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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)



      Concerning the eldership, Mr. Campbell taught the presbyterial form. See church order, "Eldership." He says in addition, 1838, page 127:

      There are extremes of congregationalism and monarchical despotism. There is popery and a fierce democracy. Neither of these are the Christian Institution. Mobocracy may become as tyrannical as unlimited monarchy. Both are to be eschewed for the same reasons.

[A. C.]      

      I premise two or three axiomatic truths.

      1. Every community requires government; or, in other words, every body requires a head.

      2. A community all head, or a community that is all government, is a monster.

      3. It is more harmonious with reason, universal nature, and the Bible, that seniors should govern juniors, than that juniors should govern seniors.

      These things premised, we allege that the church of Christ is a community that needs government, and that her Founder and Head has communicated authority for this purpose to some persons.

      The Apostles were authorized by Christ to give rules for the selection and ordination of elders, and these seniors were instructed in their duties by the Apostles. One branch of their duties was "ruling well." They were teachers and rulers. Consequently, if they ruled, others obeyed. A community all rulers, or a community all ruled, would be an anomaly in earth or heaven. The Christian house resembles a family in some respects: for ruling a family well is the best preparation for ruling a church well; and the best voucher of a man's fitness for exaltation to the Senate or eldership, is his proficiency in family government. If I thought my readers were not well read in Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, I would here quote chapter and verse.

      Touching the passages quoted and commented on by our correspondent, we have only time and room to remark, that the passages themselves, without comment, are clearly in favor of a senatorial government in the church. The nation of Israel and the synagogues were both under a senate, and the Christian church was after the same model.

      Thus Paul to the Thessalonians says, "We beseech you, brethren. acknowledge them who labor among you and are OVER YOU (under) in (or by) the Lord, and admonish (or instruct) you, and to esteem them very highly in love for the work's sake, or on account of their sacred office--"warn the UNRULY," (or disorderly.) Paul addressed the churches even where bishops are named in them, because he wished [284] to teach both their duties to each other, and was above both. "He gave first apostles." This fact explains the difficulty suggested on account of not writing to the senate or bishops of the churches. It was indeed wise and benevolent on the part of the Apostles to instruct both the rulers and the ruled at the same time face to face in one public letter. True, indeed, he addressed Timothy and Titus on official duties; but generally he addressed the whole community--and although he sometimes gave a charge to the senate, as in the case of the Ephesian bishops, he preferred to write to the congregations with or without an eldership, that all might be instructed, supported, and comforted.

[A. C.]      

      The appointment of the seven deacons, in a short time, fully demonstrated the wisdom of those who made it. The most happy consequences followed this new arrangement. And if the proclamation of the gospel had been confined to Jerusalem, the organization of the mother church would have been perfect during the lives of the apostles. But the parting words of our Saviour to his apostles were, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." Hence they could not long tarry in Jerusalem. Some must go down to Samaria, others to Antioch, others to Ephesus, others to Alexandria, and others to Rome. Nor could they long make these cities an abiding place. For their commission was, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."

      But what was to be done with the congregations of disciples that they had gathered together? These must not be abandoned to the enemy. They must be cared for. But by whom? The settlement of this question led to the appointment of the second order, or rank, of Christian ministers. The following are some of the passages that relate to them: "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts xiv. 23). "And the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter" (Acts xv. 6). "And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church, and when they were come to him he said unto them, . . . Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves and to the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, (episkopoi) to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves, shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts xx. 17-30). "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, (episkoph) he desireth a good work. A bishop, ( episkopoV) then, must be [285] blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with gravity; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God? Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must have a good report of them that are without, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (I. Tim. iii. 1-7). Compare Tit. 1. 5-9. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (I. Tim. v. 17). "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock" (I. Pet. v. 1-3).

