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The Ministry Of The Word

“The office of the ministry is to continue in prayer and in the ministry of the word, to dispense the sacraments, to watch over his brethren, the elders and deacons, as well as the congregation, and finally, with the elders, to exercise church discipline and to see to it that everything is done decently and in good order.”— Article 16

It is generally agreed that the word “office” in this article defers to the functions of the ministry rather than to the idea of the office as such. Dr. H. Bouwman writes: “Het woord ambt komt hier niet voor in de beteekenis, waarin het thans gebruikt wordt. Naar de hedendaagsche opvatting beteekent ambt: de maatschappelijke betrekking, die iemand bekleedt, de openbare werkkring, waarin iemand geplaatst is tengevolge van eene benoeming door het openbare gezag van de overheid, zoals het ambt van burgemeester, rechter, enz. of ook eene bediening in de kerk van Christus, waartoe iemand van Christus’ wege geroepen is. Naar de oude opvatting van het woord beteekent ambt de dienst of de bediening, die iemand heeft te vervullen, het werk, dat hij heeft te verrichten, de taak of de plicht, die op hem rust, . . . (pg. 485, Vol. I)”

With this Monsma and Van Dellen substantially agree. They write: “It should be noted that Article 16 speaks of the duty, work or task of the Minister, and not of the office of the ministry as such. The word office as used in our Church Order sometimes refers to the official, authoritative position of the officebearers in the Church of Christ, and sometimes to the duties of the office and not to the office itself.” (pg. 74)

Nevertheless, we shall not confine our writing to the functions of the office alone. We consider it proper and necessary to write somewhat in detail of the office as well as its functions in this connection. We do so because the subject matter itself is very important and may be emphasized especially in our day when the truth concerning the ministry of the word is no longer regarded and the church, fallen into a state of degradation, gives clear and abundant evidences of modernism. Such decadence becomes prominent even in nominal Reformed circles where the ministry is no longer governed by the sound principles of the word of God. Profitable it will be, therefore, to recapitulate some of these principles which govern not only the functions of the office but the office itself in order that “this holy ordinance of God may not be violated or slighted and that everyone may esteem the ministers of God’s Word, and the elders of the Church, very highly for their work’s sake, and be at peace with them without murmuring, strife or contention, as much as possible.” (Belgic Confession, Art. 31)

Before writing of these things in particular we should also notice that Article 16 of the church order, even if interpreted as referring to the functions of the ministerial office; is not intended as an exhaustive list of these duties. Neither is it a cursory list. Dr. Bouman says: “De opsomming der werkzaamhedeh in Article 16 is dan ook niet limitatief, alsof het werk des dienaars hiertoe beperkt zou zijn, maar praescriptief, bij wijze van voorschrift en voorbeeld.” (The summation of the duties in Article 16 is then not limitative, as if the work of the minister shall be limited thereto, but prescriptive, by manner of prescription and illustration.) The article simply designates the essential duties of the minister from which other labors are logically deduced.

The Thirtieth Article of the Confession does the same thing when it speaks of the spiritual policy by which the church of Christ is to be governed. Essential to that policy is it “that there must be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God, and to administer the sacraments.” (Confession, Art. 30) No one could possibly conclude from this that this is all that ministers are required to do.

The Call-Letter used in our churches is more explicit in. this respect. It states, “The labors that we expect of you�should it please God to send you to us�are: Preaching twice on the Lord’s Day, attending to catechetical instruction, to family visiting and calling on the sick, and furthermore of all things that pertain to the work of a faithful and diligent servant of the Lord, all these agreeably to the word of God, as interpreted by our Forms of Unity and the Church Order of Dordrecht, as amended by the rules of our churches.” Although several duties are mentioned here which are not included in the church order, also this is not intended as a complete list. This is evident from the statement, “and of all things that pertain to the work of a faithful and diligent servant of the Lord,” which is rather general and may include a number of labors which it is even quite impossible to attempt to enumerate as they arise in the course of the ministry out of local circumstances.

Finally, we should notice that the duties of the minister of the gospel are set forth rather fully in the Form of Ordination. The Form is too lengthy to quote here so we will take only a partial excerpt from it.

“. . . the office of pastors and ministers of God’s word is:

“First, that they faithfully explain to their flock the word of the Lord, revealed by the writings of the prophets and the apostles . . . . .

“Secondly, it is the office of the ministers, publicly to call upon the name of the Lord in behalf of the whole congregation . . . . which is the same as ‘continue in prayers’, Art. 16 D.K.O.)

