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The Ancient Church by William Dool Killen


Paul declares that Christ |gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.| [230:1] In another place the same writer, when speaking of those occupying positions of prominence in the ecclesiastical community, makes a somewhat similar enumeration. |God,| says he, |hath set some in the church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that, miracles; then, gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.| [230:2]

These two passages, presenting something like catalogues of the most prominent characters connected with the Apostolic Church, throw light upon each other. They mention the ordinary, as well as the extraordinary, ecclesiastical functionaries. Under the class of ordinary office-bearers must be placed those described as |pastors and teachers,| |helps,| and |governments.| The evangelists, such as Timothy, [230:3] Titus, and Philip, [230:4] seem to have had a special commission to assist in organizing the infant Church; [230:5] and, as they were furnished with supernatural endowments, [231:1] they may be considered extraordinary functionaries. The apostles themselves clearly belong to the same denomination. They all possessed the gift of inspiration [231:2] they all received their authority immediately from Christ; [231:3] they all |went in and out with Him| during His personal ministry; and, as they all saw Him after He rose from the dead, they could all attest His resurrection. [231:4] It is plain, too, that the ministrations of |the prophets,| as well as of those who wrought |miracles,| who possessed |gifts of healings,| and who had |diversities of tongues,| must also be designated extraordinary.

It is probable that by the |helps,| of whom Paul here speaks, he understands the deacons, [231:5] who were originally appointed to relieve the apostles of a portion of labour which they felt to be inconvenient and burdensome. [231:6] The duties of the deacons were not strictly of a spiritual character; these ministers held only a subordinate station among the office-bearers of the Church; and, even in dealing with its temporalities, they acted under the advice and direction of those who were properly entrusted with its government. Hence, perhaps, they were called |helps| or attendants. [231:7]

When these helps and the extraordinary functionaries are left out of the apostolic catalogues, it is rather singular that, in the passage addressed to the Ephesians, we have nothing remaining but |PASTORS AND TEACHERS;| and, in that to the Corinthians, nothing but |TEACHERS| AND |GOVERNMENTS.| There are good grounds for believing that these two residuary elements are identical, -- the |pastors,| mentioned before[232:1] the teachers in one text, being equivalent to the |governments| mentioned after them in the other.[232:2] Nor is it strange that those entrusted with the ecclesiastical government should be styled pastors or shepherds; for they are the guardians and rulers of |the flock of God.| [232:3] Thus, it appears that the ordinary office-bearers of the Apostolic Church were pastors, teachers, and helps; or, teachers, rulers, and deacons.

In the apostolic age we read likewise of elders and bishops; and in the New Testament these names are often used interchangeably.[232:4] The elders or bishops, were the same as the pastors and teachers; for they had the charge of the instruction and government of the Church.[232:5] Hence elders are required to act as faithful pastors under Christ, the Chief Shepherd.[232:6] It appears, too, that whilst some of the elders were only pastors, or rulers, others were also teachers. The apostle says accordingly -- |Let the elders that rule well, be counted worthy of double honour, especially those that labour in the word and doctrine|.[232:7] We may thus see that the teachers, governments, and helps, mentioned by Paul when writing to the Corinthians, are the same as the |bishops and deacons| of whom he speaks elsewhere. [233:1]

