A Treatise on the Eldership
J. W. McGarvey  (1870)


      The term overseer is more generic, as an official title, than the term shepherd, because the duties of a secular overseer are more numerous than those of a shepherd. The overseer of a farm, of a factory, of a city, of any company of men, takes cognizance of all that concerns the business of the men who are under his oversight. All that concerns the church, therefore, as a body of disciples, must be under the care of the overseers thereof, unless we find some limitations assigned in the word of God. If we attempt, however, to discriminate between those duties which belong to overseers and those which belong to the same men in the capacity of shepherds, we may separate in thought the latter from the former. Omitting from our present view, therefore, all that we have included in the title shepherd, and reserving for its proper place all that is included in the work of teaching, we will attempt to classify and consider briefly those duties which remain to the elders as overseers.

      When a church acts as a body, it must usually do so through its proper organs. There are very few acts of the church which are or can be performed by the simultaneous and equal action of all the members. If they pray, one leads and the others unite silently in the petitions: if they sing, one leads and [37] the others sing in unison with him; if they break the loaf, one returns thanks, others pass the loaf around, and all partake; if they feed the poor, all contribute and a few distribute; if they speak as a body to other churches or to the world, they speak through a spokesman. In all cases of church action, in which the church as a whole can not act, it is a necessity that she act through her proper officers; and from this it follows, that the overseers of the church must take the lead in all actions of this kind, which are not exclusively assigned to some other officers. Among these duties we find the following:

      First, it is enjoined upon the church, "Let all things be done decently and in order." 1 Cor. 14:40, This injunction necessarily requires each member to act decently and orderly the part which is assigned to him; but in order that each may do so it is, necessary that some one shall assign each his proper part, and exercise such superintendence as will insure the order required. Moreover, it is requisite that some one shall decide, where the apostles have not prescribed some order, what order shall be observed, and what shall constitute the decency of its observance. Undoubtedly the congregation itself is, from the nature of the case, the chief authority in these matters; but the congregation must have a mouth piece by which to speak, and an arm by which to execute; and seeing that there are overseers of the church, this labor most naturally devolves on them. To preserve, therefore, such order in the church as the apostles have prescribed, or such as the church may have agreed upon, and to secure the utmost attainable decorum in all the public procedure of the church, is one way in which to act as an overseer. [38]

      Second, and near akin to the above, it is commanded in reference to the public worship, "Let all things be done to edifying." 1 Cor. 14:26. For the same reasons as in the former case, it must devolve on the overseers to secure the practical observance of this precept. Of course they can not secure it without a proper regard for the precept on the part of the congregation; but even when each one desires that what is done shall be edifying, the end is not always attainable without the guidance and direction of some one possessing superior judgment, and to whom, by common consent, the general control of the public exercises shall be committed. The overseers, then, by force of their office, must see to it that what is done in the house of worship, including the singing, the teaching, the tongues, the revelations and the interpretations, (the apostle enumerates all these) shall be so executed as to edify the body. This requires the utmost good judgment on their part, as to what will edify, and the utmost delicacy in advising the participants, in the various acts of worship, so as to secure the desired compliance.

      In the third place, the church is required to withdraw from those who walk disorderly. 2 Thes. iii: 6. In this act of withdrawal, and in the steps which must be taken antecedent to it, the overseers or rulers must take the leading part. When a brother trespasses against another, and the private steps have been taken which the Savior prescribes, the matter is to be told to the church, the church is to speak, and if the offender hear not the church, he is to be treated as a heathen and a publican. Matt. xviii: 15-17. Now, the church may hear accusations as a body, or hear them, through her appointed overseers; but when she undertakes to persuade and [39] warn and entreat the accused, she is confined to the latter medium, and for the sake of decency and order, she has found it necessary also to hear acccusations only through the same medium. To the overseer, then, as the proper organ through which the church take action in the case, must all accusations be presented.

      Again, while it is the duty of the elders in their capacity as shepherds, to seek all the straying members, and to bring them back, if possible, to their duty, they must necessarily sometimes fail in this effort, and then begins their work as overseers. The wanderer is found incorrigible, and is walking disorderly, notwithstanding all proper efforts to bring him to repentance. The church must now withdraw from him as from those who will not hear the church; and upon the overseers devolves the duty of seeing that this withdrawal takes place.

      Let it be observed here, that the duty of withdrawing from the disorderly is enjoined, not upon the overseers, but upon the church at large, and the overseers become connected with it, as leading actors, only by virtue of their official relation to the church. It is an act in which the whole church can participate, but in which they must have an arm and a mouthpiece. That the mass of the church did participate in the apostolic age, is evident from the directions given to the church in Corinth about withdrawing from the incestuous man. Paul says, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." [40] 1 Cor. v: 3-5. In this case the punishment was inflicted by the majority (2 Cor. ii: 6,) a minority no doubt refusing, under the influence of Paul's enemies, to obey the commandment of the apostle. The facts, however, demonstrate that the whole church should, in cases of exclusion, be assembled together, and in some decent and orderly manner, deliver the offender over to Satan.

[ATOTE 37-41]

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