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by the Rev. H. C. G. Moule, M.A., Principal of Ridley Hall, and formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Author of "Veni Creator: Thoughts on the Holy Spirit of Promise," etc.
Revised edition [[third edition, Feb., 1890]]
London: Hodder and Stoughton
27, Paternoster Row.

<217> CHAPTER X.

The Doctrine of the Ministry

The New Testament contains numerous allusions to offices and officers in the visible Church, and to a special designation and ordination of men to Church functions, sufficient to justify the words of Art. XXIII.: "It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the sacraments in the congregation (ecclesia), before he be lawfully called and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation (ecclesia) to call and send ministers into the Lord’s vineyard."

Cp. (besides references to the Apostles of Christ) Acts vi. 3-6, xi. 30, xiii. 1, xiv. 23, xv. 2, 4, 6, 23, xvi. 4, xx. 17-35, xxi. 18; Rom. xii. 6-8; 1 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11, 12; Phil. i. 1; Col iv. 17; 1 Thess (the earliest of St. Paul’s Epistles) v. 12, 13; 1 Tim. iii. 1-13, iv. 14, v. 1 (?), 22 (?); 2 Tim. i. 6; Tit. i. 5-8; Heb. xiii. 7, 17; Jas v. 14; 1 Pet. v. 1-4; 3 Joh. 10 (an instance of misuse of apparently real authority); and perhaps Rev. i. 20, ii. l, 8, 12, 18, iii. l, 7, 14.

That office of some kind, a constitional leadership and order, should appear in the Church visible arises from its nature as a Society, founded for <217/218> work, extension, and cohesion (p. 208). The additional facts indicated by the notices in Scripture are about as follows. At first, after the Ascension, the ministry was lodged in toto with the Apostles, whose authority, used temperately and in full consultation with the community, was, however, derived, not from the community, but from Christ. Then, with growth of operations and numbers, began a "differentiation" of functions. Assistants, for practical work along with spiritual effort (the Church has called them "deacons," diakonoi, from almost the first), were, by apostolic advice or order, chosen by the community and consecrated by the Apostles. Then, somewhat later, appear "elders" (Acts xi. 30, etc.), grouped, at Jerusalem, around a president, St James, and frequently mentioned as in fact the council and leaders of the Church. The same officers are otherwise called "bishops" (episcopus, "superintendent;" Anglo-Saxon biscop), overseers of the flock. And in the case of James at Jerusalem, and Timothy and Titus later, we see a pastor who is not an Apostle exercising a presidential pastorate, which in the latter cases is plainly one of some authority (whether permanent or not) over pastors, and with power to constitute or ordain new pastoral elders. We gather that, on the whole, this system of ministry was such that the "deacon," and "presbyter" or "overseer," was never (at least normally) constituted merely by the voice of the community. He was at least ratified in his function by a representative or representatives of the existing ministry. And 1 Cor. xii. and Eph. iv. in a remarkable way connect the origin of a ministry with the direct will of God, and particularly of Christ glorified.

Meanwhile there is much to indicate that <218/219> the sacred rule had its considerable exceptions. Proclamation of Christ was certainly not restrained to the ministry (Phil. ii. 16). Apollos (Acts xviii. 24-28) preaches, without any hint that he was, or was to be, formally ordained. And the presence of the mysterious charismata (p. 142) in the primeval Church plainly modified to some degree the otherwise normal order of the ministerial work.

In the very earliest sub-apostolic writings we find the Christian ministry a most important factor in the life of the Church. In the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (cent. i.) "bishops and deacons" appear as the stated ministry, just as at Philippi (Phil. i. 1). In Clement of Rome (cent. i.) "presbyters" (whose office is called an "episcopate") and "deacons" similarly appear. In Ignatius (early cent. ii.) bishop, presbyters, and deacons are conspicuous, and are for him a vital requisite in the Church. It would be needless to travel lower in illustration.

