in Hodge’s words, all “uninspired men who had received the gift of teaching.” He next enumerates sundry abilities with which God endows some in the church. Gifts of miracles, healings, and tongues were apostolic. Gifts of helps and governments, or counsels, are permanent. As the gift of helps especially relates to the diaconate, the serving office, so the gift of wise counsels especially, though not exclusively, pertains to the eldership, the ruling office. In 1 Tim. 4:13, 14 Paul exhorts Timothy to give himself to reading, exhortation, and teaching. He then exhorts him diligently to nurture the ministerial endowment God gave him, and urges him wholeheartedly to pursue the closely related commission to which the elders ordained him. Thus, God enables men to read, preach, and teach the Bible in an edifying manner. As good stewards, men should cultivate their ministerial gifts so as to attain maximum usefulness. In 1 Pet. 4:10, 11 Peter also includes ability to speak God’s Word as an endowment received as a stewardship from the Lord. God conveys these gifts with a view, not to men burying them, but using them for His glory.

2. The recognition of pastoral gifts

Just as both the members and the elders must discern a call to labor in the Word, so also must they recognize ministerial gifts. Paul assumes the Corinthians could discern such gifts among themselves (1 Cor. 12:28-31). He reminds Timothy that the elders confirmed his gifts when they commissioned him (1 Tim. 4:14). The discernment of gift in others and in ourselves requires humility and grace (Rom. 12:3). Too commonly, we tend to desire for ourselves the greatest gifts, and to think ourselves endowed more greatly than in reality we are. Pride, jealousy, and envy pose major obstacles to an accurate assessment both of our own gifts and of the gifts of others. At times God’s people may disagree respecting the ministerial gifts deposited in their midst (1 Cor. 3:4-9). In such a case, schism can result and do great harm to the testimony of religion and the good name of the church. As Paul did, we must labor also to avoid such divisions. At times men feel a need to promote themselves and their gift, sometimes to the detriment of others, and sometimes even against the counsel of the churches. Such things ought not to be. If God has given a gift, he will also make room for it to be exercised, and will cause His people to recognize it. If we think ourselves so endowed, we need grace to wait on the Lord, “for not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:13-18).

3. The exercise or use of pastoral gifts

Three major factors regulate the use of gifts: (1) their measure (Rom. 12:6-8), (2) edification (1 Cor. 14:12,26), and (3) stewardship (1 Pet. 4:10). First, the measure of gift and faith must regulate the use of gifts. For this cause, in all probability, Paul, rather than Barnabas, was the chief speaker on their first missionary journey (Acts 14:12). Second, the edification of God’s people must regulate the use of gifts. Decisions about the length of messages, the best man to speak on a given topic, and many similar issues should be made on the grounds of edification (1 Cor. 14:12,17,26). Third, stewardship of God’s endowment must regulate the use of gifts. God gave the gifts to be used. If the door of opportunity closes in one place, God by this means may be directing His servants to employ their gifts elsewhere, rather than neglect them (Acts 16:6-10; 1 Pet. 4:10). Each Christian man endowed with ministerial gift must strive to discern and fulfill that ministry which Christ has given him. He must do so in the fear of God, and in consultation with gospel ministers, the eldership, and the whole church. Similarly, each gospel minister must labor to discern how much of his time and energy he should give to any branch of labor in the Word. This is neither a simple nor static issue. May God grant us all grace and wisdom to labor for His glory in a manner and sphere most conducive to edification and peace.

Some Practical Implications of Diversity in the Eldership

We close with a word of application. We summarize and enlarge some of the primary ways in which a biblical eldership may display diversity. Consider with me seven practical implications of diversity of vocation, honor and gift in the eldership.

1. Diversity implies that some elders may have a larger share of the pulpit or lectern.

Diversity of calling and gift imply this. Elders not called to preach or to teach as a vocation should not share the preaching and teaching equally with those who are. Further, in virtue of differing gift, not even all the ministers of the Word should necessarily share the pulpit or lectern equally. In some settings, one may be the chief speaker (Acts 14:12). Edification, balanced with stewardship of gift, should determine the frequency with which each minister preaches in the pulpit or teaches from the lectern.

2. Diversity implies that some elders may take a larger share of visiting and counseling.

Some elders may have a greater gift for giving wise counsels in the private ministry of the Word, or in visiting the sick. The congregation may gravitate naturally to them for counsel with knotty personal, emotional, and domestic problems. Others may, in virtue of heavier teaching duties, be directed by the eldership to carry a reduced workload in visitation and counseling.

3. Diversity implies that some elders may have a higher profile in church administration.

In the interest of order and efficiency, the elders may appoint one of their body as a chairman, to preside at, or chair, meetings. One elder, due to experience, age, or gift, may be more suited to preside than the others. Or, an eldership may rotate the duty of chairing meetings. Owen speaks judiciously concerning this matter:

I do acknowledge that where a church is greatly increased, so as that there is a necessity of many elders in it for its instruction and rule, decency and order do require that one of them do, in the management of all church-affairs, preside, to guide and direct the way and manner thereof: so the presbyters at Alexandria did choose one from among themselves that should have the pre-eminence of a president among them. Whether the person that is so to preside be directed unto by being the first converted, or first ordained, or on the account of age, or of gifts and abilities, whether he continue for a season only, and then another be deputed unto the same work, or for his life, are things in themselves indifferent, to be determined according to the general rules of reason and order, with respect unto the edification of the church …I shall never oppose this order, but rather desire to see it in practice,-namely, that particular churches were of such an extent to require many elders, both teaching and ruling … and that among these elders one should be chosen by themselves, with the consent of the church, not into a new order, not into a degree of authority above his brethren, but only unto his part of the common work in a peculiar manner, which requires some kind of precedency. Hereby no new officer, no new order of officers, no new degree of authority, is constituted in the church; only the work and duty of it is cast into such an order as the very light of nature doth require.

4. Diversity implies that some elders may have a wider influence or recognition.

This is implied by diversity of valuation and honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Some lay bishops with vast experience, and ministers with larger gifts, will attain greater influence than other elders. This is true, not only in their own local churches, but also among the churches at large. Some will gain renown through ruling well for many years, while others will labor in relative obscurity and seclusion.

5. Diversity implies that all pastor preachers need not have the same “job description.”

By “job description” I refer to the specific proportion of time and energy given to various facets of ministerial labor.  Some may labor almost exclusively in pastoral preaching and teaching. Others may devote all their labor to evangelism. Others may devote their energy to training men for the Christian ministry. Others may labor half in teaching ministerial students and half in pastoral preaching. The time spent in each sphere of ministerial labor may change over the years. It may vary with personal and domestic factors. We should decide these things by counsel and prayer, with a view to edification, maximum usefulness, stewardship of gift, and above all, the honor and glory of God.

6. Diversity implies that some are gifted to teach and preach who have not the office of elder.

The propriety of lay preaching is implicit in diversity of gift. Some may have a gift to preach and yet, may, for some other reason, not be called to rule as an elder. These too may in an orderly manner exercise their gift among God’s people. Our Confession (26:11) also affirms this liberty, “Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the Word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the Word is not so peculiarly confined to them, but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.” The Confession speaks of a church calling and approving men, who are not themselves elders, to the work of preaching the Word. Thus, our Baptist fathers take a moderate view. They avoid saying that only an ordained minister can ever do the work of preaching. They also avoid saying that a call to work in preaching is a personal matter in which the church has no voice. They even avoid conferring on lay preachers the elevated status of office in the church. They do not regard them as a separate class of church officers, who by divine right hold the office of “teacher”, or “doctor.” We too should not go to extremes. We should not build our polity of Christian leadership on our view of “teacher” in Eph. 4:11. What if Paul had said “pastor-preacher”, not “pastor-teacher”? Would that stand our polity on its ear? If so, we have built on the sand. Therefore, we must not think that training men for the ministry, or grounding the church in the faith, must be entrusted only to the “doctor.” These weighty tasks belong to the work of pastor-teachers as surely as preaching a sermon on Sunday. Yet, we must not overreact and insist that none but pastor-preachers can have any part whatsoever in the work of preaching. Churches may at times approve and commission men to ancillary labor in the Word as they see fit. That is their liberty. All things are yours, and you are Christ’s.

