|Bible Research > Interpretation > Ecclesiology > Hall|
by David W. Hall
PREMISE / Volume II, Number 5 / May 27, 1995 / Page 5
Resources in the field of reformed polity are often quite scarce, and even more often not utilized, when available. There were several other works to which we would have liked to exposed the reader. Ideally this volume would have included some of the following works for completeness. Nonetheless, in the interests of collecting these into a single volume, omissions had to be made. As John Updike is cited (in Mark Noll’s The Princeton Theology 1812-1921, p. 41), “Anthology making, like sculpting in marble, is in large measure an act of taking away”. Thus did we endeavor to limit our scope. Still we are constrained to say that a yet future volume could well include these additional resources and more. These bibliographic references are by no means exhaustive, and it is hoped that they, too, will be included in any thorough study of paradigms in polity. By merely giving a short bibliographic note, we do not intend to connote that these are inferior works. Moreover, many of these are more readily available than some of the chapters in this volume. We also assume that particular denominations will have their own idiosyncratic texts. A parallel track to the Table of Contents will be approximated, as we recommend the following.
J. B. Lightfoot, a conservative nineteenth-century Anglican Bishop, was committed to the prelatic view of church government, thus making his Biblical comments all the more important. Although Lightfoot was an Anglican, he recognized the biblical equivalency of the offices of Bishop and Presbyter (Elder). In an extended essay following his Commentary on Philippians (also reprinted by Hendriksen, Peabody, MA, 1987), Lightfoot seeks to justify the ordained clergy of the Episcopal Church as the successors to the priestly ministry. The beginning of his essay is his attempt to justify the priestly ministry of pastors. However, it is the middle portion of this essay which contains his very insightful observations about the early history of the New Testament offices.
The reader will benefit not only from Lightfoot’s late nineteenth century comments, but also the excellent presentation in the extended note (see his Commentary on Philippians, pp. 95-99) recording the early church fathers’ view on the office. In addition, consult Lightfoot’s essay, “The Christian Ministry” (esp. pp. 208-233 of this same volume), to further note his treatment of second and third century authors on the offices of ministry. Although Lightfoot argues later in the essay that the episcopate came into its own by the third century A.D., nonetheless it is important to know that he does not base this on biblical considerations. As he candidly admits, “As late therefore as the year 70 no distinct signs of episcopal government have hitherto appeared in Gentile Christendom” (p. 201). Lightfoot also affirms that Clement “.. still uses the word ‘bishop’ in the older sense in which it occurs in the apostolic writings, as a synonym for presbyter” (p. 218).
Philip Schaff (1819-1893), the father of American church history authored the eight volume set entitled, History of the Christian Church. In the middle of the first volume, he has a chapter devoted to the topic of “Organization of the Apostolic Church”. In those pages (491-504) he treats briefly, but factually, the Scriptural and precedential portions of the first century church under these three themes: (1) the equality of the Presbyter/Bishop office according to scripture, (2) the office of Deacons (including a treatment, a brief reference to Deaconesses), and (3) Church Discipline. A fourth section also summarizes the Council of Jerusalem as the basis for synodical precedent.
In addition to presenting an excellent summary of several of the pillars of church government, Schaff’s original writings are also valuable because of their references and footnotes to some of the works of the early church. From these it is clear that he bases his claim of the equality of the Offices of Presbyter and Bishop on the work of Clement and the Didache (chapter 15). Schaff is recognized as an objective church historian and his balanced perspective should carry much weight for us today. One might further consult Schaff’s The Creeds of Christendom (3 Vols.) for polity statements contained in creeds, and his study of patristics, History of the Apostolic Church (New York, 1853) to see a fuller expression of his views on polity.
In lieu of Schaff or Lightfoot, one will also find many of these same references in a summary essay at the end of The Reformation of the Church (Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1987), entitled “Episcopalian Writers on Church Government”(pp. 410-414). This set of citations brings together excerpts from the above-mentioned portions of Lightfoot, with references from Alford’s Greek New Testament Commentary as well. The conclusion contained in the above anthology is stated, ”Such acknowledgments as these, which all fair minds must make, are reassuring to a Presbyterian” (p. 414).
