The folly of corrupt clergy who rape Christ’s bride of her electoral rights

Fundamentals of Presbyterianism, part 5

My heart doth overflow;
A noble theme I sing.
My tongue’s a skillful writer’s pen
To speak about the King.
More fair than sons of men
Thy lips with fgrace o’erflow,
Because His blessing evermore
Did God on Thee bestow.

Thy sword gird on Thy thigh,
O Thou supreme in might,
And gird Thyself with majesty
And with Thy splendor bright.
To victory ride forth
For meekness, truth, and right;
And may Thy right hand teach to Thee
The deeds of dreadful might.

Thine arrows sharpened are,
Men under Thee to bring,
To pierce the heart of enemies
Who fight against the King.
Thy royal throne, O God,
From everlasting is;
A righteous scepter evermore
Thy kingdom’s scepter is.

Thou righteousness hast loved
And wickedness abhorred;
On Thee, ‘bove all, has God, Thy God,
The oil of gladness poured.

With cassia, aloes, myrrh,
Thy robes sweet fragrance had;
From palaces of ivory
The sweet harps made Thee glad.
King’s daughters are among
Those who in honor stand.
Thy bride arrayed in Ophir gold
There stands at Thy right hand.

O daughter, hear and heed;
Incline to me thine ear:
“Forget thou now thy people all,
Thy father’s household dear.
Thy beauty to the King
Shall then delightful be;
Because He is thy Lord, do thou
To Him bow rev’rently.”

The daughter then of Tyre
There with a gift shall be,
And all the wealthy of the land
Will make requests of Thee.
The daughter of the King
All glorious waits within;
Her lovely gown with threads of gold
Has interwoven been.

She to the King is led
In fine embroidery;
The bridesmaids in her train, her friends,
Are brought to honor Thee.
Attendants following
Their joy and gladness bring,
Until they all have entered there
The palace of the King.

Then in Thy father’s stead
Thy children Thou shalt take
And everywhere in all the earth
Them noble princes make.
Through every coming age
I’ll make thy name to live;
The peoples therefore evermore
Their praise to Thee shall give.

(Paraphrase of Psalm 45, elements from Scottish Psalter, 1650 and The Psalter, 1912, set to Diademata: “Crown Him with Many Crowns”)

Psalm 45 depicts a vivid picture of the radiance of the Son and his bride at their royal wedding. He vows to her,

“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
and great shall be the peace of your children.”
(Isaiah 54:11-13)

“For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.”
(Isaiah 62:5)

“And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”
(Hosea 2:19-20)

She vows to him,

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
(Isaiah 61:10)

Christ purchased his bride through his own suffering, and his union with her produces a royal people, a kingdom and priests to reign on the earth (Isaiah 53:11, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 5:9-10, 19:7-9, 21:2). He turns to her matrimonial attendants and entreats us,

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
(Acts 20:28)

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
(Ephesians 5:25-27)

The Son’s ransomed, redeemed and beloved bride is arrayed with his glory, arranged by his design. The peace, unity and purity of the Church is to be treasured and protected not stripped and pillaged for the sake of the honor and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the King and Head thereof.

Heretofore in this series, we have laid bare the preponderance within the Holy Scriptures, centuries of church history, and confessional standards of the Protestant Reformation, which proves the essential and infrangible rights of Presbyterian church members to identify, nominate and elect their own officers, as well as to appeal protests of their local elderships’ rulings to higher church courts. (For the Scriptural and historical foundation of congregational suffrage, refer to Fundamentals of Presbyterianism, part 3.)

Now, we will review John Calvin’s classic lamentations about sinister sacerdotalists who have dared to plunder Christ’s church of its congregations’ God-given rights to choose their overseers. Calvin charged these nefarious ecclesiastical raiders with “impious spoliation of the Church,” which also has been translated from his original Latin as “unholy robbery.” Gisbertus Voetius, a 17th-century Dutch theology professor at Utrecht, said that “election of ministers belongs of divine right to the Church of Christ,” and he labeled those villainous raiders who perform patronage appointments “Divines of the House of Judas Iscariot.” So made its way into the Scottish Second Book of Discipline, “The order which God’s Word craves cannot stand with patronages and presentations to benefices.” 

So, is it hyperbolic for the author to entitle this article using the word “rape” to describe dastardly clergy who despoil Christ’s bride of her essential right to elect her ministers? Is it gratuitous? Or does the author stand upon the shoulders of titanic Reformed luminaries in using this appellation? To them, “rape” is accurate to describe this travesty.

In 1727, John Currie, Minister of the Gospel at Kinglassie, Scotland, in his work entirely dedicated to defending suffrage, positively asserted the church body’s right in this matter, as well as negatively warned of the dangers of robbing it from the people or the people giving it up. Here, we find references to John Calvin’s term “impious spoliation,” as well as the descriptors “rapine and sacrilegious.”

“It has a melancholy aspect, so many of her sons do openly impugn the Church’s right to elect her own pastors, yet I hope the greatest part will never go in to any overture, depriving the Spouse of Christ of this her Bridegroom’s gift, grant and legacy. I hope the most are still of this Reformation principle with Calvin and Calderwood, that impia ecclesiæ spoliato est, rapina est, sacrilegium est, that it is an impious robbing of the Church, rapine and sacrilege, to settle any minister, whether the people call and consent, or not. … As to the validity of arguments adduced for proving the people’s right to choose their pastors, I must leave to others to judge, hoping they will be satisfying to such as are unprejudiced, owning the sacred Scriptures to be a complete rule, and the supreme judge of controversies. …
Now, being to treat, not of an immediate, but of a mediate call to the ministry, not of an extraordinary, but of an ordinary call, not of the internal, but of the external call, not of ordination, which is part of the ministerial call, but of the election of ministers, the other part thereof, not of the jus summum … which is the prerogative of the King of Zion, only from whom all the authority of his ambassadors is derived, but of the jus delegatum, or of that delegate right which Christ has given unto the constitute churches, to choose the overseers of their precious souls. …
As it is the right of the Lord’s people, in Christian congregations, to choose the overseers of their immortal souls, so this is a right that is not inalienable by them, a right they cannot entrust to others, a right they cannot part with, a right they cannot give away to magistrates, heritors, town council, elders, presbytery, bishops, patrons, or to any else. Christ, the Head of the Church, commands his people to stand fast in the liberties wherewith he hath made them free, Gal. v. 1. And there he cautions against being intangled with any yoke of bondage. The Church in this case is not sui juris, and though she would, she cannot justly give away her right to any other, nor can her right be taken from her.”
(Jus Populi Divinum, or The people’s right to elect their pastors; Made evident by Scripture, confirmed from Antiquity and Judgment of foreign Protestant Churches and Divines since the Reformation, as also from the Books of Discipline, Acts of General Assemblies, and Sentiments of our best Writers in the Church of Scotland, pp. iv-v, 2, 16)

Currie later ceded,

“Have people a right from Christ to elect their own pastors, then surely they have a right to plead for a voice in the affair, and ground to protest against settlements made contrary to their inclinations. … And if they do not this, I think they are guilty of undervaluing Christ’s gift and legacy. …
It is the people’s right to choose, as it is the Presbytery’s to license, then Presbyteries should be concerned to license such, as serious godly people may have full freedom cheerfully to choose. Men of real piety in as far as men can judge, men of experimental knowledge as well as of parts, men exercised to godliness, for it is when the Lord’s priests are clothed with righteousness that his people and saints they shout for joy. The reverend Mr. Cowper, when speaking of licensing men for the ministry, says, ‘It is a very great truth that is committed to us by the Lord, the standing of the Church, and the flourishing of religion is very much upon it We ought to have good ground in charity to think the men serious Christians we admit to the ministry.’ …
That such office-bearers in God’s house as are for settling pastors, whether people have elected or not, whether people consent or not, such as are for settling ministers, though people be opposite and averse, are far from being so tender as they ought to be. This is sacrilege and robbery. The good of the Church may be pretended, but God hates robbery for burnt-offerings. And Calvin says, ‘Est impia spoliatio, &c. It is an impious robbing of the Church,’ as was noticed above. …
Such churches are insofar degenerate, as deny the people this privilege of a free election. This is no sign of a flourishing church, when her office-bearers lord it over God’s heritage, so as to thrust in pastors, or other officers, whether chosen by them or not. I doubt not it was a true observe of Apollonii, when he said, ‘Experientia ipsa elata voce clamat, &c. Experience itself proclaims this with an elevated voice, that Churches are more or less flourishing, as the election is more or less free, and those are the most flourishing, where the Presbytery, instructing and leading the way, the honoured citizens, and the faithful people of an inferior rank, together crave and elect, having the power of receiving such as are worthy, and of rejecting such as are unworthy,’ as Cyprian speaks. This was the principle of our great and noble Reformers, that people have right to choose their own pastors. And the reverend Mr. Daniel Burgess says, ‘The Divine, to whom the prelacy, the dissenters, and the foreign churches do rise up with the great veneration, as to a theological prince, doth now name that church, viz., the Church of Scotland, the Morning Star of the Reformation.’ But should we ever have an act, as God forbid, denying this right to the people, leaving them nothing but a bare liberty to object against the candidate’s life and doctrine, then farewell to a Reformation principle, and to our flourishing. Calderwood, when arguing for popular elections, says, ‘After free election ceased, golden priests or pastors they ceased, and false bishops introduced popery or Epicurism. …
It is unaccountable in any, whether patrons, heritors, magistrates, or others, to monopolize this privilege to themselves; so as to exclude people of an inferior rank, being regardless whether pleased or displeased, whether they have their choice or not. Such are guilty of oppressing the Lord’s people in their spiritual rights. This is a spiritual privilege, to which the poor of this world, who are rich in faith, have as good right as the richest breathing, a grain of holy faith being preferable to a vast mountain of fine gold. Such are guilty of unjust and sinful usurpation; and, as the reverend Mr. Park says, ‘As usurpation, in all societies, is deservedly very odious, so a fortiori, in the Church of the living God, the most truly free society on earth, whole liberties and privileges are purchased at no lower rate than the most precious blood of the immaculate Lamb, and eternal Son of God.”
(ibid., pp. 151-153, 156-158)

