THe key of Authoritie or Rule, is committed to the Elders of the Church, and so the act of Rule is made the proper act of their office, The Elders that rule well, &c.1 Tim.5.17. Heb.13.7.17.
The speciall acts of this rule are many.
The first and principall is that which the Elders who labour in the Word and Doctrine, are chiefly to attend unto, that is, the preaching of the Word with all Authoritie, and that which is annexed thereto, the administration of the Sacraments or seals. Speak, rebuke, and exhort (saith Paul to Titus) with all authoritie. Tit.2.15. And that the administration of the seals is annexed thereto, is plain from Mat.28.19.20. Go (saith Christ to the Apostles) make Disciples and baptize them, &c.
If it be objected, private members may all of them prophecie publilquely.1 Cor.14.31. And therefore also baptize: and so this act of Authority is not peculiar to preaching Elders. Ans.1. The place in the Corinths doth not speak of ordinarie private members, but of men furnished with extraordinary gifts. Kings at the time of their first Coronation gave many extraordinary large gifts, which they do not daily poure out in like sort in their ordinary government. Christ soon after his ascension poured out a larger measure of his Spirit then in times succeeding. The members of the Church of Corinth (as of many other in those primitive times) were inriched with all knowledge, and in all utterance.1 Cor.1.5. And the same persons that had the gift of prophesie in the Church of Corinth, had also the gift of tongues, which put upon the Apostle a necessitie to take them off from their frequent speaking with tongues, by preferring prophesie before it, 1 Cor.14.2. to 24. So that though all they might prophesie (as having extraordinary gifts for it) yet the like libertie is not allowed to them that want the like gifts. In the Church of Israel, none besides the Priests and Levites, did ordinarily prophesie, either in the Temple, or in the Synagogues, unlesse they were either furnished with extraordinarie gifts of prophesie, (as the Prophets of Israel) or were set apart, and trained up, to prepare for such a calling, as the sons of the Prophets. When Amos was forbidden by the high Priest of Bethel, to prophesie at Bethel, Amos doth not allege nor plead the libertie of any Israelite to prophesie in the holy Assemblies, but alledgeth onely his extraordinarie calling. Amos 7.14.15. It appeareth also that the sons of the Prophets, that is, men set apart, and trained up to prepare for that calling, were allowed the like libertie, 1 Sam.19.20.
Answ.2. But neither the sons of the Prophets, nor the Prophets themselves, were wont to offer sacrifices in Israel (except Samuel and Elijah by speciall direction) nor did the extraordinarie Prophets in Corinth take upon them to administer Sacraments.
If any reply, That if the Prophets in the Church at Corinth had been endued with extraordinarie gifts of prophesie, they had not been subject to the judgment of the Prophets, which these are directed to be.1 Cor.14.22.
Ans. It followeth not. For the people of God were to examine all prophesies, by the Law and testimonie, and not to receive them but according to that rule. Psal.8.20. Yea, and Paul himself referreth all his Doctrine to the Law and Prophets. Act.26.22. And the Bereans are commended for examining Pauls doctrine according to the Scriptures. Act.17.11.12.
2. A second act of Authoritie common to the Elders is, they have power, as any weighty occasion shall require, to call the Church together, as the Apostles called the Church together for the election of Deacons, Act.6.2. And in like sort are the Priests of the old Testament stirred up to call a solemne Assembly, to gather the Elders, and all the inhabitants of the land, to sanctifie a Fast, Joel 1.13.14.
3. It is an act of their power, to examine, if Apostles, more then any others (whether officers or members) before they be received of the Church. Rev.2.2.
A fourth act of their rule is, the Ordination of Officers (whom the people have chosen) whether Elders or Deacons.1 Tim.4.14. Act.6.6.
5. It is an act of the key of Authoritie, that the Elders open the doors of speech and silence in the Assembly. They were the Rulers of the Synagogue, who sent to Paul and Barnabas to open their mouthes in a word of exhortation, Act.13.15. and it is the same power which calleth men to speak, to put men to silence when they speak amisse. And yet when the Elders themselves do lie under offence, or under suspicion of it, the Brethren have liberty to require satisfaction, in a modest manner, concerning any public breach of rule, as hath been mentioned above out of Act.11.2.3. &c.
6. It belongeth to the Elders to prepare matters before hand, which are to be transacted by themselves, or others in the face of the Congregation, as the Apostles and Elders being met at the house of James, gave direction to Paul, how to carry himself, that he might prevent the offence of the Church, when he should appear before them. Act.21.18. Hence when the offence of a brother is (according to the rule in Math.18.17.) to be brought to the Church, they are beforehand to consider and enquire whether the offence be really given or no, whether duely proved, and orderly proceeded in by the Brethren according to rule, and not duly satisfied by the offender: lest themselves and the Church, be openly cumbred with unnecessary and tedious agitations: but that all things transacted before the Church, be carried along with most expedition and best edification. In which respects they have power to reject causlesse and disorderly complaints, as well as to propound and handle just complaints before the Congregation.
7. In the handling of an offence before the Church, the Elders have authoritie both Jus dicere, and Sententiam ferre; When the offence appeareth truly scandalous; the Elders have power from God to informe the Church, what the Law (or Rule and will) of Christ is for the censure of such an offence: And when the Church discerns the same, and hath no just exception against it, but condescendeth thereto, it is a further act of the Elders power, to give sentence against the offender. Both these acts of power in the Ministers pf the Gospel, are foretold by Ezekiel Chap.44.23.24. They shall teach my people the difference between holy and prophane, and cause them to discerne between the uncleane and the cleane. And in controversie they shall stand in judgement, and they shall judge it according to my judgement, &c.
8. The Elders have power to dismisse the Church, with a blessing in the name of the Lord, Num.6.23. to 26. Heb.7.7.
9. The Elders have received power, to charge any of the people in private, that none of them live either inordinately without a calling, or idlely in their calling, or scandalously in any sort.2 Thes.3.6. & ver.188.8.131.52.
The Apostles command argueth a power in the Elders, to charge these duties upon the people effectually.
10. What power belongeth to the Elders in a Synod, is more fitly to be spoken to in the Chapter of Synods.
11. In case the Church should fall away to blasphemy against Christ, and obstinate rejection and persecution of the way of grace, and either no Synod to be hoped for, or no helpe by a Synod, the Elders have power to withdraw (or separate) the Disciples from them, and to carry away the Ordinances with them, and therewithall sadly to denounce the just judgment of God against them, Act 19.9. Exod.33.7. Mark 6.11. Luk 10.11. Act.13.46.
Obj. But if Elders have all this power to exercise all these acts of Rule, partly over the private members, partly over the whole Church, how are they then called the servants of the Church? 2 Cor.4.5.
Answ. The Elders to be both servants and Rulers of the Church, may both of them stand well together. For their rule is not lordly, as if they ruled of themselves, or for themselves, but stewardly and ministeriall, as ruling the Church from Christ, and also from their call: and withall, ruling the Church for Christ; and for the Church, even for their spirituall everlasting good. A Queene may call her servants, her mariners, to pilot and conduct her over the sea to such an Haven: yet they being called by her to such an office, shee must not rule them in steering their course, but must submit berselfe to be ruled by them, till they have brought her to her desired Haven. So is the case between the Church and her Elders.