A somewhat marginal, but not insignificant work to consult as a primary reference to early polity is Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. In the 4th century as the Council of Nicea met, one of its participants was a theologian, Eusebius of Caesarea, known as “the Father of church history”.
At the end of the Ecclesiastical History (reprinted by Baker Bookhouse, Grand Rapids, MI, 1974), Eusebius includes an appendix on the Council of Nicea with two pertinent portions. The first gives the background of the Synod’s authority, complete with some actual epistles, as well as some sample letters from Constantine. The second part of this extract includes some of the remaining canons on church government. It should be noted that these are somewhat supportive of an episcopal form of government, but they are noted hence to show the early testimony of the primacy of Alexandria (rather than the Roman See) and, secondly, to show that there was a role for presbyters, even in this early fourth century testimony.
Several modern anthologies do a fine job of critiquing and complementing these original sources, as well. Among such, the following are recommended. “Presbyterianism in the Ancient Church” (pp. 53-62) by Richard C. Gamble is a fine essay included in a commemorative volume at the 50th anniversary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Pressing Toward the Mark (hereafter, PTTM. Philadelphia, 1986). Richard Gamble is the Director of the Henry C. Meeter Study Center for Calvin Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary. As a church historian, Gamble sets out to find whether or not Presbyterianism was a sixteenth century innovation or an original form of church government. After stating that question Gamble puts to rest Roman Catholic claims to priority. Following that, in his surveys of second, third and fourth century A.D. literature, Gamble reaches solid conclusions about how the church was governed. His summary of Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, along with quotations from Ambrose, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine are most helpful.
Also worthy of reference from this volume are the essays, “Two Offices and Two Orders of Elders” (pp. 23-32) by George Knight III, which argues the classic southern view of R. L. Dabney, as supported by the New Testament data; and James R. Payton’s article on the Adopting Act in American Presbyterianism, “Background and Significance of the Adopting Act of 1729” (pp. 131-146).
Dr. Edmund P. Clowney, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary and one of the leaders of the twentieth century revival of Presbyterian church government, in his “Distinctive Emphases in Presbyterian Church Polity” (PTTM, pp. 99-110), contrasts two nuances which distinguish British Presbyterianism from the Dutch strain of Presbyterianism. Following a lengthy discussion of the regulative principle of worship, Clowney also applies the regulative principle to government. He sees two distinctive emphases of Presbyterian polity, the first being the regulative principle and the second being the organic principle.
Peter Lillback is both a pastor and a Professor of Church History, earning academic degrees in historical theology. Lillback also appreciates the importance of a sound Presbyterian form of government. In his article “The Reformers’ Rediscovery of Presbyterian Polity” (pp. 63-82 in PTTM), he concentrates on the Reformers’ re-examination of the subject of church government. It is also a fitting overview and summation of the earliest and best confessional and governmental works. The footnotes and research by Lillback were some of the most helpful we found.
Among the works of primary historical importance which Lillback surveys are the 1574 work by Thomas Cartwright and Walter Travers entitled, “The Sacred Discipline of the Church Described in the Word of God”, excerpts from the Gallican Confession of 1559, the First Book of Discipline of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, and the Belgic Confession. The article ends with a survey of John Calvin and his views on the polity of church. Composed of large quotes from several of Calvin’s Commentaries, as well as his letters, this second half of the article is a very valuable contribution to the reader. This is one of the finest short essays on this subject and concludes by noting, “Consequently, for those of Calvinist persuasion, the rediscovery of the principle of sola Scriptura included the rediscovery of Presbyterian polity” (p. 79).
One of the works cited by Lillback and useful for collateral studies, is Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1911) by B. J. Kidd, which contains a number of 16th century works in their original French. Kidd’s volume is a fine reference for a number of reformation polities, as is the french classic, Quick’s Synodicon Gallia ( ) Help on this one?
In “The Eldership In Martin Bucer and John Calvin” published in the Evangelical Quarterly in 1989 (Vol. 61, pp. 21-37) R. E. H. Uprichard, a minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Antrim, discusses the view of presbyters held by the early reformers, Martin Bucer and Calvin. Uprichard argues in opposition to Thomas Torrance’s book, The Eldership in the Reformed Church (Edinburgh, 1984), in which Torrance contends that the Office of Elder was imported from the fourth or fifth century North African church, having no basis in scripture. Torrance’s argument is that the eldership in the Reformed Church is attributable only to Presbyterian tradition and not to scripture.
