Monday, December 15, 2014

Office Gift and Priesthood (Part 1)

From Office, Gift and Priesthood by A.J. Pollock

There were two local offices in the early church, viz: those of bishops and deacons. The main Scriptures giving instructions as to these (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4) should be carefully read.

The Greek word for bishop is episkopos; epi, on; skopos, looking, hence the word indicates one who is looking on, one who watches with interest and desire to help. On this beautifully simple and scriptural word has been reared a great pretentious state organization-EPISCOPACY-a system far removed from the teaching of Scripture as to its Church order, and government.

No less an authority than Dean Alford states that the bishops of the New Testament are totally different from the present-day bishops, and suggests that the New Testament bishops should be called overseers to prevent confusion. We propose to adopt his suggestion in this pamphlet.

The overseers of the Bible are one thing; the bishops of the present day with miter, cope, chasuble, alb, pastoral staff, often ornamented with precious stones, with their sacerdotal jurisdiction, their stately palaces, their seat in the House of Lords, quite another thing. All their worldly pomp and ritual is far removed from the simplicity and unworldliness of the Scriptures. Indeed, the whole system is a copy of Judaism and Paganism in many of its features. We read in Scripture of overseers, elders, deacons, a holy priesthood, but where do we get pope, cardinal, archbishop,, archdeacons, canon, Reverend? The word reverend is only applied to God in the Scriptures, and yet man dares to adopt it as a title of his own.

The Overseer's Office was Local
We read in Acts 14:23: " They.... ordained them elders in every church "; in Titus 1:5: " Thou should.... ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee," whilst the apostle Paul, writing to the Philippian assembly, says; " To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." (Phil. 1:1).

We gather from these Scriptures that the office was local, that is an overseer in Ephesus would not be an overseer in Corinth. Further, there were a number of overseers in each assembly, their number probably regulated by the size of the assembly. The idea of jurisdiction over a diocese is not found in Scripture. Instead of one bishop over many clergy, there were several overseers in one assembly.

Presbyterianism,* which arranges for several elders to each church has a more scriptural idea than Episcopacy, which appoints a bishop over hundreds of clergy and covering in his jurisdiction a large territory. But the elders in Presbyterianism are under the minister, who is looked upon as a presiding elder, of which there is no trace in Scripture.

(* As the word Episcopacy is derived from the Greek word Episcopos (an overseer), so the word Presbyterianism is derived from the Greek word, Presbuteros (an elder, an aged man).)

The Overseer's Office Carried No Stipend
There is no instruction in Scripture for the payment of overseers, but there is a distinct intimation otherwise. The Apostle Peter in addressing the elders wrote: "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; NOT FOR FILTHY LUCRE, but of a ready mind."

It is as if Scripture, foreseeing the pretention of those who would debase the blessed simple office of an overseer into that of a worldly sacerdotal dignitary in a state Church with the title of "My Lord Bishop," adds, "Neither as being lord's over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:2, 3).

The Greek word for heritage in this text just quoted is kliros, from which the English word, clergy, is derived. The Bible clergy consisted of ALL Christians, and the laity (Greek, laos, the people) were the heathen outside the Christian circle. The clergy have filched a word which is common to all God's people, claiming it as the description of a class, unauthorized by Scripture, and giving the rest of God's people a title, laity, which was applied to the heathen world outside.

Overseers and Elders
Scripture clearly indicates that the overseer (episkopos) was an elder (presbuteros), but it did not follow that every elder was an overseer. If the elder lacked the qualifications laid down in Scripture as making an overseer he would clearly not be appointed.

The following Scriptures make it clear, however, that in a general way an elder brother would be an overseer. We read in Acts 20:17 that Paul called for the elders of the Assembly at Ephesus to see him at Miletus, addressing them he said, "Take heed therefore unto your selves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers" (verse 28). Again Paul instructed Titus to "ordain elders in every city," and giving the qualifications, he goes on to say, "For a bishop must be blameless" (Titus 1:7). Again the Apostle Peter addressing the elders wrote, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof." (1 Peter 5:2).

Finally Paul instructs that the appointment of overseer-ship must not be given to "anovice" (1 Tim. 3:6), that is not to one who had newly come to the faith.

It is well to bow to the wisdom of God's Word. Soul-history is not jumped into in a day and it is well for youth to have the restraining yet encouraging influence of age, maturity, experience. It is God's order and should be respected.

In Acts 15 when a knotty point arose, no less a person than Paul with Barnabas and others went to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders. Surely there is a lesson for us all as to God's ordering.

The Appointment of Overseers
The appointment of overseers lay with the apostles as guided of the Holy Ghost. The apostles and prophets formed the foundation of the Church. The whole thing was so new that God not only raised up apostles and prophets, but locally He raised up serious, godly elder men to take the oversight of the local Churches. The fitness of this is very manifest.

It is remarkable how little is said of the actual appointment of overseers, though we find them spoken of repeatedly and associated with the apostles in matters of guidance. We read of Paul and Barnabas (as associated with Paul), "When they had ordained them elders in every church, etc.," (Acts 14:23), thus giving us the information that the appointment was apostolic.