      From these Scriptures, it is evident--

      1. That the same class of officers are sometimes called elders, sometimes overseers, and sometimes bishops. The same persons who in Acts xx. 17 are denominated elders, are in the 28th verse of the same chapter called overseers (episkopoi). Paul left Titus in Crete to ordain elders in every city; but in describing their qualifications, he calls them bishops or overseers. The reason is obvious. No one of these terms expresses all the attributes, properties, and accidents of the order. Elder simply signifies an old man. An overseer is a superintendent--one who has the care and oversight of something. The word bishop is a mere Anglo-Saxon corruption of episkopoV; the same that is commonly and correctly rendered overseer. Hence, when contemplated with reference to their age, they were called elders, because they were selected from among the old men. But when regarded with respect to their official relation, they were called overseers or bishops, because their duty was to watch over the flock. For the same reason, the Word that was made flesh, is called Emmanuel, Jesus, the Christ, the true vine, the good Shepherd, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root and offspring of David, the bright and the morning star. All, therefore, that is said of elders, overseers, and bishops, as public functionaries of the kingdom of heaven, has reference to one and they same class of Christian ministers.

      2. That there was a plurality of elders in every properly organized congregation. Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in every church. The apostles and elders of Jerusalem came together to consider the [286] subject of debate between the Jewish and Gentile converts. Paul sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus. In his letter to the Philippians, he addressed all the saints, with the bishops and the deacons. And Titus was left in Crete to ordain elders in every city.

      The wisdom of this arrangement is obvious. As long as there is a diversity of tastes, talents, and dispositions, in the congregations of the sanctified; as long as the principles of envy and jealousy exist in the human heart; as long as the Prince of the power of the air arrays his host of fallen spirits against the army of the faithful; so long will a plurality of both elders and deacons be necessary in every congregation which is not under the immediate care of some well tried evangelist, assisted by the counsel, advice, and occasional labors of other ministers of the word.

      3. That it is the duty of the elders to attend to all the spiritual interests of the congregation of which they have been constituted the overseers. This is the limit of their office. This is their proper sphere of labor. To preach the gospel to the heathen, they have no commission. To rule over other congregations, would be usurpation. But to neglect the souls of those committed to their care, is to bring condemnation upon themselves. They watch for souls as those that must give an account. Hence every elder is an authorized teacher. He must be "apt to teach." He must "hold forth the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." He may not, indeed, at all times exercise this gift. Where there is a plurality of elders, only some of them may be required to labor regularly or constantly in word and doctrine. But whenever it becomes necessary, he must be prepared to feed the flock with the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby.

      The elders must also exercise a constant pastoral care over the whole congregation. "Feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood," is one of the most solemn and impressive charges ever delivered to mortal man. Those who would meet it, must do it in the spirit of their Master. If need be, they must lay down their life for the sheep. They must not only see that all the public services of the congregation are regularly attended to, but like Paul, they must go from house to house, pray with the sick, comfort those that mourn, strengthen the weak, instruct the ignorant, and see that all are living in the regular and habitual use and enjoyment of the various means that God has wisely ordained for our growth in grace and our progress in the divine life.

      To the elders, also, has been committed the discipline of the congregation. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of [287] double honour" (I. Tim. v. 17). "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God" (Heb. xiii. 7). "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give account" (Heb. xiii. 17). And again says Paul to Timothy, "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God" (I. Tim. iii. 5). A bishop, then, must be a ruler. Not, indeed, a lord over God's heritage. But as a wise, prudent, and benevolent parent admonishes, rebukes, reproves, corrects, and chastens his own beloved children, so, in the spirit of Christ, must the elders of every congregation admonish, reprove, and rebuke, the transgressor. And if all means of reformation should fail, they must "withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly" (II. Thess. iii. 6). The elders, then, of every congregation, are its teachers, its pastors, and its rulers.

      4. That their qualifications, as described in the epistles both to Timothy and Titus, are such as eminently to fit them for the duties of their office. A very brief notice of these is all that we propose.

      (1) A bishop must be blameless--anepelhptoV: a man who gives his adversary no hold upon him; against whom no evil charge can be sustained.

