You're here: » Articles Home » Alvin I. Hobbs » Ecclesiastical Polity

Ecclesiastical Polity

By Alvin I. Hobbs

      BY organization, God has most felicitously and efficiently manifested his Wisdom, Power, and Benevolence. Wisdom in designing, Power in combining, and Benevolence in directing the forces material, or physical, to the creature's good. These attributes of the Deity may be studied no less profitably in the animalscula, so infinitesimal that hundreds might find a pleasure ground on a needle's point, than in the wonderful adjustment of the myriad systems of worlds, wooed by the "sweet influences of the Pleiades."

      In God's physical government, He is sole lawgiver. Every adjustment has been made by the Divine touch. The Great God is ever present with omnipotent energy, to uphold all things by the word of His power.

      Is it supposable that the All-wise Disposer would delight to manifest His glory in organizing material forces, and yet would allow the moral forces of the universe to go ungirt by His power and undirected by His law? Surely not. In the moral realm we will not look in vain for the benevolent adjustings of the Divine hand.

      In pursuance of the purposes of God, our Saviour came into the world to establish an organism, that in the highest degree should show the glory of the Most High. A suitable, an infinitely wise adjustment of many parts to act unitedly as a complex whole. More fearfully and wonderfully made than the human body. More firmly cemented than any building or temple. More permanent and powerful than any earthly kingdom. Yet, resembling all these, when viewed from different standpoints. This organism, the church of the living God, was to be built upon the Everlasting Rock. Sinners, rough-hewn from the world's quarries, were to be dressed by the inimitable chiselings of the Holy Spirit, to become living stones in this spiritual house.

      As we can not conceive of organizations without organs, and organs without office, so we can not conceive of office without law defining official relations and duties. Hence, a priori, it is absurd to suppose that the Great Head of the church has designated for His kingdom no form of government. As well might we suppose that He had organized the human body and left it without law. Indeed the very statement is irreconcilably paradoxical. When men under take to do anything, however, of doubtful right and propriety, we naturally expect them to build upon some fallacy. Strange as it may seem, this has ever been the corner stone upon which all creed-mongers of the past, have attempted to rear imposing ecclesiastic structures.

      Perhaps some captious critic will say: The Scriptures only set forth the general form of church government as monarchical, not giving us any specific statutory directions as to the number or kinds of officers, their relations, duties, nor the manner of their selection, etc., etc. Why, herein is a strange thing, that the church is a monarchy under the unlimited authority of Christ, and yet He does not legislate for His kingdom. To whom does the right belong, or upon whom is the duty to prescribe as to the matters in hand, but the King? Or has He delegated this prerogative to any body of men now living? If so, let them present their credentials to the inspection of a world too long imposed upon by such unsupported pretensions. The admission that the general form of government is given, and that that form is monarchical, is an admission that whoever would attempt to wield any of the prerogatives of the monarch, without permission, and such permission as would be good and sufficient credentials to the world, ought to be treated as an interloper--guilty of an act, which, if performed in an earthly government would subject the perpetrator to the loss of his life. This may seem hard, but is it not true? I do not mean to say that those who do such things in the church, mean to do wrong but this does not change the nature of the act.

      There is an element of truth in the objector's mind that does not take shape in his words. It may be illustrated thus: A general orders an inferior officer to execute a certain movement against the enemy, but leaves it discretionary with him, whether he shall take one baggage wagon or one hundred. Whether he shall march by day or by night. Whether he shall ration his army from the commissariat, or live off the country. Whether he shall attack at sunrise or sunset. Now, in reference to the thing to be done, the officer has no discretion. In this, possibility is his only limit. As to the manner of executing this movement, it is always to be understood whether mentioned or not, that he shall obey the command subject to the laws of war. So the great Captain of our salvation has ordered us to "move upon the enemy's works." This we must do, restricted only by the laws regulating this warfare. The genius of the Gospel in its universality of promulgation and application, under all forms of civil government, and in all conditions of human society, demands for the subaltern in things accidental the largest liberty compatible with the dignity and majesty of its Great Author. The all-wise Head of the church, could have given us explicit directions for every phase of our work, but the world would scarcely contain the books. Hence, in precept, precedent, and general principle by Himself and the apostles, our Lord has given us all that pertains to the government, perpetuity and prosperity of the church.

