Of the Officers of a Church,
Particularly Pastors
A Body of Practical Divinity, II:3

by John Gill

Having treated of a church, as "essentially" considered, with respect to its matter and form, I shall now proceed to consider it,

2. "Organically", or as an organized church, a corporate body, having its proper officers. In the first churches there were officers both extraordinary and ordinary; the extraordinary officers were apostles, prophets, and evangelists.

2a. "Apostles", 1 Corinthians 12:28. These had the "first" and chief place in the church, and the signs of the apostles were found with them: they had their call and mission from Christ, and were not of men, nor by men, but by Jesus Christ; and as they had their mission and commission immediately from Christ, so their doctrine; they neither received it from men, nor were taught it, but had it by the revelation of Christ; they were infallibly guided into all truth by the inspiration of the Spirit, and had the power of working miracles, in confirmation of all this; they went out by authority everywhere, preaching the gospel, to the conversion of multitudes; and were the first planters of churches, which others watered; they were not limited to any particular church, but had the care of, and presided in all the churches wherever they came. This office is now ceased, the apostles have no successors in it: not such who are called lord bishops; for as the apostles had not their pompous titles, nor their grandeur, nor their wealth, so neither have these lordly bishops their gifts, power, and authority; they have neither mission nor commission, nor work similar to theirs.

2b. There were set in the churches, "secondarily, prophets", 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11 who had extraordinary gifts for explaining the word of God; for instruction and confirmation in the truths of it; and had the gift of tongues, to preach in them to all nations; such were in the church at Antioch, and such were Silas and Judas, Acts 13:1; 15:22 and who also had the gift of foretelling future events; as Agabus, and others, who were of great use to the churches in those times, Acts 11:28; 21:10. This office is also no more; only the ordinary gift of interpreting the scriptures is sometimes called "prophesying", and those who have it "prophets".

2c. "Evangelists". This name is sometimes given to the writers of the four gospels; two of which were apostles, Matthew and John; the other two, evangelists, Mark and Luke: evangelists were companions of the apostles in their travels, assistants to them in their work, and who were sent by them here and there, with messages from them to the churches, where they had been, and to finish what they had begun; for which purpose they were sometimes left in certain places; but not to reside and continue there. This office is now extinct; only that every truly gospel preacher may be called an evangelist, or evangelizer. The ordinary officers of the church are pastors and deacons, and these only; though antichrist has introduced a rabble of other officers, the scripture knows nothing of.

1. Pastors: these are shepherds under Christ, the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls; who take the care of the flock, and feed it, as their name signifies; such were promised to be given under the gospel dispensation; and such Christ has given to his churches, Jeremiah 3:15; Ephesians 4:11 and still gives; to whom he says, as he did to Peter, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep", John 21:15,16. Who,

1a. Are the same with "teachers", according to Ephesians 4:11 "Some pastors and teachers"; not "some pastors" and "some teachers", as if they were different; but "and teachers", the kai or and, being exegetical, explaining what is meant by pastors, even such who are teachers, to instruct in the knowledge of divine things; which is the pastor's work, to feed men with knowledge and understanding: and it may be observed, that in 1 Corinthians 12:28 where each of the officers of the church are enumerated, mention is made of "teachers", but "pastors" omitted, because they are the same; for they are not to be distinguished with respect to the place where they perform their work, as if the office of pastors was in the church, the flock they are to feed; but teachers or doctors in the school; whereas, it is certain, that a teacher is an officer in the church, as well as pastor, 1 Corinthians 12:28 nor are they to be distinguished as two distinct officers in the church, because of the subject of their ministry; the one, the pastor attending to exhortation, to things practical, and the teacher to things doctrinal, asserting, explaining, and defending the doctrines of the gospel, and refuting errors; since both belong to one and the same: if these were distinct, it should seem rather that teachers design gifted brethren, called to minister the word, but not to office power; and are only assistants to pastors in preaching, but not in the administration of the ordinances; yet it is pretty plain, that those who have a commission to teach, have also a commission to baptize, and to attend to whatsoever Christ has commanded; yea, it may be observed, that even extraordinary officers are called "teachers"; as apostles and prophets, Acts 13:1; 1 Timothy 2:7.