We also will examine The Disruption of 1843, a historical case study in which Scottish Presbyterians fought for their basic rights in Christ’s church. 

J. Gresham Machen wrote in 1923,

“What is the duty of Christian men at such at time? What is the duty, in particular, of Christian officers in the Church? In the first place, they should encourage those who are engaging in the intellectual and spiritual struggle. … In such times of crisis, God has always saved the Church. But He has always saved it not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth.”
(Christianity & Liberalism, pp. 146-147)

Elsewhere, Machen said,

“Certainly a Christianity that avoids argument is not the Christianity of the New Testament. The New Testament is full of argument in defense of the faith. … The Epistles of Paul are full of argument no one can doubt that. But even the words of Jesus are full of argument in defense of the truth of what Jesus was saying. ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?'”
(“The Importance of Christian Scholarship in The Defense of The Faith,” delivered in London on June 17, 1932)

Finally, we will revisit the rabbinical and apostolic foundation for suffrage in God’s ancient covenant community. We recall that American Presbyterianism has inherited its congregational nomination and election of officers from the Second Temple Period of Judaism, after the Jews returned from their 70-year exile in Babylon and the synagogue system spread across the ancient Near East. It is historically ironic that a period of captivity and disarray birthed an era of liberation and order that the church is still modeled after today. 

The ramifications of Rome’s usurpation of congregational rights

Following his explanation of biblical church government, Calvin dissected in profuse detail the corruption that set into the Holy See after basic electoral rights were stripped from the congregations. 

Chapter 5. The Ancient Form of Government Utterly Corrupted by the Tyranny of the Papacy.
“The right of the people taken away, though maintained by Leo, Cyprian, and councils. It follows, that there is no canonical election in the Papacy.
Then, in election, the whole right has been taken from the people. Vows, assents, subscriptions, and all things of this sort, have disappeared; the whole power has been given to the canons alone.
First, they confer the episcopal office on whomsoever they please; by-and-by they bring him forth into the view of the people, but it is to be adored, not examined. But Leo protests that no reason permits this, and declares it to be a violent imposition (Leo, Epist. Ep. 90 c. 2). Cyprian, after declaring it to be of divine authority, that election should not take place without the consent of the people, shows that a different procedure is at variance with the word of God. Numerous decrees of councils most strictly forbid it to be otherwise done, and if done, order it to be null. If this is true, there is not throughout the whole Papacy in the present day any canonical election in accordance either with divine or ecclesiastical law. Now, were there no other evil in this, what excuse can they give for having robbed the church of her right?”
(Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.5.2, trans. Beveridge) 

A fuller explanation of the answer to the second objection, unfolding the errors of people, bishops, and princes.
But it is not true to say that the thing was devised as a remedy. We read, that in old times tumults often arose in cities at the election of bishops; yet no one ever ventured to think of depriving the citizens of their right: for they had other methods by which they could either prevent the fault, or correct it when committed. I will state the matter as it truly is. When the people began to be negligent in making their choice, and left the business, as less suited to them, to the presbyters, these abused the opportunity to usurp a domination, which they afterwards established by putting forth new canons. Ordination is now nothing else than a mere mockery. For the kind of examination of which they make a display is so empty and trifling, that it even entirely wants the semblance. Therefore. when sovereigns, by paction with the Roman Pontiffs, obtained for themselves the right of nominating bishops, the Church sustained no new injury, because the canons were merely deprived of an election which they had seized without any right, or acquired by stealth. Nothing, indeed, can be more disgraceful, than that bishops should be sent from courts to take possession of churches, and pious princes would do well to desist from such corruption. For there is an impious spoliation of the Church whenever any people have a bishop intruded whom they have not asked, or at least freely approved. But that disorderly practice, which long existed in churches, gave occasion to sovereigns to assume to themselves the presentation of bishops. They wished the benefice to belong to themselves, rather than to those who had no better right to it, and who equally abused it.”
(ibid., 4.5.3) 

For the noun provision, Oxford Dictionary uses the example, “Even more insidious was the practice of papal provision, whereby the pope appointed his nominees, a number of them Italian, to clerical positions, particularly to prebends in cathedrals.” 

The prevailing point that Calvin labored in Book Four of his Institutes was that the Lord Jesus Christ is Head and King of the church, even its Prime Minister, he is very present in its ongoing administration, he primarily rules through Word and Spirit, and he indisputably accomplishes this through the entire body of Christians. Congregational suffrage, or the right to elect church officers, therefore is a touchstone of historic Reformed theology that is meant to hedge its fidelity. 

In 1543, when Calvin was age 34, he addressed written representation to the emperor, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, which exposed the ghastly ramifications within the Roman Catholic Church caused by their seizure of the congregational right to presbyterian election. 

