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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)


ORDER--as respects the Ordination of Bishops.

      The right to officiate in any office in the Christian church being derived from the head of the church alone, we must regard all constitutional officers as acting under the authority, as well as by the direction of the Great King.

      The long debated question about the jus divinum, or divine right of bishops, deacons, and their ordination, we promise not to discuss in this essay, farther than a passing remark. This much of the question only falls within our present object,--Whether is the right to ordain derived directly from the Lord to the church; or indirectly through a long succession of ordained persons, in an unbroken series, from the Apostles.

      The great majority of Christendom, Catholic and Protestant, are on the side of an order of bishops in succession from the Apostles, with the right to ordain vested in them by the head of the church. Their model is the Levitical Priesthood. The order of Aaron and the order of Peter are, with the majority, the same sort of an institution, only with the exception of flesh and blood lineage. Their views make the priesthood an order distinct from the church, though acknowledged to belong to it and to be a component part of it.

      The right to ordain is, then, in popular esteem, a right vested in an order of men now of eighteen hundred years' continuance, transmitted through many hands; and is, therefore, to us, indirect from Jesus Christ. We, however, from many reasons, are constrained to reject the idea of an elect order in succession in the Christian Church, possessing vested rights, derived not from the community as such, but from Jesus Christ, through a distinct class in the community, [115] as essentially papistical in its tendency, and contrary to the letter and spirit of the Christian institution.

      We expect not to find the living among the dead. We seek not authority in the church from an order distinct from the church, so liable to deterioration and abuse at what is usually called "the Christian priesthood." Authority from the head of the church is much more direct than that claimed by Rome, England, and Scotland. Theirs has passed through many hands, polluted with the blood of saints and martyrs.

      There is not a sectarian bishop on this continent, call him Episcopal, Presbyterial, Baptist, or Methodist, who pretends to trace his descent from the Apostles, through Roman, English, or Scotch bishops, who, in passing up the stream of his authority, through the times of Papistical and Protestant supremacy, can find one line of clean hands, pure from the blood of the confessors of the Lord Jesus. If the hands that consecrated him are not dripping with the blood of those crying from under the celestial altar for vengeance on their murderers, it is impossible for him to show that those who laid their hands upon his predecessors were not stained with that blood; for the bishops of the Man of Sin are crimsoned from head to foot with the blood of slain millions, who, but for them and their orders, would not have given their lives rather than deny their Lord or pollute their own consciences.

      Has the Lord Jesus, then, left his church and people to seek for authority to preach, teach, and administer ordinances from the hands of his worst enemies! or has the grace of ordination descended to us, pure and uncorrupt, through hearts and hands stained with Christian blood! It can not be. We must look for authority from the Lord more direct and less liable to deterioration than that of which many Catholics and Protestants make their boast.

      These things premised, we hasten to state and answer the following questions:--

      1. What is ordination as respects the Christian church?

      It is the solemn election and appointment of persons to the oversight and service of a Christian community. To ordain is to appoint; and all appointments, from that of a successor to Judas as a witness of the resurrection, from an apostle to the messenger of a church, or an almoner, was in the beginning by an election of the whole community.1

      But there must be some form of setting persons apart to the work, or of inducting them into the office to which they have been elected. This is self-evident. It must be done after some form. Still we must distinguish between the election or appointment and the mode of [116] consecration or induction. The election or choice of the community, guided in that choice by the Living Oracles, is the essential consideration, without which all forms would be unavailing. VOX POPULI VOX DEI, or, in English, "the voice of the people" is, in this case, "the voice of God," calling the persons elect to the work of the Lord.

      To comprehend the meaning of the form it is necessary to regard the ordination throughout in the light of a covenant, or an agreement between the congregation that elects and the persons elected.

      I say, a covenant; for, in truth, a solemn compact it is. The items of agreement are these:--"The electors, persuaded that no society can exist comfortably without government, or the exercise of authority; that what is every person's business is no person's business; and that every society, as much as every family, has its own proper business; that the congregation, as a whole, sustains a certain relation to the world as well as that subsisting among the members themselves; that she owes many duties to her own members and to the world, which she can not discharge faithfully and effectually in the aggregate, or as a community, but by persons authorized and directed by her to act for her and in her name--stipulates and agrees with A, B, and C. whom she has proved to be qualified by the Holy Spirit for rendering those services to the church, that they devote themselves to the work of bishops or deacons, as the case may be; and in consideration of their submitting and devoting themselves to the exercise of those functions from a ready mind, she agrees to submit to them in the Lord, and to sustain them in all respects, so far as she has ability and they require her aids.