In seeking to demonstrate the early appearance of the Office of Elder, Uprichard first surveys the works of Martin Bucer, who had a life-long passion for the importance of discipline within the church. However, the bulk of this article concerns itself with John Calvin’s view of the eldership. Uprichard reviews the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1541, as well as the earliest organization of the Genevan Consistory in Calvin’s time and succinctly presents for us an excellent summary of Calvin’s view of the eldership. This article is an excellent review of these two major Reformers’ views on the office. Furthermore, this is an excellent article to commend to those who are called to the Office of Ruling Elder.
Consideration should be given to pertinent excerpts from Calvin’s Commentaries. John Calvin, the most influential reformer in Presbyterian polity, also addressed some of these polity issues in his Commentaries. Selected excerpts from his Commentaries, first from Acts 15:2-6, and secondly from I Tim. 3:1-2 could be gleaned to see his explanation of the Qualifications for Elder/Bishop in the setting of homiletical commentaries, rather than The Institutes. One would also do well to consult his comments on Titus 1:5, especially as it is now realized that the Commentaries of Calvin are of equal historical value as The Institutes.
A recently released publication, Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Advice, translated by Mary Beaty and Benjamin Farley (Westminster/ John Knox, Louisville, 1991) could also be consulted to see how Calvin dealt with particular subjects of a practical nature. These newly translated examples of how Calvin dealt with specifics such as the need for reform, church discipline, and various judicial issues provides insight to the reformer’s pastoral sensitivities as well. Also a few excerpts from The Letters of Calvin (Reprinted by Baker Book House) could be perused.
One of the acknowledged leaders of the twentieth century commitment to Presbyterian polity within the mainline American church is John H. Leith, Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA. A Calvin Scholar, in his 1977 book entitled, Introduction to the Reformed Tradition (John Knox, Atlanta, 1977), Leith included a chapter on polity in the reformed tradition. In a short amount of space his essay deals with the significance of polity, the subordination of polity to the gospel, and furthermore provides a survey of reformed polities beginning with Calvin’s polity up to American Presbyterian polities. The final part of his chapter extracts the defining characteristics of the Presbyterian form of government.
Although Leith is associated with the mainline Presbyterian Church in North America, which is somewhat liberal in its treatment of classic theology, nonetheless this is a sound and well informed essay. His original chapter includes a bibliography on reformed polities, most of which are included in abridged forms in this present volume. As well as having some helpful, modern insights, Leith’s abridgement also gives a succinct summary of Calvin’s, Hodge’s and Thornwell’s views on polity; thus making this an extremely helpful summation.
Another helpful and solid treatment in compact form is Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1941). Louis Berkhof (1873-1957 ) was the author of one of the most widely used systematic theology textbooks within American Reformed circles in the 20th century. In his work under the Doctrine of the Church, he treats the scriptural names for the church, as well as the doctrine (ecclesiology) from church history. Following that is his discussion of the nature of church, along with its attributes and the distinguishing marks of the church. Then follows a third chapter on the government of the church.
In that chapter (pp. 579-592), one can find a convenient summary of the history of various forms of government, in addition to the fundamental principles of the presbyterian and biblical view of government. Contained in this discussion is also a discussion of the offices of the church as well as the doctrine of calling. These pages are rounded out with the discussion of the higher courts of the major assembly. Appended to the end of his chapter is an excellent bibliography.
Another superb treatise (perhaps at the peak of Scottish Presbyterianism) on the principles of presbyterian polity is William Cunningham’s Historical Theology. After attending Edinburgh University, Cunningham (1805-1861) went into the ministry and was first appointed Professor of Church History at New College,Edinburgh in 1845. He was viewed by many as a successor to the great Thomas Chalmers. Following a time of revival and Reformation in the Scottish Church, William Cunningham labored at the New College with other worthies, such as James Bannerman and James Buchanan, leading some to praise New College as the finest theological school in all of Europe.
