Friday, 3 January 2014

A Catechism on the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1849)

NOTE: I have changed the Bible quotations to ESV throughout and noted where this differs substantially from the KJV. I have also adopted British spelling rather than the American English of the original.

The original can be found at the Internet Archive and Open Library, which will even send a copy to your Kindle.

A Catechism on the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1849)
“Make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out.” (ESV)



The Compilers of this Catechism do not publish it in an unkind spirit towards Christians of other denominations, nor with the view of provoking controversy, but for the following reasons : —

1. In these days of conflicting opinions they deem it a matter of essential importance to the Presbyterian Church, that her members, and especially the rising generation, be thoroughly instructed in their peculiar and distinguishing principles.

2. They regard as unscriptural, and therefore erroneous the opinions which many are disposed to advocate — that no particular form of Church government and discipline is of Divine institution, and that Churches may adopt whatever form seems to them most expedient.

3. They believe that the glory of Christ, the extension of his kingdom, and the salvation of souls, are infinitely connected with the faithful administration of his ordinances and laws, according to the form of government which he has instituted in his word.

4. And that they are persuaded is the Presbyterian form.


Question 1. What is meant by the Church of Christ?

Answer. Either the whole body of his redeemed people, or the whole body of professing Christians on earth, and their children.

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might present the church to himself in splendour.”  Eph 5:25, 27

“For the promise is for you and for your children .  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:29, 47

Q. 2. How is the Church, in this general sense, usually distinguished?

A. Into the invisible and the visible Church : the former, comprising the whole body of God's saints in heaven and on earth :

“The assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.”  Heb 12:23

and the latter, the whole body of those who make an open profession of the truth as it is in Jesus.

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write - yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my name - you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam - which I hate”  Rev 2: 12-15 (Note alternative reading “which I hate.”)

Q. 3. Is the Greek word (ecclesia) translated Church in the Scriptures, confined to these two meanings ?

A. No. It is used in various senses. It signifies, —

(1.) Any general assembly, or congregation of people.

“For the assembly (ecclesia) was in confusion.”  Acts 19:32

(2.) An assembled council, either of civil judges,

But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. “ (ecclesia)  Acts 19:39

Or of ecclesiastical rulers.

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  (ecclesia) Matt 18:17

The Church consists of rulers and ruled, Heb. 13: 17. And according to the order of all well-regulated societies, complaints are laid before the rulers. It was so in the synagogues of the Jewish Church ; and, therefore, as spoken by our Lord, and understood by hisdisciples, the word Church in this verse will mean the rulers.

(3.) Any particular congregation of Christians.

“And the church in her house.” Col 4:15

 (4.) Several congregations or churches considered as one body under the same general judicature.

“To the church of God that is in Corinth” 1 Cor 1:2; compared with 14: 34, the women should keep silent in the churches”

Also, the Church which was at Jerusalem, Acts 8: 1, compared with 21:20, how many thousands, (or, as in the original myriads.) A myriad is ten thousand. Many myriads must have made many congregations in Jerusalem, — all called the Church, under the jurisdiction of the apostles and elders,  Acts 15:6, and 16:4.

Q. 4. Is it a matter of indifference to what Church we belong?

A. No. It is our duty to join and adhere to that Church which is most agreeable to the Holy Scriptures in its doctrines, constitutions, forms, and discipline.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” 1 John 4:1

“But test everything; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thess 5:21

Q. 5. Has the Christian Church, as a visible society, a form of government peculiar to itself?

A. Yes. It is a kingdom having laws enjoined by Christ, and its members consist of the rulers and the ruled.

“My kingdom is not of this world” John 18:36

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.” Heb 13:17

Q. 6. Where do we find the ordinances and laws by which it is governed?

A. In the word of God alone.

“To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” Is 8:20 (KJV , “Because they have no light in them”)

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.” Rev 22:18

Q. 7. What is the form of Church government which is founded on and most agreeable to the word of God?

A. That which is called the Presbyterian form. It is so called from the word Presbyter, signifying Elder, which is the usual scriptural name for the rulers of the Church.

Q. 8. What are the general and leading principles of this form of Church government?

A. The supreme Headship of the Lord Jesus Christ; the official equality of its Ministers ; the distinct office of Ruling Elder ; with the ministerial authority, and judicial subordination of Church

Q. 9. What is meant by the supreme Headship of Christ?

A. That He, and He alone, is the King and Head of the Church, and that no other person or persons have any authority to decree rites and ceremonies, or institute offices in the Church.

“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Ps 2:6

“Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:3

“Even as Christ is the head of the church” Eph 5:23

 “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matt 28:20

Q. 10. How many kinds of office-bearers did Christ appoint in his Church?

A. Two kinds — extraordinary and ordinary officers.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.”  Eph 4:11; or “the shepherd-teachers”

Q. 11. What were the extraordinary?

A. Persons endowed with supernatural gifts, and extraordinary authority; as apostles, evangelists, prophets.

Q. 12. For what purpose were they appointed?

A. To make known the will of Christ, settle the constitution of the Church agreeably thereto, and commit the administration of it to ordinary and permanent officers.

“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.”
Titus 1:5

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Tim 2:2

Q. 13. Had they any successors as extra-ordinary officers?

A. No. We do not read of any having been appointed or ordained to succeed them in their higher office as apostles, evangelists, or prophets.