In primitive times there were, generally, a plurality of elders, as well as a plurality of deacons, in every church or congregation; [233:2] and each functionary was expected to apply himself to that particular department of his office which he could manage most efficiently. Some elders possessed a peculiar talent for expounding the gospel in the way of preaching, or, as it was occasionally called, prophesying; [233:3] others excelled in delivering hortatory addresses to the people; others displayed great tact and sagacity in conducting ecclesiastical business, or in dealing personally with offenders, or with penitents; whilst others again were singularly successful in imparting private instruction to catechumens. Some deacons were frequently commissioned to administer to the wants of the sick; and others, who were remarkable for their shrewdness and discrimination, were employed to distribute alms to the indigent. In one of his epistles Paul pointedly refers to the multiform duties of these ecclesiastical office-bearers-|Having then,| says he,| gifts, differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry (of the deacon), let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.| [233:4] It has been supposed by some that all the primitive elders, or bishops, were preachers; but the records of apostolic times warrant no such conclusion. These elders were appointed simply to |take care of the Church of God;| [233:5] and it was not necessary that each individual should perform all the functions of the pastoral office. Even at the present day a single preacher is generally sufficient to minister to a single congregation. When Paul requires that the elders who rule well, though they may not |labour in the word and doctrine,| shall be counted worthy of double honour, [234:1] is language distinctly indicates that there were then persons designated elders who did not preach, and who, notwithstanding, were entitled to respect as exemplary and efficient functionaries. It is remarkable that when the apostle enumerates the qualifications of a bishop, or elder, [234:2] he scarcely refers to oratorical endowments. He states that the ruler of the Church should be grave, sober, prudent, and benevolent; but, as to his ability to propagate his principles, he employs only one word -- rendered in our version |apt to teach.| [234:3] This does not imply that he must be qualified to preach, for teaching and preaching are repeatedly distinguished in the New Testament; [234:4] neither does it signify that he must become a professional tutor, for, as has already been intimated, all elders are not expected to labour in the word and doctrine; it merely denotes that he should be able and willing, as often as an opportunity occurred, to communicate a knowledge of divine truth. All believers are required to |exhort one another daily,| [235:1] |teaching and admonishing one another,| [235:2] being |ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them;| [235:3] and those who |watch for souls| should be specially zealous in performing these duties of their Christian vocation. The word which has been supposed to indicate that every elder should be a public instructor occurs in only one other instance in the New Testament; and in that case it is used in a connexion which serves to illustrate its meaning. Paul there states that whilst such as minister to the Lord should avoid a controversial spirit, they should at the same time be willing to supply explanations to objectors, and to furnish them with information. |The servant of the Lord,| says he, |must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.| [235:4] Here the aptness to teach refers apparently to a talent for winning over gainsayers by means of instruction communicated in private conversation. [235:5]

But still preaching is the grand ordinance of God, as well for the edification of saints as for the conversion of sinners; and it was, therefore, necessary that at least some of the session or eldership connected with each flock should be competent to conduct the congregational worship. As spiritual gifts were more abundant in the apostolic times than afterwards, it is probable that at first several of the elders [236:1] were found ready to take part in its celebration. By degrees, however, nearly the whole service devolved on one individual; and this preaching elder was very properly treated with peculiar deference. [236:2] He was accordingly soon recognized as the stated president of the presbytery, or eldership.

It thus appears that the preaching elder held the most honourable position amongst the ordinary functionaries of the Apostolic Church. Whilst his office required the highest order of gifts and accomplishments, and exacted the largest amount of mental and even physical exertion, the prosperity of the whole ecclesiastical community depended mainly on his acceptance and efficiency. The people are accordingly frequently reminded that they are bound to respect and sustain their spiritual instructors. |Let him that is taught in the word,| says Paul, |communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.| [236:3] |The Scripture saith -- Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn; and, The labourer is worthy of his reward.| [236:4] |So hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.| [236:5]

The apostles held a position which no ministers after them could occupy, for they were sip pointed by our Lord himself to organize the Church. As they were to carry out instructions which they had received from His own lips, and as they were armed with the power of working miracles, [236:6] they possessed an extraordinary share of personal authority. Aware that their circumstances were peculiar, and that their services would be available until the end of time, [236:7] they left the ecclesiastical government, as they passed away one after another, to the care of the elders who had meanwhile shared in its administration. [237:1] As soon as the Church began to assume a settled form, they mingled with these elders on terms of equality; and, as at the Council of Jerusalem, [237:2] sat with them in the same deliberative assemblies. When Paul addressed the elders of Ephesus for the last time, and took his solemn farewell of them, [237:3] he commended the Church to their charge, and emphatically pressed upon them the importance of fidelity and vigilance. [237:4] In his Second Epistle to Timothy, written in the prospect of his martyrdom, he makes no allusion to the expediency of selecting another individual to fill his place. The apostles had fully executed their commission when, as wise master-builders, they laid the foundation of the Church and fairly exhibited the divine model of the glorious structure; and as no other parties could produce the same credentials, no others could pretend to the same authority. But even the apostles repeatedly testified that they regarded the preaching of the Word as the highest department of their office. It was, not as church rulers, but as church teachers, that they were specially distinguished. |We will give ourselves,| said they, |continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word.| [237:5] |Christ sent me,| said Paul, |not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.| [238:1] |Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.| [238:2]

