“To him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God”.
It was once said that “the beauty of order never appears so lovely as when it is contrasted with her opponent, disorder”. The truth of this assertion will become evident as soon as we apply it to reality. For example, disordered sound is confused noise but when various sounds are blended and put in their proper order lovely music is produced; disordered stone makes a rubbish heap but stones orderly arranged result in beautiful architecture; and disordered words are nonsense but when set in order they give expression to rich ideas.
In a world that is torn by the disorder of sin, the beauty of good order is greatly obscured. In contrast to this universal disorder it is the calling of the people of God to reveal the beauty of the Lord their God upon them by establishing and maintaining order. This must be done in our personal, daily conversation; in our homes and family life; in our schools and churches; and in every department of life. To this the Word of God calls us repeatedly. The Corinthians the apostle exhorts with these words: “Let all things be done decently and in good order”. (). The same word translated here by “decently” is rendered “honestly” in , “Let us walk honestly as in the day” and in , “That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without”. Paul rejoiced when he “beheld the order and steadfastness of the faith of the Colossians” ( ). The Lord shews His salvation to those that order their conversation aright. ( ).
All of this God requires of us because He is Himself a God of perfect order and He has made us in His own image and likeness. It is impossible that God, either in Himself or in His works of creation and providence, would do anything in a haphazard manner. Eternally He is the rock whose work is perfect. (). If we but look about us we can see the beauty of the orderliness of God’s Work. He makes the sun to rise and set with precision every day; He brings the heat of summer and the cold of winter in their due seasons; He creates the bodies of men and animals with thousands of individual members giving to each one a place and function. What a horrible monstrosity would result if God would cease to be orderly. What if everybody were formed without an orderly arrangement of members so that in one the hands occupied the place of the feet; in another the heart palpitated in the cavity of the brain; and in a third the ears displaced the eyes? Life would be impossible. God has created order and in it His creatures happily live. Further, do not forget that the eternal counsel of God is the orderly arrangement of all things, small and great, and all of history is simply the revelation of this great order of God.
Now then, God requires order everywhere. Especially is this demanded in His Church and to attain unto this He has given to her several helps. Thus in the first article of our Church Order we read: “For the maintenance of good order in the church of Christ it is necessary that there should be offices, assemblies, supervision of doctrine, sacraments and ceremonies, and Christian discipline; of which matters the following articles treat in due order.” This indispensable virtue must be established in the church and maintained. Without it the church is devoid of beauty, strength and significance. She is like the heap of bricks that have been constructed into a stately building.
Do not understand this to mean that the church that has a “set of rules” is then an orderly church. That conclusion would be folly, for one look into the ecclesiastical world will reveal hundreds of institutes with fine rule books but devoid of good order. Also in our own circles we find evidences of sagging porches, tottering dormers, and broken panes which mar the beauty of an orderly constructed ecclesiastical structure. Again and again things have to be set in order and if this is not done the ultimate result will be that the whole building will fall into ruin. Order is constructive while disorder is destructive.
This necessitates our facing the question: “What then is good order in the church?” The word ‘order’ has several connotations. In the Roman Catholic Church, e.g., it is used to mark off the different distinctions in rank and office among the clergy. They speak of Major Orders (bishops, priests, deacons and sub-deacons) and Minor Orders (acolytes, exorcists, readers and ushers). Akin to this the word may also denote a rank or class in society. In the Old Testament the word used frequently in reference to the sacrifices had in it the idea of ‘arrangement’ so that we often read that the wood and offering were ordered on the altar. In parliamentary procedure the term denotes a certain mode of procedure according to rule which is expressed when one makes a point 6f order. Then, too, the word may contain the thought of ‘command’ as when an authority gives an order to his subjects.
In ascertaining the meaning of the word as we use it in this connection we shall be guided by the following Scripture passages:, , , ; , . Interesting here is the expression “order of Melchisedec” found in the passages from Hebrews; for there we read of the priesthood of Christ which is after the order of Melchisedee. This would indicate that there is in this term the idea of “likeness, harmony, comparison”. In certain points the priesthood of Christ and Melchisedec are comparable and harmonious. They are of the same order. When this thought is applied to where we are told that “all things are to be in good order (likeness)” the implication is that the church has a certain standard of conduct conformity to which is the essence of good order. This standard is the revealed will of God contained in holy writ. All things in the church must conform to and be harmonious with that Word and any departure from it is disorder.
That this is good order for every creature of God as well as for His church follows from the very nature of the case. God has created every creature according to a certain unchangeable order (law) and it is good for the creature to abide therein for within the limitations of that order he has life and happiness. It is, e.g., good order for a fish to remain in the water, for a tree to be implanted into the earth, and for the lion to roam in the forest. There they live within the limitations of God’s creative ordinances, but if the fish and lion exchange places there is disorder in the creation, and both creatures perish.
Equally is this true for His moral creatures. To them the Lord has given His precepts and commandments that they should obey them. Let everything with the exception of nothing, be done according to them. Then we abide in good order and we will see the salvation of God which is life. The sad fact, however, is that we are by nature entirely out of order. We can in no wise keep the law of God but are prone to all wickedness. This natural disorder of our lives is very serious and is always visited by divine judgment. The soul that sinneth shall die. The church that is disorderly must come to ruin. Nor will a set of human rules and regulations correct this fault or cure this malady. More than this is needed. If we are to walk in good order we must be regenerated by the Spirit of God. Following this regeneration the Lord gives various helps to nourish that new life and to keep the church in good order. He institutes offices through which His Word is proclaimed as the savor of life unto life converting the soul. He ordains assemblies through which the affairs of His church are regulated and the needs of His people provided. He orders the supervision of doctrine, sacraments and other ceremonies because of the presence of false teachers who incessantly seek to introduce disorder. He provides the key of Christian discipline by which our evil ways are corrected and we are led to repentance. All of these are extremely necessary in the church for the maintenance of good order. In the measure that any of them is neglected, the way is opened to disorder in the church.
We must, therefore, first of all insist that all of these things be properly used in our own local church where it is the calling of every believer to maintain good order. We must guard against any desecration of the holy offices and must insist that the doctrine of the church be supervised with greatest fidelity. The purity of the sacraments must be maintained and those who walk disorderly must be barred from their use. Discipline must be exercised according to the command of Christ and the assemblies (Consistories, Classis, Synod) must do their work honorably.
To aid us in this our Church Order is an invaluable guide. It deals in detail with all of these necessary things laying down the principles and rules of holy writ according to which good order can be attained. It prescribes for us how the unruly may be disposed of and the body of Christ properly and spiritually built up.
Finally, good order does not begin in the Institute of the Church but its starting point is in the lives of the members. The purity and orderliness of the church is manifest in the godly conversation of her members. To establish and maintain good order in our churches we must then begin by examining our own personal lives in relation to the body as well as to those without. This first must be brought into harmony with the revealed will of God. This means that the old nature which is disobedient, rebellious and disorderly must be crucified daily and we must walk in a new and holy life. From there we must examine our home life. There must be a periodic house-cleaning. All things must be put in order. Worldliness and materialism must be cast out and the home must be re-established about God and His Word. Conformity to the world is disorderliness with God.
Orderliness is unity! Unity is blessed. Where brethren dwell together in unity and good order, there the Lord commands His blessing, even life forevermore. ()
G. Vanden Berg