“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.” (Art. 3, D.K.O.).
The office of the ministry of the Word of God is a sacred trust of Christ in which He has privileged men of His own choice to serve. The faithful church has always regarded this office as such and, therefore, has also in as far as it was in her power taken the necessary steps to see to it that no one, other than those lawfully called thereunto, be permitted to enter upon the duties of that office. We write, “in as far as it was in her power” because the imperfect church has not always met with complete success in barring the intruders.
However, the Reformed Churches since the days of the Reformation have made a serious attempt to safeguard this holy office. During the hunting season as you ride out into the country you often see signs which are posted by the farmers who do not want the hunters on their property. These signs are unmistakably clear as to their intention. They usually state: “No Trespassing! Private Property! Keep Out!” Although these warnings are not always heeded, their evident purpose is to keep out intruders and when some nevertheless will venture into the forbidden regions, they make themselves guilty and worthy of punishment.
So too, Reformed Churches have posted signs in the field of the ministry of the Word of God. These signs may be found in the Order of the Churches and read as follows:
This is the Private Property of Our Lord
enter only upon the Lawful Call of Christ”
These signs, too, have not always been properly observed. There have been and still are intruders. Coping with these violators was an acute problem to the Churches of the Reformation especially in their formative years. The Churches were not as yet well organized and well ordered. Many itinerant priests and monks who had seceded from the Roman Catholic Church and joined the Reformation began to perform the duties of the ministry. Some were qualified, others not. In other places men without previous theological training simply began preaching wherever and whenever they could get a hearing. Although some did, yet, there were also a good number who refused to submit to an examination and did not care to place themselves under the supervision of any consistory. Sometimes men of questionable character and purposes, by eloquent and fair speech would create a following for themselves, to the disruption of churches and ultimate spiritual damage to many. The holy office of the ministry of the gospel was imposed upon and misused by these “loopers, indringers, scheurmakers” (tramps, intruders and schismatics).
The Churches had to act to safeguard the sacred trust. In 1563 the Churches of Flanders went into action by declaring: “None shall be permitted to administer the Word of God without a lawful call, and such as boldly intrude themselves shall be punished.” Five years later the Weselian Convention decided that “without a lawful calling, election, approbation, proper examination and observance of that lawful order none shall be admitted to the Ministry.” Likewise later Synods of 1571, 1574, 1578 took definite action against these self-seeking freebooters. In 1581 at the Synod of Middelburg the sign that now appears in Article 3 of our Church Order was adopted. Since that time the position expressed in that Article has been maintained by Reformed Churches.
This does not mean, however, that the sacred office of the ministry of the Word is now safe and protected against all intrusion. No more than the farmers’ posting a sign on his land, forbidding the hunter entrance, protected his property from the trespasser, will the posting of a sign in the Church Order guarantee that there will be no more “indringers” to the holy office. Such a sign is a necessity for good order as it does prevent anyone from entering the sacred field in any other than the legal way in the organized church but it is not a complete protective.
That this is so follows from the fact that we have intruders unto the present day. These “loopers” are seen tramping across the land without any authority of Christ or His Church preaching (as they call it) the gospel and functioning as ministers. Their notorious revival meetings have become famous. Most of them don’t know the simplest A-B-C’s of the gospel and if they would submit to an examination they would fail miserably. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are fitting: “Ye compass seas and land to make one proselyte and when he is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” ()
These, however, remain outside the established church and do not intrude into the office there and do not, therefore, become a serious menace except in so far that they do sometimes lead some who are in the church astray.
Intruders are also found within the church in spite of the fact that the signs forbidding their entrance are clearly posted. An intruder is one who enters the office of the ministry of the Word by force, bribe, deception, or in any way other than that of the lawful calling by Christ and His Church. He seeks the office for reasons of personal ambition rather than out of the desire to be a servant and spokesman of Christ. He has no right nor authority to preach the word and to administer the sacraments. In fact, he really cannot do so either for Christ, Who does not call him, also does not deliver unto him His revelation enabling him to speak the truth “to the edifying of the body of Christ”. () Consequently, when he speaks he brings forth his own word which is always contrary to the Word of Christ. He produces false doctrines. He declares unto the church the lie. He emits sounds which are strange to the ears of the sheep and in which they cannot recognize the voice of the True Shepherd. They give stones for bread. They are intruders.
Against these the church is warned repeatedly in the word of God. She must be on her guard. The apostle Peter tells us: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” () The apostle Paul warns against those “who have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” ( ) And again in “If any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strife of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings…etc.” So we might add many passages.
No one has the right to intrude upon the office of the ministry of the Word in any way. Irregardless of who or what one may be, whether a professor of theology or elder or deacon or anyone else, he may not enter upon the duties of that office except in the lawfully appointed way. Professors are mentioned here because it must be remembered that years ago men were professors of theology who had never been ordained to the ministry. Inasmuch as our present professors are also ordained in the ministry, this article does not affect them. Where, however, this was not the case it meant that they, as well as elders and deacons, who are not ministers might not function in ministerial duties. To do so is intrusion. Likewise, those who are legally in the office may never intrude upon the lawful function of that holy trust. To do so is gross sin!
When such intrusion occurs the guilty one must be admonished. The article states “frequently admonished” and if he does not desist from such intruding practices he is to be punished as an evildoer being declared a schismatic by the churches or punished in some other way. Classis shall judge the case. This does not mean, of course, that Classis shall execute the punishment. The autonomy of the church is not destroyed here for the article implies that the admonitions and all other treatment of the intruder shall be done by the local church and at the proper time the Classis shall also judge the case and serve the local church with proper advice. This matter will come under consideration in connection with Article 79. Here it must be pointed out that each church must guard the office of the ministry of the Word against all intruders and when they appear admonitions and punishments must be enacted for where these are neglected the intruder’s conduct left undisciplined will lead to schism.
The intruder is also a schismatic! And schism is a gross sin. (Art. 80 D.K.O.) Schism means to make separation. It is the offense of seeking to produce division in the church of Jesus Christ. This is what the intruder always does. He does not care about the flock of Christ. He is not concerned about Jesus’ sheep. He is self-willed and self-seeking. He scatters the flock. Woe unto him for God shall punish. In this he may be known from the lawfully called and faithful ambassador of Jesus Christ who “endures all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory”. (). They seek not their own but rather the things that are of Christ Jesus. And seeking the true welfare of Zion in all their ministry, they are never the cause of schism.
Next time then, D.V., we will consider what constitutes the lawful calling of the Minister Verbi Deum which is the exclusive protective for any man from the sin of intrusion and schism!
G. Vanden Berg