But though, according to the New Testament, the business of ruling originally formed only a subordinate part of the duty of the church teacher, some have maintained that ecclesiastical government pertains to a higher function than ecclesiastical instruction; and that the apostles instituted a class of spiritual overseers to whose jurisdiction all other preachers are amenable. They imagine that, in the Pastoral Epistles, they find proofs of the existence of such functionaries; [238:3] and they contend that Timothy and Titus were diocesan bishops, respectively of Ephesus and Crete. But the arguments by which they endeavour to sustain these views are quite inconclusive. Paul says to Timothy -- |I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine;| [239:1] and it has hence been inferred that the evangelist was the only minister in the capital of the Proconsular Asia who was sufficiently authorized to oppose heresiarchs. It happens, however, that in this epistle the writer says also to his correspondent -- |Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches;| [239:2] so that, according to the same method of interpretation, it would follow that Timothy was the only preacher in the place who was at liberty to admonish the opulent. When Paul subsequently stood face to face with the elders of Ephesus [239:3] he told them that it was their common duty to discountenance and resist false teachers; [239:4] and he had therefore now no idea of entrusting that responsibility to any solitary individual. The reason why the service was pressed specially on Timothy is sufficiently apparent. He had been trained up by Paul himself; he was a young minister remarkable for intelligence, ability, and circumspection; and he was accordingly deemed eminently qualified to deal with the errorists. Hence at this juncture his presence at Ephesus was considered of importance; and the apostle besought him to remain there whilst he himself was absent on another mission.

The argument founded on the instructions addressed to Titus is equally unsatisfactory. Paul says to him -- |For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain [240:1] elders in every city as I had appointed thee;| [240:2] and from these words the inference has been drawn that to Titus alone was committed the ecclesiastical oversight of all the churches of the island. But the words of the apostle warrant no such sweeping conclusion. Apollos, [240:3] and probably other ministers equal in authority to the evangelist, were now in Crete, and were, no doubt, ready to co-operate with him in the business of church organization. Titus, besides, had no right to act without the concurrence of the people; for, in all cases, even when the apostles were officiating, the church members were consulted in ecclesiastical appointments. [240:4] It is probable that the evangelist had much administrative ability, and this seems to have been the great reason why he was left behind Paul in Crete. The apostle expected that, with his peculiar energy and tact, he would stimulate the zeal of the people, as well as of the other preachers; and thus complete, as speedily as possible, the needful ecclesiastical arrangements.

