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society, natural, social, and moral, it was found that the interests of the church would be promoted by a delegation of power to a few who should act for, and in the name of the body, and be responsible to them, we find that very early in the history of the apostolic churches, officers were appointed and representatives chosen to carry out the wishes of the brethren, and to consult, deliberate, rule and act, in their name. Of this class were the Deacons, to whom properly belongs the oversight and control of the temporal affairs of the church, and the appropriation of its funds to the relief of the poor; not, however, in independence of the other officers, but in connexion with them. For, as all the higher officers include the lower, so "the deacons' court” included the minister and elders, before whom every point requiring consultation was to be brought, the carrying out of all such financial arrangements alone constituting the peculiar work and duty of the Deacons.*
*The following is the arrangement adopted by the Free Church of Scot
The duties of Elders, as laid down by the General Assembly. Respecting the peculiar duties of elders :1. That they sit in session along with the minister, and assist the administration of discipline, and in the spirtual government of the church.
2. That they take a careful oversght of the people's morals and religious principles, of the attendance upon public ordinances, and of the state of personal and family religion.
3. That they visit the sick from time to time in their several districts.
4. That they superintend the religious instruction of the young, and assist the minister in ascertaining the qualifications of applicants for admission to sealing ordinances.
5. That they superintend and promote the formation of meetings within their districts, for prayer, reading the Scriptures, and Christian fellowship, among the mebers of the church.
The duties of Deacons. Respecting the peculiar duties of deacons :
1. That they give special regard to the whole secular affairs of the congregation.
2. That they attend to the gathering of the people's contributions to the general fund for the sustentation of the ministry; and that they receive the donations which may be made for other ecclesiastical purposes.
3. That they attend to the congregational poor.
Elders and Deacons.
1. That both elders and deacons may receive the Sabbath collections of the people, according to such arrangements as shall be made by the deacons' court.
2. That, for the better discharge of their peculiar duties respectively, as well as with a view to increased opportunities of doing good, both elders and deacons visit periodically the districts assigned to them, and cultivate an acquaintance with the members of the church residing therein.
3. That it is competent for elders to be employed as deacons, when a sufficient number of deacons cannot be had.
4. That deacons may assist the elders with their advice, whether in session or otherwise, when requested so to do.
The Deacons' Court. Respecting the meeting of minister, elders and deacons, for secular affairs; which meeting may be called the Deacons' Court:
Besides the deacons it would appear that other BRETHREN were chosen to represent the people in all the councils of the church, and to form with the bishop or presbyter a standing court, in connexion with each congregation charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church; for which purpose, according to our standards, they had power to inquire into the knowledge and Christian conduct of the members of the church; to call before them offenders and witnesses, being members of their own congregation, and to introduce other witnesses, where it may be necessary to bring the process to issue, and when they can be procured to attend: to admonish,
1. That the minister preside in said meeting, when he is present; and, in his absence, any elder or deacon whom the meeting may fix upon.
2. That the said meeting, or deacons' court, is convened by citation from the pulpit, or by personal notice to the members thereof, and is called by authority of the minister, or at the requisition of any three members, said requisition being addressed to the minister, or, in time of a vacancy of the pastoral charge, to the clerk of the said court; and the proceedings are opened and closed with prayer.
3. That this court has the management and charge of the whole property belonging to the congregation, including church, session-house, manse, school-buildings, &c., and of all its secular affairs, including, of course, the appropriation of seats, with the determination of all questions relating thereto. And it is the province and duty of said court to transmit, from time to time, to the treasurer appointed by the General Assembly, or their committee, the funds raised for the general sustentation of the ministry ; also, to apply the remaining congregational funds, in fitting proportions, to the support of the ministry, the payment of the salaries of the various subordinate functionaries, and the defraying of all necessary charges connected with the property, or with the dispensation of Christian ordinances ; to apply, moreover, any surplus which may thereafter arise, to religious, ecclesiastical, educational, or benevolent objects; likewise to make special collections at the church-door, as often as may appear to them to be necessary, for the temporal relief of poor members of the congregation, and for the education of the children of the poor; and, finally, to receive the deacons' reports of their proceedings, to give them such advice and instruction as may be required, and to decide as to the payments made by them for the relief of the poor and the education of youth.
4. That while the church is solely at the disposition of the minister for all religious purposes, the consent of the deacons' court, as well as of the minister, is necessary, before any meeting, not strictly of a religious, ecclesiastical, or charitable nature, can be held in it.
5. That the said court shall have one or more treasurers and a clerk, and a separate record for the minutes of its proceedings.
6. That the record of the court, with the treasurer's accoun tof receipt and expenditure, after said account shall have been duly audited by appointment of the court, shall be annually exhibited to the presbytery of the bounds, at the first ordinary meeting thereof after the 15th of March, for the purpose of being examined and attested by the presbytery at said meeting.