Ironically, concurrent with the Scottish Presbyterian flourishing, the American Presbyterians were undergoing turmoil and division. Cunningham’s two volume work, Historical Theology, (reprinted in 1962 by Banner of Truth Trust) was a slightly edited version of the original manuscripts, which were evidently in excellent form. The information in these two fine volumes contains the substance of Cunningham’s lectures to his students at New College, Edinburgh.
As one of the first modern church histories Cunningham demonstrates great breadth of thinking on his subject. His observations concerning the authority of church officers, the subordination of church courts to one another, the obligation of apostolic practice, all of which leads to a fine conclusion of the divine right of government, are still worth re-hearing. Later in this work, Cunningham also has an extended argument over the propriety of prelacy, dealing directly with that threat (pp. 244-262). In a still later section from volume II (pp. 514-556), Cunningham positively states the strong and radical features of Biblical Presbyterianism, distinguishing it from congregationalism or independency. All in all we have a fine work which is thorough and reflective of Scottish jus divinum Presbyterianism, as well as a great paradigm for education. In 1991 Still Water Revival Books reprinted another of Cunningham’s works, Discussion of Church Principles, one of the finest collections of Scottish polity.
A number of other quite influential works on polity from the seventeenth century are not as readily available. Foremost among the stalwarts of seventeenth century reformed polity is Gisbert Voetius’s three-volume Politicae Ecclesiasticae which is not translated into English. Formative though it is, it is in need of translation and essential to a comprehensive grasp of the polity of the post-Reformation period.
George Gillespie’s 111 Propositions on Church Government is useful reading, and fortunately Still Water Revival Books reprinted two volumes of The Works of George Gillespie in 1991. One could furthermore profit from reading his “Brotherly Examination” of Coleman’s Sermon (1645) and his eyewitness notes on the debates and proceedings of the Westminster Assembly 1644-1645 in Vol. 2 of this set.
A little earlier in history a primary source presented the cardinal differences between the presbyterian and congregational patterns of government. In the midst of the meeting of the Westminster Assembly there were a number of delegates at that Assembly who although quite respected, also held to the congregationalist form of government. These independents among whom were John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, and Jeremiah Burroughs, wished to contend for the independent view of church government even at the Westminster Assembly. They became known for their skill in obstruction and protestation, being such a small, yet effective minority. Although there was considerable doctrinal agreement between these divines, still on governmental principles there was some disagreement. Jeremiah Burroughs led a group who in 1644 wrote a small tract entitled “The Difference Between Independency and Presbytery” in which they contended for the independent view (to consult see pp. 285-289 of the Reformation of the Church, Banner of Truth Trust, 1987) ed. by Ian Murray.
In response, a few years later a group of London ministers who were committed to jus divinum Presbyterian Government gave a blow by blow comparison of the two systems. Although this tract definitely supports the Presbyterian view, nonetheless it has value as a contemporaneous document with the Westminster Assembly, supporting the majority view. This Presbyterian View of the Difference With Independency was co-authored by a group of London ministers in 1646. It reflects the basis of some of the Westminster Assembly’s deliberations and discussions. From such we can see the majoritarian view of the Westminster Assembly and in short compass, be exposed to another early document.
One other influential manual from the seventeenth century, which was regarded as a paradigm of sorts by the Colonial American Presbyterians, was The Collections by Steuart of Pardovan. This seldom accessible work adds much to our understanding of early eighteenth century Presbyterianism, if a copy is located.
In 1978 the Banner of Truth Trust printed a small booklet, Biblical Church Discipline by Daniel Wray. This short and inexpensive pamphlet is a nice collection of the biblical teaching on church discipline. Following an introduction stressing the importance of the biblical injunction for discipline, Wray collects Scripture to address the following: (1) necessity and purpose of discipline, (2) modes of discipline, (3) proper recipients of discipline (4) objections and questions. It is this fourth section that is most practical and anticipatory of the major objections. Following his conclusion is also an appendix on “What our Protestant Forefathers Taught Concerning Church Discipline”, which is a collection of creedal and reformation fathers’ testimony toward the necessity of church discipline. This small version is most helpful to the minister and the student.
One of the finest exemplars of twentieth century reformed polity was John Murray. Professor John Murray, of Scottish origin, was a prominent professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, teaching and influencing numbers of students from 1929-1966. His writings also had a great impact on evangelicals in the twentieth century. Murray (1848-1975), always conscious to preserve the best of our Reformed heritage in biblical theology, was equally adept at stating governmental principles.
