The last part of the Ordination Form for ministers of the Word reads as follows:
“Finally, it is the duty of the Ministers of the Word, to keep the Church of God in good discipline, and to govern it in such a manner as the Lord hath ordained; for Christ having spoken of the Christian discipline, says to his apostles, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. And Paul will have the ministers to know how to rule their own house, since they otherwise neither can provide for, nor rule the Church of God. This is the reason why the pastors are in Scripture called stewards of God, and bishops, that is, overseers and watchmen, for they have the oversight of the house of God, wherein everything may be transacted with good order and decency; and also to open and shut, with the keys of the kingdom of heaven, committed to them, according to the charge given them by God.”
In our last article we questioned whether the task of exercising Christian discipline in the church belongs, strictly speaking, to the office of the ministry of the Word. That it belongs to the office of the elders is evident from both Scripture and the Form for Ordination of elders. They are the overseers who are called to watch over God’s heritage. The office of the ministry of the Word, on the other hand, corresponds more with the function of Christ in the church that is prophetic, the teaching and preaching of the Word. However, there is really no difficulty here if we keep in mind the fact, first, that no single individual in the church, be he minister or elder, wields the power to discipline and excommunicate from the Christian Church. This power Christ gives to the consistory, the body chosen and called to exercise ruling power over the church. In the second place, within that body there is unavoidably a certain overlap of functions, as we have seen last time. And, finally, as the Form quoted above also clearly indicates, the purpose of good discipline in the church is always “to govern it in such a manner as the Lord hath ordained.” All things in the church must be maintained in subjection to the Word of Christ. Since the office of the ministry of the Word has to do primarily with the Word, it follows that the function of discipline would in part pertain also to this office, even though it must also be maintained that the primary function of the disciplinary actions of the church must proceed from the elders. Then there is no conflict, but there is a harmonious working together to maintain good order and decency in accord with the Word of God.
THE LITURGICAL PART In the actual ordination ceremony there are two things that must be noted. First, we must consider the questions that are asked of the person to be ordained and, secondly, we take note of the ceremony of the laying on of hands which is used when the candidate is initially ordained in office.
The questions asked of the person to be ordained in the office of the ministry of the Word are preceded by this statement of significance:
“Forasmuch, therefore as we (the church), for the maintaining of this office in the Church of God, are now to ordain a new minister of the Word, and having sufficiently spoken of the office of such persons, therefore you, N.N., shall answer to the following questions, which shall be proposed to you, to the end that it may appear to all here present, that you are inclined to accept of this office as above described.”
The implication is that the church and the minister to be have a common conception of the office of the ministry and that they understand the nature and function of that office as afore described. The purpose of the questions is to assure the entire congregation that the minister to be will accept this office in the church. He is not accepting some invention of his own in the church, nor is he being given license to create some position to his own liking. The task he is called to assume has been clearly defined so that all understand what it is to be, and accordingly he is now asked to indicate his willingness to accept this when he answers the three questions put to him.
The first question reads: “I ask thee, whether thou feelest in thy heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s Church, and therefore of God Himself, to this holy ministry?”
It is evident that the emphasis in this question falls upon the calling, the calling by God Himself. Concerning this question Rev. H. Hoeksema furnishes us with a translation of the following remarks of Prof. Heyns in the latter’s “Liturgiek,” page 268.
“The first question is: ‘Whether thou feelest in thy heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s Church, and therefore of God himself, to this holy ministry?’ From this question it is evident that the Reformed Churches place all the emphasis on the calling. The question is not: dost thou feel in thy heart the great significance of the favorable outcome of thy examination? Not even: dost thou feel in thy heart the high significance of this thy ordination. But: dost thou feel in thy heart the great significance of the fact that thou art lawfully called by God’s church, and therefore by God himself to this holy ministry. For the intent of this question certainly is not to inquire whether he is convinced that everything in connection with his call was conducted legally. Of this no doubt can be left at this time any more. In that case it would have been better that the question had been directed to the congregation, or rather, to the consistory. No, this, whether thou feelest in thy heart, assures us that the form has in mind not a purely intellectual certainty about the objective transaction of a certain matter, but something that is embraced by faith and is felt in the heart as a lively consciousness: dost thou feel in thy heart the significance of this voice of God, the congregation as the voice of God? Dost thou feel in thy heart, since thou art lawfully called ofGod’s church, thou art called of God Himself? Only when thus understood is there good reason for this question, and need for an affirmative answer. From that answer it will become evident that he knows himself as one that is called of God, that he is deeply convinced of the divine nature of his calling, that he understands the significance of his ministry as an office that he has to fulfill for Christ’s sake, and that therefore it may be expected of him that he will fulfill his office faithfully and with perseverance, trusting in Him whose cause it is, and that will with the calling also grant the necessary ability.”
