At some time or another you have undoubtedly heard the expression: “Ministers are born, not made.” The expression has been used with more than a singular application. It is subject to diverse interpretations, but the one main thought which it conveys is very clear. The point is that ministers of the Word are the product of God’s making, not man’s. In the latter sense of the word, ministers cannot be made. Without minimizing the importance of a sound theological training for those who aspire to the ministry of the Word, we assert that the most skilled professor of theology is unable to produce a single minister of the Word. Years of study and training are in themselves inadequate to fit a man for the task of the ministry of the Word. Professional training may produce an orator, a social worker, a politician, or a man skilled in promotional work in any number of areas in the community, but it fails to produce the minister of the Word, even though that title is improperly given to all of the above. Years of study may serve to develop a man’s intellectual acumen, but it does not fit him for the ministry.
The minister of the Word is one through whom God is pleased to speak His own Word. He, like the prophets and apostles of old, is chosen and called by God Himself. This essential ingredient in the composition of the minister of the Word is so important that without it every human effort to make a minister is doomed to futility. A minister is one through whom God speaks, and God is pleased to speak His Word only through vessels whom He has chosen and appointed unto that end. Conceivably God could today, as He did in the past, call His ministers personally and immediately, without the aid of men. The independent and sovereign God does not need seminaries and professors to prepare His ministers. We, that is the church, do not prepare men for the Lord, but the Lord calls and prepares men for His Church. Without this Divine preparation there is no ministry of the Word. We are always dependent upon God; never is He dependent upon us.
All of this does not preclude the fact that God does call and prepare men for the ministry of the Word mediately since the time of the apostles. Not that God is bound to the church, but for reasons of His own pleasure He sees fit to call men through men and through the church, and when this takes place it is only proper that this calling should be publicly confirmed and sealed in the midst of the church. The ceremonies and declarations attendant to this we hope to consider in connection with our brief discussion of the Form for the Ordination of the Ministers of God’s Word.
The Form that is used for this purpose in Reformed Churches dates from the year 1586. Before this time there was no generally used form in the churches. The Synod of Hague in 1586 furnished forms for the exercise of Christian discipline, and at the same time forms for the installation of the office bearers. Hence, also this form for the ordination, or installation, of the minister of the Word dates from that same year and from that synod.
As to its content we may note that it is to be divided into three main parts. The first part contains a brief description and explanation of the office of the ministers of the Word. The second part prescribes the questions that must be asked of him who is to be ordained or installed, and it also contains various liturgical acts. The last part of the form contains various admonitions and exhortations to the ordained minister as well as to the congregation, and then the form is concluded with appropriate thanksgivings. Following this division we will discuss the content of this liturgical form of the churches.
The Office Of The Ministry Of The Word Of God
By far the largest part of the Form for Ordination is devoted to describing and explaining the office of the ministry of the Word. This is also proper. It is very important, not only for the person who is to be ordained in that office, but also for the entire congregation, that the office is clearly understood. We must know what we are doing. The minister to be must realize the nature of the work unto which he is called and the congregation must understand what is expected of him. Especially is this important in our day, when ministers of the Word are more and more expected to function in every conceivable task except that which pertains to their office. This, being utterly wrong, is a great contributing factor to the spiritual decline and ruination of the church. From this point of view it might be well that this Form for Ordination of Ministers be held before the congregation more often. It should be reviewed and studied in the societies. Its content should be brought to the attention of the church in the preaching of the Word now and then. After all, the Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons is read at least once a year, but this one is used only when a congregation receives a new minister. Even then, if this happens every four or five years, it is not often enough to keep the congregation aware of the nature and function of the office. Other means of instruction must be used to hold the content of this Form before the mind of the church, and it is important that this be done.