Further, we have the case of Paul authorizing Titus to "ordain elders in every city," giving as his authority, "as I had appointed thee" (Titus 1:5). It is evident that the apostle could not have given this authorization if the appointment was not lodged in the apostles. But be it carefully noted in the case of Titus this was only a temporary commission, limited to the assemblies in the island of Crete. And evidently from 1 Tim. 3 Timothy had the same power conferred upon him as was conferred upon Titus. In short, Timothy and Titus were apostolic delegates in this matter with temporary commissions.

Qualifications of the Overseers
These are given at length in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. Reading down the list it will be seen that self-restraint and moderation should mark them. If they could not govern themselves, they could not guide in the Church of God.

The overseer had to be blameless, "the husband of one wife." In a polygamous country, as obtained in Apostolic times, it was ordained that any who held office in the Church of God should have only one wife. It does not evidently mean that if a man lost his wife that his re-marriage would render him unfit for office. The Greek we understand is plain, and the rendering in English correct, "the husband of one wife."

It is evident that a heathen, converted after he had contracted marriage with a plurality of wives, was eligible for Church membership but not for Church office, though it is just as evident that heathen bachelors converted to God would be instructed that plurality of wives was wrong. But at the beginning things would be borne with and left to the faith of the individual. Doubtless these instructions are of immense value to our missionary brethren in foreign lands.

It is important, too, to see that a man, who could not rule his own house and have his children in subjection, was not fit to guide in the Church of God. There was evidently, in that case, some lack in his character, some weakness, or, it may be, inability to govern himself, that made it evident that he was unable to guide in the Church of God. It is to be feared that this plain instruction is often set aside. We have seen men prominent in overseership, whose households were entirely beyond their control and a scandal in the world. Only disaster can come from a disregard of Scripture.

Further, the overseer had not to be a novice, that is not one newly come to the faith. Such an one might be easily puffed up, become spiritually proud, and pride was the condemnation of the devil. Ability and knowledge in a young man is no substitute for the soul-history of an elder. Knowledge is not wisdom. Scripture tells us that " knowledge puffs up " (1 Cor. 8:1), that is, the mere acquisition of terms of truth, but that we "increase by the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10), that is not knowledge about God, but personal heart-knowledge of Him, and this comes so largely as the result of soul-history.

Finally, the overseer must have a good report of them which are without. This speaks volumes, for it is only as a man is just and gracious, upright and benevolent, one who sets forth the character of true Christian profession that he will secure this good report. The qualities, that make an overseer of good repute in the eyes of the world, are qualities that make for peace and good government in the home circle and in the Church of God.

Extra Qualification of an Overseer
We read in 1 Tim. 5:17. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine." That an overseer must have a good knowledge of the word and be able to use it effectively in his overseership is manifest from Titus 1:9, "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers," but 1 Tim. 5:17 goes further and supposes that some overseers have not only office but gift, and that they set themselves to labor (a strenuous word) in word and doctrine, whilst Acts 20:28 speaks of them feeding the church of God. What the "double honor" and "especially" mean is difficult to say. The next verse, "For the Scripture says, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward" points to their receiving carnal things as a recognition of their ministering spiritual things. But it certainly does not indicate a fixed stipend, but rather loving, grateful, acknowledgment of benefits received spiritually in the ministering of things carnal.

Nor had an accusation to be received against an elder except in the presence of two or three witnesses.

The Office of Overseer not Perpetuated
The silence of Scripture is to be carefully noted. If the office of overseer was to be perpetuated, surely the inspired Word of God could not overlook explicit instructions in such an important matter. We have seen that the appointment of overseers lay with the apostles, and that in the case of Titus and Timothy as deputies they held but a temporary commission for a special purpose, which when accomplished, their work as apostolic deputies ceased. It is just as clear that Scripture makes no provision for the perpetuation of the official character of the overseership, and for anybody of Christians to arrogate to themselves such appointment, whether called bishops or elders, is without Scripture sanction or authority.

To begin with the office of an apostle was not perpetuated. The apostles and prophets formed the foundation of the Church of God, "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone." (Eph. 2:20). "Apostolic succession" is a figment of the worldly ecclesiastical mind and is as sensible as a builder talking of continuing the foundation from ground floor to roof. The apostles and prophets finished their work when they laid the foundation which is seen in their work in founding Assemblies, and in their contribution to the canon of Scripture. Without the apostles' writings, especially the Pauline epistles, we should have no clear knowledge of the Church, either as the body of Christ, or as the assembly of God, or as the house of God. If those, then, in whom was vested the appointment of overseers, passed away, evidently the official character of overseership also passed away. If the apostles had no successors, evidently the overseers could have none.

The Work of the Overseer is Carried on

Whilst there are now no official overseers, yet it is evident that their work should be carried on. There are no official apostles to-day, yet there are men of extra spiritual caliber, whose presence and work are apostolic in character. To mention names would be invidious, but every now and again God raises up special men for special work of great spiritual import.

