Customs of Primitive Churches, Eldresses

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by rlvaughn, Jul 17, 2016.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    PROP. XIII. Of the office of eldresses.

    XIII. The office of eldresses hath foundation in scripture and antiquity. It is to be exercised only among the women. It consists in praying, and teaching in their separate assemblies; presiding there for maintenance of rules and government; consulting with the sisters about matters of the church which concern them, and representing their sense thereof to the elders; attending at the unction of sick sisters; and at the baptism of sisters, that all may be done orderly. The process by which they are put in the office may be like that of the teaching elders viz. by choice of the church &c. Their manner of performing the office is laboriously. They are to be veiled when they preach or pray, especially if men be sent to their assemblies. Their reward is honour, and maintenance. Their qualifications are specified by Paul.

    1. The office hath foundation is scripture, Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father--the elder women [Gk. eldresses] as mothers. Tim. v. 1, 2. If the word elders, in the first verse, refers to office and not age. the term eldresses must do the same in the second verse. It is likely the same word refers to office in Tit. ii. 3. The preaching and praying women mentioned in Rom. xvi, 1 Cor. xi, Phil. iv, also those widows mentioned in 1 Tim. v. to be understood of these eldresses.
    2. Antiquity is in favour of the office; for by a council held at Laodicea it appears, not only that eldresses were in the church but that, theretofore, they had been put in the office by ordination.
    3. They are to exercise their office only among their own sex. That there were teaching women is plain from, Rom. xvi, 1 Cor. xi, Phil. iv, Rev. ii. 20; that the office was to continue, appears by the directions given how such women are to behave, 1 Cor. xi. 5 &c. But in the church they were not allowed to exercise their gifts, 1 Cor. xiv 34, 35, 1 Tim. 2. 9-12. Therefore at the religious assemblies of women. That there were such assemblies is plain from Act. 16. 13, ch. xii. 12, for from ver. 17 it is probable there were no brethren at the meeting of prayer held at the house of Mary. The church of Thyatira is not blamed for suffering a woman to teach, but for suffering a bad woman to teach bad doctrines. The Quakers, Methodists, &c. have, in effect, eldresses to this day. We only blame the former for suffering them to preach and pray in the church, and that unveiled.
    4. Their office consists (1) In praying 1 Cor. xi. 4 Every woman that prayeth &c. ver. 13 Is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 1 Tim. v. 5 A widow indeed continueth in prayer night and day. (2) Teaching. Every woman that prophesieth with her head uncovered, &c. Those women which laboured with me in the gospel, Phil. iv. 3. Persis which laboured much in the Lord. Rom. xvi. 12. Suffer not a woman to teach in the church. 1 Tim. ii. 12. 1 Cor. xiv. 34. Rev. ii. 20. Tit. ii. 3. (3) To preside in womens meetings for maintenance of rules, &c. Therefore they, like the ruling elders, are called helpers. Rom. xvi. 3. (4) To consult with them about church matters that concern them, and represent their sense to the elders; for as they must keep silence in the church, reason would that they have the necessary liberty elsewhere. (5) To attend the elders at the unction of sick women; and at the baptism of women Jam. v. 14. 1 Cor. xiv. 40.
    5. They are to be put in office by the election of the church, &c. Let not a widow be taken [or as in the margin, chosen] into the number &c. This signifies a choice to office; [for] helpless widows that want many of the qualifications might and ought to be taken into the number of pensioners.
    6. Their manner of performing the office is (1) Laboriously, Women which laboured in the gospel Phil iv. 3. Rom. xvi. 12. (2) With their heads veiled or covered when they pray or preach 1 Cor. xi. 5, 13, and when any messengers from the church are in their assemblies. 1 Cor. xi. 10 Because of the angels viz, the messengers, as the same word is elsewhere translated, 2 Cor. viii. 23.
    7. Their reward is (1) Honour, Honour widows that are widows indeed 1 Tim. v. 3. (2) Maintenance, Let not the church be charged that it may relieve them that are widows indeed, 1 Tim. v. 16.
    8. Their qualifications are specified. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse 1 Tim. v. 9-11.
    9. We have not seen the ordination of an eldress but reckon the process should be as similar to that of an elder as the case will bear. See prop. xii.

    Customs of Primitive Churches, Morgan Edwards, pages 41-42
     
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  2. rsr

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    Interesting. I notice that Edwards said he had never attended an ordination for an eldress; it is an open question whether he knew of any eldresses in the churches he was familiar with.

    There are records of eldresses within the English Generals and the Separates in America (although Martha Marshall went well beyond Edwards' instructions in that she preached to gatherings that included men); are you aware of ordained eldresses within the Regulars?
     
  3. rlvaughn

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    Yes, from what we have in the manual it is hard to ascertain whether any Regulars had eldresses at all, or if this was just something Edwards agreed with in principle. Of course, he could have seen it in general practice but without the accompanying practice of ordination. As for me, I've not seen any documentation of eldresses among the Regular Baptists.
     
