In addition to creating fears in England of clerical domination of elderships and classes, the perceived paucity of socially respectable ruling-elder candidates at the parish level also led to fears that baseborn men might be put in a position to judge their social and intellectual betters.
The first concern was to specify just what forms of ignorance, sin, and scandal would justify suspension of a parishioner from the sacrament, lest elderships wield an arbitrary power of suspension.
118) Laymen, however, were not necessarily sworn magistrates, and the ordinance of October 20 consequently permitted appeals to Parliament and added the abovementioned restraints that ensured magisterial control over the examination of capital crimes and forbade the use in civil courts of evidence obtained by the elderships.
In rural parishes elderships could request a commission from the privy council, whereby they were able to inflict civil penalties without the magistrate's assistance.
In the Long Parliament, by contrast, a committee of the Commons, appointed to draw up a position paper in response to a petition from the Westminster Assembly, held in October 1645 that to allow elderships to suspend or excommunicate for unenumerated sins would be to grant them an arbitrary power, and that Parliament could not so allow the raising up of "that exploded piece of Popery, that churchmen must declare persons heretics, and then by an implicit faith the magistrate must hang and burn them.
A stranger to the English ecclesiastical polity in 1640, ruling eldership had been an integral part of the Scottish kirk for over sixty years and had also functioned successfully in the congregationalist churches of New England.
During the English Civil War ruling eldership was part of the high presbyterian system pressed upon the parliamentarian side by its military allies the Scottish Covenanters, and also by a majority in the Westminster Assembly of Divines.
The insufficiency of ruling eldership was politically significant in these contexts, as MPs who did not necessarily share the erastian philosophy of a John Selden or a Bulstrode Whitelocke could nevertheless be persuaded that ruling elders would have neither the religious expertise to counterbalance the influence of ordained ministers nor the magisterial expertise to ensure due process.
The view that ruling eldership was not jure divino or warrantable by Scripture certainly played a role; Charles Surman has shown that some parishioners were willing to be examined by ministers but not by ruling elders, who according to one source were seen to "have no Warrant in the Word" and in another to be lacking "Divine right.