[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
IT is admitted by the Apostle Paul that a person not invested with the office of a bishop may desire the office. “If a man earnestly seeks the office of a bishop, he desires an excellent work,” He then proceeds to lay down the indispensable moral and intellectual qualifications which he must possess. In doing which he plainly supposes that one may earnestly desire this work who is not eligible to it. Experience, also, a good teacher, teaches the same thing.
But having already glanced at the moral and intellectual endowments of a bishop in a previous number, we proceed to his call and appointment to office.
In the first place, then, the call is based upon the qualifications; without these he is not eligible; with them he is eligible. Consequently a due estimate of his endowments must be formed by somebody; and most certainly not by himself, nor by those who belong not to the flock to be instructed and presided over. By whom then? Assuredly by those amongst whom he is to labor, and over whom he is to preside. His qualifications in the intellectual department must then be viewed in relation to the capacity and attainments of the flock: for a man may be fit to teach, and to preside over one flock, who would not be qualified to teach or preside over another. The flock then in calling or electing a person to this office will turn their attention to themselves as well as to the candidate. They will consider his intellectual attainments with a reference to their own, and will conclude whether his aptitude to teach and his capacity to preside is of such a degree as will correspond to their circumstances. If so, he is apt to teach them, and eligible to preside over them. His election or call is from them and must be audibly, distinctly, and emphatically expressed. They are constituted the judges in this case. For no matter how eagerly he may desire or seek the office, he can make no pretension to it from such considerations. He cannot make himself an overseer. This the flock must do.
On the mode or manner of expressing this call or election we have only to remark that the inspired writers use the term which the Greeks were wont to use in their elections of officers. The inference is, that in using or adopting the same term, they attached to it the current ideas; which were, that the person to be appointed should be publicly announced and that by the voice or stretched out hand of the members entitled to choose, he was to be elected. The consent of the people or their wish unequivocally expressed, was all that ever was, amongst the Jews or Greeks, deemed essential to the election or appointment of any officer. Whether the hand should be stretched forward, or elevated; whether the electors sat or stood, or whether they spoke aloud, each one separately or with one consent arose and simply answered in the affirmative, the election was always good and valid;–provided always the desire of the people was clearly and fully expressed.
As to the act called ordination or inauguration, if ever there was such an act peculiarly so called, it consisted in the imposition of the hands of the seniors or elders of the congregation. The Apostles did express their concurrence with the people’s choice by an act of this sort, and when congregations were fully set in order there was always a plurality of elders or a presbytery instituted in each congregation, who always did express their concurrence with the brethren’s call by inducting the elected into office by the joint imposition of their hands. But this eldership was not a collection of elders from different congregations assembled; but those of one congregation.–The history of this institution stands thus, and would have continued thus but for the man of sin;–Every thing essential to appointment, call, or ordination was vested in the minds of the brethren. Their desires, however expressed, gave the office to the candidate, however he was announced. The apostles so taught them. They, in the first instance, took a part, not in the call or appointment; but in the introduction and inauguration of the bishops elect. This was done in conformity to the Jewish custom of imposing their hands upon the head of the person or animal devoted. This being done, a plurality of bishops being thus introduced into any particular congregation, when, either the death of one of the eldership, or the increased demands of the congregation required another, the brethren called or elected and the eldership expressed their concurrence, and the brethren’s desire, by a formal sign expressive of the devotion of the person to the work. I say this is all that can be legitimately gathered from the volume, as to the forms of investiture; but as to the right of the brethren so to choose, and of the bishop, on this choice to officiate, there is the most ample evidence.
Here I would take the liberty to remark that in process of time, as corruption and defection progressed, it came to pass that what was, with the apostles, but the mere sign or mark, expressive of their concurrence with the brethren’s election and appointment, came by degrees to be considered as the ordination itself, independent of the brethren’s voice–Now no instance can be found in the inspired writings, where the circumstances are detailed, of the call and appointment of any brother to any office, where the call and appointment is not distinctly represented as the act of the brethren, and in no case is an ordination or appointment made without them. But their call is what, in all cases, gives the right to officiate. This is the essential thing, and the other accompaniments are the accidental properties of this thing.
The analogy between such an appointment and that of a presiding officer in a free community is as exact as any other analogy. For example, what gives any man a right to officiate as a governor or a president in a free community–Is it not the call and appointment of the people composing the community? Whether is it the voice of the people, or the form of inauguration after the people have made the appointment, which constitutes the essential consideration in creating such officers? The application is easy.
The Grecian and Roman republics, the commonwealth of Israel in its primitive integrity, the republics of America, and the congregations of Christians in this one instance are essentially the same. In their first origin the people did every thing, both elect and ordain. No republic ever sent to another republic for their officers to come and make ordinations for them. No kingdom or monarchical empire ever sent for a foreign king or potentate to come and make a king for them. No Christian congregation, in the age of primitive propriety, ever sent to another for their officers to come and ordain officers for them. The imposition of hands, when first instituted among the Jews, was practiced by the laity.
In process of time persons were set apart in every community under every form of government for the purpose of inaugurating those constitutionally made officers. It was so in the Jewish, it was so in the Grecian, the Roman and the American republics. It was so in the Christian, and it will be so again.
With the history of the world, with the pages of Jewish and Christian history before me, I would contend that any congregation has a right to call, appoint, or ordain any person to any office laid down in the volume, and to do all the acts and deeds thereto appertaining, without calling to their aid the assistance of any foreign deacon, bishop or officer.