Who Chooses Elders?

A Critique of Contemporary Practice in the Modern Reformed Baptist Church


The occasion which led me to write this paper was one in which I had some personal involvement. It arose from of a situation within a particular Reformed Baptist church I was in association with. However, I was not a member of this particular church. The reason why this was so may be ascertained by reading a previous paper I wrote entitled Reformed Baptist ideas of Authority. What I want to do now is to speak on one particular issue touched on in the previous essay. This and other issues are a huge factor in my decision to dissociate myself from not only that local church, but with Reformed Baptists in general. The subject of this essay is entitled Who Chooses Elders? It seeks to expose what I see as a fundamental problem within the Reformed Baptist church in the area of its polity. I have in the past been a member in two other Reformed Baptist churches, so I can speak with some authority on this problem as I have witnessed it from my own personal experience. What I have seen in these churches is a certain kind of disfunctionality due to a completely unbiblical approach to its church order.

The problem as I see it that exists in the modern Reformed Baptist church is that it operates according to a completely authoritarian structure. The ministers of Reformed Baptist churches consistently assume authority that not even the apostles claimed for themselves in the New Testament. This is especially true in the matter of choosing and calling officers in the local church. Reformed Baptist ministers routinely choose and install other men into the ministry without the benefit of congregational involvement. They do this with the exhortation that it is their congregational duty to affirm the decision. Biblical authority is claimed in this, thereby binding it upon the consciences of the people. In other words, congregational approval is nothing but a rubber stamp placed upon the decision already made by the Eldership. Needless to say, men chosen by this method are chosen to be in agreement with the status quo rather than the collective mind of the church.

The notion of a congregation approving a good recommendation by its Eldership is not what is at issue here at all. The reasonableness of a congregation submitting to sound recommendations made by approved Elders is not debatable. It is even biblical. The problem that arises among the Reformed Baptists is the claim by its Elders that they alone have discretion in the choosing and calling of new men into the ministry. A view of authority such as this in the Christian church invariably becomes a default situation in every matter of its life and business. Succession of authority from Elder to Elder apart from church authority is not what I understand as biblical. I should make it clear at this point that I am not suggesting that Elders have no authority, or that they should not be held in high esteem. What I am suggesting is that there is way more to the story as I understand it from Scripture. My purpose in writing this essay is to prove that Elder succession apart from congregational selection and calling is neither biblical, nor a historic Reformed Baptist position.

The particular church I am writing about is Heritage Reformed Baptist Church in Worcester Massachusetts. It became a single Elder church twelve years ago and has remained that way since. This is not a good situation for any Christian church to be in and it has not served that church well either. It was once a thriving church with a plurality of Elders. Not long after this changed it began to languish as a result of this condition from its former spiritual vitality. As matters came to a head in this place, various church members pleaded for more Elders to be chosen. But the sole Elder, Dr. Mike Renihan made it clear that he would decide whether or not any new Elders would be forthcoming. This was a position taken in spite of there being several qualified men present in the congregation who could easily have been considered. What happened next is a recurring theme in Reformed Baptist circles. When controversy erupted among the membership over the question of who chooses Elders, a third of the congregation sided with the Elder, a third left, and a third squared off against him. As this controversy developed and I was not able to participate in the discussion as a non member, I decided to put my thoughts on paper.[1]

I originally put this essay together as a means of helping a friend who was to become involved in a series of meetings that were scheduled to take place on the matter. I did this because I expected the members who would come and support the Elder would not do so based on any Scriptural argument. I say this because it too, is a recurring theme in Reformed Baptist circles. I had unfortunately, witnessed it firsthand in other church controversies like this one. I hastily prepared the original paper in time for the first meeting which was to take place between the two parties. What I sought to do then was to present evidence, that the current position held on who chooses Elders by the Reformed Baptists, is neither biblical nor consistent with their own historic documents. I now seek to expand upon the original paper somewhat, and publish it as a followup to the previous paper on Reformed Baptist Ideas of Authority, for the benefit of others who are experiencing the same thing in their church.

This paper is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject by any means. My only purpose is to point out that the current opinion of modern Reformed Baptist Elders, is both a novel and an erroneous one at best. The method I have used in doing this is to select excerpts from several well known Reformed Baptist church documents that all pertain to this question, who chooses Elders in the church? I have presented Scriptural support for my assertions in numerous places. I have also brought in commentators who are widely regarded as authorities on Scripture interpretation to support my opinions. Within the excerpts I have chosen for this task, I have underlined particular statements that have been made by the writers. I have then placed my own remarks below them for further illumination. All of the sources of these documents are provided above the excerpts, along with the headings which come from the proper section in them. I recommend that these sources be read in their entirety, in order to prove the authenticity and context of the excerpt I have used.

I. Introduction

Modern Reformed Baptist Elders are frequently accused of being authoritarians for many reasons. Among those reasons there is one in particular that is being widely discussed throughout broad Baptist circles today. The reason for this discussion revolves around the contention being made by many Reformed Baptist Elders that only they can legitimately choose other Elders. The Elders who say this also say that it is the duty of the congregation to agree with them and accept the Elders that they have chosen. There are a number of texts in Scripture that are often cited in defense of this point of view. There is one text of Scripture in particular however which is considered primary in the assertion that only Elders can choose Elders in the church. The text in question is taken from Titus 1:5 where it is asserted that the Apostle Paul conferred special authority upon Titus, an ordinary minister, to choose Elders for every church in Crete.

A book was written recently which supports the idea that the Titus passage is teaching the very same thing in it. The book in question is entitled The Titus Mandate.[2] This book is being used by some Reformed Baptist Elders who find it to be agreeable to their own position.[3] The author of this book is Dr. Ted Bigelow, who is the Senior Pastor of Grace Church in Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Bigelow is not a Reformed Baptist, but rather a Pastor of an independent Dispensational Bible church closely affiliated with The Master’s Seminary from which he received a degree. Dr. Bigelow also received a degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary which puts him in the center of an ongoing debate between these circles over church polity. The Southern Baptists have for the last century or so been primarily ruled congregationally, while those churches associated with The Master’s Seminary are ruled by Elders.

It is not an unusual practice for scholarship from every area of the Christian church to be recognized and used by all its ministers. The unusual thing about this case is that Reformed Baptists who subscribe to the 1689 London Baptist Confession would also seek instruction on matters of church polity by someone who does not.[4] What seems to make this book of interest to many Reformed Baptist ministers is its insistence that the Elders of a local church are endowed with “sovereign” authority over it. The concept of sovereign authority translates into a sovereign immunity from the congregations collective mind, especially in the choosing of its ministers. Dr. Bigelow strikes at the heart of this matter in his book. The main premise of The Titus Mandate is simply this, that every problem found in the local Church today is attributable to a lack of all-powerful leadership being imposed upon it. This is a theme which resonates with the average Reformed Baptist minister.

What is the Titus Mandate all about according to Dr. Bigelow? To answer this question it is best to let Dr. Bigelow speak for himself. In page 5 of the Titus Mandate he says this: “The Titus Mandate is a comprehensive plan for Christians and their churches that is holy and very simple to understand. It is taught in Titus 1:5: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” This verse of Scripture and its amazing implications are what this book is all about. By it Titus was granted sovereignty over every church on the Mediterranean island of Crete. He used that authority to rescue Christians from dangerous churches, while at the same time setting up a safe church in each town. Titus 1:5 is church done right. It’s not a suggestion or even a recommendation. It’s an apostolic mandate from Paul that could at first strike you as overkill, but it is not. The Titus Mandate is a matter of spiritual life and death for all Christians and all churches today, even as it was in First Century Crete.” (The Scripture quotation is taken from the ESV, Ed.).

Dr. Bigelow puts forth three words that stand out in reference to his thesis in Titus 1:5 that is worth looking at more closely. The first word is “Mandate” which also appears in the title of the book. The second word is “Sovereignty” which he uses in reference to Titus in his ministerial role. And the third word is “Dangerous” which he uses to describe the Christian Church that existed in Crete. The use of these particular words by Dr. Bigelow seems incredible in reference to this one verse in the book of Titus. Are we to believe that in one verse the Apostle Paul sets forth a comprehensive plan for the church, what about the rest of the New Testament teaching on this doctrine? The word “Sovereignty” denotes kingship as is seen in I Samuel 14:47 about Saul. “So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel.” The term “Dangerous” is an adjective that is often used to incite fear so as to legitimize extreme measures. Are we to use such a word in reference to a Christian church, even if it is not what it is supposed to be? Nowhere is these words or their implied meaning found in the New Testament in the context of the church.

What Dr. Bigelow appears to be doing in his interpretation of Titus 1:5 as put forth by the Titus Mandate is to be taking its words in an extremely literal manner purely at face value. Perhaps the best example of how this has been done in the past is that of the Papacy. Taken in the manner that Dr. Bigelow recommends Titus 1:5 is an apostolic mandate for Episcopacy. If Titus was a sovereign Bishop over Crete’s churches, they became a diocese according to this sort of an interpretation. This is exactly what happened in the early days of the church. A distinction in authority where none exists in Scripture was made between Bishops and Elders. If this is not what Dr. Bigelow is asserting about Titus, then where do the words “Mandate” and “Sovereign” fit? Perhaps Dr. Bigelow is not guilty of making such a distinction, but notice should be taken of the title he himself assumes in his own ministry as Senior Pastor. Are there senior and junior Elders spoken of in the New Testament church? Are there different degrees of authority that rest on a man according to this kind of a distinction?

Buck’s Theological Dictionary defines Episcopacy thus. That form of church government in which diocesan bishops are established as distinct from and superior to priests or presbyters.[5] According to an Episcopalian interpretation of Titus 1:5 a multilevel hierarchy does indeed exist in the New Testament church. It is the only reasonable interpretation one can have if Titus 1:5 should be taken at face value. If Dr. Bigelow and certain Reformed Baptists do not agree with the Episcopalian position, then what exactly do they believe? For one authority to sovereignly select and install another authority the first must be of a higher authority. Such a concept as this would provide an explanation for why many Reformed Baptist Elders are accused of removing fellow Elders from office without congregational input.[6] The authority to call is logically the authority to remove.

In reality there is no more of a distinction between one Elder and another any more than there is between a Bishop and an Elder in Scripture. The apostles used the term’s Bishop and Elder interchangeably in many places (Acts 20:17,28; I Tim. 3:1,2, 5:17; Tit. 1:5,7; I Pet. 2:25). Asserting Episcopacy is a very strange thing for someone like Dr. Bigelow who comes from a Fundamental independent church context. It is an even stranger thing for Reformed Baptists to be imbibing in this sort of an interpretation of Titus 1:5, as well as other passages that seem to say the same thing about choosing Elders (Acts 14:23). Reformed Baptist ministers define themselves as Presbyterian and independent in their church polity, not Episcopalian. The casting off of Roman Catholic Episcopalianism is what prompted the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century in the first place. The entire Puritan movement in England from which the Reformed Baptists trace their heritage from, was due to their rejection of Anglican Episcopalianism. They rejected the idea of church authority as invested in men who laid claim to apostolic succession.

