Please show the scriptural basis for the doctrine that elders and deacons are permanent appointments, i.e., once a person is ordained into office, he should remain in that office. I thought that when it is said that these are “perpetual offices,” it means that these offices, unlike the offices of Apostles and prophets, will continue to the end of the age.
It is true that the term “perpetual offices” usually describes the offices in the church that continues to be valid in contradistinction to the temporary offices during the days of the Apostles. The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, a document of the Westminster Assembly, for example, states: “The officers which Christ hath appointed for the edification of His church, and the perfecting of the saints, are, some extraordinary, as Apostles, evangelists, and prophets, which are ceased. Others ordinary and perpetual, as pastors, teachers, and other church-governors, and deacons” (note that “pastors, teachers and other church-governors” may be classed under the office of elders with differing functions).
It may therefore be misleading to use the adjective “perpetual” to describe the idea that the appointment to office is permanent or for life. But whatever the case may be, I do believe that it is proper to speak about the offices as being permanent. This is because these offices are vested upon the individual by Christ, the King of the Church, through the instrumentality of the local church. This is what ordination to the ministry is about. When a candidate to office has been examined by the Session or Presbytery, and elected into office by the members of the church, and then solemnly and publicly presented to the church (whether with imposition of hands or not), he is regarded as ordained to the ministry. He is called of Christ to the particular office. What is the scriptural basis of our saying that he is “called of Christ” rather than “called of the church”? Well, notice how in Ephesians 4:11, the Apostle Paul speaks of pastors and teachers (apart from other temporary offices) as being given of Christ? Similarly, he tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:28 that among other offices, teachers (teaching-elders), governors (ruling-elders) and helpers (deacons), are set or appointed by God in the Church.
Just as no one may arrogate himself to any office of the church, no one may simply say he wishes to step down or resign from office. Any resignation ought only to be effected by deposition through the hand of the Session or Presbytery after proper deliberation. When deposition occurs, the church is essentially saying that she was mistaken in thinking that Christ has called the particular person to the office.
There are, of course, churches which practise term eldership and deaconship, but I am unable to find any biblical basis for such a practice. (I say this with no intention of condemning any church which so practises). Now, it must be admitted that there is no clear statements either, which say that eldership and deaconship are for life. However, the fact that the Scripture teaches ordination to the offices, and makes no mention of any time frame for their term, plus the fact that ordination is a call of Christ through the church, implies that none may take up or leave the office at his own initiative and fancy. The church ought not to be run like secular organisations, according to the principles of the world. She must acknowledge the kingship of Christ over her in every aspect, including the appointment of officers. The power of the existing session or presbytery to appoint and depose officers is purely ministerial, i.e., representative (see Matthew 16:19; 18:18), and so any appointment or deposition should be carried out when it is believed to be the will of Christ based on what He has revealed in providence and in His Word.
For pragmatic reasons, it is of course possible that a deacon may not be serving in a diaconate for a term or two, and an elder may take a break from the session for a term or two, but they will remain deacons and elders, though without decisional or voting rights in the respective boards, and they may be brought into the boards again at a later date.
In this regard, take note that in PCC, the initial election into office is different from the bi-annual re-election, which is required by the Societies Acts. The initial election is part of the call to office. The subsequent elections are only administrative and are not biblically necessary. We use the subsequent elections for membership in the board of elders and board of deacons (whose existence we can only justify by inference and light of nature). But suppose an elder or deacon does not receive the stipulated votes, then it behoves the existing session (or presbytery) to examine why it is so and whether deposition is necessary.
Q & A Articles >