      Therefore, while in the things to be done, and also in the manner of doing some things, we have no discretion, yet amid the ever shifting surroundings of the church in all ages, countries, and conditions, there will be much of an advisory and executory character left to human wisdom and prudence, coming under the law of expediency. Still we must never trench upon the divine wisdom, by following the dictates of human wisdom, when we have the law of Christ, precept or example directing. Now must we assume to bind upon the consciences of men, to believe or do, that for which we have not a thus saith the Lord, or apostolic precedent clearly made out.

      Having selected twelve men as ambassadors, to whom one more was afterward added, Christ returned to His native Heaven. Through these were sent forth His imperial edicts for the development of His kingdom on earth. A careful scrutiny of the words and deeds of the apostles, will disclose to us the law of Christ, respecting His kingdom--its government and work. For it must be remembered that the Lord promised to ratify in heaven what these men did and taught on earth.

      Because these only infallible sources of information on these subjects have been ignored, various forms of church government have been foisted upon the Lord's people. These forms have been multifarious and centripetalized, or centrifugalized, as one or the other of these forces has predominated in any given age. Hence, ever-recurring and sometimes violent perturbations have marked the religious orbit. But with the Christ as the center of light and attraction, these forces will be equipoised. Then the religion of the Son of God will flood the world with His reflected glory.

      Simplicity and freedom from cumbrous ecclesiastical machinery were the crowning glory and strength of primitive Christianity. Each congregation, with its own proper officers duly elected and qualified, constituted a little municipality under Christ. It was independent of other congregations, however, for municipal purposes only. Beyond these, all Christian congregations were bound together by the indissoluble bonds of love to God and man. An inter-community of interests and affection, with homogeneity in everything that made them distinctive from the world, constituted them, for the glory of God, and the conversion of the world, a consolidated power.

      No sooner, however, had a scheming demagogical, worldly policy, and corrupt ambition taken control, than the church was despoiled of her simplicity, unity, purity and power. By accepting an alliance with the state she was chained as a captive Queen to the wheels of sin's triumphal chariot. Instead of standing up before the throne in her heaven born purity and majesty, tempering every department of society with her influence and virtue, she meanly consented to fall into the foul embrace of a worldly, sensual, church-state policy.

      Perhaps, in nothing was the church more damaged than by replacing Christianity's original elements of power and prosperity, with the vain, ostentatious pomp, circumstance and spirit of civil government. Forgetting Christ's words: "Be not ye called Rabbi, master, for one is your master even Christ, and all ye are brethren;" "The kings of the gentiles seek to exercise lordship over them, but it shall not be so among you;" orders of clergy, correspondent to the various orders of ministers in the state must be had by the church. These must be the ecclesiastic pyramid--a monument of more folly than the pyramids of Egypt--whose apex should be the king or queen; whose base must be the common herd or plebeian's ecclesiastic. As new ideas in religion must clothe themselves in new words; for distinction, these church plebeians were called "the laity." This pyramid was perfected during the dark ages. The Roman Catholic church has the doubtful honor, of rearing a higher one than any other people. Not, however, exactly in accordance with the original draft. Instead of making the king or queen the apex, as head of the state and church, the pope claimed the honor of head of the state, because he was acknowledged head of the church. This accomplished, he who blushed not to call himself "God's Viceregent on earth, His Holiness the Lord God the Pope," successfully constituted himself the fountain of temporal as well as spiritual power.

      At first glance, that the world should yield to such claims made in the name of religion, might seem to be a great victory for Christianity. From one standpoint it was, but such a victory as was religion's defeat, and would have been the ruin of the world, had not the monk of Erfurth torn apart the miter and the crown.

      Episcopalianism in England attempted to rescue Christianity from the thraldom of papal tyranny. But after some abortive efforts, fell herself a victim to church-state combination. She weighed down her laity with a pyramid built after the Constantinian model.