Again, Buck’s Dictionary says in the entry on Episcopacy that “The controversy respecting episcopacy commenced soon after the reformation, and has been agitated with great warmth, between the Episcopalians on the one side, and the Presbyterians and Independents on the other. Among the Protestant churches abroad, those which were reformed by Luther and his associates are in general episcopal; whilst such as follow the doctrines of Calvin, have for the most part thrown off the order of bishops as one of the corruptions of popery. In England, however, the controversy has been considered as of greater importance than on the continent. It has been strenuously maintained by one party, that the episcopal order is essential to the constitution of the church; and by others, that it is a pernicious encroachment on the rights of men, for which there is no authority in Scripture.”[7]

Episcopalianism whether it is Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran or Methodist in style believes in apostolic succession of authority through Elders. Historically, Episcopalians have interpreted passages of Scripture like Titus 1:5 in the same manner as Dr. Bigelow does. This is a hierarchical view of authority in which the Bishop or Elder of the church sees himself as actually being the church. When the minister speaks he speaks as the voice of the church and not of himself. Of course, Protestant Episcopalianism is unlike Romanism in that it views the Scripture as authoritative, at least in principle. But nevertheless, the Episcopal Protestant minister views his interpretation of Scripture and any subsequent applications of it as equally authoritative. Episcopalians tend to view Scripture as historical in nature rather than regulative. Hence, they believe themselves infallible interpreters of it. When any passage of Scripture is read in the New Testament referring to the church, the Episcopalian minister reads into it himself and his authority. Therefore, the choosing of ministers rests solely in the discretion of the Elders who are already installed In the church.

An Episcopalian view of authority also makes the churches ministers unaccountable to anyone beside them. When any groups of professionals in society are governed by no one but their peers, there is in effect no oversight at all. The Church of Jesus Christ being visible and earthly in its present form is no different in that respect when it comes to its human ministers. History points to corruption wherever Episcopalian leadership exists. This is why the Roman church became what it was and is today. This is why every Episcopalian church today is essentially dead and unevangelical in its character. When the church has no higher authority than its ministers then corruption is the natural outcome. Authoritarian Elders are quick to defend their position by saying that they are directly subject to Jesus Christ. When they say this, they imply that they are in essence priests or mediators between Jesus and the Church.

The Scripture is plain in what it says about authority in the church. Even more to the point, Jesus is plain in that, He invested His church with authority before there was ever an Elder called in it (Matt. 18:18-20). Jesus invested His church with authority even before there was an apostle in it (Matt. 16:18,19). It is the truth which accords with a confession of faith in Jesus that the church is built upon. Apostles and Elders were created to teach this truth to the church, and yes, even to guard it from error. Episcopalians read in Peters confession something different from what Jesus intended. Jesus laid the foundation for understanding authority in His church while the apostles were still yet disciples. The church existed before them, not the other way around. It is from the church that Jesus Christ chooses ministers, not apart from it.

The charge that Dr. Bigelow is presenting an Episcopalian view of authority is easily made by what he himself says in this regard. In chapter 4 of the Titus Mandate entitled Appointing Elder Authority in your Church, Dr. Bigelow categorically states this thought under the subtitle Who Oversees the Overseer? “Using Crete as our biblical pattern we learn something utterly rejected over the many centuries of church history: No one was left holding the elders accountable. There were no visits from the denominational representative, regional supervisor, or bishop. And nobody inside the church was voting on them and their proposals. Through the Titus Mandate, the elders were completely free from all hierarchy and external human authority. Maybe this is why New Testament church government can be described in a single verse of Scripture like Titus 1:5-it’s simple.”[8]

The Titus Mandate pits Paul’s words to Titus against Jesus’ words to His church. This is nothing less than a logical fallacy. Jesus says that Ecclesiastical authority resides within the assembled church. The writer of Hebrews says that “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18) asserting that the law of non contradiction is an essential property of the divine nature. Dr. Bigelow goes even further in his explanation of Titus 1:5. In the same section of chapter 4 in the Titus Mandate, Bigelow qualifies his remarks by saying “In biblical churches men qualified by Scripture are trusted, not distrusted. It’s as plain as the difference between trusting God and trusting man. Whatever church problems come up, biblically qualified elders are trusted to lead without any oversight from persons outside or inside their church.”[9] Again we are confronted with another logical fallacy when Dr. Bigelow says that trusting in Elders is like trusting in Jesus (John 5:43,44). Therefore, according to Dr. Bigelow we must put our faith in one class of sinful men rather than another.

There is more space needed than what is available here to properly dissect such a statement as this made in the Titus Mandate. But a few observations are most certainly in order. Observation one: The only people in history who have ever seen a pattern in Titus for un accountability in the ministry are papists and those who sympathize with their mentality. Observation two: The papist mentality has not been “Rejected over the many centuries of church history” as Dr. Bigelow asserts in another place.[10] This is why the Protestant Reformation occurred, it was the overthrow of a thousand plus years of what Dr. Bigelow is saying is the New Testament pattern for Elder succession. Observation three: It was un accountability to the church by its Episcopalian clergy that led to that period of time in history commonly referred to as the Dark Ages. Observation four: That Episcopalian clergy have been free from “All hierarchy and external authority” is certainly a true statement.[11] This is why Roman and Anglican prelates have burned God’s people at the stake with impunity. Episcopalian prelacy has always used its power to control civil government and its laws.

Dr. Bigelow presents a rationale for his Episcopalianism and its plan. It is for the protection of the church from danger. That the Church is always in danger of not fulfilling its purpose and commission in the world there is no dispute. Christians are always in danger of falling prey to false teachers, in this there is no dispute either. But the church is also always in danger of falling prey to authoritarians who demand that they be worshiped and served. A minister of the gospel is no different from any other redeemed soul in the Church of Jesus Christ in that he is a sinner too. What protection does the church have from a sinning Elder if there is no authority to appeal to beyond him? The New Testament gives an account of this very thing for our present consideration. There was an Elder named Diotrephes in the first century church who loved to lord his false estimate of Elder authority over the people. The Apostle John spoke directly to the church in his rebuke of such behavior (III John 9-11). When there is talk about danger in the church it should include the danger of authoritarianism and its destructive tendencies toward Christians.

The idea of a church being dangerous because it does not have authoritarian leadership is amazing. The reason that the Roman church has no credibility when it speaks is because its beloved first pope, the apostle Peter, spoke in diametrical opposition to its claims. Peter categorically set forth his authority in the Church as an Elder as that of an example, rather than as a lord (I Pet. 5:1-3). Of course, when Peter spoke the words of Christ, all of His authority was contained in it. But when Peter spoke as an Elder, he spoke as an under shepherd, as one who is leading, guiding and caring but never abusing Christ’s flock. Saints are called sheep because they are not dangerous (Matt. 10:16). The use of the concept of dangerous in reference to the flock of Jesus Christ makes them out to be the enemy of the authoritarian. Authoritarians always have to kill those whom they claim to save. This is so their authority is exalted regardless of what the damage amounts to. When wars are fought, the only object in them is winning even though everything won is utterly destroyed in the process.

The Protestant Reformation brought about a return to true Presbyterian church government from Roman Catholic Episcopalianism. Reformed church government took on one of two particular styles. The first type of church was that found within the various Presbyterian denominations. These include denominations such as the Dutch Reformed, the Christian Reformed and the Protestant Reformed denominations. The second type of church using Presbyterian polity was those called independents, comprising Congregationalists and Baptists. Although there was a difference in style among these Reformed churches, the concept of Elder/Bishop rather than Episcopal Priest characterized them both.

In a Presbyterian church the Elders are chosen and called by the congregation of each local church. There are multiple Elders in each local church as opposed to only one. Among Presbyterians a distinction is made among the Elders as to their particular function in the church. One is a teacher, preacher and pastor, the other a ruler or overseer. But each one is equal in authority, maintaining a diffusion of power within the plurality of Elders. As a denominational church context, Presbyterian churches organize themselves into regional synods represented by the Elders of the local church. If an Elder(s) is heretical, immoral or abusive and there is no recourse in the local church, appeal may be made to the denomination’s synod outside of the situation. This procedure can go all the way to a church trial if necessary. In this manner there is mutual accountability of not only the church members but also their ministers.

In an independent church context, whether it is congregational or Baptist the Eldership is considered part of the local church membership rather than of a denomination. Elders are chosen and called by the local church membership. If an Elder fails in his calling to Christ and to His people then he is subject to the discipline of the assembled church. Note should be taken here that the Reformed biblical understanding of church authority is in its collective sense and not simply as a group of voting individuals. Through a declension in the church in modern times, rank individualism has replaced the Reformed Protestant concept of authority in many independent congregations. Reformed Protestant thinking emphasized the true priesthood of the believer who is saved apart from the church in the ultimate sense (I Pet. 2:4,9). Roman Catholics, indeed most Episcopalians view salvation as through the church, rather than into it. The Protestant biblical view of the priesthood of the believer maintains the right of individual conscience, or liberty of conscience in spiritual matters (II Cor. 3:17). The Bible does not envision any believer living independent of the church. Among the Reformers there was never an idea of rank individual priesthood existing outside of the assembled church.

Dr. Bigelow and many Reformed Baptists react to this false understanding of the priesthood of the believer by imposing authoritarian government in its place. This is a corruption of the Reformed biblical view of the priesthood of the believer. What authoritarians like to do is exercise extreme paranoia in reference to the matter of spiritual liberty. The authoritarian Elders fear is that if anyone other than him has a single thought, that it is a dangerous thing which must be opposed. The New Testament unlike the Old comprises many principles which must be applied in the life of the believer. An Elder simply cannot tell everyone what to do in their personal spiritual life in matters of conscience that do not violate God’s word. The authoritarian not only teaches what the principles are in Scripture but also what the application must always be according to his mind. There is no such thing as liberty of conscience when it comes to an authoritarian. This is why the Titus Mandate uses the language of danger in reference to the Christian church.

A discussion of the merits of Presbyterian polity as opposed to Independent is not in the purview of this present exercise. Because the focus here is on certain Reformed Baptists ministers who agree with Dr. Bigelow, the criticism of this essay is on them and their practice in choosing Elders. There is something that is far more important to consider in reference to them both. Reformed Baptists are confessional in their church polity. Dr. Bigelow is not in his. It is understandable why someone like Dr. Bigelow might adopt the views he has on Elder authority. As a minister of an independent church with no confessional standards it is easy to conceive of these views being born out of self preservation. This is not meant to be a disparagement of Dr. Bigelow’s integrity. On the contrary, it is assumed that Dr. Bigelow and other Independents in his circle are choosing the high road in their thinking when it comes to the prosperity of the Christian church. But a church without a confessional standard must be either purely democratic or purely authoritarian in its government.