      Such, in substance, though not in all its details, is the understanding, agreement, or compact between the electors and the elected; and on this understanding they proceed to ordination, or the consecration of those persons to the work assigned them.

      Such being the agreement, in virtue of which the farms of ordination are called for, it follows that the forms themselves must in some way correspond with the thing signified, and necessarily the parties themselves, and not a distinct order, are to take part: for the covenant is between the electors and the elected, and not between the elected and a distinct order of men. The corollary from these premises is, that THE CONGREGATION HERSELF ELECTS AND ORDAINS ALL HER OFFICERS.

      No person can take any part in these forms of consecration or separation to the work of the Lord, but only so far as they are regarded as members of the congregation, and to be under the authority of those whom they invest with office, or to give direction to them as servants of the congregation.2 [117]

      2. What, then, may we ask in the second place, are the forms of ordination? The answer is at hand--Imposition of hands, accompanied with fasting and prayer. Thus have persons been consecrated to sacred offices in the Christian church from the beginning. And, indeed, since ever there was an organized assembly of worshippers on earth, the forms of ordination to office have been substantially the same: so far at least, that "holy hands" have universally been laid upon the heads of those invested with sacred offices.

      3. The third question is still more interesting because of the crisis in which we live, and to it more attention must be paid. It is this:--Who may, or who ought, to lay hands on the bishops, or deacons, or messengers elect?

      I answer, without dubiety, and in a few words, The community, the whole community, or such elders of the community as may be approved in behalf of the congregation. I am fully aware of the objections which will arise in many minds to such an unqualified declaration. We can not argue the question here; but we dare not leave it with a simple assertion, and shall therefore suggest some reasons for the answer given:--

      1st. The nature of the understanding or covenant between the electors and the elected, and of the authority to be delegated to the elected by the electors, demands that they who give the power, or the grace, or the office, should give it with their own hands, and not by proxy. Imposition of hands in the act of ordination is simply the conferring of office, or devoting a person to the work of the Lord; and therefore all that is decent and comely requires that those who give the office give it with their own hands.

      2d. Besides it is most dignified on the part of the elected to receive the office from those to whom they are to minister, than from any foreign order of men. To receive a crown from a foreign prince is always indicative of vassalage on the part of the prince who receives it to him who confers it. To be ordained by the hands of those without the congregation that confers the honor, is dishonorable to both parties--the bishops elect, and the electors. It argues subordination and vassalage in both the bishops and their flocks to those foreigners who impose their hands in ordination.

      3d. "Without all contradiction," says Paul, "the less is blessed by the superior." If, then, the bishops and deacons are servants of the church, and if the conferring of office be a blessing or an honor to them who receive it, the church being superior to them that serve, it is most apposite that the congregation impose hands, than that a class of public servants, the equals of the elect, should do it.

      4th. But more authoritative than all, when sacred office became necessary in God's first congregation, he commanded the multitude, [118] and not Moses nor Aaron, to impose hands on the heads of those who were to be devoted to the service of the congregation. Be it, then, distinctly observed, that those now called THE LAITY by the Man of Sin, and those accustomed to his style, were commanded by God to consecrate the Levites and to devote them to the service of the tabernacle of the Lord. Hence ordination began with the common people. Let the reader who is sceptical turn over to the book of Numbers, chapter viii., 9th and 10th verses: "And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation, and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together, and thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord, and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites. And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel that they may execute the service of the Lord." It is, I believe, universally agreed that the whole 600,000 militia of Israel could not impose their hands upon 22,000 Levites; but that the heads of the people, the representatives of all the tribes, for and in behalf of all the congregation, and in the presence of the whole assembly, did actually put their hands upon the heads of the Levites. But however this may be agreed upon, one thing is certain, that those who first imposed hands were the community who had never hands imposed upon themselves.