To this translation Rev. Hoeksema then adds the following remarks: “With this interpretation of Heyns we can, of course, fully agree. Not the ordination, not the examination, not even the calling by the church, but fundamentally God’s own calling must induct anyone in the ministry of the divine Word. The minister in all his labors undoubtedly is in need of the assurance and of the deep conviction that he is called by God. If not, he will soon be discouraged, and cannot remain a faithful minister of the Word of God.” (Liturgy, Pgs. 22, 23, by H.H.)
God, therefore, moves the heart of man when he calls him to the ministry of the Word. This He does, not in a mystical manner, but through His Church, providing His Church with men as needed, that the ministry of the Word may continue to the end of the world. The Church institutionally may be destroyed or, by reason of apostasy become so corrupt that God removes the light of the candlestick or refrains from calling ministers in the church, but the ministry will continue. God is dependent upon no one. He calls men as He wills, and those whom He calls enter upon His ministry, and without that calling of God no one can become a minister of the Word. One must feel that calling strongly to engage faithfully in the work.
The second question asked is: “Whether thou dost believe the books of the Old and New Testament to be the only Word of God and the perfect doctrine unto salvation, and dost reject all doctrine repugnant thereto?”
There are two aspects to this question, a positive and a negative one. Yet the two are inseparable. You cannot faithfully adhere to true doctrine without rejecting all that is repugnant thereto. The truth will harbor no compromise, not in confession nor in life. In the measure that one flaunts false doctrines and practices, he deviates in confession and life from the true and perfect doctrine of salvation. Consistency is indeed a jewel that is rarely found. Its price is immeasurable. The minister of the Word must display the jewel of consistency, holding fast to the Word of Life and rejecting utterly all that is not in accord therewith.
Rev. Hoeksema, in this connection, makes the observation that this second question “could have been more definite, and could have referred to the doctrines contained in the confessions of the Reformed church.” This is no doubt true but not necessary because that which is in the books of Holy Writ is also the material substance of the Reformed Confessions and if this is ever proved not to be the case, the minister of the Word must adhere to the former and not the latter. The Confessions may never be held above the Word of God, equated with it, but always the rule of faith and life is God’s unchangeable Word. And further, if this question is to be made more definite, we should then make it even more specific than suggested above and speak of the doctrines contained in the confessions of the Reformed Church as interpreted by our Protestant Reformed Churches. The candidate is being ordained in the ministry of the Word in the Protestant Reformed Churches and he must then promise to defend the doctrine of these churches and reject all that is repugnant thereto.
The final question asked is: “Whether thou dost promise faithfully to discharge thy office, according to the same doctrine as above described, and to adorn it with a godly life: also, to submit thyself, in case thou shouldest become delinquent either in life or doctrine, to ecclesiastical admonition, according to the public ordinance of the churches?”
We observe first of all that this question is very similar to that which is asked of every member of the church upon their making confession of faith. The minister here promises the same thing with respect to his office and his functioning in that office as we all promise with respect to our place in the church and our entire life as it stands related to that place. Faithfulness is pledged before God together with the promise of submission to discipline in the case of neglect.
Secondly, the very question presupposes a calling and duty of the church with respect to its minister. The supposition is that in case he becomes delinquent either in life or doctrine, he will be admonished and tried by the ecclesiastical tribunal, to which process of trial he promises to submit. The church may not condemn and ostracize a minister without accusation, admonition and trial, for then there is nothing to which he can submit himself in accord with his promise. The questions asked of the minister to be ordained are very serious and must be answered in all seriousness, and the church, with equal seriousness, must maintain a normal status so that the promises made may also be preserved.
To all of this the minister to be ordained answers: Yes, truly, with all my heart.