Ronald L. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
“The offices are of four kinds: of the ministers of the Word, of the professors of theology, of the elders, and of the deacons.” Church Order, Article 2.
Article 2 is of an introductory nature. It begins the first main division of the Church Order, “Of The Offices.” The article indicates the number of the offices in the church and their names. Four offices are mentioned: minister, professor of theology, elder, and deacon.
It is important to notice that the Church Order begins its treatment of church government by discussing the offices in the church. It does not begin by discussing the broader assemblies, synod and classis, and narrow down finally to the offices in the local congregation. But deliberately it begins by treating the offices in the local congregation. The significance of this is that the Church Order reflects the Reformed view of church government. According to this view, the government of the church resides in the offices instituted by Christ in the local congregation.
Although not specifically mentioned, the idea of office is clearly implied in Article 2. The idea of office is authority to do a certain work. This authority the officebearer has received from and exercises on behalf of Jesus Christ. This authority the officebearer has over and for the benefit of Christ’s people.
Significantly the parity or equality of officebearers is implied in this article. The article speaks of four “kinds” of offices. It does not speak of four ranks or orders of offices. The offices differ from each other in task and the nature of their work, but not in dignity and honor. At the outset Reformed, churches reject the hierarchical view of the offices in the church.
Article 2 concerns itself with the special permanent offices in the New Testament church.
There were special offices of a temporary nature in the early New Testament church. There was the apostolic office. The apostles were ordained and called by Christ directly. They were eye-and-ear-witnesses of the resurrected Christ. And they were infallibly inspired in their preaching and writing. There were also evangelists. They were helpers of the apostles, who were appointed by the apostles and worked under the supervision of the apostles. An example would be Philip the evangelist, Acts 21:8. There were also prophets in the early New Testament church. They were men with the special gift of prophecy (direct revelation). An example would be Agabus, Acts 11:27, 28. All of these offices ceased to exist in the church with the passing away of the apostles.
Article 2 of the Church Order is concerned with the special offices in the New Testament church which are of a permanent nature. These are three in number: minister, whose special task is to teach the Word and administer the sacraments; elder, whose special task is the rule of the church; and deacon, whose special task is the work of collecting and distributing the alms.
A question arises in connection with Article 2 because it mentions four special offices in the .church rather than three. Professor of theology is made a distinct office alongside the offices of minister, elder, and deacon.
There is a historical explanation for this teaching of Article 2. The explanation is that it was the position of John Calvin that the professor of theology was a distinct office, separate from the ordinary minister of the gospel.
Calvin based his position on Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Calvin understood the expression “pastors” to be a reference to ministers, and the term “teachers” to be a reference to professors of theology. In his commentary on this passage, he writes:
Some think that ‘pastors and doctors (teachers)’ denote one office, because there is no disjunctive particle (the word “some”, RC), as in the other parts of the verse, to distinguish them . . . I partly agree with them, that Paul speaks indiscriminately of pastors and teachers as if they are one and the same order; nor do I deny that the name doctor does to some extent belong to all pastors. But this does not move me to confound two offices, which I see to differ from each other. Teaching is the duty of all pastors; but there is a particular gift of interpreting Scripture, so that sound doctrine may be kept and a man may be a doctor who is not fitted to preach. Pastors, to my mind, are those to whom is committed the charge of a particular Flock. I have no objection to their receiving the name of doctors, if we realize that there is another kind of doctor, who superintends both the education of pastors and the instruction of the whole church.
Undoubtedly Calvin and our Church Order, following the lead of Calvin, are incorrect in distinguishing four special offices in the New Testament church. It is a mistake to make the professor of theology a distinct office from that of the minister of the Word. Calvin’s interpretation of Ephesians 4:11 is faulty. The apostle does not say, “and SOME pastors, and SOME teachers,” thus distinguishing the pastors from the teachers. But he says, “and some pastors and teachers.” The simple grammar of the passage requires us to understand “pastors and teachers” to be referring to one and the same office.
Calvin’s position on the number of offices was incorporated in the “Ecclesiastical Ordinances” of the Church of Geneva. In the “Ecclesiastical Ordinances” we find the following:
FOUR ORDERS IN THE CHURCH. Firstly, there are Four official orders which our Lord instituted for the government of His Church: firstly, pastors; secondly, teachers; thirdly, elders, otherwise called the Seigneury’s delegates; and, fourthly, deacons. If then, we wish to have the Church well ordered and maintained in its entirety, we must observe this Form of government.
That the professor of theology is only an aspect of the office of the minister is the proper Reformed understanding of the special offices. Already in the “Article of Wezel,” a predecessor of our Church Order, it was stated that the professors of theology had with the ministers one and the same office of teaching, although the manner of their teaching was different. The description given in Article 18 of theChurch Order itself of the “office” or task of the professors of theology characterizes them as ministers of the Word. Our Belgic Confession Of Faith, in Articles 30 and 31, speaks of but three offices in the New Testament church: minister, elder, and deacon. The “Form For The Installation Of Professors Of Theology” also indicates very clearly that the professor of theology is a minister of the gospel. At the beginning of the form it is stated: “Beloved brethren, it is know unto you that our brother in the holy ministry, N.N., has been called by our last Synod to the important office of professor of theology at our Theological Seminary.” Later on the form states: “Conscious of this calling our Church has also established a Theological School and called thereverend brother, N.N., to devote his talents to this School.” Clearly the form presupposes that those who are professors of theology hold the office of the ministry of the gospel.
In more recent years some have gone in the direction of adding the office of evangelist as a fourth special office alongside the offices of minister, elder, and deacon. An example of this would be the Christian Reformed Church. Part of its radical revision of theChurch Order includes its designation of the office of evangelist as a continuing special office in the New Testament church. Article 2 of the Church Order Of The Christian Reformed Church In North Americastates: “The church recognizes the offices of minister of the Word, elder, deacon, and evangelist. These offices differ from each other only in mandate and task, not in dignity and honor.” The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1973, defined the office of evangelist as the “. . . authority to administer the Word and sacraments in the work of evangelism of his calling church.” This is an office to which lay persons are generally appointed. The evangelist is recognized as an elder in the calling church. His task is specifically the planting of new congregations.
As was the case with the professor of theology, we cannot agree with making the office of evangelist a fourth special office in the church. Our position is that since the days of the apostles, the office of evangelist has merged into the office of the ministry of the gospel. The Scriptures themselves make this plain. In II Timothy 4:5, the apostle Paul refers to Timothy, the pastor of the congregation of Ephesus, as an evangelist: “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” Besides, there are many instances in the New Testament in which the task of preaching the gospel, the task, that is, of the ordinary minister of the Word, is defined as evangelizing, bringing the glad tidings. In fact, the common word for “to preach” in the New Testament is the word “evangelize.”
In sum, we maintain that there are three, and only three, special offices in the New Testament church. The Old Testament knew of only three offices: prophet, priest, and king. Christ Himself occupied a three-fold office: Prophet, Priest, and King. Corresponding to the three offices in the Old Testament and reflecting the three-fold office of Christ, there are three offices in the church today.
In the light of the teaching of Scripture regarding the number of offices, it would be appropriate to amend Article 2 of the Church Order. It would be possible to revise the article so that the word “four” is changed to “three” and the phrase “of the professors of theology” is deleted. Then the article would read: “The offices are of three kinds: of the ministers of the Word, of the elders, and of the deacons.” Or it would be possible to change the wording and punctuation as follows: “The offices are of three kinds: of the ministers of the Word and professors of theology; of the elders; and of the deacons.” In this case the article would make plain that professor of theology is not a separate office, but only an aspect of the office of the ministry of the Word.