1b. These pastors and teachers are the same with "bishops", or overseers, whose business it is to feed the flock, they have the episcopacy or oversight of, which is the work pastors are to do; which office of a bishop is a good work; and is the only office in the church distinct from that of deacon, 1 Timothy 3:1,8; Philippians 1:1.

1c. And these bishops are the same with "elders"[1]; when the apostle Paul had called together at Miletus the elders of the church at Ephesus, he addressed them as "overseers", episkopouV, "bishops", Acts 20:17,28 and when he says, he left Titus in Crete, to ordain elders in every city, he proceeds to give the qualifications of an elder, under the name of a bishop; "A bishop must be blameless", &c. plainly suggesting, that an elder and a bishop are the same, Titus 1:5-7 and the apostle Peter exhorts the "elders", to "feed the flock of God, taking the oversight", episkophV, acting the part of a bishop, or performing the office of one, 1 Peter 5:1,2.

1d. These pastors, teachers, bishops, and elders, are called rulers, guides, and governors. A pastor, or shepherd, is the governor and guide of his flock; a teacher, and a ruling elder are the same, 1 Timothy 5:17. One qualification of a bishop is, that he know how to rule his own house; or how shall he take care of the church of God, to rule that well, which is a considerable branch of his office? 1 Timothy 3:1,4,5 these, indeed, are not to lord it over God's heritage, or rule according to their own wills, in an arbitrary manner; but according to the laws of Christ, as King of saints; and then they are to be respected and obeyed; "Remember them that have the rule over you, and obey them"; for they are over the churches in the Lord, and under him as the great Lawgiver in his house; and though they are described as such who have the rule over churches, and are guides to them, Hebrews 13:7,17 yet they are the churches servants, for Jesus's sake, 2 Corinthians 4:5.

1e. These are sometimes called the angels of the churches; so the pastors, elders, bishops, or overseers of the seven churches of Asia, are called the angels of the seven churches; and the pastor, elder, bishop, or overseer of the church at Ephesus, the angel of the church at Ephesus, Revelation 1:20 2:1 so called because of their office, being sent of God, and employed by him in carrying messages of grace to the churches, and publishing the good tidings of salvation.

1f. They are said to be "ministers of Christ", or his "under rowers", as the word uphretaj signifies, 1 Corinthians 4:1 the church is the ship or boat, which they work; Christ is the pilot, who is at the helm, under whom, and by whose direction, they row; and the oars they row with are the word, ordinances, and discipline they administer. And in the same place,

1g. They are called, "Stewards of the mysteries of God"; and sometimes, "Good stewards of the manifold Grace of God"; that is, of the more sublime truths of the gospel, and the various doctrines of divine grace, 1 Peter 4:10 so a bishop or elder is called a "steward of God", Titus 1:7 a steward in his house or family, to give to everyone in it their portion of meat in due season: and which office requires wisdom and faithfulness, to execute it aright, Luke 12:42; 1 Corinthians 4:2. Concerning these persons may be observed,

2. The qualifications of them for their office; which, as it is a "good office", the necessary qualifications should be found in those who are put into it, and which the apostle directs to, 1 Timothy 3:1, &c. Some of which,

2a. Respect the internal and spiritual character and accomplishments of a bishop or elder. As,

2a1. He must not be a novice; which does not mean a young man; for such an one was Timothy himself, to whom the apostle writes, who was more than an ordinary officer, even an evangelist; hence he says, "Let no man despise thy youth", 1 Timothy 4:12 but the word neofutoV, translated "novice", signifies, "one newly planted"[2], that is, in the church of God; there must be time, after such a plant is planted, to observe whether it has taken good root, and how it grows and thrives, and, whether a plant of Christ's heavenly Father's planting. A bishop or elder should be first of some standing in the church, before he is called to such an office, that his gifts, grace, and conduct may be known, "lest being lifted up with pride", elated with the high station he is advanced to, and with the gifts he is supposed to have, "he fall into the condemnation of the devil"; fall by pride as he did, and under the same sentence, and be degraded from his office.

