5. How God’s Word governs the whole life of the church.
The normal form or figure and shape of the church on earth is fixed by the Word of God. By the Word, God gathers His elect, making this saving operation, through the Holy Spirit, work to regeneration. Aroused by this Spirit, the elect confess that Word over against Satan and the world, over against each other and themselves. They strive by the institution of preaching under the authority of this Word. They seek an administration of the sacraments in order to confirm faith in that Word. They attempt to bring the seed of the church to germination through that Word. They strive for this goal to incorporate into the church through the Word the heathen, the Jews, and those who fell away.
The ministry of reconciliation, of prayers and of singing praise before the Lord our God is no longer alongside that Word, but is, after Golgotha, locked up in the ministry of that Word. Before Christ died this was different. Hence, in the period of the genesis of the church in Israel when the only offering was not yet brought and the intercessor did not yet pray at the throne of grace and the Spirit was not yet poured out on all, (Joel 2:29) the service of ceremonies, in daily offerings, in priestly intercession, and levitical song prevailed. This ceremonial service however, did not pass over into the church after her birth for the world. Between the sinking away of the Israelite church and the rise of the world church the coming of the Mediator in the fullness of time intervened. That Mediator has brought in the one and sufficient sacrifice for the whole church of all ages. He afterward brought it up to heaven in order to bring the prayer for His people to God, a prayer which is in and for His church. He sent the Holy Spirit Who loosens every tongue that they may proclaim the great works of God and exalt the virtues of Him Who called out of darkness into His marvelous light.
It must not be said therefore, that only the church in Israel offered, had priestly intercession and spiritual praising, while the church now lacks these. But it must be confessed that in old times these three appeared in a defective way as shadows, while they are now worked gloriously in the church and come into existence through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Christ is now in the church, and even now, each day, He applies His own offering, lets His intercessory prayer for us arise, and makes the Spirit operative to the glory of the Father. Rome’s error does not lie in this that it keeps up these three holy activities in the church, but in this that it, although the Mediator Himself has performed these three works, wants to do them after Him or in His place; and it thus takes them out of His hand.
Looked at from a practical point of view, these three services now merge for what actually concerns the reformation of the churches in the one ministry of the Word (because the work of the Mediator cannot be subject to any deformation). The disciples of Christ are now pure through the Word which He spoke to them. (John 15:3) There is, however, no part in His sacrifice nor in His intercession, nor in His Spirit in any other way than through faith. And faith in the Word alone makes these holy things true for the soul. In the ministration of the Word the sacrifice of Christ as the substance itself is applied to us, as also His intercession and the work of the Spirit in the soul. Every sacrament, every prayer and every psalm in the church is therefore bound to the Word, must be grounded in the Word and must be taken up through that Word in the continuous mediatorial work of Christ our Lord.
Another ministry than that of the Word there is not in the visible church; and every manifestation of the life of the church flows forth from that one ministry of the Word. As often as the elect confess that Word of God among themselves, they walk in the way of penitence, self-examination, and conversion, and the confession of sin is present among them. If they confess, on the other hand, this Word over against each other, then admonition and punishment and all the glorious work of love comes to the fore. If they confess this Word over against the world, the work of mercy pertaining to life and soul comes to manifestation. If they confess this word over against Satan, the praise of hope arises and they experience martyrdom. And finally, if they confess this Word of God over against the Lord Himself and His holy angels, then prayer echoes and a psalm is used in jubilee. “Confession of the Word!” is all the expression of, the life of the church.
6. How the ministry of the Word was different in ancient times from now.
This ministry of the Word is different in proportion as the particular revelation of God continues, is temporarily suspended, or expired.
If this particular revelation continues and is active then this ministry proceeds directly from God through His seers and prophets. There is then no regulated setting forth of this service when the Spirit of God comes into the prophets. It is discontinued when the vision is darkened for the prophets. And it is again taken up when God the Lord speaks again to His servants.
When therefore the prophecy of the Old Testament was silenced with Malachi and did not resume until John the Baptist, the regular ministry of the Word was carried on in the synagogue. This continued for those four centuries which lay between Malachi and John the Baptist. It was a service which retained its value only up to the return of particular revelation in the days of John the Baptist. With that the ministry of the synagogue was once again pushed into the background, and there appeared in its place the ministry of the Word of our highest Prophet. This was preceded by the “Be converted” of his herald and followed by the ministry of the apostolate.
The ministry through appointed shepherds and ministers first came to mature power when, with the death of this apostolate, particular revelation attained its end. There was indeed earlier instruction of the Word through the priesthood and through the father in his household, but the separate office of shepherds and ministers did not exist before the dispersion from Babel. It appeared in the synagogue only as preformation. And it first became the normal way after the ascension into .heaven of Him Who set some to be apostles, afterwards appointed some to be evangelists, and since that time, through all ages, has appointed and still appoints some to be pastors and overseers.
The preformation in the rabbinate of the synagogue could first arise when the Scriptures of the Old Testament were completed. And in the same way, the formation of this office could, after the death of the apostolate, first grow and blossom when the whole of the written revelation of the Old and New Testament had been completed. As long as this written Word of God could not yet work, God Himself worked in the souls of the prophets so that they spoke His Word. But also that speech had to come to an end when the written Word of God was ready. Also after that, the operation of the Holy Spirit with respect to the Word worked through it, but in a different way. Now the Spirit elucidates just as earlier He revealed.
Each trend which loses sight of this definite relation has no appreciation for the distinction between the ministry of the Word before and after the completion of Holy Scripture. And still more, having departed from a revealing operation of the Spirit, in some sense it pulls down the ordinances of God in a Montanist or Anabaptistic way. Or still worse, it makes “the revelation of God through His prophets and apostles” common, as various ethicists teach, by distinguishing the revealing operation of the Spirit in the apostles and prophets only slightly from His enlightening work in the elect.