In a variety of ways it does a great deal of social service similar to that of gilds of help. Its administration has always been in the hands of laymen, and it works through local "conferences" or branches, the general council having been suspended because it declined to accept a cardinal as its official head.
He permitted laymen to hold certain public offices, under surveillance of the prelates, organized a guard from among the Roman nobility, decreed a plan for redeeming the base coinage, permitted the communes a certain degree of municipal liberty, and promised the liquidation of the public debt.
As followers rapidly increased they were compelled to hold their own Sunday services, and this naturally led them to appoint as preachers godly laymen possessing the gift of exhortation.
They are laymen in that they have no right to teach or to dispense the sacraments, and on this account they fill an office in the Presbyterian Church inferior in rank and power to that of the pastors.
To share with the minister such general oversight is not regarded by intelligent and influential laymen as an incongruous or unworthy office; but to identify the duties of the eldership, even in theory, with those of the minister is a sure way of deterring from accepting office many whose counsel and influence in the eldership would be invaluable.'