      (2) "The husband of one wife"--miaV gunaikoV andra. Considered abstractly, these words would seem to imply that either celibacy or polygamy disqualifies a man for the office of a bishop. But there are some reasons which seem to imply that the latter only is intended.

      First. Celibacy is not in itself an evil. In no part of the Bible is it so regarded. And at least two of the most eminent members of the Christian church, were unmarried men. Hence it is not probable that Paul would condemn in others what he considered right and expedient in his own case. It is unreasonable to suppose that the chief of all the apostles would lay down, as a necessary qualification for the inferior offices, what is proved, by his own example, to be unnecessary for the superior; and which would have rendered both him and Barnabas ineligible to the eldership or deaconship in any Christian congregation.

      Second. But polygamy is an evil. It is a violation of the implied will and purpose of God in man's creation. "In the beginning he made them a male and a female." Its tendency is also full of evil. It destroys or weakens conjugal affection; it excites envy and jealousy where love and harmony should always reign; and hence, its history has been a melancholy illustration of the weakness and the follies of human nature.

      It is, therefore, probable that monogamy only is here opposed to polygamy; and that to free the church and the world, as far as [288] possible, from its prevalent evil, was the benevolent object of the apostle. On this subject, Thomas Scott makes the following judicious remarks: "Christ and his apostles expressly condemned polygamy, as well as divorces, except for adultery. Yet there was no direct command for a man, who had previously taken more wives than one, to put the others away when he embraced the gospel; such a requisition might, in some instances, have produced very bad consequences in domestic life, and increased the opposition of the civil powers to the preaching of Christianity. But the rule that no man, however qualified in other respects, should be admitted into the pastoral office, who had more than one wife, or who had put away one to take another, tended to show the unlawfulness of polygamy and divorces on frivolous pretences, and their inconsistency with the Christian dispensation: and concurred, with other things, to bring them into total disuse in the Christian church, yet without violence and confusion."

      (3) "Vigilant"--nhfaleoV. The bishop must not go to sleep, as a drunkard; he must be watchful, both with regard to himself and the congregation of which he has been made an overseer.

      (4) "Sober"--swfrwn. He should be a man of a sound and well balanced mind; possessing a large amount of good common sense. This qualification will often be brought into requisition.

      (5) "Of good behaviour"--kosmioV. He should be a man of good manners; a gentleman; chaste and polite in his whole demeanor. A man of slovenly, rough, and boorish manners, should never be made an overseer of the church of God.

      (6) "Given to hospitality"--filoxenoV. He should be a lover of strangers; a man of the same spirit as the good Samaritan; always ready to pour into the wounds of bleeding humanity the oil and the wine of the gospel; and especially to receive into his house and entertain every necessitous stranger.

      (7) "Apt to teach"--didaktikoV. He should possess an accurate and comprehensive knowledge of the scheme of redemption, and be able to communicate the same to others. This is a necessary qualification of every elder, bishop or overseer. Hence an order of merely "Ruling Elders," is not an order of the apostolic church. Every elder is officially a teacher and a pastor, as well as a ruler; and therefore, for the discharge of the duties of this three-fold office, he should be well qualified.

      (8) "Not given to wine"--mh paroinoV. A bishop should not indulge in the habit of drinking wine, or any other kind of intoxicating liquors. He should keep himself pure from the evil effects of this and every other species of intemperance. [289]

      (9) "No striker"--mh plhkthV. He must not, in a physical sense, be pugnacious and quarrelsome; always ready

"To prove his doctrine orthodox
  By apostolic blows and knocks."

      (10) "Not greedy of filthy lucre"--mh aiscrokerdhV. He must not be a person who gains money by base and dishonorable means. This would exclude from the eldership, for example, many who are now engaged in the traffic of ardent spirits.

      (11) "Patient"--epieikhV. He would be distinguished for his general mildness and amiability of character; "in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth."

