One order of Elder: Two (main) Offices Therein

These days, when most ruling elders have a part-time vocation (to that post, and a full time “secular” vocation) and most teaching elders are full-time, it is easy for people to begin to give greater authority to “the preacher.” It is easy for this to happen, but it ought not.

Consider these words that I recently happened to stumble across: “both the gospel minister and the ruling elder are the biblical presbyter, and that these are distinguishable offices within one order” (link).

There are distinguishable, yes, and yet of equal dignity. Read the article at the link for more info.


8 Responses to “One order of Elder: Two (main) Offices Therein”

  1. Machaira Says:

    Whenever I try to explain Presbyterian polity to most Christians I find that more often than not their concept is something like this; Teaching Elder = Pastor and Ruling Elder = Deacon/lay leader. Even Presbyterian congregations see it this way.

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    Sad – quite sad.-Turretinfan

  3. GeneMBridges Says:

    Interesting, Macharia. In Reformed Baptist circles most of us organize our churches on the plural elder model. The only real difference between us and you @ the local church level is that all of our elders are teaching elders, though some teach more than others. Generally, in the really tiny churches, one elder is full time and “vocational” while the others are employed part time @ church and PT in secular employment or full time in secular employment, depending on what the church can afford. They split the teaching duties. The full time elder is the de facto spokesman for the church in the public, but internally, they all have equal authority and responsibility. The scheduling of teaching is up to them. In larger churches like Mark Dever’s, it is my understanding that there are full time staff ministers who are not elders per se (since elders are viewed as permanent,not temporary, and in large churches you often get temporary ministers who transition out, for example, youth, music, missions), so there are elders who are local men who might not be employed as “pastors” but are actually pastoring the church with Dr. Dever. Personally, I find that a bit confusing. It’s like the “non elder” ministers are “sub elders.” Of course, I might be wrong on that, I’ll accept correction if that’s not how Capitol Hill organizes its eldership, but from what I’ve read, that seems right.The local large PCA church here where I live understands that deacons are servants, not ruling elders. I wonder where the perception in your area is coming from? TF, could you summarize, perhaps in a separate post, the reason (exegetically/expositionally of course) Presbyterians distinguish between ruling and teaching elders. (A) it may help folks in places like Macharia and (b) it’s been awhile since I’ve seen that argument myself, and I’d like to see it on paper again. Thanks.

  4. Turretinfan Says:

    Gene,Presbyterians distinguish between those elders who have been called to be ministers of the gospel, and those who have not.Although Isbell does not address it in his review, those are two offices, but other offices, such as evangelists and teachers are also among the eldership.The basic idea is that not every elder has the same calling.If the question is, why isn’t RE Smith administering the sacraments, the answer is that he has not been called to be a minister of the gospel.The generally relied upon verse-in-chief would be:1CO 4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. You write: “The only real difference between us and you @ the local church level is that all of our elders are teaching elders, though some teach more than others.”All of our elders have a didactic role, as well. The difference principally is in the ministry of the gospel, to wit preaching and administration of the sacraments/mysteries.Only gospel ministers (aka “teaching elders”) perform ministry of the gospel. Doesn’t that make sense?Now, of course, there would be nothing wrong with a church that had only elders who were gospel ministers – but that’s not the typical situation in Presbyterian churches.I hope that’s helpful.-Turretinfan

  5. Machaira Says:

    Gene,The reason for this misconception at the popular level is simply because too many protestant churches, at least around here, have never known anything but that model of polity where you have a single pastor with deacons. For this reason most think of the guy who gets paid to stand behind the pulpit as the pastor and the elders are merely lay leaders and assistants. The reason for the distinction between RE’s and TE’s is found in 1Timothy 5.1Ti 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. A qualification needs to be made though. In 1 Timothy 3 it’s clear that all elders are to be “apt to teach,” but some are gifted to “rule” and some to labor in “preaching and teaching.”

