Elders and Sacraments

Discussion in 'Church Office' started by Ben Chomp, Jul 3, 2019.

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  1. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I wonder if our denomination (PCA) is being a little inconsistent when we say that...

    1. Teaching elders and ruling elders are ordained to the same office.
    2. Only teaching elders may administer the sacraments.

    I understand some of the practical reasons to make (2) a rule, but I don't believe this is biblically defensible. Maybe I'm missing something. I appreciate any insights!
  2. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    One practical outworking of this is that RE are teaching all over the place in the PCA. :)
  3. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior


    Surely you know that other denominations, even ones considered more confessionally strict than the PCA, allow unordained men to teach bible studies and SS let alone REs.

    1. Would you take issue with an RE teaching an adult SS class or a Kids SS class?

    2. Do you feel a TE is the only one who can ever teach others about the Bible in a class (outside of corporate worship) setting?

    @Ben Chomp
    See https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/ruling-elders-and-the-sacraments.95964/

    Though in the PCA, I do not hold the 2 office view. I used too, but after seeing the same issue you bring up, I came to see the biblical support and logic for the 4 office view (I actually hold to how the Westminster Directory lays out Church offcies).:detective:

    P.S. A special thanks to Dr. Strange and Rev. Bruce!
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
  4. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Short and sweet in that this may be slightly off topic though related to today's thinking. :)

    Once again yes, as the title of "Teaching" Elder denotes a function of a pastor.

    Think about this outside the box of today's modern thinking. Imagine a RE teaching in an official capacity in the confines of the church before the turn of the 17th century. I dare say you will be hard pressed to find evidence of such.
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The ordinations administered to each is distinct, even in the PCA.
    The requirements assumed for each is also distinct, even in the PCA.

    So, while at one level your stance approaches "consistency," to be fully consistent both the requirements and the ordinations would have to be made one.

    Whereupon, you have eliminated the "lay-elder," and functionally have nothing but a clerical class ruling the church; and some deacons, who alone function as the remaining "lay office" of sorts.

    The ancient-to-medieval church could not resist the pull of clericalism, which eventually fixed a hard line between laity and ALL church officers.

    Presbyterianism, through the determined preservation and use of the lay (ruling) elder, as distinct from the ministers (or TEs if you will), aims to avoid both rampant clericalism; and the collapse of church government into congregational mass-rule (democracy).

    "Minister of Word and Sacrament" is the historic designation for the minister or TE.

    [for further reading, see Thomas Witherow The Apostolic Church: Which Is It?, and the ecclesiastical notes of Charles Hodge]
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  6. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    So would you disagree with these two quotes?

    "For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

    "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."
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  7. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Of course a RE should back up his rebuke in an official capacity as an officer of the church. May I ask you if you can show me pre 1700 a RE taking up the task of "Teaching" elder in the official capacity? Even in The Great Commission Our Lord gave this command to the future pastors without a nary RE in earshot.
  8. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    I think Edward did even better by going pre 1700 to the time of the Apostle Paul.

    What is your take on those verses?

    Further was the Great Commission not given to the Apostles, which is held as a separate office from Elder even by the Westminster Standards.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
  9. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    If you mean that TEs are required to have a master's degree and such then of course I agree. And I see the biblical basis and practical utility of distinguishing between teaching and ruling elders. I just don't see the basis for not allowing ruling elders to administer sacraments since they are pastors of the church.

    I understand "lay" to mean "unpaid" or "unprofessional". To allow unpaid ruling elders to administer the sacraments would not at all eliminate lay leadership. On the contrary, it would empower lay leadership. Unless you mean something different by "lay" and "clerical".

    I see this language in the Westminster Standards, but I am unaware of the Standards distinguishing between teaching and ruling elders.
  10. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I've never heard of the 4 office view. I ought to read up on the larger body of Westminster literature. What are the 4 offices?
  11. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I seem to remember reading those somewhere before. Where did you get those from? ;-)
  12. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    @Ben Chomp , here you go:

    Pastor (minister of the word)
    Teacher (think professor)
    Church Governor (Ruling Elder)

    The qualifications for the first 2 are essentially the same, so it could be a 3 office view. The OPC BCO handles it well in my opinion.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
  13. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So in your opinion TGC was given to all? Think about that because within this Our Lord say "teach" and "baptize" which is classic Presbyterianism which entails Pastors to carry that torch. Also so far a Edwards quotes are all RE's required to "teach" like our TE's? The answer is no to this question.
  14. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    The Great Commission was give to the twelve. But in what capacity? The twelve were...

