We conclude our discussion of the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons by directing attention yet to the vows which the office-bearers are required to take and the subsequent charge that is given to them and also to the entire congregation.
The speaking of vows is always a very grave and serious matter. This may indeed be emphasized, and we do well to keep it in mind especially with a view to other vows as well. We refer particularly to those spoken in connection with the baptism of children, confession of faith, marriage, etc. There is a danger of doing these things without a conscious realization of their seriousness. Vows thus spoken are soon forgotten and easily broken, resulting in the most tragic spiritual consequences. Examples of this may be found in every congregation, and the relationship between the neglect of vows and the spiritual impoverishment of the church is not difficult to see. We must never do these things out of custom or superstition, but always in the conscious awareness of their most profound significance.
The reason for this lies in the fact that the Word of God itself places a very strong emphasis upon the sacredness of vows. Scripture condemns the rash vow, and God Himself impresses upon us that fact that we cannot break our vows with impunity. In Deuteronomy 23:21 we read, “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.” Again, in Ecclesiastes 5:4 it is said, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”
The vows which elders and deacons are required to take upon their ordination to office consists of their answering affirmatively to four important questions. (The Form presents a threefold vow, but the third part really contains two separate questions.) These questions we will not quote here in their entirety but offer the following paraphrase.
1. Are you conscious that you are called of God Himself unto your holy office in His church?
2. Do you believe the Bible is the only Word of God, and will you reject everything that is contrary to the Holy Scriptures?
3. Will you, to the best of your ability, carry out the functions of your office as described in the Form of Ordination?
4. Do you promise to lead a godly life, and, if you should become remiss in your duty, will you submit to the admonition of the church?
Each of these questions contains matters that are worthy of a separate discussion. There are topics here that could be beneficially treated in an officebearer’s conference. For example: What constitutes the “Calling”? What is the “Word of God?” A Circumscription of the Office of Elders! Of Deacons! The Exemplary Life of the Office-bearer of the Church.
Time and space do not allow for a discussion of these here; but it must be understood that before this vow can be intelligently spoken, the candidate for the office must have a clear understanding of that which is involved in these questions. At that moment one will also realize his own inability to fulfill this vow, readily confess this, and look to God for all his help and strength. This vow must be spoken not in pride or on the basis of one’s natural ability but in the humble attitude that God, Who calls, also provides the way and the means to realize the calling. For this reason, when the affirmative answer is given, the minister of the Word pronounces the divine benediction: “The Almighty God and Father, replenish you all with His grace, that you may faithfully and fruitfully discharge your respective offices. Amen.”
The nature of this benediction is not that it expresses a mere wish or desire of the minister or congregation. It certainly does that, but there is much more. It must be construed in the same manner as we understand the apostolic benedictions that are used in our worship services. They are pronouncements of God Himself upon His Church through which He bestows His grace, mercy and peace. So here, God, through the office of the ministry of His Word in the church, graces the men whom He has chosen to office and endows them with the qualifying gifts of His Spirit. This signifies that God, through them, will perform His own work in and upon His church. In that light we may say with the Psalmist: “The work of our hands, establish Thou it.” The rest of this ordination form is devoted to exhorting those who have been ordained in the offices and also the entire congregation.
These exhortations are necessary because as long as the church is in the present world, sin also characterizes her walk and life. She has not yet attained unto the perfection that is promised. The church must strive daily with the infirmities, and weaknesses of the flesh. Always the things she would not, she does; and the things she would, she fails to do. There is need constantly to re mind her of her calling and enjoin her to more steadfastness. It is as was stated to me recently by one of the members of the church at the conclusion of the worship service. Commenting on the sermon, he said, “It isn’t that we do not know these things, nor that we do not experience them; but we tend always to forget. We need to be told over and over again. We have so little of the new obedience.” With respect to the matter at hand, we are so inclined to go through the motions of installing elders and deacons and then so quickly forget the significance of this most solemn rite in the church. Exhortations cannot be repeated too often. They constitute an essential part of the life of the church.