7. That on the first Monday after said attestation of the record and treasurer's account, or on some convenient day of the first or second week following the attestation by the presbytery, a congregational meeting shall be held, when the deacons' court shall present a report of its proceedings for the preceding year, give such information and explanations as may be asked for, and receive any suggestions which may be offered by the members of the congregation for the consideration of the court, with reference to the future distribution of the funds. The congregational meeting shall be convened by intimation from the pulpit, and the minister, if present, shall preside in it.
8. That to the said court shall belong the appointment and dismissal of the church-officer and door-keepers.See note A.
to rebuke, to suspend, or exclude from the sacraments those who are found to deserve censure; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the congregation; and to appoint delegates to the higher judicatories of the church.
Dr. Hinds, who is chaplain to the archbishop of Dublin, in his History of the Rise and Progress of Christianity, says: "When, therefore, we read that a decree was made by the apostles, presbyters, and the whole church, one of two things must be supposed to have taken place: either the presbyters took each the sense of his own congregation, or the presbyters and other official persons, it may be, met as the representatives, each of his own congregation, and all of the church collectively, The former supposition is certainly encumbered with more and greater difficulties than the latter. The subject proposed at these Christian meetings, seems, from the tenor of the narrative throughout, to have been first presented to the church in any shape; and the decisions took place before the meeting was dissolved. There are no marks of any previous notice of the matter to be discussed, so as to enable the several presbyters to consult the opinions and wishes of their constituents; and the decision took place without any interval to allow of an after consultation. Against the remaining supposition, namely, that the presbyters and other official persons, perhaps, met as the plenipotentiaries, each of his own body, the strongest obstacle lies in the phrase, 'It seemed good to the presbyters with the whole church.' Now this expression, after all, may imply no more than that it seemed good to the presbyters, and whatever other members of the council in conjunction with them, may be called the whole church, because appointed to represent it.”*
But while we believe that such officers are to be found in
*Volume 1, page 349, and see pages 347, 348. See also similar opinions in reference to the delegated character of "the brethren" in this Council, by Bishop Jewell, Def. of Apol. Part 1, p. 41: by Whitaker De Concil, Quæst. 3, cap. 3; in Jameson's Cyprianus Isotimus, pp. 542, 543. See also Bucer De Gubern, Eccl. p. 84, in ibid. 555. Barnard's Synagogue and the Church, p. 258.
Blondel judges, that 'tis most probable, that, in the time of the Apostles, not the whole multitude, but only their seniors used to convene for choosing of their Deacons or such affairs. (De Jure Plebis, Francfort, 1690, p. 262, quoted in the original in Jameson's Cypr. Isot. p. 542.)
"I can't, indeed," says Professor Jameson, "during the first three centuries, find express mention of these seniors or ruling elders; for I freely pass from some words of Tertullian and Origen which I elsewhere overly mentioned as containing them; as also from what I said of the Ignatian Presbyters, their being Ruling or non-preaching Elders, and that without giving of much advantage to the Diocesanists, since in and about the Cyprian age, in which time, as I judge, the author or interpolator wrote, there were belonging to the same church, parish, or congregation, divers Presbyters, who preached little, if any; and yet had power to dispense the word and sacraments." (Do. p. 544.) See further proofs in Clarkson's Primitive Episcopacy, pp. 92, 100, 104, 105. Burn's Eccl. Law on Church Wardens and Visitation. Many eminent Presbyterian writers are of opinion that Ruling Elders are not of divine right, but as they act for and represent the people. (See Biblical Repertory, 1832, p. 28.)
“the brethren" who sat in the council at Jerusalem, in “the helps and governments" elsewhere alluded to; and in "the church” before which offences were to be brought;* we are strong in the belief that they were never once spoken of under the term presbyter or elder, which always refers to the teacher or bishop solely; and that the primitive churches were left at liberty to carry on the business of the church, either with or without such representatives, just as might be found most expedient, and most promotive of their peace, purity and harmony. For in no other way can we account for the fact that nowhere in the New Testament are these representatives enumerated as a distinct class of officers, as are the deacons and the bishops: that nowhere do we find distinct qualifications laid down for such officers, as we do for the bishop or presbyter, and for the deacons and deaconesses ;t and the fact also that it is beyond controversy that down to a late period, some, at least, of the largest churches continued to carry on the business of the congregation in their general and democratic form...
* Matt. 18, 15-18.