When Paul once said to the high priest of Israel -- |Sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law| [240:5] -- he had no intention of declaring that the dignitary he addressed was the only member of the Jewish council who had the right of adjudication. [240:6] The court consisted of at least seventy individuals, every one of whom had a vote as effective as that of the personage with whom he thus remonstrated. It is said that the high priest at this period was not even the president of the Sanhedrim. [241:1] Paul was perfectly aware of the constitution of the tribunal to which Ananias belonged; and he merely meant to remind his oppressor that the circumstances in which he was placed added greatly to the iniquity of his present procedure. Though only one of the members of a large judicatory he was not the less accountable. Thus too, when Jesus said to Paul himself -- |I send thee| to the Gentiles, |to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God| [241:2] -- it was certainly not understood that the apostle was to be the only labourer in the wide field of heathendom. The address simply intimated that he was individually commissioned to undertake the service. And though there were other ministers at Ephesus and Crete, Paul reminds Timothy and Titus that he had left them there to perform specific duties, and thus urges upon them the consideration of their personal responsibility. Though surrounded by so many apostles and evangelists, he tells us that there rested on himself daily |the care of all the churches;| [241:3] for he believed that the whole commonwealth of the saints had a claim on his prayers, his sympathy, and his services; and he desired to cherish in the hearts of his young brethren the same feeling of individual obligation. Hence, in these Pastoral Epistles, he gives his correspondents minute instructions respecting all the departments of the ministerial office, and reminds them how much depends on their personal faithfulness. Hence he here points out to them how they are to deport themselves in public and in private; [241:4] as preachers of the Word, and as members of church judicatories; [241:5] towards the rich and the poor, masters and slaves, young men and widows. [242:1] But there is not a single advice addressed to Timothy and Titus in any of these three epistles which may not be appropriately given to any ordinary minister of the gospel, or which necessarily implies that either of these evangelists exercised exclusive ecclesiastical authority in Ephesus or Crete. [242:2]

The legend that Timothy and Titus were the bishops respectively of Ephesus and Crete appears to have been invented about the beginning of the fourth century, and at a time when the original constitution of the Church had been completely, though silently, revolutionized. [242:3] It is obvious that, when the Pastoral Epistles were written, these ministers were not permanently located in the places with which their names have been thus associated. [242:4] The apostle John resided principally at Ephesus during the last thirty years of the first century; [242:5] so that, according to this tale, the beloved disciple must have been nearly all this time under the ecclesiastical supervision of Timothy! The story otherwise exhibits internal marks of absurdity and fabrication. It would lead us to infer that Paul must have distributed most unequally the burden of official labour; for whilst Timothy is said to have presided over the Christians of a single city, Titus is represented as invested with the care of a whole island celebrated in ancient times for its hundred cities. [243:1] It is well known that long after this period, and when the distinction between the president of the presbytery and his elders was fully established, a bishop had the charge of only one church, so that the account of the episcopate of Titus over all Crete must be rejected as a monstrous fiction.

On the occasion of an ambitious request from James and John, our Lord expounded to His apostles one of the great principles of His ecclesiastical polity. |Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them -- Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you, but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister, and whosoever of you will be chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.| [243:2] The teaching elder holds the most honourable position in the Church, simply because his office is the most laborious, the most responsible, and the most useful. And no minister of the Word is warranted to exercise lordship over his brethren, for all are equally the servants of the same Divine Master. He is the greatest who is most willing to humble himself, to spend, and to be spent, that Christ may be exalted. Even the Son of man came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister; it was His meat and His drink to do the will of His Father in heaven; He was ready to give instruction to many or to few; at the sea or by the wayside; in the house, the synagogue, or the corn-field; on the mountain or in the desert; when sitting in the company of publicans, or when He had not where to lay His head. He who exhibits most of the spirit and character of the Great Teacher is the most illustrious of Christ's ministers.

The primitive Church was pre-eminently a free society; and, with a view to united action, its members were taught to consult together respecting all matters of common interest. Whilst the elders were required to beware of attempting to domineer over each other, they were also warned against deporting themselves as |lords over God's heritage.| [244:1] All were instructed to be courteous, forbearing, and conciliatory; and each individual was made to understand that he possessed some importance. Though the apostles, as inspired rulers of the Christian commonwealth, might have done many things on their own authority, yet, even in concerns comparatively trivial, as well as in affairs of the greatest consequence, they were guided by the wishes of the people. When an apostle was to be chosen in the place of Judas, the multitude were consulted. [244:2] When deputies were required to accompany Paul in a journey to be undertaken for the public service, the apostle did not himself select his fellow-travellers, but the churches concerned, proceeded, by a regular vote, to make the appointment. [244:3] When deacons A or elders were to be nominated, the choice rested with the congregation. [244:4] The records of the apostolic age do not mention any ordinary church functionary who was not called to his office by popular suffrage. [244:5]