To recur for a moment to the origin. The apostolate (of the Twelve) [1] stands in many respects quite apart from ministerial "orders." For one thing, the Twelve are viewed often in the New Testament (e.g. Joh. xiv.) as rather the Church by representation than ministers or rulers of the Church; so that promises to them are often promises to all the faithful, who are all in this sense their successors. And as regards ministerial orders, the apostolate as a ministry is succeeded to, not by one order, but by all. All are "differentiated" out of it. The deacon (Acts vi.) succeeds the Apostle as table-server; the presbyter as one of the local rulers <219/220> and pastors of the flock; the bishop (in the later sense) as presiding presbyter, competent in a special way to ordain or constitute others. But in the apostolate proper, with its immediate divine authority, and its witness-bearing, there is no succession. Matthias and Paul were not ordained by the Church to be Apostles, but designated by the Lord Himself, like Peter and John. Paul was (with Barnabas) ordained (Acts xiii.), but not to be an Apostle. His Church commission, given by divine direction, was to be (may we say?) a missionary bishop, a travelling constitutor of churches. Thus the whole ministry succeeds the Apostles, but succeeds them so as not properly to claim their prophetic authority. And further, a ministry which does not contain all the offices in which they were succeeded, yet if it contains any, has apostolicity, about it, though imperfectly.


Special Points in the Doctrine of the Ministry.


The idea of a ministerial succession is clearly to be seen in the New Testament, as in the Pastoral Epistles, and is amply confirmed by the earliest sub-apostolic writings. As the idea of a ministry at all is implied in the fact that the Church as visible is an organized society, so the idea of a succession in the ministry is implied in the fact that it is a society with a continuous work to do and development to follow. What are the conditions of succession, and the powers it gives, are great questions quite separable from these facts. It is quite possible, by unjustified inference, to argue, e.g., that a developed episcopacy is of the very essence of the Church, from the fact that the presidential or mon- <220/221> archic element is traceable in the New Testament, and appears in full growth two generations later. But this argument is not warranted by fact or reason. Church government is a great pheonomenon of the New Testament. But it does not appear there as a thing of the vital order, in the sense of the above theory. It appears as a matter of the very highest rank of expediency and common benefit; certainly as a thing which cannot be despised and rejected without grievous sin. But it is not a thing of the rank of saving truth. Neither in scale nor solemnity of treatment does it stand with the truths of repentance, faith, acceptance, and holiness; with union and communion with Christ by faith. And while the New Testament, as we shall see, indicates a certain system of government originating in the apostolic age, it does not assign that system to the immediate commands of Christ, and it does not so develop its idea as to allow us to make it a test of communion or excommunication from the Church visible as a whole. On the other hand, a historical succession, rightly viewed, is an invaluable benefit, to be reverently guarded and used. A just estimate of it has much to do with the recollection that the ministry is a divine monumental institution, one thing ideally from age to age; not a mere aggregate of workers for God dispersed through time, but an ordinance once appointed as a means of salvation, a lasting witness to divine truths, and a divinely intended guardian of religious order.



The word is difficult to define. But perhaps it is fair to say that it marks an idea of the ministry in which the minister is the mediator between God and the <221/222> individual Christian, particularly as an offerer of sacrifice, a guardian of sacraments, and a conveyer of pardon by special absolution. Here first it is important to distinguish between mediator and medium. A medium of communication is not necessarily mediatorial. A friend sends me a gift by a messenger; here is a medium. I can approach God only through Christ; here is the Mediator. The medium may be highly convenient and useful, and in an ordinary way needful. A mediator is, for the purpose, indispensable.

Now the deepest principles of Christianity preclude the idea of an ultimately indispensable ministry. The primary and ruling idea of the Church is that of a body whose every member, by the Spirit, lives directly by his Head (above, p. 132); and a ministerial theory which really crosses that idea is untenable. [2] The ministry may be, and in the immemorial order of the Church is, the guardian and dispenser of sacraments; though Tertullian (Exhort. Castit., c. 7) held that under real exigency the Church (of laymen) has full right to supplement this in its inherent character as "a royal priesthood" (cp. Hooker, Eccl. Polity, vii., c. 14). But the ministry is not so the guardian of sacraments that it can withhold for a moment the grace and fulness of the blessed Head from the true receptive faith of the individual, by withholding "the sacrament of so great a Thing." The ministry is a medium, not a mediator. If it wrongly withholds the holy sealing ordinance, or if that ordinance is on any account inaccessible, the true idea of the Church assures us that the benefit will come some other way to the believing man. The guilt and loss will be with the minister, not with the believer.

