The above caption is a Latin title by which a group of self-appointed itinerant preachers of the sixteenth century were called. The phrase means, “walking Levites.” It rather appropriately fits this class of itinerant preachers because they refused to be ministerially connected with any particular church but travelled about from place to place as they saw fit. They claimed the authority in themselves to minister the word and the sacraments and even appealed to the examples of the Apostles and early evangelists although they ignored the fact that the apostles and their helpers occupied a special and temporary office in the New Testament church during the years of her infancy.

The Reformed Churches correctly maintained over against these “ambulantes levitae” the sound and fundamental principle expressed in the sixth article of the church order and of which we wrote the last time. That principle is “that no one can be engaged in the work of the ministry without the lawful calling and without being connected to the local church.” This follows because the authority of the ministerial office does not repose in any individual but in the church itself which Christ gathers and institutes in the world. This same principle forms the basis for the seventh article of our church order which reads as follows:

“No one shall be called to the ministry of the word, without his being stationed in a particular place, except he be sent to do church extension work.”

We may notice, firstly, the formulation of this article for which there is, in our opinion, room for improvement. The dutch has: “Niemand zal tot den Dienst des Woords beroepen worden, zonder dat men hem in eene bepaalde plaats stelle…” Especially the phrase, “without his being stationed in a particu­lar place” leaves the impression that the article sanc­tions the bishopric or Methodistic form of church government according to which the individual clergymen are stationed in various places as it may seem fitting to the higher bishop. Certainly this was not the intention of the composers of the church order as is clear from Article 3 and 4 where we learn that the minister is not “stationed by men” but is “called to the office through and by the particular church.” It would, therefore, have been better to state the thrust of this article thus: “No one shall be engaged in the Ministry of the Word without his being called by a particular congregation to be her pastor.”

Thus understood the article refutes the error of vesting Classis or Synods with power to call or ordain men to the ministry. This was not always clear. In 1581 the Synod of Middelburg ruled that “no one not stationed in a particular place shall be allowed to engage in circuit preaching without the consent and authority of Classis or Synod.” The intention of this ruling was to allow for certain forms of itinerant preaching but that whether this was necessary and proper was not to be decided by individuals, but left to the judgment of the Synod. No doubt some of this work was necessary in cases, for instance, where chur­ches had been broken by persecution and the people of God scatter or as a means at that time of gather­ing and organizing believers who had seceded from the Roman Catholic church. Yet, this could not justify the Synod’s assuming an authority to send out a prea­cher for this authority belongs only to the particular church.

Likewise did the churches in the province of Fries­land in former years ordain men at their Synodical or Classical gatherings without their having received a call from a local church. This was wrong and in conflict with proper order. Later this was seen and these churches also then conformed themselves to the true Reformed principle governing this matter.

The important thing to take note of here, there­fore, is that the individual, local church be regarded as the only body that has the right to authorize men to engage in the labors of the office of the ministry of the Word. No more than another body has the right to ordain elders and deacons can any other body or­dain one in the office of the ministry. And so it also follows that only those who are called to a particular place and ordained by a particular church in a parti­cular office have the right to perform the labors of that office. This right of the church belongs to her autonomy. The negative side of this right is then that only the particular church has the prerogative to remove one who reveals himself unworthy from that office.

This important fact rests upon the truth that each congregation is in itself a manifestation of the body of Jesus Christ. It makes no difference whether she is large or small. A small church is as complete and as really the instituted body of Christ as one that num­bers hundreds of families. To the church is given the ministry of the word and sacraments together with the kev-power of Christian discipline. Nowhere out­side of the church are these things found and, there­fore, to use them one must be lawfully placed in the office by that body.

Two things must be considered here yet. First of of all this article does not imply nor express that a minister placed in a certain church may not minister the word or sacraments in another church of that de­nomination. The article itself does not touch upon this directly but merely states the principle that one who is not joined to a local church has not the right to preach. Otherwise stated we might say that one who is joined to a local church does have the right to preach and the bond of agreement or unity between the churches allows him to do so in any of the chur­ches where he may be called whether for one service or for a longer time.

For this reason it may be added in the second place that although the Classis and Synod may not call or ordain men in the office, they do render advice to the churches as to who shall and who shall not be admit­ted (See Art. 4). This is because the ordination of a minister in my local church is a matter of denom­inational interest and concern. Likewise the removal of any minister from a particular church is done with the advice of other churches but the power to execute the removal remains with the local church itself.

In the seventh article there is also an exception clause. It reads: “except he be sent to do church extension work.” This does not mean that mission­aries are “ambulantes levitae” who have no connec­tion whatever with a local church and are, therefore, under the jurisdiction of no consistory but are at liberty to go about as they please. Rather the clause means that those engaged in this work are not to be confined to one particular place. They too are to be called by a particular church (not the Synod) and by that church are ordained and sent out. The field or place where the missionary is to labor may be changed from time to time according to the discretion of the church.

This does not mean that two or more churches may not do this co-operatively. Nor does it contra­dict Art. 51 which states that the mission work of the churches is to be regulated by the general Synod in a mission order. This means that all the churches unite to perform this work through the Synod by designating one or more particular church to carry out the function of calling and sending forth men to do church extension or mission work. This is per­fectly proper and in accord with the principles of Ref. Church government as long as the missionary is sent out by and placed under the supervision of a particular church. If this is not done the one going out becomes a “walking levite” doing his work without proper authority…without the authority of the church and so also without the authority of Christ. Without that authority the word preached has lost its power and cannot be useful toward the extension of the church or Kingdom of God. Hence, the funda­mental rule is that all ministry of the word proceeds from the duly instituted church of Christ and whether one, therefore, labors in the ministry in a particular place or established church or whether he is sent into various fields to proclaim the gospel, he must labor and can labor only upon the authority of the church which sends him. The right to preach the gospel is vested in no individual.

It must be noticed yet that this article speaks of “church extension” work. Among us this is usually considered as referring to any form of home mission endeavor in distinction from foreign mission work or work among the heathen. Originally the article read ‘ except he be sent to gather churches here and there” and referred to the gathering of the “refugees” whose churches had been destroyed through persecution and the gathering of believers in Romish lands. The ori­ginal reading, therefore, was rather broad and sanc­tions the policy of sending men to gather believers from the erring and apostate church, as well as send­ing them into all the world to preach the gospel. No matter what form of mission work may be practiced it must proceed from the church and otherwise it is not worthy of the name.

In conclusion it is worthy to note that Arts. 3-7 inclusive of our church order properly emphasize that the very authority which Rome vests in the person of the Pope is an authority which rightly resides in the church as the instituted body of Christ. The right to call, to ordain, to preach, to transfer to an­other pastorate is the right which Christ gives to His church and to her alone. When this right is removed the very foundations of order and decency are shaken and any structure built upon a tottering foundation will come to ruin though it may for a time appear mighty in the eyes of men.

G. Vanden Berg