It is the joy of every godly parent to bring up God-fearing covenant children, and greater joy it is to hear that their sons desire the office in a reformed church. It is therefore my delight to advise a young man desiring the of ce because he desires a good work. One of the first questions in this young man’s mind is whether it is God’s will or whether God is calling him to the office. Is that desire an indication that God wants him to be in such offices? I hope he will find here some principles which will guide him to answer those questions.
In the first place, I am convinced that he is to prepare himself for the office without first asking or knowing if God wants him in it. God does not call a man to office by some mystical internal call known only to him. There is only one way that God calls a man to office – through the church. But how does the church know who to call? The Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 21 Q&A 55 summarises God’s calling to every believer within the church when it says, “…that everyone must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members”. It speaks of ‘employing his gifts’. There are no gift-less Christians (Rom 12:5) but there are three types of gift users. Those who use them for the salvation of others, those who use them for themselves and those do not use their gifts. It is when the young man performs his duty that the church will recognize God’s calling for him and extend the call to him.
The use of gifts must not be equated with being active in church activities. While it is a good thing, it is not necessarily a good measure of a man’s quali cation for office. It is a common mistake to nominate men who are “active in church”. Active members often stand out in the crowd but the church must look out for members with the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and who use such gifts for the salvation of other members. An example of such gifts is being apt to teach. For both pastors and elders, the ability to diligently study the Word of God is necessary. The form for the ordination of elders says this about the need to be apt to teach: “… for the performance of which [watching diligently against the wolves] the elders are duty bound diligently to search the word of God, and continually be meditating on the mysteries of faith”. The young man ought to be able to do such before he is in office as entering the office will not make him suddenly knowledgeable in the word of God. The church needs men who are able and willing to defend the faith, not great organisers or people with abilities to lead it forward in the next lap.
Until the young man is already diligently using his gifts for the good of members in the church, which is his basic Christian calling, he is outside the radar of the church’s search for office bearers.
The qualifications have been expounded by many at great length and I must insist that these qualities are not opinions or words of wisdom but scripture prescribed requirements. Except for that of ruling one’s house well, being apt to teach and not being a novice, all the qualities listed are to be expected in every regenerated child of God. More so, it must be true of office bearers so that they can be an example to the flock. These requirements must not be compromised for the sake of filling vacancies.
This is not to say that only a perfect man will do because then no one would qualify in this life. The Lord uses the weak things of this world to do His work so that all glory goes to him alone. It is a true saying that “… when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor 12:20). The quali cations of the offices are qualities given by God as He sanctifies us so that in our service to God we can only say ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Phil 4:13). Therefore, the church must look out for men “full of the Holy Ghost”, that is, men who are evidence that God sancti es and chastens because the Lord only sanctifies whom He loves. The evidence of God’s love in the man is his love for the brothers, the members of the church. (1 John 4:21)
It must be remembered that this whole matter is first and foremost about the Church and not about the person. The local church, as part of the Universal church, is a very special entity in this world. She consists of those called out of this world to be members the body of Jesus Christ. Unlike membership in an earthly organisation where members voluntarily join for some benefits, Christ saves us into the church. None of the true members of the church would have joined voluntarily and no heavenly benefits would have enticed sinners dead in sins except God had chosen them before the foundation of the world and given them faith to believe. So the young man must remember that the church consists of sinners saved by grace who in this life continue to struggle with the power of sin and the weaknesses of their flesh. As a member in this imperfect body of Christ, he seeks her good with every gift that God gives him. More than just desiring the office, he cannot allow himself to neglect the apple of God’s eye bought with the blood of Christ. He is duty bound to prepare himself to be ready to answer when called to serve in the special offices.
Furthermore, desiring the office is equivalent to desiring the work of Jesus Christ in the church. Every child of God, without exception, must be a servant of Jesus Christ but some, the Lord calls to be chief among us. To these, the Lord says, ‘whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant’ (Mat 20:27). Faithful servants do not lord over God’s heritage but use their gifts to serve them. A faithful and diligent servant “well purchase to themselves a good degree” but mediocre servants put the church at risk of having its candlestick removed. (Rev 2:5).
Considering the Call
How should you consider a call that the church extends to you to serve in one of the offices of Christ? This call means that the church recognises that you have been faithful in the office of believer and now calls you to a specific office. It is not a promotion but a call to already faithful servants to take up a specific and honourable task.
Such calls from Christ, through His church, must be considered with all due diligence. Throw false modesty out of the window when the Master calls. As I said in the beginning, you should have prepared yourself for it before and, with few exceptions, be ready to give the answer “Lord, send me”. We have to humbly accept that there are times when the Lord does put us in difficult circumstances in life which will not be advisable for us to be in the office and it pains us to have to say “no”. If, after much prayer, you have to reject the call, a substantial reason must be given. To be godly is every man’s calling but not every godly man is ready for the office.
In a Reformed Church
The young men desiring such office must be an example of submission to the rule of the elders. In the Reformation, God returned to the church such offices and the truth of the plurality and equality of elders so that there is no hierarchy where one elder or pastor rule above others. There is only the rule of Christ in the church and it is through the rule of the elected elders.
Any church that calls itself reformed but is dominated by an elder or pastor denies the rule of Christ and is far from being reformed. I doubt an office in such a church is desirable or worth consideration because they essentially deny Christ. In fact, my advise to the young man would be to come out of an apostate church because by continuing in her, he bears the corporate responsibility of her errors and is guilty before God for propagating her errors.
Finally, office bearers are mere men, unable of themselves to do the work; but like us, they can do all things through Christ Jesus. We pray that God may replenish them with gifts of wisdom, courage, discretion and benevolence so that they may take heed in doctrine and life, keep out the wolves, reprove the disorderly and comfort the poor with the Word of God. We also pray for ourselves, that God will give us grace to submit to their rule, that His holy name may be magnified and the kingdom of Christ may be enlarged.
Written by: Deacon Chan Chee Seng | Issue 4