(In the last article which appeared in the Standard Bearer of Kuyper’s “Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Churches” Kuyper discussed his views on the relation between church and state. In this and successive paragraphs, Kuyper discusses the duties of the individual office bearers and the function of the office of believers.)
22. That Which Must Concern the Ministers of the Word
Among the office bearers of the church the ministers of the Word hold the primary place. They do not acquire this precedence from a certain worthiness of their person, nor from a certain higher status which should be due their office and which places their office above the office of elder or deacon, but exclusively from the work of the Word of God which they serve. Every pretension to honor or worthiness which is based on something other than the work of the Word must be resisted with resolute determination as selfishness and pride, both for their own sake and the sake of their ministry. So far is the worthiness of the minister of the Word dependent on the worth in which he holds the Word of God that his official authority, even though he still bears the title, dims and fades away in the same measure in which the power of the Word diminishes over his person and preaching. The Reformed Church knows no Romish office which works ex opere operatothrough priestly power. A minister of the Word is, in Reformed circles, a common man whose breath is in his nostrils, and, therefore, is to be considered as small as other men because God alone is great and a creature can never be great. And even in the office with which he is clothed, the work of his person as person is not the least exalted. With or without the office he is and remains the same weak and frail man and erring sinner who can stand only by God’s grace. A mayor in his office is clothed with a certain majesty of God. However he administers his office, this majesty remains. But with the preacher all the work of his ministry is exclusively controlled by the truth of the Word which he preaches. In so far as that Word comes through his ministry, he speaks with the King’s power and he handles the keys of the kingdom of heaven. But where that Word is abandoned and weakened by him, he weakens his own ministerial work and lets go the glory of his office.
The calling of these ministers of the Word is to feed the flock of the Lord with that Word. They are to feed in two ways, namely, by doctrine and life. They are to feed by doctrine in the gathering of the congregation, in the education of the youth, and in the homes of believers. They are to feed by life, in their own house, among their own fellow citizens, and especially among the saints. The minister must feed the flock of the Lord in the gathering of believers by the Word which he expounds and applies there. The Word of God is applicable for each congregation in every time, and in every time for each person. And the secret of the preaching is hidden exactly in this that the meaning of the Holy Spirit is given to the Word of God by conscientious explanation and carefully defined application. All topical preaching must therefore be condemned as sin in the Holy Place. One must not feed the flock with one’s own ideas which he hangs on a text. No, but the Word must be preached as it stands through exegesis and application to the heart. He who does not unconditionally and unfailingly confess the Holy Scripture can for that reason not be allowed into the ministry of the Word. Thus, to oppose this infallibility and yet to appear before the congregation with a “it is written,” is to pretend to confess something which one denies.
It is thus immoral. For this ministry, the person who enters into it ought to be educated as much in the exercise of godliness as in the exercise of study. A learned but ungodly man is powerless and offensive in the pulpit. But also, a godly and simple man is a misfit in the ministry. Study pared with godliness is thus the indispensable condition if, in the various studies, the study of and in God’s Word, (I say not, “about” God’s Word), always stands in the foreground.
If the opportunity for such an education is lacking, then the church must provide for it. When it exists, then it is sufficient for the church, after the studies are completed, to examine the candidates.
The right of this examination of perspective ministers rests with the consistory because the consistory calls. However, because neighboring churches have a like concern in this matter and many village churches are unable to examine in these studies, it is better to let such an exam be conducted by many churches together in Classis. Such an exam ought to cover both the studies and godliness. The exam in godliness is not to judge the state of such a person before God, but to pay very close attention to a man’s confession and walk. Attention must be paid to his confession in order to examine whether he is orthodox in every respect, and to his walk by questioning those who know him. Above all, one ought diligently to inquire whether the gift to communicate has been given or withheld by King Jesus, in order that it may be known whether he actually possesses the gift of preaching, prayer, teaching, and consolation.
