Commencement exercises of the Protestant Reformed Seminary were held on June 16, 2011 at Grandville Protestant Reformed Church. An abbreviated version of Prof. Dykstra’s address on that occasion begins here, to be concluded, D.V., in our August issue.
There is a certain paradox about the ministry of the Word. We reject the notion that there are theological paradoxes—irresolvable contradictions in theology. There are, however, characteristics and callings of the minister that seem contradictory. For instance, the ministry of the Word and sacraments is a high calling indeed. A minister is a herald of the King—Jesus Christ, Lord of lords and King of kings. Yet the same minister is slave of the One whom the Bible calls a servant, the One who said of Himself that He came to minister (serve) not to be served.
The minister of the Word is an ambassador of the Lord. He comes into the home of a member of the church as a representative of Christ Himself! But his work in that home is to minister, i.e., to serve the people of God there.
A minister is trained, even highly educated. As the graduates demonstrated at synod, they will begin their labors with a head full of knowledge. But their calling is not to exhibit their great knowledge. Knowledge, Paul warns, puffeth up. Charity edifies. Love for the congregation is what must be on constant display, not knowledge.
A minister is a trained orator who can construct and deliver logical, compelling messages. Sermons are delivered with passion and conviction. But when the minister comes to his first congregation (and each one thereafter), he says with Paul, I come not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, nor with enticing words of man’s wisdom. One thing only I preach, namely Christ, and Him crucified.
And though the minister of God brings a word so powerful that it kills or makes alive, yet he confesses that he is not sufficient for these things; his sufficiency is Christ.
Tonight I focus on another of those seeming paradoxes of the ministry. On the one hand, a minister is called to fight. Paul’s instruction to Timothy, a young minister of the Word, is that he is to “war a good warfare” (I Tim. 1:18). But the minister is also a pastor, one called upon to bestow pastoral care for the sheep of God. Accordingly, to the same minister Paul wrote, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Tim. 2:24, 25).
In this speech I will address this seeming contradiction of “The Militant Pastor,” noticing first, the contrast; secondly, the calling; and finally, the possibility.
The Stark Contrast
That a minister is called to the life and work of a soldier is no surprise in light of the fact that the life of every Christian involves fighting the good fight of faith. God made that clear already in the garden of Eden after the fall, when He announced that He would put enmity—hatred—between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That this meant warfare became apparent when Cain rose up and killed his brother Abel. The war was on, and it was real.
The nation of Israel was born to a life of fighting. They were barely delivered from Egypt when the Amalekites attacked them in the wilderness, and Israel was forced to fight for its life. Joshua was called to lead the armies of Israel to war against the nations of Canaan. David was a fighting king, fighting the battles of the Lord against the heathen nations. That fighting was God’s will for Israel is expressly stated in Judges 3:2, where the Bible tells us that God deliberately left some of the Canaanite nations in the land in order to teach Israel war.
The New Testament retains the call to fight, though it removes the typical element of physical battles, and makes it plain that the warfare is spiritual. Put on the whole armor of God, we are commanded (Eph. 6). Earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3). Besides all that, Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Testament types Joshua and David, is called the captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10), who conquers His and our enemies (Col. 2:15, Rev. 17:14, et al.).
One expects, then, that fighting will be required of the minister of the Word. He is a soldier. Paul exhorts Timothy to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Tim. 2:3). He presses Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12) and sums up his own life similarly: “I have fought a good fight” (II Tim. 4:7). And if in those latter two instances the emphasis is on contesting a good contest (literally), the instruction in I Timothy 1:18 is unmistakably about fighting—”war a good warfare.” The reference is to the activity of a soldier, not an athlete. It speaks of soldiers going to battle, and of military campaigns.
The Reformed church impresses that calling upon the minister. The form for the ordination of ministers declares that the minister must be “refuting with the Holy Scriptures all schisms and heresies which are repugnant to the pure doctrine.” Concerning the refutation of false doctrine, the form quotes Paul’s instruction to Titus (Titus 1:9): “That a minister must hold fast the faithful word of God, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers.”
The Form of Subscription is even more explicit. There the minister promises “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine.” And this additional pledge is made:
We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine, and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned synod, but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert ourselves in keeping the church free from such errors.
The Battle for the Gospel
Let it be clear that the warfare of the minister is a battle for the gospel. It is not a culture war. It is not a struggle to improve social conditions in the land. It is not a political contest for power in America. Nowhere does the Bible give any such calling to the instituted church, much less to the minister.