The Reformed Baptists on the other hand are in a different category than Dr. Bigelow when it comes to church polity. Reformed Baptists hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith. This confessional standard is the basis for every Reformed Baptist church being constituted as such. The London Baptist Confession is the basis for reception into membership, the doctrinal teaching and the discipline of its members. This confession is also the basis for how the church is to conduct its polity in respect to the calling of its officers. There is nothing about this situation that remotely relates to the situation in which Dr. Bigelow finds himself. There are more than three hundred years of church history and tradition involved in the Reformed Baptist church. There are many other Baptist church order documents that show forth that heritage in addition to the confession itself.[12]

Certainly, church tradition is not the final appeal in the matter of who chooses Elders or any other issue either. Scripture is always to be the final appeal in every matter of faith and practice in the Christian Church. Sola Scriptura is the first confessional statement of the Protestant Reformation. The Roman church exalted tradition above Scripture which invalidated it as a Christian church. The issue at hand here is if the Reformed Baptist tradition reflects Scripture through its confessional standard, why would it now depart from it? Whatever Dr. Bigelow thinks in his church circle is of course entirely his own business. So why would Reformed Baptists be looking to him for wisdom on this matter? The answers to these questions lie in what is found in the historic church documents of the Reformed Baptists. What is found in these documents does in fact run counter to the authoritarian position when it comes to the choosing and calling of Elders.

A. The Source of the Problem

How did the present situation come about in the modern Reformed Baptist church? It came about primarily because the modern Reformed Baptist church today is not really the same historic Reformed Baptist church that it once was. The Reformed Baptists in America have a very colorful past. It is not in the interest of this examination to go over it all. What happened in the eighteenth century, which was a time of extreme decline for Christianity, was the Reformed Baptist church for all intents and purposes disappeared. It first divided and morphed into two regional church identities, being that of the Northern and Southern Baptists. The Northern Baptists departed from the American version of the London Confession known as the Philadelphia Confession.[13] Instead, they opted for another document called the New Hampshire Confession.[14] This confession was stripped of Calvinistic Soteriology. After the Civil war the Northern Baptists drifted into complete man-centered infidelity.

In the South Baptists were much different from those in the North. Following the controversy surrounding the introduction of the New Hampshire Confession in America, Baptists in the South adopted a briefer but still Reformed confessional statement called the Abstract of Principals.[15] However, in time they too drifted as well from their heritage. The Southern Baptists underwent a precipitous decline when modernism and its man-centered focus came into vogue. A particular Southern Baptist professor named E.Y. Mullens[16] in the early part of the twentieth century redefined the historic meaning of the priesthood of the believer. It was Mullens who promoted the democratic concept of Congregationalism we see today. He did this by redefining what the church viewed as its source of congregational competence. Previously, a high degree of discipline in the church existed in direct relation to it having a regenerate membership. The source of this discipline can be ascertained by church records. It was a matter of church competence when the saints were assembled. Mullens redefined the priesthood of the believer to mean something different. He viewed the individual as competent to decide church matters, rather than the assembled body of believers.

In the 1950’s there was a resurgence of interest in all expressions of Reformed teaching through the influence of the writings of A.W. Pink and the preaching ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The Reformed Baptist church was revived and the 1689 London Baptist Confession was chosen as the foundation for these new churches. There are two very important things which took place that must be understood about this. The first thing is that the men who came into the Reformed Baptist ministry for many years came mostly from independent fundamentalist backgrounds. Fundamentalist churches have always tended to be a one Elder authoritarian type church government. Fundamentalists have never been confessional nor have they historically had any respect for the Reformed tradition. There have been many Fundamental Independent Baptists who prefer to think that they are not even Protestants. This is owing to a popular view among them that they were constituted a church by John the Baptist himself. The Reformed Baptist tradition however came out of the Puritan movement in England.

Because of the wide historical disconnect between the old and new Reformed Baptist church, somehow a failure occurred on the part of the ministers to consider any of the original documents of church order. Reformed Baptists up to the end of the eighteenth century compiled many church order documents based on Scripture, each one of them reflecting the same polity. These documents are in depth treatments of what the Scripture teaches on all matters of the church government. The teaching of the confession is deliberately briefer in its treatment of polity than these church order documents. This is so it may be more useful to Christians as a general summary of theological teaching. Reformed confessions were never meant to be stand-alone documents. Each one of the three main English Reformed churches all created three forms of documental standard, a confession, a church order and a catechism.

The second thing that affected this new Reformed movement was that the churches were constituted as 501c3 tax exempt corporations. In order to be a tax exempt corporation a charter and bylaw must be drawn up to establish the manner in which the corporation does business. The Reformed Baptist churches which did this also incorporated church polity language into the constitution of the church. In most cases these documents do not reflect either what the Bible teaches or what the historic church order taught in the past on ministerial authority. Since there is no language in Scripture giving warrant to the Christian church to conduct itself in this manner the opportunity for false practice is enormous. It has become typical for Reformed Baptist Elders to use church constitutions as instruments of dictatorial control over their congregation. This is especially so when it comes to calling emergency church meetings and in the matter of choosing and installing new Elders. Many of these Elders insulate themselves from accountability in their personal conduct from congregational censure by using the constitution they have created.

Needless to say, the custom tailored constitution in every Reformed Baptist church in America defines what its polity actually is. In other words, a new tradition has been created that does not reflect the original one which the Puritans established. The problems created by this situation have plagued the Reformed Baptist movement since its inception. It also accounts for the many schisms that have occurred for many years in Reformed Baptist churches. There is always a consistent theme running through them. It always has to do with Elder authority. The schism takes place when the church divides over any given issue involving the subject of authority. Half of the church sides with an authoritarian Pastor and the other doesn’t, hence the schism. In fact, most Reformed Baptist churches today have been started as the result of one of these schisms.

In conclusion one last thing needs to be said. To be fair, the charge The Titus Mandate makes of disorder in many churches must be acknowledged as true. There does exist in many modern churches today a form of government that resemble a town meeting more than a New Testament church. Churches like this are often characterized by a great deal of man-centeredness in their approach to doing the Lords’ business. The choosing of church officers is a most solemn business which must not be turned into anything resembling a political process. Clearly, Elders do play an important role in this. A case can legitimately be made that the modern church is lacking in its understanding of properly applied authority. Certainly a church which does not follow a biblical pattern in the choosing of its officers is a church which does not honor the Lord as it should. After all, the Church is the Lords and as such it must be constructed according to His specifications. Anyone who recognizes this reality must also appreciate those who are concerned to bring about change for the better in the current religious climate that we all live in.

This brief consideration of who chooses Elders has been compiled in order to show what the documented tradition of Reformed Baptists is and has been throughout their history in the choosing of Elders. There are other sources on this subject of whom the Reformed Baptists have had agreement in the past which will be used here as well. Certainly the Scriptures themselves are the primary source of knowledge on polity. This paper is not meant to be a review of the Titus Mandate either. Reference to the book is made only because its writer does not come from a tradition which Reformed Baptists would normally consider as in agreement with their own. Nor do we condemn every point made in the Titus Mandate as untrue. The book has been mentioned in these remarks because it highlights some of the gross error in thought that is currently believed in the Reformed Baptist church. After bringing the historic documents of the Reformed Baptist church to light it is hoped that there would be an end to any consideration of The Titus Mandate and its assertions.


[1] This took place in 2012.

[2] The Titus Mandate, written and published by Ted Bigelow Copyright © 2011.

[3] This book was indeed used and recomended by Dr. Renihan in defense of his position at Heritage Reformed Baptist Church.

[4] Not only does Dr. Bigelow not subscribe to the LBC, but he doesn’t subscribe to any confessional standard at all. This is typical of those who associate with John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary.

[5] A Theological Dictionary, Charles Buck, Woodward Edition 1825, p.164.

[6] See Reformed Baptist Ideas of Authority, Mark A. Peterson

[7] Ibid. A Theological Dictionary, p.164.

[8] Ibid. The Titus Mandate, chapter 4, p.69.

[9] Ibid. p.70

[10] Ibid. p.70

[11] Ibid. p.69

[12] See POLITY A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents, Edited by Mark Dever, Copyright ©©2001 Center for Church Reform

[13] The Philadelphia Confession was adopted in 1742 by the Philadelphia Association and is the American version of the 1689 LBC. The only difference between them is it has two more chapters than its English counterpart.

[14] The New Hampshire Confession was adopted in 1833 by Baptists in Northern and Western states. It is a reduced statement of Christian belief than what is found in Calvinistic confessions.

[15] The Abstract of Principles was adopted in 1858 by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and its associated churchs.

[16] Edgar Young Mullins (1860-1928) was a Baptist minister and the fourth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

II. Historic Documents

The problem as we it in Reformed Baptist churches with the choosing of Elders, has been set forth in Part I. It is now time to look at the document standards that make up the heritage of the Reformed Baptist church. This heritage of which we speak, is a rich one. It is one that is sufficient to establish the practice of every Reformed Baptist church today. However, as it has already been shown, there is an enormous disconnectedness that exists between the present Reformed Baptists, and those who preceded them in another generation. This will not be taken as a popular statement no doubt, but nevertheless it is one that is true. We set out to show this now in the documents themselves here in Part II. In doing this, we will seek to challenge the false notion propagated by many Reformed Baptist Elders, that it is they, who choose Elders, not the congregation.

Next, it is fitting to examine certain Scripture references made in these documents. Why is this so? This is often called a post modern age we live in, where logic and consistency need not dominate an argument. In fact, dogmatism is usually something frowned upon in most circles. It is believed an assertion may be made by anyone on a purely subjective basis that is beyond challenge in the eyes of the post modern scholar. Now, Reformed Baptist ministers decry this mentality, asserting Scripture is king in every matter. We concur with them on this. The problem however, as we see it is, while Reformed Baptist Elders are certainly dogmatic when it comes to asserting their position, they are not always accurate or consistent in how they use the Scripture. In other words, they are no better than the post modern scholar when they make themselves the authority that cannot be challenged. The Reformed Baptist document heritage uses Scripture in conjunction with its statements, in order to define them. So in examining them together, context must be king.

The Reformed Baptist Puritans were in agreement with other Puritans in a very large measure. This is why the 1689 London Baptist Confession is so close to the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration. This fact draws many scholars from the Reformed Puritan tradition together when it comes to interpreting Scripture texts. For that reason, we will consider those similarities that exist from men outside of the Reformed Baptist churches that agree with them in their documents. The value in this is to establish a broad church witness to the question of who chooses Elders. All three of the Puritan church expressions, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Baptists were all diametrically opposed to the Episcopalian form of government. That being the case, it is no surprise they offer a similar testimony to the subject from Scripture, even though maintaining certain differences from each other.

A. The Reformed Baptist Confessions

1. The 1644 London Baptist Confession of Faith[1]

Article XXXVI.

That being thus joined, every Church has 1 power given them from Christ for their better well-being, to choose to themselves fitting persons into the office of 2 Pastors, Teachers, Elders, Deacons, being qualified according to the Word, as those which Christ has appointed in His Testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church, and that none other have to power to impose them, either these or any other.

1) Acts 1:2; 6:3; 15:22, 25; 1 Cor. 16:3

2) Rom. 12:7, 8; 16:1; 1 Cor. 12:8, 28; 1 Tim. 3 chapt.; Heb. 13:7; 1 Peter 5:1-3[2]

The 1644 London Baptist Confession was the first document standard by which Reformed Baptists associated. 1644 was the date of official declaration that they were a distinct group of Protestant believers. Previously, Baptists and Paedobaptists were in unofficial association together as separatists, so called by the authorities in England. This loose association was established under a previous confession called the True Confession of Faith, dated 1596. This confession was decidedly congregational in character. When forming their own distinct association, the Baptists adopted the 1596 True Confession of Faith as their own, with certain obvious changes respecting Baptism.[3]

Article 26 asserts congregational authority to choose officers for the church, as a gift of Christ to them. This makes congregational authority essential to the church. The church is first and foremost His mystical body, of which He is the Head (Eph. 1:22,23). But a church is also defined as a visible earthly group of regenerate people Christ has brought together in a particular location for worship and service to Him. This is the meaning given here in the confession when it says every church has power. That power is present when they meet as the church. It is present because Christ is among them through His Spirit. In other words, the judgement of the assembly is the evidence that Christ is among them, and His power at work.

2. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith[4]

Chapter 26: Of the Church

8. A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons. (Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1)

9. The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands.

(Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 6:3,5,6)[5]

The 1689 London Baptist Confession rightly asserts that Jesus Christ appoints officers to His church. More important, it asserts the way in which it is done. Officers in Christ’s church are to be chosen and set apart by the church (Par. 8). No mention is made in this paragraph of anyone other than the church choosing its own officers. So what is the church mentioned in this paragraph? It is not the Elders by themselves that constitute the church. It is the assembly of saints which are so called and gathered. Furthermore, the next paragraph (par. 9) states the way appointed by Christ toward this end of choosing and setting apart its officers, is done by what the confession calls the common suffrage of the church itself.

Taken together, this means that the business of selecting church officers is something that is to be done in the open, among the church members. The men chosen must be put before the assembly for approval. This is what the term common suffrage implies. What this does not mean are the men chosen for the ministry in Christ’s church are selected based on any kind of behind the scene’s deals or political maneuvers, out of sight and unknown to the membership of the church. No one is put before the assembled church in Christ’s church in order to rubberstamp a recommendation made by one or more Elders. This implies men are to be chosen from among the membership for the position of Elder. This does not by any means necessarily exclude someone brought in from another congregation. But it does mean that the church called and gathered are given the task and the authority to make a choice as to who is called as the officers of their local church. It also means that everything necessary for the approval of such men must be present and available to the church to make their decision.

One of the issues surrounding controversy in this matter has to do with the calling of men that Christ has appointed, who are they? Paragraph 9 mentions these are men fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit. Obviously, these must be regenerate members of Christ’s church, not simply sent there by a Seminary or denominational board to fill a spot. So the choosing of officers is really choosing someone Christ has chosen and set in their midst. It is a recognition by regenerate church members that a man has all of the gifts and graces necessary for this office. Certainly he would also desire the office too. Scripture verses are provided in the confession to prove the authenticity of its claim. Notice should be taken of the particular Scripture references chosen for this confessional statement. Two particular texts in paragraph 9 have been brought together for the specific purpose of proving there is but one formula shown in Scripture for the choosing of all its church officers, both Elders and Deacons alike. Both of these are found in Acts, the New Testament book of history on missions and church planting.

“Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.” (Acts 6:2-6).

“So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23).

There is no specific New Testament text that says Elders are chosen by the congregation in the same way as Deacons. Why this is so is certainly a question to ask, and one which Scripture no doubt supplies if studied sufficiently. However, that is not the concern here. The reason why being the confession takes the liberty of setting these two texts, one about Deacons and one about

Elders together, in order to show there is but one standard. Acts six is where early in the church it is shown there was necessity placed upon the church to establish the office of Deacon (verse 2). So a reading of this text makes it clear the church itself was to choose the men for this ministry (verse 3). No force is placed upon the church at Jerusalem to select any particular men. The number seven is a good biblical number, the number of perfection. But seven may mean nothing more than the number necessary to fulfill the need in that church. In any case, a perfect number of men for the task are what a church should choose.

Since these men are gifted by the Holy Spirit for their duty, it is reasonable to assume Christ puts the necessary number of men needed in any given congregation (verse 3). Care should be taken to note that the apostles only would, and did appoint the men put before them by the congregation (verses 3,6). Which brings another thing to mind about this? This circumstance was early in the church’s history. There does not appear to be any Elders up to this point in the church. No mention is made of them until chapter eleven (verse 30). Now it is clear that apostles were also considered Elders (I Pet. 5:1). But regardless of this, there is a distinct difference between the office of an apostle and that of an Elder (Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23). The differences are both in function and authority.

First of all, an apostle is one who has seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:15-22). An apostle is an inspired prophet (Acts 10:9-16; II Cor. 12:1-6; Rev. 1:1-11). An apostle had special authority to give directives from Christ to His church (I Cor. 2:4,5; II Cor. 10:8,14). Apostles were chosen by Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus chose the first twelve apostles before the cross (Matt. 10:1-4; John 6:70; Acts 1:2,3). Jesus chose a replacement for Judas after the cross, but before Pentecost (Acts 1:24). It is interesting even here, the men chosen for consideration and put before Jesus were nominated by the assembled church at Jerusalem (verse 22). And finally, Jesus chose Paul after Pentecost directly (Acts 9:1-6,10-16). An assumption must be made that Paul, was chosen to fill the place of another apostle, not mentioned in Scripture who died.

An Elder, unlike an apostle holds an ordinary office. He is not inspired and therefore, has no authority to speak as though having it, nor to act as though he were an apostle. His authority is to lead and teach the New Testament church using the words of Christ and the apostles (II Tim. 3:16,17; Tit. 2:15). As an ordinary officer of the church, an Elder is chosen from among the members of the church, by the church, rather than directly by Christ. Which brings us to the text found in Acts fourteen (verse 23). With no mention of Elders being present in the church before chapter eleven (verse 30), it is abundantly clear, the appointing of Elders in Acts 14:23, was something preceded by the same process as that put forth in Acts 6:3-6 for Deacons. This would mean the apostles officially recognized those in the churches the membership chose. There is no doubt that they, having the gift of inspiration, were able by it to confirm the choices made before putting their approval upon them.

These two texts briefly examined, were used in the confession by the Reformed Baptist writers to convey this very thing. There is no sense, in which it can be imagined, that Elders choose Elders in the church according to this contextual usage of it in the confession. To suggest this is to suggest something contrary to the explicit manner in which these verses are given. The verse that bridges the two passages in Acts is there to show the function of Elders in the ordination of those whom the congregation chooses (I Tim. 4:14). Timothy was an ordinary officer chosen by the church at Ephesus (I Tim. 1:3). Obviously, the gift he had to preach came from Christ and not the other Elders. All the Eldership did about Timothy, was to recognize his calling and show their approval of it through a public display of ordination.

It would be advantageous for us now to consider the opinion held by others in the Reformed church, Baptist and non Baptist alike on these same texts of Scripture. While no one after the first century has had the gift of inspired interpretation, still, authority can be ascertained by the collective witness of the church. When men recognized by the broad church for their giftedness in Scriptural interpretation all agree on a particular passage it is probably safe to assume they were at least to a certain degree, correct. Therefore, we have selected a number of men who have commented on these two texts from the book of Acts, in reference to how men are chosen for the ministry. Without doubt, many more witnesses could be found who would agree with these men. These however, will suffice, as they occupy an important place in the minds of most Reformed Baptist Christians.

B. Various Reformed Commentaries

1. John Calvin[6]

Acts 6:3

For it is tyrannous if any one man appoint or make ministers at his pleasure. 332 Therefore, this is the (most) lawful way, that those be chosen by common voices 333 who are to take upon them 334 any public function in the Church.

And this is the mean between tyranny and confused liberty, 337 that nothing be done without 338 the consent and approbation of the people, yet so that the pastors moderate and govern (this action, 339 ) that their authority may be as a bridle to keep under the people, 340 lest they pass their bounds too much.[7]

Acts 14:23

Furthermore, by this manner of speech is very excellently expressed the right way to ordain pastors. Paul and Barnabas are said to choose 56 elders. Do they this alone by their private office? 57 Nay, rather they suffer the matter to be decided by the consent of them all. 58 Therefore, in ordaining pastors the people had their free election, but lest there should any tumult arise, Paul and Barnabas sit as chief moderators.[8]

John Calvin is bold to accuse a man of being a tyrant, who goes about to make or approve someone for the ministry on his own, without the benefit of input and consent of the church (verse 3). And lest anyone who says he means only Deacons by this interpretation of Acts chapter six, Calvin refers here to ministers in the plural. By this Calvin means all ministers, Elders and Deacons alike. The context in which John Calvin would use a word like tyranny should be obvious to all in the Reformed church, he is referring to the Pope and his Bishops. Calvin is quite clear in asserting that minister’s in Christ’s church are to be chosen by the common consent of the congregation. This is important, for though he advocated for a Presbyterian hierarchy of Elders, they were not to rule at their own discretion, but by the approval of the congregation, from which they are chosen. Calvin goes so far as to say that nothing may be done in this respect without the approval of the people.

John Calvin did not believe that the apostles chose Elders in the churches simply by the authority invested in them by Christ (verse 23). Instead, the apostles ordained by public ceremony those whom the church put before them for the office. How do we know this? The places the apostles ordained men for the ministry, were already functioning as churches without them. Perhaps they were no more than a small collection of believers, converted when the apostles came through the area in their travels preaching the gospel. By the time they returned, the people had chosen, or at least recognized men among themselves who were qualified for the office of Elder. These are the men the apostles ordained. Calvin the Presbyterian, was a congregationalist when it came to choosing Elders. Did this negate any input from the apostles themselves? Hardly, for Calvin refers to them as chief moderators in the process.

2. John Gill[9]

Acts 6:3

Wherefore brethren look ye out among you, etc.] Or “choose out among you”, as the Syriac version adds, and as the Arabic and Ethiopic versions render it; which shows that this sort of officers, deacons, must be members of the church, and of the same church to which they are ordained deacons; and that they must be chosen to that office by the whole community, or by the common suffrages and votes of the people. So the f241 Jews 146 “did not appoint snrp, (which may be rendered) “an overseer of the poor”, in a congregation, without consulting the congregation[10]

Acts 6:6

Whom they set before the apostles, etc.] They did not barely nominate and propose them to them, but they brought them into their presence, and placed them before them, as the persons whom they had chosen, in order to be ordained by them.[11]

Acts 14:23

And when they had ordained them elders in every church, etc.] As soon as ever any number of disciples were made, or souls were converted to Christ in any place, they were at once formed, by the apostles, into a church state; and as the gifts, as well as the grace of the Holy Ghost, attended the ministry of the word, so among those that were converted, there were some that were honoured with ministerial gifts, qualifying them to preach the Gospel, and take upon them the care of the churches: these the apostles directed the churches to look out from among themselves, as in the case of deacons, an inferior office, who by joint suffrages declared their choice of them by the stretching out, or lifting up of their hands, as the word here used signifies, and not the imposition of them; and the apostles presiding in this affair, they were installed into the office of bishops, elders, or pastors over them; which expresses the great regard the apostles had to the order, as well as to the doctrine of the Gospel, and the concern they had for the welfare of souls converted under their ministry, by making a provision for them when they were gone.[12]

John Gill is the first, and perhaps, the greatest Reformed Baptist theologian since the days of the Puritans. Not only did Gill produce an enormous work on Systematic Theology, but he wrote a commentary on each book of the Bible, covering every verse in it. Here we have his comments from three of the verses we are considering. John Gill references his remarks in verses 3,6 to the immediate context of the passage, that of choosing and calling Deacons. One point in particular to notice about this is his reference to the practice of Jews (verse 3). Why this was so, was because officers in the New Testament church, was patterned after the Jewish Synagogue. The Jerusalem church was no different. So Gill comments on their practice of choosing men to office in that place as an act of the entire local community of people. This comment of his is based on the phrase “Wherefore brethren look ye out among you.” The business of choosing was that of the saints in that church. So there would be a vote among them to determine who these men would be. The ordination of these men was merely a formality by the apostles concerning the question of whom they were (verse 6).