      John Wesley, wearied with the spiritual ennui of Episcopalianism, burst the fetters of a cold formalism. Gathering about him many admirers, he succeeded in firing them with his own electrified zeal and spiritual activity. The graveyard orderliness and beauty of Episcopalianism were about to be marred by the ploughshare of Mr. Wesley's enthusiasm. Hence, persecution was called upon to let loose the dogs of war. Mr. Wesley was still, however, a High Churchman, and indeed remained so, and died in the Church of England. He would be satisfied, therefore, if he could only find some place where the movement he had set on foot, could come to perfection under the auspices of a diluted Episcopalian regime. His eye turned anxiously to the new world. He saw a people here who had fled from regal ecclesiasticism. Whose political notions were averse to monarchy or despotism in church or state. He found nothing favorable to reproduce here the politico-ecclesiastic polity of England. Hence, he ordered a system of church government, called Methodist Episcopacy, with Episcopalianism of England.

      In element, essentially the same,
      Made somewhat sweeter by an added name.

      It must be admitted, however, to the honor of that great and good man, that he waived educational influence and training to such an extent, that he did not authorize the assumptions of power made by the bishop, who stands now at the apex of the Methodist pyramid.

      Our heartiest gratitude is due to the Giver of all good that He has given us a civil government modeled to a certain extent after, and conservative of, the government of Christ's church. With the advance of republicanism and the elevation of the masses, we may expect to see the followers of Christ re-investing themselves with the rights originally given them by the Magna Charta of Christian liberty. Returning to the simplicity of primitive Christianity and doing away with clerical domination.

      Then those Ashdodical terms, clergy and laity, will no longer disgrace our religious literature. I hate them in the church, as I hate the terms patrician and plebeian in the state. The former is the symbol of an unrighteous aristocracy in the church. The latter, of the deep abasement of the masses of unofficial Christians.

      The last four years (1861-1865) have been terrible years of blood. Republicanism has again passed successfully the ordeal, on the forum and on the battlefield. While her strugglings have called out the highest patriotism of Americans, and awakened the deepest sympathies of the millions of earth's oppressed, we have the strange anomaly of a majority of more than eighteen thousand Methodists in this country voting against "lay representation." Deliberately voting to be slaves to clerical domination. To be plebeians in the church. History will record this as a remarkable instance of clerical influence or "lay" folly.

      May the Lord hasten the day, when all His followers will discard all castes and human distinctions in the church, and be content to stand upon a sublime equality as brethren with none but Jesus, Master.

      Church Officers

      At the first and during the formative period of the church, there were two classes of officers--ordinary and extraordinary. The former were subdivided into evangelists, elders or bishops and deacons. The latter, into apostles, prophets and workers of miracles. Correspondent, in number at least, to this classification were two kinds of powers--natural and supernatural. The former were subdivided into faith, hope and love. The latter, into tongues, prophecy and knowledge.

      The co-existence of these two kinds of agencies, and instrumentalities during the formative period of the church, is by no means anomalous in God's plan of operating. When the work of forming the physical universe was going on, they co-existed. When the work was completed, then the extraordinary agencies and supernatural instrumentalities ceased, but the ordinary and natural continued. So it was in forming and continuing the Mosaic polity. So, when God created man. The extraordinary and supernatural had their play until he became a living soul, then life was perpetuated by the ordinary and natural. Precisely so, in forming the church the body of Christ, it became a living soul by the extraordinary and supernatural; and it is no more natural for a man to live by inspiring the atmosphere, than for the church to live by inspirations of faith, hope and love. These are to be vitalizing elements. No more can the life of the church be sustained without them, than could the life of a man, in air exhausted of oxygen.

      If the extraordinary and supernatural cease when the formative process is completed, how vain to suppose that the apostles have successors in our day. As well might one claim to be the successor of a prophet, or worker of miracles. They have no successors, nor could they have from the very nature and design of their work. God never works miracles of knowledge or power, except in creation or in making a new revelation.

      Besides, apostles were official witnesses for Christ. Can a witness have a successor? You may record and perpetuate His testimony, and it shall be true and valid for all time, but to become His successor you can not.

      As, after the church had reached its majority, extraordinary agents and supernatural instrumentalities were to cease, and natural instrumentalities, as faith, hope, and love, were to abide, so should ordinary official agents, as evangelists, bishops and deacons continue.


      From evangelidzo, means a proclaimer of good news. Evangelion, or evangel, is the good news itself. From the fact that primitive preachers, under the apostles, proclaimed the evangel of salvation through Christ, they came to be officially called evangelists. Hence, in the Scriptures and in religious literature, this word has technical or appropriated meaning. It occurs three times in the New Testament.

