Prof. Cammenga is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. This is the first installment of the address that was given on the occasion of the graduation of Candidate Mr. Ryan Barnhill from the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary on June 11, 2015.


Dear graduate, colleagues of the faculty, members of the Theological School Committee, fathers of synod, family and friends of the graduate, and brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, we rejoice together tonight in the goodness of God. We rejoice in the goodness of God in giving to the Protestant Reformed Churches another man who is qualified to serve in the office of the ministry of the gospel.

Qualified, I say, to serve in the office of the ministry of the gospel. In the past several days, you have demonstrated beyond any doubt in your oral examination before the synod that you possess the gifts that are necessary for the ministry of the gospel. You have given clear evidence that you meet the biblical qualifications for a pastor/ teacher in the church of Jesus Christ. The purpose of your examination was certainly to evaluate whether you possess the gifts necessary for the ministry and the qualifications to serve in the office of teaching elder. Synod’s approval of your examination and its declaring you to be a candidate for the ministry in our churches must be understood to be synod’s positive judgment of your gifts and qualifications.

The synod is not the only body to have rendered such a judgment regarding your gifts and qualifications. Prior to synod’s examination of you, there were others who made a similar positive judgment concerning you. Your pastor and consistory recommended you to the Theological School Committee (TSC) some four years ago for entrance into the seminary. At that time the TSC itself interviewed you, examining you with a view to your gifts and qualifications. On the basis of that examination, the TSC recommended to the Synod of 2011 that you be admitted to the seminary as a diploma pre-licentiate student, that is, a student seeking candidacy in the PRCA. That recommendation the synod adopted. And beginning in the Fall of 2011 until the present, the faculty of the seminary has also participated in the ongoing assessment of your gifts and qualifications, encouraging you along the way and at the end of your four years of study heartily recommending you to the Synod of 2015 for examination.

Neither is this the end of the church’s evaluation of your abilities and qualifications. A consistory, at least one consistory, the Lord willing, will judge that you possess what is required for the office of the ministry; they will put you on the trio that they present to their congregation. And at least one congregation will judge that you possess what is required for the office and extend to you a call to serve as their next pastor. Finally, the classis will examine you and, God willing, with the concurrence of the synodical deputies, approve your peremptoir or decisive examination, and recommend that your calling consistory proceed to your ordination into the office of the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

I want tonight to focus on one important qualification for the minister of the gospel. That one important qualification is that he be “the husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3:2). Literally, he must be a “one-wife husband.” This is one of the first qualifications that the apostle mentions in I Timothy 3, as well as in Titus 1. The apostle also mentions this qualification in connection with the deacons in I Timothy 3:12. I note in passing that the qualification is the husband of one wife, not the wife of one husband.

The qualifications that the apostle lists in I Timothy 3 for the elder, both ruling elder and teaching elder, may be divided roughly into three categories: 1) those qualifications that concern the elder’s personal life; 2) those qualifications that concern his family life; and 3) those qualifications that concern his life in the congregation and beyond, even in society at large.

Personally, the minister must be vigilant and sober, not greedy of filthy lucre, and not covetous. He is not to be a novice, lest being lifted up in pride, he fall into the same condemnation of the devil, whose root sin was pride. In his family life, he is to be the husband of one wife, he is to be a man who rules well his own household, and he is to have his children in subjection. And in his life more broadly and publicly, he is to be blameless, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not a drunkard, no striker or brawler, and generally a man of good report of them that are without, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

The minister, then, is to be “the husband of one wife.” That does not mean only that from a formal point of view the minister is to be monogamous. But it means that he is to be a husband, with all that that word implies and all that Scripture teaches, a faithful husband to his one wife, the wife that God has given to him. Additionally, it means that in his marriage the minister is to be an example. He is to be an example among the believers within the congregation. And he is to be an example before the world, the wicked world that despises God’s truth concerning marriage and perverts God’s holy institution.

Called to Defend the Biblical Truth concerning Marriage

The minister of the gospel is called by Jesus Christ to uphold and defend the biblical truth concerning marriage. He is called to do this in his public preaching, teaching, and writing. And he is called to do this in his study, when counselling young couples who are seeking to be married or married couples who come to him because their marriage is strained.

He must defend the truth of marriage positively. He must teach that marriage is an institution of God, a divine institution. Marriage is not merely an arrangement that early humans found advantageous to the development and preservation of the human race, which arrangement has by our day served its usefulness and can safely be dispensed with by modern man. No, marriage has its origin in the will and creative work of God. He must teach that marriage is between one man and one woman, that it is an exclusive relationship. He must teach that marriage is a life-long relationship and that nothing but death dissolves the marriage relationship. He must teach that marriage is itself a covenant relationship and a picture of God’s everlasting and unconditional covenant of grace. In his Sermons on Genesis, when describing God’s provision of a wife for Adam, John Calvin says:

Moses, when mentioning the companion provided for Adam, again places a value on marriage so that we may better know that it was a singular gift of God. Men must be blinder than blind because of ingratitude if they do not realize that God showed he was abundantly generous when he joined the human race together in such a beautiful covenant in his desire that marriage would be the means for maintaining the human race…with a man having an individual helpmate and the woman also having the companionship of her husband.1