    1. Apostles - If we say that it was given to them in their capacity as apostles then it is not applicable to anyone outside of the twelve. In this case it wouldn't make much sense since the commission extends "to the end of the age".

    2. Pastors - If we say that it is given to them in their capacity as pastors then it is only applicable to pastors. Pastors are the ones who formally preach and baptize so this makes some sense. But this implies that the people of God at large don't have much of a role to play in this Great Commission, which doesn't square well with what Scripture says elsewhere.

    3. Disciples - If we say that it is given to them in their capacity as disciples then it applies to all disciples. Of course, not all disciples preach and baptize. Only ordained ministers should do that. But all disciples do have some role to play in this great commission.

    I would say that there is a role for every disciple to play in the great commission even if they are not ordained. Ordained disciples will be the ones who formally preach and baptize. But every disciple should speak God's word and encourage others toward baptism.
  15. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior


    No one has claimed thus far here that REs teach just like TEs. For one TEs specifically give the ministry of the word.

    As I stated the Great Commission was given to the Apostles.

    Matthew Henry on Matthew 28:19-20 (I agree with him):

    There are still things you and I can do to support the GC, such as invite others to church and share biblical truths with others who need it.:detective:
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
  16. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So how much "like" TE's are RE's supposed to teach? :) Also are all RE's supposed to teach? If the answer is no (in the way you claim) then you have to wrestle with Edwards quote of scripture against what I am advocating.
  17. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    REs, like any elder, ought to be able to teach. They also ought to engage in ruling the people of God by teaching them and counseling them in some capacity. They probably won't be preaching from the pulpit, but they ought to be mentoring, teaching children, teaching Sunday school, or leading small groups.
  18. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior


    Not to derail any further. I already gave one example of difference, the ministry of the word and sacraments belonging to the TE.

    However, all Elders should be able to give sound instruction AND correct false doctrines. So I would NOT say YES to your “are they supposed to teach” (as in mandated to lead a bible study), rather I would say YES to “should they be ABLE to teach”. For sure, REs should be gifted in government primarily, but they can and should be allowed to teach outside of corporate worship in SS settings. Teaching is a part of governing. I will digress. I mainly wanted to understand your position. At least you have made your position more clear. I appreciate that.:detective:

    On what biblical grounds can even a gifted teacher (deacon or unordained) be forbidden teach a group of young men in a SS setting (assuming a member in good standing)? As there seem to be verses in Titus that encourage this outside of formal corporate worship.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
  19. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    If I may; I believe u may have a fractured view of the commission. That being, the lady in the 5th row, praying intently for the salvation of that new guy 'over there', is no less important than the actual gospel message that is being proclaimed from the pulpit.

    The commission, as a few have stated, was an official commissioning (much like the commission officers receive in our military), to our officers. Officers are not, enlisted folk and enlisted folk are not officers. Forgive me for the weak example, but I am sure u follow. Hence, the commission is to our officers; the troops under them have an integral part in the process; in fact, the process would fail and fall on its face if all of the body were not working as a team in the effort.
  20. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    TE's (T)each
    RE's (t)each

    When the TE reads from the scriptures, after the call, they are speaking as if Christ is speaking. I don't believe that when a TE speaks outside of the call, as if Christ were speaking-it is different. I would say, at this point, both TE and RE are doing pretty much the same thing.
  21. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Edit to the above:
    RE's (T)each
    TE's able to (t)each
  22. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Teach - yes
    Teach like our TE's - no

    Ability to teach is one of the criteria that our church evaluates in potential candidates. Along with the other items listed.
  23. Wayne

    Wayne Tempus faciendi, Domine.