“A HUMBLE EXHORTATION
Seriously to Undertake The Task Of Restoring The Church.
Presented In The Name Of All Those Who Wish Christ To Reign.
AUGUST EMPEROR, …
Not the least important branch of ecclesiastical government is the due and regular election and ordination of those who are to rule. The Word of God furnishes a standard by which all such appointments ought to be tested, and there exist many decrees of ancient Councils which carefully and wisely provide for every thing which relates to the proper method of election. Let our adversaries then produce even a solitary instance of canonical election, and I will yield them the victory. We know the kind of examination which the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of Paul, (Epistles of Timothy and Titus,) requires a pastor to undergo, and that which the ancient laws of the Fathers enjoin. At the present day, in appointing Bishops is anything of the kind perceived? Nay, how few of those who are raised to the office are endowed even slenderly with those qualities without which they cannot be fit ministers of the Church? We see the order which the Apostles observed in ordaining ministers, that which the primitive Church afterwards followed, and, finally, that which the ancient Canons require to be observed. Were I to complain that at present this order is spurned and rejected, would not the complaint be just? What, then, should I say that every thing honorable is trampled upon, and promotion obtained by the most disgraceful and flagitious proceedings? The fact is of universal notoriety. For ecclesiastical honors are either purchased for a set price, or seized by the hand of violence, or secured by nefarious actions, or acquired by sordid sycophancy. Occasionally even, they are the hire paid for panderism and similar services. In short, more shameless proceedings are exhibited here than ever occur in the acquisition of secular possessions. …
As it would shame our adversaries to deny these facts, (for in a matter so clear, what could they gain by the denial?) they quarrel with us, first, concerning the right and power, and, secondly, concerning the form of ordination. They quote ancient canons, which give the superintendence of this matter to the bishops and clergy. They allege a constant succession by which this right has been handed down to them, even from the apostles themselves. They deny that it can be lawfully transferred elsewhere. I wish they had, by their merit, retained a title to this boasted possession. But if we consider, first, the order in which for several ages bishops have been advanced to this dignity, next, the manner in which they conduct themselves in it, and, lastly, the kind of persons whom they are accustomed to ordain, and to whom they commit the government of churches, we shall see that this succession on which they pride themselves was long ago interrupted. The ancient canons require, that he who is to be admitted to the office of bishop or presbyters shall previously undergo a strict examination, both as to life and doctrine. Clear evidence of this is extant among the acts of the fourth African Council. Moreover, the magistracy and people had a discretionary power (arbitrium) of approving or refusing the individual who was nominated by the clergy, in order that no man might be intruded on the unwilling or not consenting. ‘Let him who is to preside over all,’ (says Leo, Ep. 90.,) ‘be elected by all; for he who is appointed, while unknown and unexamined, must of necessity be violently intruded.’ Again, (Ep. 77.,) ‘Let regard be had to the attestation of the honorable, the subscription of the clergy, and the consent of the magistracy and people. Reason permits not any other mode of procedure.’ Cyprian also contends for the very same thing, and, indeed, in stronger terms, affirming it as sanctioned by Divine authority, that the priest be elected in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, that he may be approved as fit and worthy by the testimony of all. This rule was in force for a short time while the state of the church was tolerable; for the letters of Gregory are full of passages which show that it was carefully observed in his day. …
They maintain that Christ left as a heritage to the apostles, the sole right of appointing over churches whomsoever they pleased, and they complain that we, in exercising the ministry without their authority, have, with sacrilegious temerity, invaded their province. How do they prove it? Because they have succeeded the apostles in an unbroken series. But is this enough, when all other things are different? It would be ridiculous to say so; they do say it, however. In their elections, no account is taken either of life or doctrine. The right of voting had been wrested from the people. Nay, even excluding the rest of the clergy, the dignitaries have drawn the whole power to themselves. The Roman Pontiff, again, wresting it from the provincial Bishop, arrogates it to himself alone. Then, as if they had been appointed to secular dominion, there is nothing they less think of than episcopal duty. In short, while they seem to have entered into a conspiracy not to have any kind of resemblance either to the Apostles or the holy Fathers of the Church, they merely clothe themselves with the pretense that they are descended from them in an unbroken succession; as if Christ had ever enacted it into a law, that whatever might be the conduct of those who presided over the Church, they should be recognized as holding the place of the Apostles, or as if the office were some hereditary possession, which transmits alike to the worthy and the unworthy. And then, as is said of the Milesians, they have taken precautions not to admit a single worthy person into their society; or if, perchance, they have unawares admitted him, they do not permit him to remain. It is of the generality I speak. For I deny not that there are a few good men among them, who, however, are either silent from fear, or not listened to. From those, then, who persecute the doctrine of Christ with fire and sword, who permit no man with impunity to speak sincerely of Christ, who, in every possible way, impede the course of truth, who strenuously resist our attempt to raise the Church from the distressed condition into which they have brought her, who suspect all those who take a deep and pious interest in the welfare of the Church, and either keep them out of the ministry, or, if they have been admitted, thrust them out — of such persons, forsooth, it were to be expected that they would, with their own hands, instal into the office faithful ministers to instruct the people in pure religion! …
Were I to follow out all the flagitious corruptions of ecclesiastical government, I should enter an interminable forest. Of the lives of the priests, for many reasons, I at present decline to speak; but there are three vices of an intolerable description, on which each individual may reflect for himself: First, Disregarding the character of a holy vocation, clerical offices are everywhere acquired either by violence or by simony, or by other dishonest and impious arts: Secondly, The rulers of the Church, in so far as regards the performance of their duties, are more like empty shadows or lifeless images than true ministers; and, Thirdly, When they ought to govern consciences in accordance with the Word of God, they oppress them with an iniquitous tyranny, and hold them in bondage by the fetters of many impious laws. Is it true, that, not only in contempt of the laws of God and man, but in the absence of everything like a sense of shame, foul disorder reigns in the appointment of Bishops and Presbyters? that caprice assumes the place of justice, simony is seldom absent, and, as if these were evils of no consequence, the correction of them is deferred to a future age?”
(The Necessity of Reforming the Church, To The Most Invincible Emperor Charles V., And The Most Illustrious Princes And Other Orders, Now Holding A Diet Of The Empire At Spires

A later French Protestant divine, Jean Claude, approached the congregational right to election as one in a threefold counsel in the calling of pastors. 

“When we carefully examine calling to gain a proper idea of it, we find that it is essentially a relationship which results from the agreement of three wills, namely those of God, of the Church and of the person who has been called; for these three agreements comprise the whole essence of calling, and the other things which can be added, like the trial, the election and the ordination, are either preliminary conditions or external signs and ceremonies which look to the procedure of a call rather than the call itself. Effectively, in a call we can only highlight three interests that are involved, that of God since the person who is called must speak and act in his name, that of the Church which is to be taught, served and governed, and that of the person called who must fulfil the duties of his charge and devote his watchfulness, his pains and his labours to that charge. From this it follows that a calling is sufficiently established when God, the Church and the person called are in agreement about it, and that it is impossible to reasonably think of anything else. …
As for the will of the Church, we cannot deny, it seems to me, that naturally it is the will of the whole body and not simply the pastors that is appropriate here. For it is not only the pastors who are concerned with a man’s calling, generally it is the whole body of the Church. It is the Church which ought to be, as I have said, taught, served, and governed by him, it is the Church which must receive the sacraments from the hands of the man who is called, and which must be comforted, edified by his word. Its consent is, therefore, necessary in this matter, and it is of the essence of calling that the Church gets involved in it.” 
(Défense de la Réform, 4me Partie, chap. iii. 8, English Transl. 1683, Claude, pp. 59-76) 

The preservation of suffrage in Scottish and American Presbyterianism

Based on writings such as these, Thomas Smyth included in The Ecclesiastical Catechism of the Presbyterian Church:

Chapter 7. Relation of the Presbyterian Church to other denominations and to the world.
Section 2. Of prelacy.
306. Is there any thing else in the prelacy to which Presbyterians object?
Yes; they object to the power of ordination, and other ecclesiastical functions, being vested exclusively in the unscriptural order of prelates, since this makes void the word of God, and leads to spiritual despotism.
Again; they object to the unscriptural distinction between consecration, or the setting apart of prelates, and ordination, or the setting apart of presbyters, to the work of the Gospel ministry, as being wholly unauthorized by the word of God.
(I Timothy 4:14, Matthew 20:25, 27)
Section 5. The advantages and claims of the Presbyterian church.
326. Name some of the further advantages possessed by members of the Presbyterian church?
They possess the right of choosing their own pastors and elders; they are neither subject to the spiritual despotism of a priesthood, nor to anarchy and misrule; they can bring any matter, whether it be unfaithfulness in ministers or elders, or in the other officers and members of the church, or errors in doctrine, before the church courts, composed of an equal proportion of clergymen and of representatives of the people, chosen by themselves, for investigation and decision; and they have the privilege and power, when their rights as citizens of Zion are assailed, of appealing from one church court to another.

It seems that for many Christians today, the importance of their calling to active participation in church government has diminished, as many apparently are content to fully relegate the church’s administration to the unchecked devices of their clergy. Such practical apathy is not only functionally unhelpful but also profoundly theologically unsound. 

In James Bannerman’s defense of jure divino government — that is, by divine right — he seemed to trace the occasional inclination of clergy to hijack church government to their fundamental lack of either understanding or conviction that the Lord is who instituted the structure of his church. 

Part II. Power of the Church
Chapter I. The Source of Church Power, or the Headship of Christ
Section II. Opposing Theories Erastian and Popish
“There are many semi-Romanists and High Churchmen who hold that there is a deposit of authority committed to the Church; and that its office-bearers have the right to administer it. Such virtually is the principle involved in the tenets of those who maintain that the Church has a right in any respect to add its own laws to Christ’s, or to go beyond, in matters of government, or worship, or discipline, or jurisdiction, the exact limits of what He has enacted. The Church can have authority only in so far as it speaks with the voice of its Head; and its decisions can be valid and its enactments binding, only in so far as they are given and enacted by Him. As King, and Ruler, and Judge, Christ is still in the midst of His Church. The power and jurisdiction which it claims must, in every case of its exercise by the office-bearers of the Church, come directly and immediately from Him. It were a mistake here, as elsewhere, to think that Christ, having settled the constitution and laws of His Church, and appointed its rulers, ceased any longer to interfere; and that, having given to them a supply or deposit of authority at first, He left them to rule and act for themselves under His name. His own authority in the Christian Church, Christ still keeps in His own hands; and out of the fulness of power in Himself, He personally rules in every act of authority or jurisdiction validly and lawfully done by His servants on earth. Their authority as rulers in the Christian society is not theirs, but His; and their decisions or laws enacted in spiritual or ecclesiastical matters are only to that extent, and no further, valid and binding, that they embody His decisions and enactments. For men to attempt, then, to decree what Christ has not decreed,to enact laws of their own, in addition to His,to add to His appointments in the Church,to dictate rites and ceremonies and obligations which He has not recognised,this is to assume a power not theirs, and to trespass on the office of the Head.
Such are some of the ways in which the great doctrine of the Headship of Christ may be denied or derogated from. That doctrine may be practically denied or set aside by the state, when it takes to itself in any way or to any extent the office of Christ within the Church, and exercises jurisdiction in spiritual things. That doctrine is not less practically denied or set aside by the Church, when it takes to itself the office of Christ, and claims for its office-bearers or its ordinances a power that is incommunicable, and personally His own. The state and the Church on these occasions may both be acting in the name of Christ, when they thus usurp His prerogatives, and put themselves in His place. It may be a professedly Christian state, that in His name enters within a province and trespasses into an office that belong only to the Church’s Head. Or it may be a professedly Christian Church acting in His name, which forgets that its own place is ministerial and Christ’s supreme, and assumes to itself an office confined to its exalted Head. The sin of Erastianism, or at least the principle of evil involved in the sin, is not confined to civil magistrates not Christian, or confined to civil magistrates at all. It may be perpetrated by the Christian magistrate who brings the sword of Cæsar within the precincts of the sanctuary of God, even when he comes to worship there. It may be perpetrated by the Church itself, without Cæsar’s sword, when within the sanctuary it takes the seat of Christ, and thrusts itself into His office. Whether it be a civil or ecclesiastical usurpation of His power, it is Erastianism in principle, and equally trenches upon the great doctrine of Christ’s Headship over His Church.”
(The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church, James Bannerman, pp. 218-219)

