Bob Wring on Church Officers (Complete)

Church Officers: Representative Documents

This is the first article setting forth representative documents that support the truth that Baptist Churches have always had pastors and deacons as their Biblical church officers.

I. Representative Confessions of Faith

The First London Confession of 1644/46 and the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1677/89 are no doubt the two most influential Confessions of faith in existence. These confessions hold much weight in any discussion of Church Polity. Both can be found in Lumpkin’s Baptist Confessions of Faith.

1. The First London Confession

On page 166 of the First London Confession, in Article XXXVI, the subscribers tell us that the church chooses its officers and they are called “Pastors, Teachers, Elders, Deacons.” Note (a) at the bottom of the page states that “Pastors and Teachers” are omitted in later editions. This is no doubt because Baptist leaders began to understand that the word “elder” was a title for the pastoral and teaching office. The elders were the pastors and teachers in the church. The elder(s) were God called men who were chosen by the local Baptist church to be their pastor and teacher.

Under Article XXXVII, on page 166, the writers of the Confession mention “the ministers aforesaid” which in the context of the Confession refers to none other than the “Pastors, Teachers, Elders” of Article XXXVI. These men are called by the church where they serve to administer the ordinances and to carefully feed the flock committed to their charge. I submit to you that there is no other interpretation we should accept than the one that promotes the understanding that elders, pastors and teachers were the same men. We know them today as the pastor(s) of our churches.

Under Article XXXVIII, on page 166, mention is again made to the “Officers aforesaid.” These officers were to preach the Gospel and live the Gospel. Additionally, these Officers (pastor/elders) were to be paid in some way by the church in which they served.

2. The Second London Confession

Under Chapter XXVI, Number 8, the subscribers state that the officers of the church are “Bishops or Elders and Deacons.” We are told that these men are appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church to serve in their office. The bishop/elders and the deacons are to administer the ordinances and execute Power or Duty among the members of the church.

In Number 9 the pastoral church officer is called the Bishop or Elder of the church. In Number 10 the work of the Elder is called “the work of pastors.” Afterward their work is defined as “the ministry of the Word and prayer with watching for” the souls  of their congregation. In Article 11, the elders are called “Bishops and Pastors.”

Within the context of Chapter XXVI of the Second London Confession of Faith we see the names of the pastoral officers of a Baptist church in the day in which it was written. Therefore there can be no other conclusion than that the pastors of the churches in the 16th and 17th centuries were interchangeably called bishop/elder/pastor and deacons. This was the conclusion of the subscribers of this confession and they give their biblical basis for this affirmation next to each of the paragraphs dealing with the pastoral office under Chapter XXVI.

II. Representative Ecclesialogical Writers

1. Hanserd Knowllys

One of the Particular Baptist’s brightest minds was Hanserd Knowllys. He gradually came out of the ministry of the Church of England to become a Baptist leader of high degree. By stages, he formulated and produced a fully developed Baptist position on church government. He viewed the church as being congregational in nature with the pastoral church officer being indiscriminately called the bishop, pastor, teacher, presbyter, or elder.

On pages 56-57 of his book entitled The World That Now Is; And The World That Is To Come, Knowles mentions “The Office of a Pastor, Bishop, and Presbyter, or Elder” and then gives this church officer’s duty to the members of the church. These duties include the basic duties of the pastor in our day: Feeding the Flock (preaching and teaching the Word of God), ruling (leading), guiding, and governing the church taking the oversight thereof, and watching (caring) for the souls of the congregation we serve. This is biblical servant leadership.

Knowllys viewed the church membership as being involved in the affairs of the church along with its pastor/elders. The pastor/elder led the church and the congregation was involved in the decision-making process of the  church. To Knowlys, the whole congregation has the power to judge church matters and to join in the discipline of its members.

2. Nehemiah Coxe

Nehemiah Coxe was one of the pastors of the Petty France Church. What he writes about the pastoral office is important because it is thought that the Second London Confession originated from this church. In 1681 Nehemiah Coxe delivered a sermon at the ordination of an elder and deacons in a baptized congregation in London, England.  What is intriguing about this sermon is the fact that Coxe discusses the office of minister or pastor interchangeably mentioning the words elder and bishop in the same breath in reference to the pastoral office. The sermon is a discussion of the pastoral office in a Baptist church. On page 134, he equates the office of elders with that of ministers. On page 135, he says that ordinary ministers are pastors or elders who are brought to their office by the call of the church.