  6. GeneMBridges Says:

    I don’t see how 1 Tim 5:17 can be used to distinguish between teaching and ruling elders. It would seem to be a commendation of elders who discharge their calling well, particularly with regard to teaching and preaching, which all elders are to be qualified to do anyway. What we have here could be just as easily construed as not two offices, but different modes of the same office. I agree with Dr. Dagg that it is inconsistent for y’all to draw a distinction between a ruling elder and teaching elder as two offices under the same order. Rather, these are modes of function under a single office. It would be, on this basis, somewhat consistent for you to craft a distinction between deacons and subdeacons, which of course, is not sustainable, but, if it said, “Give honor to the deacons who serve well, especially those who (insert duty here), wouldn’t that be the case? Yet we both universally reject such an idea.The qualifications for elders are laid out in chapter 3, with the parallel passage in Titus 1. We Baptists generally take the statements in Titus 1:9 to refer to the teaching function. Only gospel ministers (aka “teaching elders”) perform ministry of the gospel. Doesn’t that make sense?Yes and no. I am of the persuasion that there is no “calling” to be a gospel minister, if, by that you mean a specific sense of individual “calling” akin to the traditional “individual will” (aka “find the dot”) sort of ideas in Keswickism, popularized by Henry Blackaby. Rather, I affirm that a person’s “calling” is determined by:1. The evidence of his gifts.2. His desire to enter the ministry of the Word.3. His desire for an office in the local church.4. The recognition of the local church or association (our version of presbytery) of those gifts. They may encourage him to enter the service of the gospel as a minister, but he may turn them down. In short, I affirm the method of determining a person’s calling found in chapter 21 of Decision Making and the Will of God by Gary Friesen (Multnomah, 2004). For brevity’s sake, I’ll refer you there. I also agree with John L. Dagg that a person’s “calling” to preach the gospel flows not from his ordination but from his regeneration. It was on that basis that he declared, against Landmarkism, that pulpit exchange was admissible between Presbyterians (and other Paedobaptists) and Baptists. See: our view, all elders are gospel ministers, ergo they administer the sacraments / ordinances and/or oversee their administration (with the deacons or qualified teachers serving, depending on the size of the church and who is available. Obviously, very small church might not have any deacons for some time, and only have 2 or 3 elders). I’ve also seen deacons adminstering sacraments in common cup communion churches in the PCA.Baptist tradition itself is somewhat divided on this. The Philadelphia Association affirmed the distinction and said that any elder who had a didactic function would have to be ordained. The Charleston Association, out of which the SBC eventually sprung after the union with Sandy Creek, denies the distinction in their book of order. Southern Baptists of old who adopted the plural elder model, and most RB’s today who move in this direction, simply appoint (eg. ordain) all the elders, period. Ergo, all our elders are teaching elders. Now, a person with an M.Div or higher might take the title “Rev.” and, for example, on his taxes (since he’s done the seminary work), go through all the “hoops” legally,but, strictly speaking, that’s about the only time you see us distinguish between an “elder” (in a general sense) and a “gospel minister.” As to their authority, the authority of the elder accrues from His ministry of the Word and defense of the gospel. In that sense, his ruling authority, in our view is derivative, so, again, that makes all elders “gospel ministers.”This, by the way, is one reason I find Dr. Dever’s practice at Capitol Hill, if they aren’t recognizing all vocational ministers as “elders” somewhat confusing. I recall either hearing or reading (can’t remember which) him talk about, I believe their youth minister who was a seminary graduate, etc. and ordained by a local association and church, but then he talked about how they did not recognize all such persons on their payroll as “elders.” Yet wouldn’t this person be discharging that duty? See my confusion about what Capitol Hill Baptist actually does compared to what is actually taught?Here’s what I found in his actual writing:The elder that we usually refer to as “the” pastor—the person like me—is, these days, the one who is generally set apart to fill the pulpit on Sunday. He is the one who marries and buries. He will often be paid—either part-time or fully. If the church is larger, he may be the one who hires and fires, and who sets the direction for the church as a whole. In our congregation in Washington, I am recognized as an elder by virtue of my call as the senior pastor of the church. Anyone whom we hire to work in ministry will either be called an assistant, or a pastor. The title pastor is reserved for those whom the congregation recognizes as an elder.Among these elders, I have only one vote. Because of the leadership responsibility I