- I. In the Early Church.
- Biblical Views (§ 1).
- Origin of Church Organization (§ 2).
- II. Presbyterial Government from the Reformation.
- Lutheran and Zwinglian (§ 1).
- Calvinistic (§ 2).
- In Great Britain and the United States (§ 3).
- The Reformed Churches (§ 4).
- Modern Europe (§ 5).
I. In the Early Church: (§ 1). Biblical Views. The researches of C. F. G. Heinrici, Edwin Hatch, and A. Harnack have referred the terms presbyter and bishop to distinct offices. The presbyters were the elder members of the congregation, of which they later formed a separate body acting essentially in judicial functions. The bishops, aided by the deacons, were the administrating heads of the community, especially in directing divine service and in financial affairs. With reference to the latter function the term was used also in non-Christian circles. Presbyters and bishops (with deacons) would thus represent a diversified organization, patriarchal and administrative respectively, the government of the congregation arising from the amalgamation of the two. In the course of time the bishops would be included in the body of presbyters, and finally the presiding officer of the presbytery would become the head of the entire community as the one bishop. This would seem to controvert the old Protestant thesis that bishops and presbyters were originally identical, but it was soon observed that many objections might be urged against the new hypothesis. Thus in Acts xx. 17, 28; Titus i. 5, 7; and I Clement xliv. 4-5 (Eng. transl., ANF, i. 17), the terms presbyter and bishop seem to be used indiscriminately. On the other hand the presbyters, and indeed (Didache xv. 1; Eng. transl., vii. 381) the bishops and deacons are described as conducting divine service (cf. I Tim. v. 17; II Clement xvii. 3-5; Hermas, Vision, II., iv. 2-3; Eng. transl., ii. 12). The strongest objection to the theory is that it presupposes a complicated system of administration at a period characterized by a lack of clearly defined functions. The term presbyter, moreover, shows a variety of meanings. Primarily it denotes the older men in the community (I Tim. v. 1; I Clement i. 3, xxi. 6, Eng. transl., ANF, i. 5, 11); and then the chosen heads of the community (Acts xi. 30, xiv. 23, xv. 2, 4, 6, 22-23, xvi. 4, xx. 17, xxi. 18; I Clement xliv. 5, xlvii. 6, liv. 2, lvii. 1, Eng. transl., i. 17-19; II Clement xvii. 3, 5). To distinguish the presbyters from the elders such phrases as "the elders that rule well" (I Tim. v. 17; cf. I Clement liv. 2; Eng. transl., i. 19; Hermas, Vision, II., iv. 3; Eng. transl., ut sup.) were employed. Presbyter, in Christian as in pagan societies, was an official designation developing from the standing of the older members, but none the less denoting also spirit-filled men; and in Asia, at least, the presbyter was an apostolic personage (II John i. 1; III John 1; I Peter v. 1).
- (§ 2). Origin of Church Organization. The growth of the organization of the early Church may have been somewhat as follows: the churches were founded by itinerant apostles who believed themselves called of God to this highest honor (Gal. i. 1 sqq.). They left behind them, as a rule, certain trustworthy members of the community who were empowered to conduct the affairs of the churches (Acts vi. 5). There was, however, no definite method of procedure, for sometimes the apostles appointed the heads of the communities (Acts xiv. 23; Titus i. 5; I Clement xlii. 4, Eng. transl., ANF, i. 16), and sometimes they were chosen by the churches (Didache, xv. 1; I Clement xliv. 3; Eng. transl., ANF, vii. 381, i. 17), the latter procedure steadily increasing in frequency. There were, therefore, almost from the beginning, two principles of authority in the Church; the preachers of the Word called by the Spirit and the officials appointed by the congregation. A strict demarcation between the two classes seems to have arisen only gradually, though little by little the official type gained in importance. The latter represented the principles of order and tradition; they were the most noteworthy members of the community. Though they lacked a specific designation as late as 53 A.D. (I Thess. v. 12; cf. Acts vi. 1 sqq.), they later acquired the general appellation of presbyter. The elders of the community soon formed two groups, the