      (12) "Not a brawler"--amacVo. He should not be disposed to fight, in a metaphysical sense. He should not be captious; not given to strife and debate; not too tenacious of his own rights. But quiet in a metaphysical sense. He should not be captious; not given to strife and debate; not too tenacious of his own rights. But quiet and peaceable; and in the spirit of the great apostle, while contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, he should, as far as possible, accommodate himself to the prejudices of all, that he might gain the more.

      (13) "Not covetous"--afilarguroV. He should not be avaricious; not a lover of money. For "the love of money is the root of all evil."

      (14) "One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity." It is important here to distinguish between that which is in itself a qualification, and that which is a mere proof of its existence. If the view taken of the second qualification is correct, it does not follow that to become a bishop, a man must have a family. This test, as we have said, would have excluded even Paul from the eldership of a congregation, in which, for three years, he had discharged with fidelity all the duties of an overseer. But it does follow that, having a family, it should be well governed; having children, they should be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The bishops were chosen from among the old men. They, of course, generally had families. And their qualifications for the instruction, care, and government of a congregation, would be most apparent from the manner in which they had educated their own families. It was a maxim with Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, that "He who knows not how to govern and reform his own family, can not rightly govern and reform a people." And a greater than Confucius has said, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" [290]

      (15) "Not a novice"--mh neofutoV. He must not be a neophyte, a new convert to the faith; "lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil."

      (16) "Moreover, he must have a good report of them that are without;" of them who are Christians--of the unconverted; "lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."

      Such, then, are the essential qualifications of every Christian bishop, elder, or overseer. Those who do not possess them, should beware, that they touch not the ark of God.

      5. That the Holy Spirit approved evangelists, and the members of each congregation participated in the appointment of its elders to the sacred duties of their office. The Holy Spirit defined their proper qualifications. Hence Paul could properly say to the elders of the Ephesian congregation, "Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers."

      They were chosen or elected by the whole congregation. This is proved by analogy. On this point we have neither a specific command nor a direct example. The reason is obvious. Neither is necessary. The general principle of popular election can be fully sustained without it. The deacons were chosen by the whole multitude of the disciples. So were various other representatives of the churches. This is evident from the following passages: "Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas, surnamed Barnabas; and Silas, chief men among the brethren" (Acts xv. 22). "And when I come, whomsoever you shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem" (I. Cor. xvi. 3). "And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; and not that only, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind" (II. Cor. viii. 19). "Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner, and fellow-helper concerning you; or our brethren be inquired of, they are the messengers (apostoloi) of the churches, and the glory of Christ" (II. Cor. viii. 23).

      If, then, the disciples chose their own deacons; if the whole congregation at Jerusalem convened with the apostles and elders, chose men from among themselves, and sent them to Antioch for a specific purpose, if Paul recognized the right of the Corinthians to choose their own almoners; and if an evangelist, of high reputation, was actually chosen by the Macedonian congregations, to attend to their contributions made in behalf of the poor saints at Jerusalem, can any [291] one assign a good reason why each congregation should not elect her own elders according to the standard of fitness prescribed by the Holy Spirit?

"If weak thy faith, why choose the harder side?"

      The case of Titus is no exception to this law. He was left in Crete, not to choose, but to ordain elders in every city. And even in this, he was not permitted to act arbitrarily, but as Paul commanded him. He was required to follow the apostolic rule. If, then, notwithstanding their perfect acquaintance with the character and qualifications of all the members of the Jerusalem church, the apostles would not choose her first deacons, but as the legislators of they kingdom of heaven, referred this work to the whole multitude of the disciples, it is surely not assuming too much to conclude, that the congregations of Crete and Ephesus enjoyed the same privileges; and consequently, that it is the duty of every congregation to elect all her representatives, whether deacons, elders, or messengers appointed for some particular and temporary purpose.

      That the elders of every unorganized congregation were ordained by well qualified evangelists, with prayer, fasting, and the imposition of hands, has, we trust, been already made sufficiently evident. In congregations partially organized, it is highly probable that the ordained elders would take part in their ordination. Thus, by the concurrence of the Holy Spirit, wise and pious evangelists, and the whole multitude of the disciples, the interests of all would be secured, and every evil guarded against as far as possible.

