Biblical Eldership/Appendix 1: Baptist Church Government Illustrated From Historic Baptist Confessions
From Gospel Translations
The purpose of this historical survey is to show that, from their earliest beginnings Baptists, have held to the view that the two ongoing church offices presented in the New Testament are elders and deacons, and that only in more modern developments has the eldership largely disappeared from Baptist churches.
A Short confession of Faith in Twenty Articles by John Smyth, 1609
The ministers of the church are, not only bishops (episcopos), to whom the power is given of dispensing both the Word and the sacraments, but also deacons, men and widows, who attend to the affairs of the poor and sick brethren.
A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam, 1611
That the Officers of every Church or congregation are either Elders, who by their office do especially feed the flock concerning their souls, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, 3, or Deacons, Men and Women, who by their office relieve the necessities of the poor and impotent brethren concerning their bodies, Acts 6:1-4
Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion, 1612-1614
That Christ hath set in His outward church two sorts of ministers: viz., some who are called pastors, teachers or elders, who administer the Word and sacraments, and others who are called Deacons, men and women: whose ministry is, to serve tables and wash the saints' feet (Acts 6:2-4; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2, 3, 8, 11; and chap.5).
The London Confession, 1644
That being thus joyned, every Church has power given them from Christ for their better well-being, to choose to themselves meet persons into the office of Pastors,* Teachers,* Elders, Deacons, being qualified according to the Word, as those which Christ has appointed in his Testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of his Church, and that none other have power to impose them, either these or any other.
(*) "Pastors" and "Teachers" are omitted in later editions.
Second London Confession, 1677 and 1688
Article 26, paragraph 8
A particular Church gathered, and completely Organized, according to the mind of Christ, consists of Officers, and Members; And the Officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the Church (so called and gathered) for the peculiar Administration of Ordinances, and Execution of power, or Duty which he entrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the World, are Bishops or Elders and Deacons.
Articles of the Baptist Bible Union of America, 1923
We believe that a church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers . . that its officers of ordination are pastors, elders and deacons, whose qualifications, claims and duties are clearly defined in the Scriptures.
Statement of Faith of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1925 and 1963
This church is an autonomous body, operating through democratic processes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In such a congregation members are equally responsible. Its Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.
A Comment on Tradition
Of course our only infallible rule for faith and practice is not tradition, either old or new, but rather, is the Word of God. Nevertheless, we believe that humility and wisdom commend the careful consideration of what our fathers in the faith have taught and practiced. We are not the sole possessors of truth. And we are very prone to be blind at the very points where perhaps they saw clearly. The least we can say from this historical survey of Baptist Confessions is that it is false to say that the eldership is unbaptistic. On the contrary, the eldership is more baptistic than its absence, and its disappearance is a modern phenomenon that parallels other developments in doctrine that make its disappearance questionable at best.
Note: The story of the presence and then gradual disappearance of multiple elders from the Congregational churches of New England in the 17th and 18th century is told briefly by Iain Murray in Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography, pp. 344-6.
But in the end, the issue is whether the Bible itself teaches a form of church governance including elders and deacons as the two abiding officers of the church.