7. Diversity implies that all pastor preachers need not necessarily receive the same salary.

1 Tim. 5:17 also implies this. A new minister, fresh from seminary, should not expect to receive the same salary as a proficient veteran of Christ’s service with 20 years of sterling labor in the Word. This expectation would violate both nature’s law and Paul’s inspired polity for pastoral compensation.

Conclusion: Here, some may say, is trouble in the making. All this diversity will provoke jealousy, ambition, greed, and division. It should come as no surprise that gospel ministers and other Christian workers struggle with these sins. Even the apostles were jealous for awhile of each other’s influence, for they argued over who was the greatest (Mark 9:34). The envy of religious leaders drove them to hate and crucify another religious leader with greater gifts and following. For centuries greed and ambition have prompted religious leaders to seek prize churches for themselves, with the largest congregation and the best financial package. For this cause the early church usually forbade ministers to transfer from one charge to another. Yes envy, jealousy, ambition, and greed are ever with us. Still, the Lord deposits a diversity of gifts in His church.  Still we must honor this diversity.  We must therefore mortify our envy until we truly rejoice in the influence of our more noted brethren. We must mortify our pride until we seek the help of our more gifted brethren. We must mortify our carnal ambition until we are content with whatever place Christ gives us in His vineyard. We must mortify our greed until we can thank God that our brother’s larger flock treats him with such exceeding generosity, while we struggle to make ends meet year after year in a less affluent and smaller charge. Laboring together with a diversity of gifts requires humility and grace. Without these virtues we will not profit from the ministry of the brother chosen over us to be chief speaker, or chosen instead of us to speak at the ministerium or conference. Rather, we will pick his message and manner to shreds. Without these virtues we will not help the brother appointed to be chairman rather than us, but will criticize his every move. Though much grace is required, yet through Christ we can do all things. May God grant us that grace to honor all his good gifts to His people. We come now full circle to where we began. Parity and diversity should mark our eldership. Only by God’s grace can we thus honor Him. Concern for God’s glory in His house must burn in our hearts. He can do exceeding abundantly over and above all we could ask or think. May it be so, and to God be all praise, credit, and glory (Eph. 3:20,21).

Chapter 1

In Defense of Parity, Chapter 1

In recent days certain implications have been made by some in the Reformed Baptist world that seem to link the doctrine and practice of parity in the eldership with authoritarianism.  In my opinion, the best defense against such an idea is to simply examine the doctrine of parity according to the word of God.  I am extremely pleased to announce that I have been given permission to post the book: In Defense of Parity: A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament.

parity 1

I will post one chapter at a time over the next couple weeks, and will include a pdf and an mp3 made through TextAloud with my favorite voice, Daniel.  I hope many will be edified by this Biblical explanation and defense of this doctrine and practice.

In Defense of Parity Ch 1.pdf

Download mp3

Access entire book here

In Defense of Parity:

A presentation of the parity or equality of elders in the New Testament

Parity and Diversity in the Eldership

Part One-Parity

Pastor Greg Nichols

Introduction to Chapters 1 and 2:

The Lord loves his church supremely. She is His bride, the apple of His eye. He shed His blood for her. He endured divine wrath to spare and save her (Eph.5:25). All His sovereign purposes revolve around her welfare (Eph.1:22,23). He has sworn an irrevocable oath of loyalty and protection to her. No weapon formed against her shall prosper (Isa.54:10,17). She shall be preserved in holiness and truth forever (Matt. 16:18). Accordingly, the Lord has given His church a vital role in His saving work (Eph.3:10,11). She is designed to bring Him honor and glory (Eph.3:21) and to display His excellencies in the world (1 Pet.2:9,10). Her task is to proclaim His Word. (She is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim.3:15). Therefore, church polity should not be regarded as a peripheral detail. Zeal should burn in our hearts that God would be glorified in His church, and that men would “know how to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim.3:15). The degree to which any church successfully fulfills this noble aim depends largely upon her leadership. Her leaders will either guide her to greater faithfulness, purity and devotion to her Lord, or mire her in compromise, mediocrity, confusion and error. All this mandates conscientious study of the Scriptures in order to discern and implement the Lord’s mind respecting church leadership.  The Lord Jesus Christ, as the wise and loving head of the church, has graciously prescribed that pattern of church government most conducive to the attainment of God’s glory through His church. The hub of this pattern is Christ’s will for spiritual leadership, revealed and implemented through the government of the churches by the apostles. In the exercise of this authority from Christ the apostles uniformly and universally enjoined and supervised the establishment of elderships in the local churches under their care (Acts 14:23; 15:2; 16:4; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5; 1 Pet.5:1). Each of these elderships constituted the ruling body of church officers in their respective churches (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28f). Each of these elderships was composed of each man, and all the men, ordained to the office of elder in their respective churches (Titus 1:5,6). Nevertheless, these elderships were not marked by total uniformity, but displayed a rich diversity of vocation and honor (1 Tim.5:17) as well as of gift (Rom.12:6-8). Thus, the Lord wills that elderships be established, and that their form and structure display both PARITY and DIVERSITY Chapter 1 unfolds this parity; Chapter 2 this diversity. In this chapter we first establish the Biblical Concept of parity in the eldership. Second, we expound the Manifold Substance of parity in the eldership. Third, we apply some Practical Implications of parity in the eldership.

The Biblical Concept of Parity in the Eldership

In its general nature parity in the eldership is a parity of office. Paul uses the word επισκοπη (episcope), translated “office of bishop”, or “office of overseer”, to designate the official exercise of spiritual leadership in the church, “If any man desires the office of a bishop he desires a good work” (1 Tim.3:1). Accordingly, one who holds this office is called a “bishop” or “overseer”, επισκοπος (episcopos), “The bishop must be blameless as God’s steward” (Titus 1:7). Our word “overseer” closely reflects this Greek word επισκοπος (episcopos), which means one who “looks over”, or “scrutinizes.” Incidentally, the word “Episcopal” is a transliteration (letter for letter equivalent) of that Greek word. Scripture closely binds this word for bishop or overseer to the word ποιμην (poimen), translated shepherd or pastor. This intimacy is clearly seen in 1 Pet.2:25, where our Lord Jesus is portrayed as “the Shepherd [ποιμηνα] and Bishop [επισκοπον] of your souls.” It is confirmed in Peter’s exhortation to spiritual leaders in 1 Pet.5:2, where he exhorts them to “tend [shepherd, ποιμανατε]  the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight [επισκοπουντε].” This connection is also confirmed in Acts 20:28, where Paul exhorts the leaders of the church at Ephesus to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops [επισκοπους], to feed [shepherd, ποιμην] the church of the Lord.” The concepts of overseer and shepherd are thus bound by the fact that these terms together picture those whose task is caring for a flock of sheep. We, the Lord’s people, His church, are His sheep (Acts 20:28). He Himself is our chief Pastor and Bishop (1 Pet.2:25). The stewardship of spiritual leadership in His church is that of caring for his sheep (Acts 20:28-31).  It is therefore a stewardship of oversight and shepherding. Accordingly, those vested with this stewardship are called in Scripture shepherds (pastors) and overseers (bishops).

Now the point and relevance of these considerations is this.  The elders of the church are, in these very passages, all depicted as pastors and bishops, and are all called upon to discharge this very stewardship of shepherding and oversight. In Acts 20:17, we learn that Paul called to him “the elders of the church.” In verse 28 he addressed his charge to tend or “pastor” the flock to all of them. To these same elders, to all of them, Paul said, “the Holy Spirit has made you bishops.” Similarly while instructing Titus regarding the ordination of elders in Crete, Paul identified the elders as bishops. He says to Titus, “for this cause I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that were wanting and appoint elders in every city, as I gave you charge: if any man is blameless …. For the bishop must be blameless as God’s steward” (Titus 1:5-7). In like manner, Peter addressed his charge in 1 Pet.5:1-4 to the elders, “The elders therefore among you I exhort.” In v.2 he exhorts the elders to shepherd (pastor) the flock. If these things are so, someone might ask, then if a church has a plurality of elders, it has a plurality of bishops too, for all the elders are bishops? Precisely. This was true of the church at Ephesus, for Acts 20:28 reads, “in which the Holy Spirit made you bishops.”  It was also true of the church at Philippi, for Paul addressed his letter to “all the saints that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). Again, if a church has a plurality of elders it has a plurality of pastors, for all the elders are pastors (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet.5:1,2). To some this may sound strange, even radical, but it is nothing other than the inspired ecclesiology of the apostles. Others may think it impractical. But if an ecclesiology designed by men seems workable, why wouldn’t the Lord’s own ecclesiology, implemented by His apostles, work as well, if not better? Others may think this novel. Yet it is nothing new. Indeed, Scripture is far too clear for these basic tenets to have escaped the notice of good and scholarly men. Thus, Charles Hodge observes, “By common consent bishop and presbyter are convertible terms. If a man is a presbyter, he is a bishop, and, if he is a bishop, he is a presbyter. Even prelatists admit this to be true as far as the language of the Bible is concerned.”