have as the main public teacher, there is undoubtedly a special degree of authority that attaches to my voice in elders’ meetings, but the other brothers probably have by now a pretty good assessment of where I am most concerned and most helpful, and where I have less to contribute. On an eldership, though formal authority between the members is equal, there will always be those who garner special regard in one area or another. An elder cannot be either installed or removed except by a vote of the congregation.A related question for Baptist churches today would be, what about the relationship of the elders to the staff? Many churches are large and prosperous enough to have multiple staff members. Are these members of the pastoral staff to be regarded as the elders of the church? Perhaps, but there are some challenges to that position. If all the elders are employees of the church on the one hand, it frees up their schedules so that they can work together more easily. On the other hand it may discourage the development of leadership within the congregation. Employees may be dismissed more easily than a well-developed leadership within the congregation terminated. In our congregation, the staff deliberate over how to carry out the pastoral directions set by the elders.Now, I see that argument, but it strikes me as more pragmatic than exegetical. Either those persons who are discharging what both you all, I, and, in my opinion everybody I know, would consider the duties of a gospel minister or they are not. If they are (and I should think they are, as even in the single pastor with “ruling deacons” model churches I know, the pastoral staff participates with the deacons in the administration fo the Lord’s Table and baptism), they why would they not be recognized as elders? IMO, they should be recognized as elders, and if they move to another church, they are still elders, and the receiving church should simply accept the appointment of the moving minister by the sending church. It’s really not that hard. IMO, Dr. Dever, as much as I love and respect him, is making it harder than it needs to be. Anyhoo, moving on, our English brothers varied less. Cited in Mark Dever’s work in this area:The majority of the writers and churches did not recognize a distinct office of ruling elder,” (200). “The majority of particular Baptists were committed to a plurality and a parity of elders in their churches,” (205). James Renihan, “The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705: The Doctrine of the Church in the Second London Baptist Confession as Implemented in the Subscribing Churches,” (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1997).This all isn’t to say that I think y’all are absolutely incorrect or that we are absolutely correct. If I said that I would vary with Particular Baptistery’s own tradition, which is, as you can see, rather variegated. Rather, I also agree with Samuel Jones who said that defending the distinction (in the case of one his peers in the previous generation of the Philadelphia Association) from 1 Timothy 5 is pretty weak, for the text is not altogether clear. That said, the office is not forbidden and is useful and ought not be condemned. Indeed, in a large church with a plurality of elders (and I know of one in Enid, OK, where Wade Burleson pastors), it would not be unusual, if not necessary to dedicate an elder to nothing else but the (daily) administration of the church or to the oversight of the education program or media ministry (depending on the size of the church), rather than full time teaching to the whole congregation, though he should, in my opinion, teach a Sunday School class or engage in some sort of education ministry in which he teaches. He should also participate in the distribution of the elements for the Lord’s Table (or their oversight) and be part of the regular rotation of elders administering baptism as needed. Personally, on that issue (the Lord’s Table), I prefer a common cup communion, at least for the smaller church, but that’s another story.

  7. Turretinfan Says:

    Gene,I appreciate your kind and detailed response. I mention that up front because I was a bit puzzled by one thing:Let me make sure I’m hearing you correctly, you think that 1Ti 5:17 is saying: let all the elders be accounted worthy of great honour, especially those who do a good job?Granted that I am looking at the verse from a Presbyterian standpoint, but it looks to me like it is saying:Let all the elders be greatly honored, especially those who preach and teach.The implication would be that not all elders fall in the category of preachers.But perhaps I misunderstood you. Would you mind clarifying?

  8. Machaira Says:

    Gene,Here’s the rub for me as a Presbyterian – I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. I have long lamented the kind of “professional” elder verses the “lay” elder distinction that is practiced all too often in Presbyterian polity. At one time I was a member of a reformed Babtist congregation and we didn’t make such a sharp distinction either. I would say it’s more the Biblical view that there is a distinction of gifts within the one office of elder.

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