“Thirdly, their office is to administer the Sacraments . . . .

“Finally, it is the duty of the ministers of the word, to keep the church of God in good discipline, and to govern it in such a manner as the Lord hath ordained . . . .”

From these references it should be evident that among all the various duties connected with the ministerial office, the foremost or the heartbeat of them all is the preaching of the word of God. This, in the words of T.M. Nichols, makes the minister’s calling the “noblest and most exalted office to which man can aspire.”

In Volume 12, pg. 436 of the Standard Bearer, Rev. Hoeksema wrote:

“But the preacher must be minister of the word of God.”

“That makes his calling incomparable, unique, super-human! He must deny himself, men, the world, the wisdom of men, all that is of the world, its conventions, its customs, its self-will, its lie, its deceitfulness; also its wisdom, goodness, nobility, righteousness, philanthropy, charity, glory, ambition, success, power; its aims and aspirations; he must listen only to the word of God, the impossibly word, which no man will hear nor even can will to hear, which is heart, not at all in the world, but only in the sphere of grace and by grace, and which ye men pretend to hear when they do not hear it; and having listened to that word of God, only listened, without contradiction, and having filled his soul with that word, and only after he is quite sure that his soul is filled with nothing but that word, he must speak! . . . .”

“And all that is mere man, within him and without, will oppose him both in hearing and in speaking!”

“His path is beset with temptations to ‘corrupt the word of God’, to mix that word with the word of men, in order that he may please mere man!”

“Who is sufficient unto these things?”

“And who, that serves in the ministry of the word of God, does not realize that he is a man of unclean lips?”

“He that never feared and trembled at this ministry has never fully realized the ‘awful glory’ of that calling!”

Such is indeed the pivot of this minister’s task!

And to this may be added another quotation from A.W. Pink:

“The preacher’s task is both the most honorable and at the same time the most responsible one. He professes it to be a most solemn of any calling, the most privileged and as the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, a messenger sent forth by the Most High. To misrepresent his master, to preach any other gospel than his, to falsify the message which God has committed to his trust, is the sin of sins which brings down upon him the anathema of heaven (Gal. 1:18) and will be visited with the sorest punishment awaiting any creature. Scripture is plain that the heaviest measure of divine wrath is reserved for unfaithful preachers. (Matt. 23:14, Jude 13).”

Such is the seriousness of the matter.

The implications of this central task of the minister we will consider later. Here we are only to emphasize its important place in the role of pastoral duty. It can be abundantly shown from Scripture that preaching the word is indeed the foremost of the minister’s duties. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: “Now then we are ambassadors for (in behalf of) Christ.” Titus, he exhorts, to “hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” Timothy is called to, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine, continue in them . . .” The same epistle speaks of the elders who “labor especially in the word and doctrine.” Characteristic of those who rule in the church, according to Hebrews 13:7, is that “they have spoken unto you the word of God.” The preacher is one sent to proclaim the gospel of peace and to bring glad tidings of good things. (Romans 10:15) In I Corinthians 9:16 the apostle says, “for necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.” To the Galatians he writes that God had separated him from his mother’s womb and called him by His grace to reveal His Son in him, that he might preach him among the heathen.

To these may be added numerous passages. But always it is evident that the preaching stands upon the foreground. It is first. Other labors, significant though they are, must be considered only in the light of the primary duty—the exalted calling to preach the living word of the living God!

(to be continued)

A Parenthesis

The other day I came across a few quotations which are of such interest and timeliness that I thought it worthwhile to interrupt my current series of writings on the Church Order and insert this parenthetical article. Although I’ve frequently been tempted to discuss various pertinent articles of the Church Order, chosen at random, I have refrained from doing so but just this once I take the liberty to jump ahead and discuss with you the comments of Monsma and VanDellen on Article 79 of the D.K.O. These remarks are pertinent to the case of H. De Wolf and the First Church as the reader will soon enough observe.

