A Treatise on the Eldership
J. W. McGarvey  (1870)


      Does the New Testament prescribe a form of church government? Protestants have commonly answered this question in the negative; and having thus answered, they have proceeded to adopt such forms of government as best suited the tastes and judgement of the various parties into which they are divided. We think that before proceeding thus far, they should have considered the more fundamental question, Does the New Testament authorize any government at all in the Church? If it does not, then every form of church government is a usurpation. It is altogether certain that without divine authority no human being has a right to control the religious conduct of his neighbor, especially to cut off his neighbor from church membership or the privileges pertaining thereto.

      But it is not denied that the New Testament authorizes the exercise of government in the church; it is only denied that the form of government is prescribed. It is even admitted by many that a certain [7] form of government existed in the apostolic age; yet denied that this form was intended to be perpetual.

      It is not the purpose of this treatise to fully discuss this question, or to exhibit in detail the New Testament form of church government; but the theme which we have chosen assumes the existence of an eldership in the church, and the development of it will necessarily involve the settlement of the more fundamental question above stated. If it be ascertained that any church government at all is divinely authorized, it must appear as a very singular circumstance if the form of that government is not indicated. Moreover, if we find a form of government in existence in the apostolic churches, we shall demand something above mere human judgement or experience to justify an abandonment of it, or even a modification of it. No less than the same authority which institutes can abolish. What God had instituted he alone may abolish. He may abolish by his word, or he may abolish providentially by finally rendering impossible what had once been instituted but unless it is abolished every divine appointment must stand forever.


[ATOTE 7-8]

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