The last time we wrote that it was possible, though not advisable, for men endowed with special gifts to be admitted to the ministry of the word without the usual prescribed course of study in the theological school. This time we purpose to write a few lines about the gifts with which such men are to be endowed as these are requisite unto being admitted into the office of the ministry under the special provisions of Article 8.
The eighth article of our church order mentions the following; “Godliness (godzaligheid), humility (ontmoedigheid), modesty (zedigheid), common sense and discretion (goed verstand en discretie), as also gift of public address (welsprekendheid).”
The above mentioned gifts are, of course, requisite of every minister of the gospel whether he has had theological training in the seminary or not. Yet, it is not correct to say that this is an exhaustive list of ministerial credentials nor is that the intention of this enumeration. It should be clear that the thrust of this article is that no man without theological training, who is devoid of these fundamental qualifications, can be considered for the ministry of the word. This does not say that there are not other gifts which are both desirable and necessary. Nor does it infer that one who possesses only these qualities is by that token suitable material for the ministry. Undoubtedly many godly, humble, modest, discrete and eloquent men can be found who are not in the ministry.
When you stop to consider what the reasonable qualities are with which the minister of the word ought to be endowed, you soon realize how impossible it is to compose a complete, exhaustive list. In his excellent work on “Biblical Hermeneutics” M.S. Terry distinguishes between the intellectual, educational and spiritual qualifications. Others add the category of physical requirements. Concerning these requirements the late Rev. H. Danhof wrote: “Allerlei gaven zijn noodig, en in zeer bijzondere mate, maar eene specifieke gave is onmisbaar. Deze, is de gave der profetie,; de gave om te kunnen leeren, anderen te kunnen onder wijzen door de verkondiging en uitlegging en toepassing van het Woord, en in den naam van Christus. Hij moet de ge- meente Gods kunnen stichten. Onder zijne leiding moet het duidelijk worden dat God in haar midden is. Deze gave wordt geschonken, doch is ook voor ontwikkeling vatbaar, en vooral dit laatste moet door ons worden begeerd.” (Homeletics)
And above all these is yet the supreme requirement of all which is the call of God and concerning which the Rev. H. Hoeksema writes: “Finally, a word must be said of the minister that preaches the word of God. In answer to the question, who is he, we must emphasize, first of all, that he is one who is called; he is one that is sent, and, therefore an ambassador. Of his calling the minister must be conscious as he labors, for it is his consciousness of that calling that is his strength and support in his difficult task. To this calling belongs a subjective or inward aspect: one who is called to the ministry certainly must have an abiding desire to serve the Lord Christ in the preaching of the gospel. This, of course, presupposes the consciousness that he himself is a child of God and partakes of the life of the church. It is no doubt true that God is able for a time to build and edify his church by the labors of a reprobate; but it is also true that such a reprobate can never be a true preacher of the word of God. But there is also an external aspect to this calling to the ministry. And to this belongs, no doubt, all that is included in the way to that ministry, such as, necessary talents, power of intellect to study, and the necessary means to open the way. One need not necessarily possess extraordinary gifts or brilliant talents to be assured that God calls him to the ministry. There are ten talents, and five talents, and there is also the one talent, which may be sufficient for this calling. Nevertheless, a measure of talents must certainly be there.” (Homeletics)
Yet, you will notice that many of the requirements mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs are not mentioned in Article 8 of the church order. From this we may not draw the conclusion that there are two separate standards by which applicants to the ministry are measured. This could not be. More correctly we could say that the requirements of every candidate are the same with one single exception which is that in an exceptional circumstance one that is specially qualification that is normally demanded. And whereas these candidates are not under the scrutiny of the theological school it is requisite that they give evidence of certain exceptional gifts before his candidacy be approved by the churches.
The gifts we enumerated at the beginning of this article are intended as a specific enumeration of these exceptional gifts. This is evident from the original article which was punctuated with a colon (:) following the word “gifts.” The meaning, therefore, is not that there be assurance of their exceptional gifts and their godliness, humility etc. but rather that there be assurance of their exceptional gifts which are godliness humility etc. Those admitted without previous theological training must be exceptionally godly, humble, modest, discrete, and eloquent. Thus once more it is seen that this provision is intended not as an easy way but rather only as an extremely extra-ordinary way into the ministry of the word of God.