John Gill’s comment on chapter fourteen (verse 23) ties the process together as one and the same for both offices of Elder and Deacon. The only directive given by the apostles to the churches in this case, was that they were to choose the men for ordination from among themselves, the same way as Deacons. Here, Gill agrees with the notion that in the absence of any other particular statement otherwise about the choosing of Elders, we are to take it from chapter six (verses 3,6). Gill’s comment about the office of a Deacon being inferior, is only in reference to their duty. The Deacon is to have every qualification as an Elder, minus the ability to teach (I Tim. 3:1-13). This would render their function as one that is more practical in nature, as opposed to Elders, who deal more with the theoretical in their function as teachers. Both offices have in them however, a certain amount of authority in the church, to perform their various functions. It is inconceivable to John Gill that Elders would be possessed of such authority, as to choose men to either office without the consent of the church.

3. Matthew Henry[13]

Acts 6:3

[1.] The persons must be duly qualified. The people are to choose, and the apostles to ordain; but the people have no authority to choose, nor the apostles to ordain, men utterly unfit for the office:

[2.] The people must nominate the persons: “Look you out among yourselves seven men; consider among yourselves who are the fittest for such a trust, and whom you can with the most satisfaction confide in.” They might be presumed to know better, or at least were fitter to enquire, what character men had, than the apostles; and therefore they are entrusted with the choice.[14]

Acts 6:6

(2.) The apostles appointed them to this work of serving tables for the present, v. 6. The people presented them to the apostles, who approved their choice, and ordained them.[15]

Acts 14:23

[3.] These elders were ordained. The qualifications of such as were proposed or proposed themselves (whether the apostles or the people put them up) were judged of by the apostles, as most fit to judge; and they, having devoted themselves, were solemnly set apart to the work of the ministry, and bound to it.[16]

Matthew Henry is known and respected by Reformed Baptists for his six volume commentaries on the whole Bible. His commentary is neither technical nor exhaustive in its coverage of the Bible. However, it has just about everything necessary in some degree, that any Christian that uses it could want in their study of the Scripture. Henry was a Congregational Puritan. Therefore, his insight into these verses in Acts is useful, for the Baptist Puritans were fundamentally Congregational in their polity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Matthew Henry says essentially the same thing about these verses in Acts as John Gill does in his more in-depth and technical commentary of the Bible. We believe it is one which agrees with the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

In chapter six Henry asserts the choice of Deacons for the church rests with the people, just as it says in verse three. He then shows the distinction put forth in the text between the act of choosing by the congregation, and that of ordaining by the apostles. And how was this to be done, by what Matthew Henry calls a nomination process. In other words, it is a democratic process that determines who these are to be selected for ordination. Henry is careful to note that apostles “entrusted” the church members “with the choice.” Again, in verse six Henry points to the fulfillment of the process as it is stated in the text.

Matthew Henry states in chapter fourteen that Elders were ordained by the apostles in the churches too (verse 23). And on what basis were these Elders to be recognized? It was according to the qualifications set down by the apostles, recognized by the people whom they lived among. Henry says there was a joint examination of these candidates by the apostles and the people. And this makes sense as the apostles themselves were charged with setting down the qualifications, which were given as Pastoral instruction to Timothy (I Tim. 3:1-7) Why would they not examine those put before them by the congregation too? What an ordination process entails, is an examination by the ordinating committee before actually showing approval in a public meeting.

4. B.H. Carroll[17]

Acts 6:3-6

The solution was that the apostles ordered the church as a whole to select a body of men who should attend to this financial, or secular matter; and that they would then be ordained to the work by prayer and the laying on of hands. The church thereupon elected seven men, calling them from among the Grecians, the parties from whom the complaint came, and these seven men took charge of this matter and relieved the apostles from having to consider the temporalities when all their energies should be devoted to preaching the Word.[18]

We have here the lesson in church polity, that though the apostles themselves were present, the election of officers must be by the church, being congregational in form and polity, and every member of the church, male and female, being entitled to an equal vote in matters that related to the congregation. We have already found the same thing in the election of the successor to Judas. Here again it is made perfectly plain that even the twelve men, inspired of God, did not assume to elect officers of the church. They directed the church to do the electing, and they participated in the ordination. This was the institution of the deacon’s office referred to in Philippians 1:1, where Paul writes to the bishops and deacons, and whose qualifications are set forth in I Timothy 3:8-13.[19]

B.H. Carroll was an eighteenth century Southern Baptist Seminary professor. Carroll wrote a seventeen volume commentary entitled An Interpretation of the English Bible. In it he too, expresses the same sentiment as the others we have profiled, on the connection between Acts 6:3-6 and Acts 14:23 to do with choosing church officers. Carroll calls the apostles words to the church at Jerusalem an order (verses 3-6). They commanded the church to choose men for themselves as Deacons, something they could have easily done themselves if it were Christ’s will for them. Carroll stresses the fact that this was something He delegates to the church rather than to the apostles. So Carroll points out that it was the church assembled at Jerusalem that chose another apostle to replace Judas. And it was the “whole” church at Jerusalem that was to choose these men, meaning the assembled body of Christians. The process was democratic as they are said to have “elected seven men” on that occasion.

The notion that Elders are chosen by the congregation first, then ordained, is upheld by numerous Commentators on Acts 6:3-6 & Acts 14:23. So there is a series of logical questions that arise from an examination of these verses. First, if the Apostles are said to appoint Elders in Acts 14:23 without the church choosing, do we have an apostolic succession in the church today? Second, if so, where are the apostles today to appoint our Elders for us? Third, if the Elder of today has apostolic authority, is he not then an Episcopalian and not a Baptist minister? Fourth, does the church exist apart from its Elders, or only by and through them? Sixth, if Elders are chosen and called by the church according to Scripture, then where does the notion of Elder succession arise? This would appear to be an erroneous idea, created by the tradition of men.

5. The meaning of the English words “appoint” and “ordain” translated from Greek

The English word “appoint” in Acts 6:3 (Strongs Greek Dictionary)

(2525) kaqi>sthmi, — kath-is’-tay-mee; from (2596) (kata>) and (2476) (i[sthmi); to place down (permanently), i.e. (figurative) to designate, constitute, convoy: — appoint, be, conduct, make, ordain, set.

The English words “appoint” (NKJV) and “ordained” (KJV) in Acts 14:23 (Strongs Greek Dictionary)

(5500) ceirotone>w, — khi-rot-on-eh’-o; from a compound of (5495) (cei>r) and tei>nw (to stretch); to be a hand-reacher or voter (by raising the hand), i.e. (genitive) to select or appoint: — choose, ordain.

The Greek words used in Acts 6:3 & Acts 14:23 by which we get appoint and ordain has reference to the official act of ordination, as the recognition of those whom the church has chosen. The act of raising the hand by the Apostle is based on that of the Aaronic blessing instituted by God in the Old Testament, rather than of some kind of private vote taken by a group of men (Num. 6:22-27). It must be remembered that the one hundred twenty disciples of the Jerusalem church, chose men for consideration for the office of an apostle before Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26). The Hebrew words Nesiat Kapayim, means literally the raising of the hands and is in reference to the Aaronic blessing. This was something practiced by the apostles as evidenced in Paul’s epistles. It was used in conjunction with a verbal benediction (Rom. 16:25-27; I Cor. 16:23; II Cor. 13:14; Gal. 6:18, etc.). The purpose of the Aaronic blessing symbolized by the raising of the hands, in setting apart men to the ministry, should be understood as God’s blessing upon His church in their being consecrated to it. The act of raising the hand in blessing by Aaron under the Old Covenant administration has its New Covenant counterpart in the Lord Himself doing the same (Lev. 9:22; Luke 24:50,51).

The appointing or ordination of Elders by the apostles cannot mean that they chose them literally. This is evidenced by the very qualifications of Eldership set forth by the apostle Paul in I Tim. 3:1-7. Only those men, who live, worship, and fellowship with the church regularly, can be rightly known and approved of by the church, as far as their gifts and graces are concerned. Traveling apostles would not overthrow their own teaching by choosing men they knew only in a limited way for Eldership, to rule over the people. It should be noticed also that the qualifications for the office of Deacon, are set by the apostle next to that of the Elder (I Tim. 3:8-13). The only difference between an Elder and a Deacon’s qualification for office is the gift to teach. Except for teaching, all of the qualifications for both offices are matters of Christian virtue and maturity. This is why Acts 14:23 should be understood in the light of Acts 6:3-6 when it comes to choosing men for either office.

C. Historic Reformed Baptist Church Order Documents

1. Benjamin Keach[20]

The Glory of a True Church, And its Discipline display’’d 1697[21]

To the Baptized Churches, particularly to that under my care.

My Brethren,

Every house or building consisteth both of matter and form: And so doth the Church of Christ, or house of the Living God. The matter or materials with which it is built are lively stones, i.e. converted persons; Also the matter and form must be according to the rule and pattern shewed in the mount, I mean Christ’s institution, and the Apostolic Churches constitution, and not after men’s inventions. Now some men, because the typical Church of the Jews was national, and took in their carnal seed (as such) therefore the same matter and form they would have under the Gospel. But though a church be rightly built in both these respects, i.e. of fit matter and right form, yet without a regular and orderly discipline, it will soon lose its beauty, and be polluted. Many reverend divines of the Congregational way, have written most excellently (it is true) upon the subject, I mean on church-discipline; but the books are so voluminous that the poorer sort can’t purchase them, and many others have not time or learning to improve them to their profit; and our brethren the Baptists have not written (as I can gather) on the subject by itself. Therefore I have earnestly desired by our members, and also by one of our pastors, to write a small and plain tract concerning the rules and the discipline of a gospel-Church that all men may not only know our faith, but see our order in this case also. True, this (though plain) is but short, but may be it may provoke some other person to do it more fully. Certainly, ignorance of the rules of discipline causes no small trouble and disorders in our churches; and if this may be a prevention, or prove profitable to any, let God have the glory, and I have my end:

Who am, yours,

Benjamin Keach Aug. 18. 1697[22]

This Church Order document was the first one of many to be published by the Baptists following the 1689 Act of Toleration in England. This church order was the document that English Baptists subscribed to, and still do, who adopted The Second London Confession of Faith in 1689. There are three things that are prominently displayed in this document for our consideration. The first important thing mentioned here in Benjamin Keach’s introduction is the Puritan concept of the individual priesthood of all believers. Keach does this by pointing out that the church is a building constructed of living stones. The apostle Paul does this very thing in his epistle to the church at Ephesus (Eph. 2:19-22). By use of the word living, there is by implication a spiritually regenerated membership, residing within a certain location. This being the first and most necessary element of any local church, there is by implication an authority present among the members to order the business of the congregation in an orderly manner. The priesthood of each believer so assembled provides this necessary condition of competency.