Part IV. Parties in Whom the Right to Exercise Church Power is Vested
Chapter I. Divine Appointment of a Form of Church Government
“The theory which denies a Divine warrant for any system of Church government, and hands over the question to be settled by considerations of human expediency, is contradicted by the fact, which can be clearly established from Scripture, that the Church of Christ, in its essential and peculiar character, is a positive institution of God.
This principle is applicable to the Church in all its aspects: to its doctrine, and its ordinances; to its constitution, and its faith; to its inward life, and its outward organization; to the spiritual grace which it imparts, and the external form which it bears. All is equally and alike of positive appointment by God, being, in the strict sense of the terms, a Divine institution, not owing its origin or virtue to man, and not amenable to his views of expediency, or determined by his arrangements. Looking at the Church of Christ as an express and positive ordinance of God, it is clear that man is neither warranted nor competent to judge of its organization.
The very consideration that lies at the foundation of all our conceptions of the Christian Church,—the fact that it is not simply a voluntary society, and not wholly an ordinance derived from nature, but properly an institution of God, of positive appointment in His Word,—seems very plainly to militate against the idea of the competency or the ability of man, left to his own discretion, to determine its character and constitution from considerations of expediency alone. At all events, the presumption is strongly against the notion that Church government is a matter of human arrangement and determination solely; and nothing but a very express and plain declaration of Scripture to that effect would justify us in making such an assertion. Admitting that the Christian Church is, in all its essential parts, a positive institution of Divine origin, and grafted upon man’s natural capacity for religion, it may not indeed be a conclusion, necessarily following from this fact, that man has no part in framing the constitution or determining the character of the ordinance. But the onus probandi certainly lies upon those who assert that this task has been actually assigned to him; and nothing but a very direct statement of Scripture, handing over to human wisdom and decision the right and competency to constitute and regulate the polity of the Church of Christ, would justify us in acquiescing in the assertion.
In addition to the positive nature of the institution, there are two considerations of a very cogent nature that seem to fortify the conclusion that the Church of Christ, as an express institution of God, has not been left to receive its form and organization from the hands of man.
First, the separation between man and God, occasioned by sin, more especially excludes the idea that man is competent, by the aid of reason, to devise or to regulate the constitution of the Church. The terms of a sinner’s approach to God in worship, the manner of it, the ordinances to be observed, the forms of religious service, are more peculiarly matters which both his judicial exclusion from intercourse with God in his natural state, and his moral inability to renew that intercourse of himself, render him incompetent to deal with. And to the terms and manner of his restored fellowship with God in acceptable worship, must we add the constitutions and regulations of the worshipping society, as a point more especially beyond the power or competency of a sinner to determine. Neither in regard to the services and ordinances of worship, nor in regard to the constitution and order of the Church, are we justified in saying that these are lawful matters for human arrangement or decision.
Second, not only is the Church set forth in Scripture as a society of positive institution by God, but, in addition to this, it is represented in the very peculiar light of a visible kingdom, of which Christ is the living Head or King. It is not only a kingdom diverse from the kingdoms of the world, but, in addition to this, it is a kingdom in which Christ is personally present, as the Administrator as well as the Founder of it,—the Ruler now, as much as the Originator at first of the spiritual society. Such a personal dispensation by Christ Himself of the ordinances and laws and authority of His visible kingdom, seems very decidedly to shut out the idea that its constitution is a matter of human discretion, and its regulations the result of human arrangement. As the present Head and continual Administrator of the Christian society, Christ has left no room in it for the interference of man as His partner in the work. Man is not the lawgiver of the Christian Church; nor has it been left open to him to frame its constitution or its form of administration. His place in it is that of minister or servant of Him who is the Head.
Upon such grounds as these, then, we seem warranted in saying that the government of the Church of Christ is not a matter of human arrangement or expediency, but rather is a positive appointment of Christ, and that Scripture will be found a sufficient and authoritative guide in regard to the outward constitution of the Christian society, no less than in regard to its doctrine, its worship, and its ordinances.”
(ibid., pp. 725-727)

Westminsterian assertion of congregational election by divine right

During the time of the 17th-century Westminster Assembly, some of them set about to compose what would become a touchstone work on church government: Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, which asserts not only the jure divino necessity of the church body’s election, but also the necessity of the church body’s nomination of officers. 

Part One: Of the Nature of Divine Right
Chapter Two. Of the nature of a jus divinum or a divine right in general
“It is so obligatory unto all churches in the whole Christian world, that they ought uniformly to submit themselves unto it in all the substantials of it so far as is possible. For a jus divinum is equally obligatory to all persons, states and degrees, that none ought to be exempted from that church government which is jure divino, nor to be tolerated in another church government which is but jure humano; nor ought any Christian to seek after or content himself with any such exemption or toleration. For in so doing, inventions of men are preferred before the ordinances of God; our own wisdom, will, authority before the wisdom, will, authority of Christ. And we should in effect say, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’ (Luke 19:27); ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords away from us’ (Ps. 2:3).”
(Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, p. 59) 

Part Two: Of the Nature of that Church Government which is of Divine Right According to the Scripture
Chapter Three. Of the genus or general nature of church government, power & authority.
“About persons, the church also has a power to be exercised, for calling them to their duty and keeping them in their duty according to the Word of God: [such] as, {to charge the elders, ‘Take heed to yourselves, and the whole flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers’ (Acts 20:28); to say to Archippus, ‘take heed to the ministry that you fulfill it’ (Col. 4:17);} to rebuke them before all, that sin before all (1 Tim. 5:20); to elect deacons (Acts 6:2-3, etc.); to ordain elders (Titus 1:5, Acts 14:23); to use the keys of the kingdom of heaven in the dispensing of all ordinances (Matt. 18:18-20 and John 20:21-23 with Matt. 28:18-20); and in a word (as the cause shall require) to judge of all them that are within the church (1 Cor. 5:12).
This is the power and authority wherein the nature of church government generally does consist.”
(ibid., pp. 93-94)

Chapter Six. Of the species, special kind, or peculiar nature of this power and authority.
“The power or authority of church government is a derived power. For clearing this, note: There is a magisterial primitive supreme power, which is peculiar to Jesus Christ our Mediator … And there is a ministerial derivative subordinate power, which the Scripture declares to be in church guides (Matthew 16:19, 18:18; John 20:21-22; Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Corinthians 10:18 and 13:10, and often elsewhere this is abundantly testified). But from where is this power originally derived to them? Here we are carefully to consider and distinguish three things from one another, touching this power or authority, viz.: (1) The donation of the authority itself, and of the offices whereunto this power does properly belong. (2) The designation of particular persons to such offices as are vested with such power. (3) The public protection, countenancing, authorizing, defending, maintaining of such officers in the public exercise of such power within such and such realms or dominions. This being premised, we may clearly resolve according to Scriptural warrant, viz.: the designation, or setting apart of particular individual persons to those offices in the church that have power and authority engraven upon them, is from the church nominating, electing, and ordaining of such persons thereunto (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23).” 
(ibid., pp. 105-106) 

Chapter Ten. That the community of the faithful, or the body of the people, are not the immediate receptacle or subject of the power of church government.
“The people are indeed allowed certain liberties or privileges, as: to try the spirits, etc. (1 John 4:1); to prove all doctrines by the Word (1 Thess. 5:21); to nominate and elect their own church officers, as their deacons, which they did [in] Acts 6:3, 5, 6. …
What power is it that is committed to the body of the church or multitude of the faithful? … They may choose, but extraordinary officers, or the presbytery of ordinary officers [may only] ordain. Acts 6:3-6. ‘Look ye out men … whom we may appoint.’ Compare also Acts 13:1-3 and 14:23, 1 Timothy 4:14 and 5:22, Titus 3:5. So that the people’s bare election and approbation is no sufficient Scripture-ordination of officers. Nor is there one of ten thousand among the people that are in all points able to try and judge of the sufficiency of preaching presbyters for tongues, arts, and soundness of judgment in divinity.” 
(ibid., pp. 147, 152-153) 

