Question 25 What is required unto the due constitution of an elder, pastor, or teacher of the church?

Answer[1] That he be furnished with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the edification of the church, and the evangelical discharge of the work of the ministry;

[2] that he be unblamable, holy, and exemplary in his conversation;

[3] that he have a willing mind to give himself unto the Lord in the work of the ministry;

[4] that he be called and chosen by the suffrage and consent of the church;

[5] that he be solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, and imposition of hands, unto his work and ministry.

[1] Eph. 4:7,8,11-13. [2] Tit. 1:7-9; 1 Tim. 3:2-7. [3] 1 Pet. 5:1-3. [4] Acts 14:23. [5] Acts 13:2,3; 1 Tim. 4:14,5:22.

Explication — Five things are here said to be required unto the due and solemn constitution of a minister, guide, elder, pastor, or teacher of the church, which, as they do all equally belong unto the essence of the call, so they are all indispensably necessary unto him that would be accounted to have taken that office upon him according to the mind of Christ; and they that are plainly expressed in the Scripture.

The first is, That they be furnished with the gifts of the Holy Ghost for the discharge of the ministry. The communication of the gifts of the Holy Ghost is the foundation of the ministry, as the apostle declares, Eph. 4:7,8,11-13, “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man.”

And if this were not continued, if the Lord Christ did not continue to give gifts unto men for that end, the ministry must and would cease in the church, and all church order and administrations thereon.

The exercise, also, of the gifts is required in all them that are called unto sacred offices: 1 Tim. 4:14, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee.” Hence, persons destitute of these gifts of the Spirit, as they cannot in a due manner discharge any one duty of the ministry, so, wanting an interest in that which is the foundation of the office, are not esteemed of God as ministers at all, whatever their outward call may be: Hos. 4:6, “Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me.”

Secondly, Their unblamableness and holiness of conversation is previously required in them that are to be set apart unto the ministry.  This the apostle expressly declares, and lays down many particular instances whereby it is to be tried: Tit. 1:7-9, “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers.” 1 Tim. 3:2- 7, “A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Not that the particulars here mentioned by the apostle are only to be considered in the conversation of the person to be called to the ministry, but that, in a universal holy conversation, these things he requires that he should be eminent in amongst believers, as those which have an especial respect to his work and office. And a failure in any of them is a just cause or reason to debar any person from obtaining a part and lot in this matter; for whereas the especial end of the ministry is to promote and further faith and holiness in the church by the edification of it, how unreasonable a thing would it be if men should be admitted unto the work of it who in their own persons were strangers both unto faith and holiness! And herein are the elders of the churches seriously to exercise themselves unto God, that they may be an example unto the flock, in a universal labouring after conformity in their lives unto the great bishop and pastor of the church, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, It is required that such a person have a willing mind to give up himself unto God in this work: 1 Pet. 5:1-3, “The elders which are among you, I exhort: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” Willingness and readiness of mind are the things here required as a previous qualification unto any man’s susception of this office; and two things doth the apostle declare to be contrary hereunto: —

1. The undertaking of it by constraint, which compriseth every antecedent external impression upon the mind of the undertaker; such are personal outward necessities, compulsions of friends and relations, want of other ways of subsistence in the world, — which, and the like, are condemned by the apostle as bringing some constraint on the mind, which on other accounts ought to be free and willing; as also, all tergiversation and backwardness in persons duly qualified and called, on the consideration of difficulties, temptations, straits, persecutions, is here condemned.

2. An eye and regard unto filthy lucre or profit in the world is proposed as opposite unto the readiness of mind which is required in them that are called to this work. An aim in this employment for men by it to advantage themselves in the outward things of this world, — without which it is evident that the whole work and office would lie neglected by the most of them who now would be accounted partakers of it, — is openly here condemned by the apostle.

Fourthly, Election, by the suffrage and consent of the church, is required unto the calling of a pastor or teacher; so that without it formally or virtually given or obtained, the call, however otherwise carried on or solemnized, is irregular and defective. There are but two places in the New Testament where there is mention of the manner whereby any are called in an ordinary way unto any ministry in the church, and in both of them there is mention of their election by the community of the church; and in both of them the apostles themselves presided with a fulness of church-power, and yet would not deprive the churches of that which was their liberty and privilege. The first of these is Acts 6, where all the apostles together, to give a rule unto the future proceeding of all churches in the constitution of officers amongst them, do appoint the multitude of the disciples or community of the church, to look out from among themselves, or to choose the persons that were to be set apart therein unto their office; which they did accordingly: Acts 6:2,3,5, “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen,” etc.

This was done when only deacons were to be ordained, in whom the interest and concernment of the church is not to be compared with that which it hath in its pastors, teachers, and elders. The same is mentioned again, Acts 14:23, where Paul and Barnabas are said to ordain elders in the churches by their election and suffrage; for the word there used will admit of no other sense, however it be ambiguously expressed in our translation.  Neither can any instance be given of the use of that word, applied unto the communication of any office or power to any person or persons in an assembly, wherein it denoteth any other action but the suffrage of the multitude; and this it doth constantly in all writers in the Greek tongue. And hence it was that this right and privilege of the church, in choosing of those who are to be set over them in the work of the Lord, was a long time preserved inviolate in the primitive churches, as the ancients do abundantly testify.

Yea, the show and appearance of it could never be utterly thrust out of the world, but is still retained in those churches which yet reject the thing itself. And this institution of our Lord Jesus Christ by his apostles is suited to the nature of the church, and of the authority that he hath appointed to abide therein; for, as we have showed before, persons become a church by their own voluntary consent. Christ makes his subjects willing, not slaves; his rule over them is by his grace in their own wills, and he will have them every way free in their obedience. A church-state is an estate of absolute liberty under Christ, not for men to do what they will, but for men to do their duty freely, without compulsion. Now, nothing is more contrary to this liberty than to have their guides, rulers, and overseers inposed on them without their consent. Besides, the body of the church is obliged to discharge its duty towards Christ in every institution of his; which herein they cannot, if they have not their free consent in the choice of their pastors or elders, but are considered as mute persons or brute creatures. Neither is there any other ordinary way of communicating authority unto any in the church, but by the voluntary submission and subjection of the church itself unto them; for as all other imaginable ways may fail, and have done so, where they have been trusted unto, so they are irrational and unscriptural as to their being a means of the delegation of any power whatever.

Fifthly, Unto this election succeeds the solemn setting apart of them that are chosen by the church unto this work and ministry, by fasting, prayer, and imposition of the hands of the presbytery, before constituted in the church wherein any person is so to be set apart.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15