      Inspiration was not a sine qua non to the evangelist's office, and we have no reason to believe, that any one, officially an evangelist, ever possessed it. Although "Philip the evangelist" did work miracles. Timothy certainly did not, for he was commanded "to study to show himself approved with God, as a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Some Timothies of our day might profit by this advice, and save a great deal of shame, if they would study more the Word of God, and not wait for the movings of the Holy Spirit, vainly expecting that the Lord promises to none of our time. Certainly they could then divide the word of truth without so mangling it as to evoke from the world only a momentary pity for Christianity, but a permanent contempt for its professed ministers.

      Paul to Timothy, II Ep. iv:5, says: "Do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of your ministry. " Upon this we may remark, that the evangelist has to do the work sui generis--of its own kind. The epistles to Timothy and Titus were directed to evangelists. Reason suggests that we should find in them the work of an evangelist described. Our expectations are not disappointed. They were to preach the word, reprove, rebuke, admonish, to set in order the things wanting, to ordain elders in the churches. In short, to become public defenders of the faith, and proclaimers of the Gospel. Their field was the world. Where "human foot hath trod" or human heart hath bled is the evangelist's diocese.

      It is not to be understood that itineracy is a necessity to their work, but an accident. Timothy abode a long time at Ephesus. His work comprehended the establishment and setting in order of new churches, as also the teaching and enlarging of the old ones. Indeed, we can not separate from the spirit of the evangelistic office a supervisory care over the general interests of Zion. Not that the evangelist should lord it over God's heritage, but he should care for the churches in the spirit of love, with the deep and pungent sense of his responsibility to the Great Head of the church.

      That spirit now so rife which seeks to localize and monopolize the labor of the most talented preachers, thus cutting them off from all active sympathy with general interests, can not be too strongly reprobated. Especially since the supply of evangelists is so unequal to the demand. Some of our most gifted preachers are swallowed up in the circumference of a county-town locality, and can not see nor feel any interest in any general work. Hence, we seldom find them at the general missionary meetings; and when we do they are so pressed by some local affair that they can only stay long enough barely to save their credit. In the same way are general educational enterprises neglected. We shall not attempt to locate the blame for this state of things, but leave each one to take a generous share to himself. We do not object to preachers abiding, like Timothy, a long time at one place; but we do object to this selfish forgetfulness of all interests outside of a given locality, whether by preachers or people.

      To one in need it may be very grateful to pour rich stores of wealth at his feet, but it would better comport with a wise Christian benevolence to share with all the needy, since the unsearchable riches of Christ are sufficient for all.

      Elders or Bishops

      The former term represents the Greek presbuteros, which is the comparative degree of presbus from presbeuo--to be old. Hence, presbuteros nominally means an older or elder man. The latter represents the Greek episkopos from the verb, episkopeo, to oversee. Hence, episkopos is a guardian or overseer. It occurs five times in the New Testament; four times translated bishop, once, overseer. Its cognate episkopee indicates office of oversight. See I Tim. iii:1. The word episkopee does not of itself indicate the kind of oversight demanded of a Christian bishop, nor would the word episkopos indicate a bishop any more than an overseer of the poor. But the scriptural use and application of these terms does both. Acts xx:28: "Feed the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit hath made you episkopous, overseers." Phil. i:1. "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." I Tim. iii:2: "A bishop, episkopon, then must be blameless." Titus i:7: the same. I Pet. ii:25: "For ye were as sheep going astray, but now are returned to the shepherd and bishop of your souls." In all the above occurrences but one, the word episkopos evidently indicates an office in the congregation.

      From the first passage we learn:, 1. That the relation of the bishop to the congregation is analogous to that of the shepherd to the flock; only one is spiritual, the other physical. As the shepherd watches the flock to ward off the beast of prey; to lead them beside the still waters and over the green pastures; to bring back the wandering to the fold; to go in and out before them, and treat them with such tenderness that they will love his voice and follow him with cheerful alacrity; so the shepherd of the spiritual fold should smite the wolf in sheep's raiment, that comes but to "scatter, tear, and slay," and lead the flock into the rich pastures of divine truth, and beside the still waters of divine grace, and follow the lost one through the labyrinths of Satan's devices, and bear him gently back to the fold. To go in and out before them in such holiness, with such unctuous piety of heart and purity of life, and genial love for each and for all, that every one will hail his presence with delight, and be uneasy if he is out of sight.

