Thursday, June 07, 2018

History of the plurality of pastors, a second dose

Following up on the history of the plurality of pastors that I posted yesterday, here is a second dose. Some of the same cautions apply, particularly that some excerpts may need a closer. Below you will find some who believed in a plurality of elders who were pastors/teachers only, and others who believed in a plurality of elders in which one (sometimes more) was a teacher and others were ruling elders. For some the plurality of elders was an ideal to be perpetuated in church life, while others considered it as more an expedient.

As previously, the excerpts are ordered from newest to oldest.

2017, Jordan Walker, Progressive Primitive Baptist, “I have come to the belief that many of our “little” problems are due in large part to a fundamental deficiency in our church leadership tradition.  I believe that our departure from the Biblical model of local churches with a plurality of elders is one of our biggest practical pitfalls.”

2016, Ben Winslett, Primitive Baptist, “I find it sad when some churches struggle to fill the pulpit for lack of a pastor, and men within driving distance are not willing to go and preach for them, despite not having a pastorate of their own. I understand that a plurality of elders was indeed displayed in Scripture, but I also know how important it is to our Master that His sheep are fed. Please – go preach.”

1958, The Orthodox Baptist Confession of Faith leaves the possibility of plural pastors, but was likely not practiced by these churches, “We believe. …that pastors and deacons, the only divinely appointed church officers, should be duly ordained and brought to understand the sacred duties devolving upon them…” Orthodox Baptist Confession of Faith, by W. Lee Rector, Third Edition published by First Orthodox Baptist Church of Ardmore, Oklahoma, 1958

1923, The Articles Put Forth by the Baptist Bible Union of America suggest a plurality in the local church (a congregation of baptized believers), though probably intended to be understood as fitting either single-elder or plural-elder models: “XIII. OF THE CHURCH. We believe that a church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers associated by a covenant of faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by His laws; and exercising the gifts, rights and privileges invested in them by His word; that its officers of ordination are pastors, elders and deacons, whose qualifications, claims and duties are clearly defined in the Scriptures…”

Early 1900s, Mark Dever, “It is indisputable that at the beginning of the twentieth century, Baptists either had or advocated elders in local churches—and often a plurality of elders.” By Whose Authority: Elders in Baptist Life, Mark Dever, Washingdon, DC: Nine Marks Ministries, 2006, pp. 21-22

1886, Sylvester Hassell, “Instead of one Bishop presiding over several churches, there was, it would seem, a plurality of Elders or Bishops in each of the apostolic churches, as at Jerusalem, at Ephesus, at Philippi, and at the ordination of Timothy (Acts xi. 80; xiv. 23; xv. 2, 4, 6, 23; xvi. 4; xx. 17, 28; xxi. 18; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. iv. 14; James v. 14); but the distinction between teaching Elders and ruling Elders, observed by Presbyterian and by some Congregational and some Baptist Churches, cannot be proved by the New Testament or from church antiquity...” History of the Church of God: From the Creation to A. D. 1885, Cushing Biggs Hassell, Sylvester Hassell, Middletown, NY: Gilbert Beebe and Sons, p. 305

1874, William Williams (Professor of Ecclesiastical History 1859-1877, at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote, “In most, if not all the apostolic churches, there was a plurality of elders.” (p. 531) The plurality was equal: “The elders of the New Testament were all equal in rank and authority, and discharged the same duties,—the ministry of the gospel and the oversight of the government and discipline of the church. The distinction of preaching elder and ruling elder, made by the Presbyterians, rests upon a single passage of Scripture, 1 Tim. v. 17.” (p. 533) Apparently, though, Williams thought these were “temporary reasons growing out of the peculiar exigencies of the time” and that current practice was left to the discretion of each church. [Apostolic Church Polity, William Williams, (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1874), as printed in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, (Mark Dever, editor, Washingdon, DC: Nine Marks Ministries, 2001)]

1849, J. L. Reynolds, “It has been shown that a plurality of elders was customary in the apostolic Churches. Many of these, after the example of Paul, labored with their own hands for support; and as they were stationary, might do so with little inconvenience.” Church Polity; or, the Kingdom of Christ in Its Internal and External Development by James Lawrence Reynolds, p. 116

