Books on Presbyterian Polity
Danny E. Olinger
The lead articles by Stephen Doe and Larry Wilson in this issue deal with submission to leadership, or office, in the church. If you are interested in reading more about church government, here is a brief annotated survey of some books by Presbyterian authors. This listing is not definitive or exhaustive, nor is it intended to favor one stream of thought within the Presbyterian tradition.
Order in the Offices, edited by Mark Brown (Classic Presbyterian Government Resources, 1993). The push of two-office Plymouth Brethren (elders and deacons, but no preaching office or ministers of the Word) motivated OP pastor Mark Brown to edit classic articles and to organize new articles articulating the three-office view of the nineteenth-century Presbyterians Charles Hodge and Thomas Smyth. This symposium, now a text at several Reformed seminaries, has essays by these current and past OPC and PCA ministers: Steven Miller, Robert W. Eckardt, Charles Dennison, Jack Kinneer, Leonard Coppes, Greg Reynolds, Jeffrey Boer, Robert Rayburn, and Edmund Clowney. Particularly valuable is Clowney’s biblical-theological study distinguishing the gift of rule from the gift of preaching. Included also is Smyth’s Ecclesiastical Catechism, which clearly defines and distinguishes the offices of the church in a practical question-and-answer format.
Elders of the Church, by Lawrence Eyres (P&R, 1975). Originally appearing as a series of articles in the Presbyterian Guardian, this book is a practical and popular exposition of eldership by the late Lawrence Eyres, one of the founding fathers in the OPC. He develops six main propositions, among which are the beliefs that elders are made by the Holy Spirit of Christ and that they hold the key to the health of the congregations under their rule. He argues for the two-office position, maintaining that there are distinctions of labor within the office of elder, but that the office itself is but one. However, he distinguishes his view from the Plymouth Brethren position. He declares that the teaching elder alone has the right and responsibility of the pulpit.
The Church of God: An Essential Element of the Gospel, by Stuart Robinson (out of print). A nineteenth-century Southern Presbyterian, Robinson puts forth a defense of Presbyterianism from the vantage points of the eternal decree, redemptive history, and the threefold office of Christ. The church would be well served if a Reformed publishing house made this wonderfully instructive book available again.
Paradigms in Polity, edited by David Hall and Joseph Hall (Eerdmans, 1994). Combining primary documents and articles, Hall and Hall have put together in this book a collection of essays and chapters from important works. One of the most significant chapters is a reprinting of Thomas Witherow’s The Apostolic Church: Which Is it? Witherow argues for the Presbyterian form of government as biblical over against independent systems and hierarchical systems.
Church Polity, by Charles Hodge (Westminster Publishing House, 2002). Recently reissued, this volume contains Hodge’s teaching on the subject of church polity. OP minister Alan Strange writes in the preface that Hodge saw the genius of Presbyterianism as consisting in a form of government that is neither hierarchical, as in episcopacy, nor egalitarian, as in congregationalism. Clergy rule in the episcopal system; the laity rule in the congregational system. In the Presbyterian system, members of the clergy (ministers) are joined with rulers of the people (elders) in the governing of the church.
Pressing toward the Mark, edited by Charles G. Dennison and Richard Gamble (Committee for the Historian, 1986). Included in this collection of essays from OP and PCA pastors and elders are numerous articles on Presbyterian polity. Among the most noteworthy is George Knight’s "Two Offices and Two Orders of Elders." Knight puts forth an argument for the two-office position. He argues that the New Testament uses only two titles for church officers, but describes officers by way of three functions—teaching, ruling, and serving. His solution is that there are two titles for church officers, elders (or bishops) and deacons, but that within the office of elder there are two functions, teaching and ruling. Also included is RPCNA theologian Wayne Spear’s "The Westminster Assembly’s Directory for Church Government." Spear provides a brief summary of the Directory’s history, followed by a reprinting of the Directory itself.
The author is general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2004.