      2. We learn from this passage that the Holy Spirit constituted or ordered over one congregation a plurality of bishops--overseers--by King James' Episcopalian translation. Sectarianism, in order to sustain itself, in this place, as in some other, has dared to tamper with the utterances of the Divine Spirit. Why did not King James' revisers translate episkopous bishops, instead of overseers, as they did in every other place, only observing the nominal accident, number? Does the context forbid it? O, no! what then? This is the reason: Episcopalianism must have one bishop over a plurality of congregations in order to maintain its diocesan episcopacy. But this word, translated here as in other places, would have thrown heaven's veto into the face of Episcopalianism, against its distinctive peculiarity, and in favor of a plurality of bishops over one congregation. Hence the attempt at imposition by mistranslating; whereby they would make the Apostle seem to be talking to a different class of officers from bishops. Yet, after such partisan and sectarian trifling with the Word of God, there are those who are ready to throw up their hands in affected horror, when it is proposed to revise King James' version and make it a more perfect transcript of the inspired originals. This work to be done, too, not by one religious party, but by scholars of all denominations. O, foolish one, let silence be thy best retreat, lest blatant error make thy shame appear!

      From the second passage it appears, that although bishops and deacons are saints, yet saints are not necessarily bishops and deacons. Else these distinctions are meaningless. Hence, bishops and deacons were the officers of the congregation.

      From the third and fourth passages, it is clearly indicated, that although the bishop is an officer in the church, yet not every disciple may aspire to the office. e. g. The novice is excluded.

      It is assumed by some that the elder and bishop are two grades of officers. No wonder. The ecclesiastic pyramid would not rise high enough to afford sufficient altitude to the modern bishop, or the Pope without numerous steps. Nor could there be obtained so large a view of the kingdoms of this world.

      The following arguments are conclusive that they do not indicate two different grades of officers, but are two appellatives for one officer.

      1. These words are used interchangeably and applied, to the same officer.

      Proof--Acts xx:17: "And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders, presbuterous, of the church. Acts xx:28, addressing these elders, he said: "Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit hath made you, episkopous, overseers, or bishops. Tit. 1:5: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders, presbuterous, in every city." Verse 7: "For a bishop, episkopon, must be blameless."

      In all these cases the same official is designated by the two appellatives, presbuteros and episkopos, used interchangeably.

      2. The same duties that are enjoined upon elders, are enjoined upon bishops.

      Proof--Acts xx:28; and I Pet. v:1-2.

      3. The same qualifications are required of both. Proof--I Tim. iii; Tit. i.

      Hence, we conclude they are the same officer, with different, and interchangeable appellatives. The title episkopos, bishop, being applicable because of the nature of the office work. The title presbuteros, elder, applied, because men of advanced age and experience were usually selected to fill the office. It is not probable, however, that old age was indispensable to one's eligibility to the office. Many a Christian, comparatively young in years, is older in knowledge and Christian experience, than some with temples hoary from the frosts of life.


      Of these there are twenty-four. Sixteen positive, eight negative.

      Positive. 1. Bishop must be blameless. Not justly censurable. 2. Must be the husband of one wife. Not a polygamist. 3. Must be vigilant: 4. Must be sober. Moderate, not a hot-spur. 5. Must be of good behavior, courteous. 6. Must be hospitable. 7. Must be apt or fit to teach. 8. Must be patient. 9. Must rule his own house well. 10. Must have his children in subjection with all gravity. 11. Must be of good report among those without. 12. Must be a lover of good men. 13. Must be just, honest. 14. Must be holy, pious, religious. 15. Must be temperate. Having self-control. 16. Must hold fast the faithful word or true doctrine.

      Negative. 1. Not given to wine. 2. No striker. Not quarrelsome. 3. Not a maker of money by base methods. 4. Not a brawler. Averse to contention. 5. Not covetous. Avaricious, inordinately desirous of wealth. 6. Not a novice. A neophyte or new convert. 7. Not self-willed. Haughty, imperious, arrogant. 8. Not soon angry. Not prone to anger, irascible, petulant.