The second important thing presented in this introduction by Keach is, the statement that Baptist Churches are Congregational in polity. How does he do this? By mentioning the theologians and writings of Congregational churches, Keach begins to set forth the foundation to what will be found in his document upon the subject of church polity. This is important, for those Reformed Baptist ministers of today who deny this while claiming Elder rule, do so against their own document heritage. The Baptists and the Congregationalists were once the same church in England. They did not separate from each other over the doctrine of church government, but over the doctrine of Baptism. So Benjamin Keach has no problem looking to Congregational theologians and what they have to say on the subject of church polity. And who does Keach have in mind when he says the writings of Congregational divines? Foremost in his mind has to be the greatest theologian of the Puritan era, John Owen, who wrote extensively on this subject.

The third important thing found in this introduction is, the assertion that Baptists themselves must have their own well written, mutually agreed upon rule of church order just as do the Congregationalists. Throughout Keach’s document, there is reference made to John Owen and his Church Order. Since the Baptist view of the church is Congregational in nature, Keach’s document will be styled after theirs. This is so the world will know what Baptists believe, not only by their confession, but by their good order and practice in the church. The concern that Benjamin Keach has here is that all members of the church, whether officers or not, will know what rule they are governed by. This of a necessity means there are limitations on Elders; concerning the manner they conduct themselves in their Pastoral duties among Christ’s flock. This is a denial of any idea of unaccountable leadership in the church.

Of the Duty of Church Members to their Pastor

Question. May an elder of one church if called, warrantably administer all ordinances to another?

Answer. No surely; for we find no such warrant for any such practice, he being only ordained pastor or elder of that particular church that chose him, etc. and hath no right or authority to administer as an elder in any other where he is not so much as a member.

Question. May a church call out a teacher that is no ordained elder to administer all ordinances to them?

Answer. You may as well ask, may a church act disorderly? Why were ministers to be ordained, if others unordained might warrantably do all their work? if therefore they have no person fitly qualified for that office, they must look out from abroad for one that is. Yet (as we say) necessity has no law; provided therefore that they can’t do either, it is better their teacher be called to do it, than the church should be without their food, and church ordinances neglected; yet let all Churches take care to organize themselves, and not through covetousness, or neglect of duty, rest incomplete churches, and so under sin. God is the God of order, and not of confusion, in all the churches of the saints. And how fervently did God deal of old with such that meddled with the priests work and office, who were not of the priesthood, nor called by him to administer in holy things![23]

Since Pastors are church members first before assuming office, they are under the churches authority themselves. There is no sense given here in this document that Elders are above the church when it comes to accountability. Why is this so? Because it is the church that chose them, and not they themselves. The church exists as a distinct body with or without Elders, although it is incomplete until calling such. If there are none qualified to be Elders among a particular group of local believers, they have the authority to call someone from outside the assembly. For this not to be the case, Christ would have left His church crippled, paralyzed unless some Elder outside the body come along and exerted his influence upon them against their will.

Benjamin Keach clearly establishes the proper understanding that Baptists are to have concerning authority. Since ministers are members of the church first, essential authority resides with them. The authority ministers have by office is derivative in nature. Their calling by the church is confirmation of their calling by Christ, provided of course, they have the necessary qualifications and character for the calling. The assumption is made that the church possesses all the competency required in order to make this determination. This is important to get. The Pastor by virtue of his calling has authority to lead the congregation before the Lord. But it is a delegated authority, limited by its proper definition. This is why Keach asserts that Elders are not at liberty to administer the sacraments outside of their normal sphere of authority. The reason being for this is they are not an authority unto themselves, but have and exercise it as members in office, among other members of the same church.

Of the Reception of Members

Question. To whom is it members join themselves? Is it to the elder, or to the church?

Answer. They are joined to the whole community of the church, being incorporated as members thereof, and thereto abide, though the pastor be removed by death.[24]

Benjamin Keach expresses a most important, essential truth in this statement about the nature of authority in Christ’s church. The church is of course, the entire body of Christ, both spiritual and visible. But Christ’s people here are organized into individual assemblies, for the purpose of worship and service. Therefore, any group that meets in a particular place as Christians for this purpose, are incorporated as a community of political people. It is political in the sense of having a physical identity, rather than being something merely human in nature. As such, this organization must have its various elements of order, such as a place, a time, and a purpose of operation. This is something that is common to any human organization. The difference here of course, is that Christ has ordained His local assembly as the visible manifestation of the unseen kingdom on earth.

It is the community of believers that Christ’s presence resides in. The office of Pastor is exceedingly important to the organization and order of the church. Keach explains the essential authority of the church gathered in one locality as among the members. This is completely apart from its Pastors. Although the office of an Elder has authority as witnessed by his ordination, he is not the sole authority that exists in the church. The church existed before him, and it exists when he is gone. Christ’s people become members of the local assembly not of the Eldership, certainly, not of a single Elder. Members are to submit to the authority of the church, which of course, includes the Eldership. But whatever submission to its representative head, the Elder, may entail, it is submission to Christ that is in view.

The Power of the Keyes, with Church–Discipline, and Members Duties one to another

2. The power of the keys, or to receive in and to shut out of the congregation, is committed unto the church: The political power of Christ, saith Dr. Chauncy, is in the Church, whereby it exerciseth in the name of Christ, having all lawful rule and government within itself, which he thus proves, viz.

1. The church essential is the first subject of the keys.

3. They have power to organize themselves with officers. Yet I humbly conceive I may add that the concurrence of the presbytery is needful hereunto.

4. If need be that they call an officer from without, or one of another church, they must first admit him as a member, that they may ordain their officer from among themselves.

5. They have power to reject a scandalous pastor from office or membership. This power of Christ is exerted as committed to them by the hands of the elder appointed by Christ, the due management whereof is in and with the church to be his care and trust, as a steward, whereof he is accountable to Christ, and the church, not lording it over God’s heritage. And that the power of the keys is in the church, appears to me from Matt 18: If he will not hear the church, it is not said, if he will not hear the elder, or elders. As also that of the Apostle, in directing the church to call out the incestuous person, he doth not give the counsel to the elder or elders of the church, but to the church; so he commands the church to withdraw from every brother that walks disorderly. Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump.[25]

The subject matter of authority in the church is one that goes far beyond that of choosing a new Elder or Deacon. It goes to the very heart of Christ’s rule upon earth, in the absence of His physical presence that will manifest itself here someday. Benjamin Keach brings forth several points from his church order that all relate to the entire subject of church authority. First, Keach’s mention of Dr. Chauncey is significant, in that he was a successor to John Owen’s church and who advocated vigorously for Congregational church authority. Second, Keach asserts the church has essential authority given it by Christ, which is not derived from any Elder. Third, Keach asserts that biblical Congregational authority does not exist in direct opposition to Elder authority, as though it was some kind of democratically run institution.

The New Testament church model does not envision a contest between these two entities, but rather a harmony in its proper application. Fourth, once again, Elders are chosen by the congregation from someone who dwells among them. Fifth, the congregation has the authority to remove those whom it calls into its midst, through the process of public biblical discipline in cases of sin. Sixth, the Elder(s) is accountable to Christ through the church. Seventh, There is no place for authoritarian Elder rule in Christ’s church. Eighth, Christ gives the keys of authority to His church and not to the Elders (Matt. 18:15-20). Ninth, Elder authority is derived from the church, not from another Elder as is proved by Paul’s letter to the Corinthians on public scandal (I Cor. 5:1-8). Conspicuously absent from his letter is any reference to the Pastor concerning this scandal. Indeed, Paul’s charge of tolerating public sin was directed to the church, bypassing its Elders. Why was this so? Because Elders are church members, under its authority.

Of Church Censures

(2.) Casting out, or excommunicating such that are either guilty of notorious or scandalous crimes, or heresy, etc. or of contemning the authority of the church. Briefly to each of these.

1. Suspension is to be when a member falls under sin, and the church wants time fully to hear the matter, and so can’t withdraw from him, or cast him out.[26]

Benjamin Keach clearly states that the church has exclusive authority in matters of discipline concerning its members. First of all, who or what is the church that Keach makes reference too here? The church according to Scripture is the sum total of all of its members collectively assembled in one location, this is the place in which Christ’s presence dwells. For Benjamin Keach to assert that church authority is made up of the collective priesthood of individual believers so gathered, is to assert this dynamic exists in the church. Jesus Christ manifests His spiritual presence among the organized meeting of His people. Therefore, the authority of the church to discipline its members, is the authority to do all that is necessary in worshiping and serving the Lord. This authority the church has does not end when it comes to selecting and calling its Pastors.

Secondly, Benjamin Keach rightly asserts that the church must be informed of all matters that concern them in their duty to exercise business. A legitimate question can be asked, why would the church be kept in the dark concerning anything it is charged to do by the Lord? Any church business done in secret by Elders is an illegitimate use of their authority. So if it is unethical to censure a member without proper understanding of why, the same is certainly true in matters pertaining to the selection of church officers. It is the gathered church’s business to do both. To blindly assent to a man whom the church has not vetted and approved of beforehand, someone put before them in ignorance, would be like disciplining a member without knowing the reason why.

Of private Offenses of one Brother against another

(3.) But if he will not hear them after all due means and admonitions used, then it must be brought to the church; and if he will not hear the church, he must be cast out: The elder is to put the question, whether the offending brother be in their judgments incorrigible, and refuseth to hear the church; which passing in the affirmative by the vote of the congregation, or the majority of the brethren by the lifting up of their hands, or by their silence; the pastor after calling upon God, and opening the nature of the offense, and the justness of their proceedings, in the name and by the authority of Christ, pronounces the sentence of excommunication to this effect. That A.B. being guilty of great iniquity, and not manifesting unfeigned repentance, but refusing to hear the church, I do in the name, and by the authority of Christ committed unto me as a pastor of this his church, pronounce and declare that he is to be, and is hereby excommunicated, excluded or cast out of the congregation, and no longer to be owned a brother, or a member of this church; and this for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. And this we believe is the substance of that which the apostle calls a delivering up to Satan, he being cast into the world, which is called the kingdom of Satan, where he rules and reigns. “The delivery unto Satan (saith Dr. Chauncy) signifies only the solemn exclusion of a person from the communion of the church, the visible Kingdom of Christ, and disenfranchising him, or divesting him of all visible rights to church privileges, casting him into the kingdom of the world, where the Prince of Darkness rules in the children of disobedience. And this being done, he is to be esteemed to be no better than an heathen man, or publican, or as an evil person, and not to have so much as intimate civil communion withal.”[27]

There is no business of the church whatsoever that might be undertaken by an Elder, without the direct approval and participation of the Congregation. Here, in this document regarding church discipline, Benjamin Keach rightly asserts that judgement of a matter deserving church discipline is to be that of the congregations. Indeed, the Elders are to superintend the meeting that takes place when discipline is administered, for that is the proper function and authority of their office. And certainly, an Elders judgement in these matters is active and operative as well. But Keach makes it clear in this place that church discipline is not simply a formal rubber stamp to decisions made by Elders. No, church discipline is carried out by the assembled church as a matter of scrutiny, judgement and official pronouncement. The fact that Keach mentions a congregational vote as to the adjudication of the matter, suggests that it is one that involves church discussion, as well as information sharing. There is no such thing as a behind closed door action on the part of an Elder in the matter.

