“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in word and doctrine” (1 Tim 5:17)
The 16th century Reformation restored proper government to the church of Jesus Christ. In those times, the church was entirely corrupted by the Roman papacy, who taught that Christ rules the church only through the pope and his bishops. As the pope represents Jesus Christ, he is therefore infallible. Convinced that this teaching was wrong and unbiblical, our Reformed fathers fought fiercely to restore biblical church government. The fruit of this reformation was the regulative principle. According to this principle the Reformed church declares that the church must be governed according to God’s Word – the only infallible standard for her faith and life. God, by a wonder of sovereign grace, reformed and purified His Church through the Reformation.
It is important and urgent for us as young people to understand the role and honour due to our office-bearers. God places them to rule over us in the church the same way He places parents over us in the home. Broken homes lead to wayward and delinquent children. Likewise, a church with unfaithful office-bearers produces undisciplined and ungodly members. Our Belgic Confession explicitly states that faithful church discipline is a mark of the true church (Art 29). A faithful church needs faithful office-bearers and faithful members who honour them.
Scripture abounds with examples of office-bearers who led God’s people astray. We are reminded of wicked kings like Ahab who caused Israel to turn away from God and to follow after idols. When compromising and unfaithful office-bearers allow false doctrine into the church, God’s people are led to believe Satan’s lie. They allow wolves to enter the sheepfold and destroy God’s flock (Matt 7:15).
God places faithful office-bearers in His church because He knows that we are weak and often go astray. We know too well how often we fall into sin or neglect our spiritual duties as members of the church. Scripture illustrates the church by using the figure of a sheepfold. Sheep are dumb creatures which do not know how to survive on their own. They often walk into dangerous paths, or into the paths of predators, and perish. That is why God gives us shepherds to serve as our guides and examples (1 Pet 5:3).
Christ calls men to serve Him by the power of His Spirit. He works in their hearts in mysterious ways, convicting and calling them to office. That is why office-bearers affirm the call of Christ when they stand for election. They declare publicly that they feel in their hearts the call from God’s church, and consequently of God Himself, to their respective offices (Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons). Whom Christ calls He gives the necessary gifts to discharge their office faithfully and effectively.
What is especially humbling is that God calls weak, sinfully depraved men who are no different from us, to rule over us. God in His wisdom does this in order that we do not worship our church leaders, nor allow the leaders to think that they are better than the ordinary members. It works humility both in us and in them, knowing that we are both under the Headship of Christ. Speaking of ministers, Calvin writes that “it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he (God) accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth” (Institutes Book 4, III).
With the office comes authority. Office-bearers bear the authority of Christ when they discharge their office. They are not functioning on their own, but are “bound in service to God and the church”, as Calvin puts it. They are the slaves of Christ, instruments in His hand to accomplish His purpose. Therefore they function to “train the people to true piety by the doctrine of Christ, administer the sacred mysteries, preserve and exercise right discipline”. Christ stands behind their work. When the minister speaks, Christ speaks. When elders rule, Christ rules. When deacons perform works of mercy, Christ is dispensing His mercy.
The 5th commandment highlights our duty to honour our office-bearers. Explaining this, the HC declares that “I show all honour, love and fidelity…[to] all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand “(LD 39). Scripture instructs us to esteem them very highly for their work’s sake (1 Thess 5:13) because they bear the rule of Christ and serve His cause.
Our sinful natures often prevent us from honouring our office-bearers as we ought to. Failing to honour them can come in the form of unnecessary and unkind criticisms, backbiting and plain disrespect. We speak evil of them behind their backs and mock at their work. Our proud natures assume that we know better than them, and therefore refuse to subject ourselves to their rule. We make their work very difficult when we behave like this. We become constant sources of grief to them, as do rebellious children to godly parents. More severe is the fact that when we mock our office-bearers, we mock at Christ who is pleased to use them.
It is our privilege to have faithful office-bearers. Remember how valuable their wise words have been to young people. Their greater experiences in life have aided us immensely along the pathways of life. God uses their faithful leadership to assist us on the way to heaven. An important way in which we honour our office-bearers is to bear patiently with their faults. We should speak well of them and offer our assistance to help make their work easier. We should love and cherish them as God’s gifts to us. We must acknowledge that He is pleased to bless us through their ministries.
The incentive for faithful office-bearers is that they will receive double honour. It is difficult to imagine what this honour involves but we may be certain that it exceeds any earthly honour a man can receive. For this reason they must strive their very best to serve the cause of Christ. Their one goal in exercising the office is to edify the body of Christ. They labour to build up the church “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
In an age where there is little respect for authority, the call to honour our office- bearers becomes increasingly urgent. By God’s grace we will do so, for when we honour our office-bearers, we honour Christ.
Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 6