      6. That the elders were all officially equal. Every legally ordained elder was, by virtue of his appointment, a teacher, a pastor, and a ruler of the congregation over which he had been chosen to preside. So are all native-born American citizens, constitutionally, free and equal. But they are not all fit to be presidents, governors, judges, or legislators. Our representatives in Congress, all bearing their proper credentials, go to the capitol on terms of equality. But it does not hence follow, that they are equally entitled to the Speaker's Chair. There are, in every body of men, natural and educational differences, as clearly revealed as any oracle of Holy Writ. And we may farther add, that a proper regard for these distinctions is just as binding as the laws of Divine Revelation; and that to disregard them, is to incur the penalties due to such follies, just as certain as that Jehovah is a God of order.

      The presbytery of a congregation is no exception to these general remarks. It is absurd to suppose that five, ten, or fifty men, elected to the eldership of a congregation, are equally prepared to discharge all the duties of their calling. The best ruler is not always the best [292] teacher; and the best teacher is not always the best pastor. Every one has his proper gift from God. In the primitive churches, all elders were rulers, but only some labored constantly in word and doctrine. Hence, the elders should form just such an organization as will best suit the wants and circumstances of the congregation, such as will give to each one the office and sphere for which, by nature and education, he is best qualified.


      In response to a query on the ordination of elders, W. K. Pendleton teaches, 1861, page 350:

      The manner of electing and appointing the stated officers of the church, is a question on which there is much diversity of opinion; not, indeed, so much as regards primitive usage, but mainly upon the point of expediency. Nearly all the controversies upon the subject of church organization have grown out of the admission of the very dangerous principle, and there is no divine or apostolic model indicated, and therefore, that it was intended to be left to the emergencies of the times and the discretion of the saints.

      We have before us this very important question. How are the elders and deacons to be elected to these ranks and inducted into office? To say that this question cannot be satisfactorily answered, would be to reject both the teachings of Scripture and the almost unanimous voice of history. The first example of election to office during the apostolic age, is that of Matthias. It seems that two persons were nominated in this case, and that this nomination was made by the "men and brethren" assembled; for it is to these that Peter addresses himself; and at the close of the speech, the historian says, "They" (that is, those whom Peter addressed, men and brethren) "appointed two."

      2. The seven deacons, of whose appointment we have the history in the sixth chapter of Acts, were elected by the "multitude of the disciples" whom the Apostles called together for this purpose; and when they had chosen them and placed them before the Apostles, as the persons whom they preferred for this business, they were solemnly inducted into office by prayer and the imposition of the hands of the Apostles.

      3. It is true, that no example is recorded in the New Testament of the people electing or choosing their elders; neither is there one of any other person or persons choosing or electing them, in their stead. Paul and Barnabas are represented by the historian (Acts xiv. 23) as ordaining elders in all the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch; Timothy is commanded to entrust the things he had heard from Paul, to faithful men, who should be able to teach others: and Titus was left in Crete to set in order the things that were wanting, [293] and to ordain elders in every city. The characters also who were alone eligible, are clearly depicted; but who shall elect those who are to be ordained is not affirmed. Still analogy, the nature of government, and life of history, leave no room to doubt that the choice was made by the people--the disciples.

[W. K. PENDLETON.]      

      1. Alexander Campbell. Extract from "The Senatorial Government of the Church." The Millennial
Harbinger 9 (March 1838): 128.
      2. ----------. Extract from "The Senatorial Government of the Church." The Millennial Harbinger 9 (March
1838): 126.
      3. Robert Milligan. "The Permanent Christian Ministry: Chapter II. Of Elders." The Millennial Harbinger
26 (December 1855): 685-693.
      4. W. K. Pendleton. Extract from "Response" (to "Ordination of Elders"). The Millennial Harbinger 32
(June 1861): 350-351.


[MHA2 284-294]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)