Saturday, June 16, 2018

Reflection on IPC presbytery - are we getting too clerical?

Due to an unforeseen delay in my transport I was late for yesterday's presbytery so was told I had not vote though present as a ruling elder.
   When Francis Schaeffer founded the IPC over fifty years ago one of his innovations was to IMO for the first time in a Presbyterian denomination take seriously the parity of elders. Presbyterianism is characterised by plurality and parity of elders. No hierarchy of bishops etc. No one man ministry with the pastor in charge. Each congregation has a plurality of elders who are to have parity in authority in ruling under Christ.
   That is the theory. In practice it is the minister, teaching elder, and the ruling elders under him. The minister may well be over them six foot above contradiction, a clericalism as strong as an episcopal priesthood. Schaeffer made no such distinction. His IPC constitution did not talk of differing classes of elders. None of the Charles Hodge idea that ruling elders were mere representatives of the laity and ministers were members of presbytery not local churches. In practice this meant in IPC all elders may preside in the administration of sacraments. Not only the minister presides at the table. The table requires the ministry of the Word.All elders being apt to teach are therefore able to preside at the Table. That AFAIK is uniquely IPC and frankly is IMO a hill on which to die.
   I was ordained in Nigeria in 1977 in another denomination. Back home in 1983 I was installed as an elder of IPC Ealing. My previous ordination was recognised. There was no question as to whether I was a ruling or teaching elder, I was an elder.
   But as time went on we developed an increasingly regulated church government and teaching elders who laboured in the ministry usually with remuneration and full time were distinguished from ruling elders. The former were subject to a more strenuous doctrinal treating on the floor of presbytery. Ruling elders merely appeared before the Candidates and Credentials Committee, which incidentally always seems to have a preponderance of teaching elders.
   I am classed as a ruling elder and for the sake of the peace of the church and no desire for self promotion I have not questioned this but regard myself as simply an elder.
   But this distinction has consequences. All elders are members of presbytery but now only some ruling elders may vote. This is because larger congregations could send all their many ruling elders and so sway votes their way. This is in fact unlike to happen as few congregations are large and the larger ones are far enough apart that not all elders will attend presbytery. But the rule meant that yesterday I was not among the Ealing elders with a vote.Three other ruling elders had been chosen. In fact one of them should have had a vote as a teaching elder ordained in PCA and co-opted into our presbytery. Of or two teaching elders one was ordained this year. But he had a vote. I did not. IMO it was totally anomalous. I seconded a motion, I proposed another motion, I spoke to the findings of a Commission of Enquiry of which I was a member. But in all three instances I had no vote. Clericslism IMO. So to  it seems is the recent decision not to circulate references for candidates for eldership to all the presbytery. Only the Candidates and Credentials Committeee it seems is to be privy to confidential references.
   So I write this to lay down a marker. I have resisted the idea put forward by one elderly elder that IPC has moved from Schaeffer's ethos. However in this we have; and I fear a principle of spiritual and clerical entropy that we will become like other Presbyterians where the parity of elders is more theory than reality.
  BTW I am the longest continual serving elder in any IPC congregation and have been moderator for two past terms of two years so I am familiar with that of which I write.

The office-bearers in the house of God, who in the Scriptures are called by the name of elders,[ 18] are of several sorts: preaching elders or ministers, teaching elders or doctors,[ 19] and ruling or governing elders. All three are often in the New Testament comprised under the general name of elders.[ 20] It is the ruling elder whom we have now to do with, who is so called,[ 21] not because the power of ruling and governing the church belongs to him alone (for it belongs to the preaching and teaching elders or to the ministers and doctors), but 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, nor to teach—that belongs to the doctor. But his office is comprised within the compass of ruling and governing the church, and therefore he is called the governing or ruling elder. The apostle in the epistle to the Romans, chapter 12, verse 8, calls him ‘him that ruleth’, and 1 Corinthians 12: 28, he calls them ‘governments’, putting the abstract for the concrete, governments for governors. Thus then we have the proper or right name of these church office-bearers, which serves to correct a twofold mistake: 1. The first is, of those who either out of ignorance, or disdain, do call them lay-elders, as if they were a part of the people only and not to be reckoned among the office-bearers of the Lord’s house, whom the Popish church in their pride (and others following them) calls the clergy, that is, the Lord’s inheritance, in opposition to the laity or people whom they look upon as base and much inferior to the other in worth and excellency, whereas all the Lord’s people are his portion, and the lot of his inheritance.[ 22] 2. The second mistake is of those who do call these only ruling elders, who sit in presbyteries, synods and general assemblies, allowing to others the name of elders, but not of ruling elders. But every elder in the Lord’s house is a ruling elder because the power and exercise of rule and government belongs to every elder, though some of them upon special occasions are called to a more eminent exercise of it than others.
Guthrie

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