PROP. XIII. Of the office of eldresses.
XIII. The office of eldresses hath foundation in scripture and antiquity. It is to be exercised only among the women. It consists in praying, and teaching in their separate assemblies; presiding there for maintenance of rules and government; consulting with the sisters about matters of the church which concern them, and representing their sense thereof to the elders; attending at the unction of sick sisters; and at the baptism of sisters, that all may be done orderly. The process by which they are put in the office may be like that of the teaching elders viz. by choice of the church &c. Their manner of performing the office is laboriously. They are to be veiled when they preach or pray, especially if men be sent to their assemblies. Their reward is honour, and maintenance. Their qualifications are specified by Paul.
1. The office hath foundation is scripture, Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father--the elder women [Gk. eldresses] as mothers. Tim. v. 1, 2. If the word elders, in the first verse, refers to office and not age. the term eldresses must do the same in the second verse. It is likely the same word refers to office in Tit. ii. 3. The preaching and praying women mentioned in Rom. xvi, 1 Cor. xi, Phil. iv, also those widows mentioned in 1 Tim. v. to be understood of these eldresses.
2. Antiquity is in favour of the office; for by a council held at Laodicea it appears, not only that eldresses were in the church but that, theretofore, they had been put in the office by ordination.
3. They are to exercise their office only among their own sex. That there were teaching women is plain from, Rom. xvi, 1 Cor. xi, Phil. iv, Rev. ii. 20; that the office was to continue, appears by the directions given how such women are to behave, 1 Cor. xi. 5 &c. But in the church they were not allowed to exercise their gifts, 1 Cor. xiv 34, 35, 1 Tim. 2. 9-12. Therefore at the religious assemblies of women. That there were such assemblies is plain from Act. 16. 13, ch. xii. 12, for from ver. 17 it is probable there were no brethren at the meeting of prayer held at the house of Mary. The church of Thyatira is not blamed for suffering a woman to teach, but for suffering a bad woman to teach bad doctrines. The Quakers, Methodists, &c. have, in effect, eldresses to this day. We only blame the former for suffering them to preach and pray in the church, and that unveiled.
4. Their office consists (1) In praying 1 Cor. xi. 4 Every woman that prayeth &c. ver. 13 Is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 1 Tim. v. 5 A widow indeed continueth in prayer night and day. (2) Teaching. Every woman that prophesieth with her head uncovered, &c. Those women which laboured with me in the gospel, Phil. iv. 3. Persis which laboured much in the Lord. Rom. xvi. 12. Suffer not a woman to teach in the church. 1 Tim. ii. 12. 1 Cor. xiv. 34. Rev. ii. 20. Tit. ii. 3. (3) To preside in womens meetings for maintenance of rules, &c. Therefore they, like the ruling elders, are called helpers. Rom. xvi. 3. (4) To consult with them about church matters that concern them, and represent their sense to the elders; for as they must keep silence in the church, reason would that they have the necessary liberty elsewhere. (5) To attend the elders at the unction of sick women; and at the baptism of women Jam. v. 14. 1 Cor. xiv. 40.
5. They are to be put in office by the election of the church, &c. Let not a widow be taken [or as in the margin, chosen] into the number &c. This signifies a choice to office; [for] helpless widows that want many of the qualifications might and ought to be taken into the number of pensioners.
6. Their manner of performing the office is (1) Laboriously, Women which laboured in the gospel Phil iv. 3. Rom. xvi. 12. (2) With their heads veiled or covered when they pray or preach 1 Cor. xi. 5, 13, and when any messengers from the church are in their assemblies. 1 Cor. xi. 10 Because of the angels viz, the messengers, as the same word is elsewhere translated, 2 Cor. viii. 23.
7. Their reward is (1) Honour, Honour widows that are widows indeed 1 Tim. v. 3. (2) Maintenance, Let not the church be charged that it may relieve them that are widows indeed, 1 Tim. v. 16.
8. Their qualifications are specified. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse 1 Tim. v. 9-11.
9. We have not seen the ordination of an eldress but reckon the process should be as similar to that of an elder as the case will bear. See prop. xii.
Customs of Primitive Churches, Morgan Edwards, pages 41-42