Chapter Thirteen. Of the divine right of greater presbyteries … for the government of the church.
“The apostles themselves in their joint acts of government in such churches acted as ordinary officers, viz., as presbyters or elders. …
They acted not only as ordinary elders, but also they acted jointly with other elders, being associated with them in the same assembly, as in that eminent synod at Jerusalem (Acts 15:6, 22-23 and 16:4). ‘And as they went through the cities, they delivered with them decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.’ 
And finally, they took in the church’s consent with themselves, wherein it was needful, as in the election and appointment of deacons (Acts 6:2-6), the deacons being specially to be trusted with the church’s goods, and the disposal thereof, according to the direction of the presbytery for the good of the church, etc.
Let all these considerations be impartially balanced in the scales of indifferent unprejudiced judgments, and how plainly do they delineate in the Word, a pattern of one presbyterial government in common over diverse single congregations within one church.”
(ibid., pp. 270-271) 

Chapter Fourteen. Of the divine right of synods, or synodal assemblies.
“The power of synods contended for is: …
Not corruptive, privative, or destructive to the power of classical presbyteries, or single congregations; but rather perfective and conservative thereunto. As suppose a single congregation should elect a minister unsound in judgment, or scandalous in conversation. [Then] the synod may annul and make void that election, and direct them to make a better choice, {or appoint them a minister themselves}. Hereby this liberty of election is not at all infringed or violated, but for their own advantage regulated, etc.” 
(ibid., p. 276-277) 

Calvin, Claude, and the Westminster Divines were not the last theologians to cover the subject, and by the time we get to Bannerman, we arrive at an episode in church history when the essential right of the Christian congregation to suffrage was taken so seriously that it led to a conflict which split the established Presbyterian church and had a ripple effect throughout Scottish civic life. 

Case study in Presbyterian suffrage: The Disruption of 1843

How far should Christians be willing to go to defend the principles we profess?

Is Presbyterianism a thing worth contending for?

The Disruption of 1843 occurred within the Church of Scotland when 450 evangelical ministers, a third of the Church’s ministers, broke away over the issue of the Church’s relationship with the state, and they formed the Free Church of Scotland. The impetus of this schism was the church’s spiritual jurisdiction over its own affairs independently of the state, as well as parliamentary interference in the order and worship of the institutional Church. Central to the conflict was the “right of patronage,” meaning the right of a patron of a parish to install a minister of his choice. The disputation was between those who believed this right encroached on the Church’s spiritual independence and those who regarded this right as a matter of property under state jurisdiction. 

In Scotland, like in many places during this era, the aristocracy largely was landowners. The British government distrusted the participation of the populace in important matters, among which the selection of parish ministers was considered. Of course, the Church of England was Episcopal, not Presbyterian. So, the Parliament of Great Britain set the Church Patronage Act 1711, which reinstated dispossessed Scottish lay patrons’ former control over the Church of Scotland parish churches which they had lost during the Church’s so-called “Glorious Revolution.” As the British Parliament was united and predominantly Anglican, the lay patrons successfully persuaded them that they had been unjustly robbed of a purely civil right. 

The Patronage Act was in force as early as 1712 and was beneficial to an aristocratic minority, but since patronage was a much more disputed political issue in Scotland than England, it was quite unpopular with the general public. In 1834, the Evangelical Party attained a majority in the Church of Scotland General Assembly and successfully passed the Veto Act, which gave parishioners the right to reject a minister who was nominated by their patron. They intended to prevent the intrusion of unwanted ministers on parishioners against their will, and restore the importance of the congregational “call.” 

However, the act’s effect polarized positions in the Church and put it in conflict with the state. After almost ten years of infighting, on May 18, 1843, many ministers left the Church of Scotland General Assembly, led a protest, and held the Disruption Assembly, and on May 23 they officially split to form the Free Church of Scotland. These presbyters never abandoned the Establishment Principle, and though the relationship between church and state specifically was front and center, the underlying and prevailing concern was over the right of those ruled to choose those who rule. 

Dr. James Bannerman, a distinguished professor of practical theology at the University of Edinburgh, was among the hundreds who left the Established Church for the Free Church in 1843. In The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church, a two-volume compilation of his lectures to ministerial students at New College, Bannerman delineated the relationship between the church and the civil magistrate, and fundamentally, essential congregational rights, with his firsthand experience of the Disruption of 1843 as Exhibit A. 

Although state power over the Church was a flashpoint of the 1843 Disruption, modern Presbyterians would do well to glean insight from our sage elden Scottish brethren who showed how far they would go to preserve the ideals of Christ’s delegated, shared church power which undergird the Presbyterian system of governance. 

Part III. Matters in Regard to Which Church Power is Exercised
Division II. Church Power Exercised in Regard to Ordinances
Subdiv. III. The Instrumentality for Public Worship, or the Christian Ministry
Chapter I. The Ministry a Divine and Standing Ordinance in the Church—the Ministerial and Pastoral Title
That pastoral relation necessarily implies the election, or at least the consent, of the people, in order to make the formation of the tie lawful; and this element therefore enters as an essential one into the title to the pastoral office. In addition to the joint call by Christ and the Church, which is necessary to give a right to the exercise of the ministerial office, there is also the consent or election by the people, which is necessary to constitute, over and above the ministerial, the pastoral character. The pastor cannot properly discharge the duties of the pastoral office without the consent of the people over whom he is appointed. … Ordination to the ministry needs, in order to secure its validity, nothing but the call of Christ on the one hand, and the call of the Church through its office-bearers on the other. The right to the ministry—the right to go forth and preach the Gospel of Christ, wherever Christ may give opportunity—does not wait on the consent of the people, and is not suspended on the choice or invitations of men. Ordination to the pastorate, on the other hand, in order to be lawful and right, must, in addition to the call of Christ, and the ordination of office-bearers of the Church, have also the consent and election of the people. It is the ministerial office tied down to a particular congregation, and not discharging its functions at large; and Scripture and reason both abundantly testify, that for this office the consent of the congregation is required. The title to the pastoral office in addition to the ministerial requires to be strengthened and confirmed by the call of the people.”
(The Church of Christ, James Bannerman, pp. 456-458)

Part III. Matters in Regard to Which Church Power is Exercised
Division II. Church Power Exercised in Regard to Ordinances
Subdiv. III. The Instrumentality for Public Worship, or the Christian Ministry
Chapter IV. Ordination
“Once acknowledge that ordination is the solemn act of the Church, by which, in accordance with Christ’s appointment, His servant is admitted to the ministry, and you at once restore ordination to its proper place as a Divine institute, and assign to it its special virtue and importance, as both warranted and blessed by Christ for that end. When conducted in a right and scriptural manner by all parties, it stands connected with the bestowment of grace and the fulfilment of promises appropriate to the office of the ministry, and necessary for the performance of the solemscn and responsible duties to which the minister is there and then set apart.”
(ibid., p. 498) 

Bannerman’s comments are best examined in the 19th-century context of his thorough treatment of independent polity versus Presbyterian polity, as well as the spheres of sovereignty belonging to the church and to the state.

After the Disruption of 1843, John Currie wrote about ministers chosen by patronage rather than popular election, which the latter is a proper and biblical “call.” Such a designated pastor would be “presented,” and his investiture would be a “presentation.”