Taken from his Collected Writings, (Banner of Truth Trust, 1976, Volume I pp. 260-268) is a well-reasoned essay entitled, “Government in the Church of Christ.” In this brief article Murray reviews the New Testament teaching on the identification of the Bishop/Presbyter Office, describes the office of the elder, and finally speaks of the duties of the elder. A more lengthy article to consult is “The Government of the Church” (Volume I, pp. 336 ff.). Both of these brief articles exhibit Murray’s strong and persistent adherence both to scripture and to scriptural polity. Murray also has a very practical article entitled, “Arguments Against Term Eldership” which should be widely read.
Another fine resource containing much primary material is Reformed Dogmatics (Baker, 1978) by Heinrich Heppe. In 1950 a translation of Heinrich Heppe’s Reformierte Dogmatik was published after years of unavailability. This compendium of reformed thought, which brings together immense research is probably the best compilation of sixteenth and seventeenth century reformed thought in a single volume. Heppe (1820-1879), who was a Professor at Marburg in Germany from 1850 until his death in 1879, desired to present to the European world in the late nineteenth century a revival of the great reformed dogmatics as “set out and illustrated from the sources” (the sub-title of this volume).
In this brief compend one can be exposed in short compass to many of the greatest Reformed thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, thanks to the excellent research of Heppe. Heppe, a minister in the German Reformed Church, was also a most accomplished church historian as can be seen from this compilation. Heppe sought to collect extracts from the original sources (in keeping with the Reformation motto: “to the sources”, ad fontes.) and bring those together as a replication of the reformed system. He covers most of the major theological topics, and of interest to our work, is his chapter on the church.
Appearing toward the end of the book Heppe’s chapter (27) on the church brings together quotations from the greatest Reformed thinkers (pp. 673-691). Among the theological giants reviewed are Olevianus, Heidegger, Turretin, Wollebius, Cocceius, and Maresius. The pages referred to cover topics ranging from the authority of Christ to rule the Church through human instruments, to the power and manner of ordination, to the offices of the church, to the manner of calling of ministers, along with a discussion of the courts of the church, and finally an excellent collection of statements on the need for church discipline.
For a modern statement of jus divinum Presbyterianism, and also an eyewitness account of the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America in 1973, one could see Morton H. Smith’s How Is The Gold Become Dim. In the early 1970s a conservative group of Presbyterians found it necessary to break off from the Southern Presbyterian Church. One of their leaders and the first Stated Clerk of that church was Dr. Morton Howison Smith. In 1972 he authored this book, subtitled The Decline of the Presbyterian Church US As Reflected in its Assembly Actions to document the deterioration of the Southern Presbyterian Church from its original roots. As a leader of the formation of the PCA, Dr. Smith was a pioneer in articulating these views.
Morton Smith and others were involved in a struggle to extricate confessional Southern Presbyterianism from the liberal trends in the mainline. As these pages reveal, one of the main concerns was that the Southern Presbyterian church remain a fully confessional church. In the early 1970s, Smith was asked to document the historic departures from the confessional position. In the two chapters referenced here, one chapter documents the historic change in the confessional view of the Southern Presbyterians (pp. 37-46), while the second chapter (pp. 67-79) documents the changes that took place in their view of church government.
These excerpts will be helpful not only in giving an eyewitness account to a major Presbyterian division of the twentieth century, but also serve as an excellent review in the main principles of Presbyterianism. Also in these sections is a healthy modern recapitulation of the Adopting Act, as well as a restatement of jus divinum Presbyterianism. In addition, a practical discussion of the role of Boards vs. Committees is contained in this.
One also sees more of the animus of the PCA and the history of interpretation of their Book of Church Order by reading Smith’s 1990 Commentary on the BCO (Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press, Greenville, SC). Therein, Smith gives a chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph explanation of the application and original intent of the PCA’s book of polity.
Several dissertations form ancillary studies. We could recommend the scholarship of John Jay Deifell in his 1970 dissertation, “The Ecclesiology of Charles Hodge” (New College, Edinburgh) and David Clyde Jones’, “The Doctrine of the Church in American Presbyterian Theology in the Mid-Nineteenth Century” (Concordia Theological Seminary, 1970) as shedding further illumination on the thought of Hodge.