As to the gifts themselves we may note that the first three named are spiritual gifts whereas the latter three are natural endowments. The ministerial applicant under Article 8 must show evidence of exceptional godliness. He must love God; must love Him very dearly. He must be specially devoted and consecrated to God and His service. He must “exercise himself unto godliness.” (). Implied in this is that he fears God with holy reverence; that he knows Him as He is revealed in the gospel in the face of Jesus Christ; and, that he fervently desires a constant increase of that knowledge which is Jehovah’s fear. True piety is fundamental, and of primary importance.
Akin to this is the gift of humility. Very often this virtue in the Christian is misconstrued and identified with timidness and diffidence which is a bad mistake. One who is quiet and reserve is counted as a humble man while he who gives expression to his convictions is soon accused of being proud. That this is an incorrect conclusion becomes plain as soon as we cite the example of Christ Himself. If ever there was one who was truly humble it was He. Yet, if ever there was a man of courage it was also He. There was certainly no evidence of diffidence in Him when, for instance, He cast the money changers out of the temple. Neither would you dare say He was timid when He time and again withstood the scribes and pharisees alone. And, yet, He was humble for humility means that one retains a low estimate of self while his boast and confidence is in God who alone is great. Such must be the disposition of the applicant to the ministry. He may not possess pride, conceit, arrogance and haughtiness. Always he must be mindful that he is nothing and that the Lord God whom he serves is all.
Then, too, there is the gift of modesty. The main idea expressed in this word (Latin—modestia; Dutch—zedig- heid) is undoubtedly that of morality. The preacher’s life must be one of moral purity, above reproach and free from the unethical works of darkness: “lying, dishonesty, cheating, lust, covetousness, evil speaking, false representation, etc.” for such things are immoral.
We see a connection between these spiritual gifts. They are very intimately related to one another. Godliness is first. It is basic being rooted in regeneration. Out of regeneration conies a godly life. Humility follows. It expresses the inner attitude of the godly toward self and toward God. Modesty is the external manifestation in specific sanctification of this humbled and godly heart. He, therefore, who is godly is also modest and he who orders himself in a morally upright way thereby gives evidence of a humble and godly heart. Such are the spiritual requisites of ministerial service.
There are also natural requirements. Common sense, discretion and the gift of public address are a must. One must possess a keen intellectual ability and that especially with a view to grasping and interpreting the Word of God. It is true that no intellect of man, however excellent, is able to discern the things of God (I Cor. 2:14) but it is also true that the Spirit of God does not unveil the riches of the revelation of God to those that have no mind to receive them. The minister must be intellectually able to distinguish and judge between right and wrong, good and evil. And these judgments, evaluations and findings which he makes in the study of the Word of God he must be able to convey to the congregation of Christ which he instructs and upbuilds. This must be done with clarity and ease and without serious im pediment. Such then are the essential qualities of one who would serve in the ministry of the Word of God.
It may be said that though one possesses all of these qualities it does not follow that a training in the theological school is then wholly unnecessary or inadvisable for such a person. Let us not forget that all these gifts are in need of development and one possessed with the same must then also know that an invaluable directive toward the development of those gifts is derived through the course of study followed in the seminary. Under normal circumstances no one aspiring to the office would wish to be without this directive. Its benefits are enjoyed throughout the years of ministerial service.
Finally, the mere fact that one possesses the gifts enumerated here does not imply that every requirement of entering the ministry is met. This article does not exclude the necessity of other things which we also mentioned earlier in this article and which are required of all candidates alike. Surely one admitted under Art. 8 must also be called. He must be physically able unto the task. Thus, only upon being examined by the Classis (and approved by Synod) and upon finding him equipped with all the necessary qualifications and endowed especially with the gifts herein mentioned may he be admitted into the ministry of the church.
—G. Vanden Berg