It is remarkable that the Christian minister as such is never in the New Testament called <222/223> hiereus, sacerdos. [3] (See Addenda, p. 268.) As one of the true Israel, he is "a king and priest to God" (1 Pet. ii. 9; Rev. i. 6, v. 9, 10), but on a footing precisely that of his lay brethren. It has been reasoned, indeed, that he may in a guarded and secondary sense be called, officially, a sacerdos, as he is in some respects the representative of the congregation to God, and of God to the congregation. But such reasoning and usage is absent from the New Testament, in which the pastoral aspect of the ministry is (to say the least) very far more conspicuous than the representative.

On this whole subject the reader should, if possible, consult Bishop Lightfoot’s Dissertation on the Christian Ministry (Philippians, pp. 181-269, especially pp. 244, etc.). The Bishop cautiously defends the secondary use of the word sacerdos. But he dwells on the fact that "an exclusive sacerdotalism (as the word is commonly understood) contradicts the general tenour of the Gospel;" and that the sacerdotal idea, under which the threefold Christian ministry is held to be the counterpart and analogue of the Aaronic orders, is fallacious. He traces the entrance of the sacerdotal idea of the ministry into the Church to the pagan sacerdotalism to which vast numbers of converts had been used, and sees in the Aaronic analogy an ex post facto justification of the idea thus once introduced. As a fact, it is an idea scarcely traceable before the age of Tertullian (late cent. ii.), and even then largely controlled by the strong parallel assertion of the priesthood of all Christians. Not till cent. iii., the age of Cyprian, do we find it fully developed. <223/224>


Confession and Absolution.

The New Testament is extremely reticent on this great matter. In general terms the duty of confession to man, as well as to God, is plainly stated (Jas v. 16; cp. Josh. vii. 19; 2 Sam. xii. 13; Matt. iii. 6, xviii. 15-17; Acts xix. 18). But nothing explicit in the New Testament makes the minister the special recipient of confession. An obvious fitness and reasonableness suggests that he must, within careful limits, be the trusted friend and adviser in the Lord of each member of his flock—a principle which fully authorizes private consultation in cases of need. But the Scriptures give no hint of the reduction of this sacred and important branch of pastoral work to a system, certainly not to a system considered as vital to the individual Christian’s maintenance of Church communion. Such a systematization did however at length come in, and in the Church of Rome is one of the most powerful factors in Church life. In order to reception of the holy Eucharist, the sine quâ non is a secret and particular confession, followed by a judicial allotment of penance, and the utterance of an absolvo te conceived to convey sacramentally the divine pardon to the confessing person supposed to have right dispositions. We make no attempt to discuss this system in detail; to point out its terrible risks to both penitent and "confessor," risks indicated only too well in the minute and often deplorable rules for the confessor current in the Roman Catholic Church; nor to speak of the too often futile and perfunctory character of "penances." We only note one special spiritual fallacy in the system; that the absolvo is held to be <224/225> rightly received, even if the penitent is not contrite (lovingly sorry for sin as sin), provided only he is attrite (conscious of the disgracefulness of the sin, or alarmed at its coming retribution, in a way to stay the actual sinning: Canons, etc., of Trent, Sess. xiv., c. 4). Attrition and penance are, as it were, the equivalent of contrition. It is obvious how gravely such a theory deviates from the Scripture doctrine of repentance.