1846, W. B. Johnson (first president of the Southern Baptist Convention). Concerning the New Testament age, Johnson asserted, “That over each church of Christ in the apostolic age, a plurality of rulers was ordained, who were designated by the terms elder, bishop, overseer, pastor, with authority in the government of the flock.” (p. 190) He believed the Scriptures taught, “That these rulers were all equal in rank and authority, no one having a preeminence over the rest. This satisfactorily appears from the fact, that the same qualifications were required in all, so that though some labored in word and doctrine, and others did not, the distinction between them was not in rank, but in the character of their service” (p. 191) and “It is worthy of particular attention, that each church had a plurality of elders, and that although there was a difference in their respective department of service, there was a perfect equality of rank among them.” (p. 192) Concerning the prescription for his own time, Johnson wrote, “A plurality in the bishopric is of great importance for mutual counsel and aid, that the government and edification of the flock may be promoted in the best manner.” (p. 193) “Whilst a plurality of bishops is required for each church, the number is not fixed, for the obvious reason, that circumstances must necessarily determine what that number shall be. In a church where more than one cannot be obtained, that one may be appointed upon the principle, that as soon as another can be procured there shall be a plurality.” (p. 194) [The Gospel Developed Through the Government and Order of the Churches of Jesus Christ, William Bullein Johnson, (Richmond, VA: H. K. Ellyson, 1846) as printed in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, (Mark Dever, editor,  Washingdon, DC: Nine Marks Ministries, 2001)]

1791, Egremont Association in New York (constituted 1788) “Have a plurality of ruling and teaching elders.” [Asplund’s summary on page 47 shows the Egremont Association had 6 churches with 12 ordained and 3 licensed ministers.] The Annual Register of the Baptist Denomination, in North America, John Asplund, Virginia: by the author, 1791, p. 49

1790, Freewill Baptist Connexion history reveals that they had both teaching elders and ruling elders. “The Statistics at the close of the first decade [1790, rlv] cannot be ascertained with certainty, but an approximation is possible. The estimated number of members was four hundred, and the number of churches, active and efficient, eighteen. There were eight Ordained ministers, seven Unordained, and nine ruling elders.”[i] (p. 94) “Joseph Boody of Strafford preached extensively and administered the ordinances under an ordination as ruling elder.”[ii] (p. 298) The History of the Freewill Baptists: For Half a Century, Volume I, I. D. Stewart, Dover, ME: Freewill Baptist Printing Establishment, 1862

1772, The Upper Essex Church in Virginia was organized in 1772, “and lay elders ordained; not having a pastor...” A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia, Robert Baylor Semple, Richmond, VA: 1810, John O’Lynch Printer, p. 124

1768, Morgan Edwards, “A church essential becomes a church complete by accession of proper officers; which officers, ordinarily, are teachers; elders; deacons; deaconesses; and clerks: the first are also called preachers, exhorters, catechists &c, and, in modern language chiefly, ministers: when set in particular church they acquire the relative titles of pastors, bishops, elders &c, and lose them again when disengaged from their churches. Of which five sorts of officers every church should have a complete set, if their circumstances will permit.” “That every church should have a complete set of them, if their circumstances will permit. What I would call a complete set is, ‘{One} pastor, an exhorter, and catechist; two deacons; two ruling elders, and a clerk.’ Large churches may have as many more of each as they want. So the church of Jerusalem had twelve teachers; a company of elders, Act. xxi. 18; and seven deacons, Act. vi. 5.” (pp. 4-11) Customs of Primitive Churches by Morgan Edwards (Philadelphia, PA: 1768)

1743, A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church, “A church thus constituted, is not yet completed, while wanting such ministerial helps, as Christ hath appointed for its growth and well-being; and wanting elders and deacons to officiate among them. Men, they must be, that are qualified for the work; their qualifications are plainly and fully set down in Holy Scripture, I Tim. 3:2-7. Titus 4:5-10. all which must be found in them, in some good degree, and it is the duty of the church to try the persons, by the rule of the word.” (p. 3 in online transcription) “Ruling Elders are such persons as are endued with gifts to assist the pastor or teacher in the government of the church; it was as a statue in Israel, Exo. 18. Deut. 1:9-13. The works of teaching and ruling belong both to the pastor; but in case he be unable; or the work of ruling belong both to the pastor; but in case he be unable; or the work of ruling too great for him, God hath provided such for his assistance, and they are called ruling elders, I Tim. 5:17, helps, I Cor. 12:28. governments, or he that ruleth, Rom. 12:8. They are qualified for, and called unto, one part of the work: and experience teacheth us the use and benefit of such rulers in the church, in easing the pastor or teacher, and keeping up the honor of the ministry.” (pp. 5-6 in online transcription) “Elders were ordained in every church by election or suffrage of the church; and every particular church, as such, assembled with her proper elders, hath sufficient power to receive members, Acts 2:41. Romans 14:7.” (p. 24 in online transcription), A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church, Benjamin Griffith, Philadelphia, PA: 1743