One might think that this would settle the matter, but I am compelled to address one thing more, for some contend that all the elders are not presbyters. But such a one might as well say that all the elders are not elders. For “presbyter” is a transliteration of the Greek word, presbuteros (πρεσβυτερος), which, in all the passages we have just considered, is translated “elder.” By what warrant can a word’s transliteration be animated with a meaning different from its translation? If exegesis may be conducted after this fashion, surely men could make the Bible say literally anything they want it to say. It is beyond my present scope to comment upon every occurrence of presbyteros in the New Testament. Its usage may be summarized comprehensively as follows: (1) It is used sometimes to depict an elderly man, or in the feminine gender, an elderly woman (1 Tim.5:1,2). In that text it depicts those old enough to be Timothy’s father or mother. In this usage, the word obliges respect on the basis of the experience and wisdom of age. Similarly, it can depict men who lived long ago, especially the founders or luminaries of some institution, society, or school of thought (Matt. 15:2; Heb.11:2). Evidently, no notion of office in the local church exists in this usage of the word. (2) It is used frequently to depict the rulers of the entire Jewish nation (Luke 22:52,66), and, in one instance, it probably refers to the rulers of a local synagogue (Luke 7:3). (3) It is also used to describe the spiritual leadership of the Christian church. In the following passages it depicts elders in a local church: Acts 14:23; 20:17; 1 Tim.5: 1:7,19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet.5:1,5. They are often explicitly said to be its bishops or pastors somewhere in the immediate context (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Pet.5:1). None of these passages provides a basis to assert that the term is ever used in the New Testament to depict elders of local churches who are not also vested with the stewardship of shepherding and overseeing those churches. The Bible does not acknowledge or reveal an inferior order of elders in local churches who are not the pastors and bishops of these churches. (4) Let us in all candor admit, however, that the New Testament does acknowledge another “order” of elders in the Christian church militant (Acts 11:30; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 21:18; 1 Pet.5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1). This order is not “lower”, however, than the former but “higher.” It is the apostolic order, the eldership of the apostles. These are the elders not merely of a specific local church, but of all the local churches collectively, the universal church militant. To this order, the apostle Peter himself belonged (1 Pet.5:1), as did the apostle John, for thus he too depicts himself (2 John 1). By implication so did all the apostles and the Jerusalem elders who served with them (Acts 15:2,4,6,22), for they issued policy binding on all the local churches and their leaders (Acts 16:4). To this order also Paul belonged, for he cared for all the churches (2 Cor.11:28) and ordained policy binding on all the Gentile churches and their leaders (1 Cor.7:17, 14:34,37; 16:1; Titus 1:5). Let none living today claim that he too is an Apostle, or that he belongs to their eldership, or that he has jurisdiction over all true churches collectively (1 Cor.9:1; 15:7,8; 2 Cor.12:12). For as the apostles once governed all the church militant by their life and words, so they alone are yet authorized and suited to govern it by their inspired writings preserved in Scripture. (5) It might be argued with some cogency that there is yet a third order of elders among the people of God. But this order is higher still, for it does not pertain to the church militant at all, but to the church triumphant in heaven, for to this order belong only the twenty-four who surround the throne (Rev.4:4,10, etc.).

In summary, the Lord has graciously granted his church militant two “orders” of elders.  The first order being the one apostolic eldership, having jurisdiction over all local churches, authorized to shepherd and oversee all the collective flock throughout this age; the second order consisting of many distinct elderships, each having jurisdiction in their own local church, authorized to shepherd and oversee their own local flock. Besides these two orders of elders in the church militant, the Scripture acknowledges none. If there is to be yet another order, men must invent it. Dabney affirms this view of parity, when he asserts that “ruling elders” have power coordinate with, not subordinate to, preachers:

One party … holds that wherever the Scriptures speak of official presbuteroi or episkopoi they mean preachers alone; that they alone are the essential bond of the church’s government; that ruling elders are in no proper, official sense presbuteroi or episkopoi and in no part of their office coordinate with preachers; that they are not entitled to any ordination by laying on of hands; that they are simply laymen admitted into presbyterial courts as representatives of the people, yet in no sense essential constituent parts of those courts … Our view, is that of Dr. Samuel Miller, that ruling elders are scriptural presbuteroi and episkopoi; that they should have a presbyterial ordination by laying on of hands-in the parochial presbytery, the church session-and that in all powers of inspection and rule they are co-ordinate with preaching elders, and have the same divine warrant for their authority.

Reformed Baptists stand confessionally committed to this perspective on parity. The 1689 London Confession, in 26:8,9, uses “bishop” and “elder” as interchangeable terms for the same office:

…the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he entrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.

The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church…

The Baptist fathers created these statements by modifying the Savoy Platform of Polity. They replaced their four offices (pastor, teacher, elder, deacon) with our two (bishop or elder, deacon). They then incorporated this polity into our Confession amid “the things most surely believed among us.”

The Manifold Substance of Parity in the Eldership

Having established that parity in the eldership is a parity of office, we now unfold what this entails. We consider the equality in authorization and representation which make up parity of office.

Equality in Authorization

The office of bishop or elder is a spiritual stewardship conveyed by the Lord, “The bishop must be blameless as God’s steward” (Titus 1:7). Stewardship always embodies authorization from a master (Gal.4:2), for which the steward is accountable to that master (Luke 16:2; 1 Cor.4:1,2). The elders are therefore equally authorized by and accountable to Christ. The generic substance of their authorization is revealed using a rich variety of analogies. Elders are portrayed not only as stewards or servants of God, but are also likened to parents caring for a household (1 Tim.3:5; 1 Thess.2:7,11), to governors administrating a province under their jurisdiction (Heb.13:17), and, as we have noted already, to shepherds and overseers caring for a flock of sheep (Acts 20:28-35; 1 Pet.5:1-4).

