Commencement exercises of the Protestant Reformed SemiÂ¬nary were held on June 16, 2011 at Grandville Protestant Reformed Church. An abbreviated version of Prof. Dykstra’s address on that occasion was begun in the July issue and is concluded here.
The Reformed minister is a soldier, called to war a good warfare (I Tim. 1:18). He fights for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for doctrine which is according to godliness. Hence he battles against the lie and all sin.
At the same time, the minister is a pastor, a shepherd.
For God’s people are sheep. “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps. 100:3). Moses was prepared for leading Israel by tending to sheep. Likewise David. Jesus identifies Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10). In restoring Peter to the role of a preacher/apostle, Jesus commanded him: Feed my sheep and be a shepherd to them, and feed my lambs.
The form for ordination of ministers identifies ministers as pastors. “Here we see that the holy apostle, among other things, saith that the pastoral office is an institution of Christ.”
The form adds:
What this holy office enjoins may easily be gathered from the very name itself; for as it is the duty of a common shepherd to feed, guide, protect, and rule the flock committed to his charge, so it is with regard to these spiritual shepherds who are set over the church, which God calleth unto salvation and counts as sheep of His pasture.
Love Christ and feed His sheep, taking the oversight of them not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being lord over God’s heritage, but as an example to the flock. Be an example of believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
And: “Preaching the gospel for the comfort of the sheep.”In harmony with that calling is the admonition to Timothy: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Tim. 2:24, 25).
That the minister, the servant of Christ, is not to strive is not a contradiction of the calling to war a good warfare. The context of II Timothy 2 makes it plain that Paul has reference to battles over pointless matters—the foolish questions and discussions that have no value, and are not even answered by Scripture. At the same time, it does indicate the proper attitude of the minister towards his flock. He must not be at war with his sheep. The pastor’s calling is to feed them and care for them, not to battle them.
Thus, Paul adds, but be gentle to all men. The only other place that the word translated “gentle” is used in Scripture is in Paul’s description of his work among the saints in Thessalonica: “We were gentle among you as a nurse cherisheth her children” (I Thess. 2:7). Do you see the picture of a nurse walking the floors, tending to the baby in her arms with tender affection? That is the attitude of the minister to his congregation. He has a tender affection towards them.
Such a minister has the desire to teach (apt to teach). That does not refer merely to the ability to be a logical, capable teacher. A basic requirement for every minister is that he be able to teach. Rather, that a pastor is apt to teach means first that he wants to teach. He is not looking for a fight. He is rather looking to instruct. And second, that a man is apt to teach includes that he knows how to give instruction to the particular member of the congregation. It is instruction fitting both for the member and the issue at hand.
In addition, Paul reminds pastors that they must be patient. The word implies that one does not take offence at wrongs done to him. In harmony with that, he must labor “in meekness.” Meekness is the opposite of pride. It is the opposite of putting oneself forward. It is an activity of seeking the good of the other, and in humility willing to put oneself down. In meekness, the pastor is to give instruction (as one would to a child) to those who “oppose themselves,” that is, set themselves to oppose something. And what are they opposing, but the way of truth and godliness? These people, who are to be treated with gentleness and patience, are those ensnared by the devil, who require repentance (vv. 25, 26)!
A minister is a shepherd of the sheep, gentle to all.
What are the tools of a shepherd? His tools are the same that he uses in the good warfare. Preaching is the shepherd’s rod and staff. By preaching he leads the sheep in green pastures, beside still waters. That is, by preaching, chieflyby preaching, he teaches, and this must be done patiently and in meekness.
Preaching must edify, exhort, and comfort, according to I Corinthians 14:3. It begins with edification—building up the believers. A preacher is a teacher. Jesus’ word to Peter is: Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Be a shepherd to my sheep (John 21:15-17). As a warring minister, your sermons must contain polemics. However, if the greatest part of your sermon is polemics, it has entirely the wrong balance. And if the part of the sermon that you enjoy is especially polemics, that is entirely the wrong emphasis. Preaching is, first and foremost, for edification. Then exhortation and comfort.
God calls the minister to war a good warfare. God exhorts him to be gentle to all. Preachers need these admonitions. Let us see why.
We ministers need this admonition to war, first of all, because of very real opposition to truth and godliness. Heretics and heresies abound. The truth is openly denied, even cardinal truths such as the creation account of Genesis 1-2; the deity of Christ; heaven; hell; sovereign grace; God’s everlasting covenant of grace; and so much more. And sin is openly approved in the church world—divorce for any and all reasons, and remarriage after divorce; homosexuality; rebellion; abortion; euthanasia; Sabbath desecration; and so much more.
It would be a relief if the minister need battle such evils only outside the walls of the congregation. That, however, is not the case. II Peter 2 warns against false teachers who will be within the church itself. Pretending to be true preachers of the gospel, they will surreptitiously bring in damnable heresies.
The Revs. Hoeksema, Danhof, and Ophoff discovered that heresy was being taught in their denomination, our mother church, and fought against it in the 1920s. In the PRC, ministers were promoting the heresy of conditional theology in the 1950s. The ministers (as well as the members) were compelled to do battle for the truth.
Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that Satan will no longer trouble the PRC with heresies.
In addition to such battles for the truth, virtually all the congregations have faced those who blasphemed the truth (like Hymenaeus and Alexander) and finally had to be excommunicated.
Indeed the battles are fought within the congregations. In Ephesus, certain members wanted to be teachers of the law (I Tim. 1:7). Battles often rage in connection with the law. Some are antinomians (against law), and some are legalists who want to press their “laws” on all the members. Ministers must war against both.
And then there is the constant battle against sin. Every member of the congregation has an evil nature, prone to hate God and the neighbor. The minister fights his own sinful nature. He also wars against the sins of the flesh—instructing, warning, reproving, rebuking.
Clearly, there is a war to be fought. A spiritual war with many sides and facets. Surely you graduates see the battles. Yet, God does not leave it to the discretion of the minister whether or not to war a good warfare. Rather, God specifically commands you men to war. Why?
God must call us to the battles exactly because you and I do not like to fight. Talk to any soldier who has been through a war. Wars are ugly; they are bitter; they are simply horrible. The same is true of this spiritual war. The attacks can leave wounds far worse than the wounds of a bullet or a hand grenade. They leave scars in the soul. There are casualties in the war—people leave the congregation after being unnecessarily wounded in the battles. Besides that, we want to be liked. We would rather not confront those speaking the lie, or living in sin. In the face of all that, God commands: War a good warfare.
The Other Admonition
But you men are also called not to strive, but rather to be gentle, patient, apt to teach, and meek. Why is this admonition necessary?
It is necessary, first, from the point of view of the congregation. God’s people are sheep. Sheep, left on their own, are prone to stray from the good pasture. They are apt to follow—follow also someone teaching errors or walking in sin. And sheep are proud. They can be stubborn and rebellious. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is. 53:6).
Accordingly, the people of God need instruction from a gentle pastor. If we are fierce and unapproachable, or if we bristle anytime someone comes with a criticism of our preaching, we will drive the people away from us. That is wrong! Ministers must be shepherds who draw the people to them in love. For that, they must be gentle.
We ministers need this admonition too because of our pride. When a member opposes us, we sometimes would like to retort something like this: I went to seminary. I know Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible. I have had three years of Dogmatics. Who are you to question me?! And if that is the attitude of the minister, he will not have to say any of those things. The people of God will feel that proud attitude.
If, when he is attacked, the minister rises up in pride; if he strikes out at the sheep; if he attacks in kind, if he uses the pulpit as a whipping post and uses the preaching to settle his disagreement with someone in the congregation—(I’ll show him that I am right!)—such a minister needs to hear the word of Paul to his beloved spiritual son—”The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all.” This is particularly difficult when a member of the congregation attacks the minister personally, or even criticizes his family. Be gentle to all.
Can you graduates do this? How is it possible for you to be warriors for truth and godliness, and yet gentle pastors to all the flock?
I Timothy 1:18 gives the key: “according to the prophecies which went before on thee.” And then notice, “that thou by them mightest war a good warfare,” that is, by the prophecies.
The prophecies refer to the preaching, that is, the preaching of the glorious gospel of Christ. The good news that Christ humbled Himself—came into the flesh, suffered, even unto death. And yet it was in that most astounding humility, that He also did battle with the ungodly, with sin, and with Satan, death, and hell. Jesus did all of that out of love for God, and love for God’s people.
The preaching of exactly that gospel prepared you graduates. You have been prepared from your youth in catechism and under the weekly preaching. You have been prepared through your seminary instruction—a special kind of preaching. By all the preaching that “went before on” you, God prepared you for today, and in a few months to take up the work of being both a pastor and a soldier. God gave gifts and developed them. God give you the spiritual blessings of strength and wisdom. Now, live out of that gospel as a soldier/pastor.
And if you live out of that gospel, you will live out of the power of God’s love. You will love God, and thus be filled with zeal for His glory. You will not tolerate false teaching about the God whom you love. You will fight error in the church world around, in the congregation, and in the hearts and minds of the children, the youth, even to the aged saint. You will stand for the truth, and not allow sin in yourself or in the congregation to go unreproved. For God, whom you love, is a holy God.
At the same time, your actions are governed by love for the people of God. You will be a pastor, caring for the people of God, remember, “as a nurse cherisheth her children.” And since all three of you men are fathers, you know what this means. As a father loves his children, so you will love your sheep.
Faithfulness to the calling to be both a pastor and a soldier takes wisdom. When do I battle? When must I be gentle? When do I give a stern rebuke? And when a gentle admonition? You will need wisdom and courage as you prepare a sermon, where the text speaks to a particular walk of life, perhaps a particular sin. Yet, perhaps, you already had that very week a confrontation with a member over this very sin. The sermon must not become your instrument to whip the member. However, you must be faithful to the text—both explaining and applying it correctly. Wisdom. And courage.
Pray for wisdom. You will grow in wisdom if you continue to beseech God for it as you ought, and as you labor faithfully with the Word.
So, young men, you go forth with our blessing and with our prayers. Be faithful as a minister of the Word. Warring a good warfare; gentle to all.