      5th. In the last place here: The idea of superiority of power in those who ordain, above the community, is without countenance in the New Testament. Nay, the contrary is taught: for when the Apostles Paul and Barnabas were sojourners and members of the congregation in Antioch--at the suggestion of the Holy Spirit, the prophets and teachers, with the concurrence of the whole congregation, certainly inferior in dignity to the great Apostle to the Gentiles, laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and consecrated them to the work assigned them by the great, head of the church.3

      From this imposition of hands we learn, 1st. That hands were imposed not always for conferring spiritual gifts, even in the days of the Apostles; but for devoting and separating persons to the work of the Lord. 2d. That persons of inferior standing in point of office laid the hands of ordination on those who were their superiors in gifts and abilities, as well as in general standing in the estimation of the brethren. 3d. That imposition of hands was essential to ordination, accompanied with prayer and fasting; and 4th. That no excellence in the gifts of preaching, teaching, or of administering the affairs of the family of God; that no call or qualification on the part of Heaven, however clear and unequivocal, was allowed in the primitive church to dispense with these sacred forms of ordination. [119]

      It may not be out of order to observe, that if every particular congregation thus elect and ordain its officers by the authority of the Lord, and according to the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, then, in that case, the right and authority of such officers to administer the affairs of the church is directly derived, not by succession, through ignorant and blood-stained hands, but directly from heaven. To such elders it may in truth be said, "Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has constituted you bishops."4

      In such a case there is no need to go out of the particular congregation to search the rolls and moth-eaten registers of an order of clergy pretending to lineal official descent from Peter, through more than three hundred popes and their clergy; which, by the way, would be on the popular hypothesis essential to the confidence of the church in the legitimacy of their succession.

      In this case the church has only to consult the sacred Scriptures, and to see that the persons whom they elect are those pointed out by the Holy Spirit speaking in the Apostles. They have to take heed that they are duly elected by the voice of the congregation, and that they are devoted to the Lord by the imposition of their hands, with prayer to God and fasting. Then they have an assurance that they have a divinely authorized ministry, to which it is their duty, their honor, and their happiness to submit themselves as to those who are responsible to Jesus Christ and to them for the faithful performance of the duties of their office. To them they are, in duty bound, to submit as "to them that watch for their souls," under the solemn responsibility of "giving an account to the Lord"--"that they may do it with joy and not with sorrowing;" for that would be to their eternal detriment and dishonor.

      Against all this we anticipate that it will be repeated the ten thousandth time, that the Apostles alone laid hands on those elected by the congregation. But this can not be sustained: for the elders of a congregation laid their hands upon the head of Timothy5--for the distinguished members of the church of Antioch laid their hands upon the head of the missionaries Paul and Barnabas6--as in the antecedent house of God the elders of the whole congregation, or persons deputed by the community, who had never hands imposed upon them, laid their hands upon the Levites.

      And even should it be still argued that it was most usual for the Apostles to lay on their hands, a question arises, which, when fairly settled, nullifies the papistical argument deduced therefrom: for it can be argued, and argued triumphantly, that the Apostles, not by virtue of apostleship, but because elders in the congregation of Jerusalem, laid hands on the deacons elect; and as elders in other [120] congregations which they planted or watered, assisted in the consecration of those appointed by the churches, by and with the advice, and according to the direction of the Apostles, that persons are nominated, elected, and ordained.

      If the Apostle Paul could, with propriety, while absent in the body, say that he acted with the Corinthians in the exercise of discipline, may it not in the same license be said, that "though absent in the body, yet present in spirit," or by his will, he acts with the church in executing the order which he gave?7

      To be still more explicit and copious on this long debated topic, we would add, that when a church is once arrived at manhood, having its bishops and deacons--that when any person is elected by the congregation to fill any vacancy, by death or resignation, then indeed the congregation will most naturally act through its own elders in laying on hands on the newly elected bishop. And is not this the reason, and a good reason, why the Apostles, who were always the elders8 in every church where they sojourned, took so active a part in the imposition of hands on the bishops and deacons elect.

      He that concludes that ordination is a part of the apostleship, must, to be consistent, plead that the eldership and diaconate are parts of the apostolic office; for the Apostles acted as elders and deacons in some churches. They all attended upon tables in Jerusalem before persons were elected to those duties; and Peter exhorts elders because he says himself is one; and consequently it was in good order for him as a bishop, and a senior bishop, to exhort not only the Christian community, but the elders that presided over them. And be it observed, that he addresses the elders as pastors or shepherds, feeding the flock of God under the supervision of the great, the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls. The only divinely authorized Archbishop is, then, "the chief Shepherd" of God's flock, the Lord Jesus, who "purchased the flock with his own blood."