1701, Benjamin Keach, pastor in London, “Some are officers, or in places of higher and greater trust, as elders, teachers, and deacon, yet all are labourers.” (p. 512) “A king appoints officers in his kingdom under him…they that submit not to his government, despise the king’s authority; the officers are elders and deacons, whose work is expressly laid down in the gospel: nor do we read of any other office or officers he hath left in his church (and to abide) but only those two.” (p. 645) An Exposition of the Parables and Express Similitudes of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (London: Aylott and Company, 1858, originally 1701) “A Church thus constituted ought forthwith to choose them a Pastor, Elder or Elders, and Deacons, (we reading of no other Officers, or Offices abiding in the Church) and what kind of Men they ought to be, and how qualified, is laid down by Paul to Timothy, and to Titus. Moreover, they are to take special care, that both Bishops, Overseers, or Elders, as well as the Deacons, have in some competent manner all those Qualifications…” (The Glory of A True Church and Its Discipline Display’d, Keach, London: n.p., 1697, pp. 7-8) For a few brief comments on elders, see Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors, in Four Books by Benjamin Keach (Ireland: Bonmahon Industrial Printing School, 1858, original 1682) on pages 414, 713, and 882.

1689, The (Second) London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, speaks of plural elders or bishops for a particular church (one local body): “26.8. A particular Church gathered, and compleatly Organized, according to the mind of Christ, consists of Officers, and Members; And 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 intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the World are Bishops or Elders and Deacons.”

1689, In An Exposition of the Whole Book of Revelation, Hanserd Knollys wrote “...each Company or Congregation had their Elders and Deacons.” In fuller context: “…when the number of the Disciples was multiplied, Act. 4.32. and 6.1, 2. and Multitudes both Men and Women were added to the Lord, and by the Lord to the Church, Act. 2.41, 47. and 4.4. and 5 14. then the Church was necessitated, for the Edification of the Multitude, and great number of the Members thereof, to assemble themselves together in particular Congregations, and became distinct Companies, of whom we read Act. 4.19, 23. Peter and John had their own Company or Congregation, and so had Paul and Barnabas; and each Company or Congregation had their Elders and Deacons, Phil. 1. 1.” (pp. 8-9) In keeping with this, Knollys also believed the singular “angel” represented the plural eldership of the church. “But by [Angel] in this and all the other Epistles written to the seven Churches in Asia, we are to understand the Episcopacy, Presbytery, and Ministry in each particular Church, unto whom the charge, oversight, care and government thereof was committed by the holy Spirit...So the word [Angel] in all these seven Epistles, is a noun collective, comprehending all the Bishops and Presbyters, called Elders, Act, 20.17, in this Church of Ephesus, so in all other churches of Christ in Asia, and elsewhere.” (p. 19) An Exposition of the Whole Book of the Revelation. Wherein the Visions and Prophecies of Christ are Opened and Expounded, Hanserd Knollys, London: William Barthall, 1689, pp. 8-9

1681, Nehemiah Coxe, “And this also I take to be included in the general commission here given to Titus that he should ‘set in order the things that are wanting [lacking],’ for it appears that the primitive churches had both bishops, or elders, and deacons ordained in them,  when brought to that settlement and order in which they were to continue (Phi 1:1).” (p. 6) “Bishops or elders are ordinary officers in the church, of divine right and appointment, and are to be continued therein to the end of the world.” (p. 10) “The officers that we are now treating of, which are in our text called elders (πρεσβυτέροι), are in the very next words styled bishops or overseers (ἐπίσκοποι, the like application of both these terms to the same persons and office you may observe in Acts 20), and in Ephesians 4:11 are called pastors and teachers. It is evident the Holy Spirit intends by any of these different terms no distinction or preeminence of office among those that bear these characters, but they are all suited to the same office in its different respects. These ministers are sometimes called elders, because of their gravity and precedence in the house of God, perhaps with some respect to the paternal authority and preeminence of the heads of families and elders of the people amongst the Israelites of old; and at other times bishops or overseers, because their  work is to take the oversight of the flock, and to acquit themselves as faithful watch-men who watch for the souls of the people committed to their trust, that they may give an account of them to the great Shepherd with joy, and not with grief. And because it is incumbent on them to feed the church with the words of eternal life, and to open the mind of God to them from the Scriptures that they may by their ministry be instructed unto His kingdom, they are also styled pastors and teachers.” (pp. 11-12) A Sermon Preached at the Ordination of an Elder and Deacons in a Baptized Congregation in London, 1681, as reprinted in Biblical Elders and Deacons, Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 2015