More concretely, the eldership is authorized, as a body, to govern the entire life of their particular church according to the Word of God. Since their oversight is comprehensive, they are responsible to promote the glory of God and to honor and implement His Word in everything germane to the church: its formative polity, membership, leadership, commission, order, assemblies, and associations. Evidently, elders cannot be newcomers to the faith, or largely ignorant of the people and ways of God, and expect to discharge such a stewardship acceptably in God’s sight (1 Tim.3:6). Regarding the formative polity of the church, the elders are responsible to insure that the doctrinal standards (confession of faith) and polity statements (constitution) of their church are biblical, respected, enforced and, where needful to defend truth and godliness, amended. They must guard against wolves arising with heretical doctrines, beguiling experiences, and false claims to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:29-31). They must preserve doctrinal purity and unity in the church, and oppose all the errors which threaten the church (Titus 1:9-11). Regarding membership in the church, they must “take heed to all the flock,” so as to honor the biblical standard for membership, and to apply it graciously, conscientiously, impartially, objectively, and courageously (Acts 9:26; 2 Cor.6:14-18). Regarding church leadership, they must, “take heed to themselves.” They must enforce the biblical standard for leadership (1 Tim.3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9), and give careful oversight to the existing leadership, respecting both the life and teaching of the elders (1 Tim.5:17-25) and the life and labors of the deacons (1 Tim.3:8-13). Regarding the commission, tasks, and mandate of the church, the elders are responsible to know, “how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God” (1 Tim.3:15); and, knowing what is expected, must take pains that the Lord’s will is done. They must know the identity of the church’s tasks, be convinced of her basic competence to perform them, keep her from being diverted from them, and guide her to pursue them with God-honoring methods and means. Specifically, they are responsible to establish and maintain a biblical climate and content of worship, to formulate and promote a biblical policy of zealous evangelism, to institute a generous, equal and principled benevolence to poor and needy brethren, to nurture each of the disciples under their care in the Word and ways of the Lord, to implement a biblical discipline of the disorderly, regularly to administer and observe the sacraments, and to lead the congregation in corporate prayer focused upon the glory of God, the concerns of his kingdom, and the success of all the labors of the church. Regarding order in the church, the elders are responsible to know and follow the apostolic traditions, revealed in Scripture, designed to promote ecclesiastical order in all the churches on earth until Christ returns. Specifically, they must boldly and graciously implement the apostolic traditions respecting women (1 Cor.14:33-36; 1 Tim.2:11-15; 3:15), corporate giving (1 Cor.16:1,2), Christian liberty (Acts 16:4), spiritual gifts (1 Cor.14:1-33, 37-40), and marital ethics (1 Cor.7:8-17). Regarding church assemblies, they are responsible to insure that the church convenes and conducts all its assemblies in an orderly and edifying manner, and in the fear of God (1 Cor.11:17-34). Regarding church associations and relations, they are responsible to foster, establish, and maintain communion, cooperation and peace between their church and other true churches of Christ (2 Cor.8:19,24) as far as conscience and providence permit. And, they are responsible not to yoke their church unequally with unbelieving and apostate congregations from which the Spirit of God has departed, and which Jesus has repudiated and cut off from his church militant (2 Cor.6:14-18; Rev.2:5,9, 3:9). Surely we must ask with the apostle, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Yet thankfully we may in faith reply, “Our sufficiency is from God.”

Equality in Representation

Since they officially exercise authority given by Christ, through the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), the eldership represents Christ, even as governors represent the king who sent them (Heb.13:17; 1 Pet.2:13,14). And, because they are recognized by the suffrage of the church, and are set forth as examples to the church (Heb.13:17; 1 Pet.5:3), the eldership also represents their church, both before the other churches and before the world. In this respect the elders are all equally representatives of Christ and of their church. In their exercise of Christ’s authority they speak for Him, in so far as they follow and implement His Word. To reject them and their biblical leadership is thus to reject Christ and His leadership. To receive them and their biblical leadership is thus to receive Christ and His leadership (John 13:20; Luke 10:16). This must be qualified to prevent both abuse and misunderstanding. Elders, even good and godly ones, are not always in agreement (Acts 15:38,39), and elderships are neither infallible in their judgments nor impeccable in their actions. Their sins, faults and errors of judgment should be faced with impartiality (1 Tim.5:19,20), integrity (Gal.2:11), and courage (3 John 9-12). But as far as their judgments are in accordance with biblical principle and truth, they are just that far, and no further, the living embodiment of the loving rule of Jesus Christ over His church.

Consider then the heavier judgment which awaits ungodly elders who misrepresent Christ’s loving rule over His people. Even as a tyrannical governor misrepresents a good and gracious king, so do such misrepresent the King of kings. What an awful reckoning must await such unfaithful shepherds! Consider then how all this creates incentive, through fear, to avoid the abuse of church authority. Consider also how it creates incentive, through hope of reward, to rule faithfully and diligently as unto the Lord, in spite of opposition, knowing that from the Lord, and not from men, will come the commendation in the last day (1 Cor.4:2,5) and the crown of glory that fades not away (1 Pet.5:3,4). Consider then how this pressures all the elders to be men of prayer, who seek God’s guidance and grace to rule well, with heavenly wisdom, justice, and compassion (James 1:5; 1 Kings 3:9,10). Consider also, how this should drive all the elders to read, study and meditate on the Word of God, the treasure-house of faith and wisdom, in order to discern the mind of Christ for His church (Col. 3:16). No elder should be doctrinally or scripturally “illiterate”, but to the contrary, should be steeped in the Word of God, and well versed in the essential doctrines of the Christian faith which he is pledged to defend (Titus 1:9). Consider finally, how this compels all the elders to live godly lives, knowing that the eyes of saints and sinners alike are upon them as models, and that Christ and their church will be judged in large measure by how they live.

Some Practical Implications of Parity in the Eldership

We have looked already at the concept and substance of parity in the eldership. We now consider the question, “so what?” What practical difference does it make? The seven propositions which follow are not exhaustive, but rather, suggest the primary outworking of parity in church life.

1. Parity implies that all the elders should participate in visiting and counseling the flock.

The eldership, as a body, should take heed to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit made them bishops, “to shepherd the church of the Lord” (Acts 20:28f). All the elders should watch for the souls of those under their care. Thus, the eldership as a body should systematically nurture all their sheep. Typically, pastoral nurture and care is facilitated by pastoral visitation of some kind. Since all the elders are pastors and bishops, all should visit and care for their sheep. The work is not for the minister of the Word alone, as though he were the only shepherd and bishop of the flock. Accordingly, it is beneficial to implement an annual or semi­-annual house visitation of each member, in which each elder somehow participates. Similarly, it is also of benefit to address not only the preacher, but each elder as “pastor” as a means of further enforcing this perspective.

2. Parity implies that all the elders should participate in interviews of prospective members.

All the elders are charged to watch for the souls of their people. The eldership as a body is charged with preserving the purity of the church. Accordingly, membership interviews should not be restricted to the minister of the Word alone, but rather should be open to all elders. As a general rule, as many elders as is feasible should attend. This will, practically speaking, require dedication. It may necessitate special meetings, or even an occasional day of interviews. There is great benefit, however, derived from each shepherd hearing the testimony of each lamb, and from each shepherd establishing at the outset a personal and pastoral communication with each new member in the things of God.

3. Parity implies that all the elders should be included in setting church policy.

The eldership, as a body, is charged to oversee the entire life of the church. The rule of the church is not committed in Scripture to a bishop, but to the bishops, the eldership (Acts 20:28). Therefore, Christ does not authorize the minister of the Word to set church policy unilaterally. The elders are not his subordinates, who implement his directives, but peers, united with him in the same ruling body of church officers. Calvin, commenting on 1 Tim.5:17, confirms this implication:

The people elected earnest and well-tried men, who along with the pastors in a common council and with the authority of the church, would administer discipline and act as censors for the correction of morals. Ambrose complains that this custom has fallen into desuetude through the carelessness, or rather, the pride of the teachers who wanted undivided power for themselves.

Thus, fellow elders should address a minister of the Word as an equal, not as if he were superior in rank or office. Thus too, it is often expedient for elderships to meet weekly for prayer and to discuss and determine church policy. Similarly, it is prudent for elderships to meet with their diaconate regularly, and for a diaconate to furnish regular reports to their elders detailing their activities and requesting feedback and decisions on specific items of concern. A word of qualification is in order. I do not intend to denounce delegation of specific tasks to individual elders or to committees of elders. Without delegation the whole work of the church would grind to a halt and stagnate (Titus 1:5). Rather, I merely intend to assert that the eldership, as a body, has the authority to delegate tasks and that those to whom a task is delegated are accountable to the entire eldership.