    Ben's opening question came up in the early years of the PCA, and a report was prepared in response. Took a long number of years, but it was submitted and received:

    Number of Offices in the Church :

    • Report of the Ad-Interim Committee on Number of Offices in the Church [M7GA, 7-23, pp. 77-85 ] -------------------------------------------
    [ http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/2-455.html ]

    • Appendix A: Two Offices (Elders/Bishops, and Deacons) and Two Orders of Elders (Preaching/Teaching Elders, and Ruling Elders): A New Testament Study, by Dr. George W. Knight, III ---------------------------------
    [ http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/2-462.html ]

    • Appendix B: Ministers of the Word, by Donald A. Dunkerley (1977)
    [ http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/2-471.html ]

    • Appendix C: Biblical Study on "Ordination," by Don Clements (1977)
    [ http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/2-492.html ]

    • Appendix D: Empowered to Serve, by Robert H. Kirksey (1977)
    [ http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/2-489.html ] -
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  24. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for these. These will be good to read up on.
  25. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    That the requirements are different argues against the two being identical. The demands of the minister's office are greater than the ruling elder's. You say you see the two "classes" of elder (as if one office) are yet distinguished; this class-distinction is reflected in the different ordination vows. Well, the RE isn't ordained to administer the sacraments. Perhaps you think he should be, but he isn't allowed now, and part of the reason is that he isn't ordained to that service.

    It might be argued: if sacraments-administration is a function of the "pastoral" office, then RE's aren't members of the pastoral class (or office); this could be so, even if at times they perform certain pastoral functions, and in the improper sense are thus called a "pastor." There are "youth pastors" who aren't even ordained, nor could they be based on qualifications; and while I myself wouldn't approve of calling such pastors, I am able to recognize that they have been given some form of "pastoral" duties; thence the justification some adopt for titling them "pastor." Or, perhaps a RE shouldn't be called "pastor So-and-so," since he isn't a proper member of that class.

    Alternatively, if RE's are bound to be identified as members of the pastoral class, then it might be argued sacraments don't belong specifically to the "pastoral" function of the church's ministry, but to some other peculiar class-aspect of the TE. The proposal as you set it forth only holds firm when one adopts it and all its parts whole cloth: 1) RE's are pastors; and 2) sacraments administration belongs to the pastors as such; and (this needs to be part of the case) 3) RE's and TE's ordination should reflect that they are ordained to do the same work re. sacraments.

    "Lay" according to the dictionary, in this sense: "Of, relating to, or involving the laity," which is, "laypeople [laymen and laywomen] considered as a group," who are none "a clergyman." I'm not using "lay" in any generic sense, but to specially to distinguish all regular members of particular congregations in the church from the church's ministers of Word and Sacrament (who, in Presbyterian polity--as you know--are not members of any particular congregation).

    This lay-clergy distinction has nothing to do with pay, or "professionalism;" but with ordination to certain work (which should be preceded by such professional training as all regard as proper, e.g. some version of the fourfold theological curriculum, not uncommonly arrived at by a 3-4yr stint in seminary).

    And you do not seem to understand my meaning on the elimination of the lay-leadership, but reading Hodge would be helpful. Simply put, if you eliminate the real distinction of the RE and TE (via distinct ordinations; or just the removal of any actual differences, never mind the ordination vows), THEN the difference between "the laity" and "the clergy"--or "the ordained," as it turn out--becomes absolutely defined in a hard break. Those below the line are absolutely distinguished from the "ordained leadership." Those above the line are all the same, all of a kind, all classed separately.

    This is not present now, because *Presbyterianism* doesn't allow it, or it puts up real obstacles to it by making the "leadership layer" of the church THICK. There is no hard break, because the ordained elders of the church are not all clergy by design. At the congregational level, lay-leaders should outnumber the clergy, sometimes by just one, often by multiples. We all regard a congregation as quite weak, when there is but one RE to balance the TE.

    In Presbyterianism, the RE is a member of the congregation formally and functionally. The RE's join with a TE (or more than one) clergyman to "order and discipline" one congregation. The TE (who is a member of no particular congregation, but the regional church governed by the Presbytery in which he serves as a governor) necessarily has the interest of the whole government of the church in view, even as he serves a single congregation. The RE's have their own interest and the congregation to which they belong uppermost in mind. Session is a meeting of top-down and bottom-up interests.

