February 27: Elders and Deacons in the Church of Scotland

Presbyterian denominations in the United States no doubt do some things differently from what is described in the following article, but by comparing we can sometimes learn some important lessons about our own practice. 

The First Institution of Elders and Deacons in the Church of Scotland, the Qualifications of these Office-bearers, and their Proper Functions, according to a Form of Church Policy submitted to the Convention of Edinburgh, 1560. From Spottiswood’s History, Edition of 1655. Published by the Evangelist.
[excerpted from The Central Presbyterian 31.34 (19 February 1896): 2. Spelling has been modernized.]

The eighth head concerning Elders and Deacons.

Men of best knowledge, of purest life, and most honest conversation that can be found in every Church, must be nominated for these offices, and their names publicly read unto the congregation, that from amongst those some may be chosen to serve as Elders and Deacons. If any be nominated, who is noted with public infamy, he must be repelled; for it is not seemly that the servant of corruption should have authority to judge in the Church of God: or if any man know others that are of better qualities within the Church, then those who are nominated, the same shall be joined to the others, that the Church may have the choice. If the Churches be few in number, so as Elders and Deacons cannot conveniently be had, the same Church may be joined to the next adjacent; for the plurality of Churches without Ministers and order doth rather hurt, than edify.

The election of Elders and Deacons ought to be made every year once, which we judge most convenient to be done the first of August yearly, lest men by long continuance in those Offices presume upon the liberty of the Church. And yet it hurts not, if a man be retained in office more years then one, so as he be appointed yearly thereto by common and free election: Providing always that the Deacons, and Treasurers of the Church be not compelled to receive again the same Office for the space of 2 years. How the suffrages shall be given and received, every several Church may take the order that seems best to them.

The Elders being elected must be admonished of their Office, which is to assist the Minister in all public affairs of the Church; to wit, in judging and discerning of cases, in giving admonition to licentious livers, and having an eye upon the manners and conversation of all men within their charge: for by the gravity of the Elders the loose and dissolute manners of other men ought to be restrained and corrected. The Elders ought also to take heed to the life, manners, diligence and study of their Ministers; And if he be worthy of admonition, they must admonish him; if of correction, they must correct him; and if he be worthy of deposition, they with the consent of the Church and Superintendent may depose him.

The Office of Deacons is to receive the rents, and gather the Alms of the Church, to keep and distribute the same as they shall be appointed by the Ministry and the Church; yet they may also assist in judgment the Minister and Elders, and be admitted to read in public Assemblies, if they be called, required and found able thereto.

The Elders and Deacons, with their wives and families, must be subject to the same censure, that Ministers are subject unto; for they are Judges to the manners of others, and therefore they must be sober, humble, entertainers of concord and peace amongst neighbours; and finally, an ensample of godliness to the rest of the flock: whereof if the contrary appear, they must be admonished by the Minister or some of their brethren, if the fault be secret; but if it be open and known, they must be openly rebuked, and the same order kept with them that is prescribed against Ministers offending. We think it not necessary that any public stipend be appointed either to the Elders or Deacons, because their travel continues but for a year; as also because they are not so occupied with the affairs of the Church, but that they may have leisure to attend their private business.


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