4. Parity implies that each elder should get pastoral oversight from the eldership as a body.

Paul charges the eldership at Ephesus to “take heed to yourselves.” Each elder is under the pastoral care of the eldership. Even a minister of the Word is a man under authority. He too needs and deserves pastoral care. Are ministers of the gospel willing to receive oversight for their own souls and families from their fellow elders? I hope so, for we, like any other sheep, surely need loving pastors to watch for our souls, to care about our devotional life, our love for our wives, our nurture of our children, our assurance of salvation, and our progress in personal holiness. Thus, even gospel ministers should have the benefit of regular pastoral visits from fellow elders. Yet how can such oversight be received if a gospel minister thinks of himself as a superior to all his fellow elders, and always relates to them as subordinates, as inferiors in rank? Here is prelacy in the bud. Here the rubber of parity meets the road. Perhaps parity practiced more humbly and faithfully would nip discouragement or scandal in the bud, and prevent the crippling of useful ministers. This underscores why an eldership shouldn’t make any man an elder unless they can conscientiously submit to his pastoral care. This implication of parity gives new force to “lay hands hastily on no man.” Some may retort that each gospel minister is under the oversight of fellow ministers. Which fellow ministers are so charged, and by whom?  Do they pay him pastoral visits? Does ministerial friendship or occasional fellowship equal pastoral care? Does any larger body of gospel ministers (such as a ministerium, or general assembly, or association) appoint someone to visit each minister regularly in his home to watch over his soul and family? I hope that any who appeal to the care of fellow ministers enjoy such oversight. I am confident, however, that Reformed Baptists have no such practice. Our souls would be ill cared for indeed if our oversight were left to association meetings or ministeriums. Thus, it is proper, and often most prudent, for a lone elder, with the consent of his congregation, to seek pastoral care for his own soul and family from the elders of another church until his own church has a plurality of elders. Such an expedient could be beneficial to prevent much harm to Christ’s servants and reproach upon his name.

5. Parity implies that the elders are equally eligible to lead the observance of the sacraments.

Since all the elders represent Christ as God’s stewards, all may lead the church in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor.11:25). Any elder, not just a preacher, may preside over the distribution of the elements. Similarly, any elder may perform a baptism. Of course, ministers of the Word will usually baptize new disciples, since their preaching often is instrumental in the conversion of the persons baptized.

6. Parity implies that the elders are equally eligible to represent their church in associations.

This also follows from the fact that each elder equally represents both Christ and the church. Representation of their church in association meetings should not be restricted to gospel ministers, but open to all the elders of the churches.

7. Parity implies that each elder must grasp sound doctrine and be apt to teach and defend it.

Paul requires this of all elders, not merely of preachers (I Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9). Each elder must have a firm grasp on God’s Word and some aptness to teach it. Else an eldership could not even begin to implement the parity called for here, or give oversight to its preachers. We need not insist that each elder have a formal seminary education. Nor do I mean that each elder must possess teaching gift to such a degree as to warrant making preaching his vocation. Yet, if the elders are largely ignorant of the truth, and unable to defend it, devastation will befall the churches from the hand of subtle ministers sent fresh from seminary with liberal or neo-orthodox notions. Again, if elders are ignorant of the historic Reformed creeds of their churches, how will they stand fast against the waves of diluted doctrine eroding the foundation of orthodoxy all around us? Again, biblical thinking is essential to sound living. Thus, elders must be grounded in the faith to give sound counsel to brethren struggling to live for God’s glory. Lenski, commenting on “apt to teach” in 1 Tim.3:2, confirms this implication:

Those who still need much teaching and are themselves incompetent to impart knowledge should not be given an office in which some proficiency in teaching is required. When we read in 5:17 that honor is to be accorded “especially to those laboring in the Word and teaching”, we take it that the elders divided the work among themselves, and that those who were most able to teach attended to most of the teaching and preaching. This does not mean that the others could not teach at all.

Dabney, defending parity, affirms this implication and applies it powerfully and eloquently:

Perhaps the most plausible objection … against our theory is this, that if you teach the ruling elders are among the scriptural presbyters, then you can no longer draw any consistent line between them and ministers, you must make them all preachers. The Scriptures make no distinction between any of those whom they call presbyters, either as to qualification or ordination or functions … it is asserted that the same qualifications are exacted, in 1 Tim.3, and Titus 1, of all presbyters alike, and especially “aptness to teach”…as to this, we assert that the ruling elder needs it also just as truly as the preacher does … It has been well remarked in support of this assertion, that the ruling elder should preach the gospel from house to house, that he should be a catechist and Bible-class teacher. This is all true, but it comes very short of the true strength of the case. Limit the ruling elder’s task as strictly as is possible to the business of ruling, and still his function is just as truly and as purely a teaching function as that of the preacher. He rules only by teaching; that is, his whole authority is exercised through the inculcative process … The church has legitimate power over the conscience only as she presents to that conscience, in the exercise of its own private judgment, what ought to be adequate evidence that her command is scriptural. The sceptre of Christ’s kingdom is his Word; to wield this is to teach. And we would distinctly declare, that our tendency to consider that teaching must mean preaching alone arises only from our over-weaning and unscriptural fondness for public preaching over the quiet, efficacious inculcation of the spiritual inspector. Had we used Christ’s plan more efficiently we should not have contracted this perverted notion. Were ruling elders what they ought to be we should perhaps find that, so far from regarding preaching as nearly all of religious teaching, it is less than half.

Conclusion: Why then, someone may well exclaim, this is nothing less than full blown Brethrenism! What room is left for any diversity at all in the eldership? Now therefore, we must address also the rich diversity of vocation, honor, and gift which the Lord designed for the eldership.

Pastoral Oversight ≠ Authoritarianism

Some representing a particular branch of the Reformed Baptist world have recently made a great number of negative claims about certain other RB pastors and churches.  I do not expect that those who have been spoken against will publicly defend themselves, and I am in no position to take up the specific accusations myself.

However, I do want to provide some primary sources which will put to rest any implications that the practice of Pastoral oversight or the doctrine of parity in the eldership are tantamount to authoritarianism.  I am currently attempting to gain permission to post some excellent original sources for the doctrine of parity.  I will post them soon if I am able.


Let us first set the record straight on Biblical Pastoral Oversight.  Here are links to four lectures by Pastor A.N. Martin on the topic.  Please listen to them for yourselves and I believe you will see that there is nothing in them that has anything to do with sinful authoritarian pastoring.

The Essence of Biblical Oversight

The Disposition of Biblical Oversight part 1

The Disposition of Biblical Oversight part 2

The Biblical Importance of Oversight

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


Why Don’t They Associate? (part 3)

As I stated earlier, this blog series was prompted by some statements in Tom Chantry’s blog on Reformed Baptist Church history.  I felt that some could come to the wrong conclusion as to the reasons why many Reformed Baptists churches conscientiously refrain from entering into formal associations such as ARBCA, and I wanted to demonstrate that these churches do not take this stance in order to avoid the type of interchurch communion prescribed in our beloved 1689 Confession of Faith.  My studies have kept me from finishing this series in a timely manner, for which I apologize, but this will be my concluding post on the issue.  In these past two weeks Pastor Chantry’s blog has taken an unfortunate turn and entered a realm that I will avoid following him into.  I have no wish to air dirty laundry; I want to help promote unity and love among us as Reformed Baptists.


That being said, I will now finally get to the answer to the question:  “Why don’t they associate?”  Why do many Reformed Baptist churches feel that entering into a formal association of churches is the wrong way to go about fulfilling the requirements of Chapter 26 Paragraphs 14 & 15?  Rather than writing a full explanation, I will simply give examples from three different pastors so you can see their position explicated in their own words.  I especially recommend you read Alan Dunn’s essay, I find it to be the fullest and most convincing.

Perspectives on Inter-church Fellowship by Pastor Alan Dunn

Together by Stephen Rees of Grace Baptist Church in Stockport (UK)

Inter-church Relationship from Sovereign Grace Bible Church of Cebu (Philippines)

As you can see, these esteemed pastors believe they have a Biblical basis for not creating extrabiblical supra-church structures.  As they view the ecclesiology of the New Testament they can find no example of authority over churches besides that of Christ Himself ruling over the churches through the authority He vested in the Apostles and Prophets now codified in the word of God.  Elders are clearly placed in an authoritative role over individual churches as under-shepherds who receive that authority from Christ Himself.  There is no example of a structure of churches banding together as a formal authority over other churches.

As these men examine the Biblical arguments for formal associations they are unconvinced.  Pastor Dunn does an excellent job scrutinizing these arguments and judging them by the word of God.  I have not been able to locate any response to his paper, so if anyone is aware of one I would be exceedingly grateful if they could point it out to me so I could see how association advocates seek to overcome his objections.

Their bottom line, as I see it, is the complete lack of Biblical precept or example.  The reason they do not want to build a supra-church structure is the same reason we do not create an official church office called  “trustee”.  The Regulative Principle of the church prevents them from entering into such associations.

A Plea for Unity

The Confessing Baptist podcast posted an interview with Dr. James Renihan on Sept. 3, 2013 that I believe will be very helpful in this discussion.