2a2. He must have a competency of knowledge and understanding in divine things; for a pastor is to feed men with knowledge and understanding; and therefore must have a good share of it himself, that so he may be "able to teach others also", 2 Timothy 2:2 this is a principal part of his work, to teach and instruct men in the knowledge of evangelical truths; in which he should be assiduous; "He that teacheth, on teaching", Romans 12:7 and for this he must have a ministerial gift; which is not natural parts, nor human learning, nor grace in common with other Christians; which, though all needful and useful, yet neither of them separately, nor all together, will qualify a man to be a public teacher of the word. He must have a special and peculiar gift from Christ; such as he received at his ascension, and gives to men, to ordinary ministers of the word; and it was according to the measure of such a gift, though a large one, the apostle Paul himself was made a minister of the gospel, and to such a gift he ascribes his being one, Ephesians 3:7,8; 4:7,8.

2a3. He must not only be able to teach, but he must be "apt to teach"; which aptitude lies in a good degree of elocution, and a free utterance of speech; for it is of little avail what is a man's capacity, what the thoughts of his mind, and what stock of knowledge he has, unless he can clothe his ideas with proper words to convey the understanding of them to others; the royal preacher "sought to find out acceptable words"; such as were suitable to express his meaning, and to give delight and pleasure, as well as yield profit to them that heard him; and especially the taught words of the Holy Ghost are to be made use of. Apollos was an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, well versed in them, and which greatly improved his gift of elocution; a good textuary makes a good preacher; a free and ready utterance is necessary; such an one is like the scribe and householder, Matthew 13:52. The apostle Paul himself desired the Ephesians to pray for him, "that utterance might be given him", Ephesians 6:19.

2b. There are other qualifications of a bishop or pastor, which respect his domestic character. He must be "the husband of one wife": this does not oblige a bishop or elder to be a married man; nor restrain from a second marriage after the decease of his wife; only that he should have but one wife at a time. Polygamy having been much in use among Jews and Gentiles, the first Christians were not easily brought off of that practice; however, the apostle thought fit to enjoin that a bishop or pastor should not practise it, that he might not set an example of it, which might serve to countenance and continue it; there were some peculiar laws respecting the marriage of the high priest among the Jews, and by which it seems he was to have but one wife, Leviticus 21:13,14 and much the same laws are directed to for priests or ministers of the word, under the gospel dispensation, Ezekiel 44:22 also a bishop or elder must be "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity", or reverence of him; obedient to his commands, and who behave respectably to him; and especially he should be careful to lay his commands upon them to keep the ways of the Lord, and to restrain them from vices, and severely reprove them for them; in which good old Eli was deficient, and therefore blamed and corrected for it: the apostle gives a good and strong reason why a bishop or elder should have this qualification; "For", says he, "if a man know not how to rule his own house", or family, "how shall he take care of the house of God?"

2c. There are other qualifications, which respect his personal character, conduct, and behaviour. As,

2c1. That he must be "blameless" in his conversation. So the priest under the law were to have no blemish on them, nor any natural defect in them, Leviticus 21:17-23 though they were men encompassed with moral infirmities. And this rule, respecting a bishop or pastor of a church, does not imply that he must be perfect and without sin, only that he should not be guilty of any scandalous sin, and especially should not live in any known sin; otherwise there is no man, not the best of men, without sin; no, not in the highest office; the prophets of the Old Testament, and the apostles of the New, were men of like passions with others.

2c2. Such an one must be "of good behaviour, and must have a good report with them that are without"; he should have a good report of all men, as Demetrius had; not only of the church and its members, of those that are within, to whom he is to be "an example in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity", 1 Timothy 4:12 but of those without the church, the men of the world; that the ministry be not blamed and had in contempt, the ways of God, and doctrines of Christ, evil spoken of, and the ministers usefulness to the souls of men hindered.