  4. rsr

    rsr
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    In Distinctively Baptist Essays on Baptist History: A Festschrift in Honor of Walter B. Shurden, Wm. Loyd Allen notes that the Philadelphia Association not only declined to endorse Morgan's work but pointedly said that neither the association, nor any of its churches, had endorsed the work. Morgan evidently had wanted the association to use it as the basis of a church manual, with emendations, but apparently the association wanted no part of that work, which would later be taken up by others.

    Allen traces some of its distinctives to Welsh pietism (not a stretch, given that Morgan was Welsh and the Philadelphia area — including its Baptists — were influenced by Welsh immigration.)

    Edwards' view of the Christian life, Allen said, "is more a matter of experiencing the faith in the flesh and naming it than thinking the faith in the head and describing it correctly." Certainly at variance with the spirit of the Philadelphia Confession and its predecessors, but more like the spirit that prevailed, at least briefly, among the Separates.
     
  5. rlvaughn

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    Searching Gillette's compilation of the minutes of the Philadelphia Association (1707-1807), I find the book mentioned twice.

    1773. The following books may be had of Mr. Samuel Davis, Hatter, at the corner of Christ Church Alley, in Third street. viz. "Baptist Confessions of Faith," 1s. 1d.; "Norcott on Baptism," 4d.; "Catechisms," 3d.; "Materials towards a history of the Baptists," 4s., unbound, 3s. "Customs of Primitive Churches," 3s. 9d.; "Stennett's Sermons," 20s.

    1774. After deliberations on some queries from the church at Welsh Tract, it was finally agreed, that our brethren Abel Morgan, Isaac Backus, Isaac Stelle, and Samuel Jones, form a minute to answer them, which being done and approved, is here inserted:
    "Whereas a book was published, entitled, 'The Customs of the Primitive Churches,' which the author proposed should be altered, amended, and corrected, by his ministering brethren, and then re-printed for the use of the churches, which was never done; and whereas, we have reason to think, that it is under-stood by many abroad to have been adopted by us in its present form, as our custom and mode of church discipline and practice; it is therefore thought meet, that we should thus publicly testify to the contrary, as it is not, nor ever has been adopted by us, or by any of the churches belonging to the association."

    [Also from 1773: "The usefulness of a travelling minister on this continent appearing more manifest by trials, and Brother Morgan Edwards declining the office, it was agreed, that Brother John Gano be a messenger of the churches for this year; and the treasurer do pay him the interest of the Association fund, to help defraying his expenses." (Edwards was chosen as an evangelist of the association, and had travelled so in 1772)]

    * Isaac Backus was there as a corresponding messenger "from the Baptist Association, held at Medfield, in the Massachusetts Bay..."
     
    #5 rlvaughn, Jul 18, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2016
  6. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Makes me wonder, though, why his distinctives wouldn't have gained more traction, considering how influential Welsh Baptists were to the formation and life of the early Philadelphia Baptist Association.
     
  7. rsr

    rsr
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    Let me offer a couple of conjectures:

    1. Although the Welsh influence was significant, it became segregated with the Welsh decision to break away and form their own church (primarily over laying on of hands), which limited its influence on the other churches.

    2. The "mother church" of the association was founded by Elias Keach (a fascinating story there), and it is possible that those churches reflected the more standard Particular Baptists of England than the Welsh tradition represented by Edwards. (First Philadelphia for a long time was considered a congregation of Keach's Pennepack church rather than independent body).
     
  8. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Not sure I've following you here. Are you talking about Welsh influence on the PBA? Although the laying on of hands would later fall into disuse, the Philadelphia Association put in in their confession (apparently due to the Welsh influence). Chapter 31 asserted, "We believe that laying on of hands, with prayer, upon baptized believers, as such, is an ordinance of Christ, and ought to be submitted unto by all such persons that are admitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper..."

    Yes, I think that would be true of the churches established by the English.

    I've only read Loyd Allen's essay in Distinctively Baptist Essays on Baptist History: A Festschrift in Honor of Walter B. Shurden on Google Books, which is a preview -- so all the pages aren't visible. But from what I was able to read, I would have like to have seen more examples of the piety and practice in the Welsh Baptist practices. I wonder how much of Edwards's details can be traced back to Wales, or how much he might have gotten from the Separate Baptists.
     
  9. rsr

    rsr
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    Now that I read it, I agree with you; I can't follow it either. (The posts I make after 1 a.m. can get like that.)
     
    #9 rsr, Jul 20, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2016
  10. rsr

    rsr
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    There's a footnote in an article by Gerald Priest on The Abel Morgans's Contribution to Baptist Ecclesiology in Colonial America (Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 8 (Fall 2003): 49–68:

    https://www.dbts.edu/journals/2003/Priest.pdf

     

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