Right around the 30 minute mark, Dr. Renihan begins to discuss one of the characteristics of a good confession of faith.  He explains that a good confession has both exclusive and inclusive functions.  The confession is exclusive in the way it excludes particular errors from what should be considered orthodox.  The example given is that the confession excludes those who would reject a doctrine like the Trinity.  More important for this discussion, I believe, is the inclusive aspect of the confession.  The confession states doctrines clearly and concisely, yet in a manner that allows for subscription by those who still hold some disagreements in the background.  Please take the time to listen for yourself.  The discussion I reference begins at 28:28 and lasts about 5-10 minutes.

In light of the examples I have given in the two preceding blogs, where we observe that these churches do genuinely practice interchurch communion & as we examine Chapter 26, paragraphs 14-15, we can recognize that the practice of these churches reflects a genuine effort to abide by them as they accurately reflect the requirements found in the word of God.  Even if we fully concede Dr. Renihan’s argument that the churches who originally published the 1689 used the word communion as a technical term for formal association, must we therefore conclude that they meant to use this term in an exclusive manner?  Are we to believe that the authors of the confession used the term communion in order to exclude those who do not enter into formal associations?  If they in fact desired to exclude churches who seek to hold communion without formally associating would they have used a term with such broad Biblical usage?

It is my contention, indeed my plea, in the spirit of charity and unity, that even if the original framers of our confession used the term “communion” in an exclusive manner, we can in good conscience hold to these paragraphs in an inclusive manner.  Let us recognize that both associating and non-associating churches are actively and laboriously seeking to foster interchurch communion in a manner that is compatible with the words of our confession and accept one another as fellow Reformed Baptists.

As I stated, I want to refrain from further interacting with Tom Chantry’s blog, but I cannot close without one final thought.   Chantry states , ” It had been their desire to see a mutual effort among the churches to establish a seminary, but instead a local-churchist institution was established.”   I am one of the hundreds upon hundreds of sheep who are eternally grateful for the training our pastors received at Trinity Ministerial Academy.  Sheep do not need a pastor who is accepted in academic circles.  They need pastors who love them, who nurture and care for their souls both in and outside the pulpit.  TMA trained men to do just that in a manner that is unsurpassed to my knowledge.  They received exemplary training in systematic, biblical, exegetical and pastoral theology.  Pastor Martin’s Pastoral Theology lectures are amazing.  There is nothing in them of an authoritarian nature; quite to the contrary, they are packed with love, affection and wisdom beyond anything I’ve had the blessing to find. The fact that TMA was a local church institution is far from a problem.  The local church is exactly the environment in which Christ commanded men to be trained for pastoral ministry.  “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


Why Don’t They Associate? (part 2)

Why Don’t They Associate? (part 1)

I may need to begin with an apology and clarification.  I entitled last week’s blog “Why Don’t They Associate?”  but I did not come to the answer to that question.  Neither will I come to the answer this week, but I will, Lord willing, address it directly next time.  My point in bringing out the fact that the wording used in Ch. 26, Par. 14-15 of our Confession of Faith originated from men and churches who did not enter into formal associations in the manner that the Particular Baptists did was NOT to suggest that RB churches who do not join formal associations make this choice because they want to follow the Congregationalists rather than the Baptists.


My first desire was to make one thing abundantly clear.  It ought not to be stated, implied or assumed that those RB churches that conscientiously abstain from entering into formal associations do this on Fundamentalist Baptist principles or that by refusing to enter such associations, they are redefining the meaning of those chapters in our confession of faith.  I believe we have seen enough evidence for the unbiased to weigh and accurately conclude likewise.

I would ask you to take the time to read the following paper, again authored by Pastor Dave Chanski.

Chapter 26, Paragraph 15:  Foundational?

This is a paper presented by Pastor Chanski at a Reformed Baptist Pastor’s Fraternal with regard to the question of how to deal with a church that would take exception to Ch. 26 par. 15 of the 1689.  In it we find a tenacious defense of the truths and concepts of interchurch communion advocated in our Confession, as well as some excellent historical and scriptural considerations.  We also see further clarification as to what the original authors of the wording of our confession meant by “communion” between churches.  Though the stated purpose of this paper was not to make clear that those non-associating Reformed Baptists do truly believe in, adhere to and uphold the paragraph of our Confession in question, it most definitely serves that purpose.

I want to take a moment to “flesh out” what this inter-church communion actually looks like in these churches, but first, please allow me to reiterate what I feel is of utmost importance.  The fact that the Particular Baptist churches who first subscribed to our Confession used formal associations as the means of fulfilling the requirements of Ch 26, par. 14-15 of the Confession is without question.  This does not accurately lead to the conclusion that formal associations are the only legitimate means of fulfilling those requirements!  I have never seen any Particular Baptist making the claim that the Congregationalists did not really or credibly practice interchurch communion because they did not enter into such formal associations.  Unfortunately, there are some modern Reformed Baptists who are willing to assert or at least imply that the RB churches that do not enter into such formal associations are by that fact alone rejecting the 1689 statements about interchurch communion.  My contention is that such an idea is both uncharitable and unfounded, and as such ought to be rejected by all.

What does it look like?

I assert that these Reformed Baptist Churches with which I am familiar do truly hold communion with one another in a way that is in line with both scripture and our confession of faith.  I have neither the time nor inclination to develop a full orbed theology of interchurch communion as practiced by non-associating Reformed Baptist churches.  What I can and will do, however, is give you the “man in the pew” view of two major aspects of the interchurch communion practiced among these churches.  I will focus our attention on two features of this communion:  1.  Prayer Meeting  2.  Pulpit Exchange.

Before attending Providence Reformed  Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN I had never attended a prayer meeting like theirs.  Most prayer meetings I had been to consisted in about a half hour of Bible teaching followed by the voicing of particular prayer requests from both the leader and anyone in the congregation who had one.  Following that either the pastor would close in prayer, or people would divide into smaller groups where they would take turns praying.  What I found at Providence was profoundly different, it was abundantly edifying and Spiritual, and quite frankly, I miss it more than I can express in words.

We began the Prayer meeting with a hymn and a short devotion, five to ten minutes in length.  Often something from the Psalms or something pithy from a Puritan, enough to warm our hearts for the work at hand, but no full Bible study on some given topic.  We were there for the business of prayer and that work remained the focus of the entirety of the meeting.  The remainder of the time was divided into three sections.  In one section we would discuss prayer requests and needs there in the local assembly.  Then we would take those things before the throne of Grace.  The men would lead the congregation in prayer, one after the other, then the pastor would offer a concluding prayer. This section would sometimes come first, and sometimes last, order was not important.

The remaining two sections of prayer time were spent praying for churches with which we were informally associated.  The pastor would take the time to read fairly lengthy letters from sister churches in which intimate details of their struggles and triumphs were laid before us.  Often times we would be given short outlines of the prayer requests and praises as aids while we listened, but when that was absent we would make clear notes so that we would not forget how to pray particularly for each of these churches’ specific needs.  After two or three letters were read we would stop and once again be led by the men, each in turn as they led us before the throne of Grace to bring these petitions unto our glorious Mediator.  We entered into the most intimate spiritual fellowship with these brethren, most of whom we had never met.  We wept with those who wept. We rejoiced with those who rejoiced.  We wrestled with God on behalf of those with whom He had given us such a spiritual kinship.  We gloried in His continued answers to such prayers and blessed Him for His remarkable work of grace among these sister churches. The Pastor would close out that section with a prayer and then lead on through the next section with prayer letters followed by the same heartfelt, Spirit wrought petitions for the needs of those churches.  We met as a local church, for the express purpose of going before the throne of grace as one body, and offering up prayers and supplications for these other local churches whom we knew and loved.

We gained an intimate knowledge of and love for these churches as we heard updates from them as months and years went by.  Our hearts were truly knit to the brethren in these sister churches.  When by providence I would meet someone from one of these churches it was in a very real sense as though we were already friends.  And I cannot even begin to describe the benefit of the knowledge that these churches were doing the same for us.  If you have never experienced a prayer meeting of this nature, I don’t think you can comprehend the sense of true Spiritual communion that it fosters and supplies.

