The Institute and the Office of Believers

There are especially two errors into which many believers have fallen in the exercise of the office of believer. The one error is to seek to exercise the office of believer apart from the institution of the church. The other error is to fail to exercise this office because of the institution of the church. Both errors must be avoided at all costs. To fall into either error is detrimental to the spiritual welfare both of the church and the individual saint. 

Every believer in Christ holds an office in the kingdom of God called the office of believer. He holds this office only by virtue of his faith in Christ. In Lord’s Day 12 the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that our Savior is called Christ because He is anointed of God. This anointing implies two things. It implies, first of all, divine appointment. As the anointed of God, Christ has been-eternally appointed or ordained of God to the three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king. But in the second place this anointing implies qualification. Having been ordained by God to this three-fold office, Christ is also qualified by the Holy Spirit to perform the duties of this office. And so, according to our Catechism, Christ as the anointed of God is our chief prophet, our only high priest, and our eternal king. The Catechism, in this same Lord’s Day, however, goes on to teach that by faith we are members of Christ and thus partakers of His anointing. If you will, by faith in Christ we too become prophets, priests, and kings in and under Christ. The viewpoint here is that Christ exercises His duties as prophet, priest, and king through men. This is realized in the sphere of the kingdom when Christ calls His people out of darkness into light and through the gift of faith brings them into spiritual connection with Himself. In this way they become partakers of Christ’s anointing. They become prophets, priests, and kings in and under Christ. This is the office of believer that every born-again Christian occupies by virtue of his faith. 

As an officebearer in God’s kingdom the believer has certain duties to perform. As prophet his duty is to speak the Word of God. The basic idea of the prophetic office is not that of foretelling the future but of revelation. A prophet is one who speaks on the behalf of God. He is one who is filled with the true knowledge of God and can not help but speak that which God has revealed to him. In this manner Christ is the chief prophet of God. It is especially through Christ that God has revealed Himself as the God of salvation. This revelation of God in Christ has been infallibly recorded for us in the Scripture through an act of divine inspiration. As prophets of God in and under Christ it is our calling to speak that same Word of God recorded in Scripture. That Word must live in our heart. And that Word we must proclaim with our mouth. 

As king the duty of the believer is to rule under Christ. The idea basic to the office of king is that of rule. This Christ does as our eternal king. We are able to distinguish in the rule of Christ two aspects. There is first the rule of His might. This is the rule of Christ over the world in general and over the ungodly. The ungodly refuse to bow the knee to Christ and acknowledge Him as Lord. They walk rather in rebellion against Him. But Christ rules over them nonetheless, using even their rebellion and disobedience to fulfill His purpose. In distinction from this, Christ rules over His people in grace. This means that in the power of His grace Christ smashes the rebellious hearts of His people. In the power of His grace He also changes them so that they love Him and seek to do His will as willing and obedient servants. From this it certainly follows that as kings of God under Christ it is our calling first of all to rule ourselves. By nature we are rebels against God who can not and will not serve Him. And that spirit of rebellion still resides within our sinful nature. As kings in Christ our first calling is to rule over ourselves in the power of grace so that we subdue our sinful nature and thus walk in all obedience to God and His Christ. As kings under Christ, however, it is also our duty to rule over one another mutually. We certainly have a calling to be our brother’s keeper. Our concern must not be just with our own walk of life but also with that of the brother. Hence, there is a mutual supervision which we must exercise over one another in the household of faith as kings under Christ. 

Finally we are also priests under Christ. An essential element of the office of priest is the showing of mercy. This Christ certainly does as our eternal highpriest. According to Hebrews 2:17 Christ is “a merciful and faithful highpriest in things pertaining to God.” As our merciful highpriest Christ delivers us from the depths of our misery and exalts us to a state of blessedness and joy. He does this not only through the redemption of His cross but also through His continual intercession before the throne of God whereby He brings upon us all the blessing of God. We too are priests in and under Christ. As priests of God we must show mercy to those in need, especially to the poor. We are to do this by comforting them with God’s Word and by alleviating their poverty with material gifts. 