2c3. He must not be given to any vice; "Not given to wine", that is, to excessive drinking of it; otherwise it is no more criminal to drink that than to drink water; and Timothy is advised by the apostle to refrain from drinking water, and to make use of wine for his health's sake, 1 Timothy 5:23 nor given to quarrels; he must be "no striker", neither with his fist nor with his tongue; no calumniator, no "brawler", not litigious and contentious; but "patient", and bear all reproaches, indignities, and insults; "not greedy of, nor given to filthy lucre", should not enter on his work and take upon him such an office, with a lucrative view; nor be "covetous", but "given to hospitality"; not insatiably desirous of wealth and riches, and making use of any unlawful way to obtain them; but should, according to his abilities, be liberal in relieving the poor and necessitous; and in entertaining Christian strangers and travellers, when well recommended; and by all this set a good example to others; and for which he should be supplied by the church to whom he ministers.

2c4. A bishop, elder, or pastor, should be "vigilant"; watch over himself and his flock, and take heed to both: to himself; to his doctrine, that it be sound, pure, and incorrupt, and according to the word of God; and to his conversation, that it be as becomes the gospel of Christ; to his flock, to feed them with wholesome food, to lead and direct them to good pastures, and to preserve them from wolves, from false teachers, that lie in wait to deceive; he is to watch for the souls of men, for their spiritual good and welfare, as one that must give an account with joy, and not with grief; and he should be "sober" and modest, wise and prudent, and "think soberly of himself", Romans 12:3. I proceed to consider,

3. How any come into such an office, and are instated into it.

3a. First, there must be a call to the ministry of the word, both inward and outward, previous to this office; no man, under the law, "took to himself the honour" of the priest's office, but he that was "called of God, as was Aaron", Hebrews 5:4,5 nor ought any man to take upon him the office of a prophet, or minister of the word, without a call; there were some in the times of Jeremiah complained of by the Lord, who were not sent nor spoken to by him; and yet "prophesied", Jeremiah 23:21.

3a1. An internal call; which lies in gifts bestowed, and in the furniture of a man's mind, and in the disposition of it to make use of them in the service of God; for God never calls a man to any service but he gives him abilities for it; which, when a man is sensible of, and is satisfied God has bestowed a gift upon him, he cannot be easy to wrap up his talent in a napkin, but is desirous of making use of it in a public manner; not by a mere impulse, through vanity of mind, and with ambitious views, and sordid ends; but from a principle of love to the souls of men, and to the glory of God; this is the internal call, of which a man's gifts are an evidence to himself and others.

3a2. The outward call is not immediately by Christ, as the twelve disciples were called, and sent forth by him to preach the gospel; and particularly, as the apostle Paul was called to be an apostle; not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, but mediately by the church; it being by some means or another made known to the church, that such an one is thought to have a gift for public usefulness, the church calls him to exercise it before them, and submit it to their examination and trial; and having sufficiently tried it, and being satisfied of it, the church calls and sends him forth in the name of Christ, to preach the gospel, where he may be directed in providence to do it; and being thus called and sent forth, he is eligible to the office of a pastor of a church who shall think fit to choose him.

3b. Secondly, the procedure of instating him into the office of a pastor, or the ordination of him, is in this manner.

3b1. He must be a member of a church, to whom he is to be ordained as a pastor. So an extraordinary officer, an apostle, was chosen and ordained to be one, in the room of Judas, from among the disciples who had accompanied Christ and his apostles from the baptism of John; and so inferior officers, deacons, were selected out of the church, and appointed to that office, Acts 1:21-23 6:3,5 so Epaphras, a faithful minister of Christ for the church at Colosse, is said to be "one of you", a member of that church, Colossians 1:7 4:12 one that is not a member of the church, cannot be a pastor of it.

3b2. His qualifications, such as before observed, must be known by the members of a church, and must be proved and approved of by them; yea, they must be satisfied that be has gifts for "their" edification; for a man may have gifts for the edification of one church, which are not for the edification of another; and this should be known, previous to their choice and call of him.

3b3. After sufficient trial and due consideration of his gifts, to satisfaction, and after seeking the Lord by prayer, for everything is sanctified by the word of God and prayer, the church proceeds to the choice and call of him to be their pastor; for every church has a right and power to choose its own officers, pastors, and deacons.


[1] So Jerom, in his Comment. on I Tim. iii. 10. and on Tit. i. 5.

[2]"Novam plantam", Grotius; "Nuper baptizatum et ascriptum in numerum christianorum", Vatablus.

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