A reader writes, There is a phrase in the ordination of office bearers that has always bothered me and which I have often thought should be changed.
The phrase is: “Be charitable, ye rich, give liberally, and contribute willingly. And, ye poor, be poor in spirit, and deport yourselves respectfully towards your benefactors. . . .”
Shouldn’t the admonition to be poor in spirit be also given to the rich? Shouldn’t the rich also deport themselves respectfully towards the poor, knowing that God has determined who shall be rich and who shall be poor? They should be humbly grateful to God for a way to use their God-given riches for the cause of God’s kingdom.
It almost sounds as though the poor must be more humble than the rich.
Why did our fathers phrase it this way? Were there some poor at that time who had contempt for the rich?
I would appreciate an answer to this question that has bothered me for some time.
I must admit that this particular section of the Form for ordination of office bearers has also bothered me for a long time. It reminds me of the old caste system in Europe, in which the rich were highly esteemed because of their riches and the poor were despised and oppressed because of their poverty. The rich often took advantage of the poor, keeping them on starvation wages and forcing them to eke out an existence, while the rich reveled in their abundance. Even in the church the rich obtained positions in the consistory, had their own rented seats, while the poor had to stand along the wall during the service. When I think of these things I am reminded of James 2:1-8 andJames 5:1-8.
It is certainly true that the rich are stewards of the gifts God entrusts to them and are responsible to God to use these gifts in helping the poor and the needy. They should express their thankfulness to God for the gifts they receive and express that thankfulness in love to their neighbor. The poor also must be charitable, as well as the rich, for Christ makes special reference to the widow’s mite. And they also should be thankful to God for His Fatherly care in supplying their needs, even when those needs are supplied by the love of God’s people through the diaconate.
It seems that the distinction between rich and poor was so commonly accepted in the times when our Forms were written that our fathers simply took it for granted, and therefore expressed themselves as they do. Yet I am very hesitant to propose a change in our Forms and Confessions for fear that we might improve one part and damage another. For the most part I treasure our Confessions as a heritage delivered to us from the fathers under the guidance of the Spirit of Christ.
A reader asks:
Since God established the covenant of grace with Abraham, was this the beginning of God’s covenat as we know it today? How does the promise to Abraham, “I will be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee,” apply to us today?
Our reader likely has in mind the distinction that is often made between the covenant of works as established with Adam, the covenant of nature as established with Noah, and the covenant of grace established with Abraham. Without going into detail we can safely say, on the basis of Scripture, that this distinction is found nowhere in Scripture.
The Word of god speaks of only one covenant, which God repeatedly refers to as “My Covenant..” When God informs Noah that He will bring a flood upon the earth to destroy all flesh upon the earth, the Lord adds, “But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy son’s wives with thee. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring in to the ark, to keep them alive with thee.” Gen 6:18-19. Again, in Genesis 17:2, “God declares to Abraham, And I will make my covenant between me and thee and will multiply thee exceedingly.” See also verse 7
There is the original, typical phase of God’s covenant in paradise, in which Adam stands as king of the earthly creation and friend-servant of God, as well as representative head of the human race. This typical manifestation of God’s covenant opens the way, but also speaks of the better things to come in the last Adam, Christ.
There is a revelation of the covenant to Noah, in which god reveals Abraham as the father of all believers. God shows that He gathers His church in the continued line of believers. For Abraham’s true seed is the spiritual seed centering in Christ. Gal. 3:16.
At Sinai God establishes His covenant with Israel as the typical people of God who will inherit the typical promised land, and who will have the typical theocracy, with David and Solomon as types of the King upon God’s Holy Hill of Zion, the Prince of Peace.
All this is realized in Christ, so that the church becomes universal on Pentecost, after Christ ascends to His throne in heaven.
There is one church, both in the old and new dispensation. Heid. Cat. Ques. 54. Therefore the line of the covenant runs from Adam through Enoch and Noah to Shem, from Shem through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to Judah, from Judah through David to the Christ. In the new dispensation that line continues through the believers and their spiritual seed, so that this line can definitely be traced from Jerusalem to Antioch, to Asia Minor and Europe, even to America and to Australasia. Always God gathers His church in the line of continued generations of believers, fulfilling His promise, “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.”
This does not mean that couples who never have children are excluded from the promise. Nor does it mean that all children of believing parents are saved, or that the promise includes all the individual children of believers. The line of election and reprobation also runs through the generations in the church, as is obvious, for example, in Jacob and Esau. But it does mean that God gathers His own elect in the line of the generations of believers. Therefore we have a church, we have baptism, we have the children of the church as our children, we have the calling to instruct these children in the fear of the Lord, and we see the promise of God fulfilled before our eyes, that God keeps covenant with us forever. Psalm 78:4-7; Psalm 105:7-10.