Course Notes for the PCEA Eldership Course can be found here as blog entries. Please browse through them below, use the menu to the right to navigate the contents, or go to the downloads section and get the PDF booklet of the entire course. We hope that this will be a useful resource.

Practical Polity

Subordinate Standards

The government of our church is determined by certain documents called "subordinate standards". These standards are subordinate to the ultimate authority of Scripture, the "supreme standard" of church polity. The other subordinate standards that we have, all in agreement with the Confession, are:Regarding Church Government

Second Book of Discipline 1578Westminster Form of Presbyterial Government 1645

Regarding Worship

Westminster Directory for Public Worship 1645Westminster Directory for Family Worship 1647

Regarding Catechisms

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Old Testament Background

The term “elder” (Hebrew zaqen) first appears in Exodus 3:16 where the Lord tells Moses to go and gather together the elders of Israel to proclaim that God will deliver them from slavery.16 Go and agather[1] the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, b“[2]I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; 17 and I have said cI[3] will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”

The word translated means those who are “old men” but the following “of Israel” adds the sense that these are men who have both age and reputation, a standing within the broader community, even the whole nation. The fact that the Lord continues to instruct Moses to take these elders with him into the presence of Pharaoh as a delegation representing the Hebrews reinforces this idea (Ex. 3:18). Moses then goes with Aaron to Egypt and to the Elders first to establish contact with the people (Ex. 4:29).[4]

The role of these elders in the society of the Hebrews at this time is understood to be as leaders of clan groups, by which the whole nation was organised. This clan organisation may very well have been extant during the time of slavery. Certainly, elders are mentioned amongst the Egyptians in Genesis 50:7, and they first appear in Hebrew society 400 years alter in Moses time. But that is not to say that the Hebrews copied the Egyptian form of social organisation since most societies, (except perhaps our own in more recent years) has respected and revered the position, accumulated wisdom and dignity of the aged (Lev. 19:32).

So it was natural that all the directives and rules that God gave to Moses, he would then deliver to the people through the Elders. The best example of this is on the eve of the Passover, when having received instruction from the Lord on what to do, Moses then goes to the Elders and tells them in turn to instruct the families of their clans on how to observe the feast (Ex. 12:21). And the effect is that through their representative leaders, they observe the command of the Lord from Moses (Ex. 12:27-28).

The Elders are the ones whom God uses to support Moses authority before the people. The Lord gives Moses instructions to take with him some of the Elders

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A Sketch of the Eldership in History

Introduction

The “Elder” has been defined in the past sections of this Manual as the leader whose office begins to be evident under Moses’ authority in the wilderness, with the elders acting as judges and clan leaders, as supports (and sometimes hinderances) to Moses’ leadership.

We have seen that Paul in the New Testament stipulated the presence of Elders in the church and defined the role for the church in ages to come, particularly in the instructions he gives Timothy and Titus in the Pastoral Epistles.

But we have to take notice that the office of Elder has not always been, and still is not, recognised in the majority of the Christian Church in the way that we hold to it within Presbyterianism.  How is it then, that the “Elder” as we have defined it from Biblical evidences is an accepted and revered office fundamental to the government of our Church? What happened to the Eldership in the years following New Testament times, and why do we claim it to be vital to the proper rule of government in the church?

The term “Bishop”,[1] which we equate with the term “Elder”, comes from Old English and Wycliffe’s translation (1382) of the Greek word episkepos (“overseer”, “watcher”) throughout his New Testament, particularly in Acts 20:28 where Paul addresses the Ephesian Elders. Whilst Wycliffe, as a proto-Reformer,[2] was ardently against the power and position of the papacy, opposed the abuses of the prelates (Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, etc) and their meddling in secular affairs and neglect of their spiritual duties[3], he accepted the understanding of the time that Bishops were first among equals and were given oversight of other presbyters (priests).

It had been accepted, never disputed, since the time of the early church, that this term of episkepos (“overseer”) was a separate office entirely to that of the presbuteros (“presbyter”). The exact time in which a bishop went from being the equivalent of a local Elder to an overseer over a number of presbyters is not precisely known. It is the opinion of the prelatical party of Rome and England that the episcopal power of a Bishop derives from not only the tradition of the church but from Scripture,  and so for Episcopalian government they claim the Divine right

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Introduction to Polity

Polity, as the Oxford Dictionary puts it, is “a form or process of civil government or constitution”. In relation to the Church, polity refers to the very same processes of organisation, laws and government which determine and regulate how a church functions.

But why is it necessary to establish any particular form or processes of government in the Church? All who belong to Christ’s church recognise that He is the head of the church and so can we not be lead by His Spirit, even as our direction is revealed in His Word? Can’t we all just “get along” without all sorts of rules and regulations?

The Necessity of Polity

Theodore Beza, the direct successor of John Calvin, stated that good government in the church was vital in repelling Satan’s attack:

Satan “hopes that it is easier to overthrow [church government] than to overthrow the foundation which is doctrine.”[1]

 

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Principles of Spiritual Development

The elder needs constant readjustment of his personal life with the purpose of God in the Bible. Part of that process is prayer. Without it there is always lacking that something that makes holiness holiness.

The Habit of Prayer  

Luther once said: “Prayer, meditation and temptation make a Minister”. The same is true for the elder. The need for prayer in the Christian ministry is underlined by the disciples’ request in Luke 11:1 “Lord, teach to pray”. That request is often misunderstood. Notice that the disciples did not say: “Lord, teach us how to pray”, but teach us “to pray”. They are not asking for techniques or a prayer manual. Their request is “teach us to pray”. Many elders, perhaps, know how to pray, but they do not actually pray. Shepherding God’s flock demands that elders carry out their pastoral commitments in a prayerful spirit.  The elder who is concerned for the welfare of the flock will make the church a subject of continual supplication.     

Study Questions

In Acts 6: 1-4 Luke records the following incident within the church in Jerusalem:

 

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

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