“Such preachers as are content and desirous of being placed, fixed or ordained ministers in such or such congregations, whether the people call and consent, or not, are far out of their duty, and it looks too like, their desire of being in the priest’s office, is merely, or mainly, that they may eat a piece of bread, too like unto what they call crimen ambitus. Such, says Owen, are guilty of an open rape upon the people, as take them without their consent, and while they have not chosen them. Consent is needful to a lawful marriage, the consent of parents is not enough. Preachers of the gospel of Christ are not directly nor indirectly to have the least hand in a forcible entry into the ministry among a people. For, as Voetius says, ‘The preacher must not directly nor indirectly procure a call to himself, by means of parents, tutors, patrons, relations, favourites, burgh or country gentlemen, lawyers, military officers, or of such men, who, by threats and menaces, do recommend him to the Synedrium, or particular members thereof.’ Vox populi [the voice of the people] here it is vox Dei [the voice of God], and such as want the call of God, have little ground to expect his blessing upon their labours among such a people. Forced marriages seldom thrive, and so it is here. All would beware of contributing in the least to the oppression of the Church of Christ in her liberties. I think the Patronage Act obliges the patron, with his presentation, to present a person accepting thereof, and declaring his desire or willingness to be settled in such a charge. Now, at making this act, it was generally thought, our friends, by getting that clause adjected, had effectually broken the neck of patronages, judging no true Presbyterian would ever accept, where there was not a call; and were preachers of the gospel but true to the professed principles of Presbyterians, the Patronage Act could do us no great harm. Such as desire to be ordained upon a presentation, presbytery and people opposing the settlement, are, as Voetius says, ‘Divines of the House of Judas Iscariot.’ …
And after all, either the people have right by God’s Word to elect their own pastors, and their right is secured by Scripture, else the throng of all our Protestant writers have been simple men, not understanding the Scripture, or perverters of Scripture, citing it to prove a falsehood. The Fathers of the Tridentine Council anathematize all such as say, ‘Ordinations by bishops, without the consent or call of the people, are null.’ … If we, after a second Reformation, should now permit violent intrusions, this might well be a prologue to much confusion and disorder. And I dare say, should the Church of Scotland go into any overture which deprives the people of their right to elect their own pastors, it will be a forerunner of her speedy ruin. All will own, the calling of gospel ministers is a privilege, but to whom doth it belong? Some plead it belongs to one, some to another, and our divisions on this head are lamentable, but how shall they be healed? How shall our differences be decided? But by opening the Testament of our everlasting Father. Excellent are the words of Augustine, when commenting upon the xxi Psalm, where he thus addresses himself to jarring Christians, ‘Quid litigamus? fratres sumus, non intestatus mortuus est pater,’ &c. ‘Why do we contend? We are brethren, our Father did not die without a testament, he made a testament and so died, and hath risen. There will still be contention about the inheritance of the dead till once the testament shall be produced in public, and when the testament is brought in public, all are silent, that the articles may be opened and rehearsed. The judge hears with intention, advocates are mute, the criers command silence, all the people with eager desire wait that the words of the dead may be read unto them, not from sentences on the tomb of the defunct, he licks without opinion in his grave, and his words are of force. Christ sits in heaven, and his Testament is contradicted; open it, let us read it, we are brethren, why do we contend? Let our mind be pacified; our Father did not leave us without a Testament; he that made the Testament liveth forever, he hears our words, and acknowledgeth his own; let us read, why do we contend? When the inheritance is found, or to whom it is found to belong, let us hold by that, open the Testament, read it.’ And to the same purpose Optatus Milevitanus bespeaks the Donatists, ‘Sed quomodo terrenus pater, quum se in confinio senserit mortis, timens, ne post mortem suam,’ &c. ‘But as an earthly father, when he apprehends himself on the confines of death, fearing lest after his decease the brethren, having broken the bond of peace, should wrangle; before witnesses, out of his dying bosom he brings forth his testament, which will remain upon record; and if contention arise among the brethren, they go not to the tomb, but the testament. He who rests in silence, tacitly speaks from the testament as if he were alive, he that made this testament in heaven; therefore let us make inquiry into his will, which, as in a testament, is contained in the gospel.’ Is not our Lord’s testament full? Are not his words intelligible? Cannot the children’s privileges be known by it? Was he so short-sighted as not to foresee what might occasion jars among them? Or was he so unkind, as forseeing those, not to tell what would be their duty, or what belonged to one and what to another? Hath he not ‘set his house in order’? If so, then let his testament be opened and read, and let us all submit our judgments to his latter will,glory for a full and clear testament. And to the blessed Testator’s sweet and savoury name be all praise.”
(Jus Populi Divinum, pp. 158-159, 163-164)

Currie’s Jus Populi Divinum is included in an entire repertory on the subject which survives as The Select Anti-patronage Library: A Collection of important acts of Parliament and Assembly, connected with patronage, and the right of the Christian people of Scotland to choose their own ministers, beginning with the Reformation, and continued till the present time; Consisting Chiefly of Reprints of Scarce Pamphlets Connected with Lay-patronage in the Church of Scotland.

In the 16th through 19th centuries, Presbyterian rights were fought for in both England and the American colonies. Thomas Cartwright, a professor at Cambridge, eventually was removed from his position in 1570 for opposing the Elizabethan Settlement: the “middle way” of uniformity that Queen Elizabeth I was demanding throughout the church. The first Presbytery was formed in England in 1572 but the next year, there was major repression of Puritans, especially of the Presbyterian stripe, and many were imprisoned for their nonconformity. Nonetheless, Cartwright did not relent in his criticism of Anglicanism and in 1574, wrote A Full and Plain Declaration of Ecclesiastical Discipline, attacking episcopacy and arguing for Presbyterian government.

Anglican apologist Richard Hooker offered a rebuttal to Cartwright’s Presbyterianism in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, in which he argued that Scripture alone is not sufficient, but historical tradition and “natural law” — that is, reason — must also be considered in questions of church government. Teaching the lecture “The English Reformation,” Dr. Donald S. Fortson said, 

“Certain Puritan preachers began to secretly organize themselves into conferences within episcopacy. In this environment there was a concealed eldership that began to practice discipline. These Presbyterian Puritans were convinced that Scripture taught that clergy should be equal in the Church, and that Church courts should direct church affairs, not bishops or magistrates. … Criticism of Anglican polity continued unabated, in certain corners resulting in further imprisonment of Puritan leaders, some of whom were convicted of ‘clandestine Presbyterian activities.’ After 1590, attempts to reform the Elizabethan church, though, were mostly abandoned by these Puritan leaders, who had learned to accommodate themselves to the political-ecclesiastical realities of English life at this point in the 16th century. …
Elizabethan-Puritan Presbyterianism was not ultimately successful but in Scotland, the story was a striking contrast as a national Scottish Presbyterian Church would be the outcome. The Reformation of Scotland in manifold ways was the byproduct of the herculean efforts of John Knox, the father of Presbyterianism. …
Now, Presbyterian polity with lay elders and ministers developed in stages in Scotland. At the outset of Reformed, bishops remained in place and superintendents were appointed to oversee the churches due to the paucity of Protestant ministers. It was not until the 1580s that a network of Presbyteries was inaugurated to serve Scotland’s parochial system and Calvin’s model of church government was adopted by the Scottish state church. Eventually, congregations would have the right to call their own minister under the oversight of other ministers of Presbytery, as Calvin had advised. …
So, by 1642, the English Civil War had erupted, pitting the king, the nobility and traditional Anglicans against Parliament, Puritans and Separatists, and the middle class. The Scots would join forces with the English Parliament in 1643 through the Solemn League and Covenant, which had pledged to preserve the Reformed religion in England and Scotland by getting rid of popery and prelacy — that means hierarchical church government. …
As long as tithes were paid to the established Church [of England], dissenting religious meeting houses could be licensed with an oath of allegiance to the crown, but public office would be restricted only to Anglicans. Thus, the 17th century in England concludes with a significant degree of religious freedom, compared with its recent past, but non-Anglicans were still prohibited from full participation in English society. Immigration to America remained an attractive option for Englishmen interested in religious and political liberty, as well as economic opportunities. …
Rehearsing English history, one can appreciate yet again the American founding fathers’ zeal for separation of church and state. For Presbyterians, the story of Scotland and John Knox is an inspiring account of Christian conscience, as the Scottish Church courageously stood up for her convictions. Presbyterianism in Scotland was not for the faint of heart but for Protestants passionate about completing the reform that Luther had begun. Scottish Presbyterianism, with its robust theology, disciplined government by elders, and strict morality remains a signpost for Christians today. This admirable program of reform was nonetheless imposed on the Scots, and it will remain for the New World immigrants to practice Presbyterian principles within the context of complete religious liberty. The Puritan era in England provided the historical context for the monumental Westminster Assembly and its grand Confession and Catechisms. … The original Puritan vision of an established English Presbyterian Church never became a reality, but the Westminster Confession of Faith would have an enduring worldwide influence as the Presbyterian creed.” 

And so, Presbyterianism is not only a Scottish form of church government, as it also has strong historical roots in the New World. 

Presbyterian suffrage in the ancient covenant community

In the previous articles of this series, we furnished abundant evidence of the congregational right to elect pastors and overseers from the repository of Scripture, rabbinical history, and the history of the Christian church. Now, we will mine that rich foundation again to show even more evidence that presbyterial principles were legitimately carried forward from ancient Judaism into Christianity.

D. Douglas Bannerman catalogued, 

Part VI. From Antioch to Rome—The Gentile Christian Church
Chapter IV. Organization of the Apostolic Church during the Second Period of Its History
“Even were we to ignore the historical connection of the Gentile Christian Church with the Hebrew Christian, and to begin our study of its organization and administration with the thirteenth chapter of Acts and the Pauline Epistles, we should be at once reminded of the general features and spirit of the synagogue system. This impression would only be strengthened by a closer examination of the subject. The direct evidence drawn from the second period of the history alone is sufficient to prove the substantial identity of the two systems of ecclesiastical polity. But the proof becomes irresistible when we apply the law of growth and continuity, and observe how every New Testament writer, whether addressing himself especially to Christians of Jewish or of Gentile origin, asserts or assumes the unity of the Church of the Old Testament with that to which his readers belonged. Illustrations of this have met us, to some extent already, and will meet us again. Meanwhile let us note that all the Churches of the Gentiles were founded by men who had been teachers or members of the Hebrew Christian Church. They were built on the same foundation by the hands of ‘the apostles and prophets’ from Jerusalem. The same Gospel was preached, as we have seen, by Paul and by the Twelve, and the same practical results followed from its reception. The Christian communities established among the Gentiles stood in the closest relations of brotherly love and sympathy with the mother Church of the Holy Land. Prophets and teachers passed freely from the one to the other. There was a mutual giving and receiving both of spiritual and temporal gifts. A special—sometimes even an undue—weight was attached in Gentile Churches to the words of brethren who ‘came down from Judea,’ who ‘came from James.’ Jewish Christians were felt everywhere, on grounds already indicated, to have something of the right of the first-born, with ‘the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.’ 
In such circumstances, the natural presumption would be, supposing all positive information to be absent, that the Gentile Christian communities were organized on the same general principles as the Hebrew Christian ones. This, as already said, becomes matter of certainty, when we combine the different lines of proof now referred to, and consider the direct evidence regarding the organization of the apostolic Church during this period. In entering upon this field, we are met at once by two great characteristics of the synagogue system: its elasticity and freedom on the one hand, and its power of order and control vested in distinct office-bearers on the other.
First, The elasticity and freedom of the system.
It rests upon a broad and popular basis. The organization is always such as is consistent with a full and frank recognition of the individual rights of all the members of the community. Along with this there is a corresponding enforcement of individual responsibility for the welfare of the whole Church and for its corporate action. Opportunities and encouragements are freely given to every member of the Church to use and develop all gifts for edification and service which may be possessed by him. This is done in the face of all risks of disorder and mistake, such as arose in the department of worship in the Church at Corinth. A living and practical interest is fostered and taken for granted on the part of each believer in the common affairs and common welfare of the Christian society, both in its local and catholic form. Means are used to inform the minds of all the brethren with respect to all matters of importance with respect to which any step has to be taken. Their concurrence is carefully noted.
Secondly, In the apostolic Church, as in the synagogue system, there is a power of order and control vested in distinct office-bearers.” 
(The Scripture Doctrine of the Church: Historically and Exegetically ConsideredThe Eleventh Series of the Cunningham Lectures, D. Douglas Bannerman, pp. 526-528)