      Perhaps one is ready to say, much is required of a bishop. What elder shall be able to stand. Various methods have been invented to soften the lines of this picture. Some say, that if a man possess all these negative qualifications, and, but one of the positive, he is eligible to the office. That to make a complete eldership in any congregation, we ought not to expect to find these qualifications in any one man. That we ought to select a number sufficient to combine them all, taking care that each one selected shall have at least one of the positive and all the negative qualifications. That the Apostle is ascribing the office and not the officer. To my mind, this is but a genteel way of pleading an excuse for the failure, of too many of us in this age, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. It seems to me, if a man had all these negative, and but one of the positive qualifications, he would find it difficult to establish his claim to the Christian character, to say nothing of the bishopric.

      The greatest obstacle in the way of many is the required aptness to teach. This, of all the requisites, should be the least alarming. If any one not a neophyte, with ordinary ability, interposes this objection to the exercising of the functions of the eldership, he would tacitly confess a conscious moral unfitness, or culpable neglect to improve opportunities enjoyed. Without reformation, such a one only has a name to live while dead.

      If we could divest our minds of some of the fastidious notions, of this age, and return to the simplicity of the apostolic age, when Christians were more Christian and less critic; when they had quite as much head and more heart in religion, when they taught in love, and learned in meekness the simple word of our blessed Master; perhaps the required aptness to teach would not be such a lion in the way.

      If the lines of this picture need to be softened, I would rather suppose that Divine Wisdom, here, as everywhere else, to put our moral on the stretch, lifts a high standard, while Divine grace stands ready to pardon our failure to reach it, upon an honest trial. Aim at the sun lest you fall below the moon, is a maxim ever to be observed, both in Christian ethics and enterprise.


      They must be grave, not double-tongued. Not given to much wine. Not makers of money by base methods. Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Must not be polygamists, but must rule their own houses well. The word diakones indicates a servant, but not any specific kind of service. From the objects impelling to the selection of the seven at Jerusalem, it is generally agreed, that their service respects the temporal interests of the church. This office is no sinecure, but one of ardent work and great importance to the welfare, prosperity and influence of Christ's kingdom.

      The deacons of a congregation should constitute its financial board to plan and supervise the raising of all moneys necessary for all purposes. They should look after and care for the widow and orphan, the needy, the sick, the dying, the dead. When the deaconship shall be brought up to a proper efficiency we will no more be compelled to witness the humiliating sight of Christians seeking avenues for sympathetic benevolence through the various human* organizations. We may berate these organizations, and cry out that they are plucking laurels from the brow of Christianity. But if we would supercede them, we must bring up the eleemosynary department of Christianity thus doing away their necessity.

      Ecclesiastic Authority

      The highest church tribunal is a well ordered congregation of Christians. Under the law of Christ, such a body is the fountain of ecclesiastic authority. Every congregation is the supreme executor of the law of Christ, within its own limits.--All officers spring from it and are amenable to it, as are all its members.

      While teaching congregational independence, we must carefully avoid the paralyzing extreme of congregational isolation and selfishness. It requires all Christians everywhere, to constitute the church of Christ in its entirety. Congregations are only the church of Christ in homogeneous subdivisions, as an army, for greater convenience and efficiency. And as the subdivisions of an army have their own camping grounds and police regulations, but are all under the control of one mind or will, for the general purposes of their organization, so all Christian congregations may have peculiar internal regulations, nevertheless, they are all under one Head, which is Christ the Lord.

      There are great general movements, which from their magnitude and the inefficiency of individual effort, must be co-operative. As the missionary work, supplying destitute saints, erecting colleges, schools, etc. We have in the epistles instances of such co-operations. But these co-operations were not through packed, legislative, dictatorial, ecclesiastic bodies, who made the congregations slaves instead of themselves becoming agents to carry out their will.

      As instances of congregational municipal sovereignty, we may cite the following: the excommunication of the incestuous person at Corinth. I Cor. v:4-5. The refractory person was to be disowned by the church. Matt. xviii: 17: The command, "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, " was given to the congregation. II Thess. iii:6. In II Cor. viii:19, Paul speaks of Titus and the brother who was "chosen of the congregations to travel with us." Throughout the Scriptures the congregation is recognized as the source of authority to its evangelists, officers and agents. The act of any congregational officer or agent duly accredited, is the act of the church.

      Election and Installment of Officers

      Excepting the case of Matthias, we have only one case of election. The seven deacons at Jerusalem. One case, however, is amply sufficient for our direction if it clearly evolves a principle of procedure.

