All offices in the Christian Church take origin from the Lord Jesus. Himself is the Author and embodiment of them all; He is the Apostle of our profession; He is an Evangelist, preaching peace to them that are afar off, and to them that are nigh; He is the great Pastor or Shepherd of the sheep – the Bishop of souls; and He is the Deacon, or servant, who came not to be ministered to, but to minister. All offices in the Church are embodied in the person of Christ.
The Apostles were the only office bearers chosen during the lifetime of the Lord. They held their appointments immediately from Himself. They were called to the work of the ministry by His voice, and they received their commission at His hands. Simon and Andrew were casting their nets into the Lake of Galilee, as Jesus walked upon the beach, but at His call they left their nets to follow Him through the world. The sons of Zebedee heard His voice, and forthwith they forgot both father and mother in their ambition to become fishers of men. When Christ said, Follow me, Levi forsook the receipt of custom, and was a publican no more. The personal call of the Lord Jesus was then, and is still, the first and best of all authority to hold office in the Church of God. Let a man only satisfy us that he holds his appointment directly from the Lord, as the Apostles did, and we require no more to induce us to submit to him.
But after the Lord had ascended to heaven, the personal call, except in case of Paul, who was one born out of due time, was not the passport of any man either to the ministry or apostleship. Men were no more put into office by the living voice of the Lord Jesus. The departure of the Master, and the vacancy left in the list of Apostles by the death of Judas, gave opportunity for bringing into operation a new principle. The first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles brings the whole case before us. Let us specially examine the passage – Acts 1:13-26 – that we may have full possession of the facts.
It appears that, in the interval between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, the disciples met for prayer and supplication in an upper room of the city of Jerusalem. The mother and brethren of Jesus were present, as were also the eleven Apostles. Taken together, they numbered one hundred and twenty in all. Peter rose and addressed the company. He reminded them of the vacancy in the apostleship. Judas, who betrayed the Master, was dead, and the office that he forfeited by his transgression must be conferred upon another. He states the necessary qualifications of him who was to be the successor of Judas: he must be one who had intercourse with the eleven from the commencement of Christ’s ministry to the close. He states the duties of the new apostle: he was to be with the others a witness of Christ’s resurrection. Such was the case that Peter put before the men and brethren, met together in that upper room of Jerusalem.
We then read in verse 23 – “They appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.” In consequence of this double choice, it became necessary to decide which should be regarded as the true apostle; which, after prayer, was done by casting lots. But let it be particularly observed that, while Peter explained the necessary qualifications, and the peculiar duties of the office, the appointment of the person did not rest with Peter, but with the men and brethren to whom the address of Peter was directed. Farther, it is not to be forgotten that the office to which Matthias succeeded is, in the 20th verse, termed a bishoprick, and how it is said in the 25th verse, he had “to take part of this ministry and apostleship.” The men and brethren, at the instigation of Peter, exercised the right of appointing a man to a bishopric – that is, to the office of a bishop, and to take part in the ministry. In the Apostolic Church, the people appointed Matthias to be a minister – a bishop – an apostle.
The sixth chapter of Acts comes next under consideration. At the period to which the narrative there recorded refers, the disciples at Jerusalem had grown numerous. The Grecians began to complain against the Hebrews, how that their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations. Hitherto the twelve had attended to the wants of the poor; but their hands were at the same time full of other work, and, among such a multitude, it is not surprising that some were neglected, nor is it very wonderful, considering what human nature is, that some were found to murmur, even when apostles managed the business. What was now to be done?
A division of offices was clearly a necessity. But, were the apostles to take it on themselves to select persons on whom should devolve the duty of attending to the x`temporal wants of the community? Had they done so, few would dispute their right, or venture to charge inspired men with the exercise of a despotic or unwarranted authority. But, instead of this, they adopted a course of procedure unaccountable to us on any other principle, than that they purposely managed the matter in such a way as would guide the Church in the appointment of office-bearers when themselves would be removed, and thus form a precedent for future ages.
The apostles summoned the multitude together and explained the case. They said their appropriate business as ministers was with the Word of God. They said it was unreasonable for them to have to neglect the spiritual province, in order to attend to temporal concerns; and they called upon the brethren to look out among themselves for seven men, of good character, gifted with wisdom and the Spirit of God, who might be appointed to take charge of this secular business, and who would leave the apostles free to attend to duties peculiarly their own – namely, prayer and the ministry of the Word. “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Simon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:5, 6.)
The seven men whom the multitude chose on this occasion were the first deacons. Though not expressly called so in the Scriptures, yet they are admitted to have been such, by almost universal consent. The lowest office-bearers, therefore, in the Apostolic Church, were chosen by the people.
Here, then, are three clear facts, fully sufficient to be the basis of a principle. The first chapter of Acts supplies us with an instance of the assembled men and brethren appointing to office one who was both an apostle and a minister. The sixth chapter furnishes an example of the whole multitude of the disciples choosing seven men to be deacons. On these facts, clear and irresistible, we found the principle of popular election. The conclusion that follows from this evidence, we find it absolutely impossible to evade, namely – that in the Apostolic Church the office-bearers were chosen by the people.