1675, Obadiah Holmes, in his “Last Will and Testimony” exhorts the church to wait on the Lord for “talent or talents” after his demise. This is in context of both Holmes’s death and the church’s pastoral office.  “I beseech you also wait upon the Lord to see what talent or talents the Lord bestows on any of you, and put it not in a napkin but improve it for your Lord. Yes, how often have my fellow labourers called upon you to exercise the gifts you have received, and how it rejoiced my soul to see my brethren come forth to profess in the church that, when the Lord removes us, you may not yet want any good gift nor will it much concern you.”[iii] Baptist Piety: The Last Will and Testament of Obadiah Holmes, Judson Press, 1994, p. 109

1675, Petty France Church, England, “On 21 September 1675 William Collins and Nehemiah Coxe were ordained elders of Petty France.” “A London Congregation during the Great Persecution: Petty France Particular Baptist Church, 1641 - 1688,” The Baptist Quarterly, p. 234

Late 1600s in England “There was a plurality of elders in many of the churches. As numbers increased, they judged it conducive to profit to increase the number of teachers, and thus avoid the inconvenience and loss which must accrue from placing a large church under the care of a single pastor.” Cramp goes on to say there were probably no more than 150 churches “in England during this period, and many of them were small.” (p. 368) He then names about 14 churches ‘and doubtless others’ that had two or more pastors (Ashford had four). Further, “in some of the churches there were ‘ruling elders,’ sometimes called ‘teachers,’ who preached when their services were required, and presided at church meetings in the absence of the pastor.” (pp. 368-69) Baptist History: from the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, John Mockett Cramp, London: Elliott Stock, 1868

Late 1600s, in England, “William Kiffin in the seventeenth century argued for a plurality of elders but made no distinction between ruling and teaching elders.” (One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists, Chad Owen Brand, ‎David E. Hankins, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005, p. 50) “Most of the English Baptists of this era, unlike Presbyterians, rejected the idea of ‘ruling elders’ as a distinct from ‘teaching elders.’ The Devonshire Square Church in London, where William Kiffin pastored, recognized ‘a parity within the eldership’; each elder shared responsibility and authority within the church. Likewise at a church in Kensworth, Bedfordshire in 1688, ‘three men were chosen jointly and equally to offitiate [sic]…in breaking bread, and other administration of ordinances, and the church did at the same time agree to provide and mainetane [sic] all at there [sic] one charge.’ The renowned Benjamin Keach also rejected the idea of ruling elders as a distinct position, but allowed that the church might ‘choose some able and discreet Brethren to be Helps in Government,’ presumably either as a separate alliance or more likely as members of plural eldership. However, a few Baptist churches did make a distinction between teaching and ruling elders. In such cases, ‘The pastor was the chiefe [sic] of ye Elders of ye Church,’ while the ruling elders shared oversight with him. Certainly not all of the English Baptist churches of this era followed elder plurality but ‘the majority of the Particular Baptists were committed to a plurality and parity of elders in their churches,’ believing that a plurality of elders were ‘necessary for a completed church’.” Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership, Phil A. Newton, Matt Schmucker, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, p. 33

AD 150 (circa), The Shepherd of Hermas might reference the practice of plural elders in a single congregation: “Thou shalt therefore say unto the elders of the Church, that they direct their paths in righteousness, that they may receive in full the promises with abundant glory…But thou shalt read (the book) to this city along with the elders that preside over the Church.” (J. B. Lightfoot translation)

AD 120 (circa), The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, “Polycarp and the Elders with him to the Church of God sojourning in Philippi… Wherefore it is necessary to refrain from all these things, and to be subject to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ.” (Kirsopp Lake translation)

[i] A statistical table appears on page 95.
[ii] According to Stewart, by around 1820 doubts had arisen “as to the Scriptural authority of such an office,” and the number of ruling elders declined, p. 451
[iii] Gaustad says, nevertheless, that “no one in the membership does step forward to accept the pastoral office when Obadiah Holmes dies.”

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