    If you identify RE's as clergymen (or pastors!), and define them distinct from the people by their ordination, then the dividing line does not run through the Session, dividing session members who are below the line from those above it. No, but in that (non-Presbyterian polity) conception, instead the dividing line runs beneath the Session, thoroughly separating those who are placed by office above the congregation from those within it.

    [Here, we can interject concerning another factor that is observable in some churches that radically commit to one class of elder. It is not uncommon for such bodies to collapse into congregationalism (either de facto or de jure). The pressure NOT to adopt clericalism (the hard dividing line between church governors/ordained and the congregation) erodes the distinction between the governors and the governed.

    This manifests itself for example in variants of patriarchy, where all (usually married) men are counted or encouraged to be governors or elders; and husbands/fathers also mediate the Lord's Supper to their wives and children (and usually includes paedocommunion). In other words, one explanation of this phenomenon is: the hard line that formed beneath the Session was forced up above it, in order for its removal. The result: variegated congregationalism.]​

    One of the ways Presbyterianism preserves this distinction, then, is that Christ's ministry of sacraments (after the Word) is understood as devolved from the top--from the only Head of the Church--down to his ministers (TEs). They are his functionaries, even washing the people's feet, as his servants. The RE's, as those who rise as the people's representatives from below to meet in Session, they do not administer the Sacraments; but they will assist Christ's minister in that, dispensing and disbursing (like the disciples who fed the 5000).

    As far as Presbyterianism is concerned, the issue isn't "empowerment." The service performed by the minister of word and sacrament is diluted downward toward the congregation from Christ, through his specially ordained servants; and to "empower" (so to speak) the RE obliterates the role he now serves, absorbing it into the TE's role, and separating him from the congregation. His "empowerment" comes at the expense of his connection to the people he represents. They end up without such a representative to serve them in either direction--up to Session or down.
    WCF 31:1 speaks of "overseers, and other rulers." In the context, the overseers (translation of "bishop" which Presbyterianism equates to the minister, not a superintendent of lesser ministers) are set alongside "other rulers of the churches," and so not particularly secular lords.

    The Standards do not actually get into discussion of the offices. It assumes the special role of the minister (15:1 & 27:4, 28:2 & 29:3). For the disparate offices, one has to go to a resource such as the Second Buik of Discipline (1578), or The Form of Presbyterial Church Government (1645)--the latter an assembly document that was adopted along with the Confession by the Church of Scotland.
  26. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    The Church of Scotland adopted the Form of Church Government in a manner which would allow them to disagree with granting authority to the Teacher to administer the sacraments ("further discussion and examination"). So in the practice of the Scottish Church the Teacher would be analogous to the home missionary who was appointed by presbyteries/assemblies to take services in preaching stations or vacant charges but wouldn't have the authority to administer the sacraments.

    I think any elder has the authority to teach. That is not the same as preaching. In our denomination only ministers preach. Elders, when taking services, "speak" (either by reading a sermon by a minister or preparing their own), but they don't do so from the pulpit nor do they give the Benediction. Organised Bible studies led by men other than the minister aren't really a thing in our denomination. The only thing like that would be gatherings at the Manse under the direction of the minister, where he might go through a book of the Bible, or the Confession/Catechism &c. And those gatherings tend to be aimed at teenagers/students, though not exclusively so.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2019
  27. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    Very interesting and I would agree. At our congregation we usually hire an “intern” who is just starting seminary (usually RTS). We view this as a ministry to them to help them gain experience and they usually work with the youth.

    I believe the intern will also be periodically allowed to give a message “teach” from the pulpit during the evening service. I do see it as a benefit to future ministers who will likely become TEs.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2019
  28. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    I've amended my comment above to include that our elders wouldn't give the benediction at the end of the service. In our denomination men who have been accepted as students for the ministry will regularly and often take services. But again not from the pulpit and they also wouldn't give the Benediction.
  29. Grant Jones

    Grant Jones Puritan Board Junior

    Do they stand below the pulpit?
  30. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    Our churches have raised pulpits and in front/below them is where the precentor stands, so that's where elders/students stand when taking the services and the precentor is bumped to some other spot. Our churches use the old layout. I know that a lot of churches built today might just have a lecturn on a slightly raised platform at the front which is an all purpose speaking point. But in our churches the pulpit is a very distinct and separate "area".
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2019
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