1st. Appointment of elders or presbyters.
Mode of appointment.
From all our sources of information it appears that the principles on which the appointment of elders was made during the second section of the history of the apostolic Church, were those which we saw exemplified in the appointment of the seven deacons at Jerusalem. The elders are chosen from the membership of the congregation in which they are to serve, after some experience had of their Christian character and gifts for the office. They are chosen, as it appears, by the members themselves, or indicated, with the concurrence of the brethren, by men of prophetic powers, or by the first founders of the Church on a subsequent visit for purposes of organization. They are formally ordained, or set apart to office, by men already holding similar or higher office in the Church. This is always done with religious services of a special kind, and generally, as it seems, with the laying on of hands in synagogue fashion. …
It seems a fair inference, from all the circumstances of the case, that the choice of the presbyters in each congregation was entrusted to the members of the Church. It can hardly be said that the words of the narrative in themselves assert this; although that has been strongly maintained by many very competent interpreters both in earlier and later times. The judgment of the Revisers is, I think, on the whole, to be accepted as the right one. According to it, the term here, and in 2 Cor. viii. 19, means simply to appoint, without determining the manner in which it is done. Still the fact that the original meaning of the term was to appoint or elect by show of hands, is favourable so far to the view that the appointment of the elders was by the choice of the members of the Church in which they were to hold office. There can be little doubt that this was the method by which the messengers of the Church at Corinth were appointed, as referred to in the only other passage in the New Testament in which the word occurs.
Other considerations point more decisively in the same direction. The very object of the delay from the first to the second visit was to give time for the members of the Church to know and test the qualifications of the brethren who might seem fittest for office. They only could say who had been ‘proved and found blameless,’ ‘having a good testimony from them that are without.’ and who among them were ‘apt to teach.’ The confidence always shown by the Apostle Paul in the powers of self-government inherent in the members of the Christian communities which he founded; his reliance on the gifts of the Holy Ghost bestowed on them in the form of wisdom and knowledge and discernment of spirits; his practice of leaving the appointment of their representatives in important matters to the choice of the Churches themselves,—these are all facts which strengthen the presumption that the elders in the Pauline Churches were appointed by the choice, or at least with the full concurrence, of the members generally. This was the rule, as we saw, in the Jewish synagogues. Lastly, the argument from precedent and analogy in the previous history of the Apostolic Church is so strong—when taken with the considerations already noted—as to be practically conclusive. Both in the appointment of an apostle, and in that of the seven deacons, the election was made by the whole body of the disciples, although the confirmation of the choice was referred directly to the Lord in the one case and to the apostolic company in the other. There is every probability that, in this third recorded instance of an appointment to stated office in the Apostolic Church, as in the two former ones, the initiative as regards choice lay with the members of the Christian community as a body.” 
(ibid., pp. 535-538)

“Nature and functions of the elder’s office; qualifications required.
It strongly confirms the conclusions, to which we have already come, regarding the genetic connection between the Jewish synagogue and the Christian Church, to find that in the second section of the Acts, as in the first, an acquaintance with the general nature and functions of the elder’s office is everywhere taken for granted. Presbyters appear, as a matter of course, in the Christian community of Ephesus, the mother Church of Proconsular Asia, just as we saw them do in the Christian community of Jerusalem, the mother Church of the Holy Land, and among the Churches of Judæa to which relief was sent from Antioch. …
The Christian Church, with respect to its polity as with respect to its worship, on Gentile as on Hebrew ground, grew out of the Jewish synagogue. There was no breach in the continuous development of God’s providential education of His people in this matter during the centuries which had passed over Israel in the Dispersion. There was no loss of the lessons learned through generations as to the worth of ‘a regulated, a self-regulating freedom,’ as to how liberty might be combined with order in worship and in discussion, as to the strength, elasticity, and practical resources of the Presbyterian system. That time-honoured institution of the eldership passed without a break or jar from the Church of the Old Testament into the Churches of the Gentiles. It took its place there, from the first, under apostolic guidance, as it had done before in the Church of the Holy Land, as the basis of a representative polity, the centre of organized life, and the means of united action in the Christian society. It did so most naturally and simply,—if we regard the process from a merely human standpoint,—in virtue of the two facts already noted, namely, that all the founders of the Gentile Churches were themselves Jewish Christians, and that the nucleus and strength of each of the Pauline congregations were formed by persons who had been connected with the synagogue or proseucha of the place, as Jews or proselytes whose influence in the infant Church—from causes before explained—was far more powerful than in proportion to their numbers, and from whom the first office-bearers of the congregation were almost certain to be chosen.” 
(ibid., pp. 539-540)

“The apostolic Church, during this second part of its history, acted as one, and had suitable means for doing so.
Such a deep and strong sense of unity as appears in the New Testament writings which bear on this period must, by necessity of nature, have found ways of expressing itself, even had the Gentile Christian Church arisen as a new creation under the hands of Paul with no vital or historical connection with the Church of the Old Testament. We have seen how far this is from being the case, and how the principles and results of the synagogue system in the Diaspora are everywhere taken for granted by Paul and his fellow-labourers in the field of the Gentile mission. How those principles and results bore on the matter now before us has been indicated to some extent already. Further illustrations meet us repeatedly in the second part of the Acts and the relative Epistles; the most instructive instance of the kind referred to is furnished by what is generally known as the Synod or Council of Jerusalem.” 
(ibid., p. 558) 

3rd. Unity of the Church; relation of local Churches to each other and to the Christian society as a whole.
“Again, as in instances formerly noted, we see the right use of the great rule for the guidance of every court in Christ’s Church. The right course is found by His servants ‘gathered together in His name,’ by earnest consideration of the teaching of God in His Word and Providence, by faithful application of general Scripture principles to the present circumstances of the Church, however different these may be from former ones, and however unwelcome, on the ground of natural feelings and old associations, the consistent carrying out of those principles may be. …
This whole transaction [the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15] furnishes an interesting and instructive illustration of the way in which the principles of the synagogue system were carried out, as circumstances required, in the apostolic Church during the second period of its history.
In the successive steps, so carefully recorded in the narrative, we see how the unity of the Church through all its parts was preserved and strengthened by the application of the principle of representation, and how the mind of the local Christian community was ruled by the mind of the Church as a whole, gathered and expressed by such a representative assembly as the Council of Jerusalem. Such a council or synod of office-bearers, ‘gathered together in the name of Christ,’ and guiding themselves by the voice of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and the voice of God in His providence and His grace, was the highest earthly authority or court of appeal in the apostolic Church. It follows from the nature of the case that, if the eldership of the Church at Antioch had given judgment on the case themselves, as they might have done,—say, by a majority, against the view held by Paul and Barnabas,—the minority might have appealed to ‘the apostles and the elders at Jerusalem’ to review and reverse the erroneous decision. We have here, in short, a very clear and suggestive example both of the union of office-bearers from different congregations for purposes of common counsel and government, but of the subordination of lower to higher Church courts.
How the unity of the Church was represented and maintained in important centres of Christianity by the local eldership, may be seen from Paul’s words to the presbyters at Ephesus, when he believed that he was speaking to them for the last time. That the Christians in this great city formed several congregations was shown above. Yet it was one flock which ‘the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus’ tended, although it met in separate folds. The presbyters as a body are addressed by the apostle as the highest earthly representatives of ‘all the flock, in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops.’ They are solemnly put in charge with the care of ‘the Church of God’ which is among them, both as to life and doctrine. They are warned against inroads of evil from without, and that from among their own number false teachers shall arise ‘to draw away the disciples after them.’ In view of all these duties and dangers, the apostle ‘commends them to God, and to the Word of His grace.'” 
(ibid., pp. 563, 565-566)

