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Prof. Engeslma is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches. This article is the text of the address given at the commencement exercises of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary in the auditorium of the Hudsonville, MI Protestant Reformed Church on June 16, 2003.

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs….

John 21:15-23

Introduction

Mr. Goh and Mr. Langerak, the two graduates of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, have received significant testimony that they are qualified for the gospel-ministry. Both of them are aware that they are qualified for the ministry in important respects.

In the case of Mr. Langerak, the Protestant Reformed Seminary has approved him as qualified on the basis of four years of instruction, examination, and oversight. The synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches has just judged him qualified after thorough examination. In the case of Mr. Goh, the Protestant Reformed Seminary has approved him as qualified. His examination by a major church assembly awaits the meeting of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore later this year.

As regards such vitally important areas concerning the ministry as competency in the original languages, exegesis, doctrinal knowledge and soundness, the ability to make and deliver sermons, and much more, these men are qualified for the ministry.

In addition, they have shown the faculty and the churches requisite spiritual qualifications, such as reverence of God, humility, holiness, faithfulness in their work, and the like.

They themselves know very well that they are qualified in these respects. They must have this confidence. They may not enter the ministry doubtful whether they have the necessary qualifications.

Important, even necessary, as all these qualifications are, if the graduates should lack one other qualification—the indispensable qualification—they would be unfit for the ministry. One qualification is indispensable. It does not make the others unnecessary, or even detract from their importance. But without this qualification, the possession and exercise of the others are of no benefit to the minister. In addition, the likelihood is that, no matter how qualified a man may be in other respects, lacking this qualification he will make shipwreck of his ministry, sooner or later, with great damage to the fold of Christ. The minister will himself come to grief. Christ will see to it.

On the other hand, a minister with only average qualifications in other respects who has the indispensable qualification in rich measure will have a fruitful ministry. Such is the power of the indispensable qualification. And Christ will see to it that the man thus qualified has a prosperous ministry.

The relation between the indispensable qualification and the other qualifications for the ministry is like that between “charity” and the gifts in I Corinthians 13:1-3:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

In the final analysis, only the minister himself knows that he has this qualification, as only he himself is conscious throughout his ministry that his work is motivated and characterized by this qualification. Others cannot judge: not seminary faculties, not synods, not consistories, not one’s colleagues. Only the man himself knows—and Jesus Christ. Possession and exercise of this qualification are between the minister and Christ.

The conviction of a seminary graduate that he has this qualification, therefore, comes by way of a question that Christ Himself puts to him directly, a question that the seminarian answers directly to Him. This is the question Jesus put to Peter on the shore of Galilee, according to John 21:15ff.

 

A Matter of the Ministry

 

We know that there is an indispensable qualification for the ministry, and we know what it is, from the question that Jesus put to Peter when He restored Peter to the office of the ministry. By virtue of Peter’s denial of Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter was “de facto (to quote Article 53 of the Church Order) suspended from his office.” Now Christ reinstates Peter. This is evident from the charge: “Feed my lambs and sheep.” Reinstatement into office is the force of the command, “Follow me.” The command is not a call to personal discipleship as a believer, but the call to follow Christ as an apostle, preacher, and elder in the church. The command, as well as the circumstances, is the very same as the command and circumstances of Christ’s original call of Simon to the office of the ministry. Matthew 4:18ff. relates that Jesus at the sea of Galilee saw Peter casting a net into the sea and said, “Follow me, and I will make you [a] fisher of men.”

The indispensable qualification is stated in Jesus’ searching question, repeated three times to correspond to Peter’s three denials of Christ: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” That was the indispensable qualification for the ministry of Simon Peter. Without that qualification, he would have been unfit for the ministry. Lacking that qualification, his suspension would not have been lifted. Rather, the Lord would have proceeded to Peter’s deposition.

This is the indispensable qualification for the gospel-ministry for every minister.

Jesus puts this same question to the two graduates of the Protestant Reformed Seminary prior to their ordination, as He did, and still does, to all of us who are undershepherds in His church.

Love for Jesus

The minister’s love for Jesus is the fundamental qualification for the ministry.

Does the minister regard Jesus as precious—uniquely precious? Does he seek Jesus’ good—above all else? Does he devote himself to Jesus with all his gifts and in all his work—as the sole goal of his life and labor? Is the minister in communion with Jesus as his friend—his dearest friend?

Is love for Jesus the reason why, in Peter’s case, he desired reinstatement in his office, and the reason why, in the case of our two graduates, they aspire to the ministry?

Is love for Jesus the motive of the use of all the natural and academic qualifications—the intellectual ability, the ability to speak effectively, the knowledge of the languages, the grasp of history and dogmas? Is love for Jesus the explanation of all the spiritual gifts—the reverence of God, the humility, the patience, the holiness?

Is love for Jesus why the graduates will preach? why they will teach catechism? why they will visit the sick and dying? why they will go after the wayward? why they will marry the youth? why they will bury the old? why they will write and lecture? why they will defend the faith?

Love for Jesus is indispensable!

He said so.

About one qualification He asked His apostle at the solemn ceremony of reinstatement: “Do you love me?”

Though I preach with the tongue of John Chrysostom, and do not love Jesus, I am sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Though I have the knowledge of John Calvin, and have not love for Jesus, I am nothing.

Though I give myself to the needy saints in pastoral work like a Martin Bucer, and have not love for Jesus, it profits me nothing.

That the indispensable qualification is love for Jesus is right. Jesus is worthy of the love of the ministers in His church. He is worthy that all the work in the church be devoted to Him.

On the occasion of Peter’s reinstatement, Jesus showed Himself as the one who is risen from the dead. This is the preface to the account of Peter’s reinstatement: “This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead” (v. 14).

As risen, Jesus Christ is revealed as the eternal Son of God. Peter acknowledged this when he said, “Thou knowest all things” (v. 17). Only God is omniscient. If Jesus is omniscient, He is God. He is God in human flesh. And as God in the flesh, Jesus ought to be loved: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

As risen, Jesus is revealed as the Savior who has redeemed the church, including elect, godly ministers, from sin and death by the sacrifice of Himself. We are His, body and soul, with all our knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, all our ability to preach and teach, all our books and papers. We are His who loved us so, and gave Himself for us. As our Savior and Lord, He ought to be loved by us.

As risen, He is revealed as the head of the church, so that the church exists for Him and for the glory of God in Him. The head ought to be loved by the body and its members.

“Lovest thou me?” is a claim by Jesus, an awesome claim: “I am worthy that in all the history of the church in the world all that is done by and for the church be done out of love for me.”

(to be cont.)