Our purpose at present is not to discuss the content of these exhortations in detail. Much of it-has already been taken care of in connection with the Form of Ordination itself. These admonitions only direct our attention to our calling of God with respect to the offices of His Church.
Concerning the elders then it is to be noted that they are enjoined to “be diligent in the government of the Church, be watchmen over the house and city of God, be faithful to admonish and to caution everyone against his ruin, take heed that purity of doctrine and godliness of life be maintained in the Church.” Did someone say that the elders have nothing to do? Do we hear sometimes that the work of the elders is easy? Those who say such things do not know what they are talking about. Even apart from the tremendous responsibility involved in this work, the labor itself elicits many tears; but they who are graced to be diligent and faithful in it have the confidence that in the harvest time they shall come again with joy. Great is their reward in heaven.
The deacons are also admonished to diligence. This virtue they must exercise both with respect to the collection of the alms and in the distribution of the same. They are called to “assist the oppressed, provide for the true widows and orphans, and show liberality unto all men, but especially to the household of faith.” Here, too, the spiritual character of this office is emphasized: for the office of the deacon is a counterpart to that of the elder. The former must reflect His High-priestly function even as the latter emulates His Sovereign Kingship.
Thus both elders and deacons, exercising faithfulness and being good examples unto all the people as they hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, will purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith, which is in Christ Jesus. Into His joy they enter, not simply in the sense of futuristic promise, but now as they labor in His cause in the consciousness of their high calling.
The congregation too must be exhorted. It is called to “receive these men as servants of God.” We may pause momentarily here. Weigh these words carefully! Do you receive the men whom God has appointed in His Church to the offices as His servants? Do you receive from them the message they may have to bring to you as it is God’s? Often this is not done, and then tragic consequences result. No, we do not say that when one who purports to be a servant of God seeks to impose upon you the philosophies of men, you are to receive him. Not at all! Scripture tells us not to receive such in our homes but to reject them. But we are speaking of faithful servants who faithfully bring you the Word of God and faithfully minister to you Christ’s mercy. Do not rebel against their service! Do not reject them, for in doing so you are rejecting God!
The congregation is further enjoined specifically to count the elders that rule well worthy of double honor and to submit to their inspection and government. This must be done willingly, not under coercion. Remember those that have the rule over you that they watch over your souls as those that must give account. Show them always a right spiritual attitude. Don’t try to evade them as though their inspection of you is “none of their business.” It is! They must make it their business for your sakes!
Likewise the congregation must provide the deacons with good means, so that they may be able to carry out their duties. The rich are to be charitable—not lovers of money but lovers of saints. They are to contribute liberally of the riches God has given them. And the poor must be thankful and respectful toward those that assist them. They must not murmur. They must be poor in spirit, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Altogether Christ must be followed for the food of the soul. Let all sin and iniquity be put away, and let each walk honestly in the calling wherewith God has called him. Doing this we shall receive the reward of righteousness, the crown that fadeth not away.
THE CONCLUDING PRAYER
The motivation of this prayer is expressed in the statement: “But since we are unable of ourselves, let us call upon the name of the Lord.” The prayer itself, therefore, is not a general congregational prayer but is a specific prayer which touches upon the immediate concern of the church in this matter of ordaining men to the offices. It contains various petitions for the elders and their needs, the deacons and their needs, and the congregation and its needs. Realizing that all these needs God alone is able to provide, and confidently trusting that He Who promised never to forsake or to leave His church will also provide, the church is led in prayer to the throne of grace to obtain these things.
Finally, the ultimate purpose of the prayer is not man, the church, our needs. All these things are subordinate to the one glorious objective which is also expressed in the prayer, namely, “that Thy holy name may thereby be magnified, and the kingdom of Thy Son Jesus Christ, enlarged.” Of Him, and by Him, and through Him are all things; to Whom be glory forever. In His Name then the prayer is concluded with the well-known words of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father . . . . etc.”
With this we conclude for the present our discussion of the Forms of Ordination. We hope, D.V., to discuss some other facets of our liturgy with which perhaps most of us are not as familiar. May this study enhance the beauty of our worship and enrich our entire life.