      There is reason for the frequency of allusion to the imposition of the Apostles' hands, which merits our notice. They were entrusted with the erection of the kingdom of the Messiah in the world. This threw into their hands every sort of office and duty. They preached first, they taught first--they first exhorted--first waited upon the tables of the poor--were the first deacons and the first bishops of the churches which they planted. They appointed persons, such as Timothy, Titus, and others, to assist them in getting things in order. But that they had successors in this character is insusceptible of proof, from all that is on sacred record. Many things they taught by word, and many things by letter. Their traditions by word are sometimes alluded to; and when learned are as obligatory as what is [121] written. They are, however, only found in an authoritative form in their epistles still extant.

      One thing is most obvious: they never appointed bishops over two or more churches; but so soon as it was expedient obtained bishops in every city--elders in every church. Hence we read of the elders, or bishops, (for these words are used interchangeably,) of the church in Ephesus; of the church in Jerusalem--of elders ordained in every church; but never of one bishop over two churches.

      Are we not now prepared to state the order of ordination?

      1. The congregation, after having proved the abilities and capacities to teach and rule found in its own members, and, above all, tested their character as approved by those within and without the congregation, appoints a day for the election of its proper officers.

      2. Having agreed upon those eligible, possessing in an acceptable measure the qualifications commanded by the Apostles, a day is appointed for their solemn consecration to the Lord.

      3. The day arrives; the church assemble with fasting, and proceeds to select members to impose hands on the officers elect in behalf of the congregation.

      The persons thus chosen then proceed to impose their hands on the heads of those elected, while all unite in prayer to God that those brethren chosen by them, and now devoted to the Lord as their bishops or deacons, may, feeling their responsibility, with all diligence and fidelity to the Lord, and with all humility of mind and affectionate concern for the brotherhood, exercise the office with which they are hereby invested in the name of the Lord, according to the true intent and meaning of the Christian institution, as they shall account to the Lord at his glorious appearing and kingdom. The whole congregation then lifting up their voice, say, Amen!

      Whether this may include all the solemnities of such an occasion, may, perhaps, be questioned by some; but that it does not transcend all that is taught and implied in the ancient order of ordination, can not, we think, be doubted by any one intelligent in the Oracles of God. It will be remembered that we are writing in reference to a new church--to a congregation coming into the apostolic order; for after being once set in order, it will be unnecessary to select persons to ordain or to introduce other seniors into a participation of the oversight or ministry of the community. Those already ordained will for the brotherhood always act in such matters. They are the standing presbytery or senate of the congregation.

      It was, however, expedient, in our judgment, to select the most difficult case, and one that will place the true fountain of all official authority in the boldest relief before the brotherhood. [122]

      No one can say that such officers, so nominated, elected, and ordained by the people, have not full ecclesiastic authority and right to officiate in behalf of the congregation, because they are of their own choice and ordination. Neither can it be said with due regard to what is written by the Apostles, that such officers have not the authority of the head of the church, as well as of the brethren, to administer the affairs of the congregation; for they are of the Lord's choice and ordination. They are persons chosen by the Lord and the people. They are ordained by the Lord and the people; because the laws of the Lord are consulted and obeyed in the whole affair by the people.

      The jurisdiction of such bishops is always circumscribed by the congregation which ordained them. A single church is the largest diocese known in the New Testament. Neither does his election and ordination give him an indelible character, nor a perpetual office. Should he leave the church, which, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, created him, and become a member of another church, he enters it as a private member, and so continues until that church elect and ordain him, should they call for his services. The bishops and deacons of the church in Philippi were the bishops and deacons of the church in Philippi, and of no other church; and so of Ephesus, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem.