      Acts vi:2-3: "Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them and said: It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men, . . . whom we may appoint over this business. And they chose (elected) Stephen," etc. We learn from this--1. The original election was by the people. 2. Even the apostles did not assume the authority to make the choice, nor in any way interfere to trammel the choice of the congregation.

      We have no case of bishops being elected by the people, nor by any one else. Since, then; we have one class of officers elected by the congregation, and no intimation that the rule should be changed as to the others; and, since all officers are but the agents of the congregation, and amenable to them, we are forced to the conclusion that none has a right to assume official prerogatives, but by their consent. This conclusion is not to be doubted in the light of church history, for that confirms it with great particularity.

      Election to, not identical with induction into office. By some the reverse of this is contended for. That any one elected to an office is ipso facto invested with all its powers. That election is ordination. This position is usually taken by those opposed to imposition of hands in the ordination ceremony. Their opposition to the ordination ceremony arises more from an untempered aversion to the papistic claims usually made when hands are imposed, rather than from an achromatic conviction of the impropriety or wrongfulness of the ceremony itself. In this, as in everything else, "to the law and the testimony." Acts vi tells us the people (eklego), chose the seven, and the apostles were to (kathisteemi), appoint them over the business of serving tables. Tit. i:5: Titus was commanded to (kathisteemi) ordain or appoint elders in every city.

      In Acts vi, the same word is used to indicate the appointment of the "seven" by the apostles, as is used to tell Titus what to do in respect to elders. While a different word, eklego, to elect, indicates the part the people took in the matter. Kathisteemi means to place over, or to install. Inasmuch as the apostles were to do this after the election by the disciples, we conclude: 1. That an election is not ordination. 2. That in the Scriptural order it is the antecedent, and ordination the subsequent. 3. That ordination is a formal induction into office.

      Titus was to ordain, that is, by this precedent, to set over the churches as elders those previously elected by the disciples. Now, if to ordain is simply to elect as some contend, then the congregations have no voice in the selection of officers. For Titus, not the disciples, was commanded to ordain. This position transfers to the preachers the whole business of making officers. It augments clerical power insupportably, which, is the very thing those who confound election and ordination wish to prevent.

      What was the Ordination Ceremony? The seven deacons were ordained by imposition of hands, fasting, and prayer. Barnabas and Paul ordained (cheirotoneo by stretching forth the hand), with fasting and prayer. Barnabas and Paul were set apart to the work of evangelism, by imposition of hands, fasting, and prayer. Acts xiii:3. Timothy had the hands of the presbuterion, eldership, imposed upon him, the presumption is, with fasting and prayer, to constitute him an evangelist.

      How, then, was Titus to ordain? Evidently, after the people had made their choice, if the choice did not conflict with the organic law of the kingdom, he was to commission or install into office the persons chosen, by imposition of hands, fasting, and prayer. This is our model.

      Who may conduct the Ordination Ceremony? The official relation in the church, as in the state, is based upon an expressed or implied covenant. The electors offer the elect certain prerogatives and honors, with their cordial support in his onerous work, if he will enter upon and faithfully discharge the duties of a given office. He accepts the terms of the covenant. Now it becomes necessary to let the parties appear together and formally ratify the covenant. If the Lord had not given us a form of ratification, we might lay our wisdom and prudence under contribution for an appropriate form. We might adopt the ancient form of passing a furnace and burning lamp between the sundered parts of a slain animal; or build a covenant pillar of stones. But the Lord has saved us this trouble by giving us a form of ratification most beautiful and impressive.

      As it has been the custom from time immemorial to impose hands upon the head, as when a blessing was pronounced, or something was transferred from one to another, as in the sin-offering. And, as in this covenant, authority to act officially is to be given the officer elect; what more fitting than that hands should be imposed amid the solemnities of fasting and prayer. He only is competent, therefore, to impose hands, whom the congregation permit. They will usually permit the bishop or evangelist.

      Men may scoff and say, all this is but a form. Be it so. The Lord has ordained it; and wisely, too, for such a form, all radiant with divine philosophy and fitness, is needed to impress officers with the immense responsibilities assumed, and the disciples with their acknowledged obligations--Aaron and Hur alike--to stay the hands of their official agents, that Israel may prevail.

Back to Alvin I. Hobbs index.


Like This Page?

© 1999-2019, All rights reserved.