Presbyterianism: Local Officers - What?

Local Officers - What?

In the last section we concluded that Christ the King has the right to appoint the form of church government. He decides what offices, as well as the qualifications for, method of appointment to and functions of those offices. This is why writers of the past spoke of a "Divine Right" of church government. They believed there was a form of church government that had the approval and authority of Christ.

Thankful Listening 
Should Christ gives gifts to individual church members, placing upon them the obligation to use them for the benefit of the whole body (1 Corinthians 12:4-27). Christ has appointed that certain functions within the church (of a more public nature) are to be performed by members who have been specifically and publicly appointed to those functions by ordination (more on ordination later). Among the gifts Christ gives to particular members are those which match up to these ordained offices. This being so, the study of church government should not be seen as a bore. It should be viewed as an attempt to work out gratefully Christ's gracious plan and provision for His church. These are tokens of His love and care. That alone gives the subject special interest among the Lord's people.

Royal Appointment

1 Foundation Offices. 
"And are built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Ephesians 2:20). Christ alone is the foundation of our salvation. We rest entirely upon Him. We are built upon the apostles and prophets in the sense that God has made known His truth through apostles and prophets. It is in the realm of revelation that we are built upon them. They were infallible messages of God and all the infallible truth God intended us to have he caused them to write, and we have it in the Bible. Now that the Bible is complete, we do not need direct messages from heaven and so we do not have apostles or prophets. It is because of their distinctive role as infallible spokesmen for God that apostles and prophets are first in the list of gifts of the Spirit, in Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. In the first of the passages mention is made of "Evangelists". If 2 Timothy 4:5 indicates that men like Timothy fulfilled the office of evangelist, then this name was applied to a unique body of men who acted as assistants to the apostles and whose call to office involved direct revelation from the Lord (see 1 Timothy 4:14). Certainly, Timothy and Titus in some respects occupied a unique and unrepeatable position because of their relationship to the apostle Paul who supervised their movements, often leaving them to carry on the ministry after the initial founding of a church while Paul pressed on to a new place.

2 Continuing offices. 
With no apostles and prophets and yet a completed Bible, Christ has appointed other offices whose work is to continue until the last day. Their role is not to convey new revelation from God, but to expound the complete written Word, implement the ordinances appointed in that Word and care for the flock according to the Word. The Scriptures describe these continuing offices by the terms; elders, bishops, pastors and teachers, deacons. What are they?


1. Elders and Bishops are the same thing 
The word "presbuteros" is translated 'elder' (Acts 15:2; 20:17, Titus 1:5, 1 Peter 5:1 etc). "Episkopos" is translated 'bishop' (AV 1 Timothy 3:1, Philippians 1:1) or 'overseer' (Acts 20:28). A look at Titus 1:5-7 and Acts 20:17,28 shows that both words refer to the same thing. 1 Peter 5:2 shows that the elders took the "oversight". The idea of elders would have been familiar to Jewish Christians as the synagogues were governed by a body of elders and the Old Testament often refers to elders. The name overseer is more descriptive of the work of elders.

2. All elders are pastors or shepherds 
The elders are to "feed" or to "shepherd" the flock of God (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2). They are to care for the flock as those acting under Christ, the Chief Shepherd and Bishop (or Overseer) of our souls (1 Peter 2:5 and 5:4).

3. Every Congregation should have elders. 
Elders existed in Jerusalem, Philippi, Ephesus and Crete (Acts 15:2, 20:17, Phlippians 1:1, Titus 1:5). Their presence was the norm.

4. Some Elders are ministers of the word. 
Paul tells Timothy "let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour especially they that labour in the word and doctrine" (1 Timothy 5;17). This indicates that some elders as well as ruling and governing the church along with the others, also have the particular task of preaching the Word. So Romans 12:7-8 distinguishes between "teaching" and "ruling". The gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28 include "teachers" and "governments". In Ephesians 4:11 there are those who are pastors and teachers (ie shepherds/elders and also teachers of the Word).

The word "minister" is applied in the New Testament to various kinds of service including the ministry of the Word (Ephesians 3:7, Colossians 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 1 Timothy 4:6). With the discontinuation of the foundational teaching of offices of apostles and prophets, the general term is usually applied to the teaching elders. Nevertheless, apart from the ministry of the Word all the elders are equally responsible to "watch for souls" (Hebrews 13:17) and accountable for their stewardship.