On page 136, Coxe says, “. . . it appears that the primitive churches had both bishops, or elders, and deacons, ordained in them. . .” He also said that the size of a church determines the plurality of pastoral leaders in the church. On page 140, he says that “Bishops, or elders are ordinary officers in the church” who instruct and govern the church. When Coxe discusses elders he calls them bishops on page 141. He also calls the elder/bishop by the name of pastors and teachers. He says that ministers (pastors and teachers) are sometimes called elders and they are sometimes called bishops, each name signifying something important about the office of pastor.

On page 146 Coxe discusses the office of a pastor in the singular. He talks about “a minister,” “the elder,” “a pastor.”  He does this again on pages 151-52, 154-55 of this ordination sermon, thus leading his readers to conclude that a Baptist church in his day had no more than one elder/pastor. We know, however, that Nehemiah Coxe was one of several pastors of the Petty France Church.

NOTE: In the New Testament, there is mention made of a plurality of elders in the Jerusalem church. It was a large church with as many as 5,000 or more members, and it needed the ministry and the leadership of more than one pastor/elder. This would be especially true when the Apostles were no longer there. There is no biblical mandate, however, that a Baptist church should have a plurality of pastors in every church. Some churches were large, others were small (as in the house churches of the first century). According to archeology, the New Testament house churches were located in many homes. These homes could hold 10, 20, 40 or 50 people and they needed no more than one pastor/elder to lead them and open the Word of God to them. (When persecution afflicted the early church, it would have been natural for the congregations to have more than one pastor/elder. He could lead the church when another pastor/elder was taken from them.)

3. Benjamin Keach

In a little known work titled Exposition of the Parables and Express Similitudes of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Benjamin Keach has given to Baptists his view of the Christian ministry. Throughout this work he mentions the office of pastor or minister. On page 267 he viewed the pastor and elder as the same person in the biblical reference mentioning the Ephesian elders in the Book of Acts. He also does the same in his discussion of a minister on page 271.

On page 470 of this work, Keach calls the minister and other helps in church work (such as pastors, teachers and others) by the name presbyters and elders. It is interesting to note that Keach’s mention of the pastoral office is in the singular case. On page 512, Keach mentions “The Elder’s or Pastor’s work.”

On page 513 Keach discusses the idea of a church having a separate office called elders in addition to a pastor in a Baptist church. He indicated that such is not the case. He said, “but we read neither of their qualifications, or how to be chosen (nor of their peculiar work, distinct from pastors, nor any such elders chosen in any particular church in the apostle’s days).”

To Keach the conclusion of the matter was that there is no ground for such an elder office or officers in the church separate from pastor or pastors. On page 513, he also said that the deacons “are to be helps in government.” The deacons have always been the pastor’s helpers in the church. We would call them servants of the church.

On page 615, Keach stated: “the officers are elders and deacons, whose work is expressly laid down in the gospel: nor do we read of any other office or officers he hath left in his church (and to abide) but only those two.” This is quite a statement when one considers that throughout this work, Keach is discussing the ministry and work of the Baptist pastor.

On page 636, Keach does mention two sorts of ministers (Teachers and Elders or Pastors), but in the context of his discussions concerning the ministry, he says that teachers, elders, and pastors are the same men. They are the same person, but may have different duties.

Keach also discusses pastor/elders in his work titled: The Glory of A True Church And Its Discipline Display’d. He says on page 65 that a church should choose for themselves “a Pastor, Elder or Elders, and Deacons.” He also called the pastors “Bishops, Overseers, or Elders, as well as having Deacons.” In the same paragraph Keach says “whether Pastor, etc., or Deacons” in the context of his discussion of the minister of the church.

On page 66, he discusses the work of a Pastor, Bishop, or Overseer. He also discusses the work of the Deacons, but he does not discuss a separate office of elder apart from the pastoral office. He also discounts the office of ruling elder on pages 68-69 and gives several reasons why there is no such office in a Baptist church in his day who serves along with the pastor. On page 69 he calls the Pastor an Elder.

To be continued.

Bob Wring was born in Paducah, Kentucky and became a Christian when he was ten years old.  After serving in the U.S. Navy, he was called into the ministry in 1975.  He has been pastor of the Mountain Highway Baptist Church in Spanaway, Washington since 2005.  He graduated in 2002 with a Ph.D in Practical Theology at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee. His doctoral dissertation was entitled: An Examination of The Practice of Elder Rule in Selected Southern Baptist Churches in the Light of New Testament Teaching. Dr. Wring seeks to promote and preserve the historic biblical teaching of congregational church polity with the biblical leadership of a pastor and deacons.

Bob Wring on Church Officers (Complete)