In regard to Thornwell, one will profit from consulting the 1977 dissertation by Kenneth Joseph Foreman, Jr., “The Debate on the Administration of Missions Led by James Henley Thornwell in the Presbyterian Church, 1839-1861” (Princeton Theological Seminary) or Paul Leslie Garber’s “The Religious Thought of James Henley Thornwell” (Duke, 1939). In addition one could benefit from David Kinney Garth’s dissertation, “The Influence of Scottish Common Sense Philosophy on the Theology of James Henley Thornwell and Robert Lewis Dabney” (Union Theological Seminary (VA), 1979), or Belden Curnow Lane’s “Democracy and the Ruling Eldership: Samuel Miller’s Response to Tensions between Clerical Power and Lay activity in Early Nineteenth-Century America” (Princeton Theological Seminary, 1976). We also recommend Luder G. Whitlock’s dissertation on James Henley Thornwell (Vanderbilt, 1973), or an abridgement of such, “Elders and Ecclesiology in the Thought of James Henley Thornwell” in the Westminster Theological Journal , vol. 37, pp. 44-56. In addition, a fine article on Thornwell’s intentions for polity was written by Jack Maddex, “Presbyterianism in the South, Centralization, and the Book of Church Order, 1861-1879 (Journal of Presbyterian History, vol. 68, no. 1, Spring, 1990).
Of great value, if located are some of the following standards of Southern Presbyterian polity. One could profit from Thomas Peck’s Notes on Ecclesiology (Richmond, 1892, Presbyterian Committee of Publication) or Stuart Robinson’s The Church of God (Philadelphia, 1858). One could also benefit from reviewing select issues from The Southern Presbyterian Review, a periodical, mainly under the editorial influence of Thornwell. One would also do well to be familiar with Hodge’s commentaries on the General Assemblies from 1835-1870 in The Princeton Review (available in the Princeton Theological Seminary Library and generously included in The Church and Its Polity, cf. pp. above). The Presbyterian Enterprise (Westminster, Philadelphia, 1956, pp. 153-218) contains a number of primary source extracts, ranging from Assembly Minutes in critical years, to extracts from Baird’s Digest, to excerpts from The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, featuring Hodge’s pertinent comments.
One of the finest references for historic presbyterian polity is the Complete Works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D.D. (R. L. Bryan Co., Columbia, SC, 1908). This 10 volume set is replete with insight and comment. We would particularly commend Vol. 2 (pp. 328-485) for a thorough study of the presbyterial form of government, as it is supported by the early Fathers. Besides providing one of the fullest sets of documentation for that, Smyth also wrote Ecclesiastical Republicanism (contained in Vol. 4 of this set), and a host of other sturdy articles, relevant to polity.
Of the modern grappling with polity matters from a consistently reformed perspective, one could also consult Kevin Reed, Biblical Church Government (Presbyterian Heritage Publications, Dallas, TX, 1983) and Documents of Synod, ed. by Paul R. Gilchrist (1982), a summary of significant actions by the R.P.C.E.S., particularly pp. 75-100 for the 1980 study on “Apostasy and Ecclesiastical Separation” or the 1972 study of the meaning of the Second Ordination Vow (pp. 314-325). Also of interest on the Adopting Act is a series of articles and rejoinders by Drs. William Barker and George Knight in the 1984 issue of Presbuterion (Vol. X, nos. 1-2).
One other modern resource regarding the mainline presbyterian polity (PCUSA) is the handbook, Presbyterian Polity for Church Officers by Joan Gray and Joyce Tucker (Westminster/John Knox, Louisville, 1990), which gives a running commentary on the PCUSA’s book of government. Following an introductory chapter on the essence and theological fundamentals of polity, the remaining chapters successively elaborate on the respective chapters of the PCUSA’s governmental standards. One of the strengths of this book is its recapitulation of the evolution of this book of order, documented by earlier acts of the Assembly.