IAs to the actual practice of the primitive churches, the following, out of innumerable proofs, may suffice. In the times succeeding the Apostolic, the people were always consulted in the selection of ministers. First, with respect to Bishops ; Cyprian, in his letter to Antonianus, writes thus in reference to the election of Cornelius, Bishop of Rome: "For that which commends our most beloved Cornelius to God, and to Christ, and to his Church, and to all his brethren, in the Priesthood, is, that he did not come to his Bishopric suddenly, but he passed through all the different orders of the Church, and he was made Bishop by very many of our Colleges who were then at Rome, who sent to us, in refernce to his ordination, the highest testimonials in his praise. He was made their Bishop by the will of God and of his Christ, by the testimony of almost all the Clergy, by the suffrages of the people who were then present.” We learn from this passage that Cornelius was elected to his Bishopric by the Bishops, but that his election was confirmed by the suffrages of the people. In another Epistle he says: The ordination of Priests ought not to take place, but with the approval of the people: that by their presence either the crimes of bad men may be detected, or the merits of good men proclaimed ; and let that be a just and legitimate ordination, which shall have been determined on by the suffrages and judgment of all. Eusebius gives similar testimony; speaking of the election of Fabian, Bishop of Rome, he says, “That all the people who had assembled at the election cried out that he was worthy." In a letter from a Council held at Nice, to the Church at Alexandria, it is enjoined, “That no one be chosen into the room of any Bishop deceased, unless he appear worthy, and the people elect him; the bishop of the city of Alexandria giving his approval and confirming the judgment of the people."
With respect to the appointment of Presbyters, &c., though the consent of the people was not absolutely necessary, yet no Bishop of good repute would appoint one, contrary to the expressed wish of the people. "In ordaining Clergymen, beloved brethren, we are accustomed first to consult you, and to consider with you the merits and deserts of each.” See quoted in Vitringa De Vet. Synag. lib. ii. cap. vi. of Bernard's Synag. pp. 170-172. See the most ample proofs on this subject in "Coleman's Primitive Church” recently printed in this country. See chapter IV. on the elections by the Church, in which he shows that suffrage was enjoyed by the primitive churches, and when this was withdrawn, p. 54, &c. In chapter V. he shows how far discipline was exercised by the people. The epistles of all the apostolical fathers are addressed to the churches at large, and imply that the members or their delegates had the power of judging in all cases.
Experience, however, proved, as it still proves in Congregational churches, the inexpediency and danger of such a course, its impotency and inefficiency on the one hand, and on the other hand its tendency to produce parties, schisms and disturbances, and even tumults and open ruptures in the church.* We find, therefore, in after times, a general, if not universal adoption of the principle of representation, and the government of the churches through officers chosen from time to time by the members of the church, and variously called seniors of the people, sidesmen or assistants, wardens, eldermen, and elders, ancients and rectors, the name betokening not the age of these officers, but their character, gravity, and established reputation, as wise and pious men. In the progress of that great apostacy, which for ultimate purposes of good has been permitted to come upon the church, prelates were introduced in conformity with the high priests of the hierarchy of pagan Rome;† the simple order of bishops or presbyters was multiplied into the numerous and paganized orders now found in the Greek and Roman churches; the name and rights of God's "clergy," that is, his chosen people, (see 1 Peter 2: 9,) and of his true ministers, were monopolized by these prelatical despots, who constituted themselves into a hierarchy, and excluded the laity and the inferior clergy, as the Lord's freemen and ambassadors were ignominiously called, from all right, title, and authority, whatsoever, in that heavenly commonwealth of which Christ had constituted them citizens, yea even priests and kings unto God. I
The Reformation, by the great grace and mercy of Him whose glorious work it was, restored to the Christian people their birth-right, and to the bishops or presbyters,—the true and only ministers of Christ,--their standing in the regenerated church; and again committed to their hands the oracles
See page 96, &c. See also evidence from Tertullian and others ; page 99, 104, &c. This view is confirmed by the ablest historians. Valencis, Du Pin, Simons, Mosheim, Guerike, Neander, &c. “Thus is it proved,” says Mr. Coleman, “that the church continued for two or three centuries, to regulate her own discipline by the will of the majority, expressed either by popular vote, OR BY A REPRESENTATIVE DELEGATION CHOSEN BY THEM," p. 95. The Synods also or Councils at first clearly considered themselves as represenlative bodies, delegated by the whole church. “Ipsa representatis totius nominis Christiani," says Tertullian, De Jejun, c. 13, p. 552. See Mosheim De Rebus Christ. Sect. II. $ 23, and Coleman, p. 115. See also Note B, end. *See note C.
* See plain and palpable proof of this given in a work on “The Conformity between Modern and Ancient Ceremonies, wherein is proved, by incontestible authorities, that the ceremonies of the Church of Rome are entirely derived from the heathen, by Pierre Mussard, Pastor of the French or Huguenot Church at Lyons. London, 1745, chap. ii. and iii," This part of the parallel is, for very obvious reasons, omitted in the reently reprinted work by Stopford, “Pagano Papismus," which is, like Middleton's Letter from Rome, a substantial reprint of this volume.
See the author's work on Presbytery and Prelacy, chap. xiv. p. 295, &c.