Yet the system, grievously in error as it is, is related to truth. The Christian pastor, as the commissioned minister of the Word, has an important absolving function. The proof of this lies not in Joh. xx. 23 (Matt. xvi. 19, xviii. 18, have a quite different reference), for there the whole Church appears to be addressed, not only the pastorate. [4] It lies in the pastoral commission generally. So far as pastoral absolution refers to the outward order of the Church, the presbyter must in a great degree be the responsible guardian of order and ordinances (1 Tim. iii. 5), with the entrusted function of admission and exclusion, to be constitutionally used. And so far as it refers to the inward sphere, to the divine pardon, the pastor, as the commissioned "messenger, watchman, and steward," will not only, as every Christian man and woman may and should, point the burthened soul to the revealed secret of peace in the Word of God, but will announce the certainty of pardon to the true penitent with just that authority which belongs to his divinely instituted office. His absolution, in this sense, is no more prophetic as regards insight into the individual than the private Christian’s is. But he is the representative of that sacred monumental ordinance, the <225/226> Ministry, founded by Christ Himself. And that fact, though it cannot make divine truth truer in itself, can, and should, and (in proportion to the man’s spiritual correspondence to his office) will, make it specially certain to the penitent, specially tangible to faith.



History of the Confessional. [5]

In the primitive Church the three great sins, murder, adultery, apostasy, excommunicated the offender ipso facto on discovery; though never without hope of readmission.

Cent. ii. The re-admission was either denied wholly, or granted only once. Re-admission (to communion) was the one mode of absolution.

Cent. iii. Origen advises, in cases of burthen of conscience, the consultation of the clergy.

Cent. iv. An official, the Penitentiary, at Constantinople, receives private confessions of burthened consciences, and reports them to the Church, for public prayer for divine pardon. The office, however, on account of certain scandals, was by Chrysostom’s time abolished. He constantly exhorts to confession to God, with or without human aid.

Cent. v. Leo the Great, of Rome, ordains that it is sufficient that the priests would know the offences, and ask prayer in general terms. Re-admission (for which no verbal form was used) is to be by the bishop, except on the death-bed.

Cent. vii. The classification of sins, and commutations of penalty due, began at this period to be elaborated. About <226/227> now was composed the original of the Prayer following the Absolution in our Visitation of the Sick (which see). It was to be said by the priest with the penitent in public at the altar.

Cent. xiii. Innocent III. ordains, 1215, that private confession and absolution shall be necessary in order to retain communion—a principle wholly different from the primitive. In 1268 the "indicative" formula, absolvo te, as against a solemn prayer for pardon, was pronounced alone effectual.

Cent. xiv. The words, "Whose sins thou dost remit, etc.," were introduced into the ordination of presbyters. They had been used before in the ordination of bishops, plainly with reference to the bishop’s function (see above, cent. v.) of re-admission to communion.

It will be observed that the solemn exclusion from or admission to the Holy Communion is the thing mainly in view in much of this legislation. Even among Roman Catholic theologians many have held that the absolvo te, indicative and positive, refers not to the divine pardon, but to the Church’s Pardon, so to speak. Such is the true reference of it in the Anglican Visitation of the Sick. The presbyter has received, and thus exercises, the responsible function of solemnly reinstating the perhaps dying penitent, then and there, into Church communion, or of assuring him of his part and lot in it. It will be observed that even this is to be done only at the sick person’s own desire.


Grace of Orders.

In the ideal of the Christian ministry, the minister is a man, on the one hand, inwardly called by the Spirit, and given by the Lord, for the sacred work; on the other, recognized as such by the Church, and sent forth with its solemn blessing, attestation, and, so to speak, counter-signature upon the heavenly commission. Such a sending is in itself a seal of the divine <227/228> call, and, as such, a special occasion, to the believing recipient, of all the grace needed for his work. But no ordination can so "give the Holy Ghost" as that by virtue of it the man, not otherwise spiritual, shall become so, or, being already spiritual, shall for certain acquire new and supernatural discernment of character, or of doctrine, influential power, or the like. In 1 Tim. iv. 14 we do not know for certain what the "gift" was. And it was given "by means of prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." Joh. xx. 21-23, as we have said, is a commission rather to the Church than to the pastorate. Archbishop Whitgift says well: "The Bishop, by speaking these words [‘Receive the Holy Ghost,’ etc.] doth not take upon him to give the Holy Ghost, no more than he doth to remit sins when he pronounceth the remission of sins; but by speaking these words of Christ [Joh. xx. 22, 23] he doth show the principal duty of a minister, and assureth him of the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit if he labour in the same accordingly" (Works, Parker Society, i. 489).