He must teach that the purposes of marriage include the friendship and companionship of husband and wife, the bringing forth and bringing up of the covenant seed in a home at the foundation of which is a stable marriage, and the glory of God as the outstanding purpose of marriage. He must teach that marriage is God’s remedy to sexual immorality and impurity. In his sermon on Genesis 2:18-21 entitled, “Eve, Adam’s Companion in Marriage for Their Mutual Advantage,” Calvin says:

It is certain that if we had remained in our pure and controlled condition, such as it was then, men and woman would not be aroused to animal-like emotion[s]…. Marriage was established by God to remedy the intemperance which arose from sin. So marriage is given as a remedy, and even though it was shameful for the man and the woman to live together, it is no longer called sin when marriage intervenes. God had pity on our weakness and, when establishing marriage, wanted it to be like an honourable veil to cover that lewdness, by which we could be dismayed.2

But besides being positive, the faithful minister must proclaim God’s condemnation of the awful impurities and sins of depraved men and women that are an attack on and a defilement of holy marriage. He must boldly pronounce the judgment of God on every perversion that is approved today—men glorying in their shame: gender confusion, homosexuality and lesbianism, sodomy, same-sex marriage, bestiality, pedophilia, pornography, to say nothing of unbiblical divorce and remarriage, which is hardly noticed any longer, the rate of divorce and remarriage being as high or higher among professing Christians as unbelievers. Society and the church approve of these evils and the government provides protection for the grossest forms of immorality: “men with men working that which is unseemly” (Rom. 1:27) and “going after strange flesh” (Jude 7).

Landmark decisions have recently been handed down by our nation’s Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage across the entire country. The ruling effectively negates thirty-one state marriage amendments plus other states’ laws safeguarding marriage as the relationship of one man and one woman, requiring every state to issue marriage licenses and recognize same-sex marriages. And the result of this ruling? The main result is that those individuals and churches who oppose the abomination of same-sex marriage will more and more be made to suffer. There will be consequences for faithfulness to the Word of God on these issues. We may expect it. We must be prepared for it. And we ministers must prepare God’s people for the persecution—that’s what it is—that is coming because of our commitment to the revealed will of God on these matters.

The Reformation’s Recovery of Marriage

The Reformed minister is called to uphold and defend the truth of marriage as that truth was restored to the church by the Reformation. The Reformers, especially Martin Luther and John Calvin, restored the honor of marriage, and especially the honor of the marriage of the clergy, to the church. Both Luther and Calvin married. Luther married the former nun Katherine von Bora (or, as he affectionately called her, “Katie, my rib”). And Calvin married the former Anabaptist widow Idelette de Bure-Storder. Luther and Katherine had six children together. Of the six, a daughter died soon after birth and a second daughter, Magdalene, died when she was thirteen years old. That was especially difficult for Luther. What the devil, the pope, and the emperor could not do, the death of his dear daughter nearly did: drove Luther to despair. Instead, by the grace of God, Luther was not swallowed up in his sorrow, but comforted and enabled to carry on in the cause of the Reformation. Calvin’s marriage was equally as difficult. Idelette, at the time that she married Calvin, had two children by her previous marriage to John Storder. She bore Calvin three children, all of whom died soon after they were born. And after being married for less than ten years, Idelette herself died.

The Reformers restored God’s institution of marriage to its rightful and honorable place in the church of Jesus Christ. They railed against Rome’s perversion of marriage, especially her forbidding marriage to the clergy and all the corruption that resulted from that unbiblical prohibition. They publicly reproached Rome for the scandalous immorality of its clergy as the judgment of God on a church that elevated a commandment of men to the status of the law of God. This is what we must also say in regard to the sex scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in recent years. Rome has refused to repent of her sins. And the result is not only that the chickens are coming home to roost, or even that having sown to the wind, Rome is reaping the whirlwind. But the judgment of God is being visited on Rome, her clergy and her people, for their sexual sins and their conniving at sexual sins. As the angels warned Lot and his family to flee out of Sodom, so do we call the members of Rome to come out of that Sodom, lest they perish in its overthrow.

Both Luther and Calvin took the position that vows of celibacy were rash and sinful vows, vows therefore that ought not be kept by the clergy (priests, monks, and nuns) who left the Roman Catholic Church. Both Reformers encouraged ministers to marry and defended the right of the clergy to marry. They appealed to the fact that officebearers in the Old Testament married. Prophets, priests, and kings often married; some were even commanded by God to marry. Indeed, the coming of Christ depended on the marriage of those who stood in the royal line of David, the line of Christ. Among the apostles, the Reformers appealed to the example of Peter, who clearly was married. Matthew 8:14ff. records the miracle of healing that Jesus performed on Peter’s wife’s mother (his mother-in-law), who was sick of a fever. I Peter 5:13 refers to Marcus, Peter’s son. And in I Corinthians 9:5, Paul says: “Have we not power (literally, “the right”) to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and of Cephas?”

They promoted marriage among the clergy. They promoted marriage, not only as a curb on fornication; but they promoted marriage because of what they considered to be the positive contributions of a wife to the ministry of her husband.

… to be continued