It would be better if the second article of our Church Order were revised so that the word “four” were changed to “three” and the phrase “of the professors of theology” were elided altogether, or if it is desirable to retain that phrase the following redaction might be suggested as an improvement over the present article:
“Article 2—The offices are of three kinds: of the ministers of the Word and professors of theology, of the elders, and of the deacons.”
Our present redaction of this article, we wrote last time, is the result of a faulty interpretation by Calvin of Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers”. We quoted Calvin’s interpretation of this passage and if you will now refer to the last issue of the Standard Bearer you will find that according to his view the office of the ministers of the Word and that of professors of theology are two distinct church offices. That this is not correct may be shown from the following considerations. Let it.be understood, however, that we do not disagree with the Genevan Reformer when he asserts that the office of professors is a church office but we only beg to differ with him when he claims that this office is separate from that of the Word. Our reasons for this disagreement are these.
First of all his interpretation of Ephesians 4:11 we believe cannot be substantiated by the grammatical construction of the text. In the original especially but even in the English translation it is rather evident that the phrase “pastors and teachers” is intended as a single entity. Were this not the case the apostle could have made himself crystal clear by simply adding one word.
Secondly, in criticizing this view we might point to the fact that Scripture nowhere speaks of the office of professors of theology apart from the office of the ministry of the Word. Timothy, a minister of the Word, is enjoined by the apostle Paul to “commit those things which he had heard of the apostle among many witnesses to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2). In this passage the office of professors of theology is plainly an annexment of Timothy’s ministerial office. All ministers of the Word are not professors to be sure but all professors of theology are ministers of the Word.
Thirdly, if we adopt the view of Calvin in this connection we destroy in part at least the symbolism of the offices in the church. The three-fold office of ministers, elders, and deacons is undoubtedly a reflection of the three-fold office of Christ Himself. More will be written about this when we discuss the offices individually but permit me in this connection merely to cite the thirty-first question and answer of our Heidelberg Catechism which implies this analogy.
“Christ is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Ghost, to be our chief prophet and teacher, (Minister…G.V.) who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and to be our only high priest, (deacon…servant…GV) who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us; and also to be our eternal king, (elder…ruler….G.V.) Who governs us by His Word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in that salvation He has purchased for us.”
From this it is evident that we would have to have very preponderant reasons to introduce into this scheme a fourth office. These reasons Calvin does not have. We may, therefore, not destroy this symbolism and analogy by separating the offices of the ministry of the Word and that of professors of theology.
That the revision of Article 2 as suggested above is proper also follows from the fact that it would bring this article into better harmony with the rest of our Reformed Confessions. Article 30 of our Netherlands Confession, for example, speaks of a threefold office in the church as follows: “We believe that this true church must be governed by that spiritual policy which our Lord hath taught us in His Word; namely, that there must be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God, and to administer the sacraments; also elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the church…”
Likewise Article 31 of the same confession speaks of ministers, elders and deacons who are chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election by the church. In both of these articles no mention is made of the office of professors of theology which would not likely be the ease if that were a separate office in the church.
It is also true that our Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology is written on the supposition that these professors are ministers of the Word. The following statements taken from this form indicate this clearly: “Beloved, brethren, it is known unto you that our brother in the holy ministry N.N.‘” (italics mine, G.V.). And again, “Conscious of this calling our church has also established a Theological School and called the reverend brother N.N.” (Italic mine, G.V.).
And what is still more, the church order itself in Articles 16 and 18 essentially identifies the office of the ministers of the word and professors although a distinction may and also should be made in their respective labors. There we read that “the office of the ministry is to continue in prayer and in the ministry of the Word” while the “office of professors of theology is to expound the Holy Scriptures.” Certainly, no one would aver that expounding the Scriptures does not belong to the ministry of the Word and is an intrinsic part of the proclamation of the Gospel except, perhaps, the modernist whose conception of the office of the ministry is grossly distorted in our present day.
Our conclusion is, therefore, that there are only three distinct offices in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. This does not mean that the task of training men for the ministry of the gospel which is the labor of the professors of theology does not belong to the institute of the church. It certainly does. Our contention, based especially upon the passage of II Timothy 2:2, is that this work does not belong to a separate office but is inherent in the office of the ministry of the gospel. And, whereas the work is of such magnitude that it requires the whole effort and time of the office bearer, the minister who functions as professor of theology should be relieved of his congregational duties so that he may devote himself entirely to that labor.
We will not at this point enter into a discussion of these offices individually. This can be done more apropriately in connection with the particular articles of the Church Order which specially circumscribe these offices. (See Arts. 16, 18, 23, 25). In this connection we are only to note that these offices do exist in the church and that they are not manmade positions but rather that they are divinely instituted. This fact must be firmly fixed in our consciousness before we can possibly go on to discuss any further implications of the offices in the church.
Hardly do we consider it necessary that we point out the Scriptural proof for this claim to our readers. No reformed person questions that the sacred offices in the church are of God. To remove all doubt, however, we might cite Ephesians 4:11 as proof that Christ (The Son of God) has instituted the office of the ministry of the Word in his church. In Titus 1:5 of the epistle that bears his name, is enjoined “to set in order the things that are wanting and to ordain elders in every city as I appointed thee”. It is, of course, the apostle Paul here that gives this
instruction and he does so only upon the authority of Christ. The institution of the office of deacons is clearly set forth in Acts 6. For still further references we might point out readers to Hebrews 13:7, I Corinthians 5:20, I Peter 5:1-4, I Tim. 5:17, Phil. 1:1, etc.
This means that these offices are one of the most precious gifts which God has given to His church and ought always to be regarded as such. Often this is not done. The offices are frequently misunderstood, taken for granted and even slighted. We should remember, however, that in these offices God has entrusted such things as the ministry of His Word and of the holy sacraments, the keys of the kingdom of heaven by which the doors of the kingdom are opened and closed, and the ministry of mercy in the Name of the merciful Savior. Through the instrumentality of these offices it pleases the Lord to bestow the abundant goodness of His grace and the eternal riches of His inheritance upon His church. Through them the church of all ages is gathered, God’s people are spiritually enriched, and His Kingdom is realized and prepared for its ultimate manifestation in heavenly glory. If these things are consciously before us, we, as children of God, will always properly regard these gifts of God with due respect.
Those who function in these offices must also know that they act therein only upon the authority of Christ who has called them and placed them in this sacred trust. They have no rights inherent in themselves. They are under shepherds under Christ. They are servants who are mandated to feed His flock and to have oversight over His heritage. They can only speak that which He commands saying always, “Thus saith the Lord.” They can only do what He orders. They must carry out His will in all things as those who must give account not only of themselves but also of the souls over which they are called to watch. Indeed, it is a great privilege to so serve Him in those offices but it is also a most solemn responsibility for “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, saith the Lord”. (Jer. 23:1).
G. Vanden Berg