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November 16, 1948

Editor of the Standard Bearer,

Esteemed Brother:

I should like to make a few remarks about your recent development of the subject of “Preaching as a Means of Grace”.

I think I have told you before that there are some truths of Scripture and also some facts of reality in the life of the Church that I cannot harmonize with your teaching concerning the office and its authority

I have already planned to write at some length on this question, insofar as I would like to lay my objections before those who are interested readers of our papers. But since this question is once more brought in the midst by your series on the Catechism, I shall now, while the question is before the readers, make a few remarks.

  1. I believe that the remark of Prof. Bavinck that the Word “derives its power and operation by no means only from the fact that it is being preached by an official person in the gathering of believers. It operates also then when it is being read and studied in the home. . . .” has not at all been proved untrue in your comments on his passage from “Roeping and Wedergeboorte”.
  2. I believe that the insistent appeal to the passage of Romans 10:14, 15 is faulty. You say: “It is evident that in these words the importance of the preacher and his mission is emphasized”. I do not think this is the import of this passage. I believe the context requires that it be seen as a link in the chain to prove that the Israelites indeed, heard the Gospel, and should have believed it. That certainly is the main idea. That gospel was made known to them. God provided preachers. But this says nothing about a supposed “authority” without which it could have no efficacy.
  3. I believe that the use of the authority of an ambassador as an illustration is very precarious. We all know that illustrations easily lead to unwarranted conclusions. And I believe that in view of the truth expressed by Dr. Bavinck in the words quoted above, the conclusion drawn from an earthly ambassador is not valid. The efficacy of the Word of God is so deeply ethical that it cannot be compared with the decision of an earthly king.
  4. It is of course true that no mere man can speak the creative word of Christ, and it is also true that no man has authority when he says what he has not been told by Christ to say. But these things do not pertain to the point that must be proved.
  5. I hope we may still see a clear conception of this doctrine developed. But then I believe it should be organic and not mechanical or I would almost say, not “magical”. I hope we can keep this question open and not have somewhat of a “current opinion” established by which a person’s orthodoxy can be judged in our churches.            

Your brother in the Lord,

Rev. A. Petter

REPLY TO REV. PETTER

  1. I do not recall that the Reverend Petter ever voiced his objections to my “teaching concerning the office and its authority”. But he writes: “I think I have told you before.” And that leaves room, at least, for the possibility that he did not tell me before.
  2. It will be interesting to take note of the Rev. Petter’s own development of the truth concerning this question. I hope, however, that he writes not only in the form of objections, but positively, clearly, and unambiguously.
  3. As to his criticism under “1”:

a. The Rev. Petter must not overlook the fact that I was writing on the subject of “The Preaching of the Word as a Means of Grace”. Now, the means of grace are only two, namely: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. And both are given to the Church as an institute. I hardly think that the Rev. Petter means to deny this; no more than a private individual can administer the sacraments, no more can any man or woman have the authority to preach the Word without being sent by the Church.

b. As to his criticism proper under this point, I already wrote in the Standard Bearer, Vol. 25, No. 5, p. 104 (and this was written and at the printer before I ever received the criticism of the Rev. Petter): “This does not mean that I wish to minimize the value of all the means of instruction in the truth which we possess today. Least of all would I underrate the great significance of Bible reading and Bible study in the home, by individual believers, or by societies. We certainly believe the perspicuity of Holy Scripture, and we believe that all believers have the unction of the Holy One. Yet, all these means cannot and may never be separated from the work of Christ through the Church as an institute, especially through the ministry of the Word. Suppose there had been no ministry, no official preaching of the Word through all the ages of the new dispensation; where would be our Bibles, translated in every language? Where would be our confessions, in which the truth is preserved from generation to generation? Where would be your fathers and mothers to instruct you in the truth from childhood? They would not be at all. You can see for yourself what becomes of the man and woman of the family that separate themselves from the Church, proudly ignoring the Word of God that it is impossible to hear without a preacher, and claiming that they can just as well hear Christ by reading their Bibles at home. It does not take long before they have weaned away from the truth and are lost in the world.”

4.  As to the Rev. Petter’s objection under “2”, I do not see how even if his explanation of the context in Romans 10 is correct (which, according to my conviction, it is not), this can possibly change the plain meaning of the words in vss. 14 and 15. The words certainly plainly teach: a) that in order to believe men must hear Christ, b) That to hear Christ a preacher is indispensable, c) That no one can preach without being sent. I will quote that part of the text once more, and ask the Rev. Petter to interpret them in any other way, if he can see a possibility: “And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard (whom they have not heard)? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” It is easy to say that my appeal to this passage of the Epistle to the Romans is faulty, but it will be very difficult for the Rev. Petter to prove. I must therefore maintain—not that any form of the Word cannot have efficacy—but that preaching of the Word is authoritative.

5.  I do not understand what objection the Rev. Petter can possibly have against the illustration of an ambassador, especially as it is really taken literally from Holy Writ: for in II Cor. 5:20 we read the well-known words: “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” The conclusion is certainly valid that a preacher is an ambassador of Christ, and therefore sent by Him officially, and, moreover, that the efficacy of the preacher’s word depends on the question whether Christ will speak through him.

6.  The Rev. Petter writes: “. . . . that no man has authority when he says what he has not been told by Christ to say.” If he writes this in respect to the preaching of the Word, he expresses himself defectively: for then he should not write, “what he has not been told by Christ to say”, but, “what be has been called or sent for as an ambassador to say”. And thus understood, all this is certainly to the point.

7. Under “5” the Rev. Petter alludes, perhaps, to a recent article of his in the Beacon Lights, when he writes: “I hope we can keep this question open and not have somewhat of a ‘current opinion’ established by which a person’s orthodoxy can be judged in our churches.” To this I would answer that although I will certainly not judge a person’s orthodoxy and although the article in question was rather ambiguous, yet I did not get the impression that it was orthodox or Reformed to present the matter of the sending of a missionary by the Church as a mere technicality. To me this is a very important principle.

But, as I say, it will certainly be interesting to read the Rev. Petter’s own development of his view regarding preaching as a means of grace.

H. H.