Keach’s agreement with Congregational polity in this regard, is once again acknowledged in his repeated deferral to Dr. Chuancey the Congregational Pastor, in matters of church authority. The issue at hand in this section of the church order is the reception or rejection of a church member. When a church admits someone into its midst as a member, they invite them into fellowship and participation within the franchise of the organization. This is a far cry from the mentality today which says every believer is an independent agent, loosely associated with whomever and wherever they choose at any given moment. No, the church is an organization with specific order and discipline. The church officers serve as the official heads and ministers of this organization. But they possess no authority of their own to admit or reject members. This is the duty and responsibility of the church.

So what then does this have to do with choosing Pastors? It is simply this. The judgement of the assembled church is necessary to all business that is undertaken in its name. The admittance of members involves the scrutiny of the assembly of a prospective member concerning their profession of faith and public character. The same judgement is to be employed where a matter of discipline of one of the members arises. For to them, not the Elders, are the duty and authority of censure given by Christ. Likewise, the matter fo choosing and calling men to the ministry involve the same process of judgement on the part of the assembled church. This does not set aside many other levels of activity that may come into view concerning it. Certainly, it is conceivable that private conversation and investigation may take place in this and other important church matters along the way. But the final disposition of a matter is the business of the church.

Of dealing with Heretics and Blasphemers

Question. What is a church admonition?

Answer. When an offending brother rejecting private admonition by one, or by two or three persons, the complaint being brought to the church by elder, the offending member is rebuked and exhorted in the name of the Lord Jesus to due repentance; and if convicted, and he repents, the church forgives him, otherwise casts him out, as I before shewed.[28]

Church admonition does not happen without or apart from the church. No business is legitimately done without this procedure being respected. The importance of due process cannot be understated. Were a member to be dealt with without the due process of Matt. 18, it would be illegitimate. The same is true of selecting church officers. An Elder may recommend anything to the church by way of discipline, candidates for office, or any other matter that concerns it. For an Elder to expect submission to his recommendation without information or due process, is for him to assume authority that Christ has not given him, but rests securely within the congregation itself.

Question. How ought a pastor to be dealt withal, if he to the knowledge of the church, or any member thereof, walketh disorderly, and unworthy to his sacred office, and membership? Take the answer of another author here.

Answer. “Those members, to whom this is manifestly known, ought to go to him privately, and unknown to any others, (and with the spirit of meekness, in great humility) lay his evil before him, and entreat him as a father, and not rebuke him as their equal, much less as their inferior; and if they gain upon him, then to receive him into their former affections and esteem, forever hiding it from all others. But if after all tender entreaties, he prove refractory and obstinate, then to bring him before the church, and there to deal with him; they having two or three witnesses in the face of the church, to testify matter of fact against him to their personal knowledge.” “2. But before he be dealt with they must appoint one from among themselves, qualified for the work of a pastor, to execute the church censure against him, etc. Yet no doubt, the church may suspend him from communion, and exercising of his office presently, upon his being fully convicted. But seeing in the multitude of counsel there is safety, sure no church would so proceed without the advise of the presbytery, or a sister-church at least.”[29]

Because a Pastor is a member of the church and a sinner too, he also is subject to church discipline. This is the historic Baptist position as expressed in Keach’s Church Order. First, church members have the right and duty to confront sinning Elders privately, as it is laid down in Matt. 18 by Christ. Second, Elders hold a highly esteemed office, and therefore, should be treated as such (I Tim. 5:19). Keach does not put forth anything resembling an attitude of democratic manhandling in his assertion of congregational church principles. The fact is, however, that Pastor’s do sin, and often use their office to insulate themselves from church admonition. The Reformed Baptists historically recognized this reality, and made provision for it in their church documents. It is important to observe here in Keach’s treatment of the matter, that the authority of both Pastor and congregation is taken into account. Third, the matter of disciplining anyone, let alone an Elder, should be done by the congregation through the use of and normal participation of Elders. Fourth, the church is to appoint an Elder to do this.

Suppose the sinning Pastor is a sole Elder, something which Scripture does not set forth as ordinary, what are they to do? Then the church is to seek the council of an Eldership outside of their own church. But only if there is no Elder to choose from among themselves. The congregation has authority in itself to do these things. Not only does it have the authority, but the duty to do it as well. No church congregation is bound to follow the advice of a council outside of itself. But it is bound to both call, and discipline if necessary it’s church officer. Keach says nothing about Elders being exempt from church discipline. If Elders are subject to church discipline, they do not have authority by themselves to choose and call other Elders to rule over the church.

Of such that cause Divisions; or unduly Separate themselves from the Church

This I find is asserted by all Congregational Divines, or worthy men, i.e. That no person hath power to dismember himself: i.e. He cannot, without great sin, translate himself from one church to another; but ought to have a dismission from that church where he is a member provided that church is orderly constituted, nothing being wanting as to any essential of salvation; or of church communion; But if not, yet he ought to endeavor to get his orderly dismission. Nor is every small difference in some points of religion, (or notions of the little moment,) any grounds for him to decide his dissmission. That he cannot, nor ought not to translate himself, see what a reverend writer saith: “He cannot, saith he, for many reasons:[30]

If the Reformed Baptist church from a historical perspective is considered to be one of absolute Elder rule, then why did its chief authority on proper church order consult and concur with Congregational Divines? The answer should be obvious, the historic Reformed Baptist church is congregational in nature. This is true even though it upholds Elder authority as true also from Scripture, which it is. As a congregational church, Reformed Baptist congregations should choose it’s Elders by popular consent, not as an Episcopal church does according to clerical succession.

2. Benjamin Griffith[31]

A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church[32]

Philadelphia Baptist Association 1743

Before there can be any orderly discipline among a Christian assembly, they must be orderly constituted into a church state, according to the institution of Christ in the Gospel.

6. A number of believers thus united under Christ their mystical head, are become a church essential; and as such is the first and proper subject of the keys, and have power and privilege to govern themselves, and to choose out their own ministerial officers, Acts 14:23. and 6:3.[33]

This Church Order document of Benjamin Griffith was attached to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, which is the American version of the Second London Confession. Griffith wastes no time in asserting the nature of a Baptist congregation’s authority to choose and call it’s own officers. Griffith rightly joins Acts 14:23 and Acts 6:3 together, just like the confession does, as a single Scriptural formula in doing this. It is important to understand that what the Elders did in ordaining Elders in the churches was exactly what was done in the Jerusalem church in choosing Deacons. The congregation chose from among them those whom they put before the Apostles for ordination. It is also important to understand that this process is essential to the integrity of the independent congregation. Christ confers His power in the form of the keys to do this very thing. The idea that an Elder or Elders perform this function on their own is repugnant to the mind of Christ.

Concerning Ministers, &c.

1. A church thus constituted, is not yet completed, while wanting such ministerial helps, as Christ hath appointed for its growth and well-being; and wanting elders and deacons to officiate among them. Men, they must be, that are qualified for the work; their qualifications are plainly and fully set down in holy Scripture, I Tim. 3:2––7. Titus 4:5––10. all which must be found in them, in some good degree, and it is the duty of the church to try the persons, by the rule of the word.[34]

Benjamin Griffith charges the congregation in his church order with the duty of vetting potential Pastors. The Scriptural qualifications cited from First Timothy and Titus presuppose this very thing by what is said in them. For instance, how can a man’s conduct in the home which Paul gives as a standard of behavior in office, be known to the church without their prior scrutiny of him? Certainly, a man could come from another congregation for consideration of the ministry, based upon a recommendation from his former church. Concerning the process, there is no doubt that any Elders which are already present among them have some input in this matter. As a church has essential authority in and of itself by Christ’s commission (Matt. 20:18-20), it is capable of doing this if there is no other Elder called at the time of such proving.

2. A church being destitute of ministerial helps may, after mature and often deliberate consultation, and serious prayers to God, pitch upon some person or persons in particular, giving him or them a solemn invitation to the work of the ministry upon trial; and if such accept of the church’’s call, let such be upon trial, to see if such fear God, make godliness their business, and be addicted to the work of the ministry, seeking to further the interest of Christ and the edification of his people in sound and wholesome doctrine; and to see if any vices or immorality appear in their advances, I Cor. 16. Phil. 2:20, 21. Read the qualifications in I Tim.

And in case a church should call a person to be their minister who is a member of some sister church, and he accept their call to be their minister, he must in the first place give himself a member with the church so calling him, that so they may choose him among themselves, as Acts 6:3.[35]

Benjamin Griffith points out that a church may find itself without a plurality of, or even one Elder. Certainly, a group of believers that seek to constitute themselves as an independent local church would be in this situation. Should this be the case, Christ empowers them through His word to choose and call some or many men who are qualified for this task. Griffith asserts that it is the congregation, and not any pastor on his own, who invites a man to this work. Griffith also asserts it is the congregation who puts such a man on trial to prove his calling, after examining and receiving him into membership. The idea that ministers are chosen by other ministers, as some sort of succession made from above is nowhere to be found in this historic document of the Reformed Baptists. It is an ordinary calling, given to ordinary men of proven character.

3. After having taken all due care to choose one for the work of the ministry, they are, by and with the unanimous consent or suffrage of the church, to proceed to his ordination; which is a solemn setting apart of such a person for the sacred function, in this wise, by setting apart a day of fasting and prayer, Acts 13:2,3. the whole church being present, he is to have the hands of the presbytery of that church, or of neighboring elders called and authorized by that church, whereof such a person is a member, solemnly laid upon him, I Tim. 5:22. Titus 1:5. Acts 14:23. 1 Tim. 4:14. and thus such a person is to be recommended into the work of the Lord, and to take particular care of the flock of whom he is thus chosen, Acts 20:28.[36]

Benjamin Griffith makes the assertion here that first, it is church members who are given the care of choosing Elders. Second, they are to call that one they have chosen by unanimous congregational consent. In other words, a democratic vote is taken. Third, ordination is a ceremony which confirms the Lord’s choice through the congregation of the man they have called. Fourth, the possibility that a church may not already have an Elder to officiate at this ordination is anticipated, by the fact that neighboring Elders is mentioned by Griffith if this is the case. Fifth, the authority in all of this is clearly set forth in God’s word as residing within the church by reason of their gathering in His name. Sixth, it is Christ’s flock who chooses their own human shepherd to rule over them. This is because human rule is never absolute, but delegated authority under God.