We begin to quote from Page 327 of “The Church Order Commentary.” Here the question is raised, “May a Classis Depose Elders and Deacons?” This question as such has nothing to do with the history recently made in our churches as no Classis ever attempted deposition of anyone. It has been presented as though Classis East initiated discipline but this is entirely untrue as has been repeatedly shown in the past. But notice what Monsma and Van Dellen have to say in reply to the above question. We quote:

“Some have contended that a Classis may depose Consistories. The present authors feel that no major assembly, according to Reformed Church polity and the Church Order, has the right to depose a minor assembly. The deposition of a Consistory, for example, by a Classis or Synod would seem to be a violation of the integrity and of the rights of the particular Church concerned, whereas the Church Order in more than one article seeks to safeguard this integrity and these rights. (Cf. Art. 30, 84). Moreover, Reformed Church government does not tolerate group disciplining. Discipline, according to our Reformed conception, is always individual and never communal.” (pg. 327)

It is to be noticed here that although Monsma and Van Dellen belong to the Christian Reformed Church, this is not the accepted view of that church. Monsma and Van Dellen express here the view of Dr. Van Lonkhuyzen which is a condemnation of the actions of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. This polity we also maintained and defended over against the hierarchy of the Synod of ’24.

Now the defenders of this polity write further on page 323 as follows. Please note that all italics in the following excerpt are mine and brief comment by the undersigned appear in parenthesis. We quote:

“If the case of an elder or deacon is brought to Classis by way of appeal on the part of individual members of the Church, or on the part of one or more consistory members, the appellants feeling and claiming that the Consistory as a whole is negligent or in error, then what is the correct procedure? (Such was exactly the case before Classis East in May, 1953.) Then Classis deliberates and draws its conclusions. If the decision is to the effect that the elder(s) or deacon(s) should be suspended or deposed, the Consistory concerned is informed regarding this decision and proceeds to execute the judgment rendered. Again, Classis has a full right to appoint a committee to help the Consistory in the execution of its task. (My italics here express that the supposition of Monsma and Van Dellen is the reality of Classis East’s decisions.) If a Consistory feels that it cannot in good conscience accept the advice, it may appeal to Synod. If Synod sustains the Classis the Consistory should give immediate execution to the judgment of Classis. That is to say, the Consistory should suspend or depose the officebearer in question. Failure to, do so would bear dire consequences. For in such a case those Consistory members and individual members of the Church concerned who desire to adhere to the decisions of Classis and Synod should meet and declare the deflecting or recalcitrant Consistory members to be out of office, and new elders and deacons should be elected in their place forthwith. An extraordinary congregational meeting of this kind should be called under the guidance of classical delegates, or of a neighboring Consistory, preferably the former, to give assurance that all things will be done in good order.”

Thus far the quotation.

Now it ought to be noticed that where Monsma and Van Dellen speak of making an appeal to Synod, this did not occur in the case of De Wolf because the latter refused to walk in the way of submission and appeal. De Wolf and his supporters claim to be the Consistory of the First Church. Even if it would be granted that this is the case, which it by no means is, their conduct is contrary to all order because they attempt to lord it over the Classis and refused the orderly way of appeal.

Concerning this M6nsma and Van Dellen also write as follows:

“If any Consistory remember thus deposed refuses to acknowledge his deposition and seeks to exercise his former rights, he makes himself liable to discipline as an individual member.

“If one or more deposed Consistory members, together with certain adherents belonging to the church concerned, refuse to honor the acts of deposition and the election of new officebearers, and when these moreover begin to hold separate meetings for worship, Classis should declare these members to be a schismatic group, outside of the Christian Reformed denomination and having forfeited all rights and privileges.” (pp. 328)

Thus far the quotation.

Isn’t it obvious that this is exactly what Classis East did in its sessions in October 1953 with the exception that the words “Christian Reformed denomination” in the above quotation in this case become “Protestant Reformed Denomination?” Isn’t it also self-evident that the same Classis had no other alternative than to rule as it did with respect to the cases of Kok, Blankespoor and Knott, who continued to recognize and support the schismatics in spite of Classis’ decisions? Our readers can readily understand in the light of factual history that those who have left us have trampled underfoot all order and decency, all Reformed Church rule, and wantonly have chosen to walk in the way of Independentism, pure and simple. Our church political differences are not so much a difference of interpreting Reformed Church polity but it becomes more and more evident that our difference is that of the Reformed and the Congregationalistic conceptions.

And, finally, we should add that throughout this history the Classis never denied the opposition the right of existence. If their consciences (??) forbade them to be Protestant Reformed and to submit to the doctrines and polity of the Protestant Reformed Churches, the way is open for them to either affiliate with others with whom they have much in common or to establish themselves as separate churches but they must then do so honestly and not attempt to rob the Protestant Reformed Churches of name and possessions. In this they sin against the holy commandment of God who judges righteously without respect of persons.

But then, on the other hand, can it ever be expected that those addicted to heresies deal honestly?