So locally God raises up men to do the work of overseers, who cannot be called overseers in a definite official sense.

The reason for this is worth pondering over. At first the official and the moral went hand-in-hand; in other words the official overseer was sustained in Christian character and spiritual vigor for his work.

But with the decline in the Church the moral lagged behind the official. When this took place the official character was pushed to the front, and, as the moral waned, ritualism asserted itself and took refuge in forms and ceremonies as lifeless and dry-as-dust as possible. What would the Apostle Paul have thought of the photograph of the Bishop of London in full array of extraordinary vestments to be seen any day in Paternoster Row? He would note how form and ceremony had strangled the lovely character that becomes the overseer in the house of God. A soldier lately returned from the war was present at a ritualistic service. On returning he was asked his experience. First he said the clergy had a route march, thus describing their procession, and then they tried to gas-poison us, referring to the incense. The description was to the point.

God foresaw that the moral would not keep pace with the official and so did not provide for the perpetuation of the official side of things in the Church of God. The official character of things completely dropped.

And further if it had been perpetuated what fragment of the Church would have arrogated to itself the sole right to make appointments. As it is we know how the Church of Rome does this, and how the Establishment looks down on Dissent, when in truth all the appointments are invalid.

But is the work not to be carried on? This is why we believe that whilst very little is said about those who have the power to appoint, very much is said about the qualifications of those to be appointed. God would emphasize the moral, and where these qualifications exist, saints will naturally recognize them, and give the brother the place he deserves, and look up to him for guidance and help and be ready to receive the ministry of care and love God has put into his heart. Such a man will not need to seek a place, the place will seek him. Yes, surely the work of overseership is to be carried on, but we insist that God emphasizes the moral side of things, as indeed that is emphasized in every way in the Scriptures.

The Greek word for deacon, diakonos, is the ordinary word for a servant, one who does menial work. It comes from the preposition, dia, (through), and konis (dust), and described a messenger who became dusty through running on his master's errands; or one who slept in the dust and ashes in the compound of the house, ready for any menial service. Around this very humble word, with no definite religious meaning, a ritualistic ecclesiastical idea has grown. This we should dismiss from our minds, and seek to gather the Scriptural meaning.

The word is used in a wide sense, and is employed to describe magistrates and rulers, for we read, "He is the minister [deacon] of God to thee for good." (Rom. 13:4). Again, Paul and Timothy were made "able ministers [deacons] of the new testament." (2 Cor. 3:6). Again we read, "Is Christ therefore the minister [deacon] of sin? God forbid" (Gal. 2:17).

The context will prove whether the world is used in a general sense as minister or servant, whether secular or spiritual, or in the particular official and local sense we have in 1 Tim. 3:8-13. It is in this latter sense we use the word.

We get some light as to the appointment of deacons in Acts 6 though the word deacon is not applied to those chosen "to serve tables," yet it is evident they were appointed to serve as deacons. In this case the appointment was not local, but an exception which proved the rule, to meet a special difficulty, viz., the distribution of funds to widows in the assemblies. The Grecians (that is, Jews born or dwelling in Greece or other pagan lands) murmured against the Hebrews (that is, Jews born or dwelling in Palestine), because of the way in which the administration of funds was carried out, and this appointment of deacons was to meet the case. Though the apostles would not occupy their time with secularities, but would give themselves "continually to prayer and the ministry of the word," yet the assembly chose men with spiritual qualifications, two of them at least in their gift and zeal going beyond mere deacons' work. We refer to "Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost," and Philip, the only man described as an evangelist in the Scriptures. They certainly purchased "to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 3:13).

We need not say much as to the deacons, for their qualifications were very similar to those of the overseers, so we need not repeat.

But there was one special feature which had to mark them and their wives. There were no instructions given as to the conduct of the wives of the overseers, for their work was on purely spiritual lines, but the deacons, having to do with secularities, such as the administration of funds, it was necessary that their wives, who might help them in their good work, should be women whose character would carry respect. The deacons had not to be double-tongued, saying first one thing to one and another thing to another: their wives had to be "grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things" One can understand what mischief and heart-burnings would result from the careless or insincere use of the tongue of the deacon or his wife.

We need only add that like the office of the overseer no provision was made for the continuance of that of the deacon, and for the same reason we believe.

One last word, the word, deacon, is often translated minister. There were deacons or ministers at Philippi, always in the plural, but the thought of a minister or the minister in charge of a church is wholly unscriptural, and is responsible for much of the spiritual babyhood of many believers.

It is strange that, in dissent we should have ministers and deacons to designate different offices when in Scripture they describe the same, whilst in the Establishment we have bishops, priests, deacons, a mixing up of terms in ignorance of their true meaning. All believers are priests and not a privileged class. This may be admitted, but what is the good of the admission, if it is not practiced? The admission without the practice robs the believer of his priesthood just as much as if there were no admission, and is indeed hypocritical.

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