At this point we may begin to discuss the institution of the church. The institution of the church is the church from the viewpoint of its special offices. From the Scriptures it is apparent that from every communion of believers Christ calls certain men to be prophets, kings, and priests in a special sense. These prophets, kings, and priests are called by Scripture ministers, elders, and deacons. The question arises: what is the relation between these special offices in the church and the office of believer? Every believer in Christ is a prophet, king, and priest. Why then are there in the church these special offices of minister, elder, and deacon? The answer is that God will have us exercise our office of believer only in connection with and through the special offices of the church. 

The institution of the church with its threefold office of minister, elder, and deacon is all important for the believer. Thus, for example, it is only through the offices of the church that one can attain the office of believer. For, as we have seen, the office of believer is a matter of sharing in Christ’s anointing by faith. But faith in turn is dependent on the offices of the church, upon the preaching of the minister and the rule of the elder and the benevolence of the deacon. Apart from the threefold office of the church we have neither faith nor the office of believer. In harmony with this it is also the will of God that the believer exercise his office only in connection with and through the offices of the church. Apart from the offices of the church it is impossible for the believer to exercise his office.

This relation between the office of believer and the threefold office of the church is easily demonstrated. First, there is the prophetic office. As stated earlier, the basic idea of this office is to know God from His Word and to proclaim that Word. This is the calling and duty of every believer as prophet. Nevertheless, the individual believer can not fulfill that obligation alone, as an individual, apart from the body of believers and the institution of the church. There are those who attempt this. They strike out on their own as self-proclaimed preachers of the gospel having no connection with the institution of the church. But they commit a grave error and fail miserably as prophets of God. Their work carries away neither the approval nor the blessing of God. The believer can function as a prophet of God only as a member of the church institute where there is the office of the minister and the pure preaching of the Word. For it is through the official preaching of the Word that the believer first of all exercises his office of prophet of God. It is primarily through the minister whom we call and support that we speak the Word of God as prophets. Through our minister and his preaching we speak that Word of God first to ourselves but then also to others. And that Word is the power of God to, salvation. But our duties as prophets of God go beyond preaching. We must in the power of that preaching also continue to speak God’s Word individually. We must speak that Word to the members bf our family and to those of the household of faith. But we must also proclaim that Word to those outside the church who are lost in the darkness of unbelief, This is commonly called witnessing. A grave error of many in the church is to think that this is unimportant. Consequently they fail to bring the Word of God to their neighbor. They hear the preaching of the Word but fail to bring that same Word to others. In this they fall short as prophets of God. Nor do they carry away God’s approval. 

These same general principles we may now also apply to the kingly office. As kings under. Christ in God’s house we must rule ourselves and mutually rule over one another as fellow believers to the end that we subdue our sinful nature and walk in all obedience to God. It is true of course that this does not always directly involve the elders of the church. Each one of us must through prayer fight against our own sinful nature. And according to the command of Christ we must often go to the erring brother alone to admonish him and seek his repentance. This we do as kings of God. If we fail to do these things we are remiss in our duties as kings. Nevertheless, this must all take place in the context of the rule and supervision of the elders of the church. God has charged the elders of the church to rule over the lives of God’s people. They do this by setting forth the Word of God as the sole standard for doctrine and life. And they maintain that Word through the exercise of Christian discipline. It is furthermore our calling as believers in Christ to submit ourselves to the good rule of the elders. And when our fellow believer falls into sin and refuses to repent under our admonition he must be reported by us to the elders for the official discipline of the church. In this way we as kings rule both ourselves and one another through the elders of the church. And this is our calling before God. We can function as kings of God in Christ only in connection with and through the elders of the church. 

And the same idea also holds true for the priestly office. As priests it is our calling to show mercy to the poor and those in distress. We are to do this by bringing them the comforting words of the Scripture and by alleviating their physical needs with alms. And as priests of God it certainly is our calling at times to do this individually. Nevertheless, this is never to be done apart from the work of the deacons of the church. It is especially through the deacons that we exercise our priestly office. We do this by providing the deacons with alms in abundance that they may have to give to the poor.

Are we faithful in the execution of our duties as officebearers in God’s kingdom? Let us not seek to exercise our office apart from the institution of the church. Nor let us fall into the error of failing to exercise our duties as prophets, kings, and priests, using as an excuse that this is the duty rather of the minister, elder, and deacon of the church. Let us rather seek to exercise our office in connection with and through the offices of the church to our salvation and the welfare of the church.