Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Elders, Apt to Teach


Belgic Confession, Article 30: "We believe, that this true Church must be governed by that spiritual policy which our Lord hath taught us in his Word; namely, that there must be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God, and to administer the sacraments; also elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the Church: that by these means true religion may be preserved, and the true doctrine everywhere propagated, likewise transgressors punished and restrained by spiritual means: also that the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities. By these means everything will be carried on in the Church with good order and decency, when faithful men are chosen, according to the rule prescribed by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy."

Church Order of Dordt, Article 3: "No one, though he be a professor of theology, elder, or deacon, shall be permitted to enter upon the ministry of the Word and the sacraments without having been lawfully called thereunto. And when anyone acts contrary thereto, and after being frequently admonished does not desist, the classis shall judge whether he is to be declared a schismatic or is to be punished in some other way."

Van Dellen & Monsma on Article 3 of the Church Order: "Elders and Deacons receive special mention in Article 3 for no other reason than that some Elders and Deacons assumed unto themselves the duties and privileges of the ministry. Elders represent Christ as King. It is their specific duty and privilege to rule. Deacons represent Christ as Priest. It is their specific duty and privilege to show mercy. Ministers represent Christ as Prophet. It is their specific duty and privilege to make known the will of God; to speak His Word. And although it is true that Ministers as we know them, are at the same time Elders, and therefore help to rule the Church over and above their duty and privilege to instruct the people, yet it is not time that Elders have the right of the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments (cf. I Tim. 5:17, and the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons). Regarding professors of theology, it should be recalled that years ago many men were professors of theology at state universities, who had never been ordained to the regular ministry. Some of these were tempted to preach nevertheless. Yet our fathers realized that such should not be done. No one, unless he has received a charge from God can act as His representative or as His messenger to His people."

Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons: "Therefore, in the first place, the office of elders is, together with the ministers of the Word, to take the oversight of the Church, which is committed to them, and diligently to look, whether every one properly deports himself in his confession and conversation; to admonish those who behave themselves disorderly, and to prevent, as much as possible, the sacraments from being profaned: also to act (according to the Christian discipline) against the impenitent, and to receive the penitent again into the bosom of the Church, as doth not only appear from the above mentioned saying of Christ, but also from many other places of Holy Writ, as I Cor. 5 and II Cor. 2, that these things are not alone entrusted to one or two persons, but to many who are ordained thereto. Secondly. Since the apostle enjoineth, that all things shall be done decently and in order, amongst Christians, and that no other persons ought to serve in the Church of Christ, but those who are lawfully called, according to the Christian ordinance, therefore it is also the duty of the elders to pay regard to it, and in all occurrences, which relate to the welfare and good order of the Church, to be assistant with their good counsel and advice, to the ministers of the Word, yea, also to serve all Christians with advice and consolation. Thirdly. It is also the duty particularly to have regard unto the doctrine and conversation of the ministers of the Word, to the end that all things may be directed to the edification of the Church; and that no strange doctrine be taught, according to that which we read, Acts 20, where the apostle exhorteth to watch diligently against the wolves, which might come into the sheepfold of Christ; for the performance of which, the elders are in duty bound diligently to search the Word of God, and continually be meditating on the mysteries of faith."

William Heyns: "According to the Calvinistic conception of the ecclesiastical offices, the office-bearers are servants and representatives of Christ, as officials who are appointed by Him and receive from Him their mandate and authority, to the end that they should serve Him in the continuation of His official work. This means that the Elders are appointed and authorized to serve Him in His kingly work of governing the Church ... For reading a sermon in public worship when there is no Minister, the Elders come first, but when they do it, they do it by virtue of a commission by the Consistory, not by virtue of their office" (Handbook for Elders & Deacons, pp. 17, 126).

John Calvin: "We may learn from this, that there were at that time two kinds of elders; for all were not ordained to teach. The words plainly mean, that there were some who ‘ruled well’ and honourably, but who did not hold the office of teachers. And, indeed, there were chosen from among the people men of worth and of good character, who, united with the Pastors in a common council and authority, administered the discipline of the Church, and were a kind of censors for the correction of morals" (Comm. on I Timothy 5:17).