ruling and the executing officials, called respectively bishops and deacons (Phil. i. 1). At the same time the term presbyter remained in use for the bishops alone and for the bishops and deacons together. Later bishops and presbyters were identified, and deacon became the title for the lowest grade of the officers of the community. The congregation was always admonished to show proper respect to the presbyters (I Thess. v. 12 sqq.; Heb. xiii. 7, 17, 24; Didache, iv. 1, xv. 2; Eng. transl., ANF, vii. 378, 382). At the same time, as the presbyters became more united, their antithesis to the prophets increased (cf. I Thess. v. 19 sqq.), over whom they ultimately triumphed. Simultaneously the names bishop and presbyter became titles of distinct officers. The board of executive officers were now called presbyters and were superior to the deacons, while at the head of the entire congregation was the bishop, a development which had been completed by the time of Ignatius. The number of presbyters was in proportion to the size of the community. There were forty-six in Rome in 251, and four in Cirta in 303. Originally they were chosen by the community, but later by the clergy. The duties of the presbyters consisted in preaching, baptizing, and reading the liturgy; they took part as a body in church discipline; and they had their seats in the synod. They thus possessed the same rights as the bishop with the exception of ordination, which was reserved for him alone. The close connection between bishop and presbyter was often emphasized; both were designated priests, and sat together at worship. Where a large congregation had several churches the presbyters officiated independently in one of them; but if a community had only one church the presbyters retired to the background. In later time the bishop was generally chosen from their number, the oldest or most efficient presbyter being selected, according to the principle that a clerical should pass through all the official stages. At an early period the presbyter, whose canonical age was gradually reduced from thirty-five to twenty-five, was forbidden to marry twice or to marry after ordination. This has remained the usage of the Eastern Church, while with the beginning of the fourth century absolute prohibition to marry appeared in the West. The right to engage in secular occupations was also forbidden only gradually. See ORGANIZATION OF THE EARLY CHURCH; BISHOP; CLERGY; EPISCOPACY; POLITY; PRESBYTERIANS, X.
- (H. ACHELIS.)
II. Presbyterial Government Since the Reformation: (§ 1). Lutheran and Zwinglian. Neither the early Lutherans nor the Zwinglians knew of a presbyterian system of government, even the ideal scheme of the former containing no presbyterian elements. Nevertheless, Luther was not opposed to such a system of organization, for he occasionally advised pastors not to act on their own respon- sibility, but to consult suitable persons in their churches. These suitable persons were termed seniors or presbyters (cf. Melanchthon, CR, iii. 965; Johann Brenz's agenda of 1526; A. L. Richter, Lehrbuch des Kirchenrechts, i. 45; and the Hessian discipline of 1539, Richter, ut sup., i. 291). These ideas, however, meant little in practise since final authority in government rested in the hands of the consistories of the territorial rulers. When elders or "church fathers" are mentioned in somewhat later Lutheran agenda (the general visitation article of Elector-Saxony of l557 or the agenda of Naumburg-Zeitz of 1545; and see AGENDA) the term implies the treasurers, or trustees of the property interests. However, the instance, according to Matt. xviii. 16, of admonition in the presence of several persons or the investigation of the conduct of the pastor by the elders of the con- gregation obtained no permanent foothold. How little the like entered Luther's mind is shown by his rendering of the Biblical term, presbyter. While Brenz drew up a Scriptural order of church-government, at the center of which was the instructing bishop, surrounded by a board of presbyters, Luther identified the two orders (according to Acts xx. 28; Titus i. 5, 7); though he availed himself of this identification only to assail the superior jurisdiction of the bishops. For the corresponding development of the Zwinglians, see CHURCH DISCIPLINE, IV., § 1.