The benefits of the prayer meeting were not limited to prayer either.  Oh how we would long to put feet to our prayers.  As we listened to the struggles and needs of these brethren, we did not do so in order to pray for them and forget about it.  How our hearts would yearn to reach out and help those in need in any way we could.  How often at the end of prayer meeting we would discuss by what means we could help those who had needs.  This was no cold dead prayer meeting, this was intimate Spirit wrought communion that needed to be expressed in deeds as well as words.

Another means God has used to foster Spiritual communion between such churches is the regular exchange of pulpits.  On a fairly regular basis, Pastors from sister churches would travel and preach in one another’s pulpits.  This fostered a great deal of love and kinship between us.  As these men of God would come before us and feed us from the depths of the word of God, ministering to our souls and edifying our spirits, we gained a heartfelt attachment to them.  The love they had for our Risen Lord was evident in their character and demeanor as well as their preaching, and witnessing such love fostered an admiration in us for them as Pastors and for the people whom they served.  This gave opportunity to practice hospitality toward these men, and as they spent time in our homes we got to know them better and kept up to date on the work of Christ in their home church.  Such pulpit exchanges are also great for the sharing of  “gifted brethren.”  If a church recognizes a man in their church as possessing certain gifts and graces that may qualify him for the pastoral office they would send him to preach in other churches as well.  Not only does this give these sister churches the benefit of the gifts God is developing in such a man, it develops a relationship between them and him.  As the people benefit from the ministry of such a man they also yearn to see him used of God wherever God may choose to send him, and support him in such endeavors.

In closing I simply desire to point out something that seems to me ought to be obvious.  In such situations as we find described in Ch. 26, Par. 15, where difficulties or differences in doctrine or administration make it necessary for other churches to meet together to consider and give advice about the matter, the environment created by the two practices I’ve just described is the soil in which such consideration and advice is most likely to bear good fruit.  When the churches who come together for this purpose are the churches you know and love through mutual prayer, and the pastors who bring advice and admonition are those who have repeatedly ministered to your soul, a favorable outcome is much more likely than when such things are missing.  I am by no means insinuating that the churches of which I speak are the only churches to engage in such practices.  But I do think it is abundantly clear that these churches have genuine, vital and scriptural interchurch communion even though they do not join in formal associations such as ARBCA.

As I said, I will address the actual question “Why don’t they associate?” next time, Lord willing.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


Why Don’t They Associate? (part 1)

When Tom Chantry announced that he was going to begin a new series of blog articles about the history of the Reformed Baptist movement in America over the past several decades I was quite excited about it.  I greatly enjoyed the lectures on Modern Church history from Reformed Baptist Seminary, and I always enjoy hearing other perspectives on historical events.  I have genuinely enjoyed reading these blogs as they have been posted and I recommend anyone who wasn’t aware of them to go over to and spend some time there.  (later addition:  after reading some of the later posts I plead with anyone who reads them to do so with a heavy dose of Proverbs 18:17)

I must also say, however, that after reading his fourth and sixth installments, I became concerned about something.  I am not making the claim that Tom is purposefully misrepresenting a section of the Reformed Baptist movement, but I fear that those readers who are unacquainted with the Reformed Baptist Churches that conscientiously refrain from formal associations may easily get the wrong idea about them.  Since what Tom is presenting is a historical narrative of the interactions between these churches, it would be silly to ask him to take the time to articulate all the historical, theological and exegetical reasons for the different positions taken by these churches.  Imagine how long that would take!  But I am uncomfortable with the idea that anyone should be left with the impression that the churches like Trinity in Montville, NJ and the pastors like AN Martin held their position on the matter of associations merely out of historical ignorance, fundamentalist Baptist influences and fear of the repetition of previous injurious denominational situations.


It is for this reason that I begin this short blog series.  My purpose is to accurately represent the historical, theological and Biblical reasoning behind some Reformed Baptist churches conscientiously abstaining from formal associations.  I am not by any means attempting to attack ARBCA or like associations.  I am a member of a Reformed Baptist church that belongs to ARBCA, and I have never made any attempt to convince our elders that we should leave the association.  I also spent 11 years in another Reformed Baptist church that conscientiously abstained from joining ARBCA, which I believe gives me some insight into the real reasons such churches have for their choice not to formally associate.  It hurts me to think that a bias against these churches might be formed by anyone whose opinion is shaped solely by the representation of those who disagree with them on this subject. Therefore I will attempt to paint a faithful picture, and set forth at least some of the reasoning behind a non-associating stance as well as demonstrating how such churches answer the most common objections brought against them.

Historical Precedence

The first area I want to address is the most common thread I have noticed among those who advocate the formal association of churches.  It is repeatedly pointed out that early in the Reformed Baptist movement there was almost complete ignorance of the associational practices of the Particular Baptist churches who penned our beloved Confession of Faith and held to its doctrine.  I do not wish  to contradict the fact that very little was known at that time and I certainly do not wish to take anything away from the wonderful work Dr. Renihan has done.  We are indeed in great debt to him for his research and labor. I love to repeatedly listen to the lectures he has on the history of the Particular Baptists.  The point I wish to make on the subject is this:  The mere fact that the Particular Baptist churches of the 1600’s joined in formal associations and used those associations as the means of fulfilling the statements of chapter 26 of our confession, does not necessitate the idea that the only legitimate means of fulfilling those statements is through formal associations.  That sentence seems about as clear as mud, so please allow me to elaborate.

It is true that the Particular Baptists believed in joining formal associations of churches.  It is also true that they used these associations as a means of fulfilling the requirements of paragraphs 14 & 15 of chapter 26 of our Confession of Faith.  But it is not true that those Particular Baptist churches taught that to abstain from a formal association of churches would violate the requirements of those paragraphs.

Please take the time to read the paper I have included here:

Another Perspective 

–in which Pastor Dave Chanski examines the historical context of the wording of our Confession of Faith on the matter of communion of churches.

As Pastor Chanski has made abundantly clear, the original authors of the wording of our confession, (men like John Owen, Thomas Goodwin and Jeremiah Burroughs), did not enter into formal associations of churches.  In fact, as you can see in footnote 14 & 15, these Puritans plainly opposed certain aspects of formal associations.  The men who originally penned “The Two Most Contentious Paragraphs in Reformed Baptist History” did not believe that formal associations of churches were required in order to abide by them!

I just want to make a few applications of these facts before closing this first installment.

  1.  Any claim that a church cannot abide by Chap. 26 par 14-15 of our Confession of Faith unless they join in formal associations must be abandoned.  We may argue that the requirements are more easily met through formal associations or that formal associations are a genuine aid in our efforts to carry out the provisions of these paragraphs.  But we must drop the idea that formal association is absolutely necessary.
  2. We cannot assume that any church rejecting formal association does so on fundamentalist Baptist principles.  Surely the Puritan Congregationalists who penned the words of our confession were free from such influences.
  3. The idea that to reject formal association is to redefine “communion” in chapter 26 of our confession is completely untenable.  Those who originally wrote the words did not define it that way.  Neither did the Particular Baptists redefine the term by adhering to formal associations.  The fact of the matter is, the terms of these two paragraphs can be met either with or without formal associations of churches without any need of redefining terms.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


Covenant Theology Brilliantly Illustrated

In light of the recent discussions triggered by the Oct. 1st Mortification of Spin podcast, I think it would be a good time to share a simple illustration that clarifies what aspects of Covenant theology Reformed Baptists and Reformed Paedobaptists really agree upon as well as demonstrating how and why they differ.


The following quote is from a present-day Reformed Presbyterian Pastor (One of the finest preachers of our age) explaining covenant theology by the use of an illustration from a Puritan Congregationalist.

One of the most brilliant illustrations of covenant theology is that used by the Puritan divine Thomas Goodwin. In his exposition entitled Christ Set Forth, he explains that “Adam was reckoned as a common public person, not standing singly or alone for himself, but as representing all mankind to come of him’. In this he was a type of Christ, who is also a representative figure. This is why the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:47, speaks of Adam and Christ as ‘the first man’ and ‘the second Man’ respectively ‘He speaks of them’, says Goodwin, ‘as if there had never been any more men in the world, nor were ever to be for time to come, except these two. And why? but because these two between them had all the rest of the sons of men hanging at their girdle.”

