From a careful examination of the Scripture, we find at least four different kinds of office-bearers in the Apostolic Church:
- Bishops, also called pastors and teachers.
Each one of these had a right to exercise all the offices inferior to his own; but one filling an inferior, had no right to discharge the duties of a superior office. Thus, the Apostolic office included all the others; and a bishop or elder had the right to act as a deacon, so long as his doing so did not impede the due discharge of duties peculiarly his own. A deacon, on the other hand, had no right to exercise the office of a bishop; nor had a bishop any authority to take on him the duties of an apostle. Each superior office included all below it.
Two of these offices – those of apostle and evangelist – were temporary, necessary at the first establishment of Christianity, but not necessary to be perpetuated. The apostles were witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, endowed with the power of working miracles and of conferring the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their hands, the infallible expounders of the Divine will, and the founders of the Christian Church; and, having served the purpose for which they were sent, they disappeared out of the world, and, as apostles, have left no successors. Evangelists were missionaries – men who travelled from place to place preaching the Gospel, and who acted as the assistants and delegates of the apostles in organizing Churches. Of these, Philip and Timothy and Titus were the most eminent examples. It deserves to be remarked, with regard to these temporary, or, as they are usually called, extraordinary office-bearers, that their sphere of duty was not limited to a congregation, but extended to the Church at large. They were members of any Christian Society, within whose bounds they resided for a time, but their mission was to the world, and their authority extended to the Church universal.
The offices of bishop and deacon were, on the other hand, designed to be perpetual in the Church. The bishops, or, as they are more usually called, elders,[This is assumed for the present: it will be proved afterward] and pastors, and teachers, were office bearers, whose duty it was to instruct and govern the Church. The deacons had charge of temporal concerns, and were entrusted with the special duty of ministering to the necessities of the poor. The Church can never cease to have need of these two offices, so long as its members have spiritual and temporal wants to be supplied.
But it is to be observed, with regard to the bishops and deacons, that they were mainly congregational officers. The sphere of their duty was not so general as that of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, but lay for the most part within the bounds of that particular Church or district for which they were appointed to act.
Dr. Campbell thus expounds the special necessity that existed in the Primitive Church, both for the temporary and perpetual office-bearers: –
To take a similitude from temporal things: it is one thing to conquer a kingdom and become master of it, and another thing to govern it when conquered, so as to retain the possession which has been acquired. The same agents and the same expedients are not properly adapted to both. For the first of these purposes, there was a set of extraordinary ministers or officers in the Church, who, like the military forces intended for conquest, could not be fixed to a particular spot whilst there remained any provinces to conquer. Their charge was, in a manner, universal, and their functions ambulatory. For the second, there was a set of ordinary ministers or pastors, corresponding to civil governors, to whom it was necessary to allot distinct charges or precincts, to which their services were chiefly to be confined, in order to instruct the people, to preside in the public worship and religious ordinances, and to give them the necessary assistance for the regulation of their conduct.
Without this second arrangement, the acquisitions made could not have been long retained. There must have ensued an universal relapse into idiolatry and infidelity. This distinction of ministers into extraordinary and ordinary, has been admitted by controvertists on both sides, and therefore cannot justly be considered as introduced (which sometimes happens to distinctions) to serve an hypothesis. [Lectures on Ecclesiastical History. Lecture iv., 3rd Edition, London, 1824.]
With these preliminary observations, we proceed in search of The First Principle.