Question 23 Who are the ordinary officers or ministers of Christ in the church, to be always continued therein?

Answer Those whom the Scripture calls pastors and teachers, bishops, elders, and guides.

Acts 14:23,20:17,28; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1,2,5:17; Tit. 1:5,7; Heb. 13:7,17; 1 Pet. 5:1.

Explication– Several names are, on several accounts, partly designing their authority, partly their duty, and partly the manner of their discharge thereof, assigned in the Scripture to the ordinary ministers of the churches. Sometimes they are called “pastors and teachers,” Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28; — sometimes “bishops” or “overseers,” Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:28; — sometimes “elders,” Titus 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Acts 14:23, 20:17; — sometimes “guides,” Heb. 13:7,17. By all which names, and sundry others whereby they are expressed, the same sort, order, and degree of persons is intended.

Nor is any one of these names applied or accommodated unto any, but all the rest are also in like manner; so that he who is a pastor or a teacher is also a bishop or overseer, a presbyter or elder, a guide or ruler, a minister, a servant of the church for the Lord’s sake.

And of all other names assigned to the ministers of the church, that of bishop can least of all be thought to have designed any special order or degree of pre-eminence amongst them; for whereas it is but four times, or in four places, used in the New Testament as denoting any officers of the church, in each of them it is manifest that those expressed by the other names of elders and ministers are intended. So, Acts 20:28, the bishops are the elders of the particular church of Ephesus, verse 17. Phil. 1:1, there were many bishops in that one particular church, who had only deacons joined with them; that is, they were the elders of it, Titus 1:7.

The bishops were the elders to be ordained, verse 5; which persons are also directly intended, 1 Tim. 3:2, as is evident from the coincidence of the directions given by the apostles about them, and the immediate adjoining of deacons unto them, verse 8; so that no name could be fixed on with less probability, to assert from it a special supreme order or degree of men in the ministry, than this of bishops.

Neither is there any mention in any place of Scripture of any such pre-eminence of one sort of these church-officers or ministers over another, not in particular in those places where the officers of the church are in an especial manner enumerated, as 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Rom. 12:5-8.

Nor is there any mention of any special office that should be peculiar unto such officers; or of any gifts or qualifications that should be required in them; or of any special way of calling or setting apart to their office; nor of any kind of church that they should relate unto, different from the churches that other elders or pastors do minister in; nor of any special rule or direction for their trial; nor any commands for obedience unto them but what are common to all ministers of the churches of Christ duly discharging their trust and performing their duty; no intimation is given unto either elders or ministers to obey them, or directions how to respect them, nor unto them how to behave themselves toward them: but all these things are spoken and delivered promiscuously and equally concerning all ministers of the gospel.

It is evident, then, that these appellations do not belong unto one sort of ministers, not more than another. And for what is pleaded by some from the example of Timothy and Titus, it is said that when any persons can prove themselves to be evangelists, 2 Tim. 4:5, to be called unto their office upon antecedent prophecy, 1 Tim. 1:18, and to be sent by the apostles, and in an especial manner to be directed by them in some employment for a season, which they are not ordinarily to attend unto, Titus 1:5, 3:12, it will be granted that they have another duty and office committed unto them than those who are only bishops or elders in the Scripture.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15