John Murray, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1937 to 1966, wrote, 

VI. Chapter 27. The Government of the Church
“We have already observed how the New Testament concept of the church is based upon, and is continuous with the congregation of Israel, the assembly of the covenant people of God, whose religious life and worship found its centre in the tabernacle as the sanctuary, as God’s dwelling place in the midst of Israel, and as the tent of meeting where God met with his people. It is a fact that detailed regulations were given by God for the government of Israel. A great many of these prescriptions could not have any permanent relevance to the church because they pertained to the preparatory and transitory conditions of Israel under the Old Covenant. As regulative of religious life and worship, they could only be regulative as long as the ceremonial institution lasted.
There is, however, one feature of the government of Israel as the people of God that can scarcely have failed to provide a pattern for the government of the church under the New Testament. It is the frequent mention of, and the place occupied by ‘the elders’ in the life of Israel. … Now I submit that when we come to the New Testament and find the presbyterate as a governing body in the church of Christ, it is contrary to all reasonable supposition that the Old Testament eldership did not exercise a profound influence upon the institution which appears in such unmistakable characters in the New Testament church, especially when we take account of the continuance of this Old Testament pattern in the synagogue of the Jews (cf. Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5 for presbuterion).”
(Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume Two: Select Lectures in Systematic Theology, pp. 336-337)

VI. Chapter 27. The Government of the Church
“The government exercised by men must always be conducted in accordance with the institution and will of Christ. It is a complete travesty of all order and authority in the church of Christ for the governmental affairs of the church to be arranged and conducted without constant reference to that revelation in which alone does Christ make known to us his will for the regulation of that which stands in no less intimate relation to him than his body, his church, the church for which he gave himself, that he might present it as the church glorious, holy and without blemish. We act presumptuously, and take false refuge from our failure, when we so concentrate upon the eschatological realization of Ephesians 5:25-27 that we do not bring the various facets of its teaching to bear upon the jealousy for Christ’s honour and will with which we seek to conduct the government of the church. This is just saying that Ephesians 4:11-16, in respect of the implications for good government, sustains the closer relation to Ephesians 5:25-27 even in its eschatological consummation. …
The presbyterate is the form of government for the church of Christ. … Rule by elders is the apostolic institution for the government of the local congregation, and this involves the principles of plurality and parity. The inference is inescapable that this is a permanent provision for the government of the churches. Since the apostolate is not permanent, and since there is in the New Testament no other provision for the government of the local congregation, we must conclude that the council of elders is the only abiding institution for the government of the church of Christ according to the New Testament. …
The unity of the body must come to expression in every phase of the church’s activity. If we think in terms of koinonia, whether the idea is that of fellowship or participation, in either case independency violates the principle of interdependence and mutual exchange which the fellowship involves. …
In the body of Christ the organic connection is such, that if one member suffers the whole body suffers. Are we to suppose that there is no redress that can be made by the whole body, when maladministration in one member of the churches of Christ imperils the health of the whole body? Surely the intimacy of relationship is such that not only is correction a mercy and blessing, but an obligation. …
We may not discount the example of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). The church at Antioch conferred with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, and they determined the question in debate, not only for the church at Antioch, but for all the churches (Acts 16:4). It is all the more striking that the church should have resorted to such deliberation, and to this method of resolving an issue, since it was the era of special revelation (cf. the difference between this method and that exemplified in the case of Cornelius and the admission of the Gentiles—Acts 10). There is provided for us a pattern of consultation and adjudication that cannot be neglected in the permanent government of the church. …
The only permanent institution for government is the eldership, the presbuterion. In some way or other, this institution is the means whereby corporate government is to be effected. We should keep in mind that the gifts Christ bestows are for the good, for the edification of the whole body. It is consonant with this ecumenical extension of the relevance of gifts that the gifts for rule, as well as those for other phases of ministry, should be brought to bear upon the edification of the whole church, as well as upon the local congregation.”
(ibid., pp. 340, 342-344) 

Christ, his bride, liberty, faithfulness and spiritual adultery

Francis Schaeffer, an American evangelical theologian, philosopher and Presbyterian pastor, sketched the analogy of the Christian life as the bride’s faithfulness to the bridegroom, which marries our stand for doctrinal truth with the embodiment and practice that befits us as Christ’s bride. 

A Christian View of the Church: The Church Before the Watching World
“It is not just a question of abstract theology that is involved, not just an academic difference. It is not that I should get my Ph.D. and go off and sit in some faculty and merely make polite academic conversation. It is the difference between loyalty to the living God and spiritual adultery—spiritual adultery against the Creator and the Judge of the universe. Spiritual adultery, mind you, against the only adequate Bridegroom for man—individual man and mankind—the only adequate Bridegroom for all people in all the world. Spiritual adultery against the only One who can fulfill the longing of the human heart. To turn away from the divine Bridegroom is to turn to unfulfillment. This is not only sin; it is destruction.
We have seen how desperately wrong and sinful physical adultery is, but notice that Jesus gives a priority. In Matthew 21:31 Jesus says to the religious leaders of His day: ‘Verily I say unto you that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.’ It is not that Jesus minimized the sexual sin, but here He tells the religious leaders of His day, who have turned away from God, that the harlots and those who collect taxes for the Romans will go into the kingdom of God before them. As these men walk through the streets and see such a woman walking down the way, they will not speak to her. They will not even look at her. They turn away from her. They show their disgust publicly. But Jesus is saying, Look at her! Don’t you understand? She will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will. Both are sinful. But God Himself in the words of Christ puts down a priority. Sexual sin is sinful, but spiritual adultery is worse. God Himself puts down a hierarchy in these things.
What is apostasy? It is spiritual adultery. No other words will do. This must be taken into account as we consider the practice of truth. Do not be only academic when you speak concerning the new Molech. You yourself have the burn marks of the new Molech. Everyone in our culture—especially the university generation and younger—has them. Nobody escapes, even if he was raised in a Christian home and has been a Christian from the time he was young. There is not one of us in our culture who does not have some burn marks from the new Molech upon his skin—not one.
God’s Word for Us
But for ourselves, we who by God’s grace belong to the people of God, we who are Christ’s, we who are God’s, we who have been redeemed on the basis of the blood of the Lamb—let us understand that we are now called, on the basis of this study, to take one more most crucial step. We are to act as that which we are. Who are we? We are not just those going to Heaven. We are even now the wife of God. We are at this moment the bride of Christ. And what does our divine Bridegroom want from us? He wants from us not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love day by day. Such a study as this should not be ended by merely looking with clear perspective upon those who are unfaithful.
I must ask myself, ‘But what about you, Schaeffer?’ And what about you, each one of you who knows the grace of God? What should be our attitude? Our attention must swing back now to ourselves. We have a crucial question to ask about ourselves.
We must ask, ‘Do I fight merely for doctrinal faithfulness?’ This is like the wife who never sleeps with anybody else, but never shows love to her own husband. Is that a sufficient relationship in marriage? No, 10,000 times no. Yet if I am a Christian who speaks and acts for doctrinal faithfulness but do not show love to my divine Bridegroom, I am in the same place as such a wife. What God wants from us is not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love day by day. Not in theory, mind you, but in practice.
For those of us who are the children of God, there can only be one end to this study concerning adultery and apostasy. We must realize the seriousness of modern apostasy; we must urge each other not to have any part in modern apostasy. But at the same time we must realize that we must love our Savior and Lord. We must be the loving, true bride of the divine Bridegroom in reality and in practice, day by day, in the midst of the unfaithfulness of our day. Our call is first to be the bride faithful, but that is not the total call. The call is not only to be the bride faithful, but to be the bride in love.” 
(The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, pp. 147-149)

If we truly stand firm in the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), not lapsing back into bondage, having seized upon the “gift, grant and legacy” that rightly belong to us as his betrothed body which belongs to him, liberated to celebrate our blessed matrimonial union with the bridegroom forever, then we can resound with the Old Testament and New Testament prophets: 

“‘Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,’ says the LORD.
‘Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
‘Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your hufusband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.'”
(Isaiah 54:1-5)

“‘Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure’—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.'”
(Revelation 19:7-9)

 

(Featured image: Voutes de la Cathédrale d’Amiens / Vaults of Amiens Cathedral)

 

Other articles in this series:
Why ecclesiology is important for Christians, Fundamentals of Presbyterianism, part 1
God’s apostolic model for elders in graded church courts, Fundamentals of Presbyterianism, part 2
God’s decree of congregational right to elect church officers, Fundamentals of Presbyterianism, part 3
God’s design for orderly discipline in graded church courts, Fundamentals of Presbyterianism, part 4

church history, Covenant theology, ecclesiology, polity, Presbyterianism, systematic theology