But though, in apostolic times, the communicants were thus freely entrusted with the elective franchise, the constitution of the primitive Church was not purely democratic; for while its office-bearers were elected for life, and whilst its elders or bishops formed a species of spiritual aristocracy, the powers of the people and the rulers were so balanced as to check each other's aberrations, and to promote the healthful action of all parts of the ecclesiastical body. When a deacon or a bishop was elected, he was not permitted, without farther ceremony, to enter upon the duties of his vocation. He was bound to submit himself to the presbytery, that they might ratify the choice by ordination; and this court, by refusing the imposition of hands, could protect the Church against the intrusion of incompetent or unworthy candidates. [245:1]

Among the Jews every ordained elder was considered qualified to join in the ordination of others. [245:2] The same principle was acknowledged in the early Christian Church; and when any functionary was elected, he was introduced to his office by the presbytery of the city or district with which he was connected. There is no instance in the apostolic age in which ordination was conferred by a single individual, Paul and Barnabas were separated to the work to which the Lord had called them by the ministers of Antioch; [245:3] the first elders of the Christian Churches of Asia Minor were set apart by Paul and Barnabas; [245:4] Timothy was invested with ecclesiastical authority by |the laying on of the hands of the presbytery;| [245:5] and even the seven deacons were ordained by the twelve apostles acting, for the time, as the presbytery of Jerusalem. [245:6]

Towards the conclusion of the Epistle to the Romans, [245:7] Paul mentions Phoebe, |a servant [245:8] of the Church which is at Cenchrea;| and from this passage some have inferred that the apostles instituted an order of deaconesses. It is scarcely safe to build such an hypothesis on the foundation of a solitary text of doubtful significance. It may be that Phoebe was one of the poor widows supported by the Church; [246:1] and that, as such, she was employed by the elders in various little services of a confidential or benevolent character. It is probable that, at one period, she had been in more comfortable circumstances, and that she had then distinguished herself by her humane and obliging disposition; for Paul refers apparently to this portion of her history when he says, |she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.| [246:2]

In the primitive age all the members of the same Church were closely associated. As brethren and sisters in the faith, they took a deep interest in each other's prosperity; and they regarded the afflictions of any single disciple as a calamity which had befallen the whole society. Each individual was expected in some way to contribute to the well-being of all. Even humble Phoebe could be the bearer of an apostolic letter to the Romans; and, on her return to Cenchrea, could exert a healthful influence among the younger portion of the female disciples, by her advice, her example, and her prayers. The industrious scribe could benefit the brotherhood by writing out copies of the gospels or epistles; and the pleasant singer, as he joined in the holy psalm, could thrill the hearts of the faithful by his notes of grave sweet melody. By establishing a plurality of both elders and deacons in every worshipping society, the apostles provided more efficiently, as well for its temporal, as for its spiritual interests; and the most useful members of the congregation were thus put into positions in which their various graces and endowments were better exhibited and exercised. One deacon attested his fitness for his office by his delicate attentions to the sick; another, by his considerate kindness to the poor; and another, by his judicious treatment of the indolent, the insincere, and the improvident. One elder excelled as an awakening preacher; another, as a sound expositor; and another, as a sagacious counsellor: whilst another still, who never ventured to address the congregation, and whose voice was seldom heard at the meetings of the eldership, could go to the house of mourning, or the chamber of disease, and there pour forth the fulness of his heart in most appropriate and impressive supplications. Every one was taught to appreciate the talents of his neighbour, and to feel that he was, to some extent, dependent on others for his own edification. The preaching elder could not say to the ruling elders, |I have no need of you;| neither could the elders say to the deacons, |We have no need of you.| When the sweet singer was absent, every one admitted that the congregational music was less interesting; when the skilful penman removed to another district, the Church soon began to complain of a scarcity of copies of the sacred manuscripts; and even when the pious widow died in a good old age, the blank was visible, and the loss of a faithful servant of the Church was acknowledged and deplored. |As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.| [247:1]

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