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observes, “from this unequivocal testimony it fully appears, that in the apostolic age, there were three orders in the ministry, bishops, presbyters, and deacons, distinct and subordinate, deriving their commission from God, and claiming the reverence and obedience of the people,” p. 33. And the American editor also states, in a note, that this testimony is express and decided in support of the superiority of the bishops to the presbyters.” If you adopt this statement, in connexion with your own, you must allow at least four orders, instead of three, namely, apostles, bishops, presbyters, and deacons.
That elders, presbyters, and bishops were the same, is evident from the twentieth chapter of Acts. In this chapter, Paul is said to have sent from Mi. letus to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church;" and among his directions, after they were collected, he told them, “to take heed unto them. selves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers," or, as the word is every where else rendered, bishops. In the first chapter of Titus the words bishop, and elder, are used in different places for the same person. According to Macknight, the name elder (sposoutogos) was applied in the primitive age, as a general term, to all who exercised any sacred office in the church.* They seem to have been called elders, because they were chosen from among the first converts, or perhaps from among those, who were more advanced in age, and whose experience and gravity of manners gave weight to their character,
* Macknight on the Epistles, vol. iv. p. 245,
We do not read in the scriptures of any distinction of rank among these officers; but we are often told of their acting in concert with the brethren, with each other, and with the apostles. In the discussion about circumcision, the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter." And when cochosen men” were sent with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, they received their commission from the apostles, and elders, with the whole church." The letter, which they took, commenced as follows; "the apostles, and elders, and brethren, send greeting to the brethren, which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia.”* Nothing is more clear, than that the government of the church at this time rested in a mutual council, composed, not only of the apostles and elders, but also of the brethren at large. We hear nothing of any particular grades among the officers. The apostles themselves assumed no authority above the elders, or even the brethren. They acted only with their advice, and in concert with them. Letters were written, and ministers sent out, in the name of the whole body of the church. This was the mode of government in the first church at Jerusalem, and it appears to have been the same, as far as circumstances would permit, in all the primitive churches. Where you find any grounds, in the transactions of this first church at Jerusalem, for the three distinct orders of bishops, priests, and deacons," I cannot tell.
The deacons, who compose your third order, are not mentioned in the proceedings of this church. But
* Acts xv.
.6, 22, 23.
is it probable, if such an order of the ministry then existed, that it would have been overlooked in proceedings so important as these, in which even the brethren at large were allowed to take an active part? I confess I can discover nothing in the account of the church at Jerusalem, nor in any part of the New Testament, which would lead me to suppose the deacons, in the time of the apostles, sustained any office, which should entitle them to be considered a distinct order of the ministry. The word, in its English dress, is used only three times, and in no instance with reference to any definite office, or duties. In the original use of this word in the New Testament, it has a variety of meanings. Its radical signification is servant, and it is thus used for the most part in the gospels. In the epistles it generally means what we understand by minister, and sometimes magistrate. Rom. xiii. 4. Paul speaks of himself and brethren being made “able ministers (deacons) of the new covenant.” “Wherefore I was made a minister (deacon) according to the gifts of the grace of God.” “Who
" then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but able ministers (deacons) by whom ye believed?''* Quotations of a
" similar kind might be multiplied; but these are sufficient to show, that the term deacon, instead of designating a particular order of men, was frequently applied to the apostles themselves. The apostles were servants, deacons, or ministers of Jesus Christ.
* The word douxoros is used in thirty places in the New Tese tament. In eight of these places, it is rendered, in our common version, servant, and seems to have precisely the same meaning as donos. In nineteen places it is rendered minister; and in three only it is translated deaoon,
St. Paul writes to the “bishops and deacons" ať Phillippi, as it is expressed in our common version. But the Syriac translator renders it "elders and mina isters,”* and this translation is in accordance with the general use of these words, as is seen by the above quotations. In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle describes the qualifications of deacons, but nothing is said in regard to the nature of their office. These qualifications are almost precisely the same, as those of a bishop, which are mentioned in the same place. In the letter to Titus, instead of deacons, he calls them saged men;" and I can find no passage in scripture, from which it would appear, that these men were distinguished, in respect to their office, from the elders, or presbyters. And whatever the office of a deacon may have been, it is evident, that it was not appro. priated to a particular order of men; for Paul, Apollos, Epaphras, and the magistrates, are called dea
The opinion, which was adopted in some of the earlier churches, and which is still retained in yours, respecting the office of deacons, seems to have originated in a fancied resemblance between the deacons mentioned in the first epistle to Timothy, and the seven officers appointed by the apostles, soon after the ascension of our Lord. But we have already seen what were the duties of those men. We have seen, that they were never called deacons, and that their office was wholly of a temporal nature.
Among the duties, which you enumerate as belonging to the office of a deacon, are the following. "In
* Senioribus et ministris,
addition to their care of the poor, the deacons officiated in distributing the sacramental emblems; they were employed to preach and baptize; they were set apart to their office by prayer and imposition of hands; and they were forbidden to follow any secular employ. ments,” p. 12. In what part of the scriptures you find any of these characteristics of the office of a deacon, I cannot conceive. After a careful examination, I do not find a single text, which would imply either directly or remotely, that the deacons mentioned in the epistles to the Philippians and to Timothy, were especially designed for any of these duties. The truth is, nothing is said in scripture about the nature of the office, or about the duties of any class of men designated by the title of deacons. As this name was often applied to the apostles, bishops, and presbyters, it is not unlikely, that it was at first used as a general title to denote a teacher of the gospel.
In writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul says of Jesus, that he "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelişts; and some, pastors and teachers.” Eph. iv. 11. What reason can be given, why each of these should not be considered a distinct order, as well as either of the three you propose? Schleusner, in conformity with Eusebius, represents the evangelists as sustaining an office wholly of a spiritual nature.* Their name implies a teacher of the gospel. They were employed to aid the apostles in establishing churches. It was their custom to travel from place to place. In this respect, they differed essentially from presbyters, who were usually con
* Schleus. Lex. in verb. Evangen,