The difference between the official preaching of the Word by the ordained minister and the unofficial speaking of the word of edification by the unordained student or candidate may be variously illustrated. And oft used illustration is that of the ambassador who is sent by the government to a foreign country. Let us suppose, that the government has a very important message which it wishes to have conveyed to the head of another country. Two men are equally informed of this message. Both are fully qualified to deliver it. However, only one of these receives the official mandate and is given documented credentials to represent the government in the matter. He is officially sent. The other is not. Even though both of them may speak the same thing, the words of the one are backed by no authority while those of the other are. The most that can be said of the one is that his message is informative. The other’s message, however, is authoritative. In the latter case, the message is brought with all the force and power of the government sending it behind it.
Now, if this distinction is applied to the official preaching of the Word and speaking and edifying word in the church, it would mean that in the former case the Word is ministered to the church upon the authority of Christ Himself. That is preaching. Christ calls and sends the preacher and through him speaks to His church. (Romans 10:14, 15) The word of the preacher is the authoritative Word of God. However, in the case of the student speaking, this cannot then be the case. He does not speak officially. He is not called and by ordination authorized to preach. He can only speak informatively. To maintain this distinction, either in theory or in practice, seems to me, necessitates this conclusion.
It is my opinion that this conclusion is untrue and, therefore, the entire distinction ought to be discarded. It may readily be granted that there are problems involved here which do not lend themselves to a simple solution but, it seems to me, that the students ought to be licensed to officially preach the Word for the objections lodged against this are not as great as those that may be lodged against the present manner in which students are granted admission to the pulpit.
For instance, if students speak unofficially, Christ does not authorize them to speak and, consequently, also does not speak through them, . . . . officially at least! If that is so, they cannot even speak an edifying word in the service for Divine worship because the word must be sanctified unto the hearts of the hearer’s through an operation of the Spirit of Christ in order to edify. And, if Christ does apply that word, it is no longer simply “an edifying word” but it is “preaching.” What possible difference can there be between an edifying word applied by Christ and the preached word applied by Christ? Both are spoken by man and in themselves are ineffective but are made powerful by the mighty operation of the Spirit of God!
Then, too, the conclusion cannot be escaped that if a student does not preach the Word, the churches that engage students do not, on those Sundays, have preaching of the Word. Sometimes it will happen that a student will serve a particular church for several consecutive weeks or even months. Is the Word then not at all preached in such congregations during that time? Surely the very fact that the consistory meets before the service and during the service exercises oversight and supervision of the word spoken indicates that the word is regarded in some way as official preaching. If it is not, there is a most striking inconsistency in our current practices.
To mention but one more thing, if a student does no more than speak an edifying word, what would prohibit a church to permit a gifted layman to do likewise? Undoubtedly there are many capable laymen who are able to speak so as to edify. Why must one first receive permission through the school which amounts to authorization by the churches? This action or requirement in itself, it seems, gives some official or authoritative character to the student’s speaking.
Realizing that it is a departure from precedent, and risking possible criticism, I venture to advocate the position that regards student-preaching as official preaching of the Word. He, the student, speaks through the office of the church for the office of the ministry of the Word does not reside in the person but belongs exclusively to the church. If this were not so there would be no necessity in a minister being installed when he transfers from one charge to another. The church preaches the Word through her offices, sometimes using the ordained minister and at other times a licensed student. That student is then regarded as having been called by the church that requests his services and, by virtue of that calling, is authorized by the church to preach. It is true that the student is not formally ordained and that his occupying the office is only temporary but this can serve as no real objection. Christ can, no doubt also does, speak much more through one who, without formal ordination (student), preaches the pure Word of God than through many, who with formal ordination, fail to speak the truth. In the case of the latter there is no real preaching although, theoretically at least, we regard it as such, while in the case of the former where the essence of preaching is indeed manifest, we hesitate to call it such.
This does not mean that the church can place anyone in its pulpit to preach. Not at all! One must first be judged by the churches as competent or qualified for the ministry of the Word. This is done through the theological school and by the officebearers of the church who are appointed professors. Hence, whereas the ordination to office consists of two things—the calling and qualification—the student essentially has both of these when he is declared qualified by the Seminary and called by a particular church to minister the Word. He lacks only the formal ordination which he receives when the calling takes on a permanent instead of a temporary character. In the formal sense of the word, it may also be said that a minister who preaches in another church is not ordained in the office in that church. Yet, he certainly preaches the Word, pronounces the benediction, etc. I see no real reason why students, who according to the rule in the matter have received permission, should not be authorized to do likewise.
If this position were adopted, the 20th. Article of the Church Order must needs be revised to read something like this:
“Students who have received permission according to the rule in this matter, and have been judged competent for the ministry of the Word, shall, for their own training and for the benefit of the churches, upon the request of the churches be permitted to preach the Word of God in the meetings of public worship.” Consistency would then require that we go a step or two farther. If students may preach the Word, there can be no principle objection to their performing other ministerial labors in the same limited capacity in which they are permitted to preach. As occasion requires they should then be permitted to administer the sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—; give instruction in the catechism classes which they also in Some instances do: they would be called to visit the sick and bereaved, conduct some family visitation, and sit in at least at consistorial meetings, etc. All of this would be of great practical advantage to the student and enrich his training for the ministry. A student who would first visit the sick or conduct family visitation, for example, with an experienced minister would be in a position to not only learn much that would not have to be learned during the first years of his ministry but also, profiting from the other’s experience, would avoid later mistakes. It is not principally consistent nor correct to draw the limitation of his practical training to a single aspect of the work of the ministry. Practical training should include, as much as is considered expedient by his instructors, all that is involved in the practical labors of the minister of the Word. Not only would the students, themselves profit from this but the churches as well would be beneficiaries for they would receive candidates who are practically as well as theoretically trained.
This conception, of course, stands or falls with the correctness of the supposition that the work of the ministry can begin, not at the time of the “formal ordination” but at the time of the “essential ordination.” When one is declared by the churches qualified for the work of the ministry and is requested by one or more of the churches to engage in these various labors, essentially he has the light to perform them. The requisites for ordination he then possesses. Christ then authorizes him to “Go forth!” If this is not so, he has no right, to perform any of these functions and should not be allowed to “speak in the churches” and deprive them of the “preaching of the Word.”
No doubt there are also objections that can be lodged against this position. All of the difficulties are by no means solved. However, we have tried to show that the distinction made between “speaking and edifying word” and “preaching the Word” is not above criticism and is in need of further clarification if it is to be usable. Adopting this distinction, without clarifying it, we have solved no difficulties at all but have only created many of them for the phrase “speaking an edifying word” can mean so many things that it, in practice, applied to Art. 20, results in meaning “preaching the Word.” And why not then say “preaching” instead of camouflaging the matter?