It would be remiss to not take note of some of the earlier ‘classics’ used as texts for polity courses. Among other classic treatments in the field, one could benefit from the general survey by J. L. Schaver, The Polity of the Churches (Chicago, Church Polity Press, 1947). Vol. I of this survey evaluates the major forms of polity, e.g., Episcopal, Congregational, and Presbyterian, with a discussion of the major issues following. Though dated and slightly biased in favor of the Dutch denominations, the volume affords a less politicized and less partisan overview than many of the modern polity texts. Schaver’s second volume attends to the evolution of doctrine and polity among reformed Christians. The bulk of this volume treats reformed church polity, especially for the Christian Reformed Church. The final section contains many of their standard forms and rules, which are of great value.
For other Presbyterian standards one might refer to the 1928 version of The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, which not only contains the doctrinal standards, but more pertinently the rules for the judicatories and amendments from 1805-1928. This helpful volume could be supplemented by J. D. Leslie’s Presbyterian Law and Procedure in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Richmond, Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1930) for a similar work concerned with the Southern Presbyterian Church. An additional stalwart text for polity courses, which was a long-standing resource at the turn of the twentieth century, was Church Government (Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1888) by Alexander T. McGill (Princeton Seminary). This fine work covered most of the important topics in this field, and is still a useful guide if available today. F. P. Ramsey’s ( ) was also considered a classic exposition of southern Presbyterian polity.
For additional historical reflections, one could also review these essays commemorating the tradition of polity given by the Westminster Assembly: (1) from the 1897 Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897 (Richmond, VA, Presbyterian Committee of Publication), “The Polity and Worship of the Standards” by Eugene Daniel, and (2) from the Addresses at the Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly (Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1898), “The Westminster Polity and Worship” by Robert F. Coyle, and “The American Presbyterian Churches and the Adopting Act” by Benjamin L. Agnew.
As this edition was being finalized, a spate of historic resources were reprinted by a Canadian publisher, Still Waters Revival Books. In 1991, SWRB reprinted five significant works, welcoming back into print some worthy paradigms from the past. William Cunningham’s Discussions on Church Principles (orig. 1863) and B. B. Warfield’s, The Westminster Assembly and Its Works (orig. 1908, reprinted by Mack Publishing, 1972) were both re-issued by this publisher. In addition, three other works, pertinent to the history of the Westminster Assembly and Scottish presbyterianism were reprinted by SWRB: (1) The Minutes of the Westminster Assembly, edited by A.F. Mitchell and John Struthers (excerpted above in chap ; (2) A History of the Westminster Assembly by William H. Hetherington; and The Works of George Gillespie. Each of these were excellent contributions to the field.
Another small publisher, the Presbyterian Heritage Press also reprinted Doctrinal Integrity by Samuel Miller, The Elder and His Work by David Dickson, and The Unity of the Church by Thomas M’Crie, all significant works, supporting some of these earlier paradigms. Even popular evangelical John MacArthur, Jr., sensed the need for biblical polity and authored a book on this subject, The Master’s Plan for the Church (Moody, 1991).
One of the finest recent Scottish works is Patterns of Reform: Continuity and Change in the Reformation Kirk by James Kirk (Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1989). In over 500 pages, Kirk (who has also put together the finest edition of The Second Book of Discipline [St. Andrew Press, 1980]) has gathered assorted essays on Scottish and Reformed polity. One could benefit from his “The Calvinist Contribution to the Scottish Reformation”, “Minister and Magistrate”, “The Kirk and the Highlands at the Reformation”, and especially “The Polities of the Best Reformed Kirks” in this volume. Some think Kirk in this work definitively settles the question of influence in the Scottish church in favor of a Calvin-Geneva influence, rather than an Anglican-British sway.
This is far from exhaustive, and there are no doubt many more resources which should be considered. It is at least hoped that the student or Officer will have ample resources to begin a study of these matters. It is indeed gratifying to see an increase in the amount of polity materials being published. Perhaps this is one sign of an increasing vitality of the church. Perhaps also, if we see these resources as paradigms then we will be more inclined to appreciate their usefulness. It will also help many to recall that “polity” has its root in the same word as “polite”. Rather than an arid study of political trivia, these may be mature ways of living out the Golden Rule in our communities of faith.
David W. Hall is a senior fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Paleo-Orthodoxy and executive editor of PREMISE.
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