John Brown of Haddington, Systematic Theology, pp. 568-569.
It is plain from Scripture declarations that Christ has appointed rulers in his church that are not appointed to preach the gospel (Rom 12:7-8; Heb 13:7,17). Different gifts qualify men for teaching and for ruling (Eph 4:7). Such rulers are necessary for the assistance of pastors (Gal 2:9-10; Acts 6:2-4; Exod 18:17-23).
The complete form of every Christian congregation requires several elders (Acts 20:17-38; Acts 14:23). Christian churches have courts similar to those Jewish ones which had the power of excommunication; and which consisted of elders ruling as representatives of the congregation (Matt 18:15-17; Num 35:24; Deut 19:12; Josh 20:4,6; Exod 12:3,21); by comparing of which texts we find that “congregation” denotes rulers of it. The Seventy [i.e. the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament)] use the very word ecclesia, which is translated “church” in Matthew 28:17.
But the divine appointment of ruling elders is still more evident:
1. From Romans 12:5-8, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, 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.“
Where we find in the one body of the gospel church prophesying, which includes teaching and exhortation, which may correspond with teachers and pastors (Eph 4:11); and ministry, answerable to the deacon that gives out the church’s charity, and shews mercy in visiting the sick and imprisoned, and to the elder that rules with diligence. Here different gifts, given to profit withal, infer different offices (Eph 4:7-11; 1 Cor 12:7-8). Here is one that rules characterized by different gifts, and different work.
2. From 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.“
Where we find governments, that is, governors, even as miracles denote workers of miracles, set by God in the Christian church. While they are represented as different from helps or deacons (Acts 6:1-6), their designation of governments marks that their office is chiefly, if not solely, executed in ruling. It much more properly denotes them rulers of church members, than mere managers of church money.
It is further observable that God has set some, not all, [exclusively as] governments or governors in the church.
From 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.“
Where some elders are represented as worthy of double honour, though they do no more than rule well, while others are represented as more worthy of double honour because they not only rule well, but also labour in word and doctrine. All which elders belong to the church (compare 1 Tim 1:19; 1 Tim 4:14; 1 Tim 3:15). Kopiontes “labouring” doth not denote uncommon diligence, but the common duty of all gospel ministers (1 Cor 3:8; 1 Thess 5:12; John 4:38). Malista “especially” always in the New Testament distinguishes persons or things of the same general class, one from another (Acts 20:38; Acts 23:26; Acts 26:3; Gal 6:10; Phil 4:22; 1 Tim 4:10; 1 Tim 5:8; 2 Tim 4:13; Titus 1:10; Phil 16; 2 Pet 2:10).
Not only do most of the chief Fathers in the Christian church declare for ruling elders, but even Papists and Episcopalians, who inveigh against them, have a shadow of them in their chancellors, officials, commissaries, wardens: and bishops having no care of souls, are lay elders properly so called. Independents also manage most of their congregational affairs by a few of their number.
The necessary qualifications of ruling elders are:
1. True piety (1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 2:21-22).
2. Capacity for judging causes (1 Chron 12:32; Deut 1:13; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Isa 11:2-5; Num 11:16-17).
3. Wisdom, prudence, and uprightness of conduct, connected with a good report from others (1 Tim 3:1-8; Ps 101:2-8).
Their ordination ought to be transacted in much the same manner as that of teaching elders or pastors (Acts 1:15-26; Acts 14:23; 1 Tim 4:14).
Their duty in general is to rule well; particularly:
1. In judging the agreeableness of doctrines to the word of God, judicially declaring what seems good to the Holy Ghost and to them, in controverted points of principle or practice (Acts 15:28-29; Acts 16:4; Rev 2:2; Acts 20:17-31).
2. In admitting persons to church-fellowship on proper qualifications (Matt 16:19).
3. In directing or encouraging church-members to observe Christ’s laws, for the honour of God and their own mutual edification (Heb 13:7,17).
4. In taking care that all the ordinances of the gospel be duly preserved in their purity and perfection (Song 1:7-8).
5. In carefully watching over the moral behaviour of church-members, instructing, admonishing, exhorting, comforting, or rebuking them, as they find cause (Heb 13:17).
6. In visiting the sick in body, or distressed in mind (James 5:14).
7. In making provision for the poor, or other expenses necessary for promoting the spiritual welfare of the congregation (Acts 11:27-30).
8. In judging the case of offenders and penitents, in order to censure the former, and absolve the latter (Matt 18:15-18; Matt 16:19).
9. In regulating diets of fasting, thanksgiving, the Lord’s Supper, etc. (1 Cor 14:26,40).