Mr. Chairman, Brethren of the School Committee, Brethren of the Synod, Professors, Brethren and Sisters in the Lord:
It is with an exceeding joy in my heart, with a deep consciousness of the wonder of God’s grace, and with thanksgiving to the God of all grace that I, as a graduate of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, address you. While I was attending our Seminary, one truth often emphasized was that the Word must always occupy a position of centrality in the labors of the minister. It is for this reason that from the three possible topics assigned me I chose to speak on, “The Centrality of the Word in the Labors of the Minister.”
This is an important and timely topic today. It is true that one might ask: why a speech on this topic? Isn’t this a very obvious truth, one which is not questioned? However, more and more today the Word is being placed in the background in the labor of the ministry.
This unnatural and wicked de-emphasis of the Word in the labors of the ministry can be clearly seen today. The Word itself is being brought to nought. Even in the most conservative circles the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures is being denied, in order to leave room for man and his labor. The period-theory of the creation week is but one example of this. Further, the lack of regard for the Word is also evident in other ways. Sermons are limited to fifteen minutes, while external liturgical practice grows. Catechism instruction is deemphasized to the point that it is almost non-existent. And family visitation, where it is maintained, has degenerated to the point where it is either a social function or a secular guidance service. Thus, it is obvious from these examples, as well as from many others which we could mention, that the Word is losing its position of centrality in the labors of the minister. This is a wicked tendency: for the Word is essential in the labor of the ministry. Let us take a few moments, therefore, to consider why this is true.
In doing this, we must understand, first of all, that the Word is the Word of God! It is the revelation of the God of our salvation. That Word is God’s Word with respect to all things that are in His counsel. It is the Word God has eternally in mind. This Word was historically realized in the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Seed. And it is the Word which was communicated through revelation and divine inspiration to the minds of men, who were directed infallibly to set it forth in the, Scriptures.
Hence, the Word to which we refer is not the word of man, in whole or in part. There are words of man, but man always speaks of himself. So speaking, man and his word always exalt man above God and over against God. The word of man is a lie; it is rooted in devilish pride.
However, the Word of which we speak is God’s Word in Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. This Word does not exalt man, but teaches that we are sinners. It convicts us of sin, and teaches that of ourselves we are worthy only of condemnation! Yet this Word does not leave us in the state of condemnation, but assures us of our righteousness by grace and through the cross of our Lord. And it teaches that Christ alone is the Bread of life, who nourishes us unto the eternal life of glory. This Word is the authoritative gospel of salvation by grace alone!
That this Word is essential to the labor of the minister is evident from the minister’s task as one who is called by God in Christ. In this connection, Jesus tells Peter at the time of his restoration, as recorded for us in John 21, that he must feed the sheep. The minister is called to feed the flock of Christ! This means that the minister must in all of his labor bring to the flock that which nourishes unto life. And Jesus Christ is the Bread of life! The minister must always come to the flock of Christ with Christ, the Word Incarnate.
Secondly, the calling of the minister implies that it belongs to the minister’s task to guard, to keep, to guide the flock of Christ in the face of that which would lead them away from the knowledge of God in Christ. Sometimes this requires the minister to lead the flock in opposing error from without. He must guard and develop the doctrine of the truth as it is set forth in the Scriptures. He must point out the error in that which is presented to the flock as truth. Sometimes this calling requires the minister to guard the flock from error within. This includes reproof, rebuke, and exhortation, as we read in II Tim. 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” In all of his labors, both negatively and positively, it is the minister’s calling to guide the flock unto growth in the knowledge of God in Christ. For, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3.
But how is all this possible? How can the minister feed the sheep and lead them into the knowledge of God? Where does he get the ability? With what authority can the minister, who is an imperfect sinner, reprove the flock of Christ? The answer to all of these questions is that he is an officebearer called of Christ, and that to him has been entrusted Christ’s Word. He therefore represents Christ; and he comes in Christ’s authority. Hence, he has a very real and serious responsibility to rely solely upon his Sender, the Chief Shepherd.
This means that the minister in all of his labors must be subservient to the Word of his Sender. Therefore he cannot bring the philosophy of man to the pulpit. He may not rely upon worldly psychology in his pastoral labors. He may not de-emphasize catechetical instruction. But rather, it is the minister’s solemn calling to bring the Word of Christ to the flock in all of his labors. First, this means that he must make that Word the center of all his personal life. Secondly, the minister must exegete that Word in preparing for his labor as minister of the flock of Christ. And, thirdly, when he comes to the flock, he must be able to say: “Thus saith the Lord!”
Only then is it possible for the minister to fulfill his calling to feed the sheep. For then he comes with the very Word of the God of our salvation. And the minister may be assured that by maintaining the centrality of the Word in all of his labors, Christ by His Spirit will convict of sin, will lead to the cross, and will impart to His sheep knowledge unto life eternal.