Question 30Are there any differences in the office or offices of the guides, rulers, elders, or ministers of the church?

AnswerThe office of them that are teachers is one and the same among them all; but where there are many in the same church, it is the will of Christ that they should be peculiarly assigned unto such especial work, in the discharge of their office-power, as their gifts received from him do peculiarly fit them for and the necessities of the church require.

Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-6,8; 1 Pet. 4:10,5:2.

Explication — The office of them that are to instruct the church in the name and authority of Christ is one and the same, as hath been showed before.  And there are many names that are equally accomodated unto all that are partakers of it, as elders, bishops, guides; they are all alike elders, alike bishops, alike guides, — have the one office in common amongst them, and every one the whole entire unto himself. But there are names also given unto them, whereby they are distinguished, not as to office, but as to their work and employment in the discharge of that office: such are “pastors and teachers,” Eph. 4:11, which are placed as distinct persons in their work, partakers of the same office. Now, the foundation of this distinction and difference lies, —

First, In the differnt gifts that they have received; for although it be required in them all that they have received all those gifts, abilities, and qualifications which are necessary for the work of the ministry, yet as to the degrees of their participation of their gifts, some may more excel in one, others in another: 1 Cor. 12:4-6,8, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit,” etc. And all these gifts are bestowed upon them to be exercised and laid out for the profit and benefit of the church: Verse 7, “The manifestion of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” And therefore every one is in an especial manner to attend unto the exercise and use of that gift wherein he doth excel, or which tends most to the edification of the church, every man being to minister according as he hath received, 1 Pet. 4:10.

Secondly, It lies in the nature of the work of the ministry in the church, which in general may be referred unto two heads or ends: —

1. The instruction of it in the knowledge of God in Christ, and the mysteries of the gospel, that it might grow in grace, wisdom, saving light, and knowledge.

2. The exhortation of it to walk answerable unto light received, in holiness and universal obedience. Now, though these several ends of the ministry cannot be divided or separated, yet they may be distinguished, and so carried on distinctly, that in the one, knowledge or light may be firstly and principally intended, so as to lead unto obedience; in the other, holiness may be firstly designed, as springing from gospel light or knowledge. Hence, therefore, are the elders of the church principally to attend unto that work, or that end of the ministry, which by the Holy Ghost they are most suited unto. And, therefore, the church following the intimations of the Holy Ghost, in communicating his gifts in variety as he pleaseth, and attending to their own edification, may and ought, amongst those whom they choose to the office of elders or ministers, withal design them in particular unto that especial work which they are especially fitted and prepared for; and this, upon their being chosen and set apart, they are accordingly to attend unto: “He that teacheth, on teaching; he that exhorteth, on exhortation,” Rom. 12:7,8. Their office, then, is the same; but their teaching work and employment, on the grounds mentioned, distinct and different.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15