(§ 2). Calvinistic. The real presbyterial idea was worked out by John Calvin (q.v.). His earliest utterances show that he ascribed comprehensive powers to the Church as such, the Word of God standing in the center; not only to be preached but also to be made fruitful in the community by corresponding organization. More than this, he demanded special organs for excommunication, besides the preacher; and, without any doctrinaire principles, he could accordingly bring the Church more or less into union with the State. These ideas were carried through somewhat in Calvin's sense after 1541 (for fuller presentation, see CHURCH DISCIPLINE, IV., §§ 2-3). At the same time, the Church had a spiritual power of its own, and therefore needed "a certain peculiar spiritual polity, yet one quite distinct from the civil government, neither hindering nor diminishing it in any respect, but rather aiding and promoting it much" (Institutes, IV., xi. 1; cf. viii. 1, xx. 1). This ecclesiastical organization was not based by Calvin on the theory of general priesthood or on a right of the congregation to self-government, but simply on the need of discipline to prepare the way for the Word of God which, unlike civil justice, should influence the individual from within. For the execution of its penalties Christ had given his Church the proper officials through whom he himself reigned (IV., iii. 1, 4, 8). The apostles, prophets, and evangelists of Eph. iv. 11 being excluded as possessing extraordinary gifts, pastors and teachers remained as essential to the Church. Excepting offices, in like manner, peculiar to Apostolic times from Rom. xii. 7 and I Cor. xii. 28, two other functions remain; government and care of the poor. Calvin thus derived four offices, of which the teachers (chiefly professors of theology) are mentioned only in specifically Calvinistic ordinances. The pastors and elders are comprised in one category of presbyters, of whom there were two divisions, one for teaching and the other for discipline (IV., xi. 6). The system thus constituted did not perform its functions by virtue of legal installation as in Roman Catholicism, but by virtue of the presence of the living Christ in the Spirit (IV., ix. 1). The principles of Calvinistic Presbyterianism could logically be carried out only in churches in which the protection of the State could not become an alien predomination. On such a soil the need of independent organization was more urgently felt, and the rules of the Scriptures were more strongly emphasized. The lack of sympathy with democratic representation on the part of the Huguenot communities was shown by the unfavorable replies of several national synods to the proposition that the united community should have the right to vote. On the other hand, independency was sharply opposed, and it was insisted that no regulation of an individual congregation could conflict with the general articles of the Church, and that the installation and discipline of pastors and elders should be done by provincial synods.
(§ 3). In Great Britain and the United States. The Calvinistic system was maintained most consistently in Scotland and the Puritan Presbyterianism which proceeded from that country. Even in questions of organization the Scriptures alone were taken as the basis, and the sole lord and king of the Church was Christ, in whose name all ecclesiastical authority should be exercised through the three offices of the ministers, ruling elders, and deacons, whose functions were judicial rather than legislative. As among the French Reformed, the system of government comprised the session, presbytery, provincial synod, and general synod. The members of the presbytery were delegated by the sessions, and the members of the two higher bodies by the presbyteries, the pastors and laity generally being represented equally. The presiding officer of all these bodies is usually termed the "moderator," the desire being to avoid any title indicating permanent control, in view of the equality of all pastors and congregations. The moderator of the session is the pastor, and the presiding officer of the higher bodies may also be a ruling elder. The office of elders is held for life, and the old law of cooptation is found only sporadically, its place being taken by the election of representatives by the congregations. Early Presbyterian principles have been retained in the British and American churches more closely than anywhere else, and since 1875 their adherents have formed the Alliance of Reformed Churches holding the Presbyterian System (q.v.), whose general councils are held quadrennially. The entire group of Presbyterian churches maintains its position carefully against both episcopacy and independency, and holds that its system is divinely lawful, though not necessary to salvation.
(§ 4). The Reformed Churches. The penetration of Calvinism into Holland from the south after 1555 gave the congregations unity and strength. The organization was influenced both by the French system and by Johannes à Lasco (q.v.), and the basal principles, which vary in different provinces, were established by the Wesel Conference (1568), the Synod of Bedburg (1570), the Synod of Emden (1571), and the national Synods of Dort (1578, 1618-19), Middelburg (1581), and The Hague (1586). The governing bodies are the session (kerkenraad), classis, and provincial and national synods; and the officers are "ministers of the Word of God," elders, and deacons (theologians generally being added). New elders are usually chosen by the session and the board of deacons, but with the peculiar feature that in Holland they are elected for terms of two years each, so that half their number are chosen annually. Along the Lower Rhine, on the other hand, the presbyteries are self-perpetuating bodies without reference to the deacons. In the German Reformed regions the ecclesiastical presbyterian elements blended with the civil consistorial factors. In the Palatinate the church council of the elector had long been the established form when presbyteries were introduced, which, however, failed to obtain a permanent footing in many other districts of the Church. In all the German Reformed districts, as in the Lutheran, the supervision of the churches was essentially in the hands of the official consistories and superintendents.
