- The office of presbyter, commonly translated as elder, appears in the New Testament church. in Acts 15 the elders meet with the apostles to make decisions. In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas designate elders to lead each of the churches they organize. The biblical elder evolved into the ordained minister/priest over the next centuries. In the Catholic Church, three orders of ministry developed - deacon, elder or priest (which also derives from presbyter), and bishop.The early Protestants went to the Bible to resolve questions over the nature and function of elders/ministers. They all agreed that the biblical elder and the common church minister were the same. In the Anglican Church, the elders/priests constituted the second order of ministry, below the bishops. American Methodists followed the Anglican structure by having a bishop, but for them a bishop was considered merely an elder with a different job assignment.John Calvin did away with the bishopric and proposed two orders of elders, the teaching elder (minister) and ruling elder (lay leader). Baptists also did away with bishops, but did not accept Calvin's distinction between elders. Ministers were the elders spoken of in the scriptures. In most Protestant churches, the biblical elders are equated with modern ordained ministers. The more radical of modern groups have done away with the idea of ordained and/or salaried ministers and operate with a lay leadership entirely.See also deacons.Further reading:■ Eugene Carson Blake and Edward Burns shaw, Presbyterian Law for the Presbytery, a Manual for Ministers and Ruling Elders (Philadelphia: Office of the General Assembly, 1959)■ Loren S. Bowman, Power and Polity among the Brethren: A Study of Church Governance (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1987)■ John E. Harnish, The Orders of Ministry in the United Methodist Church (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2000)■ Waymon D. Miller, The Role of Elders in the New Testament Church (Tulsa: oklahoma Plaza Press, 1980)■ Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Littleton, Colo.: Lewis & Roth, 1995).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.