The title bishop (episcopus, "overseer") does not in the New Testament denote a minister ruling over other ministers; this is generally admitted. The New Testament episcopus is the overseer of not the shepherds but the flock. One local church (Phil. i. 1) might have several such "bishops." But this leaves the question quite open whether such a ruling ministry, however named, existed under immediate apostolic sanction. That it did so may, we think, be safely inferred, as follows.

By the close of cent. ii. a definite "episcopacy," <228/229> in the later sense of the word, appears practically everywhere in the Church.

And the word episcopus is used in this connexion (e.g., by Irenæus), without the knowledge, seemingly, of a previous other use. As early as 110 (probably) the ruling episcopus appears, in the Ignatian Letters, as a most important factor in Church life, at least in a large circle of churches. Early Church history presents us consistently thenceforward with the same general constitution. [6] Now between Ignatius and St. John the interval is not great; say thirty years at most. It seems unlikely, to say the least, that so large an institution of order should have arisen, apparently unopposed, without some definite apostolic precedent. Such precedent we find in the New Testament (a) in the presidency of Apostles during their lifetime (e.g., of St. Paul at Corinth, and at Ephesus); (b) in that of their immediate delegates (perhaps appointed pro tempore), as Timothy and Titus; (c) in that of James the Less in the mother-church (Jerusalem) of Christendom—a presidency more akin to later episcopacy than anything else in the New Testament. We further find that all early indications point to Asia Minor as the scene of the chief development of primeval episcopacy, and to St John at Ephesus as in a sense its fountain head. It is as least possible <229/230> that he, when he took up his abode in Asia, began or developed there the régime he had known at Jerusalem, and that his example (if not precept) was rapidly and widely followed.

Meanwhile there is reason to think that the episcopate rather grew out of the presbyterate, in the order of Providence, than otherwise. The primeval bishop was not so much of another order as first of his order, for special functions of government and ministration. Such is St. Jerome’s view, (on Titus, i. 5), cent. v.; and he regards the bishop as being what he is, not by direct divine law, but by "the custom of the Church."

On the whole, the data of the New Testament and of the next earliest records confirm the statement of the Preface to the English Ordinal, that "from the Apostles’ time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ’s Church, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons." On the other hand, in view of the sublimely spiritual character of the Church in its true idea, and of the revealed immediate union of each member with the Head, by faith, and of the reserve of the New Testament, we are not authorized to regard even apostolic organization as a matter of the first order in such a sense as that we should presume to unchurch Christian communities, holding the apostolic faith of God in Christ, but not fully organized on what we believe to be the apostolic model. And we should take good care not to develop that model for ourselves into unlawful proportions; as in the theory that the bishop is the normal channel of grace to the lower clergy and the people. On the other hand, no thoughtful Christian will wish to forget the sacred obligations and benefits of external harmony, and of continuity and unity <230/231> of organization, things meant to yield only to yet greater claims from the side of the highest spiritual truth.


We append a few statements of opinion on Episcopacy, in the direction of liberal moderation, by Anglicans of cent. xvi.-xvii. (See Goode, Divine Rule, etc., vol. ii., pp. 236-348; ed. 1853.)

Jewel (Bishop of Salisbury, 1560-71), Defence of Apology, II., ix., § 1; v., § 1, dwells on the essential oneness of presbyter and bishop, and maintains that even were the continuity of English episcopal succession broken (as the Romanists held) it could be restored from within.

Whitgift (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1583-1604) meets the Presbyterian’s claim that their system was jure divino, not by a counter-claim for episcopacy, but by the assertions (Defence of Answer, etc.) that (a) no one certain and perfect form of government is prescribed in Scripture to the Church of Christ; (b) the essential notes of the Church are only the true preaching of the Word of God and the right administration of the Sacraments.

Bancroft (Bishop of London and then Archbishop of Canterbury, 1597-1610), at a conference of bishops (1609) before the consecration to Scottish sees of certain clergymen in presbyterian orders, maintained, in answer to a doubt raised by Andrewes (then Bishop of Ely), that there was no necessity for their re-ordination (as presbyters), "seeing where bishops could not be had, ordination by presbyters must be esteemed lawful" (Abp Spotswood’s History, iii. 209, ed. 1851). Andrewes concurred. Bancroft held very high views meanwhile of the vital necessity of episcopacy to the Church ideally.