- (§ 5). Modern Europe. With the break in the course of development in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, except in British and American Presbyterianism and in various smaller bodies, presbyterian government was introduced, though in a widely divergent form, in the great majority of Reformed, unionistic, and even Lutheran church-districts. In the new system of organization the disciplinary features of the early presbyteries retire to the background to make place for the principle of self-government of the congregations, especially in matters of property. The model was no longer apostolic, but parliamentary. The first reorganization of this type was made in France in 1802, with the provision that the members of the "consistory" should be chosen from the most heavily taxed residents of the district. This requirement was discarded in 1852 when a "presbyterial council" was erected for each parish. The elders were elected for six years, and in Holland for four. The formation of the Swiss Confederation in 1874 gave the impulse for legislation on church organization in several cantons, the laws in question being colored by the current popular political views. Great importance is attached almost everywhere to the congregational assembly, to which only those members of the church belong who are qualified to vote in the State, religious qualifications nowhere being required. These assemblies have not only to choose the pastors (mostly for six years) and the members of the congregational council, but also exercise wide influence on local legislation and administration. The presiding officer of the council is usually the pastor, though in Bern (from 1874) and Zurich (from 1895) he may be elected to the council, to which he does not belong in virtue of his office. In 1900 Zurich enacted that a pastor not chosen a member should still have a voice and vote, but that no pastor should be the presiding officer. The duties are mostly administrative, though in a few cantons (Aargau, 1868, 1894; Thurgau, 1870) police regulations prevail whereby the ecclesiastical administration, empowered with extensive control of morals, may lay requirements on its members and invoke civil authority to enforce them. Over the church-council is the synod, whose members are directly elected (in Zurich one for each 2,000 Protestants). This, in its turn, is subject to the higher church-council; either a purely synodal product for the stated administration, or supplemented by deputies from the civil council of the canton. The small free Swiss churches of Vaud (1847), Geneva (1848), and Neuenburg (1874) have restored the Calvinistic offices, though the elders are elected by the congregations for terms of six years. In Germany the Rhenish-Westphalian agenda of 1835 (revised in 1853) marked the transition from the older Reformed system to the modern methods. A relic of the older conditions is the distinction between clergy and laity. The government is by a presbytery consisting of the pastor or pastors, elders, and "church masters" (such as treasurers or building-officials and deacons). The elders are chosen for four years, and are required to be upright in life and regular communicants. In contrast with the earlier system, all qualified members constitute the presbytery in churches of less than two hundred. Over the presbyteries are the district synods which elect their own presiding officers, the superintendent and assessor being confirmed by the supreme ecclesiastical council. The provincial synods consist of all the superintendents and of one clerical and one lay deputy from each of the district synods. The Austrian system of 1866 corresponds very closely with that of Rhenish-Westphalia, except that the congregation elects only representatives and these form the presbytery. The order of 1873 for the six eastern provinces of Prussia resembles also the Rhenish-Westphalian. The chief deviations are as follows: The patron of the church may be a member or may be represented in the presbytery, of which the first clergyman is the presiding officer. Anyone may be elected elder except those notoriously indifferent to religion. The pastor is explicitly declared to be independent of the presbytery in his official functions, and in cases of ecclesiastical discipline may appeal to the district synod. The superintendents, being civil officers, are not elected. Members of the provincial synod, not exceeding a sixth of the representatives to be elected by the district synods, are also appointed by the ruler; likewise for the general synod of the eight older provinces. In several states the older Prussian system prevails, while the Rhenish-Westphalian principle of enlarged representation has not been followed, although the modern presbyterial form prevails, in the churches of Brunswick (since 1851), Oldenburg (1853), Waldeck (1857), Hanover (1864), Saxony (1878), Hamburg (1883), Schaumburg-Lippe (1893), the united church of the Bavarian Rhine palatinate (1876), the reformed church of Lippe-Detmold (1876), and the Thuringian churches. In the last-named (e.g., Meiningen since 1876; Saxon grand duchy, 1895) the teachers are included in the governing body, while in Schwarzburg the control of church and school is vested in a single body. The earlier double representation still exists in the Lutheran Church of part of Bavaria. The qualifications which fit one to become a candidate for the office of elder are in the newer stipulations prevailingly negative, but are formulated with exceedingly great care; the Lutheran Church of the kingdom of Saxony changed in 1896 the earlier negative statement of 1868 into positive form: "Only those are eligible who are legal members of the organization in good standing, of tried Christian integrity, and possessed of ecclesiastical insight and experience."
- (E. F. KARL MÜLLER.)