James Guthrie: "... the ruling elder ... is so called ... because to rule and govern is the principal and chief part of his charge and employment, it is the highest act of his office; it is not competent for him to preach, that belongs to the pastor or minister ... but his office is comprised within the compass of ruling and governing the church; and therefore he is called the governing or ruling elder ... Apt to teach, i.e. A man of knowledge, and able to instruct others, one who hath a ready and willing mind to teach others, which is not so meant as if it were requisite for the ruling elder to be endued with the gift of exhortation and instruction competent to the pastor and teacher, or that he may and ought to employ himself therein, but of that fitness and ability to teach that is competent to his calling, which he must be ready and willing to exercise so far as belongeth thereto" (A Treatise of Ruling Elders and Deacons, pp. 311-312, 323).

John Brown commenting on "apt to teach" (I Timothy 3:2): "All that is asserted in it appears simply to be this, that an elder, or bishop, should be fitted to teach, according to the station which he holds in the church. The preaching elder should be qualified to preach publicly, according to the nature of his function; and the ruling elder should be qualified to teach, and admonish, and counsel privately, according to the particular nature of his office. But because an elder, or bishop should be apt to teach, according to the particular nature of his office, can it fairly be inferred that none are to be elders but those who are qualified to be preachers of the gospel?" (Vindication of the Presbyterian Form of Church Government as Professed in the Standards of the Church of Scotland, pp. 186-187).

James Moir Porteous: "And there was a division of labour amongst these officers. – This was to be expected from the appointment of many. Had only one bishop or elder been appointed, the entire duties had fallen to him alone. Accordingly, it is found that – Firstly, There were pastors who both taught and ruled. ‘Know them who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord’ (I Thess. 5:12). ‘Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God’; ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account’ (Heb. 13:7, 17). Not only in the Church of Thessalonica, wherever the Hebrew Christians are organised into companies of the called, they are recognised as having pastors, who both instruct and regulate in the Lord. Secondly, There were elders who engaged chiefly in ruling. These do not appear to have engaged in the public teaching of divine truth. In private spiritual exercises, no marked distinction was drawn. When any were sick, they were directed simply to call for the elders, who were to pray in the name of the Lord, assured that ‘the prayer of faith shall save the sick’ (James 5:14, 15). That they were not all public instructors, appears from the distinctions employed to indicate their several duties. ‘Having ministry, let us wait on our ministering’; ‘He that ruleth with diligence’ (I Cor. 12:28-29). The special work of ruling is here carefully distinguished from that of the ministry of the Word. Express mention is also made of ‘governments’, or governors, as well as of ‘teachers’, when those officers are enumerated whom God hath set in the Church. ‘Are all apostles? are all prophets, are all teachers?’ This last question, as much as in the two preceding, indicates a special department for ‘governments’, or governors, as distinguished from ‘teachers’, in the estimation of Paul. This division of labour amongst the elders in each church is further marked in Paul’s directions to Timothy, which must be held applicable to all the churches to which he was sent. ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the Word and doctrine’ (I Tim. 5:17). The word ‘especially’ points out that some not only ruled well, but, in addition, proclaimed the truth of God. If especial honour was to be conferred on those who performed this double duty, then there were some who had not the special labour of the Word. There were elders who confined themselves to ruling well. Doing so they were to be abundantly honoured. Those who were enabled to discharge both departments were to be specially honoured. They were entitled to this greater consideration, because of their full employment in the entire duties of the eldership. The office of bishop or elder is one; but it is for the edification of the body of Christ that the elders, according to capacity and opportunity, occupy the respective departments of that one office" (Jesus Christ King of the Church, pp. 65-66).

John Murray: "‘Word and doctrine’ may properly be construed as preaching and teaching. Though it is necessary for all elders to hold fast the faithful word, so as to be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute gainsayers, though all must be competent to teach, yet not all labour in preaching and teaching. On the other hand, there are those who do ... those labouring in word and doctrine are classified as elders who, in addition to ruling, devote themselves to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God and, are thus in a special way accounted worthy of the compensation which their labour warrants" (Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2, p. 360).

Mark Shand: "If, as we have noted, the passage in I Timothy 3 concerns those who aspire to oversight in the congregation, then when the apostle states that they must be apt to teach it is obviously a requirement which applies to those who are to exercise oversight in the church. The requirement pertains to oversight. It is not a requirement that is peculiar to the ministry of the Word ... every elder must have an ability to teach, but that is not because he must preach the Word. Rather, it is required for oversight in the church. It is the means by which elders exercise oversight; they do not exercise oversight by coercive power, but by being able to exhort and to teach the members of the congregation" (Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 33, no. 1 [Nov., 1999], p. 75).