      Of the bishops of a large congregation it will generally, perhaps always, happen that one of them will be eminent above the others. Character, age, talent, information, will inevitably bestow superiority in some respects. Although the presbyters or eldership are equal in authority, some one will occasionally be president of the meeting; and, perhaps, one may become standing president. This is inevitable. Although all the Apostles were equal in authority, among them there were some called pillars; and of these one was more influential than the others. Among the first twelve Peter, James, and John were regarded by the whole christian community as "pillars" of high reputation. In the great meeting in Jerusalem, when Paul and Silas went as delegates from the church in Antioch, in behalf of the Syrian christians; and when a general meeting was called of all the apostles, elders, and the whole congregation; and after there had been "much debate," Peter and James spoke once, and all were silent. The weight of their judgment settled the controversy. Paul became chief of all the Apostles, not in church authority, but in influence; because of his extraordinary talents, labors, and spotless reputation. If so, then amongst the ambassadors of heaven, why should we think it strange if now, in a congregation having twelve or twenty elders, one should [123] by common feeling and common consent, become president of the senate9 or eldership of the whole community?

      By translating this influence and presidency to mean church authority, and not distinguishing between moral influence and ecclesiastic power, before the end of the second century they called the president bishop "the bishop," and the others were commonly regarded only as the eldership; and finally the bishop became the only bishop, and his jurisdiction was extended first over the city--then, over its suburbs--then, over its vicinity--then, over the province--then, over the kingdom--then, over the empire--then, over the world, until it ended in "His Holiness the Father universal," or "the Pope."

      Still it is a fact that one person can only preside at a time in one congregation; and it is unavoidable but that the most gifted and dignified will most generally preside when present, for the congregation will have it so. But confine this presidency, even though it should become stated, within its constitutional limits, (a single congregation,) and a Pope will never be born.

      In all societies this presidency will obtain. It obtains in all republics; it obtained even in the fierce democracy of Greece--in the Roman Republic; it now obtains in the American Republics during the tenure of office. The senate has its president; a committee has a chairman; the Supreme Court, and all courts down to that of Common Pleas, have their president judges. It obtained in the commonwealth of Israel, in the time of Moses, in the time of Joshua, in the time of the Judges, in the time of the Kings, in the time of the Captivity, in the times when it was a Roman province.

      There are hierarchs in the skies. In heaven among angels there are thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers. In the church the Lord gave first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; then, various helpers. And when the church arrived at its manhood state on earth there were private persons--deacons--bishops; and of these bishops, though alike in power, one generally presided, and to this it as naturally tends as do the waters to the sea: and it is best so, provided only, all is done with knowledge, good understanding, good spirit--without pride and lordship in him that presides--and without envy, and jealousy, and suspicion, and evil surmisings among the bishops and in the congregation. And be it observed with all emphasis, that there is no order of things, divine or human, that, in this earthly state, can wholly exclude occasions or opportunities for the display o f these evil passions. Moses and Aaron were envied, Joseph was envied, Jesus was envied, Paul was envied, and some of his [124] acquaintance even preached Christ through envy. Humility, condescension, brotherly kindness, paternal solicitude for all the brotherhood, and a profound regard to the model Christ Jesus the Lord of all, are the only shield and defense against the workings of all evil passions.

[A. C.]      

      1 Acts i. 23; vi. 3, 5; II. Cor. viii. 19. [116]
      2 Why the Apostles laid hands in the ordination of bishops or deacons, may appear more evident in the sequel. [117]
      3 For a more full and argumentative development on the whole subject of ordination, the reader will please examine the whole series of my letters to Dr. Otey, of Tennessee, now in progress. [119]
      4 Acts xx. 28. [120]
      5 I. Tim. iv. 14. [120]
      6 Acts xiii. 3. [120]
      7 I. Cor. iii. [121]
      8 I. Pet. v. 1. [121]
      9 The Greek word presbuterion, found three times in the New Testament, maybe rendered either senate, presbytery, or eldership. [124]

      Alexander Campbell. Extract from "Order--As Respects the Ordination of Bishops." The Millennial
Harbinger Extra 6 (October 1835): 496-504.
      NOTE: Page 123 in Millennial Harbinger Abridged consists of extracts from Alexander Campbell's "Opinions," The Millennial Harbinger Extra 3 (August 1832), p. 356, and Robert Richardson's "Untaught Questions.--No. I.," The Millennial Harbinger 30 (June 1859), pp. 310-311, found elsewhere in this volume, on pages 40 and 47, respectively. Text from page 503 of the original article has been transcribed as page 123 in this electronic edition of Millennial Harbinger Abridged. [E. S.]


[MHA2 115-125]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)