Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In the passage from which the title of this rubric is taken (II Corinthians 8:1-7) the apostle Paul exhorts the saints in Corinth to give liberally to the relief of the poor. Paul begins by holding before the Corinthian saints the example of the saints of the churches in Macedonia, i.e., the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
The saints in Macedonia in the midst of great affliction, and we take affliction to mean persecution and extreme poverty, had exceeded their ability in the contributions they had made for the saints (vv. 1-3). And this they did, not by constraint or in obedience to earnest exhortations on the part of the apostle, but they themselves urged the apostle to receive and take charge of their alms (v. 4). The great desire of these saints was to be allowed to take part in “the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” Not only so, but these saints did more. Liberality to the poor was only a part of what they did. They devoted themselves to the Lord (v. 5). Thus the apostle entreats the Corinthians to abound in this grace also, i.e., in the grace of giving themselves to the Lord in the way of giving liberally to the poor.
All this is evidence of the grace of God bestowed on the churches and saints in Macedonia. Their liberality to the poor and their giving of themselves to the Lord were a fruit of the wonderful grace of God given to them.
This same wonderful gift of the grace of God ought to abound among the saints today. All of God’s people ought not only to give liberally to the relief of the poor and to support the ministry of the gospel, but they ought to give their very selves to the Lord in the way of ministering to His saints. This is a must for the saints for it is the will of God for His saints (v. 5).
This is Scripture. The same apostle exhorts the saints in Galatia not to use their liberty “for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:13-15). In order that the saints may grow up into their Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, the exalted Christ gave “some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11-16).
The purpose of this rubric is to help the believer grow in the knowledge of Christ, especially as regards his calling to “minister to the saints.” In the light of Holy Scripture and our Reformed confessions we shall study the principles and the practice of ministering to the saints. This will involve an examination of the meaning and significance of the office of believer, and the special offices of minister, elder, and deacon. Included will be, the Lord willing, discussion of such subjects as the preaching of the Word, Christian discipline, family visitation, sick visiting marital counseling, comforting the sorrowing, caring for the emotionally disturbed, and more.
The fundamental question we face is, who is called to minister to the saints? Who has the right or authorityto minister to the saints? And, who has the ability to minister to the saints? The answer is, Jesus Christ! Jesus is the minister of the saints. Christ chooses to minister to the saints through men and by means of His Word and Spirit. Christ ministers to the saints through those men who are lawfully called by the church and, therefore, by Christ Himself to the offices of minister of the Word, elder, and deacon. Christ also ministers to the saints through the saints themselves who share His anointing and thus are, in Christ, prophets, priests, and kings.
These fundamental principles come to expression in the Reformed confessions, the Church Order of Dordt, and the forms for the ordination of ministers, missionaries, professors, elders, and deacons. TheBelgic Confession, for example, insists that Jesus Christ is true and eternal God (Article X), that He is the One in whom God in His eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness hath elected His people (Art. XVI), that Christ as our only High Priest made satisfaction for us (Art. XXI), that Christ is the eternal King of God’s church (Art. XXVII), that the church must be ordered and disciplined according to those things which Christ, our only Master, hath instituted (Art. XXX and XXXII). But nowhere are these biblical principles more beautifully, accurately, and profoundly summed than in Lord’s Day XII of theHeidelberg Catechism. In answer to the question, “Why is he called Christ, that is, anointed?” theCatechism says, “Because he is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Ghost, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and to be our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us; and also be our eternal King, who governs us by his word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in (the enjoyment of) that salvation, he has purchased for us.” Note well the language the Catechism uses. Christ is ordained of God to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, our only High Priest, and our eternal King. There can be no doubt about the fact that Jesus Christ, according to the Catechism, is the minister, the officebearer in God’s church.
The Catechism continues by asking, “But why art thou called a christian?” The answer is, “Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life: and afterwards reign with him eternally, over all creatures.” Christ remains the officebearer of God’s church, but the believer, inasmuch as he is a member of Christ by faith, is a partaker of Christ’s anointing. The believer is a prophet, priest, and king in Christ. He confesses Christ’s name as prophet; presents himself a living sacrifice of thankfulness as priest; and fights against sin and Satan in this life as king. In glory the believer will reign with Christ eternally over all creatures.
Christ, therefore, is the minister of the church. Christ functions through those lawfully called to office. Christ causes the Word to be preached and the sacraments to be administered through the ministers of the Word. Christ governs and disciplines His church through the elders, and Christ ministers His mercy through the deacons. Furthermore, Christ ministers to the saints through the saints themselves. Their calling as members of Christ by faith is to minister to one another by confessing the name of Christ, presenting themselves living sacrifices of thankfulness, and fighting against sin and Satan in this life. Doing so by God’s grace the saints look forward in hope to that day when they shall reign with Christ eternally over all creatures.
These confessional principles are clearly taught in Holy Scripture. To this we turn our attention in the next article.