That this is combat for the sake of the gospel is evident from the words “a good warfare” (I Tim. 1:18). Not all warfare is good. This warfare of Timothy is good from three points of view. First, it is a profitable war, i.e., there is some value to this war. Some wars are pointless—they accomplish nothing. For a minister, pointless wars involve battles over words and foolish questions that Scripture does not answer. There is no spiritual value to these wars. But the “good warfare” has spiritual purpose and profit, namely, that the truth is upheld, and quite possibly can be set forth more clearly after the battle is over.
Second, it is a good warfare because the cause is good. It is the cause of the truth of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Third, it is good in that it will triumph. (A lost war is disastrous for the loser, and it were far better that a minister had not fought at all.) A particular minister will not always triumph in the battle. But the battle for the truth of God will be victorious, that is certain!
Earlier in I Timothy 1, Paul made it plain that the battle for Timothy in Ephesus was for the gospel. He instructs Timothy not to fight over worthless matters that only raise questions (v. 4). However, there were members of the church who desired to be teachers, teaching things concerning the law that were “contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my [Paul’s] trust” (10-11). The gospel was at stake in this war.
The graduates ought to take notice of Paul’s words— “the glorious gospel…committed to my trust.” In a few months, D.V., you will be ordained into the ministry of the Word. And this gospel will be committed to your trust to defend.
What a glorious gospel it is—this good news of salvation! It begins with the knowledge of God, the holy, sovereign, covenant God, whom to know is life eternal (John 17:3). This knowledge is in and through His Son, Jesus Christ—the Mediator of the covenant, God in the flesh, the Savior. This gospel gives us the knowledge of our sin and guilt—the inability to do one thing towards our salvation, and our total depravity, that we are inclined to all evil. We are worthy of eternal damnation.
But the good news is the cross—the atonement— effectual because it was both substitutionary and an actual payment for the sins of all those, and those only, given to Christ. Accordingly, the good news includes justification by faith alone without works; sanctification by the Spirit; sovereign, irresistible, particular grace. Such a gospel teaches that the goal of salvation is the covenant of grace—an unconditional, eternal, one-sided, bond of friendship that God establishes with believers and their seed. All the cardinal truths are included, even to the coming of the Lord and the new heavens and earth.
That is sound doctrine. Doctrine according to godliness.
The battle for the gospel is a spiritual battle, and it requires spiritual weapons. The weapons of the minister are obvious. He is a minister of the Word. A minister of the gospel. The chief weapon is the Bible, and especially the preaching of the Bible.
The battle for the truth in the preaching begins with a sermon that sets forth the truth as clearly and fully as possible from the text. It defines the doctrine. It carefully explains the meaning of the text. It sets forth Christ crucified and exalted as the core of each concept, and of the entire text.
But the warring of a good warfare does not end there. It has only begun. The sermon must be antithetical, that is, it must set forth the truth over against the lie, exposing the lie and rejecting it. Closely related, the sermon must be polemical. It must refute the errors that would oppose the truth set forth in this text. Both the Bible and the Reformed confessions are the weapons at his disposal. And third, the good warfare includes a proper application in the sermon to the hearts and lives of God’s people. For the truth is doctrine according to godliness. Every truth has an application to the lives of the members. And the battle is not only against the lie, it is against all sin.
Obviously, such sermons will require hard work, diligent work, rightly dividing the word of truth.
This same hard work is required for teaching catechism to the children and youth of the church. The minister must put forth all the same efforts, maintain all the same goals. He brings instruction from the Bible and the confessions at the level appropriate to the catechumens. Doctrine is the heart. You soon-to-be ministers must require your catechumens to learn the catechism questions and answers so that they will know the doctrines. You want them to know the truth. You must help them to see the lie and how the Bible and the confessions condemn the lie. And you must show them the life that is in harmony with the truth.
In addition, the pen is a powerful weapon in the spiritual battle. The Protestant Reformed minister must set himself to write for the Standard Bearer and the Beacon Lights, and if the Lord gives time and ability, pamphlets and books. In such writings he sets forth the truth—sound doctrine; he condemns sin and the lie; he exhorts to faithfulness.
This is the minister’s calling: Affirm the truth; condemn sin; confront the lie; oppose errors of every kind. War a good warfare. A minister is a soldier.
But he is also a pastor. He may not strive, but must be gentle to all.
… to be concluded.