Hall (Bishop of Exeter and then Norwich, 1627-56) Laud’s chosen literary defender of Episcopacy, writes (Defense of Remonstrance, § 14; and cp. his Peacemaker, § 6), "I, onewhere, reckon Episcopacy amongst matters <231/232> essential to a Church; anotherwhere, deny it to be of the essence thereof. [But see] the distinction that I make expressly between the Being and the Well-being of a church: affirming that those churches to whom this power and faculty is denied lose nothing of the true essence of a church, though they lose something of their glory and perfection."

Andrewes (Bishop of Ely and then Winchester, 1609-28) writes to Du Moulin, 1618 (Letter ii.): "Though our government be by divine right, it follows not either that there is no salvation, or that a church cannot stand, without it. He must needs be stone blind that sees not churches standing without it; he must needs be made of iron … that denies them salvation."

Ussher (Archbishop of Armagh, 1624-56): "An ordination made by such presbyters as have severed themselves from those bishops unto whom they have sworn canonical obedience cannot possibly by me be excused from being schismatical… . Yet for the testifying my communion with those churches (of France and the Netherlands), which I do love and honour as true members of the Church Universal, I do profess that with like affection I should receive the blessed Sacrament at the hands of the Dutch ministers if I were in Holland, as I should do at the hands of the French ministers if I were at Charenton" (Works, i., 259, ed. 1847).

Cosin (Bishop of Durham, 1660-74), when actually in exile at Charenton, attended the Huguenot sacrament, and wrote to a friend (Mr. Cordel, Feb. 7th 1650), who had scruples on the point: "Considering there is no prohibition of our Church against it (as there is against our communicating with the Papists, and that well grounded upon the Scripture and will of God) I do not see but that you … may (either in case of necessity … or in regard of declaring your unity in professing the same religion … ) go otherwhiles to communicate reverently with them of the French Church" (Works, Anglo-Cath. <232/233> Library, iv., 407. See also the extract from his Last Will, ibidem, i., xxxii).

See at large Goode, as above; Dean Perowne, Church, Sacraments, and Ministry; and The Huguenots and the Church of England, a Sermon before the University of Cambridge (1885), by the Rev. J. de Soyres.

Our purpose in this brief collection will not be mistaken. At the present day we meet everywhere the two opposite forces of ecclesiastical anarchy and of a theory which unchurches all Christian societies not of the episcopal regimen. We have sought to deal with the first above (p. 208). No better means of dealing with the other appeared than the quotation of the weighty and well-balanced utterances of men who were no hesitating Anglicans, and not modern controversialists.

As we leave the subject of the Doctrine of the Ministry, let it be remembered that the very last purpose of the divinely founded Ministry is to absorb, or to repress, the energies of the Church at large for witness and service. The words of Eph. iv. 12 are memorable: "He gave some … as pastors and teachers, with a view to the equipment of the saints for (their) work of active service, for (their) upbuilding of the body of Christ." <233>


[1] We are much indebted here to an essay by the Rev. C.H. Waller, The Harmony of the Bible and Prayer Book as regards the Christian Ministry.

[2] See Lightfoot, Philippians, pp.181-3.

[3] So also, by the way, in the practically authorized Latin Prayer Book (Durel’s) of 1670. There presbyterus always, and rightly, represents the "priest" of the English.

[4] See Westcott on the passages in The Speaker’s Commentary.

[5] We are much indebted to a Sermon before the University of Cambridge, by Dean Reichel, now (1889) Bishop of Meath; published, with full quotation of authorities, under the title, History and Claims of the Confessional.

[6] Some important details vary. At Alexandria, till at least 260, the bishop was chosen by the presbyters from their number, and ordained by them. In at least some other churches presbyters could ordain presbyters, with the bishop’s formal sanction. In the church of St. Patrick (cent. v.) in Ireland, and of St. Columba (cent. vi.) in Scotland, the bishops were necessary to ordination, but not necessarily rulers at all. The chief of the Scottish Church was the Abbot of Iona. See Boultbee, History of Church of England, p. 25.


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