Westminster & Ordination: A Persistent Task

While there were no doubt multiple reasons for the Assembly taking on the persistent task of examining men for the ministry, the most significant was the abolition of the office of the bishopric.

One of the characteristics of Presbyterianism as such is to understand the biblical terms presbuteros (elder) and episkopos (overseer) as referring to one and the same church office from two different vantage points rather than seeing these as two distinct offices. The rise of monarchical bishops or monepiscopacy in the second century is fascinating in its own right.

 

The Westminster Assembly, which met at the behest the English parliament from 1643-1653, while not properly speaking a church court (i.e., a session/consistery, presbytery/classis, or general assembly/synod), did perform functions which we now rightly associate with the presbytery or classis level of church governance. Chad Van Dixhoorn, in his fascinating book God’s Ambassadors, refers to the examination of men for entrance upon the ministry (ordination) or transfer from one congregation to another or from one kind of ministerial work to another (e.g. pastoring to teaching at a university) as its “persistent task.” While there were no doubt multiple reasons for the Assembly taking on the persistent task of examining men for the ministry, the most significant was the abolition of the office of the bishopric.

One of the characteristics of Presbyterianism as such is to understand the biblical terms presbuteros (elder) and episkopos (overseer) as referring to one and the same church office from two different vantage points rather than seeing these as two distinct offices. The rise of monarchical bishops or monepiscopacy in the second century is fascinating in its own right. Charles Krueger’s new book Christianity at the Crossroads devotes significant space to this development.  On a related note, prelacy involves monarchical bishops with political power. All of this is to note that bishops had the authority to examine and ordain men to the ministry and when you eliminate that office the work still needs to go on in order to ensure sound and solid ministers for the church. Until Presbyterian church governance was established within the Church of England the responsibility for the examination and appointment of men to the ministry fell to the divines gathered at Westminster Abbey in London.

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