Can you visualize the picture which Goodwin draws for us? He imagines two great giants, one called Adam and the other Christ. Each is wearing an enormous leather ‘girdle’ or belt with millions of little hooks on it. You and I, and all humanity, are hanging either at Adam’s belt or at Christ’s belt. There is no third option, no other place for us. And God deals with us only through Adam or through Christ. If you are hanging at Adam’s belt, you share in the experience of sinful, fallen Adam, and your entire relationship with God is through him. But if you are hanging at Christ’s belt, all God’s dealings with you are through Christ. When you received Jesus as your Saviour, you were involved in a massive and momentous transfer. The Almighty himself unhooked you from Adam’s belt and hooked you on to Christ’s. So you now have a different Head, a different Mediator, a new Representative. You have passed from Adam into Christ, and whereas God formerly dealt with you only through Adam, he now deals with you only through his Son. You are in Christ unchangeably and for ever.     [1]

I absolutely concur with Pastor Donnelly that Goodwin’s illustration of covenant theology is brilliant and accurate.  The very heart of covenant theology is painted in such a vivid picture that a child can comprehend it, yet the depth of the richness of the doctrine is not lost.  Here we see clearly what Reformed Baptists and Reformed Paedobaptists agree upon.  You have just read a Reformed Baptist approvingly quoting a Reformed Presbyterian approvingly quoting a Puritan Congregationalist!

All men were in Adam in the garden.  All men fell in Adam when he sinned.  All stood in Adam, all fell in Adam, all died in Adam.  But God chose not to leave His elect in Adam. He unites His elect to Christ in such a way that He took on the guilt of their sins and paid the full penalty for them, and His righteousness is credited as theirs! This is covenant theology.  This we can and must agree upon.

I believe we can use the same illustration to demonstrate how and why Reformed Baptists differ from our paedobaptist brethren as well.  What does the Bible characterize as the chord by which the elect are attached to Christ’s belt?  What does the Bible represent as that by which sinners are united to Jesus Christ?  Faith, as Pastor Donnelly points out, “When you received Jesus as your Saviour, you were involved in a massive and momentous transfer. The Almighty himself unhooked you from Adam’s belt and hooked you on to Christ’s.”  Surely Baptist and Paedobaptists can agree on this as well.  But this is also where the difference becomes patently clear.

If this illustration is an accurate expression of what the Bible teaches, as I think we can agree it is, then it also sheds a great deal of light on the problem we Baptists have with the practice of infant baptism.  Our children, quite frankly, are born in Adam.  Our children remain in Adam until that point in time at which Almighty God transfers them from Adam’s belt to Christ’s belt.  In other words, our children remain in Adam until they are joined to Christ by faith.  (I am not addressing the issue of those who die in infancy etc.)  So we as Baptists simply ask:  Why would I give my children the sign that signifies union with Christ while they are still in Adam?  The Bible specifically tells us who we are to baptize, disciples.  It also represents faith and repentance as prerequisites for baptism and associates baptism with union with Christ, which my children do not have before they are joined to Him by faith.

Make disciples …baptizing them.  Matt 28:18

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized Acts 2:38

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; Acts 2:41

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Gal. 3:27

I’m fully aware of how paedobaptists respond to this type of presentation, but my purpose at this point is simply to make plain that the differences Reformed Baptists have from our paedobaptist brethren are not rooted in a rejection of covenant theology.  They actually spring forth from our understanding of covenant theology.

Let us continue to stand firm on what we believe the Bible teaches about who should be baptized.  But let us always keep in mind: that which unites us with our paedobaptist brethren is far greater and more fundamental than that which divides us.  As God sees us in Christ, let us see one another as in Christ!

     If you have never heard them, you NEED to listen to Edward Donnelly’s sermon series on Heaven and Hell.  Here.

    He has published the essence of these sermons in the book Heaven and Hell.

     For great resources on the Reformed Baptist view of Covenant Theology start here.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


[1] Edward Donnelly, Heaven and Hell p. 87, citing ‘ Goodwin’s Works, James Nichol edition, 1862, Vol. 4, p. 31.

No one has Ever Interpreted it That Way Before!

I’m sure most people who are familiar with the 1689 Confession of Faith have seen the book “A Reformed Baptist Manifesto.”  You may or may not know that this book began as a four sermon series a long time ago.  I first heard the sermons some time in 1996 and I started giving them to friends because they were, quite frankly, AWESOME!  Using Hebrews 8 and Jer. 31 Pastor Waldron displayed the problems of Dispensationalism, Antinomianism, Arminianism & Paedobaptism in a masterful way.

I got into one of the most heated discussions of my life as a result of the fourth tape.  I had given it to a Presbyterian friend, and let’s just say he didn’t take it well.  He must have called every Presbyterian pastor he knew, and that’s a few, so what I got was sort of a group response funneled through one angry Minnesotan.  The discussion went this way and that, but his main objection just blew me away.

Pastor Waldron had expounded Heb. 8:11 “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”  He pointed out that one unique aspect of the New Covenant is the fact that every person who is properly a member of that covenant will know the Lord in a saving way.  “…all, from the least to the greatest” leaves no room for anyone in the covenant who doesn’t know God.

This is the response I couldn’t believe.  “No one in the history of the church has ever interpreted that passage that way!”  At the time I simply pointed out that he would need to offer some sort of counter exegesis.  If the text doesn’t actually mean what it plainly states, then what does it mean.  Unfortunately this endeavor appeared fruitless, but we remained friends for many years in spite of our theological differences.

Now step forward a few years, 3 or 4 if memory serves.  I had received a gift from my wife, perhaps one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me.  John Owen’s 7 volume commentary on Hebrews!  John Owen is my favorite author and Hebrews is my favorite book of the Bible, so you can understand my excitement.  Anyway, at some point I began to read Owen’s exposition of chapter 8, which is unbelievably good.  (As an aside, it was reading Owen on Heb. 8 that enabled me to finally understand covenant theology in a way that is fully consistent with the itself and the Bible as a whole. And I was overwhelmed with excitement when it became available in the volume with Cox.)

Back to the point, I am reading through John Owen’s exposition of Hebrews 8 and what do I find?  John Owen interprets the statements about the New Covenant in the same way Samuel Waldron did!  Wait a minute, no one had ever interpreted it that way?  So my eyes must have been deceiving me when I read:

“For such a spiritual knowledge is intended as whereby the mind is renewed, being accompanied with faith and love in the heart. This is that knowledge which is promised in the new covenant, and which shall be wrought in all them who are interested therein.” [1]

“The whole knowledge of God in Christ is both plainly revealed and savingly communicated, by virtue of the new covenant, unto them who do believe…”[2]

“Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended.”[3]

“Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.”[4]

Along with these comments on the New Covenant:

“For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.” [5]

“For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it unto them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue thereof, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it.” [6]

“Those whose sins are not pardoned do in no sense partake of this covenant; it is not made with them. For this is the covenant that God makes with them, that he will be merciful unto their sins; that is, unto them in the pardon of them.” [7]

Now of course Owen was not a Baptist.  He qualified his view with the statement “But in respect of the outward dispensation of the covenant, it is extended beyond the effectual communication of the grace of it.”[8]  But I must give the greatest of praise to Owen on this account.  Every other Paedobaptist commentator I have read on Hebrews 8 spends the majority of their time trying to get around what the text actually says.  Owen exegeted and expounded it as it stands, and reading his exposition remains one of the greatest spiritual blessings I can remember experiencing.

The moral of this story?  Perhaps I just wanted an excuse to bring up a few of my favorite Owen quotes.  If you haven’t read Owen on Hebrews 8, treat yourself.  If you haven’t read “A Reformed Baptist Manifesto” please take my advice and get a copy.  Perhaps even share it with friends.  And now you are already prepared for one possible response.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


[1] Exposition of Hebrews vol. 6, pp 167,168

[2] ibid. p 165

[3] ibid. p. 167

[4] ibid. p. 168

[5] ibid. p 118

[6] ibid. p. 118

[7] ibid. p. 169

[8]  ibid. p. 118