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


      It has long been a question whether church officers should be selected by the congregation at large, or by the Evangelist charged with effecting the organization of the church. There is but little said on the subject in the Scriptures, but those who are willing to be guided by the slightest indications of the will of God in preference to their own judgment, will find sufficient to satisfy them.

      We have only one example on record, in which we are distinctly told what part was taken by the congregation, and what by the ordaining officers. This is the case of the seven deacons of the church in Jerusalem. The Apostles called together "the multitude of the disciples," and said, "Look you out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business," Acts vi: 2, 3. The selection, then, was made by the multitude, and the appointment by the apostles. The distinction made between these two terms should not be overlooked. The term [71] appoint is sometimes understood as including the selection, but in the style of the apostles it means merely induction into office, and is distinguished from the selection which precedes it.

      Now, in the case of the Elders in the churches of Lycaonia and Pisidia, it is said that Paul and Barnabas "ordained them"; or, to express it more accurately, "appointed them." Acts xiv: 23. The word here rendered appoint (cheirotoneo) is not the one so rendered in Acts vi: 3; but in such a connection its current meaning is about the same. The part performed by the apostles in this case being the same as in the case of the deacons, it is fair to presume that the part performed by the people was also the same, and that Luke fails to mention it because, having previously stated the process of selecting one class of church officers, he could presume that his readers would understand that the same process was observed in the present instance. Indeed, the nature of the case is such that we would of necessity so understand it, unless expressly informed that the process was different. If a traveler, giving an account of the customs of some newly discovered tribe of men, should describe the selection of a certain class of officers of their government, and afterward frequently speak of the selection of other classes of officers, without intimating that the process was different, it would necessarily be inferred that the process was the same, unless, indeed, there should be found something in the context, or in the nature of the case to forbid the inference.

      When Titus is told to ordain or appoint Elders in every city, the same term is used, as when the apostles in Jerusalem proposed to appoint the [72] deacons: the process, therefore, is the same, and it takes place after the selection of the officers by the people.

      From these premises, we conclude that all church officers were selected by the congregation at large; and this conclusion is confirmed by the earliest uninspired history. Clement of Rome declares it a rule handed down from the apostles, that church officers "should be filled according to the judgment of approved men, with the consent of the whole community." This would indicate that the judgement of the most approved men in the congregation was given, perhaps in the way of nominations, and that the whole congregation was called upon to express their approval or disapproval. But whether nominations were made in the apostolic age can not be very certainly determined. The only certain fact is that the people elected their officers, and, therefore, whatever mode of procedure in conducting the elections seems most prudent to each individual church, is authorized by the Scriptures.

      Next to the selection comes the appointment, or what is commonly called, the ordination of officers. The statements of the Scriptures on this subject are plain, and sufficiently minute. In the case of the deacons, having been chosen, we are told that they were set before the apostles, and, "when they had prayed, that laid their hands on them." They proposed to appoint them; what they did was to pray and lay hands on them; praying and laying on hands, then, was the mode of appointing, or, if you please, of ordaining. Fasting also is mentioned in connection with the ordination of the Elders in Lycaonia and Pisidia (Acts xiv: 23), and it is highly [73] probable that it accompanied, or rather, preceded the service on all such occasions. With these apostolic precedents before them, Titus in Crete, and Timothy in the province of Asia, needed no express instructions as to the process of ordination; neither does the Evangelist of the present day need any more than these precedents furnish. Fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands, conducted with due solemnity, and accompanied by appropriate admonitions and exhortations, constitute the Scriptural mode of induction into office.

      Through a misconception of the design and effects of ordination, the superstitious idea has extensively prevailed, that if a man is once ordained to office in a congregation, he need not be re-ordained, if he changes his locality and is elected to the same office in another congregation, that there is something perpetual about the imposition of hands, which renders a repetition of it improper. This idea is precluded when we once understand that, like the oath of office in civil government, it is a mere induction into office and is therefore to be repeated as often as an election to office takes place.

      There has been much useless discussion of the question, to what church officer pertains the privilege of laying on hands. The discussion is useless, because the Scriptures furnish unquestionable examples of hands being imposed by apostles, by prophets and by teachers, (Acts xiii: 1-3), by Elders; 1 Ti. iv: 14); and by Evangelists, (1 Ti. v: 22; Ti. i: 5). At the present day, either Elders or Evangelists, or both together, may perform the service, according to the dictates of good sense and the requirement of good order on each occasion. [74]

      One more question occurs to us as worthy of a brief notice in conclusion. Paul says of the deacons, "Let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless." 1 Ti. iii: 10. Some understand this to mean that the candidate for the deacon's office shall be put to work in the duties of the office until it is ascertained whether he can perform them well or not, before he is ordained; and that the term also in the sentence refers back to the Elders previously mentioned, indicating the same in reference to them. It should be observed, however, that Paul does not say that the proving he speaks of is to precede ordination, but to precede using the office. It would be reversing Paul's order, therefore, to require the candidate to use the office as a means of proving him. Instead of proving him first, and then letting him use the office, it would be requiring him to use the office first of all. Evidently this can not be the meaning: but, having prescribed the qualifications by which a candidate for each of the offices in question is to be tested, the apostle states that they must prove themselves before they are allowed to exercise the functions of the office to which they aspire.

[ATOTE 71-75]

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