In this ecclesiastical way the properly examined persons come to their office through the call of the church and through installation into the ministry. The churches have to call their ministers of the Word. They must do this not through voting by roll call, nor choosing in an electoral college by each one who wants to, but in such a way that the believers make known their wishes through the consistory through a formulation of a nomination. Afterwards, the consistory makes its choice from that nomination. It then calls the one chosen; and after his coming, installs him into office, whether through other ministers or through ruling elders. If things take place as they should incorrespondence with other churches, then classis ought to approve such a call since the ministers of the Word preach also in neighboring churches, and the churches have to watch mutually for the soundness and the truthfulness of each other’s ecclesiastical life.
Where ministers of the Word devote themselves entirely to the ministry of the church, they must also live from the church. Concerning the manner in which the church obtains these means of support, it need only be recalled here that the oldest Reformed Churches Under the Cross obtained these means both through subscription and through freewill gifts. But however received, the churches as such must pay their ministers. And they must do this certainly not as charity, but as the reverence of love more than as a rite. This care belongs, as is the arrangement with us, to the church treasurer. But it can also be the work of deacons if it is then understood not as charity but as the common service of tables.
All ministers of the Word are completely alike in rank. The minister of the smallest village is entirely the equal in rank to the minister of the Word in the court or in the capital. Bishops are unknown in the Reformed Churches. These churches detest them and condemn them as an unspiritual sneaking in and an unbecoming bringing in of hierarchy.
Finally, because not only the souls of believers, but also the churches as bodies, must be ruled by the Word of God, the ministers of the Word in like manner are rulers of the churches even as the ruling elders, and the presiding leadership belongs to them because of the work of the Word in all gatherings of an ecclesiastical nature.
23. The Proper Idea Of the Office Of Elder in the Church
Elders, in the narrow sense, are in level of office like the ministers of the Word and are designated in Holy Scripture with the name “elders” and “overseers.” The distinction between the ministers of the Word as teaching elders and the regular elders as ruling elders is not completely correct. Also the regular elders actually teach. The difference lies only in this that the public exposition and application of the Word in the gathering of the congregation belongs to the minister of the Word, while the elders in the narrower sense only teach privately through admonition in the homes and confession of the Word by their lives. In the absence of the minister of the Word, the elders can edify the congregation. But this is a performance of another’s office, not an exercise of their own office. On the other hand, the elders stand in the ecclesiastical ranks and in the exercise of discipline entirely as equals with the ministers of the Word. In the ministry of the Word they are only a help, a supplement of the ministers, but in matters of rule and discipline they are more than a help. In this they form with the ministers one company. They have like powers, and they must, according to Question 85 of our Catechism, be considered as men set over the congregation. Also, as our Formula of Subscription expresses itself, “by this is prevented all tyranny and lordship.” Sometimes they even seemingly come to stand above a minister of the Word in matters of ecclesiastical rule, namely, in so far as the one who has oversight over anyone is above that person concerning whom is the oversight. And it is very particularly charged to the elders, “to take oversight over the teaching and walk of the ministers of the Word.”
They must, as Question 85 of our Catechism says, ¹be chosen by the congregation, yet be installed in their office by their fellow office bearers, whether the ministers of the Word or the ruling elders. Concerning the manner of election, what was said in the earlier paragraph concerning the election of ministers of the Word applies here.
They can serve, if need be, for life; but better for a definite number of years because in this latter way also other gifts of the church come to their best expression and all oligarchy is then prevented in the church of God.
If such service in the congregation is charged to one or more elders so that he must give up his daily work, livelihood for his person and family ought to be provided for in entirety in the same way and under the same conditions as is designated above for the ministers of the Word. The purpose then pursued by the appointment of religious teachers, and so-called evangelists, can in this way more correctly, more properly, and more orderly be attained.
¹By the reference here and in the paragraph above to Question 85 of our Catechism, it is not clear to what Kuyper refers. Question 85 of the Heidelberg Catechism deals with the exercise of the keys through the preaching of the Word. It is possible that Kuyper refers to some expanded version of the Catechism which was at one time used in the Netherlands