“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church.” Acts 14:23

Q. 14. What are the ordinary Church-officers appointed by Christ?

A. Presbyters or elders, (called also bishops or overseers), and deacons.

“Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” Acts 20:17

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” Philip 1:1

Q. 15. What is meant by the pastors of the Church?

A. The presbyters or elders, who teach as well as rule.

Q. 16. Are any of these possessed of superior rank and authority in the Church above the others?

A. No. They are all of the same order and of equal authority.

Q. 17. Are not bishops an order of ministers distinct from and superior to presbyters or elders?

A. They are not. Bishop is only another name for the presbyter or elder.

Q. 18. How does this appear?

A. (1.) Bishops are not called in any part of the New Testament by any peculiar title to distinguish them from presbyters — none are constituted prelates, or lords over God's heritage; but on the contrary, bishop or overseer, and presbyter or elder, are applied to the same persons. Thus in Acts 20:17, those are called "elders," who are afterwards in the 28th verse called "overseers" that is
bishops; as the Greek word episcopoi denotes.

(2.) Nowhere in Scripture are there imposed on bishops duties or powers distinct from those of presbyters; nowhere are their qualifications stated to be different. Thus the apostle reminds Titus,
“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” Tit 1:5

In the next verse he specifies their qualifications as elders; and in the 7th verse, in enumerating these qualifications, he says, a
bishop must be blamneless, etc.

(3.) While the two titles are thus applied to the very same persons — presbyter referring to the rank, bishop to the duties of both — these persons are equal in all respects ; the only material difference that is discoverable being, that a higher degree of honour is to be conceded to those among them, who teach as well as rule.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.” 1 Tim 5:17. See also 1 Cor 12:28

(4.) All pastors derive their office and authority from Christ, by the same commission, and in the same words.

“And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15

(5.) Since, then, all those who are called presbyters, are also called bishops; and those who are addressed as bishops, are also addressed as presbyters ; since the same rank, powers, qualifications, and duties, are connected with both of these designations, it is manifest that they are not separate classes or orders, but one and the same. Therefore the presbyter is the only scriptural bishop.

Q. 1 9. What sort of officers were Timothy and Titus?

A. They were extraordinary and itinerant officers.

“Do the work of an evangelist. “ 2 Tim 4:5

“As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit.” 2 Cor 8:23

“I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him.” 2 Cor 12:18

Q. 20. Does the word angel, as used in reference to the seven churches of Asia, in Revelations, designate an officer superior to the presbyter?

A. The word signifies merely a messenger, and may be applied to the teaching elder, or it may be taken to designate the moderator of the presbytery as the organ of communication; or it may signify the pastors of the churches in a collective capacity.

Some of you, that you, etc.; among you. Rev. 2:8, 10, 13

Q. 21. What is required in a man, to warrant his being ordained to the ministry?

A. He should be renewed by the Holy Spirit; persuaded in his own mind that he is called to the work of the ministry ; resolved to endure hardship as a soldier of Christ ; sound in the faith ;blameless and holy in the habits of his life ; possess such measure of knowledge, human and divine, as may qualify him to answer the gainsayer; and such gifts of utterance as may enable him to edify the church.

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim 1:13

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  2 Tim 2:2

For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Tit 1:7, 8

“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”  Matt 13:52

Q. 22. Who has authority to ordain to offices in the Church?

A. A presbytery or plurality of elders.

“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.”  1 Tim 4:14

“These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” Acts 6:6

Q. 23. Is there any other permanent office in the Church but that of teaching?

A. There is also the office of ruling.
“Greet all your leaders and all the saints.”  Heb 13:24

Q. 24. To whom does it belong to exercise this office?

A. To the presbyters or elders.

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.”  Acts 15:6

“As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.”  Acts 16:4

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour.” 1 Tim 5:17

Q. 25. How many classes of Elders are there?

A. Two — the Teaching Elder, and the Ruling Elder.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.”  1 Tim 5:17

“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating.” 1 Cor 12:28

Q. 26. Are these to be regarded as distinct orders of office-bearers, possessing different degrees of authorit?

A. No. They are to be regarded as occupying different departments of the same general office, and of equal authority, as rulers of the Church.

Q. 27. Why are they thus distinguished?

A. Because the one class is ordained not only to rule, but also to teach, and the other to rule, as their distinctive duty.

Q. 28. What is the general duty of the Ruling Elders?

A. To act along with the Pastor, as  helps and governments in overseeing the Church, in exercising discipline and rule, and visiting the families and sick members for exhortation and prayer.

I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you”  1 Peter 5:1,2

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him.” James 5:14

Q. 29. Is it a part of the Deacon's office to teach or rule in the Church?

A. No. Deacons are not spoken of anywhere in Scripture, in connexion with these duties.

Q. 30. For what duty were they appointed?

A. To manage the temporal affairs of the Church, and especially to attend to the wants of the poor, in order that the apostles or
teachers might give themselves continually to the ministry of the word, Acts 6:1 -4.

Q. 31. Did not Philip, who was a Deacon, teach and baptize?

A. Philip became an Evangelist, and as such, had authority to teach and baptize.

“On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist” Acts 21:8

Q. 32. Have the members of Churches the
right of choosing their own pastors and other office-bearers?

A. Yes. Churches have this privilege in common with all other free societies.

“And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen” Acts 6:6

And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace…” 2 Cor 8:19

Q. 33. How should Christians discharge this duty?

A. In a spirit of meekness, humility, peace, and prayer, with a supreme regard to the glory of Christ, and the spiritual interests of
the Church, without partiality, or respect of persons.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Phil 2:3

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10:31.

(To be continued...)

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