Of the Communion of Churches

Every particular congregational church incorporated by and according to the institution of Christ in the Gospel, and duly organized according to the pattern of the primitive churches, hath sufficient power from Christ to call and ordain its own officers; so that no man, or set of men, have authority to choose officers for them, or impose any officers on them, without their previous knowledge and voluntary consent, Acts 6:3. Deacons are to be chosen by the multitude, Acts 14:23. Elders were ordained in every church by election or suffrage of the church ; and every particular church, as such, assembled with her proper elders, hath sufficient power to receive members, Acts 2:41. Romans 14:7. And in the exercise of any acts of discipline, such a church being convened with her own officers or elders in the name of Christ, may act according to gospel rule in any case, even to excommunicate such members as are found to be obstinate in disorders, or heretical in principles, after due admonition, or such as are guilty of gross and scandalous immoralities in conversation, &c. independent on any other church power superior to itself, or higher judicatory lodged in any man or any set of men, by any institution of Christ: and therefore, the elders of a church, meeting in the absence of the members, or convened with the elders of other churches, are not intrusted with a power to act for a church in admission of members, ordination, or censures, &c. and it is the duty of such a church to admonish any of her members or officers, their teacher or pastor, Colossians 4:17. and exclude any too, when their crimes require, according to the rule of the Gospel.[37]

Benjamin Griffith shows here that the congregational church model is one which accords with the New Testament pattern of the church. Such as a church as this is invested with power from Christ to perform every function and purpose prescribed by Him in His word. These functions include the choosing and calling of the church’s officers and members. It also includes the censuring and dismissal if necessary, of church members and officers. There is no power or authority apart from the collective church, when it comes to these tasks which have been entrusted by Christ to them to perform. Elders in a biblical, Congregational, Reformed Baptist church do not comprise some sort of private consistory outside of the church which acts according to its own dictates apart from the knowledge and consent of its members.

And forasmuch as it falls out many times that particular churches have to do with doubtful and difficult matters, or differences in point of doctrine or administration, like the church of Antioch of old, wherein either of the churches in general are concerned, or any one church in their peace, union or edification; or any member or members of a church are injured, in or by any proceeding in censures not agreeable to gospel rule and order; it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, should meet by their messengers and delegates to consider of and to give advice in or about such matters in difference; and their sentiments to be reported to all the churches concerned; and such messengers and delegates convened in the name of Christ, by the voluntary consent of the several churches in such mutual communion, may declare and determine of the mind of the Holy Ghost revealed in Scripture, concerning things in difference; and may decree the observation of things that are true and necessary, because revealed and appointed in the Scripture. And the churches will do well to receive, own and observe such determinations, on the evidence and authority of the mind of the Holy Ghost in them, as in Acts 15:29. Yet such delegates thus assembled, are not intrusted or armed with any coercive power, or any superior jurisdiction over the churches concerned, so as to impose their determinations on them or their officers, under the penalty of excommunication, or the like.——See the Confession, Chap. 26. §§14,15. See also Dr. Owen On the Nature of the Gospel Church, Chap. 11, and Dr Goodwin, Vol. IV. Chap. 8,9,10. &c. Of the Government of the Churches of Christ.[38]

Benjamin Griffith, just like Benjamin Keach, wholeheartedly embraced congregational polity and authority in their church order documents produced for Baptist churches. Such a polity as this is dependant upon the proper understanding of the priesthood of the believer, coming together as one body to seek the mind of Christ in all things. Nowhere in, this American Reformed Baptist church order document is there found the concept of Episcopalian, or even Presbyterian church polity and authority. The church documents written by both these men defer to the great Congregational divines in England, through their writings, to assert their own agreement with them in all matters of church government. The reason for this is obvious. The historic Reformed Baptist church those modern Reformed Baptists claim as their heritage, were Congregationalists. As such, they followed the same biblical principles as the Congregationalists did in their churches.

3. Dagg’s Church Manual[39]

Section IV.–Church Officers


The churches should choose, from among the ministers of the word, bishops or pastors to teach and rule them.[40]

Since the obedience of churches cannot be coerced, no one can begin or continue the exercise of spiritual rule over them, but at their will. Hence their bishops must be persons of their own choice. The apostles, though all collected at Jerusalem, and invested with full power from on high to do all that appertained to their office, did not appoint even the inferior officers of the church until after they had been chosen by the whole multitude of the disciples. In this procedure they recognized and established the right of the churches to elect their own officers. Even the appointment of an apostle to take the place of Judas appears to have been made by popular vote: and much more ought that of bishops over the several churches. The Greek word rendered ordain in Acts xiii. 48, signifies to stretch out the hand, and is supposed to refer to the mode of popular election by the lifting up of the hand; but, whether this criticism be just or not, the proof that church officers were so elected is sufficient without the aid of this passage.[41]


Deacons should be chosen by the churches, from among their members, to minister in secular affairs.

By apostolic direction, the church at Jerusalem chose from among themselves seven men, honest, and of good report, who were appointed to serve tables.

The mode of appointment should conform to the example of the first church. The persons should be chosen by popular vote, and invested with office by ministerial ordination.[42]

4. J. M. Pendleton, Church Manual[43]

Chapter II

Officers of a Church

It cannot be said that officers are essential to the existence of a church, for a church must exist before it can appoint its officers.

Both John Dagg and James Madison Pendleton were Calvinistic Baptists in the SBC before its historic downward slide toward a crass, democratic church polity under EY Mullins, in the beginning of the twentieth century. Mullins redefined the Puritan concept of the term “Priesthood of the believer” to mean something other than what it once meant. The biblical doctrine of the priesthood of the believer is the ground for church authority in the selection of Elders (I Pet. 2:4-9; Rev. 1:4-6). This understanding of priesthood was the impetus for the overthrow of Papal authority at the Reformation. Those Elders today who claim that they alone choose Elders, seek to reestablish that form of Episcopacy that our spiritual forefathers rejected. The statements that John Dagg made are especially relevant in this matter. The reason being is that the former Trinity Ministerial Academy Pastoral Theology course taught by Pastor Al Martin, held up this Church Manual as a primary source of teaching on the doctrine of the church and its ministry for Baptists.


The conclusion reached from an examination of the material presented, is that the modern day Reformed Baptist concept of choosing Elders while bypassing the congregation, does not conform to the collective opinion of its founding fathers. The modern day Reformed Baptist method of choosing Elders which is in agreement with Ted Bigelow’s book The Titus Mandate, is not consistent with the view of prominent commentators on the texts of Scripture cited in the London and Philadelphia Baptist confessions on this subject. The conclusion which has been reached by examining the foregoing material, suggests that there is a serious problem which exists in the modern Reformed Baptist movement. The issue of choosing Elders in an unbiblical manner seriously affects the integrity and overall authority which Christ confers on His local churches. It is one reason which provides some explanation for why the Reformed Baptist church as an institution is in serious decline.


[1] The 1644 London Baptist Confession of Faith is the first of several written during the seventeenth century. Seven churches participated in the formation of the confession. Out of this number, six were Calvinistic and one was not. Discussion about this led to a revision of the Confession in 1646 that was more expressive of the differences and which also led to a separation of the two groups. The heritage that came from the first and subsequent London Confessions is known as the Particular Baptists, due primarily, to their position on Calvinism and church polity. The second group was known as General Baptists.

[2] The 1644 London Baptist Confession of Faith (Revised 1646) p.13, found on the Baptist Studies Online website http://www.baptiststudiesonline.com.

[3] A comparison chart of this and the first (1644) and revised (1646) LBC can be found on the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry website http://www.baptistcenter.net.

[4] The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith was written in 1677 and adopted by the Particular Baptists at the general assembly which met in London, 1689. This date is due to the Act of Toleration becoming the law of the land in England, thereby ending religious persecution of the Baptists at the hand of the civil authorities. It is also called the Second London Confession. The most notable thing about this confession is its similarity to the Westminster and Savoy confessions. It was styled after the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists, just as the First London Confession was after the True Confession of Faith. See a Tabular Comparison of 1646 WCF, 1658 Savoy Declaration, the 1677/1689 LBCF at the Analogical Thoughts website http://www.proginosko.com.

[5] The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith pp.35,36, is found on The Voice of the Reformation website http://www.vor.org.

[6] John Calvin (1509-1564) the French minister of the church at Geneva is recognized by Reformed Baptists as the father and source of their theological heritage. Calvin’s Presbyterianism is largely shared by Reformed Baptists, albeit in an independent, non denominational form

[7] Commentary on Acts – Volume 1, by John Calvin, p.137. Edited by Henry Beveridge, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI http://www.ccel.org.

[8] Commentary on Acts – Volume 2, by John Calvin, pp.22,23. Edited by Henry Beveridge, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI http://www.ccel.org.

[9] John Gill (1697-1771) was a notable English Baptist Pastor, Scholar and Theologian. Gill was learned in both Hebrew and Greek and therefore, eminently qualified to explain the meaning of these texts in Acts.

[10] An Exposition of the New Testament, Volume 5-Acts, by John Gill, pp.145,146. PDF Version available on the Grace Ebook Library website http://www.grace-books.com.

[11] Ibid. pp.148,149.

[12] Ibid. p.384.

[13] Matthew Henry (1662-1714) was an English Nonconformist minister and author. Born the same year as the ejection by Charles II under the Act of Uniformity, he was the son of another Nonconformist minister, Philip Henry. His father Philip was ejected along with two thousand other men who refused to conform to the requirements of the Anglican church, in exchange for a license to preach.

[14] Commentary on the Whole Bible Vol. 6 Acts-Revelation, by Matthew Henry, p.118, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, MI http://www.ccel.org.

[15] Ibid. p.120.

[16] Ibid. p.294.

[17] Benajah Harvey Carroll (1843-1914) was a Southern Baptist Pastor, theologian, teacher, and author.

[18] An Interpretation of the English Bible, Volume 12 Acts, by B.H. Carroll, pp.156,157. Edited by J. B. Cranfill, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. New and complete edition Copyright 1948, Broadman Press, Reprinted by Baker Book House with permission of Broadman Press.

[19] Ibid. p.158.

[20] Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) was a Particular Baptist Pastor in London who signed the 1689 LBC. He is noted for being the author of the Baptist Catechism (1695), and the Baptist Church Order (1697). Keach also had the distinction of being the first of a succession of notable ministers, all in the same London church, the New Park Street Church. Those who followed him there were John Gill, John Rippon and Charles Spurgeon. Benjamin Keach was the author of numerous other books too.

[21] See POLITY A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents, Edited by Mark Dever, Copyright ©©2001 Center for Church Reform, p.63.

[22] Ibid. p.64.

[23] Ibid. p.69.

[24] Ibid. p.70.

[25] Ibid. p.71.

[26] Ibid. p.71.

[27] Ibid. pp.73,74.

[28] Ibid. p.76.

[29] Ibid. p.77.

[30] Ibid. p.78.

[31] Benjamin Griffith (1688-1768) was an American Baptist Pastor and author who wrote the Church Order appended to the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith, in 1743. The Philadelphia Confession was identical to the 1689 LBC except for two additional chapters, one on Psalm singing and the other on the laying on of hands.

[32] See POLITY A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents, Edited by Mark Dever, Copyright ©©2001 Center for Church Reform, p.95.

[33] Ibid. p.96.

[34] Ibid. p.96

[35] Ibid. p.97.

[36] Ibid. p.97.

[37] Ibid. pp.110,111.

[38] Ibid. p.112.

[39] Manual of Theology Vol. 2, by John L. Dagg. The Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858.

A Treatise on Church Order.

[40] Ibid. p.237.

[41] Ibid. p.239.

[42] Ibid. p.240.

[43] Church Manual Designed for the use of Baptist Churches, by J.M. Pendleton. The Judson Press, Philadelphia. Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by the American Baptist Publication Society. In the Clerk’s Office of the United States District Court in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. See online at The Reformed Reader website http://www.reformedreader.org.


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