Friday, November 11, 2011

The Apostle Paul, Member of Presbytery

We tend to think of the Apostle Paul as a spiritual Lone Ranger, single-handedly establishing Christianity around the Mediterranean fringe. And it is true that he only occasionally speaks of companions, such as Timothy, Titus, John Mark, and Barnabas. He only gives snippets of the ecclesiastical organization which he established along with the congregations. But I do believe that he gave us such information.

In I Timothy 4:14, the ESV reads, "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you." That phrase "council of elders" is translated "presbytery" by the King James Version, the American Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible, and "eldership" in Young's Literal Translation. "Presbytery" is a transliteration of the Greek word, while "council of elders" and "eldership" are translations. Either way, we see the church leaders joining together to ordain Reverend Timothy. I suspect that this same ceremony is what Paul intends in I Timothy 6:12, "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." That is, Paul is urging Timothy to continue in the faith to which he testified in his examination by the presbytery.

Next look at II Timothy 1:6, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands." Notice the switch in Paul's choice of words. In I Timothy, the ordination is by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Then in II Timothy, it is by the laying on of Paul's hands. I think that the logical implication is that Paul participated in the ceremony of the presbytery.

I see in these verses the kernel of the early church government. It wasn't bishops; nor was it democratic congregationalism. It was presbyterian.

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