Before the Form for Ordination speaks of the institution of the office of the ministry, there is an announcement made that must not be overlooked. The announcement is to the effect that the consistory has announced on three different occasions the name of him who is to be ordained, and since no one has appeared to register lawful objections against his ordination, the church will proceed, in the name of the Lord, to carry out that ordination. The importance of this stems from the fact that it is imperative for the church that unworthy and unqualified men be kept out of the office of the ministry. Every possible safeguard to this end must be taken. Every opportunity must be given to any and all in the congregation to attain this end for the welfare of the whole church. Although it may not become apparent immediately, the church will surely suffer when the office of pastor and teacher is occupied by a profane and unworthy person. The sheep will be led astray, and undisciplined evil will be allowed to take root and develop in the church. The time to prevent this is not after, but before the ordination. In some instances, of course, this is not possible because the evil-doing of the person ordained does not come to view, and then it is mandatory to take other measures to have that kind of shepherd suspended and deposed from the office. But where there are lawful reasons to prevent the ordination of a certain person, these must be brought to the consistory before and, if none are, it may be rightly assumed that no one has anything against his ordination. In that case, the congregation may certainly proceed in the faith that God, Who uses the ministry of men to call and gather a Church from amongst the corrupt race of men unto life eternal, will also follow this ordination with His favor and blessing in the Church.
The first part of the ordination form is devoted to showing that the ministry of the Word is instituted by God. It is not another job which men create in a certain society. Christ Himself, as the Son of God and the Head of the church, has instituted this office. This is proved by Ephesians 4:11-12 where the apostle writes: “And He (Christ) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors (shepherds) and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
From this the general task of the ministry of the Word may be gathered. Ministers are “shepherds” of the church. They must, to quote the Form, “feed, guide, protect and rule the flock committed to their charge.” These pastors are to explicitly observe that the pasture in which they are to feed and lead the flock is nothing else but “the preaching of the gospel, accompanied with prayer, and the administration of the holy sacraments.” They must be careful not to lead spiritual food, for the sheep cannot live there. In their very nature as sheep they need and can thrive only on the spiritual food of the Word, and so it is the task of the shepherd to bring them continuously into the green pastures of the Word.
The sheep, as they often do, may clamor for other pasture. They express dissatisfaction with the food of the Word. Doctrinal preaching is too deep and practical preaching is too personal, they will say. The shepherd will be subject to much criticism by the sheep, and although he must certainly give consideration to that criticism and weigh its constructive possibilities, it may never deter him in the execution of his God given task to feed the sheep in the pasture of the Word. He must also remember that, as shepherd, he holds the shepherd’s staff, and he must also use that staff to smite the sheep. That staff, according to the Form, is “the same Word of God” and the shepherd must not hesitate to use that Word toguide and to rule the sheep. Here, too, the shepherd must take every precaution that he does not rule or attempt to rule the sheep with a rod of the flesh. There is always a natural danger and tendency that this is done. The minister wants certain things done in the congregation and he gets them, not because these things are always right according to the Word of God, but because he wants them. He wields a big stick and has a strong influence in the church. He has the consistory on his side and the sheep acquiesce, not because they are convinced that things are right, but because they fear to attempt to do anything about it. Then the church is ruled by the rod of flesh and not by the staff of the Word of God. This is all wrong and, when it happens, the inevitable consequence is that the church suffers under the tyranny of man.
Let us remember then that the general task of the ministry of the Word is to shepherdize the flock of Christ in the truth of the Word of God. The minister’s task is a spiritual labor throughout. As a shepherd he must enter upon that labor with the avowed determination to seek the sheep of Christ, to feed them, to love them, to protect them, to guide them, to counsel them and in every possible way promote their spiritual well-being. To accomplish this task he has only one source of material, only one piece of equipment to work with, and that is the Word of God. Oh, his task is not an easy one, and frequently, as he faithfully cares for the sheep, his own life and position become endangered, for the enemies are strong and many who attempt to dispose of him so that they may get at the sheep. But a good shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep. He is ordained in his office, not as an hireling who works for wages, but as one who loves the sheep because he loves Christ, and by that love he is constrained in all his labor.
More specifically the labor of the shepherd of the church is spelled out under four separate headings in this Form for Ordination. Our consideration of these details, however, must wait, D.V., until our next article.