The Minister And The Church Order

In general the topic to which I will draw your attention is The Minister and the Church Order. By ministers are meant those who are lawfully called by the church to preach the gospel in the church of Christ. The Church Order to which I refer is the Church Order of Dordrecht with its eighty-six articles, including also the various decisions of our Synod concerning some of these articles. These articles can be found in the back of our Psalter.

Since there are many articles which deal with the minister, his office, task, etc., I will concentrate specifically on Article 3 which reads as follows:

“No one, though he be a professor of theology, elder or deacon, shall be permitted to enter upon the ministry of the Word and the sacraments without having been lawfully called thereunto. And when anyone acts contrary thereto, and after being frequently admonished does not desist, the classis shall judge whether he is to be declared a schismatic or is to be punished in some other way.”

I am especially concerned with the aspect dealing with the idea of being lawfully called. By having a proper understanding of the lawful call to the ministry we find the basis for the other articles dealing with the office of the ministry of the Word. They all flow from this one. With this in mind I will treat this topic under the theme “The Calling of the Minister of the Gospel.” Under this theme there are several elements which must be considered. In the first place, the reality of the call must be seen; secondly, its essence; thirdly, the means whereby it is effected; fourthly, its author; and finally, its significance.

First of all, we must understand that this calling is- objectively real. The calling is not simply another name for a mere occupation, but a summons to the ministry which really comes. This is evident from both the confessions and Scripture. Belgic Confession Art. 31 reads: “Therefore every one must take heed not to intrude himself by indecent means, but is bound to wait until it please God to call him, that he may have testimony of his calling, and be certain and assured that it is of God.” Also in the Form for the Ordination of Ministers the question is asked, “I ask thee whether thou feelest in thine heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s church, and therefore of God himself, to this holy ministry?” The concluding paragraph of the call letter expresses the same idea: “Now dear reverend brother, may the king of the church so impress this call upon your heart and give you light, that you may arrive at a decision pleasing to him.” Then turning to Scripture we see the reality of the call clearly set forth in the epistles of Paul. Eph. 4:11, 12 reads: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Finally, in Rom. 10:14, 15we read: “And how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent?” 

From these passages and examples found in Scripture it fol1ows that a man is actually called unto the ministry. One does not enter the ministry on his own accord, because he merely desires it, “though he be a professor of theology, elder or deacon,” but only because he has the objective call to do so. 

For the essence of this call we again turn to the Word of God. Paul writes in I Cor. 9:16: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me: yea, woe is unto me, If I preach not the gospel.” Consequently, when one is called he mustpreach. He does not preach because he wants, but because he is under the obligation to obey the call and preach. By nature we are unwilling and do not want to obey. For example, Moses gave every excuse that he could think of, but God called him in such a way that he had to preach. God gave him all that he needed because it was his will that Moses must obey and preach. So also it is with every man who is called to the ministry. He must preach because God wants him to. The essence of being called of God is that necessity and the grace to obey it. 

But this call must be effected by a specific means. In short, the call comes from out of the bosom of the afflicted church—out of the burning bush just as in the case of Moses. The church prays, commands, and admonishes. It says, “Come over and help us.” It is the church that says, “Take heed unto thyself and to all the flock. Feed the church, love Christ and feed his sheep taking oversight of them. Be an example to all believers, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” Such are some excerpts from the Form of Ordination. It, then, is always the voice of the church through which one is called.

However, the voice of the church can not be understood apart from the author of that voice. Christ is its author, for that voice commands one to preach the gospel. He must continue in the ministry as seen from Art. 16:

“The office of the ministry is to continue in prayer and in the ministry of the Word, to dispense the sacraments, to watch over his brethren, the elders and deacons, as well as the congregation, and finally, with the elders, to exercise church discipline and to see to it that everything is done decently and in good order.”

The church apart from Christ can not issue that command: for the church is His body, of which He is the head. In the second place, Christ is the author because the commands and exhortations are taken without exception from the Word of God. These are God’s own words, and the voice is Christ’s. The third reason is that after the resurrection and ascension Christ does all His proclaiming through the voice of the church. Therefore, it certainly is expected that He call his servants through the church also. Finally, the commands and words of blessings that the church directs to him whom she ordains impress themselves upon his mind and will. These words raise him up and comfort him so that he boldly opens his mouth and proclaims the Gospel. This can only be if the voice of the church is the voice of Christ. 

The minister, therefore, must feel in his heart that he is lawfully called by Christ himself. By lawfully is not meant merely that the church has not violated any ecclesiastical rules; nor that one has received the majority of votes and now has the call letter in his pocket. But it means that the voice of the church is the voice of Christ laying necessity on one to preach the Gospel. The church, however, must also call lawfully as far as ecclesiastical manner is concerned (Art. 4). One must be elected by the consistory in cooperation with the congregation. He must be approved in the same manner. In addition, he must be examined, for the church must not allow room for unworthy men. Finally, the church must ordain him, whereby she commands, admonishes, and exhorts, and blesses him with the Scriptures. 

The fact that one is called to the ministry is very significant. For if one were to deny the truth of the lawful call, the following can only be deduced: that God does not raise up, command, qualify, and authorize men to preach the gospel. If he does not raise up, command, qualify, and authorize, then the gospel is not preached, for Christ is not preaching through them. They must be sent. If the gospel is not preached, then the church is not gathered: for they do not hear. If the church is not gathered, then there is no church, i.e., those called out, believers and their seed. How shall they believe in Him Whom they have not heard? If no church, then no Christ: for they are His body. If no Christ, then no God and Father of Christ. In other words, we have absolutely nothing. 

Positively, the lawful call is significant because whom God calls He also qualifies for the work of the ministry. The Lord’s qualifying consists, first of all, in that He causes a man spiritually to discern that apart from Christ he is a sinful man, unwilling, and without strength. Aware of this, the man by the mercy of God besieges God’s throne for grace to do that which he must do but cannot do. Then in the way of prayers God fulfills all his needs. 

From this fundamental principle of the lawful call we see reason for the rules concerning the minister’s task, his relationship to fellow officebearers, his relationship to the congregation, and the length of his service. May our Protestant Reformed churches ever continue in the rich heritage of the Church Order of Dordrecht which is founded upon the Word of God Himself.